My Data Usage. Do You Know Yours?

I’ve long been a strong proponent of Net Neutrality. Bits should not be discriminated against because they contain audio or video versus text. However it seems the more connected we become, the more aware ISPs are of their ability to gouge their customers. Using deep packet inspection ISPs can examine the data you’re consuming, bit by bit. A future scenario might play out like this: “We see you’re using Skype for voip service. Skype competes directly with our own voip service. We’ll have to charge you an additional fee for using Skype.” As proof, closely examine this sales pitch from Allot Communications to the major wireless providers to help monetize data traffic by service.

The United States, inventor of the internet, lags embarrassingly behind other countries in terms of broadband usage costs, and average download speeds. Just when the internet, web and mobile connectivity are becoming integral to daily life, telcos are implementing bandwidth caps, discussing overage fees and throttling heavy data consumers. The FCC recently passed very limited Net Neutrality restrictions on wired internet delivery, but gave wireless providers a free pass in terms of their policies and practices as long as they’re “open” about it.

These events prompted me to examine my own data usage to see how much I’m actually consuming. At home we use Comcast for data which has a 250GB monthly data cap. Here are the devices that utilize our Comcast data connection:

  • Windows desktop PC
  • Windows laptop
  • Macbook Pro
  • iPhone
  • iPod Touch
  • XBox 360 (mostly used to stream Netflix movies)

Here is our Comcast usage for the past three months. Fortunately we’re well below the 250GB monthly cap.

For mobile service I use an iPhone from AT&T. I have an unlimited data plan but I still want to track how much I’m using. Since I haven’t been tracking my usage until now, I can only estimate how much I’ve used over the past 7 months by averaging the total before resetting on Feb. 1. Here are my data totals before resetting:

That averages out to be 160.9MB per month down and 46MB up. I’m a little surprised as I thought it would be a lot higher as I really love me some mobile data!

My experiment is going to continue for the next several months and I’ll post updates about each month’s data consumption.

My OverDrive Adventure

As an emerging web technologies librarian I consider myself fairly tech savvy especially having used dozens of PDAs and phones, regularly use Mac OS and Win-whatever, and building my own linux box from scratch. You know, just the normal stuff. However this afternoon I met my match. Last week I put a hold on a digital e-audiobook from my public library’s OverDrive subscription that I wanted to listen to. Let’s examine that. A hold. On a digital file, that’s always somewhere on a server. Yes, I know it all comes down to licensing and publisher agreements, but that’s strike one against the user. Let’s fast forward to today. I open an email today on my iPhone alerting me that my download is ready. I click the link to ultimately discover that I can’t download the file directly to my phone, I have to use the OverDrive Media Console. That’s strike two. For a real user to take full advantage of this service, it has to be mind-numbingly simple, and so far this isn’t. Next I download and install the OverDrive media console on my MacBook Pro (which in fairness is easy) and download my digital title from the library site. I then discover that I can’t import it to the media console because the Mac version of the console doesn’t support WMA DRM. That is strike 3. I know publishers love the panacea of DRM (which has been easily defeated everywhere else), but libraries cannot expect their users to be gadget freaks and full-on technical audio/visual experts in order to use such services. So here’s the final outcome. In order to listen to this book which is WMA formatted but will play on iOS, I have to use a PC with an iOS device that is formatted to connect to Windows. Unfortunately I’m not about to reformat my phone to work with a Windows iTunes library just to get one book that I have to listen to within the next 21 days. As a side note, I checked a couple of the popular torrent sites that the kids use these days and found a DRM free copy of the same e-audiobook. It would let me play it anywhere I wanted and keep it as long as needed. I won’t do this because I consider it unethical, but what’s to stop an average user from taking the path of least resistance?

The American Library Association Needs To Make A Super Bowl Commercial

Over 100 million people watched the Super Bowl last night between the Packers and Steelers. While enjoying the game, most admit they also watch it for the the creative ads. Thirty seconds of air time cost approximately $3 million dollars. That’s ridiculously expensive, but what an amazing opportunity to reach a huge swath of Americans from all walks of life. That’s exactly why the American Library Association needs to sponsor a commercial during the 2012 Super Bowl. Libraries have seen usage surge, especially in public libraries. Citizens have turned to their local libraries to search for jobs and receive resume and application assistance, access the freely available content available at libraries, receive computer training to improve their marketability, and the list goes on. Conversely, library budgets are taking huge cuts due to the down economy. Branches are closing and staff are being laid off. An expertly produced commercial (I can’t overemphasize this part) could have tremendous impact and generate an endless supply of goodwill and interest among current library users as well as non-patrons. Those voices in turn could lobby for restored funding, work to increase giving to friends’ groups, etc.  As far as production, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of the elite marketing firms across the country would potentially give a discount for the the design work. No doubt there are dozens of celebrities (let’s avoid those recently associated with rehab) who would act as spokesperson pro bono. Imagine a commercial that quickly highlights some of the amazing services available at libraries with Morgan Freeman’s voice narrating the events. Sounds like a winner to me.

I’ll leave you with my favorite ad from this year’s game, it’s brilliant! – Volkswagen: The Force