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December 30, 2013

2014 for the Web Likely to Have Highs and Lows



By Steve Anderson
Contributing TMCnet Writer



It's so often the case with, well, just about anything really, that when its future is considered, there are high points and low points to consider. There are advances that emerge to improve things, and there are unexpected glitches and hazards to slow things down, as Ars Technica's Jon Brodkin recently noted. The Internet, that part of our lives that for many only increases in importance, will prove no exception, as challenges and advancements are already coming into view.

The state of the Web in the United States in 2013 was itself mixed, as several studies confirmed what was common knowledge to many: Americans were, on average, paying more and getting less in terms of Internet access. The reasons behind this involved points on the free market system, the nature of competition, and the difficulty involved in building out a massive connection system that encompasses a chunk of ground as inherently large as the United States. This brings with it other issues, including a lack of competition in the field of connection, and along with it, a new look at the concept of net neutrality that may have some very unpleasant implications for streaming video.

The idea of ISPs establishing so-called “fast lanes” for certain kinds of Internet traffic has so many concerned that even Congress is taking a closer look at the idea. West Virginia's Jay Rockefeller, for example, wants to prevent ISPs from using data caps to target third party providers. But with newly-minted FCC (News - Alert) chairman Tom Wheeler seeming to believe that “a two-sided market” was all but inevitable and necessary, leading to things like Netflix being forced to pay more for quality access to users. This in turn would likely raise prices to the user, as Netflix would need to recoup those costs.

But competition may be poised to get a shot in the arm. Not only has Google (News - Alert) been making inroads with its Google Fiber service, fiber networks in general have been starting to make gains. Individual cities have been considering the fiber network option, and even the larger, more established providers like AT&T (News - Alert) have been looking to boost fiber service.  Many companies have been seen raising bandwidth caps and speeds alike in the wake of Google's rollout, and it doesn't stop there. Early November saw the city of Los Angeles put out a call for a fiber Internet system, and reports suggest that Louisville, Kentucky, and the Bryan / College Station part of Texas were looking to bring in fiber as well. Even New York City looked to get into the act, offering up what was said to be the biggest free public Wi-Fi system ever covering 95 blocks of Harlem.

As Wheeler said, though, it's all about the competitiveness of the marketplace. Networks like Verizon (News - Alert) are less able to dictate Internet “fast lanes” when there are a host of other providers to choose from, but the reality is that, in many places, there are simply not that many providers from which to choose. In some places, there is one provider, and that's it. That's changing, though, and the more it changes the better off the results for the user. The marketplace must be competitive before it can be allowed to freely operate, and the more networks in place, the better for all concerned. 2014 is going to be a big year for the Internet in the United States, and seeing just what develops should be very exciting indeed.




Edited by Cassandra Tucker
 
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