Broadband connections are supposed to be always-on — unlike those days two decades back when you had to dial into a service and then hang up when you were done. The introduction of always-on broadband helped pave the way for services like Napster and Skype and is one of the defining features of many aspects of modern life in first world countries.
Unfortunately, since April my broadband hasn’t been reliable, turning on and off ten to 20 times a day for periods of time that range from a minute to several hours. Last Saturday night my broadband modem turned off and didn’t turn back on until I replaced it with a spare Sunday morning. This is a frustrating experience, but my mom assures me that my Time Warner Cable connection isn’t actually unique (and TWC has actually bent over backward trying to help solve this problem). My mom who is a Comcast subscriber complains constantly of her intermittent service. She isn’t alone.
Even the FCC admitted in its June 2014 Measuring Broadband report that some providers are not providing consistent service as shown in the chart below:
Given that this intermittent broadband seems to be a common enough problem, I’d like to offer ISPs and the Federal Communication Commission a list of five things I can’t actually do with a dodgy connection. Many of them are essential to my job or make my house run more efficiently, so perhaps either providers or the agency in charge of regulating those provider can figure out how to address a connection that is mostly on, but falls short of always.
Using cloud office productivity software and writing tools: This could be anything really from responding to emails to looking up a recipe to cook dinner. When your internet access is unreliable it puts a dent in your productivity. In fact, Google Docs, which Gigaom uses, doesn’t even work if there isn’t a connection, which means writing stories or editing becomes impossible. Even more frustrating is when you try to comment on a blog or save a post and your connection goes down, which can result in lost content.
Managing my home: Every day at 7am my downstairs blinds open and everyday at 3 pm both my downstairs and upstairs blinds close. This keeps my house cooler and it happens even if I’m not there or am preoccupied. Except, it doesn’t happen if the broadband is off. Yes, this is a function of me using a cloud-based home automation product, but that’s the future of home automation. Without broadband my thermostat works, but there’s a lot it can’t do; same with my connected lights and other devices.
Calling a friend or source: My colleagues communicate via an online collaboration service and via chat when something is urgent. My flickering online presence leads me to miss messages and can interrupt voice or video chats I have throughout the day with sources. One minute we’re talking about the FCC or connected devices and the next, we’re staring at an error message. This also interferes with my ability to record podcasts using Skype.
Watching a movie: Even if I didn’t work from home, it’s frustrating to be curled up in bed watching a movie on your iPad or sitting on the couch streaming Netflix from your TV and never make it through a 45-minute TV drama without an interruption. It’s even worse when your child is watching it on Saturday morning while you try to catch a few more minutes of sleep and she can’t get service to work, so she comes up to wake you up to fix it.
Playing music at a party: We stream music over our Sonos speakers using Spotify or Pandora, but the whole setup depends on a relatively consistent broadband connection. My speakers can smooth out a few quick blips, but even the best buffering falters when you get an outage of a few minutes.
I spend about $30-$40 a month on internet-reliant services and have spend thousands on gadgets that function optimally when they have an always-on connection. I pay $70 a month for access to broadband, but as the quality of that service declines it makes each of these other services less valuable. It also adds costs in terms of me driving to a coffee shop so I can work or results in higher A/C bills.
Both my job and quality of life depend on a reliable broadband connection, so it’s frustrating that I can’t seem to get one. Others feel the same way judging by various comments on Twitter and broadband forums. I’m glad the FCC is looking at this as part of its Measuring Broadband reports, but I don’t know what the answer is here, in terms of what Time Warner Cable can do.
All I know is I used to have good, reliable broadband and since April I haven’t. I’d really like that to change.