Think tank to Congress: Hands off the Internet

A report released today by the New Millennium Research Council warned that a wave of streaming video, user-generated content and the growing number of users is threatening to overwhelm the Internet. The document recommended that regulators avoid tying the hands of network managers who will have to maximize the bandwidth and efficiency of their networks.

The report, 'The Never-Ending Rush Hour,' avoids mentioning net neutrality, the doctrine that carrier networks should not be able to discriminate in services based on the content or source of the traffic. Net neutrality is a controversial issue before Congress. Content providers and consumer advocates tend to prefer the concept, while companies with carrier networks would prefer the ability to differentiate their service.

The report takes a laissez faire attitude that avoids specific recommendations of policy or technology on how networks should be managed, said the author of the report, Jason Kowol, U.S. head of research for Analysys Consulting. He recommended that networks be left free to experiment with management technologies and techniques.

However, the report does note that 'many network managers have suggested that providing differentiated classes of service for delay-sensitive traffic will be essential for new capacity demands.'

The report was funded at least in part by AT&T Corp., one of the world's largest network carriers.

Current Internet growth is being driven primarily by the popularity of online video, said Matt Bennett, executive director of the Washington based NMRC. Online video has been available for some years, but the popularity of Web sites and services such as YouTube have driven user-created content to critical mass. Movies now are available for legitimate downloading and commercial television is making increasing use of the Internet. For example, NBC has announced plans to stream 2,900 hours of video ' more than four months' of video ' from the 2008 Olympic Games next August .

This does not constitute a crisis, Kowol said. 'It is in a period of rapid growth like it has always been.'

Growth in traffic and bandwidth demand is the normal condition of the Internet, he said, and so far the Internet has managed to adapt and respond. But the ability to continue supporting this growth cannot be taken for granted. It will require constant monitoring of network resources, new and improved management techniques to maximize existing bandwidth and a willingness to invest in new infrastructure, he said.

Network management is complicated by the unpredictable nature of the demand for these resources, said Ed Moran, director of product innovation for Deloitte Services LP.

'It is very difficult with user-generated content to predict what is going to be hot,' he said. He estimated that from 40 to 60 percent of Internet traffic now is from peer-to-peer applications, and that we have only scratched the service for this type of online sharing.

'Our current system has evolved with little oversight,' and that probably is the best way to let it continue growing, Kowol said. He suggested that the best way to maximize efficiency and bandwidth is for regulators to let networks maximize profit. 'The best course is to not choose a policy path that prefers one business model over another.'

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