Here at FMC, we’re intrigued by the potential of “cloud music”— from mobile apps to remote storage lockers to sites and services that facilitate discovery and collaboration. When you look at recent developments, it seems that the future for digital music may be headed off of hard drives and into the cloud. When we say “intrigued,” we mean it: after all, we keep keep writing about it.
We’re not alone. The National Broadband Plan, issued by the Federal Communications Commission in March of 2010, recognized the potential and power of the cloud by specifically acknowledging that “software based in the cloud may allow more small business and consumers to access applications that were once only available to corporations with sophisticated information technology departments.” This thumbs up from the FCC doesn’t completely jive with what we’re hearing about restrictive data caps on residential broadband connections, however.
Take for instance the experiences of Andre Vrignaud, a Comcast customer recently blacklisted from the ISP for one year. According to Vrignaud, he was notified that he had exceeded his monthly data cap after backing up twenty years worth of photos and music files to a remote server. What we’re concerned about with this story is that Vrignaud’s use of his broadband connection represents a legitimate use of the technology and exactly the kind of cloud applications the National Broadband Plan supports.
Another reason we care is because we want to see more fully-licensed music services as an alternative to unauthorized filesharing. We want to get to a place where digial music can become a significant revenue stream for musicians. For that to happen, you need more services, more users and more investment.
Data caps with tiered pricing are, in theory, a reasonable tool for managing network congestion. ISPs have an interest in maintaining the quality of connection and service subscribers are accustomed to, but Comcast’s hard data cap (as exhibited in the Vrignaud case) appears to be centered on controlling “excessive use.” But what determines “excessive use?” We see a scenario in which routine uploading of data to remote servers at off-peak times could easily trigger a hard data cap of 250 GB/month (Comcast’s cap since 2008). Normal, legitimate content up- and downloads on today’s high speed connections could trigger that 250 GB limit in little more than five hours.
Because of these concerns, Future of Music Coalition, Public Knowledge and New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative sent a joint letter to Chairman Julius Genachowski of the FCC on July 14, 2011. The letter is a request for the Commission to nvestigate the data cap policies of all ISPs, as recent anecdotal evidence suggests inconsistencies in their practices. There’s also the concern about competition: for example, an ISP may charge overages (or kick you off network) for using the cloud data service of a competitor, while selling its own version for which the caps do not apply. Without some scrutiny over these practices, a legitimate digital music marketplace may not have an opportunity to flourish. For these reasons and more, we think data caps deserve a closer look by the FCC.
Read the full letter here.