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Don’t Wake Up, America

How do U.S. sleeping patterns affect Europe’s access to the Internet?

February 9, 2000

How do U.S. sleeping patterns affect Europe's access to the Internet?

European friends report that surfing the Internet is fun only in the morning. Only then can one jump from page to page and site to site at near-lightning speed. In the afternoon, it seems, the whole network slows down too much to make it worthwhile.

Wonder why? It seems the answer lies yet again, as it has in NATO, in general, and in Kosovo more recently, in Europeans’ desire to get something for nothing.

You see, the vast majority of the Internet’s backbone is provided by just five U.S. telecommunications firms. Worried about who would pay for what and still charging a toll for local telephone calls, Europe's telecoms got off to a slow start in building the infrastructure necessary to support the Internet.

Consequently, most intra-European Internet traffic still passes through the eastern United States — specifically, the small town of Herndon, Virginia, a few miles west of Washington, D.C.

This sort of arrangement is tailor-made for conspiracy-minded Europeans. Who knows, maybe the U.S. government’s two premier spy agencies, the CIA and the National Security Agency — both of which are located nearby — really do read every piece of European e-mail? Maybe the White House even knows what web sites Jacques Chirac likes to visit?

Okay, we admit that Americans do use the Internet a lot. Recent estimates have the United States accounting for 60% of Internet traffic — and well over 80% of all web sites are located there as well. What’s more, at least six of the ten site most visited by Europeans are U.S. sites.

But before Europeans get up in arms, chanting “American are such imperialists! They’re taking over the Internet,” they might first consider increasing their investment in new technologies. After all, the old continent has a long history of building highways and buildings — and has frequently derided the United States for its crumbling public infrastructure.