Comcast, Netflix and the Mystery of the Modem
I bought Markie a Wii for Christmas last year. I admit, it was partially selfish… I'm not really into video games and I can't really see her spending a lot of time bowling or playing tennis or doing yoga, but you can watch Netflix 'watch instantly' movies on the Wii.
Last night we were both exhausted and ended up watching Zombieland on the Wii. Then there was a little browsing around and we started watching the TV series Heros. We got about 2/3 through the second episode and suddenly the Internet connection was gone.
After the Supreme Court ruled that the FCC cannot regulate Internet Traffic Comcast started 'throttling' certain services. I use a file sharing tool called BitTorrent which works by connecting to 100s of other computers simultaneously to get bits of and pieces of one big file. This is a huge bandwidth hog, so it makes sense that Comcast makes that program uses less of the pipe.
Netflix also uses a lot of bandwidth when you 'watch instantly' although it's a lot less disruptive to the network than BitTorrent. But, Netflix is in direct competition with Comcast's On Demand service and their new Xfinity service that streams movies over the Internet just like Netflix.
So, if you're Comcast, unfettered by the FCC, and you see one of your customers watching movie after movie on Netflix, movies you could be renting out at 5 bucks a pop, why wouldn't you interrupt their service?
Now, mind you, I called Comcast and asked them if there was any trouble with my line. They told me it must be the cable modem. Except when I got up this morning I found the modem was working fine and I'm back online.
It is possible that the constant connection caused a capacitor to overload in the cheap cable modem or that some other intermittent failure caused it to be unable to connect. But I somehow think it's a lot more possible that some engineer somewhere is working on ways to make using non-Comcast services less reliable.
Let's say it's true that Comcast is blocking my Internet after I watch 'too much Netflix.' Despite what the big boys have said, I don't have a lot of alternatives for broadband service. There's DSL, which is slower than cable and forces me to deal with a phone company I hate (and I have to get a land line again) or there's WiMax through Clear which is even a step slower, and new enough that I don't want to have to rely on it full time.
The other two options, cell modems and satellite, are slow connections that have a cap on how much data you can download. Ruling out Netflix again.
Without the FCC rules to let me buy bandwidth that I can do what I please with, the only innovation is going to come from Comcast and the phone companies. Not exactly the most innovative companies on the planet…