May 7 2014

Dear Internet: Let’s Demo The Slow Lane

Yesterday when we were having Comcast issues in downtown Boulder, I thought about how slow the Internet speed at my office was. For several hours, it was 0 Mbps down and 0 Mbps up (0/0) until I gave up and tethered my iPhone to my computer and used Verizon LTE for the rest of the afternoon.

When I got home, Pandora had trouble starting up on my CenturyLink connection, which Speedtest showed was 2/0.5. So I switched over to my other ISP at home, Skybeam, and got 9.5/2.5. This morning CenturyLink is showing up as 8.5/0.75. Recognize that this is my actual speed, not what I’m paying for and could theoretically get. For example, on Skybeam I’m paying for “up to 15/3.”

At my office, on Comcast, I usually get 75/25. But even that feels slow after hanging out at my Google fiberhouse in Kansas City and getting 800/? (I don’t remember what the upload speed was.)

And yes – as a consumer, I’m spending a ton of money for all of this Internet connectivity.

Fred’s post from yesterday – The Fast Lane, The Slow Lane, and The No Lane – got me thinking. When the SOPA/PIPA issue came to a head, the most effective way to help people understand the potential implications was to blackout the Internet for a day.

What if we did the same by Demoing the Slow Lane for a day. Algorithmically, all sites could slow themselves down dramatically, demonstrating what performance might look like over a 1/1 pipe. Or even a 0.5/0.5 pipe. I’m no server expert, but it looks like Apache has a setting called mod_ratelimit that does bandwidth throttling for client connections. And I’m sure some intrepid readers could quickly come up with elegant solutions to this.

Let the world see “Waiting for”, “Connecting”, and “Buffering” show up in their browser continuously throughout the day. Explain what is going on. Then click a button to bypass the Slow Lane and get normal connectivity.

Instead of everyone getting tangled up in the legal question of what “net neutrality” means, consumers can see what could happen if / when ISPs can decide which companies get to use their fast lanes by paying extra and who is relegated to the slow lane.