"I only really use this landline to get the internet..."

Technology is moving fast and we all know it. The world of online is ever changing and ever challenging. But what about the changing and challenging ways of even getting online in the first place?

Traditionally a space owned by all powerful ISPs. The only way to get online was to sign up with one of their services. But now their power is corroding and their businesses are about to hit some major trouble.

ISPs are in a strange place right now. They face a number of new challanges.

On one hand, governments are rallying them to implement anti-piracy measures. ISPs are being pressured to foot the bill on the entire piracy debate. In some countries – like Australia – they are fighting back effectively. But it is a costly exersize, and their role in the piracy debate is still to be settled.

ISPs are losing power and prestige. Having little to offer in terms of services, and they are in a race to the bottom in terms of price. Broadband deals are wrapped up in bigger home deals – cable, mobile and broadband in one cost.

ISPs are under massive expense to keep up with technology too. Broadband speeds are increasing, and ISPs are huge infrastructure businesses. It took Australia a long time to get people off dial-up (having invested in it so thoroughly). Now that we have broadband cables in 10 million houses, what happens when they all become irrelevant?

Because – finally – that little broadband cable is under a bit of pressure itself. Nearly half of Australia has mobile internet access now. Although in it’s infancy, it’s growing fast. Native apps for things like internet banking and transport services make them essential.

Standard, wired, broadband marketshare is only going in one direction – down.

So what are ISPs doing to protect their business? Then why is internet access, on the whole, a pain?

You can tell how important their product branding is by their advertising. TPG use big numbers and discounts as a way to get customers. Iinet have been running a gag about being the country’s number 2. Both scream of the kind of ad campaigns favoured by car insurance companies. Broad. Catchy. No credibility.

The high competition makes ISP services a race to the bottom. It’s like budget airlines. The only thing that ISPs have to offer is internet access – how much, how fast and how expensive.

How much means how much data. And there is one utterly massive rip off when it comes to how much data – this off peak/on peak business. It is utterly bullshit. Half your internet access is to be used between 2am and 8am – only 6 hours of the day. Basically, most ISP plans are practically half the downloads they advertise. So annoying.

Are they expecting us to track our own usage? How do we even do that? Why should we do it anyway? Should we change our work hours to 2am til 8am?

Off peak hours is ridiculous. And I’m talking about future generations laughing at us, the way we laugh at open sewerage in Victorian times. Off peak internet is an open sewerage.

How fast? 128kps is still available. Who is using this? It’s almost an insult that they offer it. 1mb/s is more reasonable, but we are already looking at doubling that as standard. The technology exists.

It’s that pesky cabling. It will take hundreds of millions of dollars to redo the country. And then again in five years time when technology should have increased another four-fold.

Bad wires exist even now. Unclear signals over old cable corroding your access. Now those wires ferry an old technology. Of course, it’s usually us who pay the cost. First we had dial up installed. Then pay TV. Then broadband. Then whatever’s next.

Well, whatever’s next is public wi-fi.

On my street, at my house, I can pick up 4 or 5 wi-fi signals. What a waste.

Not only the cabling, but my biggest pet peeve about it all – those little router boxes. I have about 4 of them in my house from old accounts. Every new service sends me a new one. What poor third world people are putting these crap things together? And how badly are they being disposed? It has to stop.

Why can’t my 4 or 5 neighbours share one box?  If we all did that, we could spare the world the pressure of creating 80% of it’s router industry, and hopefully save us all some money. We could just have a password, and my usage charged to my account.

And then we can extrapolate. If 5, why not 50? Why not 500? Why not 20 million? Why not one mega router to serve the entire country?

The last one is probably overly ambitious today, but achievable for small cities. It’s not like I ever plug my computer into a wall anymore. What does it matter where the box is? Wi-Fi also solves the problem of wiring. No more new cables every couple of years.

The other great thing is I don’t have to worry about where I am. Imagine I can hook into my own Wi Fi account from a friend’s house, or from the other side of the country.

Problem for ISPs though is another entire billion dollar industry is owning that space. Telecommunications Companies (or Telcos). Traditional ISPs are facing off against big business names like Telstra, or Verizon. Who do offer more than a pipe. More often than not, they give you a phone too. Most already offer home internet as well.

But it’s the 3G (and soon 4G) data that is interesting. I know a lot of people who don’t use a home phone anymore, but need to keep a line active for their internet. If people just use cheap, fast, 4G, over-the-air data, will they need that home connection anymore?

It is going to be the rebirth of the the telco. Having lost people on landlines, they are now back with 3G. And 4G. And the signals they turned off when they pushed you to digital TV? They are going into more data services.

The same old reasons hold us back – lack of signal. Lack of speed. Expensive. But history shows us these are the things that go down with time and mainstream acceptance. 4G over the air will becaome more affordable.

The question is whether it will be come commonplace.

I think so.

ISPs also have another fight – free commercial wi fi.

I decided to save a few bucks and not get the 3G iPad because 1) My phone is a hot spot and 2) Sydney has a fair bit of free Wi Fi. That Wi-Fi is usually tied to another business. Be it a café or a library (or Circular Quay station). I don’t find myself evetr that lost for signal.

Wi-Fi is losing value in itself, but more and more people are using it as a value-add commodity. Pubs, restaurants, trains and more. The discount Fung-Wah buses from New York to Boston now offer Wi-Fi. We are connecting from everywhere.

Yet we only pay for it in our own homes.

We are going wireless. We are keeping files on the cloud. We should be shedding cables and boxes along the way.

The ISP model is getting old – and fast. We are getting around it, and plenty of people – from billion dollar telcos to your local café, and giving you over the air data, mostly for free.

In the next year, as the tech gets better and the prices drop, the ISPs will be in real trouble. They need to offer a better service – more speed, more data and less cost – than 3G. And by a big margin.

Otherwise, we’re going to cut the cord.


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