The Cost of an Internet Outage

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Comcast, which services a large portion of Seattle—as Seattle.gov puts it, “Comcast is the City’s largest cable operator serving approximately 200,000 Seattle subscribers with cable television, telephony and high-speed Internet service”—went down in the middle of the night. As of this writing, it is not back online.

A quick glance at the #ComcastOutage Twitter feed shows a lot of unhappy users, although this tweet pretty much sums it up:

How much does a city-wide Internet outage cost, in terms of lost productivity, lost ad revenue from not being able to watch YouTube videos, etc.? That’s hugely hard to quantify, but I can tell you what a day without Internet cost me:

—Approximately 90 minutes of work. The first half hour was spent poking around at my abysmally slow smartphone, which lost half of its battery life during the process, trying to figure out if Comcast was really down and when it might be back online. The second half hour was spent hoping the Internet would come back on “any minute now.” The third half hour was spent walking 1.86 miles to a coffee shop/coworking space that tweeted it had working Internet.

(Arguably, you could say that I’ll lose another 30 minutes walking back from the coffee shop, but that doesn’t count as work time, that has to count as commuting time.)

—$11.25 for a fried egg on toast with potatoes and asparagus and a bottle of sparkling cider at the coffee shop.

—A $5 tip, because this packed coffee shop was clearly not expecting today to happen either.

What about the websites I write for? Did they lose anything because I was offline for a big chunk of the morning? Well, I am posting to The Billfold a bit later than my regularly-scheduled afternoon post, but that’s not necessarily a loss—it’s just a matter of shuffling things around.

More interestingly, you could argue that The Billfold (and the other sites I write for) lost a little bit of money simply because I wasn’t there to promote and cross-post my articles on social media. I do notice that my pieces tend to get more comments, or move into the “Most Popular” slot, directly after I share them on Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr.

And now I’m thinking of all that online revenue that must have been lost simply because ~200,000 people weren’t there to click articles, share articles, like articles, click on ads, accidentally click on ads, make impulse buys on Amazon, etc. Is there a way to estimate that number? Is that something Moz or KISSmetrics can do?

Lastly, it’s interesting to consider the way the “cost” of an Internet outage can come out unbalanced; businesses, for example, still pay their employees’ salaries and can fill the day with non-Internet-related tasks like cleaning out the file room or, as one company did, announcing that they’re having a day-long open house/party for anyone who wants to come by.

But freelancers and remote workers can’t take the day off to go to that party, because we’re responsible for figuring out where to find Internet, walking two miles to locate it, and getting our work done anyway. That’s not necessarily a “waaaah, it’s so hard to be a freelancer,” because I don’t think of my work that way, but it is worth noting that the costs of getting our work done fall entirely on our shoulders.

On the plus side, that egg on toast is definitely a tax deduction.

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