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AT&T Front Group Claims Internet End Is Nigh
Expect Internet brownouts unless AT&T lobbyists get what they want...
by Karl Bode 12:42PM Thursday Nov 20 2008
As a rule, most warnings of Internet capacity armageddon come from traffic shaping companies looking to sell hardware, or industry lobbyists trying to shape policy through think tanks. The term "exaflood," created by the same think tank who crafted the term "intelligent design," is part of a sophisticated campaign aimed at convincing the press, public and lawmakers that without giving carriers what they want (less regulation, no net neutrality laws, no price controls, huge subsidies and tax credits, less consumer protection), the world will simply run out of bandwidth and we'll all be weeping over our clogged tubes.

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Andrew Odlyzko, one of the nation's top experts on global Internet traffic, repeatedly notes that while growth is strong, it doesn't necessitate drastic new pricing model shifts (metered billing), and is entirely manageable with just modest capacity upgrades. According to Odlyzko, the current Internet growth rate of about 50% per year "can be accommodated with essentially the current level of capital investment." If anything, Odlyzko predicts a slow down (something Cogent confirms).

But carriers are better served having the public worry that we're running out of capacity and need to take drastic steps to avoid problems. That's why a think tank named the Discovery Institute (who also crafted the phrase "intelligent design" used to help push creationism into U.S. classrooms) cooked up the term "exaflood" in a 2007 Wall Street Journal editorial.

The term is part of a campaign aimed at convincing the public and lawmakers that an industry that has always managed to adapt to bandwidth demand, will suddenly fail to do so without drastic action. What action? In addition to favorable policy, carriers throughout North America are using the non-existent crunch to argue for new metered pricing models, and increased throttling of competitors' traffic. Carriers like AT&T can't very well propose new caps on usage if you're out there believing that they already make a healthy profit and can consistently meet capacity demands.

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One of the biggest pushers of the exaflood myth is the Internet Innovation Alliance, an industry trade group spearheaded largely by AT&T. With AT&T funding, the IIA likes to selectively pluck data that supports their exaflood concept from a research firm named Nemertes research about once a year. The IIA is back again this week with a press release proclaiming that by 2012, apparently incompetent engineers won't be able to manage capacity, and we will begin seeing brownouts. Fixing this incompetence will require Uncle Sam doing what AT&T wants them to:
"The exponential explosion of content will persist during challenging economic times, but a prolonged global recession could starve networks of the necessary capital investment," said Bruce Mehlman, co-chair of Internet Innovation Alliance. "It's more important than ever to develop a National Broadband Strategy that will encourage investment and innovations that accelerate America's global competitiveness and address major national challenges, such as energy efficiency, health care cost and quality educational opportunity."
What the IIA doesn't tell you in their release is how they hope to accommodate this mythical spending shortfall to address their mythical bandwidth crisis, or what their version of a national broadband strategy (which they're pushing this week in DC) is. Traditionally, the IIA's solution involves the government giving the biggest carriers huge deployment subsidies, while also reducing taxes on carriers. Given the government's history of failed accountability on this front, the IIA is simply asking for no-strings money. That's all the exaflood myth has ever been about.

If you're not afraid yet, the IIA recently offered up this video aimed at convincing you the end is near. They don't make their sales pitch until 4:20, where they hint that "wise public policy" can save us all from the bandwidth bogeyman. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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