I Demand More Internet!

I'm more of a consumer of the internet than most, I suspect. My entire family loves Netflix, from Futurama to Curious George to my wife suddenly becoming enamored of Scandal, God love her. I work from home a few days a week, and as a UX engineer, that often entails transfer of dozens and dozens of files a day, often hundred-megabyte PSDs and other big ol' things. I also upload pretty sizable photos and videos of my daughter fairly frequently, because as long as I'm paying Google for extended storage on her account, I might as well fill it up.

To finish/start the year, I picked up a new way of jamming up the internet pipes from my house to the backbone; for years, I'd been considering starting up a cloud backup account to keep some of those files safe, because (as their adverts will tell you!) local backups are awesome until there's a fire or a flood or any of the other things that make colocated backups an iffy proposition. It's a bit more cost-effective to hook up with someone over the internet than it is to make your own situation disasterproof - there's some sort of online dating service joke, there, but I can't be bothered to make it, sorry.

Anyway, I went with Carbonite. I don't really know particularly why, though I suspect all their underwriting of NPR subliminally carved its way into my brain. Advertising: it works. I was looking forward to having one less stressor in my life, as I've had some local backups go wrong back in the day and while that stuff was unimportant in the grand scheme, it still made me sick to my stomach when I booted my machine one day to find it all gibberish. And, in that regard, I've succeeded. I've got a ton of stuff now up in the cloud, and I now don't have to worry that I won't be able to rescue backups for one of my websites, or the one of my tens of thousands of photos that I might be looking for some day in the future.

But, I'm burying the lede here. As pleased as I am with my cloud backup so far, for the week that it took to get it set up, I was about ready to kill it off every single day when I checked in. And yeah, that's right, I said a week. It took me a week to back up two drives, and while the two totaled two terabytes in capacity, they totaled only one in total use, and I definitely avoided backing up the majority of that (Carbonite, by default, won't back up applications and any number of other files, like music, in its first run. You have to enable those manually and I haven't any of them as yet). A week to back up maybe 750GB of data. I don't have poor internet. I pay ungodly amounts of money to my cable company every month, because I got bundled - and why not? I like TV, and now I have a lot of it. I needed the top-tier internet for work and for my life, and I needed the phone because I didn't want to burn every minute on my mobile plan for the days where I'm in meetings for four hours. But it still took a week.

I don't blame Carbonite for that, because I see no reason that they wouldn't have simply massive pipes to support their customers' upload of data. That said, they also don't show any sort of speed, and I wasn't clever enough to run a network speed analyzer during the run, so I can't be certain. I would find it far more likely that there's bandwidth limiting on my upstream, either targeting the port range or traffic destination. If it's in any way tied to my ISP, it's just incredibly disappointing. Not only do we here in the US pay an ungodly amount of money for our internet, we still can't get plans that have max upstream matching max downstream in most cases. The ISPs can't see a reason why users would want that, and even when pressed, they bring up questions of infrastructure. It doesn't matter, though - the infrastructure needs to be there, and it needs to be there sooner rather than later. The possibilities for users are both numerous and legitimate:

  • Video streaming: I mean, even my parents use Skype now and have access to 720p or better screens. It's a shame that the video can't get there.
  • Digital Distribution: As a gamer, or at least someone who owns some game consoles and a PC, it's not thrilling to have a multi-GB file to download for distribution of games and movies. Those numbers are going to get larger - digital distribution of a Playstation 4 game could run well into the high teens of gigabytes, or even higher (a double-layer Bluray disc can peg 25GB).
  • Cloud storage: See above! 
  • Servers of all kinds: of course, the ISPs are probably never going to revise their TOSes to allow folks to run servers. However, the market would be there if they did and if the connections could support them, from basic FTP servers to full-on 64 player gaming servers.

This means all is not lost, though. We have, for three of those bullet points, allies in the form of Silicon Valley. There are real companies, real big companies, who have a vested interest in improving the internet speeds for Americans. Going down the bulleted list above, respectively, we've got Microsoft, Netflix, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and everyone else for video streaming; Sony, Valve and Microsoft (again!); Carbonite, Apple and Google. We know that Google's up for the challenge, given the coming rollout of Google Fiber. What's it going to take to trigger an investment in internet infrastructure along the lines of what we once did for the electrical or phone grids in this country?

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