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The US government has issued a new report that recommends blocking access to popular websites during a pandemic outbreak in order to preserve internet bandwidth for investors, day traders and securities clearing house operations. The concern is that a pandemic would cause too many people to stay at home and download YouTube videos and porn, hogging all the internet bandwidth and blocking throughput for investment activities, thereby causing a stock market meltdown.
This isn’t an April Fool’s joke. It’s all based on a public report issued by the Government Accounting Office (GAO), available from their website.
In this article, I’m going to explain how a pandemic outbreak could theoretically bring down Wall Street. But to get to that, you’ll first need to find out what the GAO said in its curious report (see below). Parts of this article are presented as satire, but the underlying facts quoted here are all true and verifiable (links are provided to all sources).
This report in question is entitled, "GAO Report to Congressional Requesters, Influenza Pandemic" and includes this subtitle: Key Securities Market Participants Are Making Progress, but Agencies Could Do More to Address Potential Internet Congestion and Encourage Readiness.
As the report explains:
In a severe pandemic, governments may close schools, shut down public transportation systems, and ban public gatherings such as concerts or sporting events. In such scenarios, many more people than usual may be at home during the day, and Internet use in residential neighborhoods could increase significantly as a result of people seeking news, entertainment, or social contact from home computers. Concerns have been raised that this additional traffic could lead to congestion on the Internet that would significantly affect businesses in local neighborhoods, such as small doctors’ offices or business employees attempting to telework by connecting to their employers’ enterprise networks.
Can Hulu, Twitter and porn destroy Wall Street?
To translate this concern of the GAO, what they’re saying is that if too many people stay home and use the internet, Wall Street might not be able to function smoothly. Therefore, in order to protect Wall Street (because as you know, our government does everything possible to bail out Wall Street), the feds might need to shut down some popular websites.
But where, exactly, is all the bandwidth usage really coming from? Twitter uses virtually no bandwidth, given that it’s a short, text-based messaging service. Text articles also don’t use up much bandwidth. In terms of clogging the internet’s "series of tubes" (to use a hilarious term coined by a U.S. Senator), the real culprits are videos. While a Twitter text message might be less than 1k in size, a typical video is 350MB, or roughly 350.000 times larger than a Twitter message.
So where, exactly, are people getting video downloads? The most popular non-porn video destinations today are MySpaceTV.com, YouTube.com, LiveLeak.com, Yahoo Video and Hulu.com. But as it turns out, even these highly popular websites may not account for most internet traffic.
P2P traffic uses the most bandwidth
According to this TechRepublic post, the majority of internet traffic is actually P2P traffic. Anywhere from 49 to 89 percent of all internet traffic reportedly falls into this category.
P2P traffic means "peer to peer." It’s file-sharing traffic happening between two "peered" computers rather than from one central server to many individual computers. YouTube, for example, is a centralized video site that serves videos directly to millions of computers. The Pirate Bay, on the other hand is a site that lists links to peer-to-peer sharing files so that individual computer users can share files amongst each other, bypassing centralized websites or file servers.
Peer-to-peer traffic carries the latest movies, music albums, television shows, ebooks, podcasts, graphic novels and even... yes... porn. A search on The Pirate Bay today shows downloads for Heroes Season 4 Episode 7 (350MB), the new Bruce Willis movie Surrogates (700MB) and even a bootleg version of the new Windows 7 operating system (3.5GB). These files are obviously not small. When peered computers share these files, it requires a tremendous amount of bandwidth.
Porn represents a sizable percentage of all P2P traffic. Although "official" statistics were difficult to find, according to TopTenReviews.com, internet pornography revenues in the U.S. were $2.8 billion (2006). There are 4.2 million porn websites on the ’net, and 25% of all search engine requests are porn-related. Importantly, this page claims that 35% of all P2P traffic is porn-related.
Where am I going with all this? Well, if you consider that roughly 50% of all internet traffic is P2P, and that roughly one-third of all P2P traffic is porn, then it quickly becomes obvious that if the GAO’s pandemic clogging of the internet becomes a reality, porn might bring down Wall Street!.
What this also means, however, is that cutting off access to specific websites (like YouTube) will likely do very little to free up internet bandwidth. To have any real impact on reducing bandwidth usage, the U.S. government would need to run public service ads begging internet users to stop downloading porn. The problem with that approach is that people who pirate porn are probably not the kind of people who obediently follow the advice of the feds.
Policing the internet
When it comes to saving Wall Street during a pandemic, the feds will stop at nothing. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pulls out all the stops to make sure America’s legalized financial gambling centers (Wall Street) keep on churning out the scams. This requires protecting the critical infrastructure of Wall Street.
As the GAO report explains:
"DHS is the lead federal agency for two critical infrastructure sectors... that are important for the Internet. Specifically, the entities within DHS responsible for coordinating national efforts to promote critical infrastructure protection activities for those sectors are the National Cyber Security Division and the Office of the Manager of the National Communications System (NCS), respectively. Although the vast majority of Internet infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector, federal policy recognizes the need to be prepared for the possibility of debilitating disruptions in cyberspace. ...DHS is the central coordinator for cyberspace security efforts and has responsibility for developing an integrated public-private plan for Internet recovery".
The internet will be critical during a pandemic, the report goes on to say, because it will be an important vehicle for the government to distribute messages to the public (such as "Go get your vaccines..." or "Report to the nearest quarantine center"). It will also be important because millions of people might need to continue their work at home rather than showing up at the office and sneezing all over their coworkers.
"Increased use of the Internet by students, teleworkers, and others during a severe pandemic is expected to create congestion in Internet access networks that serve metropolitan and other residential neighborhoods. For example, localities may choose to close schools and these students, confined at home, will likely look to the Internet for entertainment, including downloading or "streaming" videos, playing online games, and engaging in potential activities that may consume large amounts of network capacity (bandwidth)".
The solutions, says the GAO, is to tell companies to send workers home and hope they get something done there: "Furthermore, the government has recommended teleworking as an option for businesses to keep operations running during a pandemic."
This part of the GAO report is particularly hilarious because, as every employer knows, when you give employees the ability to work from home, many of them spend the day at home goofing off and downloading porn! It’s true: Most internet porn surfing activity occurs during work hours (9 to 5), and all those corporate porn filters that people have at work don’t exist on their home computers. By sending employees home, companies will only be adding to the congestion of the internet, creating an even larger problem for Wall Streeters who are trying to extort yet more taxpayer dollars from the federal government to cover their failed investment gambles.
Now here’s the kicker in all this: "According to a DHS study and Internet providers, this additional pandemic-related traffic is likely to exceed the capacity of Internet providers’ network infrastructure in metropolitan residential Internet access networks. ...During a pandemic, congestion is most likely to occur in the traffic to or from the aggregation devices that serve residential neighborhoods, interfering with teleworkers’ and others’ ability to use the Internet."
In other words, all that pandemic porn downloading will bring the internet to its knees. The internet really begins to get jammed up at the "40% absenteeism" level, according to a 2007 DHS study mentioned in this GAO report: "The study’s model predicted that at the 40 percent absenteeism level — the level that health organizations have indicated is likely under a relatively serious pandemic — the highest point of congestion across the entire Internet infrastructure could occur within residential Internet access networks."
Unfortunately for Wall Street, there is no way for anyone to tell the difference between the traffic of a porn downloader vs. the traffic of a Wall Street day trader. On the internet, all packets are (nearly) the same priority. So there’s no simple way to prioritize traffic from some users ("important" Wall Street people) over other users. That means "porn packets" can’t simply be rejected in favor of "Wall Street packets."
Shutting down websites
Even the GAO concedes that shutting down specific websites is a strategy fraught with problems, including potential lawsuits, technology limitations and the fact that blocking a few websites probably wouldn’t result in much of an overall reduction in traffic anyway:
"Overall Internet congestion could be reduced if Web sites that accounted for significant amounts of traffic — such as those with video streaming — were shut down during a pandemic. According to one recently issued study, the number of adults who watch videos on video-sharing sites has nearly doubled since 2006, far outpacing the growth of many other Internet activities. However, most providers’ staff told us that blocking users from accessing such sites, while technically possible, would be very difficult and, in their view, would not address the congestion problem and would require a directive from the government. One provider indicated that such blocking would be difficult because determining which sites should be blocked would be a very subjective process. Additionally, this provider noted that technologically savvy site operators could change their Internet protocol addresses, allowing users to access the site regardless. Another provider told us that some of these large bandwidth sites stream critical news information. Furthermore, some state, local, and federal government offices and agencies, including DHS, currently use or have plans to increase their use of social media Web sites and to use video streaming as a means to communicate with the public. Shutting down such sites without affecting pertinent information would be a challenge for providers and could create more Internet congestion as users would repeatedly try to access these sites. According to one provider, two added complications are the potential liability resulting from lawsuits filed by businesses that lose revenue when their sites are shutdown or restricted and potential claims of anticompetitive practices, denial of free speech, or both. Some providers said that the operators of specific Internet sites could shut down their respective sites with less disruption and more effectively than Internet providers, and suggested that a better course of action would be for the government to work directly with the site operators".
A better solution, it seems, would be to just urge people to stop using so much bandwidth. As this GAO report suggests, "...entities in these sectors consider advising employees to limit household use of streaming video or other bandwidth-intensive Internet activities."
And that, of course, takes us back to those public service announcements: Please stop downloading porn, you people! You’re sucking up all the bandwidth and interfering with the important business of Wall Street ripping off America!.
This brings me to the bizarre conclusion of this story: If a pandemic actually does result in a 40% absenteeism rate, and companies send people to work from home, and all public sporting events get cancelled, and people are sitting around on their home computers with nothing to do, porn downloads could cause a massive stock market crash by interfering with securities trades.
More importantly, such an activity could theoretically be organized and planned as a type of cyber assault on Wall Street. "Porn terrorists" could leap on this pandemic-inspired internet vulnerability to cripple Wall Street by flooding the internet with pornographic digital bits that squeeze out all other traffic, causing financial trades to grind to a halt. And this, in turn, could conceivably wreck the entire U.S. economy because, as we already know, the whole thing is being held together by the most fragile accounting illusions. One big blip in the system, and the whole corrupt, dishonest Wall Street scam comes train-wrecking down.
And that, my friends, is the bizarre truth of how pornography combined with a pandemic might bring down Wall Street.
Sources for this story include: