Like any major corporation, the Pentagon's information technology team needs to protect the bandwidth of its computer networks. That is why it said that as of today, it is restricting military computer access to big video sites like MySpace and YouTube that require a lot of bandwidth and strain the Defense Department's network of 5 million computers.
The move has raised concerns that servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan would no longer be able to log in to these popular sites -- sites that many soldiers use to document their experiences online.
But soldiers have long had restrictions that barred them from such sites when using their work computers. They have typically circumvented those restrictions by tapping into the sites from Internet cafes at military facilities whose computers do not rely on the military's bandwidth.
A Pentagon spokesman for the little-known office implementing the order said this decision is strictly about preserving Internet bandwidth on work computers and not about editorial content.
The Department of Defense "has a mission, and it is dependent on its computers," said Tim Madden, spokesman for the Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations. The Task Force monitors the Defense Department's military computer network, and Madden said the new order results from worries about the strain the group was seeing on its system from Iraq and Afghanistan. How much strain? He wouldn't say.
"Companies large and small do this to protect their resources, and we happen to have a large portion of the Web. As we explain in our directive, it does have a deleterious effect on bandwidth and resources that impacts network availability."
Back in February, the Task Force put out the word internally that access to 13 video-heavy Internet sites like YouTube and MySpace would be blocked from work computers.
Military servicemen will still have access to the sites from personal computers not on the military network. Military commands that need access to the sites for work purposes have obtained exemptions from the new rule. For example, the Defense Department's Office of Public Affairs still has access to the sites.
Some military commands, including Multi-National Forces in Iraq, have had restricted access to the sites from military computers for some time now.
"Streaming audio and video including YouTube sites has always been blocked to coalition troops here in Iraq," said MNF-I spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, who adds that Internet filters also block personal pages -- from sites like MySpace -- to preserve Internet bandwidth.
Ironically, the U.S. military press operation in Iraq had just begun its own use of YouTube to reach a younger, broader audience by showing clips of U.S. troops in action.
According to Garver, this work should not be affected by the new order, as it is done on a nonmilitary bandwidth network.
"The troops will still not be able to see the videos on the MNF-I YouTube page, but they don't need to," he said. "They live them every day."
The sites reportedly covered by the ban are YouTube, Metacafe, IFilm, StupidVideos, FileCabi, MySpace, BlackPlanet. Hi5, Pandora, MTV, Photobucket, 1.fm and live365.
Madden said the current list is fluid and could be updated later to add more sites as needed.