Bizarre Anti-Net Neutrality Rant Says ISPs Will Get Overwhelmed Because of Gaming

An article has surfaced suggesting that ISPs will get completely overwhelmed because people might play video games.

Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of arguments against network neutrality. Whether it is people using BitTorrent, streaming Netflix video’s, or a whole bunch of other random reasons why network neutrality should be disassembled. Of course, every single one of these conspiracy theories never really held up. In 2008, I published an article finding real statistics by ISPs which suggests that the idea that ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are completely overwhelmed is grossly exaggerated.

While the article didn’t single handedly end the debate surrounding network neutrality, it did do a lot to undercut the argument that ISPs are completely overwhelmed. Obviously, the push to end network neutrality will never really go away. After all, ISPs will probably never give up on the dream that they can act as the ultimate gatekeeper over what you can and cannot see online. After all, there is a lot of money that could be made in basically taking over the Internet at large.

That ISP dream of dictating winners and losers online got dangerously close to full realization when network neutrality got repealed back in 2018. The only reason why the consequences of that repeal never came to fruition was thanks to ongoing court proceedings between ISPs and the state of California (and multiple other states).

Unfortunately, American’s are still waiting for the government to finally bring stability to this thanks to being unable to fill the last commissioner seat. So, everything about this debate from the US perspective continues to be in limbo.

That leads us to an article that is, to put it mildly, completely bizarre. The article was published in Light Reading. It’s one of those articles where, the more you know about the points being raised in the article, the less sense it makes in the first place. The article warns of a dystopian world for ISPs with the way things are going. The article starts off with this:

Without an unlikely surge of enthusiasm for the real world, the future is someone wearing a virtual-reality headset while lost in a “metaverse” of games, social interactions and work meetings. It has crept a bit closer with Microsoft’s market-rumbling, $68.7 billion bid for games company Activision Blizzard, a deal that telecom executives may regard much as hurricane-alley property owners eye the next lightning flash.

The scary words in Microsoft’s own statement are “cloud” and “metaverse.” The latter, of course, was originally coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash, where users could don headsets, transform into avatars and jog around the virtual real estate of a single but seemingly never-ending road (simply called the Street). The Street’s real-world guardian was a fiber-optic network operator owned by the sinister L. Bob Rife.

So, yes, Microsoft is wanting to buy Activision Blizzard. As many gaming industry observers have long noted, Activision Blizzard has been going through a number of controversies. Whether it is the controversy surrounding crunch time hours where employees are required to work overtime or the ongoing sexual harassment controversy which, at one point, saw the company completely miss the point by replacing women in games with bowls of fruit. Suffice to say, the public relations with how the company treats its employees have been taking hit after hit after hit over the last year at least.

For some, the idea that Microsoft is buying the company brings in the idea that, finally, there will be adult supervision over the company. For others, though, it brings back memories of how Microsoft got so large that regulators had to step in with antitrust investigations in the first place. Ultimately, reaction is rather divided over the news and what it means for the game company.

Now, what does this have to do with network neutrality and ISPs being overwhelmed. Ultimately, there really is no connection in the end. For the author, however, there is a very real connection – at least in his mind. The author seemingly grabbed a flashlight, pointed it at his chin, turned off the room lights and offered this:

Telecom operators won’t inherit the cloudy metaverse that Stephenson part-envisaged, but they will have to cope with its outrageous demands. An inkling of what to expect has come thanks to COVID-19, which overnight turned gym rats, supermarket trolley pushers and even the most curmudgeonly technophobes into housebound netizens. Internet traffic has exploded.

BT, the UK’s telecom incumbent, has been documenting growth while grumbling about the implications. At first, it downplayed concern. Before lockdowns arrived in March 2020, normal daytime usage on the network ran at about 5 Tbit/s, revealed Howard Watson, its chief technology officer, in a blog at the time. The great retreat indoors sent that figure up to about 7.5 Tbit/s. No problem, said BT. Its network was built to withstand as much as 17.5 Tbit/s.

But the executive tone had changed dramatically by December 2021. Spikes in Internet traffic had reignited the debate about net neutrality, the principle that stops operators from charging Internet companies for usage. A traffic tsunami of 25.5 Tbit/s was recorded on December 1, threatening to overwhelm BT systems, as a mere six soccer fixtures were streamed online by Amazon. “Of course, we invest to ensure our networks can cope with this but as demand grows further this decade we can see potential problems coming down the line,” wrote Marc Allera, the CEO of BT’s consumer division, in the latest BT blog.

If Amazon can do that with a few hours of high-definition sport, imagine what Microsoft can do with Activision Blizzard when its vast resources turn Call of Duty into a cloud-enabled, virtual-reality part of the metaverse. The games sector is already experiencing a boom that has propelled Activision Blizzard’s revenues from about $4.7 billion in 2015 to more than $8 billion last year. A generation of youngsters would rather game from the comfort of the bedroom than watch TV, play sport or socialize outdoors. As for the Victorian activity of reading, it will probably die at the same time as Generation X.

I’ll wait for you to stop laughing. You can continue reading when you are done.

There’s so many things wrong with the analysis, it’s pretty difficult to know where to begin here. First of all, trying to lay blame Amazon for all of the Internet traffic flowing through a network within a single day is, at minimum, over-estimating a perceived problem (which is unlikely to even exist in the first place). Second of all, just because Microsoft could buy Activision Blizzard doesn’t necessarily mean that a massive tsunami of Internet traffic is coming.

The thing is, streaming games or downloading them online has been going on for decades now. On Steam alone, 7.5tbit/s is a slower day for them. Other major platforms such as YouTube do consume quite a chunk of bandwidth as well – and that data is constantly streamed no less. The fact is, a lot of bandwidth is being consumed these days and networks have been handling it just fine.

What’s more is that video game streaming is not really anything new these days. In fact, that was the whole premise of Google Stadia. The idea is that a game would get run on high end equipment by the platform and video gets streamed to the user through an Internet connection. This concept has been struggling to take off, however.

The thing with video game streaming is that you need a high end Internet connection. A number of games out there require quick reflexes and good reaction time to do well in. If you are lagging because of a slow Internet stream, then playing some of these games with this method is basically a non-starter. What’s more is that video game streaming is ultimately a catch-22 from a users perspective. If you have the bandwidth to stream a game properly, then you have the bandwidth to just download the game yourself and run it off of your own machine. After all, if you can afford a connection like that, you can afford a machine that can run the game yourself in the first place.

What’s more is that people have been downloading Call of Duty on various platforms like Steam for years, if not, over a decade now. Downloading modern games along takes up huge amounts of bandwidth in and of itself. Call of Duty: Vanguard weighs in at 177GB. As for Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War weighs in at 82GB. Now, how many people have downloaded and played either one of these? The math adds up in a hurry. Yet, how much hand-wringing was there involved when these games were released about how much ISPs would get overwhelmed? None that I saw anyway.

If Microsoft chooses to stream these games instead, it’s not really going to add a whole bunch of added strain on the networks. This franchise has been around for a very long time now and, the way things stand today, getting people to stream these games is still going to be a tough sell for the wider audience. There’s little actual reason to believe that people would magically flock to streaming games overnight because of one single acquisition. In fact, chances are, most of these gamers would prefer to do things like before by downloading and playing the game on their own rigs. Some might try the streaming idea at first, but realize the significant disadvantages and simply install the game after.

Of course, for the author, though, none of that matters. In fact, the author, after muddling through his own arguments, meanders to this point:

Net neutrality, though, is probably a red herring. The US flipflops between pro- and anti-net neutrality legislation with every change in administration and with no discernible impact on the sector. Currently backed by Joe Biden, it will inevitably fall out of favor once again if and when Donald Trump makes his presidential comeback in 2024. Laissez-faire regulation will not significantly alter the balance of power between telcos and Big Tech. It might even convince the metaverse owners to build or buy their own last-mile networks (perhaps proving Stephenson right about L. Bob Rife after all).

Of course, we addressed this at the top of this article. For US consumers, network neutrality was never truly dismantled. Instead, it was held together by litigation and multiple states using every legal resource to keep it held together. Because of these lawsuits, America never truly experienced a point in time where network neutrality was dismantled. There were, of course, moments where American’s saw flashes of a world without network neutrality, but they ended up being a quick whiff of ISP takeover of the Internet, not a true dismantling.

To suggest that America has been going back and forth between network neutrality and no network neutrality is pure non-sense and an exercise in re-writing history to suit an agenda. After all, why make it difficult to fight reality when you can distort and change facts to better suit your case?

At the end of the day, this article is just incoherent and out to lunch on the topic of network neutrality. It’s precisely because of these articles that people have a perception (well founded these days) that misinformation tends to come from larger publications and the media. If anyone else comes across the article, the only appropriate reaction is to give a massive eye-roll and conclude the author has no clue what he’s talking about before moving on.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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