Bandwidth misery

Ah, bandwidth. The new gold standard for the internet economy. Business enabler, technology catalyst, nectar of the gods, gift from the beyond. Not a thing to be squandered lightly.

Ah, bandwidth. The new gold standard for the internet economy. Business enabler, technology catalyst, nectar of the gods, gift from the beyond. Not a thing to be squandered lightly.

Yes, that's right -- now that I'm working from home (WFH, my new favourite abbreviation), I have to become a bandwidth miser. Ironically, now that I have broadband I no longer click on the "broadband" link whenever I watch movie trailers. Instead I risk permanent eye strain by watching the new clip for Ice Age at postage-stamp size.

The problem is not the technology, though that has its moments, but rather the billing system. This is how it works: I hate you, so I send you about 10GB worth of data. You pay Telecom a truck-load of money to receive it at 20 cents per megabyte once you're past your 400MB monthly limit.

There is no way broadband take-up will ever accelerate in New Zealand as long as we're charged by the megabyte. The cost of too much traffic cripples many users and I know of a number who have downgraded from JetStream to the price-capped JetStart -- not because they don't like the speed but because they can't afford JetStream's unpredictable billing.

Telecom did promise it would be implementing more tools for JetStream users so that we could better monitor and manage our download usage. Yeah, right. Anyone who has been to the woefully inadequate usage page will know what I mean. It takes ages to load and simply gives you an overall usage level for the month. Oh, and you can compare with the last few months as well. There are no tools for checking your connection, testing your security, tweaking your settings for better throughput or checking your download speeds. Not one.

If you're keen to do any of the above, visit the NZ DSL information page with its speed test or DSL Reports in the US for a battery of tests and comparisons as well as heaps of articles about broadband tricks from around the world.

So what's to be done? Obviously from a user's perspective we need a different billing model. Dial-up has swiftly moved from per-megabyte usage to per-hour usage and on to the "all you can eat to a certain level" standard. Broadband can't adopt the per-hour model because it's always on, assuming the 99.999% network is up, of course.

That only leaves the "all you can eat" option and, as the ISPs are discovering with JetStart, users take that literally. I could have told them that -- a lifetime ago I worked for a certain chain of pizza restaurants (let's call them Pizza Shack) when they introduced a flat-rate all-you-could-eat plan. Budgeting for six slices per patron, we in fact averaged closer to 30 because we were close to a university and all the starving students used to come down for a nosh on a Tuesday night.

Bandwidth doesn't have to be delivered that way. There are, of course, two types of traffic -- national and international. Telecom charges DSL users at the flat rate of 20 cents per megabyte once you breach your monthly limit. TelstraClear's Paradise ISP, on the other hand, charges 20 cents per meg for international traffic and only 2 cents per meg for local.

The problem with that is convincing people that the .co.nz site they visited was actually hosted in Los Angeles and that they should pay more. And I'm sure we don't really want an itemised bill arriving on our desks at the end of each month.

Xtra signed an agreement with Akamai Technology over a year ago that means Xtra will host Akamai servers, with their content, locally. Akamai provides content hosting for multimedia providers like QuickTime with its movie trailers. That means my Ice Age trailer was actually served up from a local cache rather than its US equivalent. I get it faster, but not cheaper. Not yet, anyway.

Separating out the billing for local and international traffic is one quick way to bring down the costs for end users without blowing the budget. I'm sure there are others. Isn't it time we started looking at these?

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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