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GAO has swine flu broadband panic

If you weren’t worried enough about getting your H1N1 shot, now the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has sounded the alarm about The Internet blowing a fuse from a sudden influx of daytime telecommuting workers bogging down broadband links, causing bottlenecks and slowdowns.   It could get so bad as to slow down Securities industry trading during a pandemic — and that would be a bad thing?

GAO’s last tech-panic report had the GPS dramatically going away in a few years despite U.S. Air Force and DoD efforts to keep things rolling, so it’s hard to take them too seriously. There’s also a sense of “Huh” here since the GAO seems to be doing this on behalf of worries by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), along with a side-slam that Department of Homeland Security wasn’t doing enough to plan for such an eventuality.

According to the GAO: “Increased demand during a severe pandemic could exceed the capacities of Internet providers’ access networks for residential users and interfere with teleworkers in the securities market and other sectors, according to a DHS study and providers” (My emphasis on could in italics.)

If there’s a major pandemic, let me repeat: Should stock market trading go on as business as usual? *sigh*

But wait, there’s more!

“Private Internet providers have limited ability to prioritize traffic or take other actions that could assist critical teleworkers.”

OK, they can’t under current regulations. And who decides who a “critical” teleworker is? We’re already into slippery-slope territory here.

“Some actions, such as reducing customers’ transmission speeds or blocking popular Web sites, could negatively impact e-commerce and require government authorization. However, DHS has not developed a strategy to address potential Internet congestion or worked with federal partners to ensure that sufficient authorities to act exist. It also has not assessed the feasibility of conducting a campaign to obtain public cooperation to reduce nonessential Internet use to relieve congestion. DHS also has not begun coordinating with other federal and private sector entities to assess other actions that could be taken.”

I guess GAO missed the big stink about telecommunications firms “cooperating” with the U.S. government after 9/11 — not to mention the retroactive immunity passed in Congress.  I  also suspect GAO missed the whole “Net Neutrality” debate, with the Federal Communications Commission explicitly proposing rules that carriers NOT be able to prioritize traffic.

There are so many policy and network variables here that it makes my head spin to think about them.  However, the GAO also finds that securities companies typically operate their own closed network that bypass public bottlenecks on the Internet

Oh yes, and the GAO believes DHS should “do more to address potential Internet congestion.”  Uh huh.

I’m going to go take a couple of aspirin now…

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