Barrons' Tech Trader Daily has an article this morning about a GAO report worrying that a large outbreak of swine flu could take down the internet. The argument is a fairly simple one: if too many people stay home from school and work, they're going to spend all that time online. Watching YouTube I suppose. The extra traffic will then overwhelm woefully unprepared ISPs. Securities markets could suffer as teleworkers have difficulty doing their trades, e-commerce could slow down, and all manner of havoc could result.
In a way, it's easy to make the case sound worse with each sentence. With the recession and all, network providers have been hoarding capex, delaying major upgrades, and running their networks hotter. They are therefore probably even more vulnerable than they would be in their normally unprepared-for-disaster state. Layoffs have available staff cut to the bone, which will further limit their ability to respond to a bandwidth crisis. We're doomed! It's almost enough to make us all wish we could give the ISPs back the right to filter traffic to slow down all the sick people's bandwidth and save the world, right? (Oops, did I reveal the master plan?)
Actually, I really kind of doubt there is a real threat here. Do people with high fevers really spend all day watching moving pixels on a computer screen? Maybe some do, but I sleep with the TV on and the remote nearby - it requires less interaction so I can be miserable in peace. And it isn't as if people at work aren't using bandwidth - twittering away, watching YouTube, listening to Pandora over the headphones... they just aren't supposed to be.
What this strikes me as is a report generated by a government committee tasked with evaluating a threat they are predisposed to find to be actually threatening, lest we never hear about their hard work. Congestion on the internet happens somewhere every day, do we really have to make a national emergency about it?
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