Growing congestion on the Internet is causing problems in more ways than one. In some cases, the Internet's unrelenting growth is straining the nation's telecommunications systems, causing local telephone service failures. Increasingly, businesses are becoming concerned about the Internet's speed and reliability. Fed up with never-ending busy signals, frustrated users have even taken to referring to the slowing medium as the "World Wide Wait."
"Eventually, you get enough people working off one shared switch, and the [telephone system] just can't cope with that much traffic," explains Susan Estrada, author of Connecting to the Internet (O'Reilly & Associates) and president and CEO of Internet publishing firm Aldea Communications in Carlsbad, California.
The problem has worsened with the advent of flat-rate fees offering unlimited "all-you-can-eat" access (although companies such as Netcom On-Line Communication Services and CompuServe have backed away from these services in recent months). Also contributing to the snarl are changing traffic patterns, says Robert Deward at Pacific Telesis in San Francisco. While voice traffic has traditionally peaked at 3 p.m. for residential use and 4 p.m. for business use, with the advent of Internet usage, the peak period has widened to a four-hour stretch between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. Moreover, while the average voice call is less than four minutes long, studies show that Internet calls usually last six minutes.
With some saying the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better, Estrada challenges Internet service providers (ISPs) to develop usage plans tailored to small-business owners. Many entrepreneurs may not want unlimited access, just a reliable way to send e-mail and communicate, says Estrada.
If you're dissatisfied with the quality of service you're getting, take a look at your existing plan or ISP. It may be worth paying a little extra for another plan or switching providers to ensure more dependable service.