Have you been watching TV on the Internet this year? If so, that makes you part of the reason for lagging Internet
Your editor has been at the helm of this newspaper for just over twenty years, now – all of that time, working for Pamplin Media from his home office in Inner Southeast Portland. In that respect, working at home during the pandemic has not been very different from what it was like for the previous nineteen years. Throughout that time, this method of working has depended heavily on two things: The telephone, and the Internet.The Internet has been vital, because news, news stories, and increasingly photographs have been coming in electronically that way – and the Internet has allowed us to the send and receive advertisers’ ad files. Without a computer and the Internet it would not have been possible to put together and publish THE BEE that way all these years.
And it is interesting to see how the Internet has evolved! Back in 2000, when we started this odyssey, the Internet was a dial-up service – over the telephone lines. When what was being e-mailed was relatively small, that worked fine (and we still have that dial-up service as the ultimate backup, although we have not had to use it in recent years).
A few years in, we got DSL – significantly faster than dial-up, but still coming in over the phone lines. And then faster DSL. And then even faster DSL. We still do have DSL, and still do use it from time to time. The top speed is 3 MB, but most of the time this rock-solid and reliable service does not appear for routine use to lag the much faster fiber-optic service we have available to us now – except when we must download or send very large files.
We also have two different wireless high-speed Internet services as backup, and for portability. Did we mention how important reliable Internet service is, in bringing you THE BEE each month…?This year, and particularly since March, we have seen some big changes in the way the Internet has been working. It has been slowing down, and struggling to keep up with increasing demand – although, so far, the DSL and the fiber optic service have adjusted relatively well to keep us working. When we have been in ZOOM meetings – and have exchanged files – with folks who rely on TV cable for their Internet service, though, we have noticed they’ve had increasing problems in staying reliably connected. That’s understandable, since the technology cable relies on is at least over 70 years old – coaxial cable, designed to carry television signals in one direction only, have been modified to handle much more than they were originally designed for, and there are limits to what it can do.One can blame the increase in Internet volume at least partly on more working-at-home during the pandemic, no doubt; but the real problem is that more and more people are trying to stream television – especially high-definition television – over the Internet, something that the Internet was never designed for, and is hard-pressed to deliver. A “firehose” of data is involved for each viewer doing that, and the Internet is not an infinite resource!As more and more people do that, there is greater and greater stress on the Internet. To explain why, visualize the Internet as a water pipe. A huge water pipe, to which the whole world is connected – most of them without being billed for their measured use of its water. As more and more people connect to that big pipe and start drawing large amounts of water from it, what do you suppose happens to the water pressure?
Have you ever tried to take a hot shower in a big hotel on a weekday morning, when everybody else is trying to do the same thing? Both pressure and temperature fluctuate from moment to moment.
More to the point, are you aware of what has happened to the Colorado River? At one time this mighty river irrigated much of the American southwest, and then robustly flowed into the Gulf of California. Now, with dry cities like Las Vegas and the whole southwest growing and drawing ever more of the water from this great river, the available water is running out. The Colorado River now runs dry before it ever gets to the Gulf of California!Water used that way is certainly not infinite, and neither is the Internet with more and more people trying to stream high definition television over it – each viewer choosing something different to watch, at any point in time.The Internet itself is actually operated with a large number of specially-dedicated computers that route things from one point to another over it. In recent years, those who build and operate the infrastructure of the Internet have been continually beefing up those computers and the fiber optic lines of the Internet “backbones” that supply your Internet – no matter from what company you get your service. And most of the time, those who spend the money to keep beefing up this giant “water pipe” are not the ones who are charging you for the service! In the end, they cannot ever bring capacity up to where every one of the billions of people who live on this earth can draw all the data they want from it. There are many different ways of delivering the Internet, but they all connect to the same big pipe!As watching television on the Internet gets more and more common, the worse the Internet will perform for everyone.One solution is to go back to getting your TV from an antenna, or a broadcast service such as a satellite service, and move that huge data consumption to a system that does not slow down with more and more users: An infinite number of viewers can watch even a low-power broadcast transmitter without dragging down the transmitter’s ability to provide the signal.But the ultimate solution for the Internet will probably have to be the same one that water providers use to keep water use under control: Bill customers for usage, with the proceeds used to maintain and improve the service. If you stream a high-data TV show on the Internet, you’ll pay for the data used. Having “unlimited data” available just doesn’t work to control usage, just like not having a water meter and a water bill for your water use cannot keep water service going satisfactorily for everyone connected to the pipe.
This will be a very unpopular turn of events indeed with people who have grown up to believe that the Internet is an unlimited resource, “should be free”, and ought to remain reliable no matter how much data it carries.But it really is NOT an unlimited resource; and if it is to remain dependable for all, people will at some point have to start paying for the data they use. Use more, pay more. All the Internet services do measure your usage – whether they bill you for it or not – so it will be easy to implement this. Those who use the Internet on smartphones may already have encountered being billed for usage.
And, you’ll be paying enough for the data used to provide an incentive to keep your usage within the boundaries of what the increasingly strained Internet can handle!
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