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 dialup," says Nemertes President Johna Till Johnson. "The cool stuff you'll want to do will be such a pain in the rear that you won't do it."
She says the study is the first to compare projected traffic growth with expansion plans.
The findings were embraced by the Internet Innovation Alliance, a coalition that advocates tax and spending policies that favor investments in Web capacity.
"We're not trying to play Paul Revere and say the Internet's going to fall," says alliance co-chairman Larry Irving. "If we make the investments we need, people will have the Internet experience they want and deserve."
Nemertes says 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 percent 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 percent more than planned.
Much of that is needed for costly running of new high- capacity lines. Verizon is replacing copper lines with fiber optics for its FiOS service, which has 1.3 million Internet subscribers.
Johnson says 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 to add capacity as more people transmit homemade music, photos and videos.
"Two years ago, nobody knew what YouTube 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.