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'Bandwidth Divide' Could Bar Some From Free Online Courses 222

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the no-learning-for-you dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Bandwidth Divide is a form of what economists call the Red Queen effect referring to a scene in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass when Alice races the Red Queen. As the Red Queen tells Alice: 'It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!' Keeping up with digital technology is like that race — it takes a continual investment of money and time just to keep up with the latest, and an exceptional amount of work to get ahead of the pack. 'The question is, What is the new basic?' said one researcher. 'There will always be inequality. But 100 years after the introduction of the car, not everybody has a Ferrari, but everyone has access to some form of motorized transportation through buses.' Well, not everyone, but even fewer people have the online equivalent. Colleges considering MOOCs should remember that."
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'Bandwidth Divide' Could Bar Some From Free Online Courses

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  • Internet = Utility (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, 2013 @09:10PM (#43074721)

    Simple as that.

    • by lexsird (1208192)

      It's called augmenting your infrastructure so that you can encourage growth and development. One could also call it "watering the garden of capitalism", if you encourage people to be prosperous, you can apply taxes, generate revenue for other augmentations to your society, that in turn generate more prosperity. You just have to have the balls to throw the right things under the bus for the betterment of all.

      The greed of a few shall not out weigh the needs of the many. It doesn't matter if it's grandma's bak

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, 2013 @09:14PM (#43074751)

    I find it Intereresting and disturbing that in the US we provide "Universal Service" for many old technologies - US Mail, Analog Telephones, and T1s, but we don't even have a discussion about universal broadband.

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by Frosty Piss (770223) *

      I find it Intereresting and disturbing that in the US we provide "Universal Service" for many old technologies - US Mail, Analog Telephones, and T1s, but we don't even have a discussion about universal broadband.

      I'm sorry, don't you understand Free Market? There's money to be made here... What are you? Some kind of leach?

    • We don't have a discussion about universal cell phone access or universal groceries access either. That's because private companies are providing it just fine. Just about everyone in the US has access to at least basic level of broadband service if they want it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by XxtraLarGe (551297)

        We don't have a discussion about universal cell phone access...

        Check your cell phone bill next time. You'll see a line on there for something like "Universal Service Fee" which is a tax the phone companies pass on to you, so somebody can get their "Obamaphone".

      • by hedwards (940851)

        Not really, around here it was only in the last year or two that some of the neighborhoods received upgrades from 1.5mpbs maximum download rates. And Seattle was one of the most connected cities in the country. 1.5mbps is insufficient to stream with decent quality these days without spending a ton of time waiting for the video to buffer.

        Every other option has a cap that would prevent access to this sort of service.

        So, no, not everybody has access to basic broadband service if they want it, 1.5mbps was barel

        • by Rockoon (1252108) on Monday March 04, 2013 @10:17PM (#43075105)

          So, no, not everybody has access to basic broadband service if they want it, 1.5mbps was barely acceptable 10 years ago.

          Thats almost twice the bandwidth needed for 480p youtube as tested just moments ago using the free educational video made by sixtysymbols on transistors (link to video [youtube.com])

          Note that the MAXIMUM quality of these videos is 480p, and the final raw badwidth count (includes packet overhead and so on) was 98.1KB/sec which is about 785kbps.

          It seems to me and I think I have shown it to be true that people are actually crying about the availability of highest quality media, and not so much access. That these two distinct things get equated is the consequence of people so easily stooping into the realm of intellectual dishonesty in the name of wants instead of needs.

          • by hedwards (940851)

            Perhaps theoretically, in practice, even with my 5mbps connection, I rarely see speeds that fast.

            And considering how much the taxpayers have paid to greedy ISPs, I think it's perfectly understandable to demand something for it.

          • by Zadaz (950521) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @01:51AM (#43076145)

            Okay, so how about my home connection. 56K is what we pay for, but we get 41K when the weather is good. It's 1/10th the speed of my 3G phone (When I'm in range of a tower). That is no where near enough to stream even the smallest YouTube video. And that's the best we can get at any price. I'm a couple miles outside a small midwestern town. Wireless is our only option and the only wireless data that gets any rections here is a 2G tower 12 miles away. With a directional antena we can duplex that. The phone lines here are crap so no DSL, even satellite is out because we don't have an upload signal path. We're not that unusual.

            With that meager bit of data we can email. (And /.). But using the web is incredibly painful. Video is straight out. Skype doesn't happen. System updates are flaky and take all day to download. Web pages aren't made for connections this slow any more, they're hundreds of K, and can take minutes to load, and some connection will often get lost, which will bork the whole page.

            No one uses the internet here. They don't know what it's for. They don't know they can find out anything with it, that they can learn the skills to take them further, or talk to people all over the planet. Or get movies on demand! You won't hear much from them around here because they don't know about Slashdot. Or online discussion forums in general. The Internet is a thing that they talk about on (broadcast) TV.

            So while some people might bitch about only getting 1.5mbs, there are no shortage of people in the United States who essentially can't use the modern internet.

        • by jma05 (897351)

          > 1.5mbps is insufficient to stream with decent quality these days without spending a ton of time waiting for the video to buffer.

          Where there is a will, there is a way. Most of you are just spoilt with high speeds and forgot how resourceful you can be (I learned my tricks in dial-up days) :-). I am in India now with a 1 mbps connection ($10/month). I can get faster Internet and can afford way more. But I chose not to for reasons I won't go into now.

          I just use browser plugins, downloaders or my own Python

    • Would the equivalent not be a public library? Bandwidth isn't an issue (at least at my tiny local branch) since I see people there stream videos on their Facebook and Youtube all the time. Which makes me think access isn't as much of an issue as converting people who consume to people who invest in themselves. Now, global access disparity is another issue, and it'll take more than the US alone to deal with it.

      • Closed on weekends (Score:4, Interesting)

        by tepples (727027) <tepples@nOSpAM.gmail.com> on Monday March 04, 2013 @11:32PM (#43075485) Homepage Journal
        How can someone who works or goes to school Monday through Friday visit a public library that's closed evenings, Saturdays, and Sundays?
        • by firex726 (1188453)

          I have always wondered why places like Libraries and many stores are open during the time when most people are at school or work?

          My bank keeps such short hours that I have to take off work early just to visit.

        • by kwerle (39371)

          Your local library is closed on the weekend? All our regional libraries of any size are closed Sunday Monday and are open on Saturday. Some of the tiny ones are only open 2-4 days a week. I think they mostly run as book drops for the larger branches.

    • by grcumb (781340) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @01:57AM (#43076179) Homepage Journal

      I find it Intereresting and disturbing that in the US we provide "Universal Service" for many old technologies - US Mail, Analog Telephones, and T1s, but we don't even have a discussion about universal broadband.

      That's all well and good, and I agree that access to internet should be taken as a basic service, but did nobody else notice the real evil in this story:

      The e-textbooks used in the project, run by the Fairfax County Public Schools, worked only when students were online—and some features required fast connections.

      Why the fuck was there not an offline version of this textbook? I don't want to go all Stallmannite, but the problem right here is not lack of bandwidth. The problem here is a fucking textbook that can't be downloaded and used offline.

  • by jamesl (106902)

    The difference between those who have access to fast connections and those who have only dial-up speeds or access via a cellphone is "bigger than people think," he said.

    Quick. Name three people you know (not just people you've heard of) who fall into the above category because "fast connections" are not physically available to them.

    • by SJHillman (1966756) on Monday March 04, 2013 @09:18PM (#43074781)

      Depends on what you mean by "available". If you mean "geographically available", then I can think of a few dozen people I know who are limited to slow dial-up or spotty satellite that doesn't work half the time due to weather. If you mean "financially available" then I can think of a few dozen people that might be able to scrape it together each month, but it would be a really poor financial choice.

    • What makes you think this is a first world issue? "We" only make up about 1/7th of the world's population.

      I realize that this may come as a shock to you, but the world is bigger than you seem to think.

    • by Jaktar (975138)

      My manager, his boss, and at least 3 of the operations department plus myself.

      Well, that wasn't hard.

    • The difference between those who have access to fast connections and those who have only dial-up speeds or access via a cellphone is "bigger than people think," he said.

      Quick. Name three people you know (not just people you've heard of) who fall into the above category because "fast connections" are not physically available to them.

      My Uncle Frank, my friend Diedre's parents (I've met them), and my friend Darrun. You probably don't know them.

    • by Dynedain (141758)

      My brother, his wife, my aunt and her 2 kids.

      My brother and his wife live within the city limits of one of the 10 largest cities (by population) in the US. Yet his options are dial-up, or cellular data. And no-one is offering unlimited cellular data plans in the region anymore.

      Yet a facility half a mile further out of town than him can get fiber. Rural broadband coverage in the US is shit because only a limited number of properties immediately adjacent to switching points can actually get any connectivity.

    • by cffrost (885375)

      Quick. Name three people you know (not just people you've heard of) who fall into the above category because "fast connections" are not physically available to them.

      What is the purpose of this exercise?

  • by 50000BTU_barbecue (588132) on Monday March 04, 2013 @09:24PM (#43074819) Homepage Journal
    to strip off all the scripts and redirects and google metrics and all the crap that chokes away the real bandwidth of the hardware. Then you can access the actual *information* you wanted.
    • by jschottm (317343)

      Video is bandwidth intensive. There's no way around that (though H.265 will help compared to the current generation). Whether video is strictly necessary for online education is another question, but very little of Coursera's network requirement is "scripts and redirects and google metrics."

      They do (at least for the classes I took) let you just download the videos. No overhead there and even if you live in a rural location without access to high speed internet, if you can make it to a library or place with

      • OK then one person can d/l the video and then sneakernet it to his or her pals and so on.
      • by Rockoon (1252108)

        Video is bandwidth intensive.

        Yes, but not as much as people seem to think.

        480P youtube H.264 uses about 100KB/second. This is more than enough quality for baseline educational resources..... its been good enough for PBS for 40+ years.

        • by jschottm (317343)

          Do you mean kb/sec or kB/sec? Capitalization matter. If it's the former, you're wrong (480p YouTube is about 768kb/sec), if it's the latter, that's true but it's still way beyond the capacity of dial-up and some cell connections.

      • by Animats (122034)

        very little of Coursera's network requirement is "scripts and redirects and google metrics."

        Yes, it is. Look at the source of their home page. They load stuff from "ogp.me", lots of stuff from "cloudfront.net", jQuery, then they "boot up Coursera", as a comment in the code says. The home page even has a GIF animation of a loading icon for when this is taking some time. The loader creates a new document which is forced in with "document.write()". The new document loads still more Javascript, chosen by the loader.

        Amusingly, there are special cases not only for Opera but for the Playstation 3 br

        • Yes, but Coursera's a revolution that there's no going back from.

          Translation: all those scripts, refreshes and document.writes()s mean that the browser back button doesn't work....

    • Agreed. Blocking javascript and blacklisting the advertising sites makes quite a few pages load faster, except for the recalcitrant many pages which seem to hang on waiting for javascript payloads from google googlesyndication gravatar doubleclick facebook twitter facebooks-content-delivery-network and every like-it-plus-it-tag-it-tweet-it-inhale-it button available on the interwebs. God-damn-gez-und-fucking-heit!!! Too many things that block what you want.
      .
      The other way to speed browse is to disable im
  • by c0lo (1497653) on Monday March 04, 2013 @09:58PM (#43075015)

    'The question is, What is the new basic?'

    Answer: VB.NET - even if it isn't that new, there's none newer that that. (question is: will it still rot your brain?)

  • by sdnoob (917382) on Monday March 04, 2013 @10:19PM (#43075109)

    TFA refers to a pilot project by fairfax county schools. their project would not have failed miserably if they implemented it properly: with offline-capable ereaders preloaded with the proper texts and materials.. but instead, they opted for content and a system that required internet access (presumably due to drm at the publisher's insistance) to use, which limited access to those with sufficient internet access at home AND limited _where_ students could read and study their texts. a preloaded offline ereader would have eliminated those major issues with a conversion to digital texts. if fairfax county school board had listened to complaints and concerns expressed prior to them choosing this defective system, and not gotten memorized by slick salesmen, their system _could have been_ a model for public schools nationwide - instead they just fucked up big time.

  • by cervesaebraciator (2352888) on Monday March 04, 2013 @10:47PM (#43075227)

    I've taught courses online for a regional university in Appalachia and had to design the courses specifically with bandwidth limitations in mind. Of the students who had home internet access, some were limited to dial-up or very slow DSL. Many students rely on internet access at public libraries and thus I had to create materials they could bring home for study. I could never assume constant access on the student's part. I made heavy use of public-domain sources as primary texts (I'm a historian), knowing these could be readily transferred to any machine, even a cell phone if necessary (of course, cell phone access can kind of suck out here too).

    Courses can still be taught under these conditions, but a teacher cannot use multimedia as a crutch and must focus instead on course structure, careful selection of readings, and heavy use of lower bandwidth tools like message boards. I made any multimedia material optional and supplementary.

    The question of technology, however, is not the chief problem with online courses in these circumstances. The chief problem is that the courses themselves are being used to advance the notion that education is a series of hoops, the easier to jump through the better. They're an administrator's dream. More degrees generated at lower cost.

    • by stenvar (2789879)

      Courses can still be taught under these conditions, but a teacher cannot use multimedia as a crutch

      Unless your video format is really broken, you don't have to do anything special for video: tools like Miro will download video for offline playing. It's trivial to set up and use.

      • Unless your video format is really broken, you don't have to do anything special for video

        Publishers of videos distributed under proprietary commercial licenses tend to prefer intentionally broken formats [defectivebydesign.org]. These publishers use digital restrictions management to deter casual copyright infringement or charge the advertisers per impression.

      • Good tip. If you've ever worked in tech support, however, you know that what is trivial for the end user is often surprising. I did tech support as a u-grad, and teaching these courses has brought back less than fond memories. Honestly, half of what I do teaching online courses is tech support. A person can try to preempt some of this by putting instructions for everything on the front page. But what does one do when even pdfs become a problem?
    • by stenvar (2789879)

      They're an administrator's dream. More degrees generated at lower cost.

      Heaven forbid that we should actually lower the cost of education! Do you prefer the cost of education to keep going through the roof and then raise taxes on everybody to pay for it? Or what?

      • I'm all for education. It is, after all, my vocation. However, nota bene: degrees!=education. What I'm not for is continually raising costs for students while lowering costs for universities. That is what happens with these courses. They often cost quite as much as regular courses and the students most likely to take them (in my experience) are largely non-traditional students: i.e. students who have kids, a full time job, several classes and are trying to better their lot. If they're lucky enough to gradua

  • I don't understand (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Monday March 04, 2013 @10:59PM (#43075277)
    I have been taking some excellent coursera courses which are probably somewhat typical in overall bandwidth needs. The only real bandwidth hog would be the videos which I usually download to my iPad. So short of a 56k Modem I might have to wait for these videos but with only minor delays almost any crappy bandwidth would allow me to take these courses. Also keep in mind that determined people also have sneakernets. That is someone in my group of friends will grab the data and then using USB memory sticks will distribute the goods around. I remember in the early days of the Internet one friend would grab something and then burn the amazing hundreds of megs to CD. And before that one person would grab 3 or more floppies from a BBS and then we would all faithfully copy them. Before that it was pure floppy to floppy movement of data. So saying that you are on the wrong side of a bandwidth margin is just bizarre.

    So unless all the MOOCs suddenly change their model to highly interactive 3D environments I suspect that most learners with the most moderate internet access will be just fine.

    Only the caveat of some kind of skype type live learning would demand goodish bandwidth but I don't see much education heading that way except for those services that are determined to maintain their tutoring per hour business models which really wouldn't apply to the same people who are supposedly on the wrong side of the digital divide.

    And on top of all that my experience in poorer countries is that internet access is really cheap by our standards and their infrastructure is leapfrogging ours. In Jamaica for instance for $40 a month you get unlimited 3G data access nearly everywhere along the coast and as for tethering they sell cool d-link wi-fi routers that you put a SIM card into to have home internet.

    If you are a kid in a poor place a bit of industriousness in obtaining a crap old pentium(or raspberry pi), a CRT, a USB stick, and occasional internet access and you will be able to fill your brain with all you ever wanted. Add in an NGO with the goal of making this easier and whole communities will be just fine.
  • ... than high speed internet? Dude, where the hell do you live? It sure as hell ain't anywhere I've ever heard about. I do also have to point out, it hasn't been one hundred years since the creation of the internet, yet you expect the same level of infrastructure to be in place after, what, some forty years?

    Speaking a bit more on the article, as a resident in Maryland and 20 miles from DC, it's bullshit. The DC metro area has access to very high-speed broadband - some people just choose not to purchase it,

  • my wife is taking mostly online classes, and though a 4 year degree progressing to a bachelors the only class that was bandwidth intensive was Spanish cause they had some shitty videos to watch

    really people, its some forums, email, upload a word doc or a pdf and email

    not ground breaking stuff here, its education ... your lucky if they surpassed 1998

    • The situation is changing very rapidly. Everyone wants the whizz-bang of video-rich "interactive" environments, and the CMSs that they're using are build on increasingly bloaty architectures.
  • Cause for "divide" (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jamesl (106902) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @08:19AM (#43077511)

    This is so far down the page that likely no one will see it but I am posting for the record.

    From Pew ...

    In April of 2009, 7% of American adults age 18+ used dial-up internet at home. (As of April 2012, this number is 3%) These are the reasons they gave for not switching to broadband.

    Price must fall -- 35%
    Nothing would get me to switch -- 20%
    Don't know -- 16%
    It would have to become available where I live -- 17%
    Other -- 13%
    http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/May/Pew-Internet-Broadband.aspx [pewinternet.org]

    So, in this survey, only 17% of 3% said that high speed internet was unavailable.

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