For more than a year now I have had the priviledge of living in Uruguay while working on an Internet venture. Unpacked this means:
- Living In Uruguay: I've gone from being the longest staying guest in my initial tourist accomodation/residence to renting a residence, signing associated contracts, and generally being embedded amongst the Uruguayos. I drink the tap water, I have favored kioskos, and I know which Pichis and Planchas belong in my barrio1 and which don't. Terraforming though slow is happening. My social contacts have shifted from largely being weighted towards various types of nomads to locals and fellow immigrants.
- Internet Venture: By this I mean physical machines, actual cables, some tangible keys in addition to cryptographic ones, and a number of contacts with the upstreamprovider that I have talked to more face to face than any other communications channel. I get the priviledge of looking at the machines, checking seals, and more when the act up. In the search for a datacenter I got to appreciate how rare an independent non-Equinix datacenter is that doesn't make cloud automation software for industrial laundries their primary business.2
Uruguay is similar to Canada in some ways with an economy supported mostly by agriculture, tourism, and some mining. While the popular analogy is proposes Uruguay as Argentina's Canada, during my time here Brasil has appeared to be the bigger influence in everything except the langauge. Manufactered goods of any sophistication come from Brasil, China, or Europe. Some consumable consumer goods of Argentine manufacture appear on store shelves, but Argentina largely doesn't have the prowess to be competitive. The 20th and 21st century history of Uruguayo and Argentino economic relations is Argentina falling from emergent world power to a regional abcess that won't heal and Uruguay catching toxic shock and other nastiness through physical proximity and cultural channels. A more accurate attempt to analogize relations in the region to Anglophone countries that Uruguay is the United Kingdom if Agentina takes the place of the US and Canada if Brazil is the US. If you try analogically mapping South American countries to US states, Argentina is Illinois and nothing else maps cleanly.
Mind that as the dollar printing press loses strength due to Bitcoin and other reasons3 that US position appears as though it will approach Argentina's more rapidly than Argentina itself did.
For all of this, a residential internet connection runs ~42 USD monthly paid in local currency. The connection is carried over an optical fiber that terminates inside the home and by most appearances functions like a home connection does in the US. Streaming video works, IRC works, torrents work, and so on. Streaming multiple high definition videos from multiple platforms just works. How does this happen at this price point in Uruguay? The answer appears to be the same as in the US or any other part of the world.
My God The Caching
It has been roughly a decade now since Netflix killed Blockbuster and then pivoted from offering a large catalog of movies distributed through the mail to a tiny catalog4 streamed over the Internet. During the first few years there was a lot of drama over the internet transit this required. The amount streamed has grown while the complaints have all but disappeared. This is not because internet transit capacity grew faster than the streaming. It is not because Internet transit got cheaper. It's because Neflix places boxes with local residential ISPs.
Google places racks boxes with residential ISPs that'll hold big chunk of Youtube and other Google mystery meat, Akamai enthusiastically racks boxes with residential ISPs that'll hold the porn flicks, and your resdential ISP will pay a pretty penny for a general caching solution under the guise of serving the web but mostly serving popular torrents... by they time your residential ISP is done they'll have a couple racks filled. They'll also have recreated something like an old school BBS system to serve most of what their customers want.
For all the press about a "high speed" and "global" internet, it is in a residential ISP's financial interest to locally cache everything it can. The only reason "high speed" connections to a "global" internet works at residential price points is because they don't have to.
Any Everything Else?
Everything else is relatively small and unavoidably expensive. This includes any realtime two way communications. The expectation of routinely carrying two way real time communications is why generally entry level "business" internet plans involve doubling the price and decimating the advertised bandwidth. It isn't simply that sticking the word "business" in front is a license to mark up. It's that a couple hours of video calls to another provider costs them more than streaming Friends beginning to end on repeat.
This means everyone smart is serving lean content. It also means that when Conde Nast presents Ars/Wired/Cosmo/BarryDillerIAC tell you to funnel all your shit through https or a VPN while wrapping 1KB of text in 2 MB of shit that they bleed. And how do they bleed.
What Does This Mean
Back in the old days 10 and 20 years ago the force driving down consumer connection prices was over subscription, that while a plan was advertised "up to" a certain speed "demand" could drive delivered speed down. Now the force driving down price is the fact that delivering 90+ percent of what the customers demand can be done from their own premises. The advertised maximum has also become unimportant so long as they can support enough simultaneous video streams on their local network as demanded.
It also means home machines are uninteresting for DDoS attacks, servers don't deal great returns, and anyone who knows what is targets the routers either intentionally or unintentionally. It means the actual deep dark web is only going to grow. It means the cost of offering anything to all comers is only going up.
- Unlike in other Latino locales, every neighborhood is a barrio. From historical Barrio de los Judios near the not especially commercial La Commercial to the present Barrio de los Judios more commonly know as Punta Carretas. [↩]
- Asia is weird and Pacific coastline correlates with poor international internet connectivity. [↩]
- Such as form continuing to be substituted for substance. [↩]
- Featuring classics such as Fireplace For Your Home: Birchwood Edition [↩]