By Steve Chase
U.S. ranks 33rd worldwide in Internet speed
How fast is your Internet? I recently saw an article (tinyurl.com/mrf7xps) that ranked global Internet service speed, and the U.S. was ranked 33rd, ahead of only Russia by one and far behind Romania’s third, and the number one, South Korea. The real world example for me is being able to stream video only after midnight when there is far more bandwidth available on my rural “high-speed” network.
We have few choices for really high-speed service. in the U.S. today, Internet service providers (ISPs) focus their efforts on maximizing revenue over providing good service; and in my case, living in a rural area, the opportunity for real broadband, with 21st century speed, is non-existent. Those who support the free market have made it clear to me that my choice to live in a rural area drives my Internet service choices—go live in the city if you want fast Internet.
Recent events complicate the U.S.’ poor position on the world chart even further. The concept of Net Neutrality, which defines the Internet as a free and open network that does not favor any particular content, has begun to break down. This event came none too soon for the big media companies. In January, a federal court struck down FCC rules that had been promulgated in 2010 with a 21st century mindset. The court, ruling in Verizon v. FCC, said that rules prohibiting ISPs from blocking certain content and favoring others should be struck down, because the ISP was not classified as a “common carrier,” like your average utility company. This ruling opens the door for ISPs to show favor for certain content, including content that they are paid to make available.
The growth of streaming video makes all the difference in this issue. I can’t get Netflix, but lots of people do. This puts tremendous pressure on ISPs like Comcast to keep the data flowing as they watch the latest episode of House of Cards. Netflix recently announced an agreement with Comcast that provides Netflix a direct connection to Comcast, for a fee. The initial reaction from some corners was that of Internet Armageddon: ISPs would turn the Net into nothing more than another cable television outlet.
We pay for the various channels and networks of content while the ISPs force you to watch what they want you to see. Those screams have been countered, as people have calmed down and realized that agreements such as this one represent an instance where the ISP industry is self-regulating to better manage bandwidth when the pipes are very busy. Who is right?
Time will tell how this plays out, and I’m not ready to give these ISPs the benefit of the doubt—yet. Comcast, Verizon, and the other ISPs need to remember that we customers pay a pretty penny for access to the Internet. Raising rates even further and taking away a free Internet would spell the end of the Internet as we know it.
Streaming Music News
Online streaming music continues to evolve. In the past, Spotify has given you a free account with a limited amount of listening time each month. They have dropped that limit, so you can now listen to Spotify on your PC for free all the time; the only cost is that you have to listen to some annoying ads. Following up on his very successful audio technology line, rapper Dr. Dre has started a new music streaming service called Beats. The interface is all new, giving you the chance to set up your interface with the music you like, making it way easier to find the music you want to hear. It also has a feature called “the sentence” that helps you find music that fits your mood and your current situation, be it sitting on the front porch or crunching numbers at work. Beats should prove to be tough competition for Spotify and MOG over time and you can check Beats out for a week for free (www.beatsbydre.com).
Neil Young’s Pono
Neil Young is using technology to reconnect listeners to high-quality analog music. He laments that MP3s simply do not have the fidelity to allow listeners to truly hear the music as performed—a disservice to artists. You’ll be able to buy original master recordings at ponomusic.com, and load them onto your own portable Ponoplayer, which features a digital-to-analog converter, or DAC, to ensure what you are listening to is as close to the original intent of the artist as possible.
These players are currently $300+ on the Kickstarter site, to be available in the fall. Once Pono is up and running, the cheapest player will be $399. That’s pretty pricey, but Young promises his service will be revolutionary. There has been a big media blitz on Pono, but I wonder if the prices and the proprietary store will serve up the revenue necessary to keep things viable over the long run. More at http://tinyurl.com/q2rzryn .
Listen to my April playlist, a mix to help us welcome spring after a long and cold winter. Listen at playlists.net/epolyphony-april-2014 .
Steve Chase listens and writes about music from his home in Unison, Va.