The day the Internet died

The inauguration of the 44th president was to be a highlight event for net weenies. They expected to enjoy full HD, full-screen streaming video right to their office or home PC. Tens of millions of people expected to watch the day’s events on their desktops. Why bother with old-fashioned broadcast channels? Let the Web deliver the news, right?


While many net users perceived the event as the culmination of net over broadcast, when it came time to deliver the goods, the Internet failed miserably. The cause for that failure is something with which we broadcasters are quite familiar. It’s called bandwidth.

It matters not whether there is one viewer or there are 1 billion viewers, a single TV transmitter can theoretically reach every one of them and never burp. It doesn’t cost one penny more or require one extra hertz of bandwidth to reach as many people as you want because it is broadcast. That old-fashioned one-to-many communication model many think died in 1999 when Al Gore created the Internet still works beautifully.

I just had to laugh as I reviewed my familiar blog sites on the Wednesday morning after the much-publicized event. The blogs were replete with complaint after complaint about “video frozen,” “stuttering audio,” “live streaming failed” and other nonprintable words describing viewers' experience in trying to watch the inauguration.

While trying to use the Internet for search functions during the day, I discovered my typically fast connection of 10Mb/s had slowed to a crawl of 25kb/s. The whole Internet performance was pretty much worthless all of Tuesday. I finally just gave up and worked on another project.

Web viewers discovered that the Internet starts to fail when simultaneous streaming reaches about 1 million. While that may be a lot of viewers for the Internet, almost any broadcast show reaches many times that number of viewers without any problem. Broadcast still works.

As the bloggers whined and moaned that their feeds were broken and unwatchable, those viewers watching on their TV sets saw brilliant HD video with stereo audio all in living color. Even though the Internet providers crowed about the numbers of streams they provided, each failed to mention that those streams were often unstable, pixilated, missing audio, stuttering and typically gave PC viewers little more than the message, “Waiting to connect.”