Over the course of the last two decades, the internet has become nearly ubiquitous. From the ages of rare dial-up connections, our relatively reliable 4G network and endless options for free Wi-Fi at public establishments is its own kind of digital paradise. However, the internet isn’t perfect, and if we want to build a world where our entire population has fast, reliable, and affordable internet access, there are a number of problems we’ll need to solve.
The Biggest Standing Internet Issues
These are some of the biggest problems facing our development of the internet:
1. Global inconsistencies in internet availability. One of the internet’s biggest advantages is its ability to connect people all over the world—but that world appears significantly smaller when you realize how unavailable or slow the internet is in many countries other than the United States, Japan, and other world leaders. Many African countries like Chad, Niger, and Somalia have single-digit percentages of their respective populations with internet access, and internet speeds vary wildly from country to country. If we want the fullest possible use and benefit out of the internet, we need to take measures to assure the greatest number of people—from countries all over the world—have reliable access. Companies like Facebook are trying to solve this problem by beaming internet to remote locations via automatically piloted balloons, but it will be some time before the world is fully connected.
2. The ever-rising demand for bandwidth. Consumers are hungry for more bandwidth, and that increasing hunger isn’t going to wane for a long time. Consumers want higher-definition movies, faster and more frequent points of information retrieval, and more advanced user interfaces for their favorite apps and websites. That results in a projected 30-40 percent annual increase in bandwidth demand for the next several years—and somebody needs to design an infrastructural network capable of supporting that.
3. Unexpected fluctuations in use. Internet companies have learned to expect a kind of ebb and flow to internet use. Late at night and early in the morning, few people are accessing content online, but during peak working hours and prime time, people stream large volumes. This isn’t problematic when you know what to anticipate; the problem comes with unexpected fluctuations, which can pop up at any time—for unpredictable reasons. Companies like 10Gbps.io are attempting to resolve this by using unmetered bandwidth dedicated servers with high uplink potential to provide ample reserve for their users.
4. Cybercriminal access. It’s a good thing that the internet is as widely available as it is, but that also means it’s available to hackers and cybercriminals—and wider access means more potential targets. There’s no way to eliminate cybercrime, as improving technological defenses simply results in more innovative hacking to get around them. However, we can better educate consumers and give them the resources necessary to protect themselves—even with simple measures, like choosing stronger passwords.
5. Overreliance on major corporations. Chances are, you’re using an internet provider like Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner, or CenturyLink. There are a small number of telecom companies capable of providing high-speed internet access, and our reliance on those major corporations leaves us vulnerable to the decisions they make—including price rate hikes and new paradigms for internet provision (including bandwidth and/or download caps). Legislation on the provision of internet to consumers is limited, and competition is too thin to keep these companies in check with one another. Hopefully, new players or significant corporate breakups will introduce some much-needed differentiation to this group.
6. Patchwork fixes. This is a mentality problem rather than an infrastructural problem, but it still has a significant impact on how the internet is available (and when). Most internet providers and service providers are focused on providing uninterrupted service, and promptly respond to emergencies in an effort to minimize downtime. This isn’t bad by itself; the problem is, many organizations resort to “patchwork” fixes, temporarily correcting systems to restore internet service without addressing the infrastructural roots of the problem (or innovating new solutions that bypass them). This keeps the internet stuck in place, and keeps technicians putting out fires rather than preventing them from happening in the first place. For example, technicians may respond to an internet outage from a damaged underwater cable by repairing the cable, rather than better protecting the cable, or attempting to find a backup source of data transference.
The “internet” is commonly misunderstood as a freestanding entity, but there are many moving parts with many responsible parties for their development and oversight. It’s going to take collaboration from multiple industries and multiple companies, from major internet providers to tech companies and even governmental organizations to make the infrastructural and cultural changes necessary to pave the internet’s future. As the foundational technology for the information age, the internet continues to be one of the most important vessels for the progression of our society (including other technologies), so it should be one of our top collective priorities.