Posted on 31 Jan 03
Click... one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four Mississippi... Will the home page ever come up?
If you are like me, you remember the pre-Internet age as a slow, lumbering, geek-infested era, when it took three days for electronic messages (the precursor to email) to cross the country via a maze of bulletin board system (BBS) computers. Various networks of BBS's competed for the small but growing marketshare of kids, programmers and computer-savvy businesses, many charging nominal fees or none at all. My own BBS was part of FIDOnet, a group of about 600 BBS servers interacting each night across the country.
I remember shelling out big bucks for the new US Robotics 16,000 baud (16,000 bits, or about 1,500 characters, per second) dial-up modem, which we immediately used in place of our slower 9,600 baud Hayes modem. Speed is relative and the wait time of fifteen seconds for a text-only page to load onto your screen was considered fast. Cut that to twelve seconds and the users flocked.
As everyone knows, modems increased speeds as the Internet became available and graphics were accepted as necessary. Broadband, which is the loose term for any Internet access speeds above the fastest modems available to PC's, has integrated itself into daily life in just about three years. Today we commonly discuss MEGA-bits (millions of bits) per second with no sense of awe. "Bandwidth," a term meaning the connection speed and volume in a network, including the Internet, has become available to the masses.
However, now we are seeing a reversal in access speed as several factors affect the waiting times many are experiencing today.
Most broadband vendors use shared (or community) lines to and from the Internet. Examples of this type of Internet access are cable modem, DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) and wireless Internet. Lines can be physically shared by subscribers and the direct connection to the Internet can be shared within the ISP for a double-whammy of traffic slowdowns.
Internet Service Providers share their Internet bandwidth with many users There are a myriad of ways that an "ISP" (Internet Service Provider) splits up its connection to the Internet. Specifically, there is a connection that extends from the ISP to its own Internet Provider, usually in the next "tier" up the bandwidth ladder). If an ISP is servicing twelve neighborhoods or business districts, their main Internet connection may be split, with routing or switching hardware, to all twelve lines. Each of those, in turn, are shared by the various users attached to that cable.
In previous years, during part of the day, as home users were working or attending school, the broadband connections may have been adequate to provide good speed to the Net. By five o'clock, after school children and their parents returned home restless to go online, Internet use jumped and the connection was slowed by sharing among a larger number of users. This traffic jam has been exacerbated by a number of events, not the least of which is the large number of broadband providers that have gone out of business. Also, many providers have returned to "over-subscribing."
In order to keep costs to a minimum, ISP's rightfully want to avoid the cost for bandwidth that is not being used. Actual numbers of online users change during the day, as does their usage (downloading takes more bandwidth than browsing).
The fine line between supply and demand has been moving away from supply, especially as demand goes up. Imagine an ISP with 2000 subscribers has 300 users online at 8am, 500 at noon, 400 at 2pm, 1500 at 5pm and 1000 at 8pm.
How much bandwidth is enough? The obvious answer is enough for the maximum of 1500 users, but this is almost never the case. ISP's are affected by the economy and regularl