Internet Metaphors in Practice – II

A couple of years later, I installed our first Wi-Fi router, allowing us to connect our laptops to the network from almost any point in the house. But wireless connection speeds were limited to 11 Mbps while the good old ethernet wire could do 100 Mbps. Not even close. Wired connections were not only faster but also more reliable. So I used them more frequently and always carried ethernet wires on my endless travels.

In early 2003, I spent two weeks in Bangladesh on official business. I was already very familiar with Grameen Bank and GrammenPhone, but I was surprised to see that ISPs were already thriving in Dhaka. Let us not forget that, at the time, Bangladesh was at the bottom of the development ranks with massive and pervasive poverty. In any event, the local office set up an appointment to meet with one of them, Grameen CyberNet. At the meeting, the company informed us that they were deploying fiber optic cable in the upscale sectors of the city, offering Internet speeds starting at 400 kbps for 100 dollars a month. And the demand for such services was high to the point the company was running behind. While that provided further evidence showing the relevance of the uneven and combined development nature of global capitalism, I was shocked to discover that one could get better Internet access in Dhaka than back home in the developed world. But I was not ready to move to Dhaka to increase my bandwidth.

Once back home, I called the telco again to inquire about real broadband and fiber. The Silence of the Lambs prevailed. We eventually upgraded to 512 bps for about the same price but were stuck with ADSL while the world was moving ahead quickly. Competition was intensifying, however, as Cable TV companies started to add Internet access using coax cables. I was not impressed as I knew fiber was the future, never mind the rapid evolution of wireless technologies. Finally, in 2006, the telco announced that they were deploying fiber connections for residential areas in my region. But this time around, I did not get any special offers. Instead, I was asked to add my name to the waiting list.

In early 2007, a telco crew of three arrived home. They spent a couple of hours outside running the wires and installing a new box right next to the old POTS box, which was then declared dead on the spot. Once in the house, they installed a battery backup package in the basement that would allegedly keep phone service alive in case of a blackout. The battery, however, only lasted a couple of hours. They also drilled a new hole to run new wires into the house. Again, I was trying to hide I was a communist, I mean, I was a Linux user as I knew they would point the finger at me if anything went wrong with the installation process. “We only support Windoze” was the clarion call.

The dance started when I asked the crew for the IP address, default gateway, routing and DNS information to configure my Internet access. They had the info handy but were not quite sure how to proceed. So I had to configure the router and main desktop myself while explaining the various components in detail to them. Like the 1999 tech guy, they told me the company had not provided much training on the Internet side of the equation. The crew comprised traditional telco engineers and technicians who shined on wire stuff and phone service but lagged on Internet knowledge. They left three hours later, thanking me for the help and the rapid 101 Internet Protocol course.

Recall that telcos, unlike Cable TV providers, were trying to protect and maintain the already obsolete copper networks severely allergic to broadband access. My fixed phone line was running on the copper network and thus avoided digital Voice over IP, which seemed the most adequate option. Partly due to this combination of old and new technologies, the telco offered asymmetric fiber access to residential customers, amazingly. I chose the 30 Mbps upload/5 Mbps download option, priced close to what I was paying for what had become dreaded ADSL. And I used my Linux box as an IP router to connect all other home devices to the Internet without adding new hardware or software. So contrary to the usual rumors, communism does have its benefits.

This personal Internet voyage navigates on the turbulent waters of its two core metaphors, the tangible Global Information Infrastructure and its virtual and seemingly intangible characteristics. It also shows yet again that the only way to enter the virtual domain is via tangible infrastructures, even in the era where wireless broadband dominates the consumer side of the connectivity equation. However, the core global Internet backbone relies heavily on fiber optic cables.

But we also encounter two other metaphors. First in line is the electronic one or “e” that exploded in the late 1990s and was added to almost anything humans could do. And the second is the digital metaphor that emerged during the first decade of this century and eventually replaced the “e” one for the most part. So e-government became digital government and e-development switched to digital development, for example. While electronic and digital are not the same thing, both tend to reinforce the idea that Cyberspace is virtual and intangible, thus fueling the dominant Internet Imaginary that still prevails today despite evidence of the contrary.


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