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Why and how internet access might soon be rationed in the UK

Given the UK’s love and need of all things internet, it’s disturbing news that our online access might soon be capped, as the country struggles with too much demand.

A group of academics will address the Royal Society this week on the serious subject of fibre capacity and increased energy demand from our internet-enabled world.

The group, led by Andrew Ellis, professor of optical communications at Aston University, hopes to divulge how internet-based devices are using at least 8 per cent of the country’s power output – a scarily high figure. Even more scary is the group’s claims that current fibre infrastructure will reach capacity by the end of the decade, and will be unable to cope with the burden of increased data transmission into the future.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Professor Ellis suggested that Britain was facing a potentially disastrous “capacity crunch” and may need to “restrict or reduce access, perhaps by metering consumers.” A horrible thought, but perhaps necessary if the country can’t generate the extra energy needed in the coming years.

The Royal Society will also hear from Sir Andrew Lord, Head of Optical Access for BT. Ahead of the address, Sir Andrew stated that this is the first time Britain has had to concern itself with the prospect of its optical fibres “filling up”.

“We could expand the network by laying more cables but the economics of that do not work and it would increase power consumption,” he said. Sir Andrew also stated that some sort of careful management would be needed in order to maintain current standards.

Of course, as our demand for power and bandwidth increases, so too does our technological ability.

The rise of technologies like G.Fast, which is now able to sustainably push 500Mbps down a standard line, as well as increasingly potent encoding solutions for 4K video – like V.Nova’s Perseus and COGO’s own offering – means that we should be able to mitigate at least some of the ‘damage’ of our wanton web use.

And with so much of the country’s revenue dependant on the World Wide Web it seems like out-and-out rationing is something which wouldn’t, or at least shouldn’t, ever be realistically considered anyway.

If we were cynical, we might consider the prospect of a quota system, where the most ‘deserving’ government departments get ‘net access while the rest of us can barely muster enough bandwidth to stream a low-res cat video, as nothing more than another Orwellian attempt at controlling the Web and the spread of free information. But they wouldn’t do that to us…would they?

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