Internet Capacity Issue Divides Policy Experts

Published October 10, 2008

Information technology experts are divided on exactly how Internet capacity issues that may arise in the future will or should be resolved.

Peter Eckersley of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) says he and his organization want a combination of industry transparency and net neutrality without excessive government intervention. Eckersley said, “Network neutrality is all about ensuring that it is the network users instead of the operators who decide what the network will be used for and what software innovations will be successful.”

EFF has written network-testing software designed to keep Internet service providers honest while allowing innovation to take place on the demand side of information technology.

Calls for Regulation

Dr. Alan Wexelblat of Copyfight, a blog on intellectual property and politics, hypothesizes a public utility approach to the Internet may be the best option for consumers, businesses, and operators. He said, “net wiring should be like electric power, where consumers have it, it’s always on, and [they] pay for what they use.”

However, Wexelblat concedes, “The public utility model in the United States isn’t perfect, but it is a model we have a lot of experience with and one where we know the strengths and weaknesses.” His main concern is that operators and bureaucrats are “trying to invent a new understanding of Internet provision” instead of using working models.

Mike Jude, a senior analyst with Nemertes Research in Mokena, Illinois, said, “It is clear that the Internet is likely to begin restricting people’s ability to do interesting things over networks” absent incentives for increased bandwidth.

Jude wants everyone involved in the Internet capacity debate to ask “what the role of the Internet is in society,” with a particular emphasis on “enabling economies.” He concluded any answer involving profit and economic prosperity should lead to investment in “Internet viability.”

Private Sector Sufficient

Dr. Andrew Odlyzko, a professor of mathematics and director of the Interdisciplinary Digital Technology Center at the University of Minnesota who has reported steady growth in Internet capacity worldwide, said future Internet traffic rates may be higher than expected because there has been so much growth in other parts of the system during the past decade.

“There is a potential of much faster growth rates in traffic since at present there is so much more computing and storage capacity than transmission,” Odlyzko said. “So far we have not seen any such jumps,” he noted, and most of his findings indicate the status quo in infrastructure investment is sufficient to handle future Internet traffic.

Ryan Radia of the Competitive Enterprise Institute sees the role of government agencies in controlling Internet capacity as enforcement of “voluntary arrangements between consumers, businesses, and Internet providers.”

Radia recognizes “mistakes will be made” as providers experiment with policies that may result in “ill-conceived network management techniques.” Still, he concludes, “Regulators should not predetermine the rules of privately owned networks or impose uniform standards governing how providers can manage Internet traffic.”

— Nicholas Katers