Morale: Sailors Screwed at Sea


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December 22, 2006: The U.S. Navy is having a morale problem with the Internet access it provides for sailors at sea. The problem is that the capacity (bandwidth) available to sailors is quite low. Think typical dial-up speeds, then cut that by 50-90 percent. It's so slow that web pages often time out before loading. Sailors are not happy. To make them even less happy, many lower ranking sailors are not allowed to access the Internet on their work PCs, but must line up and wait for a turn at the public access ones on the ship.

Now all this is a case of, "no good deed goes unpunished." As ships at sea got more and more Internet access over the last ten years, morale rose. But the increased access could not keep up with sailor expectations. Back at home, sailors were increasingly getting high speed access, while the shipboard access was stuck at a fraction (24 kps or less) of the old dial-up speeds (56 kps). This was happening just as more sailors were becoming more dependent on Internet access. For example, many of the navy educational programs, some of which are mandatory if you want to get promoted, are conducted over the web. This has provided hours of frustration for sailors at sea, trying to get study material, or take tests, over a very slow (and time-out prone) Internet connection.

The navy is having a hard time providing solutions, since Internet access for ships at sea is expensive. Sailors have a difficult time appreciating this, as they see soldiers getting high speed Internet access (or at least higher than sailors at sea), using satellite dishes in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the navy can get more, and faster, Internet access for ships at sea. But there are cost and bureaucracy issues that keep getting in the way, and that sailors will not accept as reasonable explanations for why they have 1980s quality Internet access.


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