The Internet is Full, Again - Bandwidth Crisis or Policy Crisis?
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This whole issue of the Internet becoming clogged is part of the political hot potato known as "network neutrality." On one side, cable and telecommunications companies are complaining that companies like YouTube, Google, and others that receive a lot of visitors and take up lots of bandwidth should help pay for more data lines and equipment to keep the networks running smoothly. On the other side, the content producers argue that they're already paying for access to the network, and it would be unfair to charge them twice - besides, if it weren't for the content they produced, the Internet would not have grown to the size it is today, to say nothing of the lucrative business it is for cable and telecommunications firms.
There are deeper issues at play, and they don't leave the cable and telecommunications companies looking very good. Back in 2006, Peter Svensson wrote an article for the Associated Press that pointed out an interesting fact: ILECs typically use one T-1 (1 Mbps) line to handle every 40 DSL accounts. Can you spot the problem with that?
You can check my math, but that sounds like over subscription to me - a model with which many web hosts are quite familiar. It works just fine, until somebody actually wants or needs to use all the bandwidth or file space they've purchased. Cable companies particularly like to follow this model, because bandwidth is shared among neighbors in an area - so if your web surfing is going slowly tonight, it may be the fault of the folks in the next apartment downloading some videos from YouTube.
So where do telephone companies fit, and why are they siding with the cable companies? It's exactly the same kind of network issue, only worse. I remember when my family got hooked up with cable TV; I couldn't have been more than ten years old. But telephones have been around for more than 100 years, so it's no surprise that they have a ton of legacy equipment. Their networks were never designed to handle video. One can almost sympathize; the time and expense it would take to get them appropriately modernized must be frightening for the telecoms to contemplate.
We are already seeing signs that the networks are under some strain. In some areas, there is a noticeable difference in the speed of web surfing depending on the time of day. It's often a little slower in the mid to late afternoons, when students come home from school and begin downloading video and audio. If you're a night owl, though, you probably notice that the Internet seems much faster in the wee hours, when fewer people are web surfing.
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