A Revolt In Bandwidth

Pursuant to this earlier post: Comcast Cuts Off Bandwidth Hogs

Customers across the country have been contacted by the telecom giant with a warning to curb excessive bandwidth consumption or risk a one-year service termination. Comcast, however, is refusing to reveal how much bandwidth use is allowed, making it impossible for customers to know if they are in danger of violating Comcast’s limit.

The move has driven customers to sign up with other service providers.

At least, those for whom there are alternatives. I used to get cable from Comcast; luckily, they refused to show up at a stated time to install it when I moved, so now I am happy to know that I don’t (directly) do anything to promote their corrosive hegemony.

With luck, this could even restart the discussion of what it means to have a competitive market in broadband ISPs, because it’s hard to see how current FCC policy is doing anything to promote that.

Slate Predicting A Fight?

Or merely validating the status quo? A question of closed architectures: The iPhone wannabes.

When Jobs touts the iPhone as three devices in one, he’s selling it short: It’s a computer, not some limited, specialized gizmo. That means that rather than a fixed set of applications—music, video, Web browsing, chat—it can, in theory, run any program that works on a Mac. The iPhone’s killer feature, then, is probably something that doesn’t even exist yet. It has the potential to spawn a mobile application as mind-blowing as the Web browser or Napster.

There’s just one big roadblock standing in the way of iPhone domination. Apple agreed to lock the phone so that third-party software applications can’t be installed and run over Cingular’s network. It’s a reasonable safeguard against Cingular being knocked out technically or legally by a phone Napster. But most of the coolest applications for desktop computers—most obviously, the browser—weren’t envisioned by the companies that sold the gear. Limit the iPhone to apps Apple approves of, and the thing will never take off like the Mac did.

Getting What You Asked For

It pays to think a little more carefully than the RIAA has — a story from the perspective of a record store retailer: Spinning Into Oblivion

The sad thing is that CDs and downloads could have coexisted peacefully and profitably. The current state of affairs is largely the result of shortsightedness and boneheadedness by the major record labels and the Recording Industry Association of America, who managed to achieve the opposite of everything they wanted in trying to keep the music business prospering. The association is like a gardener who tried to rid his lawn of weeds and wound up killing the trees instead.

In the late ’90s, our business, and the music retail business in general, was booming. Enter Napster, the granddaddy of illegal download sites. How did the major record labels react? By continuing their campaign to eliminate the comparatively unprofitable CD single, raising list prices on album-length CDs to $18 or $19 and promoting artists like the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears — whose strength was single songs, not albums. The result was a lot of unhappy customers, who blamed retailers like us for the dearth of singles and the high prices.

The recording industry association saw the threat that illegal downloads would pose to CD sales. But rather than working with Napster, it tried to sue the company out of existence — which was like thinking you’ve killed all the roaches in your apartment because you squashed the one you saw in the kitchen. More illegal download sites cropped up faster than the association’s lawyers could say “cease and desist.”

[…] The major labels wanted to kill the single. Instead they killed the album. The association wanted to kill Napster. Instead it killed the compact disc. And today it’s not just record stores that are in trouble, but the labels themselves, now belatedly embracing the Internet revolution without having quite figured out how to make it pay.

At this point, it may be too late to win back disgruntled music lovers no matter what they do. As one music industry lawyer, Ken Hertz, said recently, “The consumer’s conscience, which is all we had left, that’s gone, too.”

It’s tempting for us to gloat. By worrying more about quarterly profits than the bigger picture, by protecting their short-term interests without thinking about how to survive and prosper in the long run, record-industry bigwigs have got what was coming to them. It’s a disaster they brought upon themselves.

We would be gloating, but for the fact that the occupation we planned on spending our working lives at is rapidly becoming obsolete. And that loss hits us hard — not just as music retailers, but as music fans.