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Through a Firewall, Darkly

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I know about the Great Firewall. I know about the Green Dam. I even know about tiny mirrors reflecting signals so that they can be analyzed before being allowed to proceed through data lines – the tiny gatekeepers of the Fiberoptic Road. Still, I’m not an expert on data, or on Internet technology. I am merely an enthusiastic Internet user. I am nearly dependent on the Internet for my communication, financial and entertainment needs, and having been raised in front of various computers, starting with the Osborne II (Two colors: Green, and Not Green), a homebrew 286 DX (yes, DOUBLE SPEED – but you had to press the ‘turbo’ button), a ‘Leading Edge’ 486 that I recall being pretty awesome and finally a succession of Intel-powered workhorses that I put to the crucial task of playing every computer game ever made, I am familiar with the hardware, the front-end of the experience. Not so with the Internet. All I know about the Internet is: It’s too slow. It cannot be fast enough. I sympathize with those traders at Goldman and other banks doing hyperfast trading – if the speed is there, why not use it? Even better, why not use it for completely trivial things, like watching 30 Rock on Hulu or downloading a new game from Steam?

The Internet in China is slow when you want to access something outside its approved network. That is mostly unavoidable. But one can get varying degrees of ‘sucks’ depending on your service provider, subscription plan and, most curiously, location in the city. Having lived in six different places in Beijing, I can say with confidence that Internet performance varies drastically from place to place, but has gradually improved over time. Previously, I lived in a fairly old but still modern building in the city center (inside the Second Ring Road, near Andingmen) and got better Internet performance than I have ever had before. It’s not even close. Latency was down, download was faster – it was super, super, shuang. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, finally, someone has gotten it completely right – a reasonably fast, dependable Internet provider. Thank you, China Unicom.

Now I live in a more modern, hip neighborhood nearer to the central busines district. Surely I’ve at least kept pace with the building inhabited by most older couples in Andingmen, right? Wrong. My Internet is atrocious. This is the first time I’ve been able to get to this page without a VPN (thank you Chinese censors!) in quite awhile, and I confess I’d mostly given up on this blog because I could not even log onto my VPN from home without everything crawling to a halt. At Andingmen, my access was so good I did everything through the VPN. At Shuangjing? Forget it. Write it down: Pingod Apartments (苹果社区) has some of the worst 2MB Internet I’ve ever experienced in developed parts of China. Why? Too many people, not enough Internets! Everyone is drawing from the same well, and the well tends to run dry around 8PM every night. Thanks a lot, China Telecom. I never thought I’d be comparing Liantong (Unicom) to anyone favorably, but even the engineer Dianxin (Telecom) sent out to make sure nothing was physically wrong with my connections admitted that Unicom has better equipment and a newer and faster network overall. But because our apartment lacks the hardware for Unicom’s ADSL…no dice! We’re stuck with Dianxin.

So it goes. I’ll try not to use my terrible Internet as an excuse for not posting more. Anyone out there know a place near Guomao with really awesome Internet?

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Written by Michael

March 10, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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