A challenge to carriers

In response to my piece in Linux Journal yesterday, Antonio Rodriguez, proprietor of Tabblo, has come up with an excellent workaround for photographers dealing with the asymmetry of today’s Net and the problem of uploading over and over again to multiple photo sites:

I’d like to see a white-label services that could be wrapped by webapp builders for core pieces of functionality. To continue the upload example: why doesn’t Amazon, or some enterprising entrepreneur looking to build on the cloud computing infrastructure at Amazon, build out a full suite of well-supported file uploaders, along with an associated S3-backed storage infrastructure for everything from photos to videos. By focusing on just the upload experience, this effort could just nail it for all the rest of us— building plug-ins for our favorite apps, clients for our favorite platforms, and even specialized hardware for events and community activities. In Doc’s VRM world, such a company might even be able to charge the enduser a nominal fee for pipe and storage, so long as its service integrated easily with enough of the interesting webapps.

You listening lazy web?

Better yet, are you listening, carriers?

All the last-mile companies — Comcast, Cox, AT&T, RCN, Time-Warner, Verizon and the rest — are continuing to make all their money on “triple play” and other monopoly rents. They can do better than that. The Net may be a World of Ends in an ideal sense, but in reality there are physical-world issues that put proximal services at a real advantage. Same goes for proximal real estate.

The carriers have already let Akamai school them once. I suppose you could throw in Amazon’s Web Services (notably EC2 and S3, which provide big back-end compute and storage, cheap) as well. Companies such as Digisense leverage Amazon’s S3 back end to provide workarounds of carrier last-mile slow-upstream asymmetries. (Disclosure: I’ve consulted Digisense.) Rather than being a problem to be worked around, the carriers could become the solution. Or at least support solutions provided by more agile companies that could serve as partners or customers.

There are enormous benefits to carrier incumbency that go beyond extending decades-old cable TV and century-old telephone company business models. There are countless potential service businesses that can be either created or supported by the carriers, and their suppliers as well. (That’s you, Cisco.) Antonio just described one of them.

Here at my apartment near Boston I’m lucky to have a choice of three different carriers: Comcast, RCN and Verizon. I use Verizon because it provides 20Mb downstream and 5Mb upstream — much higher speeds, especially on upstream, than either of its rivals — and comes pretty damn close to delivering exactly that:

The HDTV we get is also pretty good, though the user interface and choice of set-top boxes fall far short of what we’ve experienced for years in Santa Barbara with Dish Network. (Still, they’re new at this. I’m willing to cut them some slack.)

Anyway, we pay a little over $100/month for TV, phone and Net as a “triple play”. Of that, the Net is about half the total. But what if we want more, such as an IP address or two, so se can set up our own Web servers? Well, we need to get Verizon FiOS for business for that. There the lowest price is about $100, for a two-year commitment for “Up to 15 Mbps/2 Mbps”. That’s twice the cost for much lower speeds, both ways, than I get now. The closest business offer to what I have now is “Up to 30 Mbps/5 Mbps”, and that’s $389.99/month for one year and $404.99/month for two years.

This kind of pricing prevents far more business than it supports. It’s the old telco mentality at work: the one that says, “Businesses can afford to pay more, so we’ll charge more”.

Verizon and its competitors need to start seeing their primary advantages in three places: 1) existing customer relationships; 2) proximity to customers of buildable and rentable service-platform real estate; and 3) providing the connectivity that allows business to grow around #1 and #2.

So consider this a friendly and construcive shout-out to CZ and others at Verizon, from the other side of the carrier/customer fence. You guys are making some good moves, technically. Now let’s see you make a few that support the Web’s and the Net’s business and social ecosystems, and not just those of Hollywood and Ma Bell’s ghost.

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2 Responses to A challenge to carriers

  1. It always amazes me the disconnect in some companies. You would think that both of these are different configurations of the same product but the experience suggests otherwise. It really should be as easy as flicking a switch to turn on and off and upgrading these services.

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