“Daddy, When are you going to fix my TV” came the question from the hopeful five year old to his father… “We can’t fix your TV, Son” I answered.
Let me apologize in advance for this post.. I’m going to try and keep it as short as possible, which will be a very difficult thing for me to do.. you see I have a Master’s Degree in information technology. My thesis was on twisted pair cable and was over 80 pages long. I’m thinking about selling it as an alternative to melatonin for the non-techie set.Ok let’s get back to my opening line that was carefully crafted to tug at your heart strings. Maybe you are thinking.. that poor guy can’t afford a TV.. or maybe it was some beloved Disney branded TV that isn’t being made anymore… The fact is that when my son asked about “Fixing his TV” I knew he was talking about being able to watch Netflix.. you know that ubiquitous TV service that requires a minimal internet connection to function. So I didn’t end my conversation with my son with “We can’t fix your TV” , I added a bit more than that, I explained – for about the tenth time – that we don’t get enough bandwidth for Aldo to watch his beloved shows on Netflix.
Why not? Well I made a mistake.. I trusted the guy I spoke with at century link who told me I can get three megabits to the property I was considering for my family home. Ok, I can handle three megabits.. It’s horribly slow, but I’ve lived with that before, I can do it again and it will support everything I need it to do.. Well fast forward a year to the completion of construction on our new house, and when I call into century link, they say, in a bright and chipper voice “Yes Sir we’ll be happy to set up your internet connection, you qualify for 512kbps at your location”
I am so happy that guy was on the other side of the phone.. Because if he was in front of me.. I’d need an internet connection to research how to look good wearing orange.
Twisted pair cable is the generic name for phone and Ethernet cable, or what some people think of as network cable. It’s what connects most households to the internet, especially in rural areas. Companies that were traditionally ‘phone companies’ have large networks that are built around twisted pair.
The inherent problem with twisted pair networks is that they were designed for voice – Cable TV networks designed for video also suffer similarly. These networks generally are sucktacular (that’s the technical term) when being repurposed for data. The only way to make them work well is to put lots of money into the network to get more and more equipment closer and closer to customer homes so customers can get decent data rates. The only alternative is to completely replace the network with one designed from the ground up for transporting data.. ahem *fiber* ahem. Network operators are loath to do that when their investment will have tremendously long ROI’s due to the lower population densities or huge build out costs. Volumes and volumes can be written (and I have) about the various technologies involved and what can be done to change the situation. Some of these changes are happening but the pace of improvement isn’t keeping up with the demand side.. It’s gotten so bad that Google – an internet advertising company at heart – has started laying their own fiber network to basically bully the network operators into providing decent data rates at competitive prices. Yeah Google!
Many would argue this is mostly just entertainment related and we can live without it. On the face of it, this is true… Currently our home has 3 TiVo’s, 5 game systems, 2 smart TV’s, 1 Roku, 5 Smartphones, 2 Tablets, 5 PC’s and one Server.. That’s 23 internet connected devices, most of which are entertainment oriented, all of which use the network even if they aren’t being actively used. That doesn’t include devices that come into our household that belong to others, such as my daughter’s friends.. all of whom have internet connected smart phones. “Where is your bathroom” is heard less in my household than “What is your wifi password”.
Ok, I didn’t do a good job of keeping this short and sweet.. but let’s get to the meat of the matter.. in this case, at this time, the focus of this blog is on the Professional Individual Contributor, and their plight.
Professional individual contributors are telecommuting more and more. On the face of it this isn’t a bad thing. Telecommuting provides for flexibility, benefits for the environment, and cost reductions for business. Telecommuting is sort of a win/win for all parties. Still there are challenges for professionals.. Chief among these are the expectation of 24/7 work (this is a series of posts for another day), and of PIC’s having to provide and support their own work related infrastructure. This is the kicker..
In my experience the employer of record offers telecommuting as a carrot, but understandably does little to support the telecommuting effort other than providing a laptop, printer, and possibly a phone. I say understandably because most employers are already paying at least once for the office internet line, phone lines, and centralized office space. They are generally leery of employees they can’t see whenever they want and they don’t want to pay double for anything.
So this is where the challenge comes in. The Professional Individual Contributor who would like to enjoy some of the niceties of telecommuting has to deal with consumer grade internet to get their business done. They have to pay out of pocket, and god help them if they are more than a mile from a ‘telco box’.. because then they have to sit, and wait for something to get done.. If a PIC’s video conference breaks up from a bad connection.. the employer may not look kindly on that. If a PIC’s internet goes down completely, the employer may demand they come into the office no matter how the PIC has structured their life around telecommuting (think childcare limitations). If the internet service provider promises one service level and provides a lesser service level, there is no telco company account manager to step in and facilitate a service improvement on the big account.
So the professional individual contributor is at the mercy of the internet service provider.. They are limited to where they can live, limited to what they can do for work, and limited in the ways they can be entertained in the few off hours that they get when the boss isn’t online or sending a firedrill to get addressed.
Who knows.. maybe one day we’ll all have terabit to the home and be able to stream multiple 8K video telepresence streams to work and to our family. Until that day comes I’d just be happy with what the FCC says classifies as broadband.
I guess on the positive side, I’ll have plenty of time to spend with my family while I wait for this post to upload. Maybe I’ll watch something on Netflix with my son. … or not.
Epilog – Since my wife telecommutes, we wound up having to jump through considerable hoops to get her to a minimal level of service to get her work done. The solutions include paying for multiple dedicated lines for her PC and phone and keeping everyone else off the network while she’s working. My son still doesn’t have enough bandwidth for Netflix.. so he’s spending more time outside.. good for him, but I feel really bad for the bugs, frogs, and other back yard critters of North Carolina.. he’s not mean but they tend not to be able to stand up to his version of playing.