Five Xboxes

In today’s New York Times, Amy Chozick reports on the “whiter collar” approach to cable guys that cable companies are taking. Two things. First, check this out:

Quirino Madia, a 46-year-old supervisor for Time Warner Cable, recently set up a system for Selene Tovar, 35, a stay-at-home mother of three.

She needed the Internet service at her three-story home in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood to be fast enough to power the family’s six televisions, five Xboxes, several PlayStations and multiple iPads and laptops. Even a new scale — a Hanukkah present from her husband — required a fast connection so it could send daily weigh-ins to an iPhone app.

I don’t even know what to say. So I’ll just leave that right there.

Second, the article refers throughout to “high tech” installations that are complex because of the sheer number and variety of devices that will be sharing the connection. This is, of course, nonsense. When you “install” a router, it makes no difference whether it talks to five Xboxes or a single laptop. (Yes, I get that some of these providers may be setting up each device, and maybe I’m out of touch with how difficult it is for some people to connect an Xbox to a wireless network.)

The one job that we want our cable-based Internet to do is to provide a working Ethernet cable to our wireless router. If the cable company wants to sell wireless routers on the side, fine. Nothing they do, however, should be more complex on account of my having two dozen iPads in the house rather than a single, beige Packard Bell in the basement that plays the latest CD-ROM games, runs Napster, and surfs the geocities homepages on the World Wide Web.

But, you see, the cable companies want to delight us with high tech magic, not just provide a dumb pipe:

“We think the consumer wants a state-of-the-art experience,” Brian L. Roberts, Comcast’s chairman and chief executive said, as he showed off the company’s forthcoming partly cloud-based cable box with the internal code name of Xcalibur.

Sure, I get it. The cable companies don’t want to be the water company. They want to be in the content business, and they’re afraid if they don’t move quickly that they’ll be the next RIM, while Google, Apple, and others take the higher-margin content-delivery business. This is all an artifact of a time when cable was content and when it was not possible to get your data feed from one company and all your content from another. Now, however, I don’t need my internet provider to do anything other than provide fast internet service.

With any luck, technology will come around that creates a real market for commodity internet providers. Until that happens, I think we should let these companies choose. Either you get to be a local monopoly providing data service OR you get to sell content. It looks like we’re about to see what happens when large corporations that have local monopolies, a history of poor service and high prices, and a perfect track record of producing the world’s worst user interfaces get into the cloud-based “state-of-the-art experience” business.