Tromboning: Internet Traffic Begins to Bypass the U.S.
rah at shipwright.com
Sat Aug 30 10:32:15 EDT 2008
"Tromboning". That's a word I've been looking for.
Tromboning is what happens when I send packets between the Cable &
Wireless DSL line and the Caribbean Cable cablemodem on the other side
of the living room in Seafeathers Bay -- via New York (and
Washington), and/or Miami (and Washington), and/or Atlanta (and
Washington), not to mention Washington.
Too bad little countries like Anguilla don't permit third-party
peering between competing internet service providers. After all, that
kind of latency is just... unacceptable. ;-)
A geodesic internetwork sees um, latency, as damage, &c.
Evidently not just anyone can stick two links together using one box
and three ethernet cards, or whatever, or the Internet Gets Broken.
Geeze, to paraphrase Grace Slick, I wish I knew BGP.
(Though, like Grace was at the time, I'm too burned-out a dog these
days to learn those new tricks. Easier to doze off on the veranda
watching the weather go by.)
New York Times
August 30, 2008
Internet Traffic Begins to Bypass the U.S.
By JOHN MARKOFF
SAN FRANCISCO — The era of the American Internet is ending.
Invented by American computer scientists during the 1970s, the
Internet has been embraced around the globe. During the network’s
first three decades, most Internet traffic flowed through the United
States. In many cases, data sent between two locations within a given
country also passed through the United States.
Engineers who help run the Internet said that it would have been
impossible for the United States to maintain its hegemony over the
long run because of the very nature of the Internet; it has no central
point of control.
And now, the balance of power is shifting. Data is increasingly
flowing around the United States, which may have intelligence — and
conceivably military — consequences.
American intelligence officials have warned about this shift. “Because
of the nature of global telecommunications, we are playing with a
tremendous home-field advantage, and we need to exploit that edge,”
Michael V. Hayden, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency,
testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2006. “We also need
to protect that edge, and we need to protect those who provide it to
Indeed, Internet industry executives and government officials have
acknowledged that Internet traffic passing through the switching
equipment of companies based in the United States has proved a
distinct advantage for American intelligence agencies. In December
2005, The New York Times reported that the National Security Agency
had established a program with the cooperation of American
telecommunications firms that included the interception of foreign
Some Internet technologists and privacy advocates say those actions
and other government policies may be hastening the shift in Canadian
and European traffic away from the United States.
“Since passage of the Patriot Act, many companies based outside of the
United States have been reluctant to store client information in the
U.S.,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic
Privacy Information Center in Washington. “There is an ongoing concern
that U.S. intelligence agencies will gather this information without
legal process. There is particular sensitivity about access to
financial information as well as communications and Internet traffic
that goes through U.S. switches.”
But economics also plays a role. Almost all nations see data networks
as essential to economic development. “It’s no different than any
other infrastructure that a country needs,” said K C Claffy, a
research scientist at the Cooperative Association for Internet Data
Analysis in San Diego.
“You wouldn’t want someone owning your roads either.”
Indeed, more countries are becoming aware of how their dependence on
other countries for their Internet traffic makes them vulnerable.
Because of tariffs, pricing anomalies and even corporate cultures,
Internet providers will often not exchange data with their local
competitors. They prefer instead to send and receive traffic with
larger international Internet service providers.
This leads to odd routing arrangements, referred to as tromboning, in
which traffic between two cites in one country will flow through other
nations. In January, when a cable was cut in the Mediterranean,
Egyptian Internet traffic was nearly paralyzed because it was not
being shared by local I.S.P.’s but instead was routed through European
The issue was driven home this month when hackers attacked and
immobilized several Georgian government Web sites during the country’s
fighting with Russia. Most of Georgia’s access to the global network
flowed through Russia and Turkey. A third route through an undersea
cable linking Georgia to Bulgaria is scheduled for completion in
Ms. Claffy said that the shift away from the United States was not
limited to developing countries. The Japanese “are on a rampage to
build out across India and China so they have alternative routes and
so they don’t have to route through the U.S.”
Andrew M. Odlyzko, a professor at the University of Minnesota who
tracks the growth of the global Internet, added, “We discovered the
Internet, but we couldn’t keep it a secret.” While the United States
carried 70 percent of the world’s Internet traffic a decade ago, he
estimates that portion has fallen to about 25 percent.
Internet technologists say that the global data network that was once
a competitive advantage for the United States is now increasingly
outside the control of American companies. They decided not to invest
in lower-cost optical fiber lines, which have rapidly become a
That lack of investment mirrors a pattern that has taken place
elsewhere in the high-technology industry, from semiconductors to
The risk, Internet technologists say, is that upstarts like China and
India are making larger investments in next-generation Internet
technology that is likely to be crucial in determining the future of
the network, with investment, innovation and profits going first to
“Whether it’s a good or a bad thing depends on where you stand,” said
Vint Cerf, a computer scientist who is Google’s Internet evangelist
and who, with Robert Kahn, devised the original Internet routing
protocols in the early 1970s. “Suppose the Internet was entirely
confined to the U.S., which it once was? That wasn’t helpful.”
International networks that carry data into and out of the United
States are still being expanded at a sharp rate, but the Internet
infrastructure in many other regions of the world is growing even more
While there has been some concern over a looming Internet traffic jam
because of the rise in Internet use worldwide, the congestion is
generally not on the Internet’s main trunk lines, but on neighborhood
switches, routers and the wires into a house.
As Internet traffic moves offshore, it may complicate the task of
American intelligence gathering agencies, but would not make Internet
“We’re probably in one of those situations where things get a little
bit harder,” said John Arquilla, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate
School in Monterey, Calif., who said the United States had invested
far too little in collecting intelligence via the Internet. “We’ve
given terrorists a free ride in cyberspace,” he said.
Others say the eclipse of the United States as the central point in
cyberspace is one of many indicators that the world is becoming a more
level playing field both economically and politically.
“This is one of many dimensions on which we’ll have to adjust to a
reduction in American ability to dictate terms of core interests of
ours,” said Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Berkman Center for
Internet and Society at Harvard. “We are, by comparison, militarily
weaker, economically poorer and technologically less unique than we
were then. We are still a very big player, but not in control.”
China, for instance, surpassed the United States in the number of
Internet users in June. Over all, Asia now has 578.5 million, or 39.5
percent, of the world’s Internet users, although only 15.3 percent of
the Asian population is connected to the Internet, according to
Internet World Stats, a market research organization.
By contrast, there were about 237 million Internet users in North
America and the growth has nearly peaked; penetration of the Internet
in the region has reached about 71 percent.
The increasing role of new competitors has shown up in data collected
annually by Renesys, a firm in Manchester, N.H., that monitors the
connections between Internet providers. The Renesys rankings of
Internet connections, an indirect measure of growth, show that the big
winners in the last three years have been the Italian Internet
provider Tiscali, China Telecom and the Japanese telecommunications
Firms that have slipped in the rankings have all been American:
Verizon, Savvis, AT&T, Qwest, Cogent and AboveNet.
“The U.S. telecommunications firms haven’t invested,” said Earl
Zmijewski, vice president and general manager for Internet data
services at Renesys. “The rest of the world has caught up. I don’t see
the AT&T’s and Sprints making the investments because they see
Internet service as a commodity.”
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