The history of the internet

So let’s go through the net connections I’ve had in my life:

33.6k BBS – Lord-Data used to run a BBS, which was my first encounter with digital telephony. It was awesome. A hodge-podge of warez, games, forums and so forth, which everyone who was anyone frequented. He had only a single phone line for it, so it wasn’t as advanced as many of the actually famous BBS’, but it was all we had and it was good. It was fast, it was reliable (this was before our phone line went south), it was easy, and it was of course free (excluding the cost of the calls themselves, which my parents paid :D ).

33.6k dial-up – Nice Hayes (from memory) external modem. The modem itself was flawless; the phone line less so. Years and years of fighting with Telstra to have it repaired. It was never fixed in the time we were there (nine years from memory). They acknowledged that there were major faults – unofficially of course – but went so far as to say outright that they would never be fixed. We had several ISPs at different times, from memory – initially we were with iNet (I think)… I recall we moved to Alphalink at some point, if only because I remember having to dial twenty times before you could get through (although that may have been my grandparent’s). I also had an iHug account I got for free as a backup, but never really used it. We were also on Dingoblue by 2001 (probably earlier), although I don’t recall if we changed or if they were simply a name change or buy-out of whoever we were with beforehand.

56k dial-up – Internal modem in the G4 PowerMac. Nice thing, worked fine. Was on the same phone line as above, so same issues.

College network – 100baseT ethernet across the uni with a 33Mbit/s microwave link to Melbourne uni (and the world at large). Of course, since they only supported Windows I couldn’t actually have proper net access. Over the three years I was there I devised many ways to get some sliver of actual net access – the official HTTP proxy, of course (thanks Authoxy!), SOCKS proxies run on latcs machines, ssh forwarding through latcs, and more I’ve probably forgotten. The first six months or so I was there, I was vehement about the problems on the relevant college online forums, but the tech guys at the time were retards and ultimately didn’t care about anyone other than themselves. Despite the fact that they could have resolved 95% of the problems I had by ticking a single check box in the proxy config (to turn on SOCKS support), they refused. The reason ultimately came down to: they didn’t want to. Pricks.

1.5Mbit/s ADSL at Bundoora – Ah, the veritable Speedtouch 510, most useless ADSL modem on the planet. When it was feeling particularly useless it would reset every ten minutes or so. Even when it wasn’t so inclined, it would lock-up for a minute or so, every now and again. I wasted hours and hours playing with that modem. I reflashed it with the 570’s (or something) firmware, which offered more features, but didn’t resolve any of the issues; just changed them around a bit. Oh how I wanted to get at that modem with some fine surgical tools, like, say, a sledgehammer.

Cable in Cupertino – Cable, actual cable, not some dodgy retrofitted twisted pair – must be better, right? 6Mbit/s, too (well below the technical limitations). Uploads would be lightning fast… if they weren’t limited to 50k/s. Yes, ADSL speed. I cannot fathom the stupidity of this. Add into this the fact that the modem, a white Netgear thing, would lock-up whenever I opened Safari on my computer, or when Ashley or Brett did certain things too… and that it would sometimes allow Ashley to use iChat’s video chat, sometimes it wouldn’t. And while we supposedly had 6Mbit/s downstream, you typically never saw more than 200kb/s, even from hosts that most definitely can and do pump out way faster than that (e.g. Akamai). On the TV, which also came off the cable, we had the privilege many nights of picture-in-picture-in-picture; interference from two channels either side of the selected one. There’s nothing quite like having the phone number and stupid text of some dumb ad scrolling across the screen while you’re trying to actually watch the show. To be fair, I should say that the connection had very low latency, compared to connections in Australia. That alone made a huge difference. But that’s all it had going for it; the connection was still as unreliable as my previous one.

512kb/s ADSL at Preston – Great, another Speedtouch. This one is actually, relatively speaking, perfect. Sure, it drops packets a lot, and disconnects randomly a dozen or so times a day, and locks up for a minute every now and again (same as the last one), and runs really slow most of the time for no apparent reason… but hey, it’s got an uptime of at least, say, 80%, which is just unprecedented in the world of so-called broadband.

I go through all this merely to highlight that, with all the talk about connectivity and accessibility of the web in general, a bigger issue is overlooked – the fact that internet connections to the end user are just awful. How can VoIP take off on a large scale when I barely have the bandwidth for a single call when nothing else is using the connection, let alone shared amongst three or four active users simultaneously – BitTorrent, anyone? – and when odds are the connection will die during any given call? How can I expect iTunes to download 300 meg vidcast episodes when statistically it’s almost certain the connection will fail at least once during the minimum time required to transfer 300 meg at 50kb/s? I know; I’ve probably wasted a good 5 gig of bandwidth just trying to download 1.2 gig of video. And I still haven’t succeeded, two months on. In fact, while writing this entry the connection has died no less than five times.

I remember when cable first became available in Mt. Eliza, and Lord-Data was one of the first people to sign up, of course. It was unlimited, in every respect. It ran as fast as the little electrons could go, and there were no quotas or limits or shaping or any of that B.S. we have today. It wasn’t reliable, but then again it was no worse than what we have today. The future seemed so rosy then… or at least, to some people. As the quote below – dated 29th of March, 2001; the day before the GAT, incidentally – shows, I was never fooled. Lord-Data and I were discussing the state of connectivity, not long after he’d moved to DSL from cable given it was the new poster child and was supposed to become insanely cheap real soon, promised…

[5:20] Lord-Data: mmm, its definitaly expensive .. they (ausIT) rekon within 5 months dsl will be $50/month
[5:20] Lord-Data: i dunno if it’ll happen, but its a posibility
[5:21] Sleazball: Nah, I doubt it. It’ll go up before it goes down.
[5:21] Sleazball: Telstra are snaring people in with unlimited lans and reasonable rates. Then they’ll remove the un from unlimited, and stay the same price, if not climb.

(yes, Sleazball is me; it’s an affection nickname I was given by Brian after Sarah left him for me… I haven’t thought up a good one for Terence yet, but I will, in keeping with the spirit ;) )

And I should note also that five and a half years later, ADSL is still not less than $50 a month [for a decent connection] – in fact for an actual unlimited, 1.5Mbit/s connection, you’re looking at three of four times that a month. Which is more than it was all those years ago when 1.5Mbit/s ADSL first hit the market.

This was all put into disturbing perspective while I was at NEC, working on ADSL products of the future. Our future, that is; they’re already widely used in Asia, and indeed were considered obsolete in the more advanced Asian countries. While they’re rolling out fibre and pushing 100Mbit/s and beyond, we’re still stuck with 1.5Mbit/s ADSL. I always joked that Australia would become a 3rd world country for connectivity. I hate it when I’m right.

Another note from that same log:

[4:35] Notice: PING |fux0r|: 93 seconds
[4:35] Notice: PING VCD: 93 seconds
[4:35] Notice: PING Fuhrer: 94 seconds
[4:35] Notice: PING |chi-ad|: 94 seconds
[4:35] Notice: PING Lord-Data: 94 seconds
[4:23] Sleazball: Presently achieving a beefy 0.6k/s.

That pretty much sums up dialup for me. And ADSL, except there’d be connection failure notices in there as well.

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