Thursday, August 21, 2008

Comcast to Slow Internet Service at Times to Its Heaviest Users

So let me understand this bit of news, Comcast is going to slow down their download speed to all customers as a cure to reduce congestion on the web. "Top Internet speeds for the heaviest users will be reduced for 10 to 20 minutes to keep service to other users flowing, said Mitch Bowling, Comcast’s senior vice president and general manager for online services." And this will make their customers happy? I think not. As downloads and internet usage soars, web speed equates to consumer satisfaction. The more times the user is exposed to latency in their on-line experience, the greater the consumer will seek out alternatives to the current situation.

As consumers, we don't tend to change our products or services if they provide adequate satisfaction. We are in fact creatures of habit who like to maintain our current way of doing things. We change when it is forced upon us, when we can experiment with new things at a low cost, or when we encounter a bad experience. Bad experience at a restaurant, don't go back. Free sample at the store, test and switch brands if we like it. Slow internet speed, switch providers. And as more consumers are finally getting a choice of providers, cable or telco, for our hi speed service, a bad experience may be the final straw to make a switch.

So it seems counter-intuitive to hurt your current users with a purposefully bad experience. And at a time when both Verizon and AT&T are knocking on the front door and offering a very competitive package; bad cable service will only push the consumer to more quickly switch. And if proved a better experience, news will spread quickly and more users will switch.

Not a smart move for Comcast. But perhaps they expect different results. "A heavy Comcast Web user being impeded would have Internet speeds equivalent to “a really good DSL experience,” Mr. Bowling said. DSL, or digital subscriber line, is an Internet service offered by telephone companies. After a slowdown ended, Comcast would return Internet service to normal." Perhaps they believe that most users won't even notice that a significant slowdown occurred. We never know if our telephone is working unless we constantly check the ring tone. When it is in the cradle, we simply assume it is still working properly. Comcast may believe that this slowdown will have similar results. Most will simply assume that their internet service is working fine. That is to say, most Comcast customers won't notice a measurable slowdown at all.

Still, this seems like a bandaid cure for Comcast. It may work in the short run but over time, more consumers will require more bandwidth for significant file downloads and sharing. A better solution is needed by Comcast to handle this inevitability. Traffic will only keep growing and an improved infrastructure may be needed.