The Edge-of-the-Internet Problem


The bottom-line impact of Verizon's fiber-to-the-home strategy remains to be seen.

But connectivity at the very edges of the internet is a serious issue. Whether Verizon makes money or not, the last-mile capacity it's adding is critical to the future of the net.

I've written a fair amount about the scare stories on video-driven congestion at the heart of the net, and the way those stories always seem to back off the clogged-artery theme in favor of the more realistic edge-of-the-net problem.

I spoke about these issues last week in my conversation with Vint Cerf. Here's what he had to say:

In the United States, the idea that the Internet is might be choking at the edge of the net might have some validity. Our delivery capacities are far less than what other countries and other Internet providers have been able to achieve.

There are plans in various of the Internet backbone providers to move from 10 to 40 to 100 gigabit-per-second channels on optical fiber, so there's substantial capacity - potential anyway - in the core of the net. The edges are at issue, and part of the reason is that there too few competitors providing service.

This raises big questions. What kind of network environment, what kind of information environment, are we providing the general population and the business community in the United States? And the if the answer is, It's a weaker one, a less effective one than other places in the world, is that going to disable us in some way, is it going to retard our ability to be competitive?

It worries me that we are not showing the kind of capacity, and economics, that other places are. Perhaps that will change with time, but we have to guard against an argument that says, I can only provide these kinds of capacities and capabilities if you remove from me any responsibility for fairness, or any responsibility for openness. That has been a thematic argument which many of the broadband providers have made over the course of the last decade. The consequence now is that we don't have very effective broadband services.


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