Nothing That a Two-Tiered Internet Couldn't Fix, Right?
In 2010, it could take as long as two minutes to download an episode of “Chad Vader–Day Shift Manager” from YouTube, instead of the few seconds it takes today. This according to a new study from Nemertes Research Group, which claims that the Internet could be approaching its capacity. “Our findings indicate that core fiber and switching/routing resources will scale nicely to support virtually any conceivable user demand,” Nemertes explains in “The Internet Singularity, Delayed: Why Limits in Internet Capacity Will Stifle Innovation on the Web.” “But Internet access infrastructure, specifically in North America, will cease to be adequate for supporting demand within the next three to five years.”
And what does that mean in lay terms? “Users will experience a slow, subtle degradation, so it’s back to the bad old days of dial-up,” said Nemertes President Johna Till Johnson. “The cool stuff that you’ll want to do will be such a pain in the rear that you won’t do it.”
To avoid such a scenario, Nemertes says backbone providers need to invest up to $137 billion in Internet infrastructure capacity–more than double what they’d planned. If they fail to do so, we may see that slow degradation to which Johnson referred and a stifling of innovation. “It’s important to stress that failing to make that investment will not cause the Internet to collapse,” Nemertes explains in its paper. “Instead, the primary impact of the lack of investment will be to throttle innovation–both the technical innovation that leads to increasingly newer and better applications, and the business innovation that relies on those technical innovations and applications to generate value. The next Google, YouTube or Amazon might not arise, not because of a lack of demand, but due to an inability to fulfill that demand. Rather like osteoporosis, the underinvestment in infrastructure will painlessly and invisibly leach competitiveness out of the economy.”
Nemertes’s last point about underinvestment in infrastructure is one worth noting. Because in the run-up to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 the incumbent telecoms promised to provide fiber-optic connections to millions of households across the country. In exchange, they were given some $200 billion in tax cuts and higher service rates to pay for it. But the telecoms didn’t spend that money on fiber upgrades–they spent it on long distance, wireless and inferior DSL services. “By 2005, if the Bell companies had actually delivered on their broadband promises, approximately 86 million households would have had fiber-optic-based services,” Bruce Kushnick, executive director of New Networks Institute, explains in “The $200 Billion Broadband Scandal.” “These state commitments also would have rewired schools and libraries, hospitals and government offices. And in most states, the plan called for ALL customers to be rewired equally, whether they were in rural or urban areas, rich or poor. Universal broadband was to be accomplished state-by-state because customers were, in essence, de facto investors funding these network upgrades.”
Something to think about when the Nemertes’s study begins popping up in telecom arguments against Net neutrality, as it almost certainly will.