Internet providers say infrastructure not ready for video revolution

While programmers are in a chaotic race to move television to the Web, Internet service providers are worried that the network infrastructure is not ready for a primetime debut.

Small clips are fine, but TV-quality and especially high-definition programming could make the Internet choke, the Associated Press reported.

Today's Internet was designed for use in brief bursts, making it ideal for such activity as reading e-mails or viewing Web pages. If users start watching streaming video for hours at a time, it could put a severe strain on the network. Beefing up the Internet's capacity for video will be expensive, the ISPs argue.

To offset that cost, ISPs want to start charging content providers to ensure delivery of large video files.

It's this issue that's behind the growing controversy over Internet neutrality in Congress. Internet activists and consumer groups are vehemently against those extra charges, saying they amount to tilting the Internet's level playing field, one of the things that encourages innovation. They want legislation to guarantee a neutral Internet.

How much would it really cost the Internet carriers to beef up their networks for video? So far, the carriers have revealed nothing.

However, investigating the issue, the news service found that the only solution for reliable TV on the Internet is to increase the bandwidth of the network infrastructure.

BellSouth Corp.'s chief architect, Henry Kafka, who used the assumption that the cost of providing a month's worth of data to the average Internet user costs the company $1. The telco charges customers $25 to $47 a month for its DSL service.

If, however, that same user were to start downloading five TV-quality movies per month, BellSouth's data cost, not including the cost of maintaining the DSL line, would go up to $4.50 a month. If the customer starts watching Internet TV like the average household watches regular TV, eight hours a day, BellSouth's cost would go up to $112 a month, Kafka estimated.