Tag Archives: broadband

All Broadband Is Not Created Equal

I spent some time at my niece’s house in the Minneapolis area this weekend, and I learned something unexpected. My broadband access is much better than hers.

Now, {code} Roadies’ headquarters is located in North Dakota in a city of about 55,000. My niece and her husband live in a nice neighborhood in a metro area of about 3.5 million. You would think, then, that they would have access to excellent broadband service. Yet when it snows outside, they struggle to stream Netflix because of congestion on their local network (you see, everyone else is snuggling up with old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, too).

On the other hand, in my humble little town near the Canadian border, I regularly push 70 Mbps – and that’s just the “normal” package with my ISP, not the premium one. My family simultaneously streams video and audio like crazy – even 4k – and we rarely have any issues that aren’t hardware-related. Best of all, my local provider is actually in the process of upgrading the entire city to 1 Gig speed.

I am spoiled, and it took a trip to the Twin Cities to make me realize it. It can be very easy to take good broadband for granted when you have it, but it’s important to remember that not everyone does. I imagine that having an office in Menlo Park or Mountain View might lead you to a feeling that the entire world connects with a giant pipe, open to any and all ideas that you might have. But while 67% of Americans enjoy broadband internet access, a good percentage of those connections flat out suck. They may be “fast” but they are unreliable – burning up the wire one minute and spinning the old “buffering wheel of torture” the next.

The problem is that we’re still working out the kinks in the ISP business model, decades after it debuted. Some companies get it right while others do not. Too often decisions are weighed down by the archaic logic of the cable TV or landline phone industry (whoever really, truly creates an a la carte cable TV streaming service is going to put everyone else out of business – keep an eye on Hulu this fall).

If we forget about all of these folks who can’t use the internet because all of their neighbors are ogling the latest Kardashian family vacation video – or because their phone is their only internet connection, and they are dreading extra charges for using too much cellular data – we risk building websites and apps that a good chunk of the population will not use because they become frustrated. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not about programming sites to the lowest common denominator, it’s about building sites that are flexible enough to respond to both the best and worst case scenarios.

Take YouTube, for example. It’s smart enough to scale the video quality it shows you to the device you are using. That’s a lot more work than just picking the best quality out there and telling everybody to deal with it. It’s harder, it takes a lot more resources, but it’s the right answer.

How good is your broadband access? How about when you are on a run at the park? Or on the road in a Motel 6? Even if you’re lucky like we are here at {code} Roadies, develop your content for those who aren’t. The web is more powerful when we’re all on it together.