According to Jim Cicconi, “Vice president of legislative affairs” at AT&T, the whole Internet will be completely full by 2010. If you believe Jim, 20 typical households in 2010 will generate more traffic than the entire Internet today.
Sorry to have to break this to you, Jim, but you are either a complete ignoramus or you assume everyone you are talking to is. There is no credible evidence that anything this VP is saying has any truth to it whatsoever. Doing some simple math should make this incredibly clear: the aggregate bandwidth of the main U.S internet backbone is measured in terabits per second. There is no conceivable way that 20 U.S. households could consume even a noticeable fraction of that bandwidth. Even countries like Japan where “low bitrate” home connectivity means 20 Mbps have no problems managing the capacity of their Internet backbone. And there is absolutely no likelihood that anything approaching 20 Mbps to the home will become “standard” in the U.S. within the next decade, let alone the next three years.
So, why would this supposed senior executive, whose title implies to me that his primary skill is lobbying government officials to do AT&T’s bidding, say such incredibly inaccurate things? Simple- money.
AT&T and the other major communications network providers have built backbone networks that are pretty robust: home users aren’t going to impact that. No, the real problem is at the edge of the network. The mythical “last mile”, from the service provider’s backbone to the local concentrator and finally to your home. For the past two decades, network service providers have been massively over-committing the bandwidth at the edge of their network to home users: that is, they are selling the same bandwidth promise over and over and over again. The 4 Mbps you pay for, as an example, might share a common 10 Mbps link with 100 other people in your neighborhood who are also paying for 4 Mbps. This works out okay when no one is actually using what they paid for. But if more than two or three of those 100 people start using the network bandwidth they think they deserve, then the service providers have a problem.
Let me repeat my example for clarity: 100 people are paying for 4 Mbps of bandwidth. To increase profits, the service providers are pushing all 100 of those people through a single 10 Mbps link. That 10 Mbps link is overcommitted by approximately 40 times: if it were properly sized, it would be 400 Mbps to accommodate all of the capacity that the service provider had actually sold. Note that the websites and other Internet services home users connect to are *also* paying for connectivity to the Internet. Google, Apple, and Youtube spend millions of dollars a month of bandwidth each- but they get the bandwidth that they pay for, and that is written into their contracts. Not so for the home users.
To correct the massive overcommitment problem at the “last mile” to home users would cost tens of billions of dollars. The Telcos could afford the necessary upgrades, but that would cut into their profit margins for many quarters. For years they have been selling a pig in a poke: raking in profits based on the fact that they are selling something they can not conceivably deliver on the infrastructure they have deployed. Now more and more people are actually starting to use some significant portion (I.E.: more than 10%) of the bandwidth they have already paid for. And this causes a problem for the service provider’s business model.
Naturally, the service providers would like to make more profit, not less. So what they want to do is “shape” or throttle traffic, and charge both end users (I.E.: you) and service providers (I.E.: Google, Microsoft, Apple) extra to make sure you actually get the bandwidth you are already paying for. It is much, much cheaper to lobby the government to make sure they have the ability to get paid at least three times for every bit that gets pushed through their networks than it would be to actually upgrade the network appropriately.
What is at risk here isn’t the Internet. What is really at risk is the defective business model deployed by the major service providers themselves. They can’t see a way to keep on selling bandwidth the way they have (I.E.: massively overcommitting bandwidth to the home) without reducing their profits, so they are looking for legislative support to grant them a new way to charge extra for what people have already paid for.
When you hear about Network Neutrality, and you read about the big service providers like AT&T being against the concept… this is what it is all about. AT&T and their friends want the ability to charge you again for the bandwidth you have already paid for, all because they sold you a lie to begin with and can’t figure out now how to deliver what they promised without cutting into their profit margin. And since their initial lobbying efforts against Network Neutrality weren’t very well received, they are now starting to preach that the Internet is facing imminent collapse unless they are granted what they want.
Whenever I read about these tactics on the part of the big network providers, I can’t help but imagine a big, greasy mafia guy threatening some poor family in their home… “dats a nice movie you iz downloadin’ dere. Would be a shame if sumthin were to happin to dat movie, ya know what I mean? Bits could get lost, mabbe the connection drop: things like dat, they just happen, ya know? I cud look out fer dat, ya know, keep yer bandwidth safe. Fer a fee…”