Frustration of Congestion on the Internet

Smashing the LaptopInternet congestion is real one of the founders of the Internet says (and no, it’s not Al Gore) but he downplays its significance because of the limited amount of time it happens daily. But that begs the question: is any congestion acceptable and any less frustrating?

In a PC World magazine article, David Clark, a senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and one of the researchers investigating congestion complaints, says, “Traffic congestion at interconnection points between broadband providers and backbone providers doesn’t appear to be widespread, with congestion often just two or three hours a day.” Unfortunately it would seem congestion is highest when most people are trying to use the Internet, much like highways are congested during morning and evening rush hours.

Clark, testifying before Congress recently, said, “many of the problems of congestion seem to point to disagreements over business arrangements related to mismatches between network capacity and demand.” As PC World previously reported, “Federal Communications Commission is looking into complaints from Netflix and some Internet backbone providers that several large broadband providers have been refusing for years to upgrade their backbone connections as a way to slow video traffic that competes with their own services.”

PC World quotes Clark as saying new FCC regulations are not necessary but the agency’s focus on the issue is important. “It may be appropriate for the FCC to clear its throat and say, ‘What’s going on here?’” he said. In some cases, the article adds in quoting Clark’s testimony, “this has been going on for months.” Clark, PC World observes, has been involved in the development of the Internet since the 1970s.

Slate Magazine posted at its Future Tense blog that the FCC’s study on the issue shows “On average, during peak periods DSL-based services delivered download speeds that were 91 percent of advertised speeds, cable-based services delivered 102 percent of advertised speeds, fiber-to-the-home services delivered 113 percent of advertised speeds, and satellite delivered 138 percent of advertised speeds.”

But, and isn’t there always a but?, it doesn’t seem to jibe with real-life experiences. The article says, “why did former FCC commissioner Michael Copps give an impassioned speech Wednesday at the Library of Congress about how dreadful  U.S. broadband is? ‘We have fallen so far short that we should be ashamed of ourselves,” he said, “We should be leading, and we’re not. We need to get serious about broadband, we need to get serious about competition, we need to get serious about our country.”

Copps’ quote came from a Consumerist article. The article pointed out, “Broadband competition is indeed scarce in the United States, and the looming wave of ‘merger mania’ is unlikely at best to improve the situation for anyone. A lot of focus on the issue has to do with consumer access to the Internet because there has not been a focus on business use on the same level.

The article also says, “Even taking into account the previous monopolies of 19th and 20th century industry, Copps said, “there has never been a more urgent need for legislators and regulators” to make moves to protect consumers.”

Copp, the article said, “called back to an earlier speaker, who had pointed out that the Internet, to most users, had become about the very core of freedom of expression: the freedom to say, read, and watch what we want. And with ‘the likelihood of gatekeeper control’ impending, in the form of the FCC’s new proposed net neutrality rule, those freedoms are in danger.”

In the end, Copps directly challenged both the FCC and current members of Congress to do more, and do better, which will have an impact on commercial use of the Internet. “Our democracy depends on what happens between now and the end of this year,” Copp said. “Are we going to have regulators and legislators with enough gumption to make this happen?”

Keith Griffin
Keith Griffin is an award-winning business writer and editor with more than 30 years experience as a journalist. His work has been published in The Boston Globe, Medical Economist, Good Housekeeping,, the Hartford Courant, CT Law Tribune and numerous other regional publications.