What If We Had to Ration the Internet?

by Elizabeth Seward
Originally Published: 
A man in a checked long-sleeved shirt and brown pants typing on his laptop

Experts on the matter have warned that the country’s optical fiber network is quickly filling up, in large part because of the increasing popularity of streaming websites, such as Netflix and YouTube. Internet transmissions already account for more than 1/10 of Britain’s power on average, and while those in charge will be meeting to discuss how best to handle the situation, my guess is that increasing the cost of Internet access will be one of the first measures taken in an effort to limit the number of users.

These issues have made me think about how rationing the Internet would affect me and my family if this became an issue in the U.S. as well. But I’m embarrassed to think about—let alone publicly admit—just how much of our lives hinges on access to the Internet. When you remove the Internet from the equation, we are not a self-sustaining family at all—and I’m pretty sure the Internet isn’t usually a part of any conversation about self-sustainment.

Both my husband and I work remotely, which requires Internet. When we’re on a plane, we’re the suckers paying for the in-flight Internet. Taking a road trip, we’re the people who use our cell phone company’s data plan to power us through our workday. We also need that data to tell us where we’re going. (I used to tour without a smartphone, using maps to get me from city to city, but I can’t even imagine doing that now.) My family would never stay at a hotel that didn’t offer free Wi-Fi unless we were taking an Internet break. I’m not even sure that we would buy coffee from a coffee shop that didn’t offer free Wi-Fi. And this is all just about how the Internet affects our work lives.

The rest of our lives are pretty wrapped up in it, too. We’ve been able to keep in touch with loved ones despite moving several times over the last few years thanks to Facebook, email and other social networking sites. We haven’t been forced to call a relative or friend every time something we don’t understand happens with our baby—that’s what the Internet is for! Hell, I even self-diagnosed (successfully) a hormone-related problem, which turned out to be a giant ovarian cystic tumor, and formed an opinion on whether or not to operate on it while pregnant, using the Internet. There’s no way rationing access wouldn’t noticeably impede on our lives, even if the rationing were just an hour a day.

Maybe this should be a wake-up call to become more efficient with the time I spend online, and to get outside a little more often. Speaking of getting outside, maybe I should Google the best local trails around.

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