It's a Broadband Life

I’m trying to order a hamburger, medium well, but the cook was involved in heated argument with the customer who was insisting that DSL is better and faster than cable for a home internet connection.

“Man, DSL rocks!”

“You are crazy. DSL ain’t nothing. Cable’s bandwidth rocks!”

“You are paying for nothing. You can’t download nothing on cable!”

And so on.

A few years ago, these guys would have been talking about the weather or the game on tv. Now, they talk about their internet connections, using a technical language (well, a few technical words) that few people could understand a few months back.

As I wait for my burger, which seems to be taking forever, I was able to reflect on how broadband access is changing the face of middle-class life, especially domestic life.

Before I tell the following story, let me say upfront I’m really against it when police bust down the doors of a web domain owner and confiscate its servers on grounds that it might be being used as a conduit for illegal downloads. The report of this gross abuse against is wholly egregious and a violation of human rights.

On the other hand, I get my life back. For three or four days, my home internet connection was running slow as black-strap molasses. It seems that I found the culprit: a laptop managed by a certain young resident in my home that was set to download the complete Harry Potter movie set and a few Disney adventures.

You can set the software to start a new one the instant the old one finishes, so there’s no telling how many movies were slotted for download. If I hadn’t put a stop to it, my internet connection would have been clogged for the remainder of the decade.

For those of you not in the know, PirateBay specialized in BitTorrent downloads, the newest thing in web downloading that provides access to movies and videos. BitTorrents are said to account for 35% of internet traffic.

These downloads take an absurd amount of time. I used to complain about a 45 second download. For kids these days, a download of half a day, a day and a half, or even three days is completely normal. They run in the background and the user hardly notices them.

But everyone else does notice an extreme bandwidth shortage. I reminded the domestic culprit in question that there is a reason they are called “torrent” files, as in (Webster’s) “a tumultuous outpouring,” “a violent stream of a liquid (as water or lava),” “a channel of a mountain stream.” It crushes all before it.

I could see the future and it looked very much like the dial-up days. Remember when we used to fight over who got to use the single phone line? Then we got smart and got two phone lines, made the phone companies crazy with insane phone number demands — boom times for the baby bells! — just before we cancelled not only the new phone line but the old one too, because we were all switching to high speed, cell phones, and VOIP.

With BitTorrent, I would again be stuck yelling upstairs: “Hey, can you pause your week-long torrent download, so I can check my email?”

So, now there are strict household rules on BitTorrent. They can only be done between the hours of 11pm and 5am, or at times when no one else is home. If there is anymore clogging the connection going on, two warnings will be delivered. On the third time, there will be no more. Period.

Now, that’s strict!

Of course all this could change in a matter of months, given the increased demand for bandwidth. It doesn’t matter how many people are arrested, in Sweden, Germany, or the US, or how many domains are taken off line. There will always be another source and another user willing to take the risk.

The saga of BitTorrent use and abuse is nicely chronicled at Wikipedia, which is another venue that was disparaged as ridiculous when it came out but has since become essential to modern life. Can you imagine the Oxford English Dictionary trying to keep up with our vocabularies, which add new words by the day and hour?

After these endless battles over broadband downloads, it is great to see at least one company getting smart. Warner Brothers has decided that if you can’t beat them, join them. It will be offering legal torrents of Star Wars: Revelations, and others are on the way.

We can see the future here. Just as illegal downloads of music paved the way for the spectacularly successful iTunes revolution, sites like PirateBay will deserve credit for alerting mainstream move producers to a new and licit way to make a profit.

Ah! At last my hamburger is cooked, and served, the old fashioned way.

Jeffrey Tucker [send him mail] is editorial vice president of

Jeffrey Tucker Archives