But Deloitte Consulting thinks 2007 will be the year of some serious slowdowns in service. Deloitte raised some eyebrows at the beginning of the year in its annual technology forecast, which included such statements as:
"One of the key possibilities for 2007 is that the Internet could be approaching its capacity .... Bottlenecks are likely to become apparent in some of the Internet's backbones, the terabit-capable pipes exchanging traffic between continents."
"Surfers are most likely to be annoyed by the slowdown in service. And it only takes an unexpected upsurge in video usage to turn an inconvenience caused by a drop in access speeds into full-scale consumer dissatisfaction."
Well, it's still early in the year, but Deloitte analysts are feeling pretty comfortable with their prediction.
"You can probably experience problems now depending on when you use the Internet," Ed Moran, director of product innovations at Deloitte, told internetnews.com. "It's faster downloading or uploading at say 2 p.m. versus 3:30 when all the kids come home from school and start downloading music, etc. Your neighborhood takes a hit in performance, and it's not hard to extrapolate that out to a wider impact."
Why? One of the biggest culprits is video. Over a third of all Internet traffic in 2007 is expected to be in the form of mostly illegal, peer-to-peer video, according to Deloitte. Additionally there is a growing number of legitimate video downloads, user-generated video content and IPTV (define).
According to Google, though, there's not much to be concerned about.
"Many people have argued there's an Internet bandwidth shortage, but it's really a last-mile issue," said Google CEO Eric Schmidt at a recent investor's conference. "There is so much fiber underground."
He added that Google is always pushing for greater broadband access. The search giant has funded and sponsored various Wi-Fi projects, including one that provides free Wi-Fi in its hometown of Mountain View, Calif.
In its report, Deloitte analysts gave consideration to both sides in the Net neutrality (define) debate over equal access throughout the Internet. Net Neutrality legislation is designed to curb plans by companies such as Verizon and AT&T to charge content providers like Google and Yahoo additional fees based on bandwidth consumption.
The Deloitte report asserts there can't be a free ride.
"For the Internet to continue operating to everyone's benefit, all companies whose livelihood depends on the Web need both to contribute and gain," the Deloitte report stated. "This means that organizations that build, operate, maintain and expand the underlying infrastructure need a return on their investment; everyone involved may end up paying more, including consumers."
Schmidt thinks the government should pay more of the rising infrastructure costs.
"We didn't ask for private citizens to pay for the highway system up front," he said. He said it would be "great" if the U.S. government recognized the advanced position other countries have in providing greater broadband access to their citizens as a competitive threat leading to further investment here.
Moran likened the current situation to a "Tragedy of the Commons" where there's a reluctance to invest more in the Internet because no one owns it.
"In the long term I think the problem will correct itself," said Moran. "The providers, the telecom companies will continue to invest. But in the short term, there are going to be some very real hiccups."