Net Neutrality: Real Consequences

The Blogosphere has been throwing around the term "Net Neutrality" for a while now, discussing the theoretical morality and practicality of such an edict, and generally discussing it on a very high level that only the Technologists of the world really care to argue about.

Things are about to get ugly.

Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, recently spoke at UBS (big investment company) conference in NY, and spoke about the possibility of charging heavy data users more than the average  data user. He specifically pointed to the fact that 3% of AT&T smartphone users are responsible for 40% of total data usage. He went on to describe in which AT&T is devising ways for users to be able to track their data usage in real time, hopefully curbing the data usage behaviors of the super-heavy users.

(As a total aside, that's ridiculous. Do they really expect users to stop using data because they feel bad? They bought unlimited plans; unlimited is what they'll get. To expect them to be socially conscious of their data usage is just bad market research)

Market analysts are seeing this announcement as a threat to users: Rein in data usage, or we'll charge you more for it. There's nothing wrong with doing that, only that you'd lose all of your customers. Your status as an "unlimited" user doesn't alleviate the scarcity of data that ISPs have to deal with. There is a finite number that represents the size of total bandwidth, and simple rules of supply and demand require ISPs to charge for demand when supply is scarce. So, why now? Why is AT&T talking about this now when this has been a problem since phones became smart years ago?

Jared Newman, at PC World, has a great theory. He claims that AT&T is bluffing to try and stave off the Net Neutrality movement. Proponents of NN want to impose rehgulations that make ISP bandwidth allocation equal across all legal uses of data communication. One advantage of this is that Comcast would have to stop throttling bandwidth of heavy peer-to-peer file sharing users. This is the kind of behavior that the people behind NN are displaying as reasons to regulate bandwidth. However, it also means that bandwidth will become even scarcer than it already is.

Right now, AT&T users on video chat in Skype are getting a faster connection speed than users checking their email. This makes obvious sense. Why give users connection speeds they don't need? This is a dynamic and fluid allocation, because it is dependent on what you are currently using. The email checker gets a higher speed when he switches to using video chat and the video chatter gets his bandwidth throttled when he checks his mail. This is how ISPs conserve bandwidth and ultimately save money for the consumer.

Newman thinks AT&T is trying to scare off proponents of NN by threatening to raise rates. And they would have no choice but to raise rates if everyone was forced to have equal bandwidth all the time. It would mean that the amount of bandwidth required by the heavy users would have to be equal to the bandwidth given to the light users. AT&T wants to make something very clear: Do this, and the customer will pay. We'll gladly give out more bandwidth, but bandwidth is much more scarce in the wireless industry than in the wired industry, and someone has to foot the bill. Newman thinks we need to call their bluff, and force them to stop throttling bandwidth. He doesn't think they'll follow through and charge more. I disagree.

People take "unlimited plans" for granted. ISPs market it as a golden ticket to infinite data when in reality your speeds are measured and change constantly so that the illusion of unlimited can be maintained. When you sign up for wired internet, you don't ever get an unlimited plan. It's already assumed that you can use as much data as you like. However, there are very clear brackets of download speeds that cost more or less. The speed you get is the speed you pay for, and that's how things have been working for quite some time. There's no reason why AT&T can't start pursuing a similar model. Putting a data rate cap on low-paying users would be no different than Comcast putting a cap on users in their budget cable Internet plan. People are seeing these threats as "against the consumer" and "typical evil corporation" when in reality they are just planning on doing what the rest of the wired Internet world has been doing for years.

So, while Net Neutrality may cause this to happen, it will end up happening regardless of Net Neutrality laws being passed. Data will always be a scarce resource, becuase no matter how fast you manage to get the data to users, someone will build software that requires the full potential of whatever data rate you can dream up. Net Neutrality will just force wireless providers to make an already scarce resource even scarcer, making users who wouldn't need to pay more for speed spend more money just to support the small-time users who won'n need the bandwidth anyways. This just seems like a big waste to me.


The Technologist Manifesto

There’s something fundamentally wrong with a group of people that define themselves proudly by a term that is considered derogatory for 95% of cultured civilization. No, I’m not talking about Democrats (Joke. Please don’t unleash the Flames). I’m referring to Geeks.

It makes me cringe to even say it now. Why have we been putting up with this for so long? The fact that we’re really good at what we do has been completely subsumed by the idea that we don’t take showers (we don’t. But that’s not the point). The fact that the world is becoming more dependent on our services every day is completely ignored next to the fact that we can’t talk to members of the opposite gender (we actually can. As long as that person knows their way around a command prompt and can give us the decimal representation of a 6-digit binary number, we could SO have a coherent conversation). The fact that several of the world’s wealthiest people subscribe to our dogmas, and that that the President of the Frikin’ USA demanded that his blackberry be tweaked, by us, for use as the Official Smartphone of the Commander in Chief does nothing to ameliorate our allegedly more important lack of fashion sense.

You see, we have an image problem. When Best Buy unveiled its newest nefarious plan to coerce money from the wallets of innocent consumers, The Geek Squad, they made it very clear that these people couldn’t dress themselves beyond black and white, with a skinny black tie. They made it very clear that these people had no life whatsoever and that they were created simply to hook up all your crap, and drive Beetles while doing it. They wanted people to come in expecting an anti-social college grad that hadn’t showered in at least 2 days, who acted superior and condescending, who spoke incoherently about all things technical, and in the name of all that is unholy, they succeeded.

The point I’m trying to get at here is that we need to find a different name for ourselves. Yes, I know that we like to be non-conformist and identify ourselves with a label that only we think is ‘cool’. But seriously, we aren't in high school anymore (We are in college). We need to grow up and realize that as much as we like being ‘different’ and ‘counter-culture’, we need to get jobs. The world has come a long way in the past 40 or so years making the computer world a necessary part of life, but those who master the science of the geek must come out from under the silicon curtain. We need to free ourselves from our self-imposed showerless incarceration and start wearing clothes that match. We need to break free from the chains of parental dependence and start proving to the world that can apply the same skills we use to kill users kill ninjas troubleshoot PCs to living a life as productive citizens.

Now, I know that this is a lot to ask; Identifying color schemes between all the various necessary clothing objects on my person is a skill set that will haunt me for the rest of my days. However, I propose a small but important step. We need to change our name. I don’t mean translating our current names into Klingon (Google already offers this important service to humanity). We have to do away with the term “Geek”. Maybe if we stop calling ourselves geeks, we wouldn’t follow the negative behaviors associated with the term. If we were called Computerologists, maybe we would take one more shower a week. If we were called Computing Professionals, we would dress a little better. Maybe if we weren’t called “IT guys” but “IT Men” we would have some more self-confidence in casual conversation. Maybe if Desktop support was replaced with Desktop Pwnage Operation, we would get paid a little more.

There are many possible names, some better than others (IT Men sounds like it would be a great name for a gay Internet CafĂ©). In all seriousness, I’m leaning towards Technologist (Cham-vaD, loosely translated into Klingon [“for technology”]). I go around calling myself a professional geek, but I would feel a whole lot better about myself if I would go around calling myself a technologist. A company wouldn’t have an IT guy (or Man), but instead have a Resident Technologist. There are probably better names out there on the Interwebs, but that’s the best I can think of right now.

From here on out, I will try to refrain from using the word “geek” to describe my Technologist brethren. The image of the “geek” is one we made for ourselves and we are the only ones that can fix it. We have an image to save, and right now it’s being saved as a low-quality JPEG. Get that lossy **** of a format off my hard drive, take your rightful place in society, and don’t ever wear a brown belt with black shoes.

Note: This is a work in progress. I plan on making revisions and improvements to this as they come to me. I'll keep you posted. Maybe one day somebody will take it seriously.