Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Internet to (almost) die in 2007

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[Here is a couple of interesting articles in Forbes and the Wall St Journal based on a Deloitte & Touche prediction that global traffic will exceed the Internet's capacity as soon as this year. I think there is general consensus that we are going to see an explosion of video traffic over the Internet because of exciting new applications such as Joost, Inuk, YouTube, BitTorrent, Zudeo, etc and this will create a traffic jam over our existing "dirt road" last mile networks of DSL and Cable (although in theory cable will have a delayed reaction to this oncoming exaflood of traffic because of its greater bandwidth capacity). The need for higher speed optical networks is ever more compelling in the last mile. But the big question is how to pay for it. There are those on the right argue that network neutrality requirements will inhibit carriers from making the necessary investments to build fiber to the home and therefore broadband should be completely deregulated in order for the carriers to prioritize certain types of premium traffic. Those on the left argue that municipalities should be building fiber to the home as broadband should be a basic infrastructure like roads and sewers.

I think they are both wrong. If our experience in Ottawa is any guide, cities do not move on Internet time when it comes to broadband deployment. One of our condominium fiber contractors has been waiting over 9 months (and still waiting) for a right of way permit to build low cost fiber to homes and businesses in the Ottawa area. In any event the cost of building fiber networks to all citizens would be prohibitive to most municipalities who are already struggling under incredible debt and tax loads. However cities can play a critical role by renting access to conduit as for example in Montreal and Barcelona.

On the other hand I don't believe there will be any demand or business case for prioritized traffic (with or without network neutrality), that will justify the business case of fiber to the home for the carriers, despite Verizon's FiOS rosy predictions. With new services like Inuk, Joost, AppleTV it is increasingly unlikely that the telco or cableco will be to capture any portion of the video distribution value chain. That is why several Wall St analysts have called for the carriers to recognize this reality and to specialize in only providing the transport infrastructure. But turning themselves into razor thin commodity transport providers will provide little incentive or business case to deploy fiber to the home.

As such it is my belief, whether you are from the right or left, we must find entirely new business models that will enable the financing of the next generation last mile networks in an open affordable way. An unfettered private sector is the best way to develop such new business models and services. Some exciting possibilities are starting to emerge such as customer owned and controlled fiber (which has been extremely successful with schools, hospitals and business), Green Broadband, and in far off New Zealand initiatives like CityLink and Inspired Networks in Palmerston. I am sure there are other possibilities - but we need both research programs such as GENI and FIRE to develop new architectures and clever business people not tied to the myopic backward looking carrier world to explore these new business models. Some excerpts-- BSA]

Information Super Traffic Jam
Phil Kerpen 01.31.07, 6:00 AM ETWASHINGTON, D.C. -