The Digital Skeptic: Sandy Shows Where Web Is Weak
HARRISON, N.Y. ( TheStreet) -- Note to whomever we send to the White House tonight: Besides the national debt, foreign policy and unemployment, here's another uber-problem to solve: The "information superhighway" has turned out to be anything but super durable.
Although I am ridiculously fortunate to have escaped with only a few downed trees and a week of lost power here, Hurricane Sandy has taught me a big investor lesson: What passes for Internet infrastructure -- you know, the mishmash of the real wired, wireless, power and computer technologies virtual things run on -- is nothing more than a techno bucket of bolts.
The World Wide Web will need a worldwide rebuild before anybody ever makes any real money with the thing.
The nonworking Web
The issue with the Internet is, of course, there is no single point of contact -- or responsibility -- for keeping the Web working. We all use a mix of cellphones, wired Internet and enterprise service providers to access our digital content. Most of the time the thing hums along, safely out of sight underneath the Web's digital hood.
But because I run a cloud-based content shop -- and test cloud-based content tools in the process -- my colleagues and I were in the fascinating position of touching essentially every Web provisioning technology as the storm swept through.
We used 3G and 4G cell modems and cellular voice service from Verizon (VZ) , Clear (CLWR) , AT&T (T) and Sprint (S) to file stories and check facts. We made calls from various broadband phones such as those from Vonage (VG) . We accessed the Web with Verizon fiber as well as Time Warner (TWC) traditional cable and many others.
And as Sandy ravaged our network, we saw firsthand how these platforms wobbled from nonfunctioning to barely functioning to high-functioning -- and back again -- seemingly at random.
Here is just one example of the stubborn issues Sandy revealed: While 100-foot oak trees crushed power lines and homes, somehow Verizon fiber networking lines stayed connected to my home office. The catch is that fiber plants such as those Verizon sells need external power to function. Verizon tries to do the right thing; it installs its FiOS product with a battery backup for emergencies. But in battery mode, it turned out phone service worked, but data would not.
At times, this required -- no kidding -- a fully running back-up generator, which I'm lucky to own. But of course, gas is so dear these days it's simply nuts to run a 5,400-watt generator to power a 20-watt data line.