People and Powers-That-Be Disagree on Broadband

Net neutrality: Like it or loathe it, you can’t deny it’s a hot topic at the moment.


Net neutrality: Like it or loathe it, you can’t deny it’s a hot topic at the moment. And while Cisco’s just done some research to show bandwidth hogs don’t necessarily exist in the way they’re portrayed, the GOP is trying to delay the FCC’s vote.

server wiring

Cisco’s study actually looked at broadband habits of people all around the globe, not just in the U.S., but it revealed a completely fascinating statistic: The average amount downloaded per household per month is a whopping 11.4GB of data. That equates to about 2,850 MP3s, or about 15 movies compressed to a CD-sized 700MB file. The significance is that it’s more than double the size of the 5GB limit that Time Warner Cable, among others, is pushing as a cap on the amount its clients can download per month. Since it’s an average, that 11.4GB amount seems in direct collision with what ISPs think is fair.

As they’re arguing over at GigaOm, there’s actually another important statistic in the data–it seems to support the notion that the so-called bandwidth hogs (which ISPs blame for the need to use data limits) aren’t actually music and video pirates. It’s possible that the 10% of users who consume 60% of the current bandwidth are actually early Net-tech adopters, busy using the Internet in all sorts of ways that the rest of the population will soon catch up with. That’ll include people who watch a lot of their TV over a Web-based service, use VoIP, telecommute to work or work exclusively online–I easily rack up a half gigabyte a day, for example, just with communications and the Web-surfing that supports writing.

So if people are downloading a ton of data more than the networks are saying we need, and it’s not illegal torrents–don’t ISP claims just ring hollow? It’s easy to conclude that legally-permitted bandwidth and data-rate capping will simply constrain the behavior of the top 10% future-looking Net users, and quash the behavior of the next 90% as they slowly catch up with an increasingly online life.

If we were to dig right to the heart of the ISP’s argument, of course, it’s all about money. It costs to provide faster, fatter data pipes to people’s homes–there’s cabling, routers, network hubs, servers, electricity supplies, and a whole pile of infrastructure to worry about. And when you’re thinking on a national ISP scale, this equates to a huge cost that eats up your profit margin. But that doesn’t excuse lobbyists trying to bar clever locally-sourced ISP work-arounds, and while it explains Senator Joe Barton’s request to the FCC to stop tomorrow’s net neutrality vote, it certainly doesn’t let him off the hook. The Republican senator has probably been talking behind the scenes with the big competition-dominating ISPs, which is why he’s arguing net neutrality is “potentially catastrophic” to the industry. We, the Internet people, would tend to disagree with him.

[Via GigaOm, Technologizer]

About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)