Pit Schultz on Mon, 17 Jun 2002 02:46:11 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> where has all the bandwith gone?

the broadband issue is of great interest for nettimers
for different reasons. the materiality
of the internet besides the invested labour of users,
is represented by its lowest layers, the physical one
and the the one of switched packets. controling those
layers means controling the 'means of production'.

non-mainstream content shouldn't be hirarchized by
data-types. a usual text needs 40 kb, a usual audio track 4 MB,
and a usual movie takes 800 MB (divx) and in DVD quality 4,5 GB.
it would be a bit absurd, to claim that trough 'bandwidth
scarcity' textual production would play a higher role in
cultural production than other formats.

the cultural politics of the net are very much co-determined
by it's economical basic conditions. the implications might
be different for producers, distributors, consumers and their
various mixes, but it certainly matters if i have to pay
6 euros per gigabyte or just 10 cents. the latter would be
possible if kpnquest,  firstmark, globallcrossing and however
the fibreoptics backbones are called, would have made their
full capacity available to resellers.

interestingly there is not much investigative online journalism
concerning the developments of the bandwidth market.
a long time ago, i tried to remember nettimers to george gilder's
dream of the bandwidth glut. like other messianic out-of-control
consultants he influenced the dot-com mania a lot, in its
underlaying ideology of hypergrowth. the negativity of this
absolute optimism turns out today as a phase of restauration,
a rethorics of dull praxis, a culture of looking backwards and
historify the last glorious years. that not all nice ideas
about the future (like free bandwidth) get real as fast as promised
by the cyber-prophets mean that they are completly wrong.

first it seems that the users themselves stand in the way of
an unlimited bandwidth future. enjoying the new
possiblities of digital fluidity (p2p etc.) they activily
supported the crash of almost every 'soft' content driven
audio, video, streaming or otherwise broadband driven
dot-com project, which started with 'free services' in
expectation to "buy out" the "free floating" productivity
of its users. this 'fall of the profit rate' resembles the story of
immaterial labour, the promises of communism... the question
is what went wrong in building up a consciousness of the users?

clear is, that there are no larger numbers of customers which
pay for the infrastructure layed out arround these glorious
info-autobahn-plans, might they be called broadband, next generation mobile
phones, video-telephony or flying cars. it is the tragedy
of the wired economy, that the leading american technological dreams,
were inspired by a immature or at least incomplete intellectual culture
and not by social needs. the broadband future was mostly described
in scenarios resembling the techno-futurism beginning in the
50ies, with fully automatic homes, and a user experience directly
inspired by the narratives arround extraterrestial space colonialisation.

let's take another look at the laws of internet traffic.
today just the costs of streaming down a 90 minute divx
video with 1000kbps at the side of the host (website)
is at least as high than what one has to pay to rent out
two VHS tapes at the local video shop. (6 euro) any royality
payments have to be added to it. if the video content industry
would be willing to compete with p2p services they would have
to first find a way to pay prices for bandwidth which are
not 'free market prices', it possibly means they would simply
own those backbone infrastructure, which is available for
a low price at the moment. once described heroically by
neil stevenson, the big fibreoptic grid is "for sale" like
a ghost town after the gold rush.

another technology, called multicasting which would make internet
broadcast economical, is not happening yet, because some smart
companies are customizing old switching protocols to the max,
developing 'smart routers' and therefore adding complexity on
the backbone level, instead of upgrading to the next stage.
legislation of standards is not taking place, because the
'out of control' ideology still supports in the market forces.
(see above)

it is obvious that the future of broadband is delayed
as long digital rights management, supported by copyright
laws which are written for and by the industry, plus all
kinds of dirty tweaking of routing protocols, and caching
traffic is basically *closing* the internet modeled after what
is known from private sattelite tv. in the moment payment
schemes will be in place and alternatives can be shut down
technically and legaly, very likely broadband will be
there immediatly.

strange is that in germany, the royality collectors are
claiming to get payed back for every piece of hardware,
cd-burners, harddrives. the other option, that internet
traffic itself, through some kind of copy-tax, a per
gigabyte fee for using the internet like radio stations
or public tv is not considered yet.  it would  possibly
enable the smaller content  holders and providers to run
viable business models. it is again a mix of cultural
backwardness and "mafia lobbyism" which supports models
which are not innovative and do not support small business.
the time in which filesharing is sponsored through
DSL flatrates can be also over soon.

there are plenty of projects which really need "public
bandwidth" to contine to provide their cultural content
for free, and i speak about many terabytes a month.
there is plenty of interest on the side of the users.
i'd be interested if nettimers are interested to discuss
these practical issues on this list.

it is one thing to make a "we want bandwidth" campaign
sucessful, it is another to find 'open' ways to
distribute and allocate available public bandwidth
usefully once you got a lot of it from your local
cultural authority... so far institutions of
media culture do not see their role in the tradition
of a project like www.archive.org  maybe that can
be changed?

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