With all the changes in the way we do things, it is amazing how we ever got along without the internet, and, beyond that, the speed that is used on a daily basis.

Everyone is either using the internet to download videos and movies, or outright streaming them. Everyone uses e-mail, VoIP, or some other technology that taxes the bandwidth available just a few years ago, and now to top all that, there is a coming explosion of smartphones, with more and more people thinking it is their right to watch television streamed on those devices, while doing anything from eating lunch to taking a bathroom break at the office. Not to mention the number of things getting an IP address that no one ever imagined a couple of decades ago…can you say internet-connected refrigerator?

Someone is keeping track of all this usage, and has done the calculations, now letting us know that it can’t continue much longer at this pace.

from Ars Technica

In 2007, Nemertes Research released a dire report on Internet traffic. By 2010, it said, the “exponential” growth in demand for bandwidth will butt up against the “linear” investment in networking technology, and that whole Internet thing you’ve come to know and love will start experiencing “brownouts or snow days, during which performance will (seemingly inexplicably) degrade.”

By mid-2009, this certainly seemed implausible. Millions of people now stream Netflix on-demand video to their computers and TV sets, YouTube has added high-quality options to its videos, and Hulu’s launch showed that ad-supported Web video could be hugely popular. Despite the growth in video (which is usually pitched as the thing that will bring the Internet to its knees), “Internet snow days” were about as likely as real snow days in Havana.

Which is why it was surprising to see Nemertes President Johna Till Johnson double down on the doom-mongering in a May 2009 column for Computerworld called “The Internet sky really is falling.” The article’s point was largely that “we were right” because YouTube has “recently announced it’s discontinuing video delivery to certain geographies due to—ahem—lack of access capacity.” (We have no idea what’s being referred to here, but it’s certainly not related to anything happening in the US, Canada, Europe, and other places with good Internet infrastructure.) Also, ISP usage caps prove that there’s some kind of bandwidth crunch and IP (both v4 and v6) are doomed.

The article continues on, giving the sides to the controversy, but it is very clear that bandwidth is finite, and since everyone can’t seem to get enough, it is going to run short sometime in the near future.

That is what the broadband initiative is all about – not only raising bandwidth to the least served areas, but increasing overall bandwidth for the nation.

At the close of the article, several points are made that would seem to conflict with the idea that net neutrality is a good thing.

  1. Internet growth rates are continuing to edge up by anywhere “between 50% and 100% year over year.”
  2. This puts strain on last-mile access lines (like your DSL or cable connection), and those lines are “excruciatingly expensive to upgrade.”
  3. Net neutrality means that you can’t recoup these costs by charging, for instance, absurd rates for instant messages and cheaper rates for other traffic. And that means carriers will all have to “charge by the bit.” And that will “have a domino effect on peering arrangements. Tier-one providers now peer for free with each other. Once they have no choice but to charge for bandwidth, free peering will go away. And one of two things will happen then—both unpleasant. Either user costs go up (to cover the costs of peering), or more likely, carriers won’t bother to peer in the first place (because they can’t charge users enough to recoup the costs of peering).”
  4. When peering goes away, “so does the Internet—because you’re no longer able to connect to anywhere from anywhere.”

However, these are all red herrings, which have been put forth by the ISPs (mainly telcos) because they don’t want to have to answer the question “What did you do during the early days of the (publicly available) internet, when your profit margins were so obscene that everyone involved was sitting around counting their bonuses and making early retirement plans.?” That was the time when all the providers should have been socking loads of cash into infrastructure upgrades, so that all of this could be accommodated.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when people start crying that they can’t stream the insipid YouTube video, or watch last night’s Gossip Girl, because the internet is broken. Perhaps things will actually be worse than that, the ISPs will start cranking down on the unlimited accounts – when that happens, there will be many up in arms (including me) because the dictionary definition of unlimited is not a foreign concept. And that was what was promised upon sign up.

It’s going to get ugly, no matter which way it goes, and many will want answers to that question I posed above.


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