Amid end of net neutrality, consumer cloud faces stormy future

Despite the potential that cloud solutions offer for business, consumer uses for cloud technology remain limited in North America.


Image: Wikimedia Commons/cjohnson7 via Flickr

While cloud computing in the enterprise enjoys ever-higher adoption rates, the consumer cloud has more hurdles to overcome. New developments this year have made the forecast for consumer-facing cloud technology a rather gloomy one. While corporate cheerleading of enterprise cloud remains abundant, a reality check is needed for the consumer cloud market, and the encumbrances which that market faces.

The end (for now) of net neutrality

After a ruling by a United States Court of Appeals in January 2014 that struck down the FCC's net neutrality directive, accusations are flying that Verizon is throttling Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Netflix. The FCC ruling was not unexpected, due to the way in which the FCC classifies broadband Internet services, and hope remains for altering that definition to re-introduce net neutrality as an FCC mandate.

Until FCC regulation can correct the problem at hand, relying on ISPs to reliably and swiftly deliver high-bandwidth content—or anything located on data farms such as AWS—is too high of an expectation to plan a service around.

Paying bureaucrats to legislate away competition

Perhaps even more insidious than ISPs abandoning the principles of net neutrality are attempts by these same ISPs to donate apparently paltry sums of money to local bureaucrats in Utah to prevent the spread of a regional cooperative operator from offering Fiber to the Premises outside of their current boundaries. Similar plans in Kansas to prohibit cities and municipalities from building their own community broadband services have been proposed, but have been scuttled (for now) amidst a firestorm of public criticism.

An abject lack of infrastructure

Because of the population distribution in the United States and Canada, people living in suburban and rural areas have few, if any, options for broadband Internet. This difficulty of access to the market has been known for some time, and led to the creation of the National Broadband Plan in 2009. While this has seen some increase in availability of services in rural and suburban areas, many of these newly available services are installations of slow wireless technologies such as a Motorola Canopy system (now Cambium ePMP), high-latency and data-capped satellite Internet services, or expensive data-capped mobile routers working on GSM or LTE networks operated by Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint.

In comparison to "true" high-speed Internet services, these are generally more costly on a monthly basis and have a great deal of restrictions on use that other services do not face. In addition, Internet via Satellite or Motorola Canopy installations are greatly affected by high winds, low clouds, or severe weather, all of which are in abundance in places such as Kansas where high-speed Internet options are limited outside of metropolitan areas.

What this means for the market

Some of the more lofty goals of product distribution that have come around in the last few years are still out of reach for a significant market segment of people who are not in the service area of proper high-speed Internet services, or otherwise must pay a premium in data transmission to purchase products or services. Examples include NetflixHulu, and Crunchyroll (which have to some extent supplanted the home media market of distributing films and TV shows on DVD and Blu-ray), software distribution services Steam and Origin, and the distribution of software titles using OnLive, a service through which one can play video games using client software that pulls the video output and transmits user input to a cloud system.

Among others, popular cloud services include the OnLive platform, a service through which one can play video games using client software which transmits user input to a remote computer, the result of which is sent back to the user as streaming video. The streaming of films and television programs through Netflix, Hulu, or Crunchyroll, which have (to some extent) supplanted the home media market of distributing films and television shows on DVD and Blu-Ray are similarly inaccessible for consumers outside of the reach of wired Internet. Digital software distribution services such as Steam, Origin, the Windows Store, and the iOS App Store face similar difficulties in access to market.

Websites that utilize Amazon EC2 may see better results for users on traditional broadband networks by offloading binary blobs (images, zip files, etc.) to a second server running lighthttpd to serve those files.

Final thoughts

Allowing potential customers to fall by the wayside isn't a good strategy for business, but spending more to reach these same potential customers is also a non-starter. Let us know your strategies for reaching out to users with low connectivity.