Enjoy your speedy broadband Web access while you can.
The Web will start to seem pokey as early as 2010, as use of interactive and video-intensive services overwhelms local cable, phone and wireless Internet providers, a study by business technology analysts Nemertes Research has found.
"Users will experience a slow, subtle degradation, so it's back to the bad old days of dial-up," says Nemertes President Johna Till Johnson. "The cool stuff that you'll want to do will be such a pain in the rear that you won't do it."
Nemertes says that its study is the first to project traffic growth and compare it with plans to increase capacity.
The findings were embraced by the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA), a tech industry and public interest coalition that advocates tax and spending policies that favor investments in Web capacity.
"We're not trying to play Paul Revere and say that the Internet's going to fall," says IIA co-Chairman Larry Irving. "If we make the investments we need, then people will have the Internet experience that they want and deserve."
Nemertes says that the bottleneck will be where Internet traffic goes to the home from cable companies' coaxial cable lines and the copper wires that phone companies use for DSL.
Cable and phone companies provide broadband to 60.2 million homes, accounting for about 94% of the market, according to Leichtman Research Group.
To avoid a slowdown, these companies, and increasingly, wireless services providers in North America, must invest up to $55 billion, Nemertes says. That's almost 70% more than planned.
Much of that is needed for costly running of new high-capacity lines. Verizon vz is replacing copper lines with fiber optic for its FiOS service, which has 1.3 million Internet subscribers.
Johnson says that cable operators, with 32.6 million broadband customers, also must upgrade. Most of their Internet resources now are devoted to sending data to users — not users sending data. They'll need more capacity for the latter as more people transmit homemade music, photos and videos.
"Two years ago, nobody knew what YouTube goog was," Johnson says. "Now, it's generating 27 petabytes (27 million gigabytes) of data per month."
Schools, hospitals and businesses could add to the flood as they use the Web for long-distance education, health care services and videoconferencing.
Service providers might not appreciate how fast Web demand is growing, Johnson says: "Comcast doesn't know what's going on in AT&T's t network, and vice versa. Researchers are increasingly shut out. So nobody's getting good, global knowledge about the Internet."