09 January 2014
Ben Brooks referenced a Boston Globe article discussing the poor state of internet access in the USA. For example, in Riga, Latvia (Eastern Europe), average internet speeds are 42 megabits per second, while some receive service between 100 and 500 megabits per second. In contrast, the American Comcast service delivers a standard 20 megabits download, with 5 megabits upload.
By comparison to any of those numbers, living in Spain—or at least Andalucia—is akin to living in a third-world country.
Around the year 2000, I had ADSL installed in my Marbella home and office, delivering about 3 megabit download, and 0.5 megabit upload. What's astounding—truly astounding—is that fourteen year later, the service hasn't improved at all. And what's worse, it seems that over time capacity has been oversold, so that, for example, in the evenings the ADSL hardly works at all.
What I want to know is—why?
Is it an infrastructure problem? If so, why hasn't the infrastructure been upgraded in the past decade?
Is it a commercial problem? Could it be that Telefonica don't want to see profits eroded by providing better service at a similar cost? My understanding is that they are the infrastructure holders behind all telcos here; Is it a problem of lack of competition?
Is it a political problem? Could it be that Spanish (or local) politicians are simply unaware of what's happening in the world around them, or don't feel it's a priority?
Is it just a regional problem in Andalucia? I've seen ads for 50 megabit service in large cities like Madrid and Barcelona.
One gets used to one's circumstances, and so I didn't realize how bad we have it until I recently spent two weeks at a university in the United Arab Emirates, where I had access to internet speeds of 80 megabits per second, upload and download. There were almost 4,000 people at the event (the 2013 World Youth Chess Championship), and it seemed that regardless of the number of people connected to the wifi network, those 80 megabits stayed consistent.
During those weeks, I experienced nearly instant streaming of content from iTunes (no dealing with "This video will be ready to watch in approximately 42 minutes") and batches of photos could be thrown into Photo Stream in near real time. It was great.
Over the past few months, construction crews have been digging all around Marbella. Everybody knows that the works are related to upgrading of gas lines, but there are also rumors that fiber optic cable is being laid, to provide infrastructure for better internet access. Here's to hoping that's true.