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Broadband high speed Internet access has surely changed the face of the Internet - and arguably, the face of much of the global environment, economically and socially. Here's an overview of how broadband has affected Internet usage:
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What Is Broadband?
A little primer regarding the primary feature of broadband—specifically, speed. For Internet usage, the speed of a connection is defined by the maximum amount of data it may be downloading at any one moment. There's no standard speed that is definitively broadband, the definition ranging from between a mere step above dial up at 64 kbs to multiple mbs. The mean bitrate of most of these is typically around 256 kbs.
Broadband Internet can be provided in a number ways. The most common way is with some sort of physical, wired connection, of which there is quite a variety of individual ways of managing that, from cables to even powerlines. However, more globally, satellite, radio and cellular broadband services are beginning to compete with wired methods of getting broadband to an area. Broadband, thus, is affecting not only urban environments, but also getting out into rural districts.
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Social Changes and Globalization
Broadband Internet is replacing snail-slow speeds available on dial-up access—or sometimes, even no Internet access at all. The entire world is made instantly at one's fingertips. News spreads seamlessly, inevitably from one continent to another. Culture from one country seeps into the culture of another. People chat with others continents away, learning the particular quirks of their culture and how, really, they're all just people. YouTube videos featuring everything from Brazilian martial arts to beatboxing flutists, Pandora music radio showcasing obscure French bands right next to mainstream BritPop hits, DeviantArt photography from the sewers of Istanbul to Sydney Australia—all bandwidth-intensive websites that require broadband to use—sites like these widen, diversify people's interests, showing them with ease what this huge complicated world of ours truly has to offer them In many ways, such global diversity and eclecticism, cultural tolerance and understanding have become a mainstays of the digital generation.
Ideally, anyway. There has been a lot of concern with the increasingly “Internet addicted” youth of the world, be they Chinese who died after playing too much World Of Warcraft or your average teen, surfing the web for hours each day after getting back from school. Being connected to the world does not necessarily translate into “worldliness,” rather, fluency in LOLcat, keeping up with the latest tabloids, and updating that MySpace page.
Is this necessarily objectively “bad”, however? Arguing that people are “wasting” too much time with their high speed Internet connections is, in many ways, fruitless, because it is often the case that if they weren't surfing the web, they'd be “wasting” their time doing other activities—watching television, partying, the like. It is merely a different medium of social and media interaction, and it's impossible to objectively say whether this is a change for better or for worse.
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Broadband As An Economic Indicator and Catalyst
The penetration of broadband into a region is now commonly used as a key indicator as to the economic health of an area, and with good reason. Broadband Internet has opened up vast new windows for businesses, allowing them to create and update business websites in real time to market to the entirety of the global market. Women in rural Somalia can suddenly sell handmade rugs to American housewives directly with no middlemen to take the profit out of their hands. Products from around the world are available for everyone to buy and sell: free market benefits everyone, from better prices to better profits, increasing the liquidity of money.
Another important effect of broadband is allowing people to work from abroad. I myself am currently writing from a train station in Birmingham, UK, en route to Dublin, Ireland. People can connect to work places that are thousands miles away, or even virtual work places, pooling talent from across the globe into a variety of different digital pursuits. Broadband has changed the economic game considerably.
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While any possible replacement to broadband is still the subject of speculation, broadband has steadily been getting faster and faster. Indeed, the threshold for what even defines broadband Internet is only getting higher—and shows no end in sight.
Trends to expect in future Internet usage? With progressively faster downloads, more bitrate-intensive processes, such as video streaming, will likely consist of more and more of a user's entire internet experience—and trend we've already been seeing with the rise of video sites such as YouTube, and the rising popularity of the use of video conferences for either business or social reasons.