Addicted To Speed

Internet-Junkie-e1381337897247I’ve been noticing an increasing amount of posts about internet speed in recent months – mainly in the form of complaints.

“Oh my internet isn’t fast enough, I’m downloading at megabytes per second but it’s just not acceptable!” –no one ever said those exact words, but that’s my hyperbolic take on the gist of it.

Yes, I did my own share of complaining not too long ago – but only because my ISP took nearly a month to get the service working after I moved house. This is different.

Whether it’s a political angle (NBN, Liberals are bad, rabble rabble) or just a general complaint that a download rate of megabytes per second is totally insufficient -irrespective of the legality of the content – the sense of entitlement through an apparent absence of understanding OUTRAGES ME.

I first met the internet back in 1996, when I was 11 years old. Broadband? HA! I can clearly remember our very first modem, an archaic 14.4kbp/s brick. We longed for the day we could enjoy a 33.6kbp/s modem. It took a while, but eventually we upgraded to the lofty heights of 56.6KBP/S! Surely things couldn’t get better than that.

I’ve experienced the frustration of being kicked off the internet every time someone dared to call our home phone (back when people DID call your home phone!), and the thrill of being booted out of a game because someone picked up the phone. I’ve heard the loud pings and pongs of a modem signal when I’VE been the one stupid enough to pick it up.

And another thing – I often see complaints from online gamers about today’s speeds, yet I was able to play Quake Team Fortress and Diablo online with little to no problems. Ping of 120 used to be considered AWESOME! Kids these days would shit themselves. Game size, graphics, connections, I know it’s difficult to compare, but I can’t help thinking there are a lot of dipshits out there who are just jealous because they’re playing against Koreans who have the best internet speeds in the world.

iiNet's new spokesman

iiNet’s new spokesman

That’s my next point, INTERNATIONAL CONTEXT. Remember those ads for iiNet, where the Irish guy was comparing our internet speed to obscure (typically Eastern European) nations? Fat load of good it did him, because iiNet is going to be bought by faceless giant TPG. Those comparative rates must have done well.

Where was I? That’s right. You can head over to the global net index and see that Australia is below the curve when it comes to overall speeds. I won’t deny it’s underwhelming. What’s that you say? “Mongolia has faster internet than us! Tony Abbott out”?

STOP. Just THINK for a second. How in the world could a place like Mongolia have faster average internet than us? What logic could lead to such a fact? Is it because we’re shit? IT’S PROBABLY BECAUSE MONGOLIA IS SMACK BANG IN BETWEEN CHINA AND RUSSIA YOU NUMBNUTS. It’s why Kazakhstan also has faster internet than Australia (just). Both of these superpowers have superior internet to Australia, and lots of land to help the process of working together.

Coincidence? Uzbekistan, RIGHT NEXT to Kazakhstan, doesn’t share a border with China or Russia. Its average internet speed is 3.8Mbps – more than four times less than our own here in Australia. Next door, Kyrgyzstan, sharing a border only with China, is 12.6Mbps, still less than Australia and Mongolia, but far higher than the Uzbeks, little doubt thanks to the common border with China.

We share a border with no one, and we’re all on our own on this giant landmass. In the distance between Sydney and Brisbane you could fit a few European countries. In the distance from Sydney to Perth you could fit much of the whole freaking continent. It shouldn’t be an excuse, but it’s a fact, and is naturally going to create difficulties.

It’s not just that – anyone who’s been to Europe before should be able to admit that those people know how to build and organise cities and towns, as opposed to the chaotic reactionary process that has gone into shaping a city like Sydney. We should be comparing ourselves less to the likes of Korea and Japan, and striving to be equal with New Zealand, who are doing much better than we are too – but once again the question of space and population density as a factor has to be considered.

Which brings us to local context. You might think I’m talking about the government and the NBN, but I’m not. The biggest roadblock to you having an extra MB or two per second is often YOUR NEIGHBOUR – or even just you.

There are many reasons your internet might not be running to maximum efficiency. Your router – where is it in your home? Is it a good one? Do you know the difference? How is it set up? Does it have antennae? What about your computer – firewalls, firmware updates and more could all be causing you problems – but how many people will assess these things themselves before an angry call to their ISP or passive aggressive Facebook post?

When I was living in an apartment, there came a time where our internet slowed significantly. My initial suspicion was that a devious neighbour was stealing our WiFi, so I changed the password to no effect.

I went on to do some research of my own and discovered WiFi channels. Your WiFi signal is on a frequency determined by your router, and you’re almost definitely sharing this channel with a few people in your surrounding area. I downloaded a program called inSSIDer, which showed me that I was sharing a channel with at least 5 different connections in the building. No wonder it was slow! I changed the channel I was on and BOOM. Problem solved.

It was also helpful because it reminded me that I don’t know as much as I think I do, and that there can often be a quick fix to the most frustrating of problems.

I realise how cynical all of this might make me look, but I should be clear. I agree with the need for progress – but speed shouldn’t be the issue so much as service provision in rural areas. How about instead of making sure that someone in the city can illegally download something as quickly as possible or send more snapchats per minute than ever before, we start ensuring that someone living in the Alice or in Bourke has access to the same quality broadband as someone located in the heart of Sydney? That’s the biggest problem.

Once rural towns have access to quality broadband, the national speed average will start to increase – and there’s a good chance that working out how to get a good signal to areas out in the middle of nowhere might make the delivery of effective service in high population areas easier and more efficient. It could also teach valuable lessons about delivery of quality service to remote communities in Africa and other parts of the world. The moment everybody stops politicising this shit is the moment we might actually start to make progress that can help people WHO ACTUALLY NEED IT. Stop unrolling the NBN in politically important seats and take it where it’s needed!

Times have certainly changed. Instead of having to time a spank with the slow load of a softcore JPEG on dialup, you can get messed up shit on your phone at the flick of a finger. Still it isn’t good enough. Instead of waiting hours for an episode of something to download you have to wait less than an hour for a whole season – but it still isn’t good enough! Are you telling me you really believe you can watch 14 hours worth of television in 60 minutes? Instead of taking 20 minutes to download a song it rarely takes longer than 5 SECONDS. But still it’s not good enough. We all spend time engrossed in our bloody phones, necks craned – but the whole anti-social aspect of having internet everywhere is another issue – but we do! We have internet everywhere we go, but it still isn’t good enough.

Governments will and have changed, technology changes, the world changes, but one thing seems to remain the same – it will never be good enough. Perhaps you should move to Romania.

There are more important things in the world. I know that’s an ambiguous and generic statement but it’s true. I’m perfectly fine with my internet the way it is, but I haven’t invested my entire social life in it. Maybe that’s got something to do with it.

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