Saturday, April 11, 2009

This Just In: Monopolies are Bad for Consumers

Time Warner Cable has made the news for preparing to impose bandwidth caps with overage charges on their internet customers in three markets, including my home marked of Greensboro, NC. I'm not going to pretend to be neutral on this issue, since I'm obviously a heavy internet user. I'm against bandwidth caps, they will do nothing but raise my cable bill. I'm not the only one upset.

Stop the Cap! is a good clearing house for details, and it isn't exactly hiding its agenda either. Articles have shown up all over from people in the affected areas, including the local paper. People that use the internet to play games aren't happy. People that produce content for the internet aren't happy. And reporting shows that Time Warner is flat lying about why they are instituting the price increases (and make no mistake, a price increase is exactly what a bandwidth cap really is). It's also telling that the markets this "test" is happening in are areas where there isn't a comparable competitor to cable internet service, and Time Warner is the only cable provider.

All that said, I'm not entirely sure how much bandwidth I use on a monthly basis, but that's about to change. I've taken an old router that had a bad habit of resetting itself every few weeks and changed its internal software. One of the little things that router makers don't really like people to know is that the hardware for the $50 consumer router isn't much different from the far more expensive "business class" router. The software running on the router is a different story. The business class routers have far more options than the consumer ones, which is largely a good idea, since more features would just make an already confusing device even worse. On the other hand, thanks to Time Warner, I find myself in need of one of those advanced features: bandwidth monitoring. I have two computers and an XBox 360 attached to my internet connection, so having the router track bandwidth is going to give me a much more accurate picture far easier than I could get with another solution.

Enter the Open Source community and DD-WRT, router firmware* developed by people not involved with the routers' Original Equipment Manufacturers. DD-WRT runs on a wide variety of consumer routers, though using it voids your warranty. Installing the upgrade isn't quite trivial, but it's pretty close. If you can configure a wireless router (certainly if you have ever updated the firmware on one), then you already have the skills you need.

I'll at least be able to tell just how badly the coming change in cable rates will hurt me. Come on Verizon, you've got just over three months to get FiOS into the Greensboro market before the rate changes from Time Warner kick in. Make the deadline, and you could clean up.

*Firmware is software dedicated to the operation of a hardware device, such as a router or a remote control, among other things.

No comments: