Bandwidth Wars


Seems like everything is a war these days.  War on Terrorism, war on poverty, war on drugs… So I hate to add to the list of wars, but I can’t help thinking there is one looming – over Internet bandwidth.  Just when we thought we were starting to have enoughalong comes Net Neutrality which is basically a fight over who gets to charge whom how much for bandwidth.  With the rising specter of Video being the next killer app on the Internet, the good folks who supply all the fiber and keep the routers powered up (AT&T, Sprint, MCI, little guys like that) are worried about where the money is going to come from when all those video packets start choking their Internet pipes.  Forget for a moment, if you can, that they all charge their customers to connect to their networks.  Ignore briefly the fact that all the revenue from the new DSL connections they’ve sold is outpacing anything they ever hoped to make on voice.  Oh, and speaking of that, forget the good ole days of a long list of voice toll charges.  Between Vonage, Skype, and their own unlimited calling options, the cash cow of long distance voice is a thing of the past.  We want bandwidth, and lots of it. 

And while we’re temporarily ignoring things, lets ignore the fact that much of the fiber that got expensively installed and paid for by over-exuberant investors during the dot-com landrush – is dark fiber.  In other words, why pay to bury a single strand when it only costs a bit more to bury a 48-strand fiber cable and just use a couple of the strands.  The equipment at the ends is also getting smarter and cheaper, and squeezing more and more bandwidth through the same pipes every year.  OK, ignore all those things.  The people whose backbone networks have to pass all this traffic have begun to figure out that money is being made on their bandwidth, and they feel they aren’t charging enough for it.  They can’t really go back and re-write history, so they want to charge the providers of all this bandwidth-heavy video MORE to deliver their packets.  To be more precise, they want to charge a premium to deliver those video packets with some priority.  If you’re a video content provider and you haven’t paid them the premium, your data (video) packets are likely to be delivered in an UN-timely manner, which for video means nobody can stand to watch it gasp and pause, lurch and freeze.  Now if you are a cable company and you happen to own some of your own backbone, you can guarantee that your parent company’s video offerings will stream right on through, where those other guys – well there is no guarantee it will work at all!  Not that there ever was any guarantee before all the Net Neutrality hubbub started.

So as a consumer, you could end up with favorable or unfavorable ability to access content, depending on how in favor (read: paid-up) the content provider is with your Internet pipe owner. 
And if you’re a content provider, you’ve got to worry about how much bandwidth you’re going to need, and who you’re going to need to pay besides just paying for your server’s connection.  Thats why you see podcasts that have lots of listeners going to AOL radio… they can’t afford the bandwidth.  Of course now that AOL is limping financially, those days may be over soon.

This article about XBStream brought all this to mind.  Between Apple’s newly announced iTV and programs like XBStream that are trying to bridge the gap between the Internet and your TV set, its clear that the Bandwidth Wars are just starting up.  The guys who wrote XBStream intended to help support some of their favorite podcasts by putting RSS links to them on XBStream.  So many people downloaded the program, and traffic to those sites skyrocketed so suddenly that several of the sites had already exceeded their monthly bandwidth limitations and are “off the air” as a result.

Everybody wants success…. just not too much!