image Ten years ago the United States carried 70 percent of the world’s Internet traffic.

Now? A mere 25 percent, according to estimates from Andrew M. Odlyzko, a well-regarded specialist in these matters.

Just the decentralized nature of the Internet means that America can’t control the beast forever. But Luddites in D.C. are unwittingly speeding up the decline.

Check out two of the points in Internet Traffic Begins to Bypass the U.S., in today’s New York Times:

"Since passage of the Patriot Act, many companies based outside of the United States have been reluctant to store client information in the U.S.," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. "There is an ongoing concern that U.S. intelligence agencies will gather this information without legal process. There is particular sensitivity about access to financial information as well as communications and Internet traffic that goes through U.S. switches"…

Internet technologists say that the global data network that was once a competitive advantage for the United States is now increasingly outside the control of American companies. They decided not to invest in lower-cost optical fiber lines, which have rapidly become a commodity business.

To the above list, I’d add Hollywood-bought copyright legislation, which, come to think of it, ties in. Pampering big movie-makers counts more than copyright reforms that would aid the many-to-many model, one way to spur demand for optic fiber. And Hollywood is hardly the only villain here. Here’s one example. I love the Associated Press news reader for iPhone and am rooting for the American-dominated AP to survive despite the exodus or planned exodus of major members and other issues, but if you quote just a few paragraphs from the AP, you just might open yourself up to a DMCA takedown. Not the best encouragement for many-to-many.

French company blissfully beyond Bono’s reach

image Similarly the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act means that theoretically you might get into trouble for using your iPhone to download Feedbooks’ content that is beautifully integrated with the Stanza e-book reader. You see, the French-based Feedbooks offers The Great Gatsby and other classics that are still under copyright in the U.S., thanks to Bono.

Bottom line? In many ways America is less friendly to technology than to Hollywood studios and politicians receiving bloated campaign contributions. And even content-oriented businesses such as Hollywood and the U.S. news organizations will suffer long term—because the popularity of content reflects the ease which which it can be accessed.

Thanks to D.C.’s Net-blind policies, governments and corporations outside U.S., including the Chinese, may enjoy more control than otherwise over the pipes that Hollywood and other American content providers want to use to distribute U.S. content. No telling what filtering technologies could pop up in the future to hurt both the U.S. and Internet freedom in general.

Again, the trend is away from the States anyway. But D.C. is accidentally speeding it up. And so are American cable companies, with their new fondness for bandwidth caps.

Where the dollars and jobs are

Meanwhile if you want to understand where the big economic action is—hardware and Net connections—check out a First Monday article by Odlyzk:

Content certainly has all the glamor. What content does not have is money. This might seem absurd. After all, the media trumpet the hundred million dollar opening weekends of blockbuster movies, and leading actors such as Julia Roberts or Jim Carrey earn $20 million (plus a share of the gross) per film. That is true, and it is definitely possible to become rich and famous in Hollywood. Yet the revenues and profits from movies pale next to those for providing the much denigrated "pipes." The annual movie theater ticket sales in the U.S. are well under $10 billion. The telephone industry collects that much money every two weeks! Those "commodity pipelines" attract much more spending than the glamorous "content."

image Remember, tech jobs aren’t just in Hollywood. They’re in West Virginia, too—in jobs laying optical fiber or putting up towers for wireless, or selling new hardware. If the U.S. want to protect content providers, then it’s far, far more efficient to create a TeleRead-style national digital library system, with fair compensation for publishers, writers and others, than to continue backwards copyright policies. I’m against 14 years terms. But Bono overdoes matters in the opposite direction—which just paves the way for eternal copyright: death, in the long run, for the public domain.

Related: E-books, Obama-Biden and Prohibtion: Any hope of educating the Dems about anti-consumer laws like Bono and the DMCA?, an earlier TeleRead item (photo). Also see Researcher: Encourage more, not less Internet traffic, in Ars Technica.