Thursday, June 06, 2013

Another Angle

Matt Kreuch sent me an excellent e-mail last week about broadband, and he graciously agreed to let me share it with you. It raises some interesting questions about infrastructure in the U.S. and how data caps are affecting how we consume media.

I said last year that a war was looming between service providers and content providers over data caps, but that hasn't happened yet. I don't see any way that it's not coming, though.

From here on, it's all Matt.

I've enjoyed reading your analysis on the used games market and the cryptic release notes on the Xbox One.  I mention these together because this speaks to a much larger trend in gaming and that is the digital delivery of most media today.  

First, some back story and why this is relevant to me.  Seven years ago I moved from CT to Northern Virginia (less than an hour from DC).  In selecting a new home, I thought I covered all the questions I needed to research before committing to my area.  The home was 1 year old in a new build community.  Upon moving in I was hit in the face with the one question that did not cross my mind at the time which is broadband availability.  My town in CT has had broadband cable service since the mid-1990's so my wrong assumption when moving to VA was that broadband is like every other utility in a modern home and that I would have choices.  Very bad assumption.  My service today is a local wireless service that I am fortunate enough to have a line of sight to the tower on a hill several miles from my home.  They classify themselves as broadband but it's a VERY loose definition (up to 1.0 Mbps).  The bandwidth fluctuates greatly.  I work from home and often can't VPN in because the service is too slow.  When kids get home from school and on weekends the service slows to a crawl.  It's really horrible.  I tell my kids tales of "true broadband" and they think I'm making stuff up.  They have never experienced broadband connectivity and they play online games daily (they wonder why they always die in online shooters!).  Lastly, the service is expensive at $70 per month.  

Over the course of the past year, I've been campaigning to my county representatives to deliver broadband to my area.  Here comes the funny part.... My county, Loudoun County, is regularly reported as the fastest growing county in America with a high median income and tech savvy residents.  I live 18 miles away from one of Verizon's largest offices.  My neighbors are executive for tech firms (Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, etc.) supporting the government and almost everyone I know also works from home.  We are growing so fast that a new high school is built almost every year in our county including a new one on the border of my community.  Further, the county has a 15 year agreement (we are in year 8) in place with Verizon and Comcast to deliver broadband to the "western" portions of our county which they have ignored--quite simply, because they can.  I've read the agreements thoroughly and the broadband providers re-interpret specific language in their favor to escape the density requirements that should govern where they install service.  In October of last year I got really serious about the dire need for broadband in our area and was quickly struck by what a monumental task this is.  It's literally been a 2nd job for me.  I've made tremendous progress including a recent conference call between the county and a group of Verizon execs where they state they will make a decision within the next 30 days, however, I'm not hopeful that anything will ever really get done (I'd bore you to death if I walked through the bureaucratic nightmare I've been navigating to get this far).  The county even issued a study recently where they identified the lack of progress in broadband coverage and called out my community as the prime example.

So why am I telling you all this?  With the primary delivery of media turning to digital delivery, what consideration is being made to the majority of the US that does not have access to true broadband?  I buy most of my games off of Steam now since there is absolutely no selection at the big box stores anymore.  A typical download for me is 3 days for an 8-10GB game.  I usually start it late at night and clog my bandwidth for a 3 day period in which my wife yells at me that she can't get her email.  My kids both play the same games I do and we take turns downloading a new game.  They both play World of Warcraft which was a 21GB download and a miserable week + for all!

The service providers have pretty much stopped installing fiber and cable services.  They are now turning to their branded wireless services such as the Verizon 4G network.  The problem with this model is that these services all require data caps.  For Verizon 4G, 15GB data cap is a $90 per month service.  This is just not acceptable.  Below is a map that shows broadband coverage in the US.  I think this is eye opening in that without cooperation by the broadband service providers to deliver no cap service to the masses, digital delivery is becoming a deal breaker for many of us.  I play games much less today because of it.  I can't enjoy the same experience with online features, constant updates, new add-on releases that other do so I just don't bother anymore.  This applies to movies (Directv & Dish are only options in my area) and other digital media today as well (no Smartv for me).

 I've rambled on enough but I haven't heard this side of the story anywhere.  I don't think we, in the US, are willing to commit enough to our infrastructure to make digital delivery accessible beyond the major metro areas.

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