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Internet overload: Painting tomorrow something like today
By Scott Bradner
It seems like only yesterday that the press was last talking about an Internet collapse but it was more than a decade ago. The last time it was because the press thought that Bob Metcalfe was predicting that the Internet was going to overload and collapse. (See the "Net through doom colored glasses" - http://www.sobco.com/nww/1996/bradner-1996-11-18.metcaffe-debate.html) This time it is because the company (Nemertes Research) that my fellow Network World columnist Johna Till Johnson works with put out a report that generated a lot of misleading headlines - including the one in this paper. (See "Traffic growth could choke 'Net by 2010" http://www.networkworld.com/columnists/2007/111907johnson.html) Other headlines included "Internet outages may occur by 2010 as capacity stalls" - China Daily, "Internet to go down in 2010?" - iTwire, "Superhighway traffic jam could clog Internet" - Times of India and "E-commerce could slow to a halt by 2010" - InternetRetailing.net. That would be scary stuff if the report actually said anything like that.
The report itself is titled "The Internet Singularity, Delayed: Why Limits in Internet Capacity Will Stifle Innovation on the Web" and can be found at http://www.nemertes.com/system/files/Internet+Singularity+Delayed+Fall+2007.pdf. (Annoyingly they want you to create an account to download the report - I'm going to be real pissed if I start getting spam from them now.) The report is quite well done but still I do have some real problems with it even though they say that some of the best people I know that are thinking about these issues gave them advice including Noel Chiappa, kc claffy <<<note to desk - kc demands lower case>>> and Andrew Odlyzko.
The report does not pull a Metcalfe and predict an Internet collapse. The report does say that the Internet broadband access networks will not keep up with future demand and, thus, users will be slowed. It does not mention that many broadband Internet subscribers are seeing the slowdowns today because of the low speed and oversubscribing of the current access networks. (See "Truth in speeds - broadband access" - http://www.networkworld.com/columnists/2006/111306bradner.html"
My second biggest problem with the report is that it fails to take into account the wide differences in Internet access speed and cost across the world. The average download speed in the U.S. is less than 2 Mpbs compared to over 60 Mbps in Japan. The report fails to point out that the US's definition of broadband is one of slowest and most expensive in terms of $/megabite/sec of the major industrialized countries - more than ten times as expensive as Japan and even more expensive than Portugal. (See "Assessing Broadband in America" http://www.itif.org/files/BroadbandRankings.pdf and "Broadband Reality Check II" http://www.freepress.net/docs/bbrc2-final.pdf.) The report calls for spending a lot more money on access infrastructure over the next few years but does not hint on how it might be paid for. Already US broadband Internet service is too expensive for a lot of people and the Nemertes report does not factor that into its projected growth in users and demand.
But my biggest problem with the report is that it seems to think that the only possible Internet access future comes from the traditional telecom carriers. It ignores (or at least I could not find any mention of) non-carrier solutions such as muni or neighborhood WiFi and only mentions Google's potential entry into the wireless access business in passing.
The Broadband Reality Check II notes that "the U.S. broadband market is dominated by regional duopolies and little competition" with one cable and one telephone provider in each region. As long as that remains the case, and the FCC seems to want to be sure that it does, (see Is the FCC pining for the good old days? http://www.networkworld.com/columnists/2007/010207bradner.html) we will continue to get slow and expensive Internet service and the more likely that the Nemertes Research report predictions of continued clogged access networks will be true.
disclaimer: Harvard's logo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvard_University) is all about truth but the university has not expressed an opinion on the level of truth in the Nemertes Research report so I'm on my own above.