Saturday, January 20, 2007 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Bret Swanson on Net Neutrality & the "Coming Exaflood"

Bret Swanson of The Discovery Institute has an important piece on Net Neutrality in today's Wall Street Journal entitled "The Coming Exaflood." He's refering to the increasing flood of exabyte-level traffic (especially from high-def video) that could begin clogging the Net in coming years unless broadband networks are built out and upgraded to handle it. He states:

"[Net neutrality supporters] now want to repeat all the investment-killing mistakes of the late 1990s, in the form of new legislation and FCC regulation... This ignores the experience of the recent past -- and worse, the needs of the future.

Think of this. Each year the original content on the world's radio, cable and broadcast television channels adds up to about 75 petabytes of data -- or, 10 to the 15th power. If current estimates are correct, the two-year-old YouTube streams that much data in about three months. But a shift to high-definition video clips by YouTube users would flood the Internet with enough data to more than double the traffic of the entire cybersphere. And YouTube is just one company with one application that is itself only in its infancy. Given the growth of video cameras around the world, we could soon produce five exabytes of amateur video annually. Upgrades to high-definition will in time increase that number by another order of magnitude to some 50 exabytes or more, or 10 times the Internet's current yearly traffic.

We will increasingly share these videos with the world. And even if we do not share them, we will back them up at remote data storage facilities. I just began using a service called Mozy that each night at 3 a.m. automatically scans and backs up the gigabytes worth of documents and photos on my PCs. My home computers are now mirrored at a data center in Utah. One way or another, these videos will thus traverse the net at least once, and possibly, in the case of a YouTube hit, hundreds of thousands of times.

There's more. Advances in digital medical imaging will soon slice your brain 1,024 ways with resolution of less than half a millimeter and produce multigigabyte files. A technician puts your anatomy on a DVD and you send your body onto the Internet for analysis by a radiologist in Mumbai. You skip doctor visits, stay home and have him come to you with a remote video diagnosis. Add another 10 exabytes or more of Internet data traffic. Then there's what George Gilder calls the "global sensorium," the coming network of digital surveillance cameras, RFID tags and other sensors, sprawling across every home, highway, hybrid, high-rise, high-school, etc. All this data will be collected, analyzed and transmitted. Oh, and how about video conferencing? Each year we generate some 20 exabytes of data via telephone. As these audio conversations gradually shift to video, putting further severe strains on the network, we could multiply the 20 exabytes by a factor of 100 or more.

Today's networks are not remotely prepared to handle this exaflood."

Amen to that. A few days ago over at Rough Type, Nick Carr had a column related to these issues that you might want to check out as well.

The danger here is that NN regs prevent the evolution of new business / pricing models that can help us accomodate growing online traffic burdens. And Swanson didn't even mention what I think is the biggest, bandwidth-hogging killer app that will drive this debate in coming months and years: Online gaming. I wrote a big column about this back in November. As a video game fanatic, I don't want any stupid NN regs screwing up my ability to get the high-speed connections I need to keep my online gaming habits satisfied. Microsoft already cuts deals with bit-managers to optimize traffic on XBox Live, but much more is needed to cut latency down and prepare for the much more graphically intensive games of the future. The networks of the future will not get built based upon the infrastructure socialism ethos espoused by Net neutrality supporters.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 10:00 AM | Net Neutrality