Restraint urged to allow Internet capacity to grow

Think tank says smart network management will also help handle Internet demand

Growth in Internet traffic, especially from burgeoning video Web sites and peer-to-peer usage, will put more pressure on network managers to handle the explosion and on private sector investors, and they should be allowed to do so in unrestricted ways, a Washington think tank said Thursday.

The think tank, the New Millennium Research Council, released an 18-page report that called on Internet policymakers to avoid new regulations that could restrict Internet investment by the private sector and to find ways to encourage investment to handle the coming Internet onslaught.

The report also urged regulators to avoid inhibitions to experimentation by Internet service providers with new traffic management technologies.

Written by Jason Kowal of Analysys Research in Washington, the report, "The Never-ending Rush Hour: Internet Traffic Growth Requires Continual Investment in Capacity and Innovation in Network Management," calls for "more of laissez-faire recommendation than active encouragement or subsidization" of Internet growth, Kowal said in a press conference today.

He said he specifically tried to avoid the Net Neutrality issue facing Washington policymakers in making the recommendations. Kowal said he urged more of the same approaches used in the past. "The drivers of growth have been a laissez-faire approach from governments towards development" of the Internet, Kowal added.

"The real point [of the report] was to look at network operations and not talk about specific policy decisions," said Matt Bennett, NMRC executive director. The NMRC is a project of Issue Dynamics in Washington, a public affairs institute with clients that include many opponents to Net Neutrality, including AT&T, Verizon Communications and Comcast.

The report "clearly defines the traffic issues the Internet faces today and offers important perspectives on the need for continuous investment and 'smart' network management," Bennett added.

The report said investment in network capacity by ISPs typically involves activating fiber optic cables that are already constructed but still dark; connecting the fiber to higher speed routers; dedicating circuits to Internet traffic; and expanding end user access lines where needed. Notably, 75 percent growth in the average traffic on the world's Internet backbones in 2006 outpaced the 47 percent growth of capacity, the report said, citing TeleGeography Research. That trend had continued for the third straight year.

Also, the report noted several ways to continue developing smarter networks with network management software and related strategies. One method being widely deployed in business networks for creating differentiated services "has never been widely applied ... across the public Internet," the report said. A model using differentiated services, which set priorities for different kinds of Internet traffic, such as voice and video, "would deliver substantially more band for the buck," it said.

Setting up differentiated services could mean making sure that delay-sensitive traffic such as voice or video could get priority over data such as e-mail or even late night data dumps. A study cited in the report by several authors found that if IPS's deployed differentiated classes of service, the network would require 60 percent less capacity at relatively moderate traffic levels than if the network used what is known as a "best effort" traffic delivery system.

Bennett said the growth in Internet video has been especially dramatic in the past year, and noted an oncoming surge that includes such programming as nearly 3,000 hours of online live streaming video from the 2008 Olympic Games from NBC.

"Today there are countless online applications that deliver amazing benefits, but also pose challenges," he said.

A group supporting Net Neutrality, Free Press in Washington, called the NMRC report "an industry-funded report designed to scare lawmakers away from their duty to protect an open communications system for all Americans," according to a statement from S. Derek Turner, Free Press Research Director.

Incumbent service providers want to hold onto power to control content "so that they can favor their own video products while making the minimal amount of network investment," he said. In nations that have fast and cheap broadband, public policies have encouraged a more open and competitive broadband market, he added.

Ed Moran, director of product innovation at Deloitte Services, said the traffic jam on the Internet is already felt regularly by a person who tries to connect from home at 3:30 in the afternoon when video sites are activated by teenagers.

Adding the growth in Internet users and other innovations such as Voice over IP will tax the Internet, Moran said, noting that up to 60 percent of the Internet traffic is now attributed to peer-to-peer applications such as Myspace.com.

Deloitte's own user surveys show an interest in increasing downloads of photos and music as well as videos, Moran added. "There are all these trends combining to create, almost, a perfect storm," he said. Capacity is growing, "but not as fast as demand."

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld
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