Internet Brown-Outs in Two Years?

It’s not as scary as having bridges fall down, but just as we have been neglecting our physical infrastructure, so to have we apparently been neglecting our technology infrastructure, in this case, the Internet backbone. The downstream providers are gearing up for, nay encourging, greater consumers use of bandwidth-intensive services like streaming video, without sufficient concern as to whether there is enough capacity.

An article in MacWorld discusses the findings of a study by Nemertes Research Group, with the hope the needed investment will be made to increase backbone capacity. However, expect another solution: metered access so as to discourage overuse. The prospect of brownouts or slow download speeds (remember, no matter what your ISP promised you, the backbone speed will be the rate determining factor) will give local providers the excuse to impose metered internet pricing. No more “all you can eat.” Just like cellphones, you’ll sign up for a plan that permits you a certain amount of uploads and downloads in a month, and you get charged per MB on any overage.

Australia has that system, and it stinks. If you make a mistake (mine was reconfiguring my mailboxes), you can easily rack up a stunningly large bill.

This is a wet dream for the local providers. They will have a perfectly legitimate rationale to increase their prices considerably, with little in the way of associated investment. Do not expect them to do anything more than give lip service to the need for more upstream bandwidth.

From MacWorld:

A flood of new video and other Web content could overwhelm the Internet by 2010 unless backbone providers invest up to US$137 billion in new capacity, more than double what service providers plan to invest, according to the study, by Nemertes Research Group, an independent analysis firm. In North America alone, backbone investments of $42 billion to $55 billion will be needed in the next three to five years to keep up with demand, Nemertes said….

The study confirms long-time concerns of the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA), an advocacy group focused on upgrading U.S. broadband networks, said Bruce Mehlman, co-chairman of the group. The group, with members including AT&T, Level 3 Communications, Corning, Americans for Tax Reform and the American Council of the Blind, has been warning people of the coming “exaflood” of video and other Web content that could clog its pipes.

The study gives “good, hard, unique data” on the IIA concerns about network capacity, Mehlman said. The Nemertes study suggests demand for Web applications such as streaming and interactive video, peer-to-peer file transfers and music downloads will accelerate, creating a demand for more capacity. Close to three-quarters of U.S. Internet users watched an average of 158 minutes of video in May and viewed more than 8.3 billion video streams, according to research from comScore, an analysis group.

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  1. Anonymous

    Sorry, but I have to call bullshit on this egregious stinker.

    There was so much bandwidth built up duing the 90s that is now being unused that it’s a sorry state that ISPs and telcos have put profit over product and in effect ruined it. There’s other sites that have discussed this in detail.

    In the US, this has turned into nothing more than gouging the customer for the highest price and providing the least amount of service.

    On the other side of the world, Japan has emerged into an internet superpower with low prices and unlimited user packages. So fast indeed that it’s now being used to gaming and movies and medical operations.

    Once again, the US takes the wrong approach.


  2. Travis

    I agree, this is very unlikely to be true. The backbone capability of the US is unlargely untapped, in large part because of the move to fiber. They have lots of headroom.

    The problem is still in the last-mile, from your house to the central office. Companies want to massively overcharge on “overuse” because they have oversold the actual capability. you can’t fit six people into one airplane seat, but you can sell 600% of your local capacity, then fine the people who just used what they thought they paid for.

    It’s a crummy, punitive business model that other nations have managed to avoid. We’re squabbling over network capacities to our homes that your average japanese pre-teen has on her cell phone.

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