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The Broadband War And How It Affects You

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Every significant age in history was marked by issues of resource management. For any given time, one resource might prove to be more valuable than another. This is why humans went from the Stone Age, to the Bronze Age, then the Gold Age, and so on, and so forth. In the past two centuries, there are two resources that have sculpted human events and defined history. They are oil, and information. Oil proved to be the key to building empires. Information has proven itself to be the key to maintaining those empires.

When I think about the current state of human development, technology, science, and the push for progress, I am reminded of lyrics from one of my favorite Billy Idol albums. It's an obscure masterpiece called Cyberpunk. The lyrics:

"The future has imploded into the present. With no nuclear war, a new battlefield is on people's minds and souls. Mega-corporations are the new governments; Computer-generated info domains are the new frontiers. And though they say all information should be free, it is not. Information is power and currency in the virtual world we inhabit, So mistrust authority."

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"I tried to warn you guys."

 

Since the release of Nintendo's Wii U, and the announcement of Sony's PS4, most gamers have been squarely focused on the most predictable talking points of every console war since the ancient rivalry between Sega and Nintendo: System Specs.

How fast is the processor? How many colors can it display? How many polygons can it handle? How much memory does it have? What's the sound quality? What's the rendering speed?

These questions go on and on and on... and on. But, in focusing on processing power and the minutiae of each consoles strengths, something else has been missed entirely. Something that is potentially far more important than CPU's, GPU's, and system RAM. That issue is broadband.

Broadband internet, and the ability to access it, have become the battlegrounds that could easily define the next century of technology. For gamers, there will come a time when the most important issues they'll face will not be about getting a powerful "do everything" box, but the speed at which you can connect and access large amounts of data. The delivery system has become more important than who or what is delivering.

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This is the past...

 

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... and this is the future.


Consider some of the biggest topics in gaming over the past two years. The rise of digital content and services, digital rights management, downloadable content, anti-piracy measures, the popularity of MMO's and multiplayer game modes, online communities and networks, all of them rely on one thing. Consistent and stable access to high speed internet. Even the recent talk of banning used games and consoles that require a persistent internet connection go right back to that very basic issue.

Now while the majority of U.S. households possess some type of internet service, the number of those with a fast, stable, and affordable connection to the internet is still surprisingly low. This raises some interesting questions. When companies begin to toss ideas around like banning used games, or requiring a console to be "always online", exactly how do they intend to support such planning? Blizzard's decision to require a broadband connection with Diablo 3 probably sounded good on paper, but the idea proved to be much uglier in practice. Is it any wonder that Blizzard is now mulling over making a connection free Diablo 3 for consoles?

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How was this a good idea?


The big problem with the current state of Broadband internet service in the U.S. is that the ambitions of those who use it, often outstrip it's actual ability. Many companies in software development see the internet as a way to control product accessibility, and in turn pricing, and profits. Remember the old days of the music industry when you had to pay nearly $20 for an album with maybe 8 songs? Why? Because that was the only way to get the music you wanted, and so those stores could charge you whatever they wanted. Granted, the costs of overhead for stocking and selling any kind of media need to be factored into price. But you can't convince me that a cd that cost less than a penny to manufacture suddenly jumps $20 in value because you attached some music to it, and put it in a pretty package.

At any rate, it seems that there is a mindset amongst some who would like to use the internet as a bottleneck that could turn back time to 1995. And just like Billy Idol said, "And though they say all information should be free, it is not. Information is power and currency in the virtual world we inhabit" Am I suggesting that all software be free? Ofcourse not. But I am saying that any attempts to control or limit the free flow of information, especially information you have paid for, should be viewed as suspect. It doesn't matter if we're talking about a game that costs $69.99, or a copy of Microsoft Office that costs $269.99. Business practices that focus on restricting and limitating consumers simply do not make for happy customers. Who wants to be told what they can or cannot do with things that they have paid for?

But the problems in the technology industry go far beyong those who make software. Even amongst the companies who provide high speed internet services, some disturbing trends have emerged. Internet communications in the U.S. have become an Oligopoly, a state of limited competition, in which a market is shared by a small number of producers or sellers. -Dictionary.com

There are a few big players in telecommunications who offer high speed internet services. And those few have the collective power to dictate whatever price they like. And unlike the costs that go with retail sales and physical stores, there is little understanding on how such companies qualify their charges. You have little or no assurance that the prices you pay for broadband access are fair and truly competitive. In fact, most of these providers don't really want competition which would directly affect their profit margins. I was scarcely aware of how draconian many of these firms had become until I stumbled on a few articles you can find here and here.

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I don't know what internet service is like in the town you live in, but in mine, there are exactly 4, of which only two are halfway decent. And for optimum speeds, you'll not pay less than $69 monthly. Is that what internet should cost? No. But until things change, you have no choice, and that's how many of these companies like it.

The saddest part of this is the fact that such arbitrary and greedy practices virtually guarantee that a whole segment of society (low-income and the poor) will most likely be restricted from having speedy access to the next great resource in human history. Information. Like so many other things, the free flow of information and access stands to become a privilege of those who can afford to pay the most. Even putting video games aside, the reality is that the internet has become more and more essential to even the simplest of human tasks. The internet is to our time what the U.S. railroads or the postal service were to America more than a hundred years ago. It would be sad to waste such a great resource on corporate greed and social engineering.

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