Bad Vibes

Has anyoneheard the drive-time radio spots for When I heard the ad a fewdays ago while driving on a Minneapolis freeway, I was so distracted I couldhave run somebody over.

The adsdepict WebRadio as a fun-loving, harmless Internet entertainment vehicle andpaint IT support people as obstacles to good folks enjoying entertainment inthe office. Their pitch is simple. Don’t let that party-pooper IT departmenttell you what to do with your computer. Tune into at your desk and enjoyradio stations from all over the Internet. WebRadio is free, it doesn’t modifyyour computer, doesn’t force you to download any special software, so tune inand don’t listen to the IT department when they complain about it. After all,the IT department complains about everything, right?

This kindof stuff really makes me mad, especially when the message is bogus andmisleading. And IT people have good reason to complain. Who does WebRadio thinkpays for the bandwidth its audio content consumes? “Free” can cost plenty whenthe IT Department has to buy more bandwidth to accommodate everyone downloadingWebRadio content.

Here’s thereal story. WebRadio is free to people who tune in because it makes money fromadvertising. The more people that tune in, the more money WebRadio can chargeadvertisers. Imagine how much an advertiser would pay for access to a captiveaudience of every desktop computer user on the Internet. The IT department,however, is the one main obstacle to overcome.

I ran a fewtests using my network. I shut everything off to make the network completelyquiet and tuned into an oldies station from Malta, New York. I also ran sometests with a classic rock station from California.

Using theMicrosoft Netmon program, I verified that no other traffic was circulatingacross my network and then ran five WebRadio sessions of 100 seconds each.

The averagebandwidth consumption of these sessions amounted to about 18,000 bits persecond.

Does anyoneremember the days when 9,600 baud was fast? Today, on a 10 or 100 Mb LAN, thisbarely causes a blip. But the story is more complicated because bandwidth tothe Internet is still constrained and expensive. In my case, I use a 144 KbIDSL connection to a local ISP. I pay $125 per month for the privilege. Thismeans WebRadio uses one-eighth of my total available bandwidth, which wouldcost $15.63 per month if I was connected throughout the work day. If I allowedeight people on my network to listen to WebRadio, I would saturate my IDSLline.

Biggerorganizations have the same problem. Consider an organization with a T1Internet connection, or 1,544 Kb of bandwidth. In this case, 85 concurrentWebRadio listeners would saturate the available Internet bandwidth.

What’s thebenefit to WebRadio? Does it help my company make or save money? If I want tolisten to the radio, why not turn on the radio? Based on my tests, it seems tome that Minnesota stations play pretty much the same music as Californiastations. Why would I care about radio stations from California and New York?

WebRadiodeclared war on IT departments everywhere with these ads. It’s a publicrelations war of words and the weapons include slick marketing, clever ads, anddeception. IT departments are outnumbered, outgunned, and surrounded.

Here are afew tactical suggestions to help with your local battles.

If thereever was a time to learn and master the art of communication and persuasion,this is it. We need to poke our heads out of the data center and get to knowthe end users we serve. Take some of these people to lunch and start building arapport with them. The WebRadio guys are telling our users that we are a bunchof nameless, faceless, bumbling bureaucrats. We need to prove them wrong.

Openlydiscuss the cost of bandwidth. Basic economics dictate that the demand forsomething that is free is infinite. If users think bandwidth is free, they willdrink it like a fire hose. Fight this perception. Learn your company’s profitand loss, learn how your company uses its Internet bandwidth, and find out ifthe people running your company see any stakeholder benefit to peopleeverywhere listening to WebRadio.

Most peoplewant to make rational choices. Right now, they’re hearing WebRadio’s goofy adson their way to work. We have a responsibility to make sure they hear the realstory after they arrive at work. Let’s help our end users make the rationalchoice. --Greg Scott, Microsoft CertifiedSystems Engineer (MCSE), is chief technology officer of Infrasupport Etc. Inc.(Eagan, Minn.). Contact him at