Is access to high-speed internet necessarily a good thing?

The Internet is basically a data transmission infrastructure not unlike a telephone system. A conventional telephone system transmits data just as the Internet does. We interpret this data as audible sound (a voice) because the traditional end-user devices that are connected to a telephone network — the telephones themselves — were built to do just that: transform electrical signals to sound waves (that we perceive as voices) and vice versa. We became more conscious of telecommunication networks as data networks when we started connecting other kinds of signal-processing devices to it: teletype machines, facsimile machines and, yes, computers. These are devices that transform the signals transmitted across the network into forms of information comprehensible to humans other than voice and sound (text, static and moving images, etc.) and information comprehensible to other machines.

Different ways of packaging and modulating signals transmitted through networks have been developed to fit the nature and performance of the devices being connected to it. But the principle remains essentially the same.

So why is “high speed Internet” a big deal? According to a “declaration” issued jointly by “telecommunications and information ministers from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum”…

“We recognize that enhancing opportunities to access information through initiatives such as infrastructure development need to be a priority.”

The ministers welcomed that APEC economies have “largely” achieved their goal of “universal Internet access by 2010” in terms of infrastructure, the document said. The goal was set in 2000.

“We reaffirm our commitment toward achieving the goal of universal access to (current-generation) broadband in the APEC region by 2015,” it added.

What exactly are the reasons used to justify making high-speed Internet access available to as many people as possible such a high priority? If we stop to think about it, there is no convincing answer. My opinion on this matter stems from this simple principle:

The only thing that is driving the demand for higher speed data transmission capability is the richness of the media that can be channeled through our devices.

Compared to telegraph machines, for example, telephones offer richer media to its users — because voice and sound is a richer form of medium for communicating information to human beings than the morse code to which telegraph machines are limited to. High-fidelity stereo (two-channel) sound is, in turn, a richer medium that goes well beyond the requirements for transmitting legible voice information. That capability is a demand placed on our networks by the music industry (which continues to push the envelope on our “entertainment systems” as we go into multiple channels required for “surround sound”). So on with static images, and then moving images (video), interactive media (Web 2.0 and networked games, video conferencing), and so on and so forth.

How much value to our quality of life does modern rich media transmission capability contribute? A lot. Whereas in the past, we delighted in merely conversing with our loved ones one at a time over the telephone, we are now able to simultaneously exchange photos, videos, text, and voice information with a huge number of family members, “friends”, and acquaintances using just one device. Indeed, we lead a “richer” — albeit technology-dependent — life because of all these advancements.

But let us alter the question a bit and ask ourselves this:

How much value to our productivity does every additional unit of speed with which we send and receive data add to our lives?

It seems to me that we are in the midst of that point of inflection in productivity growth relative to bandwidth available to us. Much of the phenomenal speed and scale at which we do business today (as well as the phenomenal speed and scale at which we manage to crash our financial markets) can be attributed directly to the immense progress in technologies that compress more and more data into less and less space and time.

This point of inflection, specifically, can be felt in the way bandwidth availability continues to grow, while significant gains in productivity start to taper off. Time wasted on checking Facebook and Twitter feeds, thanks to mobile technologies, has started to encroach on income-generating work — such as our office time — and much of the other real work that actually yields stuff with substance. Whereas we once felt the joy of having a 2,000-word article load onto our browsers within seconds compared to the two to five odd minutes it once took over a dial-up network, today that same 2000-word article loads even faster but this time it comes with an unsightly payload of unwanted rich media ads rendered in garish animated images and videos that compete for attention as we struggle to focus on the real content in the page. Some of today’s Web ads are so sophisticated that they are no longer content to sit on the fringes of the average Web page, going as far as splashing themselves on top of primary page content.

All that unwanted stuff because the mediium can.

So therefore I ask: Is there really a point of real substance around which these calls for more bandwidth accessible to more people are made?

Does richer media delivered necessarily translate to richer knowledge and richer meaning gained by the receiver?

These are the questions that are begging to be asked in the face of an almost universal inclination in society today to see more bandwidth and more technology available to more people as necessarily a good thing.

Perhaps those who stand to gain the most from the ability to put a moving picture of Ronald McDonald in front of our faces on as many devices we own as possible are not exactly keen on having those questions mulled over by insightful minds.

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About benign0

benign0 is the Web master of GetRealPhilippines.com
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29 Responses to Is access to high-speed internet necessarily a good thing?

  1. Mon Sagullo says:

    Technology per se, in this case, this “broadband” most of us use nowadays, I believe is neutral. Having a blazing speed at affordable rate to access enriching information is great, while on the other hand, it can also make it “faster’ for people to tweet ala the now-infamous “mis-slang.” 🙂

    Most pinoys may not being using their broadband to stretch their capacity to be a critical thinker, but in the end, some of them may stumble on websites like this. So, in this respect high-speed internet is a good thing.

  2. ChinoF says:

    I betcha the real problem is when the Internet runs through the major providers that are associated with the big time media companies. In the US, I believe Comcast, AOL and other major providers are associated with big media companies, and it makes it easier for these companies to send propaganda to their subscribers. So in the Philippines, the biggest Internet providers are PLDT, Bayantel and Globe. And since they’re connected to our oligarch-owned media, like ABS-CBN, we’ll a horseload of hogwash sent through our Net connections. 

  3. Francis says:

    Look Singapore they have 24mbps for $39 and 1000mbps for $399. It’s because of good governance and economy while Philippines enjoy there ignorant “FIESTA TELEVISION” such as Kupalmilyucks and Kapussy shit. ANtipinoy and Chinof was right that Filipino Race are Failure.

  4. I’ve already posted somewhere on this site that I don’t need to know everything. Or to let everyone know what there is to know. Only stuff that’s useful for my life to make sense. This, of course, is against where the popular use of technology is leading us to — that level where we always need to know or disseminate everything for our lives to make sense. Primitive man used sharp tools to kill his prey and he also used those same tools to probably kill opponents in the tribe. Modern man still has the same approach to tools. I make technology work for me and not the other way around.

  5. boombox says:

    Large speeds are good, especially if some companies will start setting up cloud based computing.  

  6. Chorvaqueen says:

    I’ve read somewhere (in a newspaper, if that is to believe looking at the state of our media) that our connection is crap because “we let those companies make us settle with crappy speeds.” They section the lines into categories: slow, medium, FAAAAAAAAST (still substandard compared to other countries) so they can make the most profits out of it.

  7. JUANDELACRUZ says:

    Mga matinding hypocrito talaga kayo kahit kailan, kug kayo nga may high-speed internet access pero ayaw niyo na magkaroon rin ang ibang mga tao, lalo na ang mga masang pinoy? Hindi lang kayong mga matapobreng mapanuring elitista, mga oligarkiyang burgis kayong takot sa e-demokrasiya!

  8. BongV says:

    The entry of high speed internet means many things to many people – much like public libraries – some opt for the non-fiction, some opt for fiction – and some opt for magazines, etc.

    High speed internet is like a big Chinese buffet restaurant.

    Just because everything is available for the eating does not mean you have to pig out.

    But at least, it’s good to know you do have that option – of pigging out. 🙂

    Note though that if you decide to pig out – you can get indigestion.
    And if you do load up constantly – you are on your way to being obese and possibly, diabetes.

  9. Hyden Toro says:

    There is an advantage of the information transmitted to more people. Only, What people do with such information is the Point…Some information are too hard to understand. Some are useless; some are use to deceive people…A richer Media will never guarantee a richer knowledge to people. We have different levels of: competency, education, brain ability. Some of us are slow learner. Some are not interested in learning. Some are just plain stupid…So, the high speed internet may be an advance in technology. However, it will be a good tool for those who know how to use it…Advance in computer technology. There is already a computer that can translate what you are thinking on the computer screen. It can read your mind. So, Mental Telepathy in humans is a Reality. Our Brain is a computer… Mind you, I’m not reading anybody’s brain… A renowned English Physicist is already using it. He is physically disabled; but has the mind of Isaac Newton…

  10. DJ says:

    “Is there really a point of real substance around which these calls for more bandwidth accessible to more people are made?”

    Connectivity is vital in today’s global economy; there’s no doubt about that. Thomas Friedman’s observation on how a single telephone tremendously improved the quality of life in the most rural of villages in China is enough proof for that. Connecting as much people as possible to the Internet is therefore certainly a good thing.

    As for bandwidth, and also to answer the question “Does richer media delivered necessarily translate to richer knowledge and richer meaning gained by the receiver?,” benign0’s discussion alluding to the economic principle of diminishing leads to a satisfying answer. We only need to reach a certain amount of bandwidth: anything less won’t be enough to contribute substantially to productivity, and anything more is already luxury. For what it’s worth, I think that sweet spot is at around 1 mbps for every computer. Internet reliability in any case is way more important a consideration than bandwidth. No one would want a 2 mbps connection that’s so flaky you can’t even finish downloading a Youtube video. Sounds familiar?

  11. DJ says:

    *economic principle of diminishing returns

  12. Francis says:

    That’s why internet rules the world NOT THE “FIESTA IGNORANT TELEVISION” where you can see The Sixth Sense quote ” I SEE DEAD PEOPLE WALKING AROUND LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE”.
    Great isn’t it.

  13. Lorenz says:

    It is because of the internet that i learned many things in history like Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire documentary found in youtube.
    It is because of the internet that i get the information i needed/wanted.
    It is because of the internet that i was able to discover and hear wonderful and epic classical music, game music. etc.
    It is because of the internet that i learn of any kind of news.
    It is because of the internet that i was able to watch E3 (the biggest event in the video game industry) from my home.
    It is because of the internet that i was able to discover and watch my favorite animes.
    It is because of the internet that i was able to interact with fellow national and foreign people in gaming forums to talk about anything even about the corruption in media (the reviewer was fired for downrating a video game).
    and many many more.

    The real challenge in internet is determining the validity but i myself know of many great sites which have valid sources.

    It all boils down to the individual himself. if he desires and thirsts for knowledge and wisdom, he will surely get it. The Bible even says it. Knock and the door will be opened.

    • benign0 says:

      Indeed, the battle therefore needs to be fought in the minds of those who seek to access meaning from a well of information that is full of noise. 🙂

  14. benign0 says:

    That’s it – law of diminishing returns. As DJ said, there is a sweet spot for access speed. Too little and we fail to access useful info. Too much and we access the brain candy that turns minds to crap.

    Between an hour spent reading a good book and an hour spent surfing the net, which one of the two do you think you come out of a bit smarter?

    Books are low bandwidth channels that feed us rich knowledge. High speed Net access is a high bandwidth channel that feeds us rich media – rich in crap, poor in meaning and insight.

    • peste says:

      To be fair, books have been pre-filtered, so to speak, by the publisher, so there ought to be worthwhile content to be found on those printed pages.

      Books also have large bandwidth. I believe a text-only novel can contain up to 3 MB of data, as large as an MP3 file. It would go higher as more pictures are added. Not to mention the space it takes on the shelf.

      An experienced web surfer should already know where to find worthwhile data in the ‘Net. He/she could get to that data just as fast as getting the right book from the shelf. As for searching data, Googling/asking your online network, can be faster than searching the library catalog/asking the bookstore clerk. Idle/random browsing sites is akin to idle/random picking books from the shelf.

    • migs42 says:

      “Between an hour spent reading a good book and an hour spent surfing the net, which one of the two do you think you come out of a bit smarter?”

      Depends. Books and the Internet are nothing more but systems. There’s no such thing as a good or bad system and there is no definitive standard on which system is the best. What’s really important in creating an excellent output is not the system, it’s the input and the process. (Yes. I’m talking about Systematics. Very boring, isn’t it?)

      I’m going to read Twilight for an hour and I’m going to browse the BBC website for an hour. Internet wins in this scenario, hands down.
      So does this mean Internet is better? Let’s look again.
      Reading Adam Smith’s ‘Wealth of Nations’ for an hour and browsing LOLcatz for an hour. So, LOLcatz is more educating than Adam Smith’s book then? You see what I mean.

      • DJ says:

        In general, though, books are probably more intellectually rewarding. The ratio of ‘meaningful’ material to useless ‘noise’ in books are way better than on the Internet. Besides, the majority of books adhere to very high standards of language use, something that cannot be said of websites.

      • benign0 says:

        Indeed. Let me re-frame further: If you had, say, a 10-year-old child, what activity would you rather see him/her spending an hour on — (a) browsing the Web, or (b) reading a book?

      • migs42 says:

        True. I would rather have my kid (if I have one) read a book, even if it’s just a fiction novel, than to browse the internet. Then again, give me a subject and I’ll learn more of it using the internet than on a book in a public library.

        I want kids to read than to open their facebook accounts but I don’t want to deny the people access to a wider world by limiting the bandwidth of their internet connection.

        I hope I’m not wrong but hey, that’s what AP is, to face reality.

  15. kusinero says:

    I guess if we just look at the use of fast internet speeds purely on media, then we get this dilemma. But if we take a look at how fast communication speeds can do to improve businesses, especially real-time businesses, then you get a totally different perspective. Real time data can help a lot not just with businesses, but with emergency response, academic research, etc.

    Of course the point about diminishing returns is true for everything, but with the current status of communication costs in Asia, maybe with the exception of Japan and Korea, i don’t think we have reached the level of diminishing returns yet. We still have a lot to improve on, so I would not really complain if I get a 1Gbps internet connection for Php200 a month 🙂

    • DJ says:

      I think the high-level talk about increasing the bandwidth for developing countries is more about enabling those countries to give some bandwidth to more people, rather than more bandwidth to the few people who are already connected. That’s why we see the local telecoms going crazy about mobile broadband, while traditional wired broadband growth remains static.

      I agree that the Philippines probably still lacks bandwidth, and the telecoms are even spreading it too thin, resulting in frustratingly unreliable connections.

    • benign0 says:

      Fast internet: necessity for business, mere privilege for consumers

      Perhaps the whole discussion about bandwidth availability should be clarified and made more specific: i.e. more bandwidth for business and, say, just “enough” (state a number in MB/s) for consumers.

      That again boils down to the difference between adults and juveniles. The adults (on a macro-level business) are bringing home the bacon and therefore are entitled to the tools (such as high-speed internet, for example). Juveniles (on a macro-level consumers) merely consume and therefore should see said tools (which they most likely will use as toys) more as priviliges access to which should be closely supervised and controlled.

      This one from commentor “migs42” is interesting input into this “debate”:

      =====
      I’m going to read Twilight for an hour and I’m going to browse the BBC website for an hour. Internet wins in this scenario, hands down.
      So does this mean Internet is better? Let’s look again.
      Reading Adam Smith’s ‘Wealth of Nations’ for an hour and browsing LOLcatz for an hour. So, LOLcatz is more educating than Adam Smith’s book then? You see what I mean.

      =====

      Here are some of the guiding questions at work when we compare (1) low-bandwidth info channels (like books and other reading materials) and (2) high-bandwidth ones (like the Net, TV, radio, even picture books and glossy magazines can be considered high-bandwidth channels compared to primarily text-based books):

      (i) Which one of the two has the highest ratio of ambient noise and distraction — i.e. extraneous information that does not add value to the primary information content being delivered by said channel.

      (ii) Which one of the two encourages and trains a person in superior forms of information gathering and builds better comprehension skills. Reading books for example requires more focus and concentration while browsing the Net exacts very little demands on a person’s mental faculties, and therefore excessive time spent on the Net could potentially be a cause of an atrophy in concentration and reading comprehension skills in the poor bozos who are left to their devices in front of a computer.

      Note item (ii). Perhaps this is the reason why the we are seeing this dumb-and-dumber trend in today’s “Generation Y” — which goes a long way to explaining the moronic behaviour of smartphone-armed dumbos like Carmen “Mai” Mislang.

      * * *

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  16. sky says:

    I think what ought to be stressed here is discipline. The Internet is really, really great, but if you finish the song (…for porn), it shows that it isn’t the Internet’s fault as to why people are accessing porn, but rather it’s the end-user’s fault. The Internet in this scenario would more or less be value-neutral, and the user-centricity of the Internet is heavily dependent on people making the right choices. I’d want people to edit Wikipedia more than they were to browse mindlessly on Facebook, but for some reason it takes time for Filipinos (and a lot of it) to give up unproductive habits like ogling through a person’s picture or commenting on a person’s stat. I myself use bandwidth-intensive applications for more productive ends: I use it to watch the excellent newscasts of the CBC from 8,000 miles away.

    There should be a greater emphasis on changing people’s habits rather than the infrastructure. The people should bend to the infrastructure, not the other way around.

  17. concerned_citizen says:

    High-speed internet usage surely has its pros and cons. It is ever changing and we have to decide whether we go with the flow or go against the tides. In the end it’s all a matter of perception and experience. These high-earning telecommunications companies should have some healthy competition from global companies and not be able to monopolize the market.

  18. Homer says:

    Speed is everything for internet users who are into streaming media. With more speed, we are more in control of our own entertainment, It’s a lot better than depending on the limited choices that mainstream media provides for us. Sadly, we are way behind in broadband speed…and we all know very well why that is so. It’s already been said too many times.

    Of course, I can’t speak for those who are only into strictly-text sites, They could stay with their outdated dial-up connections for all I care.

  19. J.B. says:

    More bandwidth means more piracy which translates to more poor filipinos learning technologies without spending too much, hence uplifting their lives.

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