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Rewiring America: Preparation for Always On

Always On Internet Connection

Google made some news earlier this week when it announced that it was bringing its high-speed Internet service, Google Fiber, to Austin sometime next year. AT&T also announced that it would follow in Google’s footsteps and bring Fiber Internet to Austin.

Google Fiber made the news because it is going to offer speeds of up to 1 Gbps, which is amazingly fast. By comparison, the top-of-the-line plan from Verizon FiOS offers 300 Mbps, which is less than a third of the speed of Google’s Fiber service. It’s so fast, in fact, that when Fiber first launched in Kansas City, websites like Slate headed there to figure out to do with all that bandwidth.

It’s also news because it’s surprisingly affordable. Google offers its gigabit Internet service for $70 per month (or $120 per month including TV service). Verizon’s 75 Mbps plan will run you $69 for the first year, and $89 for the second year when you sign a two-year agreement.

To succeed in a connected world, you do need a fast, reliable, broadband connection to the Internet, but you probably don’t need Gigabit service at home… at least not yet.

It’s Getting Cloudy Out There — Especially for Gamers

A rising concern in the video game world – both computer and console games alike – is the prevalence of “always-on” games and systems, or “games in the cloud.” This means that in order to play a certain game, you must be connected to the Internet. No connection? No game. Sorry!

There are a few ideas behind this concept. The most common is that maintaining an Internet connection ensures that people can’t pirate software and get around having to pay for the game. Diablo III had this problem when it launched last year.

Remember the SimCity debacle last month? Same root problem: an always-on connection. This time, EA (which developed the game alongside Maxis) didn’t have enough server space to meet the demands of everyone who wanted to play, meaning that hundreds of thousands of people who spent $60 on the game couldn’t even begin to build a city, since the game required an Internet connection, even if you wanted to play alone.

Dark Clouds Rising

Rumor has it that Microsoft is going to unveil its next Xbox on May 21. The overwhelming consensus is that Microsoft is going to require an Internet connection for you to do anything on the console. Whether you want to watch Netflix, listen to Xbox Music or play Halo, you won’t be able to – even by yourself – without an active Internet connection.

Another idea behind an always-on console is to eliminate the used game market. GameStop is none too happy about this, going so far as to produce a study saying gamers are far less likely to buy a console that blocks used games. Rumor has it that once you put a game into your new Xbox, it essentially pairs with the console, making that disc unplayable in any other console. Want to bring that game to a buddy’s house? Have a second Xbox downstairs in the family room? Tough. Time to buy a second disc.

It was rumored that Sony’s PlayStation 4 (which was announced back in February) would require an always-on connection and would block used games, but both of those myths were debunked at the announcement. Gamers breathed a collective sigh of relief.

But the outcry against the idea of an always-on Xbox was so loud and so severe that Adam Orth, a Creative Director for Microsoft’s video game division, took to Twitter and told people to “deal with it.” Microsoft quickly went into recovery mode by saying he was not a spokesperson for the company and his views didn’t reflect the company’s. Interestingly, it seems Mr. Orth no longer works for Microsoft. Coincidence? I think not.

Deal With It

While many of you may not be gamers, this anti-piracy strategy is trending toward a paradigm shift. We’re moving into an era where digital downloads replace physical media. Imagine not being able to listen to your music collection, watch a movie you own or check out a recipe you’ve downloaded if you’re not connected to the Internet. Still loving cloud living?

Internet Have Nots

The need for an always-on connection, whether you’re talking about video games or other software, automatically excludes a certain part of the population. A recent report by the FCC shows that 19 million Americans (6 percent of the U.S. population) still live in areas where broadband Internet isn’t an option. That percentage jumps to a whopping 24 percent (14.5 million people) in rural areas.

With so many Americans not having the option of broadband service, the FCC said in its report “that until the Commission’s Connect America reforms are fully implemented, these gaps are unlikely to close. Because millions still lack access to or have not adopted broadband, the Report concludes broadband is not yet being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion.”

Even crazier is the 100 million-plus Americans who have access to broadband but don’t have it. Is it cost-prohibitive? Maybe for some, but it turns out that most of those people simply don’t care about having high-speed Internet.

For content owners, there are real benefits to an “always on” strategy. For consumers … not so much. I’m sure this is going to be a topic of much discussion over the next few months. Let’s see if Microsoft really executes on its rumored “always on” policy … it will certainly take the concept of “in the cloud” to a place it has not been before.

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More Stories By Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the host of Fox Television’s "Shelly Palmer Digital Living" television show about living and working in a digital world. He is Fox 5′s (WNYW-TV New York) Tech Expert and the host of United Stations Radio Network’s, MediaBytes, a daily syndicated radio report that features insightful commentary and a unique insiders take on the biggest stories in technology, media, and entertainment.

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