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Is it time to scrap the Internet and start over?

With millions of people watching shows and movies online, service providers may become so overwhelmed that the Internet may seem outmoded.

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More and more, Americans are treating their PC as a second TV. Few are ready to place a couch in front of their monitors, but millions are plopping down in front of Internet services such as YouTube, Joost, and television network websites to watch online shows and movies.

Streaming video will surge from 7.3 percent of all US consumer Internet traffic in 2006 to almost 33 percent by 2012, according to the market research firm IDC of Framingham, Mass.

But remember, that's just a percentage. Along with video's increasing share, total Internet traffic is expected to double every two years, industry analysts say.

Some warn that this rush will overwhelm service providers if they don't prepare for it. And the forecast for an ever-rising flood of data has some asking, is the Internet outdated?

"That's one way to put it," says Larry Roberts, who, in 1969, managed the Pentagon's APRAnet, the precursor to the Internet. "Another is that it's insufficient for the new kinds and new scale of today's transfers."

While some disagree with Mr. Roberts's characterization, the connection speeds reaching American homes are certainly behind those enjoyed by Japan, South Korea, and Sweden and could potentially limit Americans' online entertainment choices.

The Internet is perfectly tuned for e-mail, says Roberts. But 40 years ago, he and the many others who helped nurture today's commercial Web never imagined, nor planned for, streaming high-definition television shows to travel through the wires.

But that's where online usage has headed. Nearly 16 percent of American households with Internet access now watch TV shows online, according to a report released last week by TNS and the Conference Board, two research groups based in New York. And the online audience for entire episodes has doubled over the past year. Now, with the new TV season, networks are making even more of their prime-time shows available to Web viewers.


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