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A Problem With Amazon’s Fire TV (liisten.com)
96 points by hk__2 on June 29, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 56 comments

This article is yet another example of how ISP data caps delay or block innovation. If caps were common in the 90s and 2000s, streaming media services that we take for granted today wouldn't have been able to get off the ground.

We have the same problem with LTE networks today. Want to watch a world cup game on your 720p or 1080p smartphone during your commute to the office? One match is probably half of your typical monthly LTE data cap.

Even without data caps, a TV connected box shouldn't be pulling down hundreds of GB per month while idle. Without data caps the author of this post may not have had an issue, but that still doesn't make what Amazon's doing OK.

> Even without data caps, a TV connected box shouldn't be pulling down hundreds of GB per month while idle. Without data caps the author of this post may not have had an issue, but that still doesn't make what Amazon's doing OK.

Amazon is doing exactly what they should be doing. Especially if their box is doing the right thing and downloading the shows in the middle of the night. Comcast et al should be thanking them for this because it moves a huge amount of traffic from peak to off peak and reduces the amount of capacity upgrades they'll need. This is a prime example of why data caps are stupid.

Ahhh, no. Amazon should not be downloading tens or hundreds of gigs a month without telling me or giving me a way to shut it off. Regardless of your feelings about bandwidth caps, there's plenty of situations that might present a problem with that—shared connections, metered connections, and half a dozen other things i'd rather be doing with my internet connection in the middle of the night than having it download shows my kid watches.

I think both side can be argued. On one hand I really appreciate how quick movies start, and I was initially quite impressed, and like the OP I had to check yesterday my Comcast Internet setting for a different reason: I was quite surprise to see a big jump in my usage. I was planing to start looking at what could be using more bandwidth than usual but thank to the post I know what it is.

At least Amazon should be offering a setting to disable that feature, and whenever someone want to play a movie and the setting is off, then warn the user that he can always turn it back on...

At least in the USA where bandwidth is still limited Amazon should be offering the proper setting for the user to decide. [edit: fixing typo]

Spotify allows me to cache what I like for future playback without streaming. It does that by placing me in control.

It only has 8GB of onboard storage, what the hell is it downloading and what is is doing with all that downloaded data?

It's preemptively buffering video streams.

At 80 GB/day? It would have to fill the flash memory 10x over in a day.

It could easily be a software bug.

1. Pre-cache TV show A

2. Local store full

3. Delete TV show A

4. Pre-cache TV show B


Never ascribe to nefarious intent that which may be a software bug/feature.

It probably caches the first minute of hundreds of shows since those are the pain points in streaming services.

I feel like this might be it. With the Fire TV when you select to watch something it starts instantly, no matter if it is a show that you watched the previous episode or a random movie you picked out on the spot. I think it's caching everything that is visible from the homescreen, at least.

Yes this has to be a bug, I don't think they planned on downloading 80Gb/day and the bandwidth cap is not relevant. Unless they have a terrabyte HD they plan on keeping full there is no reason to download that much.

jun 7 and 8 happen to be sat & sun. so it is possible the author was browsing different shows and the tv trying to keep up with it.

Given a choice between unlimited data or net neutrality, I would choose net neutrality. The argument behind 'fast lanes' is that netflix et al need to pay for bandwidth while we are just paying for access. I would much rather pay a metered rate and have it clear that the ISP should not interfere.

The thing that I fear though, is that broadband monopolists would use metered service to price gouge high-end users. The lack of competition makes this too easy to exploit.

But then the problem is lack of competition, not metered usage. Lack of competition also make the net neutrality issue worse, so that would be the right thing to tackle.

The problem with accepting a metered rate is that it is completely divorced from the reality of the costs associated with providing your service. With utilities like gas, electricity, and water, there is a clear marginal cost for every additional unit you consume. This is not true for a unit of 'internet' from your ISP. Their operating costs are sunk and inflexible. Your next bit does not 'cost' them anything to send, so why should you pay for it as if it did?

How is it disconnected from the costs of providing the service? This could only be true if all connections were built to support the maximum possible bandwidth all costumers are theoretically capable of. Because otherwise, the price you're charged is a mix-calculation - it's the price that's required to deliver the promised number of bits during a given timeframe.

> We have the same problem with LTE networks today.

Yes and no. Over the air bandwidth is a very very limited resource to what can be delivered by fiber and coax.

Which means that the only way LTE could be used to send the World Cup to you is by some sort of multicast that would simultaneously send the same content to many smartphones at once. That would be of great interest to many people.

But the laws of physics, as presented by Claude Shannon [1] back in 1948, and building on earlier work by people like Nyquist, say that in a "noisy" channel there is a finite limit to how much data can be sent. That precludes everyone being able to simultaneously receive different content over the "limited spectrum" allocated to LTE.

I say "limited spectrum" because the FCC has been allowing more and more of the old TV spectrum to be used for wireless. But it's still insignificant compared to what can be easily pushed over glass fiber.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noisy-channel_coding_theorem

Datacaps? When I started internetting the best deal that was available was 100 bucks for 100 hours.

That's right, datacaps wasn't even a concern for ISPs. Mostly because they probably didn't even know how to bill this new fad called the internet. So they did like telcos do. Bill by the minute.

So I literally set a watch next to me to clock how long I was online so I wouldn't go over my limit.

The first time I got an unlimited flatrate, I nearly cried.

"ISP data caps delay or block innovation"

So they should provide totally unlimited data for a fixed price?

There is no such thing as "unlimited data", your speed is your cap.

Anyway, it's understandable that your ISP will want to have a talk with you if you push/pull 10+ TB every month (in this case, you're probably violating their "no commercial service on consumer line" rule), but 250GB/month is just ridiculous.

I can see that you're a bit out of date on these issues, so let me inform you:

1) No, your speed is not your cap. Net providers are increasingly implementing "soft caps" that they don't tell you about when you buy the service. 2) If you think 250GB/month is ridiculously low as a cap, go try to use 10TB a month with most providers and let me know what your results are.

I don't mean to sound like I know the best pricing scheme for ISPs but it has always seemed to me that the pricing model used for home internet makes the most sense. Once you have an infrastructure in place, the cost to send data over it is minimal, right? So, to me, paying for speed instead of an amount of data makes the most sense.

You are assuming they have the infrastructure to support 100% usage from all customers at all times. They obviously do not. So they try to discourage / limit usage to avoid having to pay for more / newer infrastructure.

Why sell bandwidth you don't have? That's dishonest advertising.

They should decide whether they want to bill for X amount of data transfered or X amount of bandwidth and clearly advertise the service as one or other.

BT have been able to do this in the UK with their Infinity FTTC service. No small print about "Subject to FUP" - it's really unlimited, and fast (I get 80Mbps down and 19Mbps up).

Checked my bandwidth usage for the last month (we stream the majority of our viewing) and it stands at 955GB. Not so much as a peep from them about it being excessive.

No they should be offering it for free, because otherwise they aren't being neutral to all data obviously!

ASAP sounds awesome. I mean, sure it should probably be an opt-in thing, but for people with no data caps it is a pretty killer feature. I usually pick a series and watch an episode or two when I get home from work to unwind before plugging in to whatever project I'm working on. If I could get 1080p all the time, I would be so happy. Netflix and Time Warner in general get used heavily around 6pm where I live, so connections are generally shit.

Change it to opt-in and allow users to select what level of clarity they want to cache (720p vs 1080p to save on data usage), and set a cap on the data usage used with ASAP and this is a great feature.

Torrent the seasons you want of the shows you want, overnight, and you can have the future today. You'll use significantly less data than the FireTV too.

Perhaps I want to support the shows I'm enjoying.

Then mail them a check. It's unlikely that free streaming video kicks back much of anything, from what we know of the music side.

That is impractical and Prime / Netflix isn't free

I too experienced this. I have low-bandwidth and data capped Internet access that I blow through every month (there are no other Internet services in my area) and though I was getting a generally better stream from the Fire TV than from my other streaming devices, I was forced to unplug it when I couldn't find the "stop sucking bandwidth all the time" switch.

I'm sure most people with streaming TV solutions have unlimited plans with plenty of bandwidth but some of us don't and Amazon's one size fits all approach that sucks up all available bandwidth even when not in use, and that blows through reasonable data caps with just a day or two of being plugged in, is simply too much for this Prime household.

Hi, asadotzler -- I'm a tech reporter at The Huffington Post in New York working on a story about this, and I'd love to connect. I'm at timothy[dot]stenovec[at]huffingtonpost[dot]com. Thanks very much.

It seems that there's a problem with USA internet providers and their data caps, not with the device.

Why shouldn't my video device use, say, 10% of my available bandwidth if it improves user experience ? Americans already pay unreasonably high monopoly prices for their bandwith, and they aren't even allowed to use it?

As much as this is a problem with the business realities of the ISPs, there is no way you can say that this is not a problem of Amazon Fire Tv that you cannot turn this feature off. Come on!

My internet's unlimited. Not all Americans buy from nasty cable companies.

> Not all Americans buy from nasty cable companies.

Not all Americans live in a place where they have the luxury of choosing their ISP.

There's always a choice. It's like if I loved forests but decided to move to the desert, doesn't make any sense. That said, I won't argue there's some serious issues with ISPs in the US.

Had the exact same problem with my Kindle Fire. All of a sudden I had 30 gigs a day worth of usage. Completely insane. Saw it as an opportunity to finally put together the Debian-based router I'd been wanting to do, and darkstat confirmed that the Kindle was the bandwidth hog. A short traffic shaping script throttled the Kindle to a more reasonable data rate and the problem was solved.

I have no idea what the average Fire user could do in this situation. I found a few complaints across the web of similar problems, and all they could do was shut the thing off and stop using it. Very frustrating.

This is a great feature.

It's a shame our internet infrastructure isn't up to snuff.

That's true, but this also feels like a bug with the Fire - it surely isn't intended (and doesn't need) to consume 80gb in one day in order to pre-cache content.

Our infrastructure _is_ up to snuff. This isn't a technological problem. The problem is that our net providers suck and don't want people to use their service to the full extent of its capability...at least not unless they can charge them a LOT more for that.

s/rouge/rogue/ obviously a simple typo, just putting it here in case the author didn't notice it.

I've been seeing this surprisingly frequently over the past year or two. My first assumption was that the wrong spelling is spreading around like a meme. My second thought was that people are relying on a spellchecker, and since "rouge" is correct spelling of another word, not highlighting this and the user lets it through.

I've got to agree, one I've noticed a lot recently is seeing people say that they'll loose [sic] out on an opportunity or somesuch, which I attribute to what you have suggested (as your second suggestion). I find it odd that there are certain misspellings that crop up more and more though.

In a few years this might be expected behavior. Like Facebook with updating nearly all content in realtime, many enhancements to user experience demand more network activity.

In this case, it would be intelligent prefetching.

This is why more routers should have a "traffic by IP" monitoring function. It would've made troubleshooting this problem almost trivial.

I wonder if it's possible to provide a work-around using QoS or similar settings on one's router.

The problem is your QoS won't know if the box is streaming something you want to watch right now or something being cached.

Your best solution is likely unplugging the network or powering down (I don't know if this is possible) when not in use.

It would be a pain in the ass to turn the wifi on/off frequently, but they take a wired connection. You can't use the Fire TV for anything at all without an internet connection so it's probably not viable.

It seems like they should send you a notification to your phone and say 'ready to download - go?'

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