August 07, 2003

'Netting 2nd class

Steven Den Beste readers are having a tough time right now as SDB's net access is not working exactly right. The nature of the problem and the the service level that he's talking about in his report indicate that SDB's part of the great unwashed, the 2nd class Internet.

What does that mean? Well, first let's look at 1st class service to see what 2nd class is not.

1st class service has the service provider testing the line frequently 24/7. 1st class service has a connectivity log that shows uptime provided by the ISP. 1st class service has a service level agreement (SLA) which would provide for compensation for downtime which means that they start work on repairs fast and outages rarely last long enough to reduce company revenues. 1st class service is symmetrical (upload speed = download speed), persistent (no getting knocked off or having your session timed out), and uses a fixed IP scheme.

The USS Clueless has persistent service with a fixed IP but it's a cable modem which means that download speeds will greatly exceed upload speeds. There is no enforceable SLA offered by RoadRunner or other internet cable providers and from the story, you can tell that SDB has to chase after them to get service and he's not exactly at the top of their priority list.

3rd class service is dialup based. I ran a 3rd class service server many years ago. My top level page was out on a 1st class server at my ISP and my back end, which held the bulk of content was on my own machine. Every time I lost connection the machine dialed back in, figured out its new IP, and changed the front page links to point to the correct machine.

So why does one man's ISP troubles deserve such comment? Well, they don't per se but they're indicative of a larger trend in the Internet, the stratification of service. It used to be bandwidth and connectivity were the great differentiators. You had a good quality fat pipe or you didn't. But just as with airlines, stratification of service permits you to serve a great deal more customers.

The difference between telecom and air travel is in cost trend lines. The airline industry never figured out how to get a persistent downward cost trend. Every flight has a high fixed cost of flying the plane and a low variable cost of adding passengers. They end up playing the ticket distribution game like maestros because that's their persistent reality, they'll always have to do that.

Technology infrastructure has a different reality, one of constantly collapsing prices driven by Moore's law, the proposition that every year you can do cram twice the transistors into the same space. The corollary of the law that the old density is half as expensive every year makes for very nice negative cost curves over time for technology consumers and drives everybody's cost basis down to some degree with steeper curves coming to sectors that use more technology. Moore's law won't last forever but it's here for the short and medium term.

The three tier internet service is currently conceived as business lines (generally on the T or OC scale but also fixed point wireless), broadband (Wi-fi, cable modem or DSL), and dialup (56k, 28.8k) with business lines generally restricted to business dialup for mobile business and poor consumers and broadband for ultra-small businesses and well to do consumers.

So are we, as individuals, doomed to a perpetual 2nd class Internet existence? I don't think so. Eventually, incomes will rise and costs will fall to the point where 1st class service is available to pretty much everyone with the slow wireless access being generally available as a community amenity. The really interesting question is when will we get there?

Update: SDB informs me that he likes his cable service asymmetrical (though not with such a poor SLA, I'm sure) as he wants a faster download speed than upload speed and assumes that a symmetric service would be more expensive.

Posted by TMLutas at August 7, 2003 07:41 PM