PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

There’s no such thing as a free IP lunch
June 2000

This magazine has been at pains to exhort the government to “do something” about the cost of internet access as a more constructive “alternative carrot” than to pursue the Neanderthal instincts of Old Labour’s ”Two Jags” Prescott and just try to tax motorists out of their cars. And now we are facing completely “free” (well, flat rate, good enough pro tem) passage on the Queen’s Super Highway it may seem churlish to point out that, as usual, the politicians have got this one all round their well-padded arses, too.

The problem stems form the focus on local loop consumer delivery (phone call charges), while the costs of bulk haulage of bandwidth around the UK has remained almost unchanged over 5 years – despite a reduction in costs by factor of around 100 as technology effectively means that the same piece of fibre that carried 100Mbit five years ago could now carry 10,000 Mbit these days.

In some respects things are actually getting worse quite rapidly, because the one part of the UK where telecom costs have fallen is central London, concentrating the effect and creating a bigger demand than ever for commuters to haul themselves to where the bandwidth is cheapest. Quite the opposite of the desired effect.

Because what we have now is a government that has arranged to hand free cars for the Superhighway to every voting citizen (remember, businesses can’t vote – even if Unions can) without having helped to add extra carriageways to the motorways. And the effects are now apparent if you are a user of one of the various services that is setting out to offer “free access. Connections are becoming more unreliable, and speeds are grinding ever slower.

The stark fact is that the UK’s central internet exchange peering centre, the LINX, where all UK ISPs connect together to speed the exchange of data between their respective customers, has a capacity if 1.8Gbit. With ADSL services at the lowest suggested delivery rate of 250kBit, which means a total of 7200 “end users” will be able to do what all ISPs fear in their heart of hearts, and that is connect all day to some online variant of MTV and watch music videos.

Anyone who was around in the UK net 5 years ago will recall that predictions fort connectivity demand were out by an order of magnitude, since not only did the numbers double as predicted, all the earlier adopters increased their use of the next by a factor of 3-4 times, thanks to a combination of familiarity and increased access speeds. History is about to repeat itself on a galactic scale, if we are not careful.

So please Tony, forget about the voters for a second if you can, and force the cost of bulk bandwidth management right down. After all, a measly 7,200 happy voters isn’t going to plant you back in number 10, is it..?