Concerns about Internet traffic jams continue

The “New York Times” reported last week about growing concern of a future Internet traffic jam that could slow net usage to a crawl. Huge video file downloads threaten to clog the Internet.

“The Internet doesn’t collapse, but there would be a growing class of stuff you just can’t do online,” said Johna Till Johnson, president of Nemertes Research, a firm that predicted the bandwidth squeeze by 2011, anticipating that demand will grow by 100 percent or more a year.

Andrew M. Odlyzko, a professor at the University of Minnesota, estimates that digital traffic on the global network is growing about 50 percent a year, in line with a recent analysis by Cisco Systems.

Though that sounds like a daunting rate of growth, the technology for handling Internet traffic is advancing at an impressive pace as well, as the “Times” reported. The router computers for relaying data get faster, fiber-optic transmission gets better and software for juggling data packets gets smarter.

“The 50 percent growth is high. It’s huge, but it basically corresponds to the improvements that technology is giving us,” said Professor Odlyzko, a former AT&T Labs researcher. Demand is not likely to overwhelm the Internet, he said.

The question of the problem’s severity is more than a technical one, since it will affect the shape and cost of the nation’s policy on broadband infrastructure, a matter that is expected to attract political attention after a new administration takes over in Washington.

All agree that net usage points to a larger issue. In the Internet era, high-speed networks are at the core of innovation, spawning new businesses, markets and jobs. If American investment lags behind, the nation risks losing competitiveness to countries that are making the move to higher-speed Internet access a priority.

Next-generation services, ones that can handle seamless interactive video use, are going to require more bandwidth and more investment. This includes cable and telecommunications carriers, Internet companies, media Web sites and even consumers. AT&T, for one, said last week that it would spend $1 billion this year — double its 2006 expenditures — to expand its overseas infrastructure.