I came into this story halfway through on my way to work yesterday morning and given the topic, my ears perked up and I had to find the rest of the segment I had missed. You can listen to the story or read the transcript on NPR.org Is There A Bandwidth Shortage?.
Movie and video streaming are Internet gas guzzlers. They account for a huge growing amount of traffic on the Internet, and service providers are struggling to keep up with demand. CNET Senior Writer Maggie Reardon talks to Steve Inskeep about whether consumers are facing a bandwidth shortage.
Upon listening to the whole story, I’m not sure what exactly brought this topic to be news this week. I’m not aware of any particular events that have discussed limiting available bandwidth. A more fitting time for this story would have been after Comcast implemented its 250 GB monthly bandwidth cap for customers of its “unlimited” Internet on October 1st, 2008 or following May 2nd, 2011 when AT&T instituted their 250 GB monthly cap for U-Verse and DSL, or as commemorated around here as Net Loss Days. Another recent time that would have been logical for a story like this to surface on NPR would have been last month following Wired Magazine’s article Comcast Bans Seattle Man From Internet for His Cloudy Ways.
To be frank, this story on NPR and the interview with Maggie Reardon of CNET was light on details and heavy on fluff. It didn’t get into any technical reasons and relied too heavily on analogies. The story did not do a very good job of differentiating itself on whether it was talking about bandwidth in general or specifically to mobile customers or home broadband users. If it did, the links above might be particularly relevant. You could also use an actual example of bandwidth-dependent companies getting around the “roadblocks” of bandwidth caps like Netflix lowering video quality to fit more videos in under Canadian bandwidth caps.
I don’t think it’s fair to just complain, so what would I have liked to hear discussed that would have made for a more interesting segment?
Foremost, I think it’s important to clarify the observations you’re trying to make. Broadband access is different than bandwidth and mobile versus wired bandwidth have different problems to work around. As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the US is even subsidizing Internet service providers to bring more customers online. The US Government released a National Broadband Plan almost a year and a half ago.
What is the trend for broadband costs? Are costs increasing or decreasing? Are ISPs pocketing more money in profits or spending more in infrastructure?
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has data collected regarding broadband penetration, costs, usage, coverage, and speeds.
The FCC produced a report Measuring Broadband America which discusses US consumer wireline broadband performance.
This infographic has been floating around since 2009 showing average Internet connection speed and average price per megabyte. The US does not perform spectacularly in any of the compared categories.
A simple observation states that more people are using more bandwidth than just a few years ago. Netflix’s number of customers have been steadily increasing. The Web is increasingly becoming heavy in video content, beyond simple (and smaller) text and images. “Cloud” services, SaaS, online data backups, online games, and e-commerce are all consuming bandwidth. All the while, content delivery networks, or CDNs, are bringing files geographically closer around the world in a cache to speed up user access.
Are bandwidth caps the answer? Are ISPs or governments investing enough in infrastructure? Are broadband customers getting what they have been paying for? Are “peak usage” times the only concern for ISPs? Are we willing to settle with slower wireless broadband for rural America when arguments like “innovation” are used to drive the point home? Should 3.0 Mbps be used to define broadband connectivity or should we raise the bar?
How do bandwidth caps shape the Internet economy? Do more people block ads when they have a low, fixed limit on monthly broadband costs? Will this further shape the web behind paywalls or a non-neutral playground?
Unlike most quality NPR segments, this talk left me asking more questions than they were able to answer. Clearly the U.S.A. should be heading in the direction of increased broadband penetration, higher average speed, and lower monthly cost. What will it take to get us on that trajectory?
Because the Internet is a series of tubes…