The history of technologies is full of miracle
solutions that were supposed to solve all problems.
Many inventions and discoveries that really led to major
innovations were ignored or misunderstood in their early
stages. Others, that were acclaimed as revolutions,
disappeared in a few years or led to results that were
completely different from those expected. Mistakes are made
even after the fact. For instance at the end of year 2001
there were solemn celebrations in Italy for the centennial of
the invention of radio. Thats nonsense. The first
long-distance wireless connection made by Guglielmo Marconi
on December 12, 1901 was a major step in worldwide
communication but it wasnt broadcasting. It was telegraph.
Radio was a separate development that started as an
experiment in 1906 and became operational in 1920.
Now the hype is about broadband. It is said and repeated
that the development of the internet is limited by lack of
bandwidth. Thats blatantly false but there are large
interests trying to sell us expensive things that we dont
need, including broadband.
In another article
I discussed the traditional values of the internet
that we should not forget. Id like to add that the net
worked much better than it does now when there was much less
bandwidth. It was fast and efficient when we used modems with
a 2,400 bit-per-second speed (while now 64,000 bps
transmission is perceived as slow and some
people arent satisfied with 640 k).
The increase of bandwidth isnt due only to a greater
availability of means of transportation (cables, satellites,
wired and wireless networks). There are technical solutions
such as compression and frequency separation that make it
possible to transmit much larger quantities of information
though existing channels. The result is that we have much
more bandwidth than we need. It is estimated that only 2
percent of the existing bandwidth is being used and a lot
of that is useless clutter.
Means of data transportation are an over-abundant commodity.
Offer exceeds demand by far, while costs are decreasing. In a real
market this would lead to a sharp drop of prices.
But there is a cartel, a sort of telecommunications Opec, a
that keeps prices artificially high while doing
everything it can to persuade us to use uselessly cumbersome
solutions to fill the available bandwidth.
Some broadband dealers have gone bankrupt, but many make
money by force-feeding clutter. Some have lots of bandwidth
available, others are re-sellers or profit from
inter-connection fees. All try to dream up ways of making
traffic heavier. We are constantly pressured to use solutions
that nobody needs, prompted by the broadband sellers and
their accomplices as well as people who do not benefit
directly from the broadband waste but are misled by the hype.
Of course fast connections arent totally useless. They
are relevant for some specific uses. The most obvious is
television as well as other audio-visual applications such
as teleconferences (but television isnt the internet and,
more importantly, the internet isnt television). There are
also specialized sectors that need broadband. Engineering,
architecture, graphics, publishing and several scientific and
technical applications. Solutions to kill (as in the
military) or to save lives (as, for instance, remote
controlled surgery). Or, more simply, people and
organizations who frequently download bulky software.
Broadband is a resource for the few that really need
it. But it makes no sense to offer it to everyone, to charge
a much higher price than it deserves and to dream up silly
ways of filling it up with useless and cumbersome clutter.
In spite of the pressures and the hype, many people arent
falling into the trap. In the 30 Oecd countries boadband penetration is less than 2 percent of
internet users. For other reasons there is less growth of internet use than in past years.
See Slower growth?
It makes no sense to spread the superstition that all
solutions must be multimedia. That, more often
than not, leads to ineffective communication. The basic tool
in the internet is text written words. The most effective
communication of content is also the one that uses the least
bandwidth. The serious problem is that by concentrating on
bandwidth-filling decorations and gimmicks we lose sight of
what is really valuable and useful.
Waiting for broadband (combined with a
lingering could of gloom following the deflation of the stock
exchange bubble) is often an excuse for doing nothing, or
wasting time and energies in cosmetic fillers,
appearances at the expense of content, instead of
concentrating on what really matters: the quality of
information, dialogue and service.
We can learn some interesting lessons from what is know internationally as
the broadband fiasco. A particularly good article in this subject
the broadband meltdown tells us was published by Gerry
McGovern on December 10, 2001. This is how he explains the problem.
Broadband is great in theory but woeful in practice. It has received
extraordinary evangelism and hype over the last ten years.
Those promoting broadband have talked glowingly of everything
from virtual reality, to video-on-demand, to interactive
games, to businesses zipping megabytes of data in seconds.
From the broadband fiasco we can learn some very
important lessons. The first lesson is that fast is rarely
cheaper and fast isnt always better. For much of the
Nineties the technology industry, and the media that fed off
it, behaved like they were taking vast quantities of heavy-duty,
mind-expanding drugs. Everything was about speed.
The need for speed and change became an almost religious
mantra among many technology pundits. Broadband was the only
thing that mattered. In fact, many pushed to design
broadband-friendly websites because they fervently believed
that broadband was just around that corner.
The second lesson is even more important.
The web needs to be treated for what it is, not for what
technologists and graphic designers feel it should be. The
broadband mentality skims across the surface of the web,
trying to make it all shiny, fancy and hip. This has led to
the development of millions of websites that suck. These
websites try so hard to be glossy magazines, to be
spectacular TV ads. They have failed miserably.
Study after study shows that people who use the web from
every continent on this planet dont want flashy websites.
They want functional websites, with pages that download
quickly. They want websites that have comprehensive
information that is well organized. They want effective
search engines. They want quality support. They want purchase
processes that are simple and robust.
All these things all the things that people really want
from the web do not require broadband. Those who have
chased the broadband rainbow have failed to recognize the
riches that can be gotten from simply laid out, well
organized websites. Website design is about comprehensive
content, great organization, simple, clear, readable layout.
And you dont need broadband for any of this.
In other words for most of the best ways of using the
internet broadband is useless. But the real problem is even
worse. The broadband mythology is a disease. It leads to
solutions that are inefficient, cumbersome, boring, irritating
and pointless. Its lack of quality (not lack of bandwidth)
thats getting in the way of internet development.