More Challenges for Telecommuters - InformationWeek
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9/13/2007
12:46 PM
Irwin Lazar
Irwin Lazar
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More Challenges for Telecommuters

There’s more bad news for those who work from home and rely on residential Internet services for their connectivity.  Comcast is reportedly taking steps to limit available bandwidth for heavy users of its “unlimited” cable modem service.  Unfortunately, Comcast won’t tell its users what triggers it to implement limits, leaving its customers to guess on their own.  Comcast users are also complaining that the company is filtering BitTorrent files, blocking Comcast users from using BitTorrent to download large files.

While I think it’s fair to say that most BitTorrent users are transferring copyrighted material, that’s not entirely the case.  Many people use BitTorrent to exchange large files within the public domain (such as Linux distributions, free media files, and so on).  Comcast’s moves effectively limits enterprises from using BitTorrent to distribute videos, applications, or other large files.

But for the teleworker, the arbitrary throttling of bandwidth on an “unlimited” Internet service presents a larger and more immediate challenge.  As we’ve documented in our Building The Successful Virtual Workplace benchmark, an increasing number of workers are now telecommuting, working from home on an either part-time or full time basis (disclaimer: I’m a full-time telecommuter who relies on Comcast for my Internet connectivity).  Home workers often exchange large amounts of data with corporate servers for functions such as backup, file synchronization, and increasingly, video conferencing or video-on-demand applications. 

Should an enterprise find that its home workers are facing bandwidth restrictions choices may be few.  They can find another provider (easier said than done, in my area for example our only high-speed Internet choice is Comcast).  They can pay for a more expensive business grade service, or they can move their teleworkers to small offices or shared-office centers.  All of which potentially add to the expense of supporting a teleworker environment.

So what’s an enterprise to do?  First, lobby your elected representatives to require ISPs to provide clear and verifiable policies including bandwidth transfer limits that trigger reduction of available bandwidth.  Second, seek alternate carriers where possible, Third, prepare to pay for higher bandwidth services.   As more and more people rely on residential services for home workers, it wouldn’t surprise me to see more carriers implement restrictive policies such as requiring home users to obtain a business-class service if they want to run an IPSec VPN for example.

As I’ve noted in past examples, all the wonderful benefits of virtual collaboration are lost if the underlying network infrastructure can’t support the application requirements.  Once again collaboration managers must make themselves aware of issues relating to provisioning and managing network services to ensure that their telecommuters are able to access the full suite of enterprise collaboration applications.

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