The Internet is Full, Again - What Can We Expect?
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The good news is that the smart network owners aren't taking this laying down, and aren't necessarily trying to charge content providers for the cardinal sin of being popular. VeriSign, for instance, is investing $100 million over the next three years to increase the bandwidth in its network by a factor of ten. Interoute, a European network firm, has already spent more than $38 million to upgrade its network so that it will handle the demands of online high-definition video.
Even so, cable and telecom firms say they need the ability to prioritize which packets will get through when, even to the point of delivering a tiered system, where privileged content gets through and other content will have to wait in line. As I've already mentioned, content providers don't think this is a good idea. In addition to the reasons I've cited earlier, there is some concern that only the content providers who are willing to pay will be able to get their content through, in part because network companies will upgrade the faster pipes and not properly maintain the slower part of the network. Some content providers even fear that certain content will be discriminated against, either for political or economic reasons.
Cable and telecom firms dispute this, of course. They insist that things will just keep getting worse without a tiered system, to the point that we'll start seeing brown outs and other problems with the Internet. This would harm not just the users of web 2.0 technologies, but businesses that rely on the Internet - just look at the growth in off shoring if you want to see how businesses are finding productive ways to use the web. As Brady Rafuse, president and CEO, Europe, of Level 3 notes, "Transferring a support centre thousands of miles away simply wouldn't be possible without a robust IP-based network."
Even if cable and telecom firms don't move to create a two-tiered system, other organizations are moving to manage their bandwidth. In mid-May, the U.S. Department of Defense moved to block access to many popular Internet sites from its computers due to bandwidth issues. Many of the sites were known bandwidth hogs, such as YouTube, MySpace, Photobucket, MTV, and others using similar technology. They surely won't be the last organization to do this.
There is a lot more riding on keeping the Internet up and running smoothly than there was even a few years ago. Even so, there is reason to hope for a technological solution. After all, the downfall of the Internet was predicted as far back as 1995, when Robert Metcalfe, an engineer who helped build the early Internet, predicted a "catastrophic collapse" of the network in 1996. He swore he'd eat his words if it didn't come to pass - and he did, very publicly, at a 1997 conference. While this issue should be taken seriously, with that kind of precedent, it's hard to believe that there isn't a technological solution just over the horizon.
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