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The Broadband Consumer Dilemma

I’m writing this en route back to Austin, flying at over 500 miles per hour at an altitude of 35,000 feet. And I’m really frustrated that the in-flight internet isn’t working.

It is truly absurd.

Not that it’s not working but that I “expect” to maintain constant connectivity while being in a flying can more than 6 miles up in the sky.

But I do.

I’m not proud of it…and even wince a bit because I recall a comedian who in a skit made fun of reactions like this…of people like me. [Editor’s note:  here’s a video clip of Louis C.K.’s comedy clip that Doug references.]

The challenge for providers is that I believe there are a lot of people like me.  Our level of expectation is pretty outrageous and only getting higher.  In a stadium with 100,000 other smartphone carrying people, the air is filled with complaints about mobile connectivity, with the complainers not giving thought to the fact that they are in the midst of effectively 1/7th the population of my city packed into a single square block and seemingly all of them are tweeting, foursquaring, or facebooking about that last great play (which, for the Longhorns, was last year, btw).  Trying to download a video around 9pm - the start of the Internet’s prime time as we covered last week -- we complain about how “slow” the internet is, not giving any thought to the fact that the rest of the neighborhood is downloading a high-def movie too, or playing Halo, or having a video call.

In my fit of self-righteousness, stating that I am “entitled” to maximum speed, maximum coverage, maximum network everything because, after all, “I paid for it” - it makes me wonder…“Did I, really?”

Sure, I pay a monthly fee for all of those things, and, I have to admit that considering what I get, it’s really a good deal.  But am I willing to pay more to have neighborhood broadband lines undersubscribed?  Am I willing to pay for greater density of coverage for that time or two a year when I am part of the sea of humanity at the stadium?  And am I willing to pay more to have ultra-fast internet available, in say, the West Texas desert, when I only go there a couple times in a decade?  In some cases, the answer is “yes, absolutely,” in more cases it would be “that depends, how much?” but in most cases, the answer is a definitive “no.”   The added cost just wouldn’t be worth it to me.  And unless there are a lot of people like me saying “yes,” then it certainly wouldn’t be worth it to the provider who would have to make even more serious investments to make it happen.

Most consumers don’t care about the provider’s investment needed or profitability generated… and, granted, I am closer to the issue than most average consumers by the nature of my job.  But I also have haunting memories of 2001 when my DSL carrier went belly up, forcing me for a few, brutal, still-painful-to-this-day-to-think-about months, I had to revert back to dial-up.  That made me appreciate what I had before and made me a bit guilty for my complaining attitude for what, in actuality, was a pretty good service.

Like then, maybe now is the time when I should take pause, and even if I am a few hours offline while in the air, I should reflect on how far we’ve come in a short time, be thankful for the opportunity to have been able to connect en route every other time I’ve tried, and not only look ahead to the ever advancing and innovative future of this industry, but also to take pause and look out my window.

Man, is it ever beautiful up here.

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3 Comments.


  1. Ha! The Louis C.K. quote was exactly what I thought of as well. And while I agree with what he says, I still feel exactly the same way: I expect to be able to get into an aluminum can in L.A. and end up in NYC just several hours later like it’s no big deal.

    Same with the internet — I just switched my fast, stable, wired internet connection for CLEAR – a wireless ‘broadband’ service, and while getting 4-5mbps anywhere in major cities is nice, it’s not nice enough to sacrifice the extra 25mbps I was getting in one location for the same price.

    In the end, though, it’s good we get annoyed. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be any innovation.

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  2. Doug Webster

    Great point… the rising levels of expectation do feed innovation… otherwise, we’d still have that 14.4 modems..!

    Your thoughts on mobile broadband vs. fixed broadband are interesting and would, I imagine, vary based on application and frequency of mobility. It’s tough to compare it to 25Mbps line such as you’d get from FTTH if your application was high-def video based and largely fixed in your living room with some mobility to the back yard… but if you’re a frequent business traveler or college student changing dorm rooms every other semester and taking the PC to class then I would think that it may be preferred vs. being shackled to an ethernet jack.

    Do you see any applications where the value balance would shift for you more in favor of a high speed mobile connection vs. a super highspeed fixed one?

    Many thanks for the feedback and discussion,
    Doug

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  3. Hi Doug,

    Excellent post !!

    Psychologically as well as technically speaking you have hit a nail on the head. For a broadband company this is a hint to think about developing flexible & dynamic pricing model for a peak vs non-peak usage pattern or vs. different traffic or bandwidth consumption patterns according to the application being used and map it to the expected level of satisfaction at that particular level for that particular broadband consumer. One day we might see such a model coming in as the broadband provider’s systems become more intelligent in identifying such patterns and dynamically adjusting to the tiers of consumer’s expectations at that moment for the particular application which consumer can use at best speed and best coverage and the consumer is charged accordingly by the broadband provider for living up to the expectations.

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