One of my co-workers is blessed to have three kids of prime Internet age. That means, of course, a constant river of TCP/IP packets streams into his household. Online gaming, HD movies, social networking, video chat… if the media can be digitized, it’s being consumed.
For these kids, however, limits exist. A total disappearance into virtual reality is simply not possible. Is this due to a responsible father ensuring his family doesn’t sink into cyber-psychosis? Well, of course, but something more fundamental is also at work. You see, all these electronic mediums compete for one of the most quickly diminishing resources available in cyberspace: bandwidth.
Earlier this month, Comcast released the details of its new data usage plan. Bottom line: The first 300 GB is free. Anything over that will cost you.
First of all, I would suspect that most of us have absolutely no idea how much bandwidth we consume. (I consider myself fairly savvy on technical stuff, and I didn’t have a clue.) Comcast customer’s can find the monthly usage for their account at comcast.net. As a general rule, streaming Internet usage (online games and low-resolution video) burns about 1-2 GB per hour. High-definition video is the real killer, burning about five GB per hour.
Under Comcast’s new plan, streaming Internet usage would effectively be capped at somewhere between two and 10 hours of use per day, depending on the mix of HD video. (Note that if four people were each playing a different online game for two hours, a grand total of eight hours of bandwidth usage would be accumulated.) Needless to say, significant strategizing will be required to stay under the cap during the holidays.
As much as I don’t like the Comcast plan, I fully support their prerogative as a freely operating business to limit usage. Certain aspects of the plan are smart business. For instance, bandwidth limits encourage consumption of Comcast Pay Per View products over competing media services such as Netflix and iTunes. And no doubt that Comcast’s infrastructure costs continue to grow as more and more bandwidth is demanded.
Imposing limits is a very effective method at keeping costs under control while maintaining quality of service for the resources provided. Otherwise, everyone on the network will suffer. Ultimately, Comcast customers will decide whether this is a good plan or move on to a better option.
So, what might a better plan look like? While it’s not going to happen tomorrow, it’s a reasonable bet that a copper-based infrastructure such as cable will not support future demands for bandwidth. Google is rolling out one of the most likely replacement. The Google Fiber project provides Gigabit data (approximately 100 times faster than cable) and HD television directly to residential homes. With this amount of bandwidth, an HD video can be downloaded in as little as seven seconds and HD teleconferencing applications such as telemedicine are easily supported.
While Google Fiber has only been announced in three cities (Kansas City, Missouri; Austin, Texas; and Provo, Utah), several other companies across the country have also announced plans to explore residential gigabit services.
I just have one question. Where do I sign up?
Until next time, I’m off the grid @gregory_a_baker.