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App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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March 3, 2008 8:54 AM

The More Bandwidth You Have The Less You Get

In my continuing adventures transitioning to watching all my TV online, over the weekend I had one of the starkest reminders yet of that cresting wave of the exaflood and how today's broadband isn't prepared to handle it.

On Friday evening I began having some troubles with my Wi-Fi router. Rather than tether myself to my cable modem, I decided to forego it and plug in my wireless AirCard from Verizon.

Now, most often the speeds I get on this card are at the low end of what I need to watch video--typically around 500Kbps. But recently at night and early in the morning I've been realizing huge bursts up past 1Mbps. And in fact Saturday night I hit a new record: 2.5Mbps.

Because of this higher speed I excitedly proceeded to begin watching Internet video as I have been over my cable connection, confident that I'd have enough bandwidth to watch unbroken video.

The good news is that I did have enough bandwidth to watch video, not quite full screen HD quality, but good enough quality at about twice the size of the average YouTube video window.

But there's a twist.

When I got the AirCard I asked if they had any bandwidth caps, and Verizon had no problem admitting they did, and that it was 5Gbps a month upload/download, or more than enough for average day-to-day use, according to them.

And this has been more than enough. I use my AirCard extensively while on the road and can say that even on heavier days I had trouble topping 100Mbps upload/download during a single 24-hour period.

But that was before this speed boost, when watching video was more nuisance than pleasure. Therefore I hardly ever watched any when connecting through my AirCard, never anything more than short YouTube videos, and very few even of those.

The twist in this story is that with all this additional bandwidth, I began to watch video as I would on TV. I watched a full-length episode on ABC, a handful of full-length episodes of some animation I like, and a few other assorted things over the course of Friday night into Saturday morning and again Saturday evening.

I didn't keep track of how many hours of video I watched, but it was certainly at least three or four and could've been a good deal more than that.

In any event, while I was clearly excited about the possibilities of watching video over my wireless card, I thought it prudent to go check out the bandwidth usage meter that's part of the software for my AirCard that tells me how many bits I've passed through the network.

While my previous high had barely topped 100Mbps, from midnight Friday to midnight Saturday I moved well over 1Gbps, even nearing 2Gbps, of data. That's right, I managed to blow through roughly a third of my monthly allotment of bandwidth in a 24-hour period.

This incident clearly illustrated two major points of broadband in the 21st century:

- Video uses up a ton of bandwidth. While this isn't a new thought, it's still remarkable to see its impact quantified like this. I mean, I wasn't online any more than before, I was just watching more video while online, which led to a ten-fold jump in my usage.

- Higher speeds and stricture usage caps don't get along. This is the great paradox of broadband: everyone's pushing to up the speeds they deliver, but at the same time many are implementing caps on how much you can use those pipes. This creates tension that needs to be resolved moving forward.

The best way I can think of this is through an analogy. Imagine you've got a bottomless milkshake. Before, you only had a tiny straw to suck through so the malt shop let you drink as much as you could. Now, they're rolling out new and improved jumbo straws, only they're no longer offering bottomless milkshakes as now you're able to drink twice as fast and consume twice as much, or more.

This may not be the most elegant analogy but it clearly illustrates the paradoxical bind some broadband providers are putting themselves in.

Yet I don't necessarily think it's their fault. For the most part they're scrambling to catch up to the revolutionary changes the Internet has been making to the telecommunications industry. The problem is less nefarious decisions being made by faceless corporations and more about a business model that's fundamentally flawed.

I understand that you can't keep making the straw bigger and allowing users to drink more milkshake without increasing revenue from that user. And the current all-you-can-eat model of broadband is firmly tied to that paradigm.

How this tension is resolved is one of the most important issues moving forward as we must make sure that as consumers continue to acquire a taste for massive amounts of milkshake we need to be sure that all parties involved with making and delivering that milkshake stand to benefit.

If broadband is to flourish, then all parties must profit, or else some day soon we stand the risk of hearing the sound of straws sucking air at the bottom of the formerly bottomless milkshake of bandwidth.


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Comments (1)

Imagine you are one year into the future. The switch from analog to digital is completed. The local community is all "unwired", as the mayor encouraged everyone to buy a node/access point unit from Meraki. The community has a broadband infrastructure consisting of units in every house. The local PEG channel has rolled out digital recording studios throughout the community, and a ton of digital content is being produced. Some groups have launched their 24x7 live, interactive tv talk show format, and several live, interactive radio talk show format. Local events are being broadcast across the community, town hall meetings are being broadcast, and there's no connection to the Internet. That's right. Now that the city has its decentralized broadband infrastructure in place, the city is negotiating with providers to see which one(s) will gain access to the community's indigenous resource. How much will they pay to open their pipes for Internet access? Who cares? Those that want Internet access can pay the expensive rates, and suffer the abuse. The rest of the community is doing just fine, thank you.

That's what I'd like to see one year from now.

Posted by Tom Poe on March 3, 2008 1:39 PM

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