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Internet Probably Couldn't Handle a Flu Pandemic 341

Several readers including mikael and gclef noted a report from the General Accountability Office suggesting that it should be Homeland Security's job to make sure the nation's business can flow during a pandemic. In particular, if H1N1 sends workers and schoolchildren home in large numbers, GAO thinks it might be a good idea for ISPs to prioritize traffic (favoring commerce over games, say), to reduce network speeds, and possibly to shut down high-traffic Web sites. DHS retorts that not only isn't it their job to control the Internet in this way, but the GAO is naive to believe it's even possible: "An expectation of unlimited Internet access during a pandemic is not realistic." "[DHS] does not even have a plan to start work on the issue, the General Accountability Office said. But the Homeland Security Department accused the GAO of having unrealistic expectations of how the Internet could be managed if millions began to telework from home at the same time as bored or sick schoolchildren were playing online, sucking up valuable bandwidth. Experts have for years pointed to the potential problem of Internet access during a severe pandemic, which would be a unique kind of emergency. It would be global, affecting many areas at once, and would last for weeks or months... Many companies and government offices hope to keep operations going as much as possible with teleworking using the Internet. Among the many problems posed by this idea, however, is the issue of bandwidth..."
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Internet Probably Couldn't Handle a Flu Pandemic

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  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) * on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:25PM (#29888533) Journal
    In event of contagious diseases, we will quarantine everyone to their houses. Then we will shut off all your ability to play online games.
    • by Capt.DrumkenBum ( 1173011 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:47PM (#29888921)
      As someone who is still recovering from H1N1, I think I can safely say that playing video games was not even on my list of things I had any desire to do.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Well, let's not play dumb. The argument is that people will stay home to prevent further infections when H1N1 becomes a pandemic. The proposal is still a thinly veiled jab at network neutrality.

        • Precisely. Today it's a pandemic, tomorrow it's legitimate competition. Given power to shut down the internet at will, the excuses for doing so will only continue to grow.

    • Does anyone else believe this is just an attempt of the General Accountability Office to shutoff slashdot?
  • sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dyinobal ( 1427207 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:26PM (#29888549)
    Can't we get rid of the DHS yet? I don't think there's one government organization I like less.
    • Re:sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lwsimon ( 724555 ) <lyndsy@lyndsysimon.com> on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:31PM (#29888641) Homepage Journal

      I see you've never dealt with BATFE.

      • by Kozz ( 7764 )

        What movie was it in... I don't recall.

        First Man: Sir, we're from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

        Second Man: I suppose this isn't about the alcohol or tobacco.

    • Re:sigh (Score:4, Informative)

      by plague3106 ( 71849 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:32PM (#29888677)

      Seriously? Not even the IRS?

      • I hate the Social Security Administration more.

        I already know that I'll get back about HALF the money I paid in (unless I live to see 110 which seems unlikely). Even if I stored my money in a simple interest savings account I'd get a better return on my retirement fund.

        • by Teancum ( 67324 )

          For myself, I'd rather that the FICA deductions were completely removed, added as a revenue neutral addition to the general income tax, and considered Social Security payments to be simply a form of social welfare instead of an entitlement.

          That pretty much is how the U.S. Congress has been treating the Social Security trust funds anyway since Tip O'Neil was speaker and Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Why not just make it official?

          Of course that would make it too easy to cut benefits.... how dare I su

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            For myself, I'd rather that the FICA deductions were completely removed, added as a revenue neutral addition to the general income tax, and considered Social Security payments to be simply a form of social welfare instead of an entitlement.

            That pretty much is how the U.S. Congress has been treating the Social Security trust funds anyway since Tip O'Neil was speaker and Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Why not just make it official?

            Actually, if you ever read the various laws related to Social Security

        • I hate the Social Security Administration more.

          You hate losing some money more than the secret police wannabe? Seriously?

          • by Toonol ( 1057698 )
            I think you could argue that the SSA has done more and longer-term damage to America than DHS has.
        • by geekoid ( 135745 )

          really? A lot of people who thought the same way lost everything in the last 5 years.

          Of course, your number s are wrong as well, but no amount of facts will allow you to turn off you pundits and think for yourself.

      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        even more then the tax agencies.

        The only exist to get around protection in place for citizens and they do NOT in any way shape or form address the issues that caused people to miss the clues regarding the 9/11 incident.

        All they need was a better communication channel, even a guy whose sole job is to review note and wak up the head of the CIA or FBI to say "hey, this one is particularly worrisome".

        Seriously, THAT would have stopped 9/11.

        The current agencies weren't needed' and ahving a dept. that controll e

    • Re:sigh (Score:5, Informative)

      by cabjf ( 710106 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:34PM (#29888727)
      This is the GAO instigating. DHS slapped them down saying that not only is it not their job, it's probably not even possible.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Once the government gains new useful powers like those granted to the DHS, it is extremely difficult to dislodge them. Once the power is there, there's no reason for them to ever think of giving it up.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Teancum ( 67324 )

        Of course isn't is strange that the DHS doesn't even want this authority.... presuming that it was even possible to distinguish "legitimate" network traffic from video games without checking the "evil" bit.

        • Yes it is strange. However, I'm betting that it is a very similar to the reasons why the "spooks" of the previous slashdot article didn't want a three strikes law. There is selfish interest somewhere... I guarantee it.

    • Re:sigh (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mr 44 ( 180750 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:36PM (#29888749)

      Hello, did you RTFS? I'm no fan of DHS, but they ARE the ones saying that the GAO is on crack for even thinking about this idea, and that they aren't planning on doing anything.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        Of course, the GAO wasn't offering more money or more power, just more responsibility. Government craves the first two and shuns the latter.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by RY ( 98479 )

      It is the only government agency who's main drive for its survival of the organization is fear. Once people have nothing to fear then the agency becomes obsolete.

    • Re:sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jdgeorge ( 18767 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:38PM (#29888775)

      Well, in this case, they (DHS) are saying it's irrational to expect the government to be able to regulate the internet in the event of a public health emergency, which I happen to agree with.

      As to getting rid of DHS, that's would likely entail just breaking the DHS back into the separate agencies from which it was formed. [wikipedia.org] There could be some benefit, but based on what I can discern, I'm not sure what would be gained in making that change. Any thoughts?

      • Re:sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:55PM (#29889047) Journal

        Consolidation of all those agencies seems logical to me. Might be the only good think Dubya did. However I hate that name "Homeland"..... sounds like something out of the Bundeswehr Handbook (copyright 1933). The War Department was renamed Defense Department. How about DHS became just the Department of Domestic Security, to echo the words of the constitution ("from enemies foreign and domestic").

        For that matter we should have some kind of Constitutional Council, to be made-up of the 50 state legislatures (and 2-3 delegates of their chusing), whose task is to nullify any Congressional acts they consider unconstitutional. The U.S. Court can have its opinion, but ultimately it was the 50 States that formed the original contract and they should have the right to ignore non-contractual grabs for power.

        • Consolidating the agencies is certainly "more efficient." My question is if what we want is efficiency.

          In the old days the FBI, CIA and DIA were all competing for the love of the President. This meant there were 3 different solutions to every problem. A lot of redundancy, and a lot of waste.

          Now they all answer to one boss and they better toe the line. They have jobs to protect. That means for any problem, there will be one solution. Thats great and efficient, as long as the one solution keeping the ter

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Eevee ( 535658 )

          The War Department was renamed Defense Department.

          Not quite. The Department of Defense was made up from a merger of the Department of War (which was split into the Army and the Air Force) and Department of the Navy (Navy and Marine Core).

        • by lee1026 ( 876806 )

          The constitution spells out pretty clearly who have the right to decide what is constitutional and what is not.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        Criticism. [wikipedia.org]

        The size and mission creep of the behemoth comes to mind. Data-mining, bloat, glorified security-guard hiring practices, over-reaching harassment databases. It was created as a knee-jerk reaction to 9/11, 'nuff said.

        It's purely business. Consolidate everything, hire cheaply, waste a-plenty. Morale goes through the toilet. I'm from a border town, and there have been articles in the paper spanning a few years describing the scumbags working the borders, to include widespread recent complaints
        • >>>glorified security-guard hiring practices, over-reaching harassment

          You mean like this? The guy in this audio recording was harassed, first with the TSA and then some cops, when they spotted his cash box and demanded "Where'd you get all this money?". They had no constitutional warrant, but still they said they can stop him from entering the airplane. Laws don't matter when the government can detain you at will.

          10-minute version (unedited) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEJpzVPmih0 [youtube.com] [youtube.co

    • Re:sigh (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:44PM (#29888877) Homepage Journal

      I don't know, the DEA ranks up there. Lets work on getting that abomination gone, as well as the stupid laws that justify its existance. Let the dope tax go to the IRS instead of to Columbia and Mexiso.

    • Can't we just get rid of all non-Constitutionally mandated agencies (then amend the Constitution to add anything that is truly needed)?

      Oh wait, I forgot that we found "implied powers" secretly weaved into the Constitution and have since found more secret messages left by the founders that allow everything we deem neccesarry, reasonable and proper.

      This seems to be another FUD report by some agency in order to justify taking over, regulating and destroying a free internet. Sadly, as much as I like most of the

    • by aaandre ( 526056 )

      Can't we get rid of the DHS yet? I don't think there's one government organization I like less.

      In Capitalist U.S. of A. DHS get rid of YOU!

  • by A beautiful mind ( 821714 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:27PM (#29888563)
    Isn't traffic usually higher during business days than during the weekends? If so, during a pandemic I'd expect lower traffic, not higher. Especially since people, you know, being sick don't really feel like browsing...
    • I agree with you. I see zero reason for traffic to increase in a pandemic. Yes, more people will work from home via the internet, but at the same time, more people will be watching TV instead of using their work computer. This is total speculation. In a theoretical, unknown pandemic, with unknown number of people not going to work, and unknown number working (instead of pretending to), etc etc.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Not everyone will be sick, but people will be expected/told to/required to stay home to avoid spreading the flu. Naturally, businesses whose employees can work from home will expect people who are home but not sick to work while they're home -- and that's what the GAO is worried about.
    • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

      Especially since people, you know, being sick don't really feel like browsing porn ...

      Fixed that for ya...

  • by bughunter ( 10093 ) <bughunter@@@earthlink...net> on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:27PM (#29888571) Journal

    Really, I do. Between flash games, surfing blogs, spamming "random page" on Wikipedia, and actual honest-to-goodness work, I use far more bandwidth at work than I do at home, where I mostly just play WoW and read a few blogs.

    Unless the wife isn't home. Then I burn a hole in my wall downloading porn.

  • Lets vote (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the_weasel ( 323320 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:28PM (#29888575) Homepage

    Raise your hand if this sounds like something you WANT the department of homeland security to be worrying about.


    That's what I thought.

  • Comcast (Score:5, Funny)

    by sunderland56 ( 621843 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:28PM (#29888583)
    In other news, Comcast has effectively convinced the GAO that traffic shaping is now a good thing.
  • PDFs are delicious (Score:4, Informative)

    by Foobar_ ( 120869 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:29PM (#29888597)

    The actual report from the GAO is available here: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d108.pdf [gao.gov]

  • Playing games .. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SlashDev ( 627697 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:29PM (#29888601) Homepage
    .. on the Internet IS commerce. Those telecommuting could very well be employee of game companies. Games is a multi-billion dollar industry that is moving more and more toward the Internet infra-structure.
    • by dzfoo ( 772245 )

      Plus, what about all those tens of thousands of people suddenly demanding their monthly fee back from Blizzard and the like because they couldn't connect and play WoW, Eve, Mario Kart, or whatever for a few weeks.

      That'll do a lot of good for online commerce.


  • Wow, just Wow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Drummergeek0 ( 1513771 ) <tony@[ ]d.com ['3bd' in gap]> on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:31PM (#29888635)

    That is such an idiotic idea that whoever came up with it at the GAO should be fired. The idea of what should and should not be allowed would be very arbitrary. Take sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc. They make money from traffic to their site. If they shut down/slowed access to such sites nationwide it would financially cripple them. Companies will have to have their own contingencies for such incidents, it is not the government's responsibility to ensure they can keep operating the way they prefer, it is the companies responsibility to ensure they can continue to operate however necessary.

  • by bennomatic ( 691188 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:31PM (#29888657) Homepage
    Provide tax incentives to large companies to encourage as many of their workers as possible to telecommute as often as possible. This would accomplish a number of things:
    • It would alter the bandwidth landscape such that a pandemic would have a less significant sudden effect on the amount of dependency on home Internet connections.
    • It would reduce vehicle traffic on the roads during peak commute hours.
    • Per the previous item, it would reduce the amount of carbon emissions going into the air due to tens of thousands of cars sitting idle in traffic jams twice a day.
    • Per the previous items, it would also cut down on the volume of fossil fuels burned during commute hours and may assist in reducing our dependency on foreign oil sources.
    • It would reduce the volume of physical interactions between employees, reducing the likelihood of a pandemic spreading throughout an entire organization, and also reducing the flow of such a virus through society at large.

    I am sure there would be negative implications as well, but I think there is a lot to be said for encouraging an environment where there are more people working from home.

    • it doesn't matter how productive I am, my employer doesn't think I'm working unless he can see me working.

    • You have just pissed off everyone who rents business buildings, cleans offices, sells food (prepared and packaged) in convenience shops, and just about anyone who sells anything in a downtown district. The biggest problem with modern society is that it is very efficient (where money changing hands = efficiency) for the status quo. Any major changes will hurt someone, and they're going to cry bloody murder at any attempt to move away from their optimized business cycle.

      It's a great idea - though with some ki

  • I thought everyone learned their lesson about the "tubes" already.

    There is some other bullshit afoot and it has fuck all to do with games, pandemics or teleworking.

    • Agreed. They're trumpeting this as a well-done audit, but the thought experiment is totally screwy. Even if 50% of people aren't at work, how is that worse than Cyber Monday or the days after Black Friday or Boxing Day, when almost everyone isn't working and they're done shopping for deals? GAO's trying to use H1N1 as the answer to any new things that "need" Government supervision. Sorry, 9/11, your days in the limelight are over.
  • by mandark1967 ( 630856 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:32PM (#29888679) Homepage Journal
    What about companies whose "commerce" is games? I'm sure Blizzard would love to hear that the vast majority of their revenue is specifically targeted for termination should a pandemic occur.
  • Is this how it starts, or is this just another bad, never to materialize idea that somehow got press?

    Limit all traffic for the sake of national security or at least national commerce? At what point do you give up said power once you have it? At what point do you drop all filters and say a situation is no longer present?

    Once you grab power and control, there is no reason to _want_ to give it up.

    Then again, this is probably nothing more than a bad idea written on paper. Hopefully.

  • The "Internet" still works remarkably well under load, and there is a self limiting factor: So much of the traffic is youtube etc by volume that if you DID get slowdowns, once those drop below real time people will just turn off anyway.

  • So much for net neutrality... Every time something like the Swine flu comes around they'll use it as an excuse to intervene. Perhaps even use it as an excuse to buy a few billion $$ of equipment to facilitate their meddling.

  • Bandwidth problems (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Omnifarious ( 11933 ) * <eric-slashNO@SPAMomnifarious.org> on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:36PM (#29888753) Homepage Journal

    Maybe they should look at how telecommunications companies are connecting people as the problem instead of how people are using the Internet.

    Anyway, to my mind, there are a clear set of traffic shaping policies that satisfy net neutrality and make sure the network is still usable by everyone. And that's to shape by physical connection, not application. I have an 8 megabit DSL line, but I think my ISP has about 450-600 mbits of bandwidth to the Internet. The aggregate bandwidth of all of their DSL customers is likely at least 10 times their available bandwidth to the Internet, and that's a perfectly normal and reasonable situation.

    If ever any given connection they have to the Internet becomes saturated, they should prioritize traffic in such a way as to make sure everybody trying to use that connection gets their fair share. That means customers that only burst traffic and aren't using their max for hours get priority over the people who are using as much bandwidth as they can for hours. As the bandwidth becomes more constrained, the criteria for what counts as a burst should become shorter and the max burst bandwidth should be lowered.

    Trying to kill off all your bittorrent customers, especially since you think they're competing with your more profitable centralized video distribution business sure seems attractive, but it's evil and all the wrong approach. Just allocate bandwidth fairly to your customers and the bittorrent people will be punished for using all their bandwidth by having molasses web surfing compared to everybody else.

    If bittorrent customers don't like this, they can agree to start marking the traffic they want to have as low priority and then that traffic will be the first to go when there's a bandwidth crunch.

  • by Wireless Joe ( 604314 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:38PM (#29888787) Homepage
    So H1N1 is really a genetically-engineered virus made by Lucent Technologies at the behest of the big telecom/cable cabal to be not quite deadly, but bad enough to send everyone at home for a couple weeks. When everyone fires up their connections for torrents, MMOs, and "internet research" (porn), it gives the bought-and-paid-for congress the perfect excuse to shoot down FCC network neutrality rules and allow telcom/cable to throttle connections and shape traffic, thus ensuring people can order their fleshlights and Sex and the City box sets at the expense of WOW players and pirates looking for movies to watch while they're laying in bed for days at a time. It's so simple it's brilliant!
  • Shutting down specific high-traffic web sites would IMO not be a good idea; people would simply surf elsewhere. In fact, when those heavily loaded sites start lagging, many people will wait for them to load rather than jump elsewhere, reducing the total load.

  • Slashdot programmers should now wait until H1N1 really builds up momentum now before they unleash the latest AJAX-ified, Web2.0ish, Javascripted mayhem on us. Then when the site goes down in a cloud of its own unusability they can instead claim

    Itz teh guvmint! Teh POTUS shutz down teh slashdot! Our code iz setz up teh bomb!

    And then the following day when they go back to the (better, but not really fully) working previous version we might even consider believing them...

  • I think the problem will work itself out when local ISP IT staff get the flu as well.
  • To, me the answer is it depends.

    It depends on what the subscribes want to use it for. When I pay for Internet I do so because it provides some functionality that I value.

    If the functionality that I value the most is playing games then there should be no restrictions on me doing that. This goes for whatever you value. If masses of people get sick and go home and start playing WOW (also Internet commerce, just ask Blizzard) so much so that others cannot log into their banks website then the majority has sp

  • For one thing, games don't consume very much bandwidth compared to streaming or downloading media. For another, High lag gaming sucks, it would essentially stop once network latencies went much above the norm. Youtube might see an increase, but an increase large enough to threaten the internet would surely take out even the mighty Youtube servers.

    If such an enormous demand on file and streaming servers were made, surely the concentrated data requests would take down those servers before ISPs started to hav

  • The most this will do is alter people's behavior. This is a drop in the bucket compared to the bandwidth needs of the new applications being developed (Torrent, Skype, video services, etc.) and malware -- and those will happen independently of H1N1.

    Of those, malware is the most worrisome to me. Imagine a network-clogging virus spreading through Windows Update servers, using Skype-like techniques to effectively mask its packets from firewalls and traffic shaping systems. Even if you're running Linux or Ma

  • The definition of traffic to give priority to is usually - mine is important. The other guys is not.

    What about a large bunch of coders working at home who all need to download the latest build. To be nice they have set up a torrent site. Opps that gets downgrade so they decide to ship it all as email attachements because that has higher priority.

    What about people that play games for a living. Yes the gold farmers. Who says there work is less work than the executive who remote desktops in to read email r

    • What about people that play games for a living. Yes the gold farmers.

      probably not the best example since gold farming is typically against the rules for most MMOs.... however there are certainly plenty of people who game for their job, such as GMs and testers for said MMOs.

  • by nilbog ( 732352 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @05:03PM (#29889145) Homepage Journal

    The people trying to push anti-net-neutrality agendas will use whatever scare tactic is currently in the media. In 2001 it would have been "we need to prioritize traffic to aid rescue workers," during Katrina it would have been "We don't have bandwidth to reliably allow everyone free access while still being able to coordinate aid in Lousiana," now it's this, and tomorrow it will be "we can't reliably fight aliens/robot armies unless people are taxed for visiting sites that we don't approve of."

  • Dear Internet,

    Be neutral. Except when we don't want you to be neutral.


  • by endus ( 698588 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @05:12PM (#29889261)
    ...triumphing over the rights of citizens. I don't see any reason why business' commerce should supersede the leisure activities of people who are home sick. Obviously this recommendation is asinine in the extreme and completely impossible to implement, but I don't think its the government's business to implement it anyway. If you want to talk about emergency services then, OK, maybe there is an argument there.

    I also agree with the comment saying...well what about game companies' commerce? It's just another case of big business having the money to bribe politicians into prioritizing their interests over citizens'.

    ...Besides...everyone already surfs the web all day at work. I don't see where there is any difference.
  • It seems to me this would be much less of a problem if ISPs didn't massively oversell their networks and cheap out on upgrades. I hear complaints about cost and questions of who will pay for the upgrades, then I go look at profit reports...
  • When I first read the title "Internet Probably Couldn't Handle a Flu Pandemic" I thought yikes, I have heard of viruses crossing from animals to humans, but now they can cross from humans to the Internet ?
    Does that mean I can catch the flu from my Internet connected work PC running Windows ? (I think I am safe at home: *NIX PCs would be still be virus free and so safe to use :-) And should I disinfect my hands after using that Windows PC ? (although I already do sometimes get that urge anyway :-)

  • A rhetorical question. The telecoms have accepted billions in government subsidies to build out the internet infrastructure, but now when we, the people, need it, it isn't there. This isn't a game; it's fraud when people take the money from the government for infrastructure and don't provide the it.
  • by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted.slashdot@org> on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @06:49PM (#29890701)

    Multiple times every year, a big percentage of the people get some strain of the flu. The normal flu had way bigger "pandemics" than any H1N1. Nothing happened. It's just the flu. We know it. We can handle it. Done.

    What this is really about, is the media, blowing stuff up, creating "contoversies", until any communications medium bursts, shutting themselves off.
    Well, there's a simple solution for that one: Stop being such greedy bastards! Which means: Stop creating so much drama, just to get more viewers and make more money. Or in other words: Stop stuffing youself over what the mechanism can hold.

    On the other hand, seeing the "traditional" (money4drama) media break completely down, would be a really cool thing to happen.

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky