It's official: Carrier Pigeons are faster than rural Internet

It's official: Carrier Pigeons are faster than rural Internet

Summary: No, I'm not making this up. It's been tested. Carrier pigeons deliver data faster than rural Internet in the UK. It's not any better in the U.S.

TOPICS: Mobility, Browser

Take 10 carrier pigeons, strap each one with a 30GB USB keys and then race them against a typical rural Internet connection starting from a Yorkshire farm in the United Kingdom. Who do you think will win? Well, I'll tell you. The pigeons reached their destination, 120 miles away, in an hour and fifteen minutes. The Internet? It hadn't even delivered a quarter of the 300GB video file.

This was done for fun, but it was also to make a serious point. Outside of major cities, Internet connectivity is still awful. I should know. When I first moved to the Blue Ridge mountains outside of Asheville, NC, I had to go back to a dial-up connection. Yes, there are still places where dial-up is all you can do. Let me tell you right now, 56Kbps sucks dead gophers through rusty tail-pipes.

I then tried satellite Internet. The download speed was much better... when they'd let me get it. My maximum download at "High-Speed 3Mbps" each month was for 10-hours. I went through that in a day. After that my satellite network connection gave me 100-200Kbps. On top of that, the latency was dreadful. When your Internet has to go 22,300 miles, at best, straight up for its first hop even the speed of light begins to feel slow.

Don't get me wrong, when you've got nothing better. Satellite Internet from such companies as WildBlue and HughesNet is still better than dial-up. And, I'm told that these days that their restrictions on how much high-speed connectivity are a lot better than it used to be.

But, that's still making the best of a bad situation. These days I have a 20Mbps connection to the Internet via a cable connection in Asheville. Some of my friends, a few miles away, are still stuck with bandwidth or DSL connections that top out at a pathetic 768Kbps. They're not alone. Lots of people in the country have no high-speed or lousy Internet choices.

The federal government's National Broadband Plan proposes that "At least 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second." I'm not holding my breath.

The government claims that 95% of the U.S. population has access "to terrestrial, fixed broadband infrastructure capable of supporting actual download speeds of at least 4 Mbps." The key phrase there is "capable of supporting." The truth is that most ISPs do a lousy job of delivering the speed they promise. The median advertised download speed is 7Mbps. The reality is just over 4Mbps.

If you live in the country, of course, you're not going to see that kind of speed. In fact, if you live anywhere in the U.S. you're not likely to see great Internet speeds. According to the latest, 4th quarter 2009, Akamai State of the Internet report, the U.S. comes out a dismal 22nd in the world when it comes to Internet speeds.

The bottom line is that we desperately need to improve our Internet speed both in the U.S. and the U.K. And, in particular, we must speed up our Internet connectivity outside the cities. Otherwise, we might as well just leave the Internet to the birds: the pigeons to be precise.

Topics: Mobility, Browser

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Just the premise of this...

    is hillarious. Unfortuntely, it's also very much true. I work with a gentleman who runs a home-based business driven by a website and he generally sends site updates on CD via US Mail to his hosting company rather than attempt to upload changes from his home.
    • RE: It's official: Carrier Pigeons are faster than rural Internet


      Of course the pigeons could be carrying what they used to, messages on tiny bits of paper and then even rural Internet looks good.

      American's fear and suspicion of government and believing you can base a society on greed , where competition is seen as good rather than what it really is, which is the law of the jungle - great for predators, not so good for prey.

      Lacking a national infrastructure owned/controlled by a government, you have to rely on the greed/vision of entrepreneurs to provide internet to those who live rurally. Unfortunately, this means that someone has to pay for the infrastructure - not really a great idea when they can simply sell their wares in urban environments and not risk any of their profits by providing new infrastructure. Greed also means that many ISPs have more customers than their available bandwidth permits - rather than buying more bandwidth they just keep signing up customers.

      Americans should be pressing their government to provide an infrastructure for all citizens that they can let the entrepreneurs loose on, otherwise the US is always going to have terrible rural connections.

      A dear friend of mine just moved a few k out of town in Virginia. She's one of the core members of our WoW guild, and now she can't even get satellite and has some problems even with her cell, so we won't be seeing her again online for some time.

      Decent Internet access should be a right and if you need some socialism to do it, then do it ;-)
      • Internet access is NOT a right!


        ..and NO, I don't want any more socialism FOR ANYTHING! If I can't get the Internet speed I want, then I just move to where it is more readily available and cheaper. It's called "personal choice." That "choice" goes away with socialism, as do a lot of other freedoms.
      • RE: It's official: Carrier Pigeons are faster than rural Internet


        Are you aware of how the government gets the money it spends?
      • I'm sure glad you can't vote in the US!

        I also hope that you live in a government controlled country.
        Jeff Richardson
      • RE: It's official: Carrier Pigeons are faster than rural Internet

        It's narrow-minded, reactionary viewpoints like the first three responses to your post, that are the greatest threat to the United States ever.

        By not making essential technologies, healthcare and education widely available to *everyone*, regardless of income, we are weakening the competitive strength of this country to the point where China, India, and a slew of other countries are kicking our butts in areas of innovation, trade, economic growth and many others.

        Big corporations and the wealthy have sucked the life out of this country with their tools of greed and now the US is headed straight for third-world status.

        But, that's OK, because folks like SAStarling and others have already, apparently, grabbed what they need, and so they no longer have to worry about our country, or anyone else. They can just sit back fat, white and self-absorbed, while this country goes down the tubes.

        Nice going, patriots!
      • RE: It's official: Carrier Pigeons are faster than rural Internet

        Well the current government just rights out a blank check with no money in the account and just hopes it gets cashed on credit so the future generations for next 300 years have to deal with it. its kinda like writing bad checks on an empty account.
      • A "Right", really?

        Rights should be based on needs, not wants or conveniences. I feel for those people who can't get decent internet access, but will stop far short of calling it a ?right?. Playing WoW is not enough reason to make it a right, especially if it?s not important enough for this friend of yours to consider when moving. If playing WoW was such big part of her life, and a major concern; it should have been one of her criteria when moving into a new home. I'd argue that an automobile is far more important to most people than the internet, should the Gov't give us all cars?

        The Gov?t should have a role in the infrastructure, I agree, but a small one. Companies spend billions on infrastructure, and they are very efficient with that money (and sure, sometimes too greedy). If the Gov?t was to build the same infrastructure the ISP?s did, it would have cost 5x as much, and still not reached everyone. There is probably a better way, but having the Gov?t do it certainly isn?t a better way.

        For a private company to invest millions of dollars to provide a handful of people internet access in very rural areas just doesn?t make sense. It doesn?t make sense for the Gov?t to do it either, especially with taxpayer money. The Gov?t is just too inefficient and wasteful; and the need simply isn?t great enough. The Gov't can regulate effectively if it tries to, and that's their main function. But every time the Gov't tries to create, or manufacture, or ?do? a thing; the lack of experience, knowledge, complete inefficiency, ineffectiveness, and waste nullifies the ?thing? they try to do. Do you really think the Gov?t is any less greedy than a private company? The only difference is the Gov?t can print their own money and tax its people to death. At least companies go out of business.

        These people chose to live where they do, they don?t get great internet speeds, but they do get open fields, cleaner air, less congestion, less noise, etc? Sometimes, it?s about choice and trade-offs.
      • Reactionary teabaggers strut their stuff

        Of course if we listened to them, we wouldn't have rural electrification, the Federal Highway system, the telephone system, the public school system, etc...

        These are the same kind of folks who really didn't object to the Government bailing out Wall Street or spending billions on unwinnable wars in the Middle East. And God forbid they should have their own Social Security payments cut back. [i]"Not my pork"[/i], they'll say...

        We would have a totally Darwinian society where the moneyed fittest survive while the rest of us live in grass shacks and caves.

        A bunch of evil, fat hypocrites. That's what they are.
        ahh so
  • 300GB

    So, it takes a long time to pull down 300GB? Life is hard. I know. I download 300GB in a sitting *all the time.* As do all my neighbors.
    • RE: It's official: Carrier Pigeons are faster than rural Internet

      @dunraven :) I have a 60Gb/month bandwidth cap (that's upload and download combined.)
    • So now we know who is ripping off the MPAA and RIAA...

      @dunraven... Get-em boyz.
  • RE: It's official: Carrier Pigeons are faster than rural Internet

    Actually, these 100mph pigeons were only delivering 300MB, not 300GB. Although I don't know who sells 30MB USB sticks...
    • RE: It's official: Carrier Pigeons are faster than rural Internet

      @cadizoo1 Into every life some typos will fall--and without copy editors these days it happens All the time. Thanks for the catch.
  • What kind of mutant pigeons are these?

    They can travel at 100 MPH carrying a flash drive?<br><br>That said, I live in a rural area, and have a 4Mbps connection via point to point wireless. It works well for areas with low population density (the nearest
    town is 15 miles away, and has a population of 185.)

    Edit: I just looked it up. Pigeons CAN fly 100MPH. Who knew. COOL!
    • RE: It's official: Carrier Pigeons are faster than rural Internet

      @grant@... You'd fly fast to if you had to avoid hawks! When a pigeon drops a packet, it can mean more than just messing up someone's car. It could mean he's become dinner!
  • Not just speed, lack of ANY competition

    I guess I am sort of lucky, my ISP sells 3Meg DSL lines and on a really good day I get 1meg.<br><br>The thing I hate is I pay $70 a month for it and there is ZERO competition. The same ISP sells this same connection in town for $30 a month because, there is cable and wireless competition.
  • Wait a minute now

    I get my (very rural) internet via wireless from my rural electric coop for $30 a month. It gives me a consistent 1.5 Meg connection with no limits. Yeah, I know, there are far faster options in the cities, but I can't complain about either the price or performance.

    Besides, while my downloads might take a bit longer at least I don't get stuck waiting in traffic.
  • Un-fortunately for your pigeons...

    They do get either shot down by the occasional hunter, eaten by a predator, and hit by the passing 18-wheeler... Just sayin...

    Edit: So much for that 30GB packet.
  • RE: It's official: Carrier Pigeons are faster than rural Internet

    So no one used an African or European swallow to see if it was faster?
    Ron Burgundy