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Special Report: Clogged Highway 18-Nov-00

What happens when the demand for bandwidth exceeds capacity? Demand for bandwidth is being driven by the rollout of broadband access for the masses: currently Cable and DSL. The performance of these high-speed services is often affected by adding more customers without adding adequate backbone bandwidth. To the extent there is bandwidth available, this doesn't affect dial-up users. But, when the backbone providers run out of bandwidth, it affects everyone. 

As a cable or DSL provider adds more customers, the shared bandwidth of the provider's telco/cable and Internet connections must be expanded to maintain performance. As more broadband users take advantage of the promised blistering speed and always-on connection, broadband providers are encountering big problems in providing service that meets expectations. Broadband providers (telcos and cable companies) are far different from the nimble small ISPs that created a highly competitive and efficient industry providing dial-up access to the Internet. Broadband is a bumpy ride, and getting service problems corrected, explained, understood, or even acknowledged is as productive as chasing windmills. [Note that while a DSL line might provide a 768kbps download spec, your ISP may specify a CIR: committed information rate - supposedly a guaranteed minimum speed. The CIR on one local offering is 10kbps - less than 1/4 what you might reasonably expect to get with a 56k dial-up! [The argument that DSL has an advantage over cable broadband because the DSL line is always capable of delivering its rated speed is specious: everything beyond the DSL line itself is shared and oversubscribed.]

As broadband providers need to purchase more bandwidth from backbone providers, I predict the Information Highway will increasingly become as clogged as LA freeways at rush hour. It has already happened in Hawaii:

Friends are telling me it takes 5-10 minutes to bring up a single page with dial-up connections to Verizon, MSN and all other ISPs using the UUNet backbone. I've found the AT&T-provided dial-up POPs providing similar unusable connectivity. Roadrunner working worse than a 56k modem intermittently. Every Hawaii  provider is affected, yet most are signing up customers. Verizon - which acknowledges a problem - is even offering free Internet access as part of a wireless promotion. The Honolulu Star Bulletin reported on the Hawaii bandwidth crunch Oct. 19 and the situation appears to be getting worse...

Can this happen on the mainland? When the Interstate Highway system was designed and built, did they think it would get jammed? The Internet infrastructure is under constant construction and expansion, but my prediction is that demand for bandwidth will increasingly exceed capacity. 

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