Home Broadband Customers Are Crippled

by Fernando Cassia in Argentina

28 August 2007
The co-father of the TCP/IP protocol and so-called "father of the Internet" as well told a packed auditorium at the University of Buenos Aires last week that all internet links should be symmetric.

Internet pioneer Vinton G. Cerf - now turned Google's Internet Evangelist - visited the land of Tango and gave an interesting and amusing talk about the past, present, and future of the Net. He's been doing so for quite some time, and let me tell you that he's really good at it. [But is he any good at the Tango, Fernando? Ed.]

One of Cerf's points was that one of the pros of the widespread adoption of the Net was the democratization of access to information and that people are increasingly becoming content producers, sending information back to the Web and not just being 'passive consumers' of pre-packaged bits. He mentioned the Wikipedia and people who upload their own creations to Youtube as examples of that shift. [Speaking of the latter, I asked the UBA hosts for any links to Cerf's videotaped speech, but I was told yesterday that it'd be uploaded to Youtube "soon", and that they'll let me know].

So, when it was time for questions from the audience, this correspondent INQuired: "with regards to your point about users becoming content creators, don't you think that it's very important that the broadband providers, the ISPs, provide symmetric connections, so that the upload (upstream) speed matches the download speed?"

He surely got the point and to my surprise, agreed very emphatically. "Absolutely", he said, describing the lack of symmetric bandwidth as one of the current problems of the Net: "currently, the residential customers are the handicapped of the Net" said Cerf, adding that because of that, users who want symmetric internet links often have to purchase an expensive "business grade" internet connection, finally pointing out that symmetric internet connections are essential for the new wave of applications on the network, like video conferencing, running your own servers, TV time-shifting and place-shifting devices, and the like.

Cerf's call for symmetric bandwidth is specially important because it was made in a country like Argentina where upstream speeds for residential broadband border the ridiculous, often in the 128K to 256K range - even for 5Mbit downstream links -a 20 to one ratio-. So this scribbler obviously sympathized with Cerf's claims. But... what can be done about it? Cerf has a notion. In an earlier part of his talk, he gave his own personal approach for fighting the current state of affairs: "public embarrassment is my approach", he said, and by that he referred to doing and publishing comparisons of how expensive, slow -- or both -- internet access is in the US compared to some of the World leaders in the area like Japan or Korea.

Cerf apparently believes this kind of public embarrassment of the corporations, the governments and its telecomms regulating authorities will make the politicians and the companies involved move to improve their collective act.