Dagdha's Blog

Digital Roads

Posted in Uncategorized by dagdha on February 9, 2011

The world is a lot smaller than it used to be.  Without even thinking about it, I can call my friend in Colorado, instant message another friend serving in Iraq, play games with my brother who lives three states away, and fly non-stop from Los Angeles to New York, all in the same day.  Globalization has fundamentally changed the world, and one could argue that it began with the automobile.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Ransom Olds and Henry Ford successfully escalated the production and ownership of automobiles through their efficient use of assembly line manufacturing, which substantially lowered costs and increased popularity.  In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which authorized 25 billion dollars for the construction of 41,000 miles of interstate highways over a 20-year period.  Road construction hasn’t stopped since, connecting nearly every part of the continent and enabling mass transportation of people, goods, and ideas.

As our networked system of transportation has expanded, so have the rules governing that system.  It’s no secret that automobile accidents are one of the leading causes behind injury-related deaths worldwide, and the ever-increasing laws that govern our roadways are a direct result of the greater danger caused by more vehicles and higher speed limits.  From seat belt legislation of the 1970s to more recent laws restricting cell phone usage, regulations are put in place to ensure safety and efficiency.  Anyone who has ever driven Interstate 10 through Los Angeles knows how much a single car can affect the flow of traffic.

In 2011, the driving technology behind globalization is no longer the automobile, it’s the Internet.  As a global society, we rely on the Internet for instant communication with e-mail, online retail, social networking, gaming, and crucial information about what’s going on in our world.  We are no longer limited to a few sources for political news, scientific research, market trends, or the latest Hollywood scandal, and we can access that information virtually anywhere.  Laptops, netbooks, cell phones, iPods, gaming consoles, even e-book readers, all have the capability to access the boundless limits of information contained online.  Much like the automobile, however, we currently face increasing problems as these devices proliferate.

Although a congested DSL line might not cause the same fatal consequences as our highways, our information risks the same traffic issues, especially as companies start depending more on telecommuting and transitioning to cloud-based solutions for business critical applications.  Just as we give ambulances and other emergency vehicles the right-of-way because of their time-sensitive responsibilities, so too should certain forms of data traffic be given prioritization.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama announced his goal to give 98 percent of all Americans access to high-speed wireless internet, an initiative motivated by the increasing importance of broadband access in order to succeed in our digital age.  Like President Eisenhower, Obama feels the public interest depends on access to these digital roads, but the question of regulation to ensure the infrastructure’s stability remains.  Without proper regulation and prioritization, our broadband access will slow to the pace of our busiest highways on Thanksgiving weekend.

Perhaps bandwidth reform starting at the client level, using currently available tools like packet shaping, is the smartest way forward.  Unfortunately, I think individual apathy will give way, as it usually does, to pressure of autocratic corporations with self-serving interests, and our conduit for unadulterated information will inevitably mutate and degrade into yet another weapon of control for the privileged few.

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