Manuel made a good point in his comment over at The Jester-in-Exile’s A better draft memorandum order on Minimum Speed of Broadband Connections. So I will try to convey it in real world terms.
What do I mean by Broadband
“Broadband,” has come to mean how fast your Internet connection is. It is commonly associated with the transmission method by which “Internet data” is transmitted to you, and you back to the Internet.
“Bandwidth,” on the other hand is rate Internet data is transmitted to you.
In a road analogy, broadband is the difference between a street, an avenue, a highway or a freeway. Bandwidth is the top speed you’re allowed to travel to and from the road.
In a water analogy, broadband is the difference between how large the pipe is going to and from your house or office to your service provider. Bandwidth is the rate of pressure your service provider allows to pass the pipes to your home/office from the Service Provider office.
Broadband is also described as an Internet connection that is faster than dial-up. Dial-up, just for the record has a speed of 48.8kpbs.
When I speak of “Internet data,” it is anything conveyed over the Internet protocol, which is the network as it exists outside of your house or office. So this could be music that you are downloading from iTunes. It could be parts of the game you are transmitting, and receiving while playing a game of Counter Strike that you are playing against your cousin who is in the Internet cafe down the street. It could be the latest Lady Gaga Music video published on YouTube. It could be a rant you are reading on this blog.
So broadband could be transmitted to you through a number of ways.
Broadband could be transmitted through your phone line. This is called, ADSL, or asynchronous digital subscriber line. It is asynchronous because your download— the rate of Internet data going into your house or office is much faster than the rate you are allowed to send Internet data from your house or office. For example, you can receive Email at the rate of 10kbps, but you can only send email to your friends at 5kbps.
Another way to transmit Internet data, is called “Cable Internet.” This is Internet data sent to you via your Cable company’s line. It typically exists right beside your cable TV. Think of CNN as driving in parallel with your Lady Gaga stream, but on separate lanes.
Then there is something called, Wireless broadband. This happens over cellular network. Wireless broadband is what the networks call, “3G,” or “HSDPA.” From the cell tower internet data is sent and received by your mobile phone.
This is different from “WiFi.”
Think of WiFi as more localized. This exist inside your home, your office or in an environment like the mall. It is a means to allow people to share a Broadband connection.
So Broadband is more on the telco or service provider side, while WIFi is more on the end user side. It is important to make these distinctions.
It is also important to note that between the data sent from the Telco to your house and vice versa, there is bound to be some “signal degradation.” So for example, a rate of 1MBps is theoretical. There are real world, matter of physics and engineering reasons why 10 is not a 10, but typically an 8 or at best, a 9. It could be the type of cabling used. It could be issue with a router that connects the cables used. It could be your distance to the router, the boxes and the switches. It could be a software issue.
For example, take a typical ISP modem that your service provider installed in your home. This is any modem installed worldwide. It would normally have a 10mbps/100mbps rating. Which only means that you can connect a cable rated to run at 10mbps or 100mbps. So you choose of course the 100mbps cable. You’re not going to get 100mbps speed off that.
My point is, people naturally expect some degradation.
So, when you go to your ISP and they tell you the service package is 1Mbps, they will tell you that it is a range. That that is the theoretical max speed. If you go to globe for example their sales is going to tell you that you shouldn’t expect to get that speed.
What you should expect in a 1Mbps connection, something like a real world speed of 784Kbps, but no slower than 512Kbps or 80 percent of your subscribed speed, but no less than 60 percent of that speed.
So if your connection is slower, then your’e being cheated.
“Yes, you girl in the back!”
“I don’t even know all this mumbo jumbo stuff on bandwidth. I can barely open my computer let alone tell you how fast it goes. I only know when watching Youtube, that it does that ‘buffering,’ a lot. It takes sssoooo long to watch Old Spice guy! And you know what? Sometimes, I can even connect!!!! What’s up with that? ”
In real world terms, this is like the water company saying to expect high pressure coming out of your faucet, but you only get a tickle, drop.
Another analogy is the highway. The government allows you a top speed of of 100kph, but because the roads are filled with potholes, you can’t even reach the minimum speed of 30kph.
To be honest, 1Mbps is something you needed like 10 years ago. In today’s world, a 1Mbps speed is like dial-up was back in the day.
That’s not all. We’re headed towards a video centric world. CNN’s website is typically video. Most news sites have video, and tons of photos. Both take bandwidth.
Consumer complaint and state of the Internet in the Philippines
Consumer complaint is the slow Internet. The Internet in the Philippines is one of the slowest in the world. We pay more for our slow Internet than our neighboring countries in ASEAN.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report is a report that highlights the key role of ICT as an enabler. It is described as “the world’s most comprehensive, and authoritative international assessment of the impact of ICT on the development process, and how competitive nations are.” It ranked the Philippines 85 out of 133 countries, right behind Trinidad and Tobago, Russia, El Salvador, Ukraine, Guatemala and Serbia. To compare, Vietnam ranks 54 out of 133. Thailand ranks 47 out of 133.
In 2010, Yahoo-Nielsen revealed a study on Net Index 2010. They determined that 69 percent of Internet users in the Philippines are using the Internet from Internet cafes. That Internet commerce in the Philippines is negligible. They also determined that mobile internet grew from nothing— 0 percent, to five percent between 2009 and 2010 because the telecom providers gave preferential pricing.
So the state of the network in the Philippines isn’t simply anecdotal.
What the NTC said
There are three important things to note in the NTC draft memorandum order.
First, the policy of “Best effort” continues. Meaning, it will not demand that telcos meet an exact reliability standard. It means, the NTC will not care if telcos reasonably meet and continuously meet 80 percent of the broadband speed they advertised. NTC will not chastise a broadband provider if they delivered 70 percent most of the time to a subscriber, when they should be delivering 80 percent.
Second, while the NTC says there should be a minimum speed requirement, it does not say what exactly is this minimum speed that consumers should expect from their service provider.
Third, it imposes a cap on the amount of data you consume.
The best real world analogy for this is water rationing. During a drought for example, the water company would limit the amount of water you would consume. Fresh water is a resource that is hard to come by. So during warm months, the water company would require that you only consume say, 10 liters of water, or else they will cut off the tap.
A truck from the water company for example would swing by your neighborhood. You will all have to line up carrying only two drums of water, because that’s all you’re allowed to get so everyone gets a chance to have drinking water.
That said, Internet data is created and destroyed all the time. Your Aunt Lily would post embarrassing family photos every few months on Facebook. Leo Laporte’s This Week in Tech would broadcast a podcast every week. The Colbert Report comes out daily. The New York Times would publish a news article every few hours. A new YouTube video goes up every few minutes. A tweet gets sent every few seconds.
Oh, and that neighbor who is addicted to CounterStrike and World of Warcraft, he gets to play an hour after school daily in his favorite neighborhood Internet cafe.
Distance, volume, and sometimes faulty code can seriously impair network speed. ISPs have the ability to increase the flow or decrease the rate of Internet data. It is simply a matter of software. ISPs also know the number of accounts connected to a particular junction or router. There is an understandable, physical limit to the amount of data that passes through a router. Yet, this physical limit could be overcome by technology.
So what the NTC is saying, and what the Telcos want to do is to limit your bandwidth consumption. For example, they will allocate 5GB of data per day. That seems to be a lot. I personally consume, 1GB to 2GB per day. But i’m not the only one who consumes Internet. There are at least four other people using the same Internet connection.
5GB is nothing.
Not to mention, the speed is so slow, it consumes a lot of time.
Ergo, Brandwidth isn’t really a finite resource. It is simply limited by economics and technology.
Government and the Free Market
What’s stopping the upgrade of technology is simply an economic one. Bocchi explained it in his study of the Philippine puzzle. As in every business, ISPs would naturally milk existing technology. If they can get more subscribers to use the same existing infrastructure, without shelling out capital expenditure, and thus improving the bottom-line is good isn’t it? Businesses are benefiting from the status quo, so they see no need to reinvest.
What’s happening in the Philippines’ telecom sector is the lack of initiative to reinvest. From the point of view of the telco, why should we spend money, when we’re pretty much making money with our current technology? We will invest only at the last possible second.
Service providers have done so with Cellular technology. Remember a few years ago when SMS was popular but the technology was lousy? Messages got lost or arrived late. Spam was everywhere.
In the position of the Telco, you would do the same, would you not?
Shareholder value must be protected. They have employees to pay, and a business to run. From the point of view of the service provider it is an understandable position, is it not?
The NTC’s reason
The NTC explained that the reason they want to impose the cap is to prevent illegal downloads.
This is an all together different issue from the fact that the Telcos are not delivering reliable, and fast internet in the Philippines.
In fact, there are pretty much many legitimate uses of broadband that consumes bandwidth. Take the downloading of content from iTunes, I have been quoted by Chin Wong, in his Manila Standard Today column, “Broadband dunce cap” on this.
How exactly do you download iTunes in the Philippines, when in fact, iTunes is only limited to an App Store?
Over at my blog, I published a How to buy iTunes music, movies, TV shows, apps, and books if you’re living in the Philippines. Without a credit card.
TEDTalks. YouTube videos.
Just last November (2010) I got a chance to participate in Sony and DC Comics’ beta program for their up and coming game, DC Universe Online. It is a massively multiplay roleplaying game, set in DC Universe. You get to play beside Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, as if you are a character in their universe. You get to play hero or villain. You get to go on missions.
It was geekgasm.
But you know what? It took several days to download the game. Not surprisingly, the game when I first had to download it was a whooping 12.3GB.
That’s like downloading 3 DVDs.
It is perfectly legal. It is legitimate use of Internet.
My point is, to argue that to associate huge bandwidth use with illegal content is a mistake. In fact, capping doesn’t solve the problem of software or content piracy at all. It will simply make it more difficult, but won’t certainly stop people if you don’t give people the ability to get content legitimately.
The lack of a local iTunes music store, for example I think speaks more about content licensing than actual technology limitation. The lack of streaming from Hulu and Netflix outside the United States is a content licensing issue.
People who are interested in buying content, can never get to it. So what happens, you’re creating generations of people who are getting used to simply getting their content.
A piece of music from iTunes cost as low PHP50.00. Apps too. Yet, you still have people preferring to get their content and their apps for free. Why? They want the content, but can’t get to it. You don’t sell it to them. There is no mechanism to say, we’re open for business. So prepaid card to buy content. No incentive to go legit. So an entire underground “economy” exists.
If you have that digital store open then people won’t have an excuse not to buy legitimate content. Correct?
My point is: broadband caps do not make the situation better. It doesn’t bring money to the content producers. It doesn’t make the economy grow. It simply pays the telcos more money for something they’ve already invested in and have milked on for years. No innovation.
The role of Government in the Free Market
The Free Market, I believe should be gospel. It makes the world go around. Yet, at the same time, we also know that a Free Market doesn’t mean it is without regulation. It means to have the minimum set of regulation to maintain balance. In a Free Market, government as a referee, as an instrument that levels the playing field and steps in only when absolutely necessary.
Every game has a set of rules so everyone plays fair and in a Free Market, government is referee and ensures that everyone plays fair.
That’s what we need here in the Telco industry and Internet in the Philippines. We need a minimum set of rules to determine how it is governed, and how it is governed properly. The Internet is a medium where everyone is both a producer of content, and a consumer of it. We have only the experience of Radio and television to tell us how the Internet will fare in a world where the lowest common netizen is not protected.
To join content and the speed and reliability of internet service in the Philippines is muddling the issue. It is a separate matter that has more to do with licensing than the pipes used to deliver the content. It is like saying roads are bad because we let trucks pass through them.
In the Philippines, more so than in many parts of the world, there is indeed a great digital divide. It is a divide between who is connected, and who isn’t. So many times there is a misconception of what the Internet is.
Today there are more people connected to the Internet using Internet cafes than there are at their homes. It speaks of the state of our economy, as much as it speaks about the quality of internet service we have in the country.
To let broadband cap through now would be a disservice to those people down the road. To look into the future and to cap say mobile internet use would also be a disservice, as Cellular networks are keys to getting the developing world online.
Studies have shown that Internet boosts productivity. That when the right set of policies are in place, broadband yields to real world GDP growth. In a nation such as ours, we need all the leverage that we can possibly get. We need a national cyber strategy that is holistic and true, and not born out of fear, but of imagination and hope and promise.
We are great big pioneers. What we do here today. How we define what the Internet is, vibrates ten years; twenty years; even a hundred years from now. We are still in the beginning of the Internet age.
At CES 2011, Microsoft announced a way to integrate its gaming system Kinect, which lets you play games without a controller with such features as netflix, hulu and even ESPN. The same system lets you watch say a game on ESPN, have a social interaction on that screen with say your brother watching the same game in a different country. They should the promise of what a virtual world would look like and how we could exchange social interactions in the future.
This is that video:
That would be data-centric. That would require bandwidth. That is a perfectly legitimate use of the network.
Microsoft sold 8 million kinect sensors in the last six months of 2010. And this is just the beginning.
Truth is, tomorrow is a data-centric world. And the shape of that tomorrow is here now. Everything now connects to the network. And it will only become more so. It must be governed or we may wake up one day to learn we have sold the future.
You might also be interested to read an Open letter to President Aquino and the 15th Congress on NTC Broadband cap draft memorandum
And it leads to The Jester-in-Exile’s better version of the NTC’s draft memorandum.
Image by XKCD, some rights reserved.