Waves versus the Web: Why TV and Radio still beats the Internet for delivering information when we need it most

Two things happened today that should give anyone who relies on the Internet for entertainment and information a bit of a wake-up call. That is to say most of us.

The first thing that happened was global.

A huge DoS (denial of service) attack slowed the Internet around the world. In what has been described as the biggest cyber-attack of its kind in history - services across the world have been disrupted and widespread congestion risks jamming crucial online infrastructure.

The BBC have written more about the issue here.

Already there are reports of impact upon banking and email systems as well as video services such as Netflix and Lovefilm. It stands to reason – if the global Internet is running slowly then of course services that require largish packets of the public Internet would be affected.

The second is less global and more localised.

A fibre optic cable that forms a backbone between Europe, Middle East and the Sub-continent was cut off the coast of Egypt. It has meant millions of users facing grindingly slow Internet speeds.

Of course in some ways this shows the resilience of the Internet – with services being provided through a substitute cable in the region. Let us not forget that the Internet was developed as a many-headed hydra that could lose a server or hub and still remain active. But it is also a reminder of how vulnerable we are in an age when so much of our lives rely on the Internet. 

Of course losing the Internet can be critical for business – but for consumers at home the problem is less one of losing productive time but of losing ways to waste time. It is not exactly life or death – a few hours when you can’t watch West Wing is frustrating but not exactly critical.

But could it be?

Increasingly we are consuming a great deal of our TV and Radio services via some sort of IP connection. Indeed it is not unusual to find some houses that only have IP based platforms.

We may all like to watch news on our mobile phones or time-shifted on-demand but we also like to know that the ‘old fashioned’ TV signal is still there too.

Ironically the loss of our online services is most likely to coincide with a time when we need information the most

A natural disaster, a terrorist attack, a denial of service attack, or as happened in Pakistan – a simple cable break - could slow the Internet down to a crawl or in some cases prevent access altogether. If this happens at the very time when people are relying on spreading public information then the consequences are significant.

When Hurricane Sandy blew into the West Coast of the USA last year it took out power, phones and Internet across several states. People regressed.

With no access to information on-line they reverted once again to finding out about the outside world from battery powered radio sets or TV’s run by generators. Mobile phones and laptops were overnight rendered useless. Those who had forsaken telephone landlines for VoIP connections found themselves without any way of contacting the outside world.

Similar stories abound after natural disasters around the world.

Public information about places of safety, water supplies or emergency information can work as well online as via an old fashioned radio set but when the Internet is down – the audience run the risk of being left in the dark. The benefit of ‘old fashioned’ transmissions (whether analogue, digital or satellite) is that they need not be affected by a localised event.

Most countries have some kind of emergency broadcast system – and in most cases this will mean transmissions via TV and radio. If IP based broadcasting is to become our future then perhaps it’s time to consider how we will get the message across in times of trouble. We all like the convenience, cost and modernity of Smart TVs and Internet radio but is it wise to put all our eggs in one basket?

Wesley Dodd is a media commentator, journalist and IPTV Expert.

For interviews and comments please contact Alex Andreev at alex@celebromedia.co.uk 


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