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The Internet is slow because of illegal downloads

Let’s start with the quote that set off the rage in my heart—

“You can see today that our Internet is slow. Not because it itself is slow but because a lot of people are using it,” he said

The government agency chief blamed this on illegal downloads hogging Internet bandwidth here, adding that this does not happen in countries like Germany due to stricter enforcement.

“In Germany, the Internet is fast because if you download illegally, you will be charged by the authorities.

“You can’t download illegal movies, songs and pictures there, you need to pay but we here, anything also we download illegally right up to the pictures of our grandfathers.

“That is why the Internet highway is slow but we blame the government. The government has created proper Internet highways but we don’t know how to use it. Millions have been spent on this by the government,” he explained.

So apparently, Datuk Ibrahim Saad, the  National Civics Bureau (BTN) chief  thinks that the internet is slow in Malaysia (it’s not that slow), because illegal downloads are hogging up the pipelines.

Let’s start with his first sentence, an substitute the word ‘internet’ with the name of any Malaysian highway you choose, personally I like to use the LDP:

You can see today that our LDP is slow. Not because it itself is slow but because a lot of people are using it

Hmmm, I guess in his infinite wisdom that makes sense to the BTN chief, but to me that just sounds like the highway wasn’t built properly.

Let’s go to the 2nd statement:

In Germany, the Internet is fast because if you download illegally, you will be charged by the authorities.

“You can’t download illegal movies, songs and pictures there, you need to pay but we here, anything also we download illegally right up to the pictures of our grandfathers.

“That is why the Internet highway is slow but we blame the government

Now we come to the crux of the issue. If Malaysians weren’t illegally downloading, they’d have faster internet.

Here’s 4 reasons why he’s wrong.

1. Piracy doesn’t impact speed

According to Akamai State of the Internet report, which is the defacto bible for determining connection speeds, Sweden has the 2nd highest internet speeds in the world (losing badly to South Korea), while the Netherlands is in 7th place, edging out Japan in 8th spot.

Now if there were a correlation between Piracy and connection speeds, we’d expect that the top 10 countries with the fastest connection speeds to have relatively low levels of piracy.

But both Sweden and the Netherlands have very high levels of piracy, together with the Philippines, which has one of the lowest internet speeds in the Akamai report, coming in 52nd place.

So overall, there seems to be no correlation between connection speeds and illegal downloads.

2. Illegal downloads are reducing–dramatically

When the internet was young and only geeks were using it, illegal downloads reigned supreme. I remember downloading mp3s on dial-up connection via IRC channels, it didn’t help that there wasn’t iTunes, Spotify, Netflix or even Youtube to get content legally.

But now, everybody and their mothers (literally) are online. I don’t know about your mom, but my mom doesn’t download torrent files, and as more and more people come online, the newer (and older) generations are less likely to be illegal downloaders.

Digital Immigrants like my parents, don’t even know what a torrent is, and Digital natives like my daughter and nieces have too many legal channels to download One Direction songs that they don’t care.

It seems that only my generation, the 20 to 30 something club, the Digital ‘green card’ holders,  are still downloading illegally, and quite frankly we’re an endangered species on the internet these days.

3. Legal content consumes bandwidth too…

But perhaps the most frustrating thing to me, is the assumption that ‘legal’ content somehow doesn’t consume bandwidth.

It used to be, that I download a song once, and listen to it over and over. Consuming bandwidth just once regardless of the number of times I listened to it.

Now, I stream the song on Spotify every time I listen to it, consuming bandwidth in proportion to the number of times I actually listened to the song.

Obviously streaming services like Spotify would consume more internet traffic than an ‘illegal’ download.

The same is less true for movies on Netflix, that people usually watch just once, but Netflix is still consuming a equivalent (roughly) amount of bandwidth as an illegal download would.

To say that our internet is slow, because illegal downloaders are hogging them is to assume that legal content would not consume the same amount of bandwidth, but that simply isn’t true.

In fact, Netflix accounts for 35% of US internet traffic, that having one single service consume so much bandwidth is causing network issues–but that’s a topic for a different post.

4. We have less opportunity to download legally

We have Netflix, and the Americans have Netflix.

But according to unofficial numbers, American Netflix subscribers have 7 times more content that their Malaysian counterparts, for the same price.

Another way of looking at it, is that the price per video in Malaysia is 7 times more expensive than in the US. Why are Malaysians paying so much more for the exact same content?

It’s not just that we don’t have access to things like iTunes videos etc, but even when we do the price seems inordinately high for the same content.

How can you complain that Malaysians are pirating content, when you refuse to sell it to them at the same price?

Conclusion

Plainly, the BTN chief is wrong.

There is just no proof (empirically or anecdotally) that supports his claim that illegal downloads are causing our network speeds to be slow.

Makes me wonder what kind of people we have leading the country in these agencies.

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