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. Web Guard: What is Bandwidth

 

What is bandwidth?
And why should I care?

Credit for this page to 
Caliban Tiresias Darklock
.

 

Bandwidth is a technical term for a technical subject. The origin of the word is based in radio technology, and is far too technical to go into here. In fact, the original meaning has next to nothing to do with bandwidth on the internet. It might be best to take a few classes in electronic theory or physics to learn the matter in detail. The idea of bandwidth, however, is simple.

every machine on the internet is connected by a cable (usually; there are other ways to connect computers, but cables are the most common, and all connections have and use bandwidth in the same way). This cable has a capacity; it can carry a certain amount of information, sort of like a water pipe carries water. At either end of this cable, there is some sort of computer which can send or receive data at a certain speed. The slowest of these three capacities is the bandwidth of the line; it's the fastest you can communicate between the ends. Think of the cable as a long tube with someone pouring water into it on one end, and someone draining it on the other. You can't take out more than was put in, and if you put it in too fast the water will spill (losing data).

Now, we all get water bills every month. The internet is no different. When you pay your internet bill every month, you're paying a sort of water bill; it lets you use a certain amount of your service provider's bandwidth. Your service provider, in turn, pays someone else for the cable that connects them to the internet. That person pays someone else to connect to them, and so on. In the end, you have some people that are paying a lot of technicians and network engineers to make sure all these lines keep working.

In order for your service provider to give you a piece of information, they need to use some of that bandwidth. The information might be a web page, a picture, or the latest version of your favorite software. But here is the important part. Since it costs the person who has the information money to send it, and they are not necessarily being paid by you or your service provider, they need to get that money back somewhere. So they charge the person who owns the information for that bandwidth.

What this means, in a nutshell, is that whenever you say 'send me that file', the person who owns the file pays to send it to you and you pay to receive it.

When you get a web page from the internet, all of the pictures that web page uses aren't included in the middle of it. They're just named. Your computer has to ask for them each separately (which is one of the major jobs of a web browser). So when that picture is on a different computer, whoever owns that picture on the other computer is paying to send it to you. For this reason, many people think it is a great money-saving idea to leave the pictures they find on other computers on those computers, and just point to them from their web page. If they have the other person's permission to do this, it's perfectly fine.

But we all know what it's called when someone takes your money without permission. It's called stealing. And while there aren't many actual enforceable laws about it here on the internet, we all know that stealing is wrong, and we all know better than to do it. The internet has remained largely unregulated and unrestricted for as long as it has because we have made and followed our own rules, and those rules were based on certain basic courtesies. If we can't continue to do this, someone else will come in and make our rules for us.

 

 

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This page created:
before
Fri, 25.Oct.2002

Last updated:
16:20, Sat, 10.May.2014

 
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