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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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  • 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.
  • 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...
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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 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.
  • by lwsimon ( 724555 ) <lyndsy@lyndsysimon.com> on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:34PM (#29888703) Homepage Journal

    Its a hell of a stretch defining data as "trade".

    Are US servers violating a trade embargo if they serve a page to someone in Cuba?

  • Re:sigh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:35PM (#29888739) Journal

    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.

  • 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.

  • Re:sigh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by RY ( 98479 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:37PM (#29888771) Homepage Journal

    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: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.

  • by CorporateSuit ( 1319461 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:45PM (#29888893)

    If you are causing a domestic panic and threatening to not only revoke many of the liberties outlined in the Bill of Rights, but also threatening to shut down communication lines, funneling billions into lobbying interests, while using fear tactics surrounding an illness that I would best describe my first-hand experience as a "laughably mild cold, without the annoyance of a stuffy nose" you're not supporting terrorism, you are practicing the definition of it.
  • 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.
  • by Hotawa Hawk-eye ( 976755 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:48PM (#29888939)
    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.
  • 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.

  • 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."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @05:05PM (#29889163)

    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.

  • 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @05:21PM (#29889401)
    Actually, driving is a privilege and not a right.
  • by Toonol ( 1057698 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @05:34PM (#29889629)
    Wow - what a craptastic mind you must have - just because your symptoms were on the mild side you characterize the illness with mocking derision. After all it doesn't matter that in some cases it has killed relatively healthy children in as little as two days.

    The flu ALWAYS kids kids, every year. Hundreds and thousands.

    And I think your attitude is just as worthy of mocking derision as is overblown hysteria over swine flu.
  • by TheWingThing ( 686802 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @05:46PM (#29889833)

    ... an illness that I would best describe my first-hand experience as a "laughably mild cold, without the annoyance of a stuffy nose" ...

    If you are from the US, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, UK, France or one of the other countries that symptomatically *diagnose* [wikipedia.org] someone as having swine flu without any lab tests, you may not have had swine flu at all [cbsnews.com]. Your symptoms would not be valid swine flu symptoms in that case.

    On the other hand, if you are from India, China, Japan, Australia, Thailand, Chile, Peru, Vietnam, Germany, South Korea or the other countries that do lab tests do diagnose swine flu, you might have had a mild case of swine flu. Your symptoms are not generalizable to others.

  • Re:sigh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lee1026 ( 876806 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @06:07PM (#29890121)

    What you have posted indicates that Jefferson did not like it very much. That have very little to do with what the constitution actually says.

  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @08:14PM (#29891617) Homepage Journal

    More children have died from it in the last 3 months then die all year from seasonal flu. That's 'off season'

    That's a very disingenuous statement.

    First, it is implying that the H1N1 virus is going to pick up during the flu season. There's no reason whatsoever to believe that this is the case. The flu season typically does follow certain seasonal trends, but that's not true for new strains.

    Second, the flu season normally lasts about five months, so if it dies out on schedule, it will have killed about half again more kids than the normal seasonal flu. And probably far fewer people over 30.

    WHen you consider 32 thousand die from seasonal flu in a vaccinated populaces, you begin to get the picture of how large the risk is.

    That's also disingenuous. The majority of those deaths are typically in the elderly, whereas in this strain, the elderly are showing significant immunity to H1N1. I'm not expecting a staggering death toll from this flu season. It may be elevated, but it certainly is not worthy of the amount of fear it is causing.

    The mortality rate, last I checks was 1% and rising. It's over 2% in India.

    I don't know where you're getting your numbers, and I'm not familiar with the medical situation in India, but in the U.S., the mortality rate is estimated at about 0.1% [wikipedia.org], not 1%. About one death per thousand cases. For those who aren't familiar, that's actually a little on the low side for seasonal flu [foxnews.com]. Now admittedly if we get a strong seasonal flu strain on top of that, it'll be a double dose, but for the moment, it's looking like it will probably be a relatively mild flu season, contrary to what you're saying.

    Call me when you see a flu strain with 10x the normal death rate or when it has lasted more than six months without the infection rate dropping. Until then, as far as I'm concerned, this is all just bullshit fear mongering.

  • Re:sigh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by EsonLinji ( 723693 ) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @11:18PM (#29892935) Homepage
    A group of 2-3 delegates per state to decide if new laws are OK or not, you say? That sounds like something that's already in place. I think it's called the Senate.

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