UK could face web access rationing
Internet access may soon need to be rationed because the UK power grid and communications network cannot cope with demand from consumers.
This is what the Royal Society will be told next week when industry experts meet to discuss the "capacity crunch" that power and data networks are moving towards, as demand for web access soars.
According to Professor Andrew Ellis, an expert in optical communications at Aston University, at the rate consumers are using the web, exisiting cables will reach their data capacity limit by the end of the decade, leading to a "potentially disastrous capacity crunch".
"The internet is already consuming at least 8% of Britain's power output, equivalent to the output of three nuclear power stations, and demand is soaring," he told the Sunday Times.
According to one industry estimate, demand for energy and data transmission over the web doubles every four years.
Prof Ellis is one of the organisers of the Communication Networks Beyond the Capacity Crunch conference that begins next Monday, where scientists will discuss how to manage growing web demand.
"It is growing so fast, currently at an exponential rate, that, in theory, it could be using all the UK power generation by 2035," he added.
"We cannot make all that extra power, so we will have to restrict or reduce access, perhaps by metering consumers so they pay for what they use."
Extra cables, upgrading the UK data network to fibre-optic cables and other technological advances have increased the ability of existing networks to deal with more data, but scientists are suggesting cables are reaching their physical limit because of the rapid increase in popularity of web-enabled devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops.
This has placed extra demand on the infrastructure and some believe new measures must be introduced to preserve signal quality.
BT's head of optical access, Professor Andrew Lord, who will take part in the conference, said: "It's the first time we have had to worry about optical fibres actually 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."
Prof Lord added that a possible solution would be to ration internet access, with household consumers and businesses charged for the amount of data they use.