Imbalance in Net Speeds Impedes Sharing

The Associated Press
Monday, December 18, 2006; 9:04 PM

NEW YORK -- Blame the Internet's legacy systems if Jay Glatfelter falls asleep Thursday mornings. Co-host of an online audio show about "Lost," Glatfelter must wait about 40 minutes to finish posting his program to the Internet in the hours after ABC's Wednesday night broadcast. If he were downloading it as his listeners do, the same file would take only a few minutes over a cable modem.

"At 3 in the morning, that's really brutal," said Glatfelter, 21, who lives in Raleigh, N.C. "It's an extra 40 minutes and you want to go to sleep."

The information superhighway isn't truly equal in both directions. Cable and phone companies typically sell asymmetrical Internet services to households, reserving the bulk of the lanes for downloading movies and other files and leaving the shoulders at most for people to share, or upload, files with others.

The imbalance makes less sense as the Internet becomes truly interactive. Users are increasingly becoming contributors and not just consumers, sharing photos, video and in Glatfelter's case, podcasts. In a nod to the trend of user-generated content, Time magazine recently named "You" _ everyone who has contributed _ as its Person of the Year.

It's a little-known fact because advertisements for cable and DSL services generally focus on download speeds. Glatfelter, like other Internet content providers, is stuck unless he shells out hundreds of dollars a month for business-grade services that provide equal speeds upstream and downstream.

YouTube's rapid rise in 2006 _ and Google Inc.'s November purchase of the video-sharing site for $1.76 billion _ "clearly points to symmetric traffic as being important," said John Cioffi, a Stanford engineering professor and pioneer in DSL technology.

Furthermore, people also are increasingly sharing among themselves, rather than through central servers that normally absorb the upload pressures. In recent months, Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures, Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. and other movie studios began embracing the BitTorrent file-sharing system to more economically distribute online movies.

It's only a matter of time before people will want to retrieve digital media from home while vacationing at a beach house.

Yet the ability to upload still lags _ in some cases, downloads are 10 to 15 times faster.

"The system is a hangover of the old mass media days," said Paul Saffo, a technology analyst in Palo Alto, Calif. "Some consumers are uploading a tremendous amount of information and that's the thing the establishment just doesn't get."

Cable and phone providers insist they are keeping up with demand, in many cases increasing both upload and download speeds, but they say they haven't had a huge clamoring for symmetry.

"Speed has not been an issue for most of our customers, or we'd hear about them," said Mark Harrad, spokesman for Time Warner Cable.

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