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NPR: As Internet Video Rises, So Do Bandwidth Woes

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NPR has an interesting piece up today called “Watching TV Online Often Exposes Slow Bandwidth,” that starts off much the way you would expect for a story with that title:

There are more ways than ever to watch TV programs on the Internet, from Netflix and Amazon to Hulu. But many viewers discover that watching TV on the Web can be frustrating. Their favorite show might suddenly stop, stutter and be replaced by a note that reads “buffering.” The problem is lack of bandwidth: The data that is the video just can’t squeeze through the wires and onto the screen.

But there is a place where some people never worry about bandwidth. It’s called Fiber Space, and it was created by Google as part of its Internet access project in Missouri.

To demonstrate the difference that high bandwidth can make, one NPR reporter tries to watch streaming video online while downloading an 8GB game in the background, while another reporter does the same in Kansas City.

I used NPR’s connection in Washington, D.C., to watch an HD nature video while downloading an 8-gigabyte video game that I wanted to play later. Hogan, joined by Casas and another Google team member, Tom Fitzgerald, did the same thing.

The video begins playing in Washington, but the game doesn’t t start to download.

From Kansas City, Hogan reports, “The video is playing in the background. … We haven’t had any delay with that … and we’re currently how far along on the game?”

Fitzgerald answers, “33 percent downloaded.”

In D.C., my 10-minute nature movie freezes. Meanwhile, back in Kansas City, Hogan tells me, “We’ve only got about two minutes left of this movie.”

“I can start and play a whole other movie if you want,” Fitzgerald offers.

Over the course of 10 minutes, Kansas City downloaded the 8-gigabyte game and watched two HD videos. In that same time, my video froze, and I downloaded 3.3 percent of the game. Fail.

From there, though, the piece takes an interesting twist, shifting toward the political and economic woes facing the rise of online TV watching, with an observation from a Verizon rep that rather surprised me:

For its part, Verizon did spend more than $20 billion building out its Fios fiber network to more than 17 million customers. But then it stopped. The company’s Bob Elek says nobody seems to be using all that bandwidth.

“The market demand isn’t really there,” he says, “both from a consumer perspective and from the applications and the things that people are providing to be used on the network. It just isn’t there yet.”

So perhaps we have a chicken-and-egg problem on our hand here: forgetting the contracts and negotiations that are restricting the growth of online access to TV content, are we at a point where people aren’t watching more TV online because the bandwidth isn’t sufficient, leading providers to think that we don’t need more bandwidth because people aren’t watching more TV online?

Listen to the full story at NPR.

Via: [NPR: Watching TV Online Often Exposes Slow Bandwidth]

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