Generation Cox – A Brave New World…of Hypocritical Crap

Generation Cox – Audio

I have to confess.  There is a special place in my heart for Cox Communications. Few things leave a mark in a consumer’s memory like the distinct pleasure of spending hours on hold with a company on multiple occasions, only to be told boldfaced lies. As if that wasn’t enough, their disgusting version of – it can’t be us, it must be you – tech support has definitely scored them points. Despite my previous low estimation of the company, the revelations I’ve had and discoveries I’ve made over the last 6 months have shredded any remaining respect I had for Cox. I’ve debated making a post outlining some of these experiences in the past, but it took their new advertising campaign combined with concrete testing, rankings done by the P2P community, to really push me over the edge and today’s announcement by Japanese ISPs (Internet Service Providers) that they would start throttling upload bandwidth…on users that use over 30gb…a day.

I’ve discussed it previously and as a result will only briefly mention it here, but what makes the ISP/Bandwidth debate all that much more pathetic is that the U.S. – the founders of the internet – is now ranked 15th for broadband penetration.  This fails to even realistically consider how far behind we are with respect to broadband speeds. The US is talking in single digit gigabyte connections while foreign nations are offering as much as triple digit connections for the same price…or less.

You may or may not be familiar with the current struggle being waged in Washington and throughout the U.S. between consumers, visionaries and ISPs. In brief, the argument is that P2p (Peer 2 Peer) users are using a disproportionate amount of the bandwidth available driving up ISP costs and heavily impacting the quality of the connections of their fellow users.  Ever notice how your internet slows down distinctly after 5:00? Thus far the ISP’s chief argument and technique for lobbying tech-oblivious lawmakers has been to claim that not only is the P2P network traffic unfair, it’s illegal. As a result they have pushed for laws banning P2P altogether, while simultaneously secretly operating software that blocks certain types of high bandwidth applications and hinders your connection.

The catch is P2P isn’t illegal. Don’t get me wrong – a fair amount of the content transfered through it is – but the software itself is not. From the distribution of open source software, to video game patches, to authorized music, ebooks, photos and home video, it has a multitude of uses all of which are being legally employed. Beyond that, certain other types of high bandwidth content that’s getting throttled is also completely legal.  Things like massively multiplayer online games (think World of Warcraft), and even streaming video resources like Hulu.  ComCast just got in a fair share of legal and PR trouble for the techniques they employ. Not to be outdone, Cox has been ranked as the 2nd worst bandwidth throttler in the U.S.  Very little action is being taken against these groups in large part because the average consumer doesn’t realize just how badly they’re being screwed. ArsTechnica reported:

Of the nine ISPs in the US found to block BitTorrent, Comcast and Cox were far and away the most aggressive. Both blocked more than half of all attempted BitTorrent tests on their networks (82 of 151 tests on Cox were blocked, while 491 of 788 tests on Comcast met the same fate).

What makes it that much more agitating is that not only does Cox block certain types of streaming high bandwidth traffic, they will also reset your cable modem secretly forcing you to power down and reboot before the system will recognize you again…All the while blaming it on your hardware or other failures.  In recent months techs have started fessing up if you ask them directly, but as little as 3 months ago they would blatantly lie to your face about it blaming software, the network, outages or faulty routers. I can’t even begin to guess how many customers spent hundreds of dollars replacing hardware for no reason or how much money Cox made off tech support calls (if they don’t find a problem you get charged).  Again, this doesn’t only apply to LEGAL P2P use, it applies to gaming and some types of streaming video.

It gets worse. Not only will they throttle/kill your service illegally they also limit your alloted traffic without bothering to tell you, all the while using deceptive advertising that leaves you thinking that they’d be doing the exact opposite.  Before I outline the details, let’s take a look at their advertising and weboffering:

Keep in mind that this video is one of several in their current “A Brave New World” campaign.  All of which make equally deceptive and ludicrous claims and implications.

To recap the video, the advertisement states that “soon virtually everything they watch will be in HD and available at any time.  They’ll even watch TV on their cell phones” The second advertisement depicts streaming video conferencing and again talks about the future.  In addition to the ads there are two pages on the website in particular I want to take a closer look at.

Page 1 – PowerBoost: One of the cornerstones of Cox’s advertising is their PowerBoost technology. About which Cox claims, “When extra bandwidth is available on Cox’s local fiber-hybrid network, you will experience a faster download. Speeds will be boosted up to 29% faster for Preferred customers, and up to 33% faster for Premier customers”. So, while you may think you’re buying a 9mb connection you’re really getting 7mb. The page describing powerboost references all sorts of wonderful uses for your bandwidth such as video, music and even photos.

Page 2 – Tiers and Pricing: This page describes the 3 tiers that Cox offers outlining important numbers like your download speed, upload speed, and price. Then they go so far as to offer a wonderful ‘features section’ telling you what you can/should use that added speed for.  If we overlook the fact that most of the numbers for the first tier are complete lies, we can see that in the standard mid-range tier they have the gall to list Multimedia Web Surfing, Streaming Video/Music, and Downloading Large Files and Online Gaming, Telecommute/Remote Office as “You could, but…”. If they were actually delivering the 7mb connection (which in my experience they usually actually only provide 1.5-4mb connections) you should have more than sufficient bandwidth for any of the activities on the list. While they’re starting to catch up, most webhosts can’t offer more than 400kb/s.  In actuality the lion’s share of sites you probably use peak out at about 75kb/s. Keep in mind that there are 1,000kb in a mb, and 1,000mb in a gigabyte. For my part I’d LOVE the ability to actually pull data at 7,000,000kb/s wouldn’t you?

In fact, if they weren’t meddling with your connection and were actually delivering what you paid for, the 1.5 mb connection would be more than sufficient for playing online games, downloading at 400kb/second, and watching streaming video…simultaneously. What makes the whole thing that much more deceptive is the upload rates which are horrible.  THAT is where a large part of the bottleneck occurs since even while accessing a website you are both sending and receiving information.  It’s also what complicates things with P2P networks and to a lesser extent online games in which you’re sending data symmetrically instead of the classical asymmetrical way you access the WWW. In this way they effectively reduce that 7mb connection with “power boost” to a 512kb connection. Slick, huh?

That’s not the extent of their misinformation though. You see, Cox also has monthly bandwidth caps. Even if you’re fairly tech savy and a capable consumer you probably didn’t know that, ehh?  They don’t mention it ANYWHERE on either of the order pages.  In fact, to find it you have to select the “Policy” link (which is super fine print) in the footnote of the page.  Then navigate down through the legal speak to point 13: “Bandwidth, Data Storage and Other Limitations” and select the link to “Limitations of Service“. This page is so obscure they don’t even bother keeping it up to date.  As of this post, it was last updated 11/7/07 and outlines the following for the “Preferred with Powerboost” option:

  1. Maximum downstream speed : 5 – 9 megabits per second
  2. Maximum upstream speed : 512 kilobits – 2 megabits per second
  3. Maximum monthly consumption cap : 40 gigabytes downstream; 10 gigabytes upstream
  4. Personal WebSpace account size : 10 megabytes of disk space per User ID
  5. Personal WebSpace traffic : 300 megabytes of traffic per month (for visitors viewing your pages)

That’s right, you no doubt had no clue, but there’s a 40gb monthly cap associated with your account. Please recall that the Japanese ISPs just adopted one of these with a 30gb DAILY cap for UPLOADs. So the individual’s subscribing to that Japanese ISP are recieving 90 times more bandwidth than you are with your Cox account. Still think that the American ISP’s argument that they can’t provide the bandwidth is valid?

I rest my case. On a parallel note:

I don’t subscribe to Cable TV anymore. Frankly, there isn’t really a point.  I run dual 22 inch wide-screen monitors and the ability to surf the web, pause, start, fast forward, and chat while watching a film/show in full screen far outweighs sitting on my sofa in my living room staring at a slightly larger monitor.

In addition to the lack of flexibility, I’ve always found the business model abusive. In what other delusional reality would it be acceptable for a service that costs $30+ a month to sell you a service, for which you have to purchase all of the peripherals to use it, in which you pay for a set continuous service, and then have to sit through 15 some odd minutes of advertisements every hour?  Do the math – 15 minutes, is 25% of an hour.  So in reality, I guess that $30-50 is really only buying you 45 minutes of programing an hour.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, they then have the nerve to sell you channel packs full of useless crap. I appreciate the sentiment, but I really, really don’t need the biblical channel or the Latino vibes channel and since you’ve already acquisitioned 25% of my time, I’d rather not spend any more of what’s left flipping through channels than I have to.  In fact, all I really want is 5 or 6 channels that don’t suck.  With all that said, I suppose it’s not really a surprise that I jumped ship as soon as possible and switched over to services like Hulu.

It’s time we hold these crooks accountable.  Sadly, our representatives are either too corrupt or inept to protect us and look out for our best interests.  Write to them, demand accountability from them, and don’t swallow the pigswill they’re trying to feed you.

With friends like these ushering us into the digital age, who needs enemies?

The Technological Revolution – Lessons from 1770

The Industrial Revolution is over

The Technological Revolution – why everything must change.

Over the past 15 years there has been a lot of dialog over the impact of modern technology, the amazing pace at which it has evolved and general shock at the impact of the Internet and personal computers on our day-to-day lives/the way business is done. In fact, as I completed my research for this article I’ve constantly had to re-evaluate the current situation based on significant developments which have been announced. Yet despite the common appreciation for the significance of current events our government, big business, and the American people have been slow to react.

What we are experiencing now is not just an interesting blip…an increase in productivity. It’s a modern technological revolution which is every bit as significant as the industrial revolution. As was the case with the industrial revolution the adjustment will be equally significant. We are well into the early stages of the technological revolution and the window of opportunity is quickly passing during which the U.S. can change the way we operate while working to maintain our spot at the leading edge of the new social/political/financial structure that will eventually transform the global landscape. We are faced with an opportunity to not only maintain but strengthen our status as the world’s super power for another 100 years…but only if we adjust. Should we fail to take action, history will repeat itself and we will experience the same disastrous ramifications as late adapters during the industrial revolution.

Right now America is falling further and further behind every day. Luckily with powerhouses like MIT, Silicon Valley, Microsoft, Google, Dell and a plethora of brilliant individuals and infrastructure we have a slight advantage. We also still have one of the most diverse, motivated entrepreneurial markets in the world. It is full of creative, inventive, and driven minds but that market is losing steam where it counts. According to statistics recently released by AeA’s Cyberstates 2008 report, “U.S. high-tech venture capital totaled $16.9 billion in 2007, up by six percent”. The fact is large amounts of American capital is being invested in the high-tech industry but the growth rate, while positive, isn’t promising.

For America to ride the current wave we need to adopt, embrace, and acknowledge the new role of technology and the worldwide web (WWW). Our political policy and legal approach to internet/technological issues cannot cling to our old systems while stifling growth with regressive policies. We must embrace invention and focus on creating a culture that not only understands technology, but is driven by it. Already, every aspect of an average American’s daily life has been effected. We may not acknowledge it, but from entertainment to food distribution, our lives are now driven by modern technology, especially the WWW.

Now & Then – Modern Parallels

Parallels between the Industrial Revolution (IR) and what I’ve dubbed the Technological Revolution (TR):

IR: We saw trade explode. This growth was powered by the creation of complex rail and canal networks. Eventually, with the invention of steam power and the automobile we saw additional significant infrastructure growth.

TR: Computer processing speed is growing exponentially. In many ways the computer is representative of IR advances in steam power and electricity. Similarly, our cable/fiber optic/copper/wireless networks have expanded quickly. These networks are the transport infrastructure of the future. They are the roads, canals and rail systems that future commerce and parts of our social dynamic will depend upon.

IR: Massive growth in individual’s production capacity and a shrinking effect as the world became a smaller place.

TR: Similar growth rates and potential in production and productivity. In some instances what previously took hundreds of people to do can now be accomplished by a lone individual in a quarter of the time. The WWW has effectively duplicated the shrink effect the IR had on the world, only now instead of being able to travel to the next town over in an hour instead of a day…you can virtually explore or talk to the other side of the world instantly.

IR: The creation of a middle class. The empowerment of the average individual. An explosion in the options available to the common person when compared to the pre-IR world.

TR: Drastic changes in social power. A populace that switches jobs more often than it switches socks. A business environment where the typical social structures which dictated your professional focus and qualification [e.g. A college degree] have evolved into flexible, general, guides and amount to little more than training opportunities. A population of professionals able to pursue their diverse interests and able to constantly explore new opportunities. The TR has also created amazing opportunities for individuals of all backgrounds and ages [e.g. Facebook, Ebay, Winamp]. Individuals are no longer limited by age, professional experience, or other classic professional barriers.

IR: Major shifts in employment structures and viable business systems. The complete re-evaluation and reformation of certain components of the business sector [e.g. the creation of the automobile industry]. The simultaneous creation of major, alternative business structures previously never before seen.

TR: Drastic shifts in major elements of the business landscape. Major impact resulting from web-based automation all across the spectrum – from WalMart’s automated ordering system to a major shift in math-oriented careers such as accounting and finance where strictly formulaic/mathematical operations can and are now handled by computers. One such example is the automation of the stock market system.

These illustrations are just a brief snapshot. A taste of why I feel that we are truly entering a new global economic period.

Putting Things In Perspective

Even as a relatively tech-savvy individual I find myself regularly surprised by the technological advancements occurring in leading research labs and international markets. Here’s some information that might surprise you.

The Grid: CERN publicly announced the roll out of this data network (think of it as a parallel Internet) recently as part of their Large Hadron Collider project. It was developed in response to their need for a way to exchange the equivalent of 56m CD’s worth of data in a year. The Grid is estimated to be some 10,000 times faster than your current internet connection. This is possible by creating a new network based on state of the art technology instead of a system based around pre-existing networks and operating at the lowest common denominator. By combining modern fiber optics and routers with state of the art servers the increase in web performance is astounding. The Grid currently has 55,000 servers up and running and according to the Times Online expects to have 200,000 within two years. Users of the Grid would be able to download a full length film in mere seconds instead of hours.

Malaysia & Indonesia: Probably not a place that jumps to mind when you think about high tech centers, I recently found an article published by Computerworld Malaysia outlining a Broadband Over PowerLine (BPL) web company which is working on providing Internet access to 60 million Indonesian internet users. To be perfectly honest, I don’t completely understand what they’re doing, but as far as I can gather instead of conventional coaxial or Ethernet lines standard power lines are used. They are using a network of 400,000 mosques in order to serve the projected 60 million users. They claim that their users will be provided unlimited high speed internet connections with a 224mbps connection for approximately $1.60 per user. Compare that with Cox’s standard $50 package for a 7mbps connection with 3 mbps power post. The good news here is that the guys behind this project have inked a deal with US based STM Networks Inc. who will be providing 5 communication satellites.

Japan & Sweden: When I started exploring these concepts I had no idea about the BPL project (Posted March 28th) or CERN’s Grid project (posted April 6th). What I had heard was news of current internet practices and developments in Japan and Sweden. Articles like this one published April 4th by the BBC outlines what’s currently taking place in Japan. The article notes that for $35 you can get a 100 mbps connection. Again keep in mind that here in the U.S. Cox and other similar companies are advertising a 7mbps connection as blazing fast and still charging $40-$60. The article notes that 30% of Japanese subscribers now have access to these plans and that the Japanese government intends to see that expanded to 60%+ in a matter of years.

Meanwhile Sweden which has garnered a lot of media attention as a major hub for P2P networks like ThePirateBay.org and is known for its quality internet network articles like this one outline some of the current experiments being done. This article attracted attention when it mentioned that fiber network operator Karlstad Stadsnät provided a 40gbps connection to a 75 year old woman. The article also outlines plans to expand the service to a 100gbps connection.

FCC Standards & the U.S.: On March 19th Engadget, a major tech blog, noted that the FCC had finally updated it’s policy and official classifications for broadband. The good news is it raised the standard 384%. The bad news is that that raise brought the official broadband threshold to a pathetic 768kbps. Please note that throughout the article this is the first time I’ve so much as mentioned speed in kbps. For those not familiar with the breakdown a kb is a kilobyte. 1,000 kilobytes are in 1 mb or megabyte and in turn 1,000 mb are in one gb or gigabyte. According to the new FCC regulations any connection between 768kbs and 1.5 mbps is now designated basic broadband. It’s also important to note that download speed is often significantly higher than upload speed.

Comcast Corp. & American Broadband: After getting into a major tiff with the general public and the U.S. government over P2P throttling practices, Comcast Corp. changed their stance and has announced plans to offer a 50mbps connection (an upgrade from 16mbps). While a move in the right direction the 50mbps connection also comes with a $150 dollar/mo price tag according to a recent Reuters article. Even better news, however, is their announcement that they eventually plan to offer speeds in the 100 mbps and 160 mbps range. Unfortunately for us that $150 price tag is more than a little different than the $1.60 offering currently going live in Malaysia and Indonesia and still a long ways off of the $35 price tag in places like Japan.

Update – Gizmodo just reported here about new price plans being implemented by Time Warner as well as similar plans already in place in Oregon that are based on a [very minimal] base service with charge by the byte fees if you go over. In addition to having outrageously low minimums these plans are exactly the type of regressive pricing platforms, behavior and thought process I’m talking about.

The EU and P2P: One of the big issues in today’s tech talk is the issue of P2P (Peer-2-Peer) software like BitTorrent and tracker sites like the previously mentioned Pirate Bay. Major lobbying/watchdog groups representing the Movie Industry (MPAA) and the Music Industry (RIAA) have kicked up a lot of press for their lawsuits and ongoing battle with services like Napster and Kazaa. These services enable user-to-user file transfers. There has even been legislation introduced to block the use of P2P software, which has come under heavy fire because P2P networks themselves are not in any way shape or form illegal. In fact, they are used by musicians, software developers, writers, and every day users to distribute software. Even major corporations like the game development group Blizzard behind the online video game World of Warcraft (9 million+ subscribers) use customized P2P networks to distribute their software and updates.

A lot has changed over the last few months. RIAA in particular is getting creamed in court for their unconstitutional behavior, major music labels have dropped/discontinued their controversial DRM (Digital Rights Management) software and the EU announced its 15 million dollar investment/support for a next generation P2P start-up called P2P-Next which will focus on developing a state of the art BitTorrent platform which will allow both downloading and streaming online content. P2P-Next has already picked up the support of several major European players (e.g. the BBC).

Update – The BBC just posted this article about a looming fight between the BBC and ISPs over their iPlayer software which streams legal video. According to the report in its first 3 months over 42 million shows have been downloaded. Unsurprisingly ISPs are crying foul and petitioning the BBC to help offset the costs of expanding their pipelines to meet the increased demand.

Web Hosts – The Other Side Of The Coin

I’ve focused most of my attention and research on the consumer side of things. A lot of focus gets placed on making sure the virtual roads of tomorrow are large enough to keep up with demand but one element that is often overlooked is webhosting. It’s wonderful to have huge pipes, but at a certain level they’re pointless if you lack a pump that can keep those pipes full. In other words, after shelling out your $150 a month for Comcast’s 50 mbps, you pull up your friend’s website and go to download a custom made 50 mb music video he has created. If they’re hosted with a U.S. based webhost there’s a pretty good chance you’re only going to be able to download at a max of 300-500 kbps. The sad reality is that you’re probably realistically looking at a download speed closer to 40-80kbps. Say what you want about Apple and Microsoft, one of the things they have been fantastic about is securing high quality connections. I recently downloaded from Quicktime at 1.8 mbps. THAT is where the web needs to be and that is the level of broadband service we will need to stay competitive.

Security

It’s a problem we are all intimately familiar with. From viruses, to phishing, to identity theft, to hacked websites, security is one of the biggest obstacles to internet progress. Even seemingly harmless issues like spam can reap havoc on user adoption and the utilitarian value of future web development. It’s something that will need to be addressed and that we all need to keep in mind.

The Future

If we want to have any hope of maintaining our position as a world super power it is paramount that we embrace modern technology, foster it with investment, and ensure that it is not hampered by regressive legislation. We are in a time where we need to not only focus on building our infrastructure, but ensuring that American companies, products, and citizens are the best trained, most capable users in the world. As odd a concept as it may seem, the future of tomorrow’s America very well may depend on things like P2P networks, video gaming and the modern media.

The Industrial Revolution is dead. Welcome to the Technological Revolution.