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AT LARGE: Cable query

AT LARGE: Cable query

Cable Internet is cool. I know I complained a heck of a lot while I was trying to get it hooked up, but now I've got it, it's cool. I've become a download junkie. My spare time is spent watching short films on the Web, listening to music, watching the news -- I've spent hours with BBC World streaming away on my desktop, even though I could just as easily switch on my cable TV and watch it that way (in fact, the Web runs a few seconds behind BBC World on the TV). It's cooler to watch it on the Web, though, don't you think?

I switch my computer on in the morning, and the vital Web sites that I consult before my day can begin, are there as urgently as my need for them. Dilbert never looked so good. And my e-mail arrives in seconds, not minutes. Before cable, I used to hit "Send and Receive All", then go make a cup of tea (I get quite a lot of e-mail). Now, my tea intake is down considerably (and I keep telling myself my waistline will thank me eventually).

I shop, I chat, I "instant message", I watch movie trailers, I swap MP3s. I've watched "Web-exclusive" music videos by artists I don't even like. I've actually gone through the Real.com "showcase" page for people with high-bandwidth connections and watched some of the stuff available. Most of it's rubbish, of course, just filler put up on the Web so that some hype-monger could point to the "gigabytes of content" available. But the thing is, I can watch it if I want to. Previously, when I've tried to access this page, it's detected that I had a 56K modem and barred my entry. Now, I click right on through -- it's like being given the key to the executive loo. Only in reverse, if you take my meaning.

And all of this, of course, is in addition to the actual work I do -- the reason I got the cable in the first place. I shuffle large files (PDFs, Quark XPress documents, images and other bandwidth hogs) back and forth between my home in Sydney and my office in Melbourne, and I do it a lot. I tried it for a while over my old 56K and it was no fun at all. Now it's a trice. That's right, a trice. Don't know exactly what a trice is, but if anything is a trice, this is it.

Of course, cable Internet is not without its limitations, most of them imposed artificially by the vendors involved. Optus, my provider, is at least nice enough not to artificially cap the speed at which I may download stuff. There are artificial limits on the speed at which I may upload stuff, but of course there are very good reasons for this. What they are is beyond my capacity to fathom, but there you go. Stops me converting my atoms into binary digits and uploading myself to the Web, thereby becoming some kind of cyber-deity or something. I think I saw something like that in a movie, and it didn't end well.

As for volume, Optus says I can pull as much content off the Web as I want, but if I use more than 10 times the average user, I'm cut off immediately, with no warning and with no course of appeal. Brutal, but fair.

So it was with some trepidation that I checked my usage stats for the first time last week. New customers can't check their stats straight away because the nifty whiz-bang gadget for measuring usage analyses your behaviour over a two-week period. As my first fortnight ended, I certainly had reason to fear I had exceeded my allotment -- see the description of my downloading frenzy above. Surely, with all I'd been doing, 10 times the average usage would be an underestimate.

Imagine my shock and wonder at being told I was running at 0.4 times the average use of the service. Less than half. And I've not been frugal -- quite the opposite. I expected I'd be at the very least skating the edges of Optus's patience, and instead I find I'm a rank amateur at this bandwidth-consumption game. The average user is using up more than twice the bandwidth I am, and the people Optus is keeping its beady eyes on are consuming something like 25 times the megabytes I'm shuffling back and forth over the course of a fortnight. I just can't imagine there's that much content worth having on the Web.

Which compels me to ask: what the hell are all these people downloading?

Matthew JC. Powell really wants to know, so he can try it to. Tell him on mjcp@optushome.com.au


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