Tag Archives: Internet Access

Why Starlink Is The Next Step In The Evolution Of The Internet

Say what you will about Elon Musk. Believe me, a lot can be said about a Tony Stark wannabe whose wealth is on par with Jeff Bezos. Not all of it is flattering, either. I know I’ve expressed a strong appreciation for him in the past. I genuinely believe some of the technology he’s working on will change the world.

I don’t deny that he can be eccentric.

I also don’t deny he says dumb things, often on Twitter.

The man has his faults, but thinking small isn’t one of them. You don’t get to be as rich or successful as Elon Musk by being careful. You also don’t create world-changing technology by being short-sighted. Love him or hate him, Musk has changed the world. He’ll likely change it even more in the coming years.

Some of those changes are years away. A product like Neuralink is probably not going to become mainstream in this decade. However, there is one that’s likely to change the world a lot sooner. In fact, it’s already up and running to some extent. It’s just in the beta phase. Some people can already use it and it’s already proving its worth.

That technology is called Starlink and I believe this will change the internet in a profound way.

Now, you can be forgiven for not keeping up with all of Elon Musk’s elaborate ventures. This one isn’t quite as sexy as brain implants or rockets, but it’s every bit as groundbreaking. If you value internet speeds that don’t suck or lag, then it should be of great interest.

In essence, Starlink is the name and brand of a new satellite-based internet service provider that Musk is creating through his other ambitious venture, SpaceX. The goal is simple on paper, but resource intensive. Instead of the messy network of ground-based hardware that most providers use to deliver the internet to hour homes and businesses, Starlink will deliver it from space.

It’s actually not a new idea or product, for that matter. Satellite based internet service has been around for years. In terms of speeds and utility, though, it just sucks. At most, you’d be lucky to get speeds on par with old school 3G wireless. For some people, that’s better than nothing. For most, it’s not nearly enough to maximize the full power of the internet.

Starlink is hoping to change that. Instead of expensive satellites with high latency and limited bandwidth, these new brand of low-Earth satellites promise to deliver on speeds at or greater than the best 4G internet providers.

On top of that, you don’t need the same elaborate infrastructure and or cell towers to deliver it. You just need a constellation of satellites, a receiver no larger than a pizza box, and a clear view of the sky. If you have all that, you can get the full breadth of the internet. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of the desert or at the top of the Empire State Building. It’s there for you to access.

Make no mistake. That’s a big deal for the 3.8 billion people in the world who don’t have internet access. Whether due to lack of infrastructure or funds, it’s just not an option for them. It’s not just underdeveloped third-world countries either. Even here in America, there are large swaths of the country that have little to no reliable internet access.

It’s a big factor in the ongoing divide between rural and urban areas. If you live in a small rural community full of good, honest, hard-working people, they’re still going to struggle if they don’t have reliable internet. They’ll struggle economically, socially, and financially. To date, the efforts to expand the internet to their communities has been lackluster at best.

I can personally attest how bad it is. A few years back, I drove through a very rural part of West Virginia. For a good chunk of that drive, there was pretty much no reliable internet, be it Wi-Fi or cell phone coverage. The people there didn’t hide their frustration and I certainly sympathized with them.

There are many reasons for this, not all of which is because of how awful cable companies can be. A bit part of that has to do with the tools we use to access the internet. As good as they are for urban areas, they don’t work on a global level. It’s one thing to wire a big, advanced city like New York with fiber optics. It’s quite another to wire an entire planet.

Starlink promises to change that. These satellites aren’t bound by those logistics. They just orbit overhead without us even realizing it. They’re small and easy to mass produce. They can be taken out of orbit easily and replaced with better models. In principle, they could easily deliver the same high level gigabit speeds that are currently at the top of the market.

In terms of opening the internet to the rest of the world, that’s a big deal.

In terms of disrupting the market for delivering the internet, that’s an even bigger deal.

That’s because, to date, the world wide web has struggled to be truly world-wide. When nearly half the world can’t access it, then you can’t truly call it a global network. With Starlink, the internet can become truly global. People in rural India can have access to the same internet speeds as people in downtown Los Angeles. That promises to open up the world up in ways we can’t predict.

It’ll also provide some badly needed competition to internet delivery. For most people in America, you don’t have much choice when it comes to internet service. Cable companies basically have a monopoly on the whole enterprise, which is a big reason why it’s so expensive compared to other countries. Starlink will be the first real competition they’ve had in years for many areas.

I don’t doubt those companies will complain, whine, and lobby, but they’re not going to stop something like Starlink. They’re also not going to muscle out someone like Elon Musk. You don’t become the world’s richest person by being a push-over. Musk has already made clear that Starlink is a big part of his business model for the future.

At the moment, Starlink is still in beta, but Musk himself proves the technology works. He even used it to send a tweet. There are people right now who are testing it and they can confirm its speeds are way better than the crappy DSL internet of yesteryear. Many others have also expressed a keen interest in buying into this service.

At the moment, it’s still expensive. It costs $99 a month to access Starlink and it also costs $500 to buy the necessary antenna to receive it. However, that’s not a whole lot more than what I pay for internet in a month. Once it’s refined, that cost will come down.

Remember, there are over 3 billion people in the world without internet who have no options to access it. Starlink could be their only option and it could be a damn good one. It could be the key to the rest of the world becoming truly connected. That has big implications for society, commerce, and governments. Some countries are already making Starlink illegal for its people to access. Don’t expect that to stop it, though.

The promise of fast, reliable internet at all corners of the globe is too enticing for too many people. It will both connect the world and make Elon Musk even richer. However, for a man who connected the world and pissed off cable companies, I’d say he’ll have earned it.

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The Future Of Telework: A Trend That Transcends Pandemics

In early 2020, which might as well be another lifetime, I speculated on the lasting impact of increased telework and distance learning due to the pandemic that uprooted our entire society. At the time, I didn’t know just how bad this pandemic would get. In my defense, my hopes were still intact. Now, they’re charred ashes, but that’s beside the point.

In essence, I speculated that once people got used to teleworking, they would not be eager to go back, even after the pandemic had passed. That wasn’t exactly a bold speculation. You don’t have to be a world class psychic to surmise that people will come to enjoy working in their underwear, not having to commute, and enjoying the general flexibility that telework affords.

I’ve been stuck in enough traffic jams to appreciate that kind of flexibility. I know I’m not the only one who might become too fond of telework.

Well, that all-too-obvious insight is starting to take hold in many sectors. It’s not just related to typical office work in cubicles. Everyone from the United States Military to big tech companies to law firms are embracing this new normal for the workplace. Even though it’s more out of necessity than innovation or good will, it’s still happening and there may be no going back.

The pandemic has already forced a mentality shift among the workforce. According to research done by Pew, telework was mostly seen as an optional benefit reserved for an affluent few. That’s not surprising. That kind of flexibility just felt more like a luxury, one that someone had to earn by establishing trust and credibility from an organization.

Now, it’s not just a necessity. It’s unavoidable. The world we’re living in now just cannot accommodate the same professional environment we once knew. I’ve worked in many professional environments before. I can attest that some of them are not built with pandemics in mind.

At one point, I worked at a company in which my desk was crammed into a closet-sized space with three other people. If even one of us caught a cold, we’d all be sick by the end of the week. It was that bad.

I doubt that’s an isolated case. In some of the jobs I’ve had, I have been able to work from home, but it’s only as a last resort. The only times I actually had to do it involved an emergency that occurred on a Saturday morning and one instance where the office was being renovated. In both cases, I still got plenty of work done. I just did it in my underwear.

In that sense, I get why many organizations reserve telework as a luxury rather than a norm. There’s this underlying sentiment that people will abuse it. If they can work from home, they just won’t get as much done. They’ll be too tempted to just grab a bag of chips, lie down on the couch, and watch game shows.

While I don’t doubt there are people who do that, this pandemic has revealed that most people aren’t assholes on that level. In some cases, it’s increasing productivity. Apparently, when workers are comfortable and afforded flexibility, they can get more done. That shouldn’t be too surprising, but it’s still remarkable in its own way.

This has born itself out in subsequent studies and surveys. For some industries, telework is probably more productive in the grand scheme of things and that shouldn’t be surprising. Anyone who has ever had a lousy commute knows why. If a good chunk of your day is spent waking up, putting on itchy clothes, and spending hours in traffic, you’re not going to be in a very productive mood.

That won’t be the case for certain industries. If you’re a doctor, a police officer, a fire fighter, or a trucker, you just can’t telework. The nature of the work doesn’t allow it. That’s still going to be the case, at least until we have robots capable of doing those tasks, which we are working on. However, there’s also sizable chunk of work that could probably be done remotely.

I think the impacts of this emerging truth will extend far beyond the pandemic. I’ve already seen it with people I know. They enjoy teleworking. They don’t want to stop, even after the pandemic becomes a bleak footnote in history. Some are willing to still go into the office some of the time, but they would prefer to telework. I suspect that’s going to become the new normal.

Last year has proven that people can, for the most part, be responsible with the flexibility afforded by telework. As long as they’re getting the work done, who cares if they do it in their underwear while Netflix plays in the background? Considering how costly commutes can be and how expensive office space can be, it might just make more fiscal sense in the long run.

Like it or not, businesses and various organizations tend to err on the side of reducing operating costs. It may mean more employees waste time at home, but if the difference is made up by better productivity, then it’s a net gain overall.

That shift could have impacts that go far beyond business operations. If people have to commute less, then that makes living out beyond urban and suburban settings more feasible. Given how expensive it is to live in those areas, this could spread people out even more, which is an objectively good thing if you’re looking to prevent future pandemics.

It might even help those in depressed rural areas in need of human capital. I can easily imagine some people preferring the quiet, less crowded environment afforded by a rural setting. If they can live in that environment while still getting their work done via internet, assuming they have a reliable connection, then that’s another big benefit that goes beyond the business itself.

This is likely to be a trend. That’s not a fanciful prediction. We’re already seeing it happen. The pandemic just forced it to accelerate. There will likely be other impacts. It may very well change how cities, suburbs, and rural areas are planned from here on out.

I don’t claim to know the specifics, but we’ll likely see it continue in the coming years. I, for one, welcome this change. If I can reduce the amount of time spent in traffic and increase the amount of time I spend in my underwear, then my overall well-being improves considerably.

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How NOT To Fight For Net Neutrality

It’s neither unusual, nor surprising when the government does something stupid. It’s also fairly common to see those same governments make decisions that are not popular with the people. Governments are human-led institutions and humans are flawed creatures to begin with. As such, there will always be moments where government action incurs significant outrage.

The latest example of this has to do with net neutrality, a topic with a boring name, but enormous implications. If you’ve been near a news feed at all over the past few weeks, you know that recent government decisions regarding this topic have generated a lot of headlines and that’s rarely a good thing. Outside wars and moon landings, more government headlines usually implies more trouble.

However, I don’t intend to make this article about the merits of net neutrality or why it’s important. There are already people much smarter than I am who have broken this issue down and organizations much better-equipped than I am to help people do something about it. Let them be your guides in navigating the nuts and bolts of this issue.

Instead, I want to focus on one particular element of the debate that isn’t being discussed, but has been painfully obvious. It has less to do with the actual controversy surrounding net neutrality and more to do with how some are reacting to it. To say those reactions have been heated would be like saying Johnny Depp is mildly eccentric.

When the FCC rendered its controversial decision on December 14, 2017 to reverse the net neutrality provisions that had been put in place back in 2015, it generated a negative backlash almost on par with a major tax increase and a new sex scandal. Celebrities were quick to voice their opinions. Here are just a few.

Those reactions, for the most part, were fairly tame. They expressed dismay, concern, and anger over the decision. That’s entirely okay. That’s even appropriate, given the nature of the decision.

However, some reactions were a lot more severe. On top of that, they were a lot more personal as well, directing the anger and animosity towards one particular person. That person, whose name has become synonymous with all that is wrong and ugly about the world, is Ajit Pai.

Now, without getting into the details of who this man is and why he did what he did, I need to make one thing clear. I’m not out to defend this man or endorse his politics, nor am I looking to add to the pile of hate that he’s gotten over the past few weeks. I just want to note the sheer breadth of that hate. This is just a sample of that hate.

The level of hatred got so absurd that Pai himself actually took the time to read some of these tweets and after getting into an argument with Mark Hamill, no less. I’m not sure if whether it’s him having a sense of humor about the whole situation or he’s just entered that state of learned helplessness that renders him incapable of caring.

Whatever his reaction and whatever further reactions anyone may have to Mr. Pai, there is one important detail that is getting overlooked in this situation. It’s a detail that both Mr. Pai and those that hate him need to acknowledge. It may not make much difference at this point, but here it is.

Hating and insulting Ajit Pai will NOT change his mind or undo his decision.

If I could yell that into a bullhorn and direct it into the ears of every person on the internet, I would because it’s a critical detail for anyone that actually cares about the topic at hand. Insulting the man who helped render the decision and directing all that outrage into personal attacks will not undo what has already been done.

The decision is made. Whether you think it’s a good thing or the worst thing to ever happen in the history of modern civilization, it’s too late now. It’s in the past and unless you’re Dr. Who or have a flux capacitor handy, no amount of outrage or hatred can change that.

If anything, that may make it even worse. There’s a sound, psychological reason why overt personal attacks don’t work in debates. Anyone who has any debating experience or has taken any classes in the subject learns fairly quickly that these kinds of attacks are considered logical fallacies for a good reason. They don’t further the argument, nor do they change or shape the minds of others.

In fact, “South Parkdid an entire episode recently about just how counterproductive these sorts of attacks can be. They showed with their trademark vulgarity that just insulting someone only makes them more defensive and more determined to justify their actions, no matter how irrational they may be. This is also why debates with creationists are so counterproductive.

If there are legitimate reasons to oppose Mr. Pai’s decision regarding net neutrality, and I believe there are, then insulting or attacking him is the quickest way to ensure that neither he, nor his supporters will listen. They’ll just dig in even more, clinging to every reason and excuse they can to justify their decision. At that point, neither yelling nor rational discourse will have any meaningful effect.

I don’t deny the passion and the sincerity of those who decry the recent FCC decision. I get why they’re singling out Mr. Pai for such scorn. He’s the chairman of the FCC. He’s the one who signed off on this decision. It’s his name on the dotted line. He’ll bare a larger chunk of responsibility than most once the consequences of his decision set in.

Be that as it may, that doesn’t mean anger and hatred are the best ways to combat that decision. I know that sounds like the kind of touchy feely crap that has no place on the internet these days, especially on the unfiltered platforms like social media and 4chan. However, there is some merit behind a less heated approach and it has precedent.

It comes courtesy of a man most of us knew growing up as kids. His name is Fred Rogers, host of the long-running children’s program, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Beyond being a wholesome kids show, Fred Rogers might have been the nicest man to have ever endured these harsh modern times.

He did this by being caring, compassionate, and completely genuine in everything he did. When there was something terrible happening, he didn’t focus on the negatives. He looked to inspire hope. He did it after the September 11th attacks. He did it every day on his show for decades. He also did it in front of Congress.

Back in 1969, Congress was looking to cut federal funding to PBS, calling it an unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer money. Mr. Rogers, who relied on public broadcasting to get his show to the masses, decided to take action. He didn’t do this by using John Oliver’s approach of incessant and childish mockery. Instead, he used the same caring, compassionate rhetoric he used to inspire children.

It worked too. In fact, it worked so well that instead of cutting PBS’ budget, it actually got increased after Mr. Rogers’ testimony. He did all that without a single mean tweet, angry rant, or public shaming campaign. He just reached out and connected with these powerful people with sincerity and heart and they responded.

That is how you exact meaningful change in a tense debate. That is how you get someone to listen to your arguments, even if they’re not inclined to accept them. Insulting or yelling at them only gives them reason to shut you out. Show a little heart, as Mr. Rogers did every day, and people will respond.

I don’t know if it’s too late to use that approach with Ajit Pai, but I do know that the debate over net neutrality isn’t over. There will be other chances to confront the issue and change the course of the debate. There will be other people not named Ajit Pai who will end up making this hard, unpopular decisions.

When that time comes, anger and outrage will do little to move the conversation forward in a meaningful way. There’s a right way and a wrong way to convince people of what the right thing to do is for a complex issue, such as net neutrality. Even if the ways of Mr. Rogers aren’t enough, the ways people are using to attack Mr. Pai can only do more harm than good.

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