Friday, March 17, 2000

George Mindling Column 3-17-2000

Traffic Jam on the 'Net


Everyone in Port Charlotte knows when the snowbirds are in town. The number of cars and vans on Tamiami Trail skyrockets. Traffic moves slower, delays are longer, and collisions are much more frequent. However, I can tell when the season is in full swing without driving anywhere. I simply try to sign onto the Internet.

Unless I sign on my Internet Service Provider, or ISP, early in the day, I get a busy signal most of the time. I can count on slower line speeds and more "knockoffs" when I finally do access the Internet. What is happening? More traffic.

The snowbirds are bringing their PCs with them. What used to be a 10- minute long distance call to the kids is now an hour and a half of surfing the net and checking e-mail. How about the year round residents? Yes, they too have found the Internet. With the arrival in the last year or so of Office Depot and now Circuit City, to compete with the established Staples, the average walk in consumer has a myriad of selections and prices of PCs from which to choose.

There have always been many good, smaller PC computer shops and offices around, but they simply don't have the marketing clout of the big name retailers. The large retailers have been offering "almost free" (read the fine print) name brand PCs with I three-year obligations to a specific ISP. They have been selling like hot cakes.

As a result, the local concentrator sites for ISP access to the Internet are swamped. The telephone line that starts inside your house ends up in the local switching offices. When you pick up the receiver, you complete a basic circuit back to the office that says your telephone just went off hook, and you want to connect to somebody. The system connects your line to a dialing facility and gives you back a basic response that says "dial tone:' You are now ready to input the routing information by dialing the number. So far so good. If that number you dialed isn't already connected, then you get to connect to that port, and the phone you are calling rings. Of course. what really happens is far more technical than all that, and it all happens in microseconds.

Unfortunately, there are only so many lines and numbers. When there are more requests for connections than there are facilities, the infamous fast busy signal is returned to your telephone. Wait a few moments and try again. Hopefully, someone will hang up and you can get in.

The snowbirds certainly aren't going to stop corning. After all, we spend huge sums of money to make sure they return year after year. The problem seems to be the conviction that the area isn't going to grow enough to sustain the expansion of facilities during the off season. There are alternatives to the telephone access to the Internet, such as cable modems and even special satellite dishes. which unfortunately still require a telephone connection. For the average consumer, POTS (plain 1 old telephone service) is the only workable solution. If the roads aren't upgraded, the traffic jams will get worse.

The same with your telephone. Our area is definitely growing and expanding. More and more of our seasonal visitors are here year-round. They are harder to spot because they just change license plates.

George Mindling © 2000

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