Just Connect Us to the Internet, Please

Maybe you think that unless your company runs an e-commerce Web site, the conduct and policies of consumer ISPs is of no concern. Think again.

Maybe you think that unless your company runs an e-commerce Web site, the conduct and policies of consumer ISPs is of no concern. Think again.

As high-speed home connectivity expands, your companys productivity and marketing will become increasingly dependent on it—and increasingly vulnerable to policies and performance issues over which you have no control.

Consider, for example, the recent shift by Comcast from the bankrupt Excite@Home service to its own cable modem network—with disastrous results: customers locked out of the network or plagued by e-mail outages for days, even weeks, at a time.

OK, you say, so Johnny cant surf from home. Whats that to me?

Ask major employers in New Jersey, where Comcast has experienced its worst problems. Companies such as AT&T, Lucent and others that have made e-commuting and mobile access a fundamental assumption in work routines privately complain that they are now scrambling to provide disconnected employees with temporary dial-up access—which they abandoned in the first place because Verizons telephone lines are so dirty that dial-up speeds are often limited to less than 19.2K bps.

Comcast officials insist that since they offer a consumer service, its not their concern if people cant receive business-related e-mail at home or access corporate accounts remotely. In fact, they point out, the service prohibits business use, including logging in to a company VPN.

And just this month, Comcast was forced to stop storing data about customers online activity after Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., expressed concern that it violated federal privacy rules. But you can bet this wont stop ISPs from continuing to aggregate potentially marketable data about their customers—including your companys employees and customers.

We tend to think of ISPs as simple carriers providing neutral bandwidth to anyone who can pay. In fact, this is the mask they wear when someone tries to hold them responsible for illegal content or customers that run spamming operations. But the truth is that not one of them really wants to sell commodity bandwidth, even though what employers and consumers alike really need is just that—private, secure, dependable connectivity.

Is that really too much to ask? Tell me at rob_fixmer@ziffdavis.com.