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Powerpoint is the big Army bandwidth hog, not YouTube

Milbloggers pushed aside in favour of PowerPoint and video conferencing

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Meanwhile, the US Defense Department has taken a lot of flak for its recent decision to cut off access to various bandwidth-hungry sites such as YouTube, Pandora, MySpace, and so on from its unclassified net, the NIPRNET. This has again been seen as military autocracy trying to stifle unfavourable video, pics, and comment from within, and there is probably more than a grain of truth in this viewpoint.

There is a grain of truth, too, in the Defense Department's assertion that it has cut off YouTube in order to save bandwidth for military purposes. It has sought to suggest that these military purposes include legitimate war-winning stuff such as near-real-time video from unmanned weapons and recce platforms, and to a degree this is true.

Even so, the move has provoked a lot of sarcastic comment. One Reg reader, who preferred to remain anonymous, had this to say:

I worked for a number of years for the US Army...during their involvement in resolving the conflict in Bosnia. It may interest you to know that although we were responsible for a command and control system which was being used at the time to plan the movement of supplies and personnel between the various Army facilities in Hungary and Bosnia, that we were only allowed to download updates to our system (which was designed to be a real-time planning system) between 2am and 4am.

The reason for this was that the generals in Bosnia and Hungary had a video conference set up and running between themselves and personnel in the Pentagon during the remaining time period. Not that it was ever in use, mind you. It was on 22 hours a day, showing pictures of empty rooms on both sides of the video conference.

During the two months I actually spent in Bosnia, I believe that the video conference was only actually used for a total of about 3 hours. The rest of the time it was wasted bandwidth. Of course, the military thinks that YouTube et al are bandwidth hogs, and they're right. But the biggest wasters of bandwidth are not the troops, it's the brass.

Wired has some similar testimony:

"In Kosovo, the PowerPoint briefings got to be so big the whole [classified network] system regularly slowed down until it would take eight hours on occasion for an email to get through."

It could well be that grunts on YouTube and MySpace are achieving more for the military and the societies that pay for it than staff moguls and generals ever do with their turgid PowerPoint bilge and endless blame-spreading conferences.

All that said, a soldier with some red-hot footage can still upload it to YouTube on leaving the warzone, or even in some cases while still there. It wouldn't be hard to send discs by mail, either, and there has been no NIPRNET chokeoff to typepad, blogspot etc. And, for god's sake, email still exists and is still accessible.

The upload ban is surely foolish, surely a case of the US military shooting itself in the foot, but it's very hard to characterise it as a gag on free speech. Troops with stories to tell can still get them out, particularly if they know of a journalist they consider trustworthy and likeable.

If most soldiers tend not to like or trust most journalists, and if as a result we never hear the stories that matter, maybe that's the journalists' fault as much as it is the troops'. ®

Lewis Page isn't all that likeable, but he's fairly trustworthy and has an armed-forces background. Servicemen with stories to tell should feel free to email him at the link above the story. El Reg is too tight to offer tabloid style payouts, sadly, and so far has refused to embed Page within his military unit of choice, the US Navy nurse-training school in Hawaii.

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