Netflix will improve: But first, Internet needs to update itself

By Jerome Stuart Nichols | Life Editor
Added October 5, 2011 at 6:47 pm

I have always loved Netflix. I think the company is one of the greatest technological success stories in history. They came from nowhere, with a totally new and unproven business model and became a revolutionary, multi-billion dollar, publicly traded company. It seems like they’ve lost some of their mojo recently, but overall, they’re still riding high.

Now that they’re set to ditch their original business model, DVD by mail, for streaming video on demand, the thought occurs, “Will they succeed?” If you go by common wisdom, now is a good time to go all in on red. I’d be right with them if I wasn’t so certain that streaming is not a viable business model; at least not yet.

The idea of streaming is beautiful. The potential of having every bit of media you could ever want right at our finger tips at any moment is incredible. That was the promise of the Internet, to have the whole of human knowledge sitting on a server where anyone could access it. As of yet, that hasn’t really panned out.

The Internet we have today feels more like a balding and extremely annoying middleman rather than the svelte and extremely helpful concierge we were promised.

Yes, I know. Google is amazing. Facebook is awesome. Every time I visit Wikipedia a chorus of angels descends from the heavens. Yet, as I sat staring through a rapidly growing fury at the progress bar on my Netflix standard definition stream of “Breaking Bad,” it occurred to me that the Internet sucks.

We live in a world where parallel 100MB/s fiber optic broadband Internet connections exist. Yet, the average American is only pulling in theoretical 1MB/s. In theory 1MB/s sucks. In practice 1MB/s is really more like 512kb/s down and 128kb/s up, which, in today’s high-speed world, is only slightly better than the 56k connections most of us used to connect to Napster.

I know these are first world problems and readers might think “Boo hoo, spoiled boy can’t stream Dexter while enjoying his risotto and white wine.” But, that doesn’t invalidate the concern. Plus, how could a Nigerian get reliable 3G coverage when I can’t even get a reliable WiFi router?

How in the world are we supposed to continue to innovate at the break-neck speed to which we’ve become comfortably accustomed if I can’t even watch a standard definition film without having it stop every five minutes to buffer?

This brings me back to my original hypothesis; Netflix’s new, streaming video on demand, business model cannot succeed as long as we are in this unfortunate technologic infrastructural stasis.

This wouldn’t be such a problem if it weren’t indicative of a larger scale issue that we have failed to properly address. What happens when we’ve fallen so far behind that streaming video is the least of our worries? What happens when we’ve completely lost the currently undeserved foothold we have maintained in the world of technology?

In my experience the voxpopuli seem to think the rate at which we are progressing technologically is utterly amazing, and it is. But, the progress is coming in the form of iPads, dual-core phones and Roku boxes. The progress we should be making is in the form of fiber optic connections from the node to the curb, increased wireless spectrum, net neutrality legislation, power management, stronger monopoly/duopoly regulation and increased efficiency of wireless transmission.

We’ve got iPads but we have to rely on WiFi data because 3G data coverage is anemic and 4G doesn’t actually exist. We’ve got dual-core phones but we’ve got to stay tethered to our chargers because we’ve failed to keep all areas of consumer technology growing in tandem. We’ve got Roku boxes but since they need a reliable Internet connection that doesn’t really help much.

So, what are web 2.0 companies like Netflix, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter to do if they expect to continue their dominance? The answer is very simple: they need to fight.

Worldwide technological progress is hindered by America’s stagnation. The world is being held up by a small set of greedy, short sighted and frankly rude individuals.

We’re talking about companies that have more money than any government on the earth. They could have any legislation passed that they desire; yet they’ve chosen the subtle approach. Maybe they haven’t been pushed far enough. Maybe, they’ve been regulated into silent compliance.

Whatever the reason, it needs to end. The world must not be held captive because of the corruption and greed that permeates our capitalist economy. We need to get our circuits back on track. We must start earning the title we’ve been, undeservedly, holding onto. But, most importantly, I need my effing Netflix.

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