One of the best features of a Web 2.0 world is the sheer volume of variety and choice made available to us. With the vast amount of competition out there, companies have to provide value and respond quickly in order to keep their customers happy. However not all companies are embracing the new models of competition and are instead continuing their strong armed tactics by giving us a steaming pile and forcing us to accept it with a smile.
Last week I came to the realization that with Netflix and iTunes, I would be able to cut out the $50 portion of my cable TV bill and ditch the 80 or so channels I never watch, including 3 shopping channels, 3 sports channels, 6 family channels, numerous foreign language channels, and one Lifetime Channel for Women that my fiance tortures me with. Farewell Melissa Gilbert, Rachael Ray, and Paula Deen! You are thus banished from my home!
I'm currently interested in about 6 shows, all of which it turns out I can get on iTunes. Plus, Netflix handles all of my movie needs. If I'm generous with my iTunes figures, it adds up to about $300 in purchases each year, versus the $600 I pay for all of the "variety" that Comcast provides me. The old model of just piping junk into my home simply doesn't make sense to me anymore.
The "New" Old Model
All of us have uttered at one point or another, "why can't I just pay for what I want?" The reason of course is that in order to continue to charge you outrageous monthly service fees, both cable companies and telecoms have had to continue adding more and more services and choices that you don't need, to justify their inflated rates. But all of us know we are getting the raw end of the deal. Our phone bills are going up, our cable bills are going up, and the actual value we get from these things is going down.
I've been frustrated with this for years and I finally have the power to do something about it. I'll reward companies that give me value and punish those that do not. I will encourage more business in the Web 2.0 space by voting with my dollar. And I'll start, with cutting the cable.
Not So Fast Buddy
I called Comcast and asked to disconnect the cable television part of my bill and just keep my high speed internet. They were very nice and said, no problem. They would be happy to do that.
"Oh yeah...btw...we also have to cut your 6Mbps connection down to 3Mbps, and we're gonna have to charge you more money for it. Or, we can offer you basic cable and you get to keep your high speed connection for just $64."
So wait, you are giving me the choice of charging me more money for less features, or charging me more money and giving me less value? I guess I'll take what I don't want...to keep what I do want. Thank goodness for deregulation!
Ugh...I feel so dirty...is there a support group for this?
Of course as long as companies like Comcast own the pipes, don't expect any of this to change. But this experience got me thinking about Net Neutrality. What I wonder is, as services like iTunes, Joost, Netflix, and others begin to make greater inroads into the Comcast cash cow, and as the telecoms begin to provide cable tv options as well, will they be choking off the value of competing services by slowing down the pipes? I mean let's be honest here...according to the person I talked to, I can only keep my fast connection if I also keep their cable programming...something I do not want. And If I choose any other service above theirs...while only keeping the internet portion, I can't have the fastest connection they provide. I have to pay more money for a slower connection.
This seems like an anti-competitive tactic and is something we need to start looking closely at now. iTunes may be a juggernaut at the moment, but they can't compete with Comcast and other cable/telecom companies, if they start choking off the connection. And that's not just bad for Apple, Google, or Yahoo!, it hurts every other company out there, especially the smaller ones.
Once companies like Comcast start to see a decline in cable tv subscribers, will they want to see a higher charge for delivering other types of online content? You bet they will. And what good is freedom of choice if there are only a few choices...and each of those companies are playing the same game with their "tubes." Will telecom companies start charging you more money if you use Skype on their network, but charge you less if you accept their VOIP solution? There is no doubt in my mind this is where things are headed.
I'd like to collect your stories of how you are changing your spending habits or how Web 2.0 companies are disrupting the old business models in your daily life. Write to me here and I'll post your story. Hopefully we can inspire and help other people learn about new companies and services that can add value, and not just feature/pricing bloat.
However, I'd also like you to post on your own blogs about the possibility of these companies slowing down their connections, simply to use them as a means to selling their own content above another competitors. We need to start paying attention to this before it becomes a reality.
As someone in the comments section pointed out that my use of the phrase "Net Neutrality" wasn't applicable in this scenario, I wanted to elaborate a small amount. I took my argument from Tim Berners Lee definition of Net Neutrality which you can find here:
"If I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level."
He also says:
"Net Neutrality is NOT asking for the internet for free.Net Neutrality is NOT saying that one shouldn't pay more money for high quality of service. We always have, and we always will."
This argument isn't just limited to one side of the connection.
I'm saying that ISPs could use a tactic of making their media or telephony services more attractive to customers by essentially "forcing" us to buy bundles we don't want and limiting the bandwidth accessible to us unless we take those bundled services. Because companies like Comcast offer media and telephony services in addition to owning the pipes, they could limit our access to their highest speed connections unless we take their other services...thus leaving companies like Google, Skype, Apple, Joost, and smaller companies from competing on an even field. And in case you aren't paying attention to what I said above, that is exactly what Comcast did by limiting my bandwidth to 3Mbps unless I took their basic cable service. This forces me to pay an additional $200+ a year for an aspect of the service I didn't want, and then not giving me the option of paying more for the 6Mbps without the cable tv.
That...is simply not right.
Another person mentioned in a comment that I should quit whining and just cancel my Comcast account and go with another ISP. Well with a limited number of ISPs to choose from, and many of them rolling out similar services, we could see these companies effectively shutting out competitors and also keeping us from maximizing the "certain quality of service" on both ends of the connection.
"Freedom of connection, with any application, to any party, is the fundamental social basis of the Internet, and, now, the society based on it."
-Tim Berners Lee
How will other companies compete with their media and telephony services if the only way we can access the fastest connections is to be forced to take the ISPs same services as well...even if we don't want them?