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Day 174: Fiddling While the Web Burns

Count Blogula is in the house, yo!

I feel really well tonight, marvelously patient, pleasantly manic, purified by the virus. In contrast, the Internet remains so slow—at least on my block—that I managed to clean my house waiting for it to relax.

LONG BEFORE THE WEB: A HOT ROMAN LAMPEveryone’s downloading movies and shows off the Web when they’re not drowning in image spam that drains capacity. They should kick back and consume low-bandwidth blogs like y’all are doing. Reading me is a public service! (Around now Count Blogula should thank you all for the fan pages you’ve set up for Anna and me, proudly AKA Maskman. I’m honored.)

Before the pandemic, it was forecast that the Internet wouldn’t measure up to demand when tens of millions of workers tried to work from home. Indeed, corporations expecting their internal communications traffic to flow easily onto the Web wound up getting less from stay-home staffers whose messages sometimes moved at dialup speed.

This let workers direct their attention to more important matters, such as the hot new home-porn industry that’s sprung up. “Tape my wife, please” has become the password to a home-cam craze that features trapped and bored Americans subscribing to one another’s pandemic exhibitions. It’s not just wives, of course: Plenty of hubbies and in-laws are exposing their deepest yearnings to strangers. Missoula Housewife has rocked the Web, but Laramie Lumberjack is hot on her tail. Rocky Mountain fleshbloggers are making serious money.

Domestic digital smut inspired some Flagellants to attack cable maintenance trucks while I was sick. (The driver they whipped wasn’t amused.) The government says it’s taking names to prosecute when bird flu subsides—porno celebrants, not Flagellants.

Even chat rooms of a sexual nature have been near-impossible to enter, crashing for days at a time as proprietors race to add servers. The telecommunications industry didn’t plan much better. I’ll never forget the executive who said ISPs would route traffic away from areas whose inhabitants were very ill and toward those that registered better health. Pandemics don’t work like that. Sometimes people get sick everywhere.

Those who said the Internet would regulate itself in line with the tenets of supply and demand were closer to the truth. The slower it got in recent weeks, the more people logged off. Or worked late at night, like me. I never know if you’ll be able to access my lines, but I’m reasonably confident I’ll be able to post them between 2 am and 6 am. (Which is why I’ll post my reaction to Hope-Simpson’s opus later, when it’s really calm.)

So far, the Department of Homeland Security—charged with keeping us all connected in a crisis—has pursued its customary dithering. Back during the mellow days of swine flu, Congress' General Accountability Office determined that DHS hadn't developed a plan to do much in case the Web frayed. DHS was indignant, according to Reuters: "The report gives the impression that there is potentially a single solution to Internet congestion that DHS could achieve if it were to develop an appropriate strategy," a department spokesman wrote the GAO. "An expectation of unlimited Internet access during a pandemic is not realistic."

What then is realistic? IT expert and flu blogger Scott McPherson has issued detailed warnings for years that the Internet would never hold up under a prolonged emergency. In predicting that the government would ultimately have to shove the rest of us aside, McPherson disclosed that key government operatives already carry cards enabling them to ensure priority access by calling a secret number once they've gotten a dial tone. "Eventually, if there is dial tone to be had, you will get dial tone," McPherson assured. "Hanging up actually means you'll lose out in the hunt for dial tone."

There Go the Little Guys

As big companies—including all significant Web vendors—pay huge premiums to boost incoming capacity, it’s getting tougher to access sites like this one. Whatever remained of Net Neutrality is doomed. I’m watching Congress lure campaign money during a pandemic by vowing to toss out what’s left of equal Web access. A lot of libertarians hated Net Neutrality, but entrepreneurs and bloggers aren’t going to be able to find their own sites at this rate.

Want to reach No problem! Want to read a blog about some obscure disease that might kill everyone next year? Write it yourself. Want to launch a wiki? Get some pigeons. (Doh, I forgot!) "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one," said a dead boxing writer named A.J. Liebling. It took 36 seconds to look it up free and it’s still true.

The ‘reform’ won’t even help consumers. A lot of the slow-mo timing issues we face are caused by local jams. In other words, selling elite Web access won’t necessarily enable us to download faster unless and until the telcos and cable companies rewire our neighborhoods. We’ll merely pay more for whatever the ISPs see fit to pipe in.

No matter that the pandemic will have ended by the time the proposed Internet Security Act throws us under the wheels of big carriers and vendors—and incidentally makes our private communications accessible to any official who cares to look, even for unofficial reasons.

We won’t be able to sue for any privacy invasions. A cop could virtually hack your pc and loot your bank account without consequence, the way some experts read this thing. (I particularly recommend anything from the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington.) Quick, let’s trash our remaining freedoms before H5N1 goes away!

The president’s half-baked denunciations of ‘naysayers’ and ‘peddlers of mistrust’ offer none of the usual assurances that dissent will always be welcome in Washington. (Still no comment about the recent violence on the White House lawn.)

Americans always think now is forever. This is a great time to buy stock and real estate if you have cash—and a rotten time to start a blog no one will be able to read once commercial traffic buys priority.

Power-wise, major chunks of the country are falling into blacked-out chaos. There are so many stories of people being shot for sneezing on other folks that I smell an urban legend. When it can get through, spam throughout our proud nation has turned into a lofty variant on Nigeria. Hey sir, send me your money & I send you miracle protection!

Dang, that’s what I do.

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