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Industry Collaboration To Make Internet Services Work for All Consumers

Marconi Society Coronavirus and Our Connected World

By John Cioffi

We Marconi Fellows have developed and fostered important pieces of today’s Internet that have been increasingly called upon to help people everywhere continue communicating, while “social distancing” and to help stem the pandemic COVID-19’s spread. Telecommuting, distance learning, and telemedicine have become essential services to billions globally during this time, greatly stressing our Internet connectivity. Even after the current pandemic is over, people will have been changed by their online-communication experiences in ways that were not expected even weeks earlier. So what will this mean, and how can we help provide a better experience for all users? I will share my experiences at ASSIA, a company I founded many years ago that now helps improve to-home and within-home internet connectivity. We have learned so much in just a few short weeks, as well as over the years we have been in business.

The pandemic’s emergence and exponential spread has changed all our lives and highlighted the mission-critical nature of residential networks. Massive numbers of people, from workers to students of all ages, have continued their employment and/or schooling from home. Their home networks have become their lifeline of connectivity to colleagues, customers, co-workers, patients, and investors, not to mention friends, family, and entertainment. Many more people  would be unemployed or contributing less to the economy if not for this connectivity. Once discussed as the futuristic vision of residential networking and smart cities, a new generation of applications including teleconferencing, telemedicine, and remote education have emerged rapidly as important use cases for Internet connectivity. This changes the role that connectivity plays in our lives.  What might before have been viewed as “nice to have” is now essential, also providing a side benefit of bluer skies since people drive their cars far less often.

Across ASSIA’s 100M+ managed internet connections, serving over a half-billion internet customers in their homes, it is clear that demand for downlink bandwidths in affected areas have risen on average by 30% and uplink bandwidths by 50-100%. Those increases may not yet have peaked.  Such increased demand creates unexpected contention issues, which might be evident in metallic-sounding voice distortion in video-conferences between employees, or students asking questions of their teachers. Other connections are lost or dropped more frequently, possibly threatening a critical service’s availability or simply causing a student to miss an important point. It could just be more annoying drops of a live television program that may suddenly be getting more viewers too.

Meeting this increased demand will require Internet service providers (e.g., large and smaller phone and cable companies), as well as application providers (e.g., smartphone companies, social media companies, financial institutions, healthcare providers, teleconferencing companies, distance learning companies and other) to work together, along with companies like ASSIA that help networks run faster and more reliably, to make consumer applications work seamlessly.

No longer should a big Internet company say when faced with connectivity-loss or distortion issues: “Well, that is phone company X’s problem, not ours.” Application providers  this is your problem too. Your customers are getting poor service that makes their experience with your application suffer and costs you money due to poor customer satisfaction! Telephone and cable companies, you cannot, evenly accidentally, disadvantage competitive applications (leveraging  the connection-data that you definitely have but may not share, for instance), simply because those application providers may compete with your own desires to offer applications yourself. You also need those applications to drive your service demands. When the overall customer experience is poor, everyone loses money. The combination of diagnostic and learned optimizations of both Internet provider and application providers’ connectivity-related data is very powerful. There are ways to make this work better, and the current pandemic provides an opportunity and an imperative for the industry to come together. Companies like ASSIA can, and do, help also in these areas.

The industry can work towards a “home-centric life” future. This future must not be designed for the affluent few, but must be accessible to all at mass-market price points with largely inclusive ecosystem programs. I, my company ASSIA, and the Marconi Society share the same fundamental ideas of inclusivity, innovation, and openness as we work together towards the future.