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There is a fundamental problem with the push to provide content, software, and data storage over the World Wide Web, as the Internet is actually called.  Does anybody think about what the Internet really is?  Who is paying for all the technology needed to make the Internet possible?  How is it possible for the things we do over the Internet to keep growing, expanding?  Are there limits to what the technology can do?  The ‘backbone’ of the Internet has a physical existence, with machinery which is expensive, must be maintained, and constantly must be replaced.  That machinery determines how fast data can be transferred from one place to another.

We tend to think of networks like the Internet the way that we think of a telephone network, but that is an inaccurate and misleading conception.  A telephone network establishes a connection between two places, a connection which is maintained until the connection is no longer needed, or is broken by something.  The Internet never creates a constant connection between two places, and the various parts of a movie, for instance, can be transferred via a bunch of different pathways while downloaded to your computer.  Instead of a dedicated, two-way connection, the Internet breaks communications up into little bundles, called ‘packets’, each one of which contains a tag which has the identification of the bundle, and where it is supposed to go.

These bundles leave their point of origin and enter the network, which figures out which direction they need to travel, and sends them on their way, one at a time.  The next intersection of the network looks at the tag, and decides which is the most direct route to the destination, at that moment, that is available, and not busy handling another bundle.  Then, it sends the bundle on its way.  The next bundle might go the same way, but it probably will end up going a different path.

Each intersection, or ‘hub’, can handle a certain amount of traffic.  Once it gets backed up, it starts refusing new packets.  It is an intersection which takes more than one cycle of the traffic lights to get through.  Each hub is rack of equipment somewhere, which is connected to the cables which are the pathways.  That rack of equipment allows the owner to access the Internet directly, without renting that access from somebody else.  In order to be able to handle the traffic going through the equipment, including the owner’s own, the owner must purchase bigger and faster machines when the data load increases.

In the past, it has been worth it to invest in this equipment, because the percentage of your own traffic that your equipment handled was high.  But as the amount of traffic around the Internet increases, that percentage goes down.  If you don’t buy faster and more powerful equipment, your own data takes a long time to move from your location to another, because your equipment is tied up moving bundles for other people.

Who is going to pay for all this new equipment?  Will it be the people generating the traffic going through it, or will it be the people who want to send their own data out?  We all want to have access to the wealth of information on the Internet, but were will the wealth come from to make that access possible?  One person downloading a movie will use as much of the Internet as thousands of people who are looking a web page.  So the people who look at web pages are going to have to pay more to be able to do so in order that other people can download movies.  Or we will end up not being able to use the Internet for anything.

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