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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Intermittent Connectivity Still... Intermittent

I told you yesterday that I have been affected by area-wide connectivity issues the past week or so, but in looking back over my notes, I saw that it has been going on since around the start of the month. Although we are in the middle of the floods which have affected Tennessee, the outages did not occur at that time; they did not start until about two weeks later. Still, I have a good idea they are connected.

What a lot of people forget is that the Internet is just another network. At various points across the world, there are "nodes." These nodes work like your home network hub: A strong signal is sent there, and then dispersed to other stations connected to it. While there are no actual stations connected to these nodes, per se, it just means that all the stations downstream from the node are somewhat dependent on that node for their signal. When one of these nodes goes down, the signal is rerouted to get to the stations downstream from where the node is physically located. Like water, the signal takes the path of least resistance.

What I'm saying is that I'm pretty sure the connectivity issues I, and others in my area, have been experiencing are due to a lot of places being down in the general area. Although these points are not actually designated as nodes, the larger networks absolutely use them as such. For example, if Company A (in Nashville) has an ISDN line, pretty much everyone (commercial, home, et.al.) around Company A is siphoning some bandwidth from that connection, making it a default node on the Internet. If Company A loses connectivity, everyone around it is going to suffer connectivity issues, as well.

But this is not just because a major "vein" is down; it is also because the data is forcing itself through all the "smaller" stations/points along the way, resulting in network congestion. In a sense, it's a "double-whammy," but the companies will never admit that Company A - and similarly, every customer who has a "large package" connection (anything above the slowest speed) - is a default node, because that would be saying that not everyone is getting the bandwidth for which they pay.

Technically speaking though, this is not "cheating" anyone, this is just how networks behave. Yes, the providers should strengthen their networks to absolve themselves of this issue, and they do - they certainly have gotten stronger since the 1990s - but no matter what they do, the data runs through each of the points on the network, and when one goes down, every point downstream is going to suffer.

© C Harris Lynn, 2010

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