The Top Three Networking Innovations of the Last 25 Years: Broadband Internet

No, it’s not Netflix. But that’s close — especially given the online DVD rental service’s Watch Instantly feature. I’m talking about broadband Internet delivered in the form of DSL or cable.

Innovation #1: Broadband Internet

It should come as no surprise that high-speed Internet access is a huge deal. Remember the days of dial-up? I sure do. You’d tie up your home’s phone line to tap into an online service like AOL or an email client like Juno, inconveniencing everyone else in the house. And you’d find yourself equally irked when a housemate killed your "Warcraft 2" network game or file download because they ignored the “don’t touch me” Post-It note you stuck to the phone.

Just think of all the modern technologies we’d lose without broadband Internet access. Say goodbye to cloud computing. What good is the cloud if it takes a full day to upload a handful of chunky files? Online picture galleries? Buh-bye, unless you want Flickr to store and display images at a maximum 640-by-480 resolution. YouTube? Forget about it. Online movie rentals and streaming? Nope! Online gaming? Games based on the Build engine could work, but you can count out next-generation titles like Crysis 2.

Of course, people with intellectual property to protect might see a benefit to hopping in Doc Brown’s DeLorean and preventing the launch of North America’s first cable Internet service in 1996. Peer-to-peer file-sharing services that require little more knowledge than how to click a “download” button would have died a quick death had they been confined to a dial-up connection. Goodbye, piracy.

Many of the activities that fill our lives would wither on the constrained network speeds of a 56Kbps dial-up connection. The always-on, independent, speedy connections of broadband networking have singlehandedly transformed the way we use home networking technology. We live in a wired world, enjoying unrestrained multi-megabyte file downloads and freely streamed content.

And you know what’s really mind-blowing? Twenty-five years from now, we’ll look back on the days of “cable connections” and laugh over how slow they were.

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