On May 14th, the U.S. Department of
Defense began blocking access to YouTube, MySpace, Metacafe, IFilm,
StupidVideos, and FileCabi, BlackPlanet, Hi5, Pandora, MTV, and 1.fm, live365,
and Photobucket. These are sites that provide video and audio clips to users.
This means that anyone using a computer connected to Department of Defense
network (NIPRNET), won't be able to reach the banned sites. The reason for the
ban was quite practical. All those video and audio clips were jamming up the
network, and making it difficult to get official business done. This is a
problem university networks began to encounter in the 1990s, and solved by a
combination of expanding capacity, and restricting how much students could use
the network for downloading large files. The Department of Defense is in a
slightly different situation, because many of its users overseas depend on
satellites for their Internet connection. Land based fiber-optic lines can
provide a lot more capacity, but in combat zones like Iraq and Afghanistan,
satellite is all that's available.
But there's another problem, which the Department
of Defense is going to hear a lot about in the next week or so. The troops use
YouTube and MySpace to keep in touch with the folks back home, and each other.
It's a big deal as far as morale goes. Troops still have access to the banned
sites via non-military connections. But these are not as accessible, and often
low capacity, in combat zones.
Actually, the military even uses YouTube as part of
their public relations efforts, to show clips of good things the troops are
doing. It appears that the decision to block access was taken without realizing
some of the side effects. That's understandable, because if the popularity of
the video clips among the troops has made it difficult to take care of
business. Something had to be done quickly. But there are often other
consequences, that cannot be ignored either.