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BBC documentary flawed with discrepancies about data center industry

6 March 2020
Data centre sector responds to BBC’s Dirty Streaming: The Internet’s Big Secret documentary
BBC documentary flawed with discrepancies about data center industry

Following the release of the BBC documentary, Dirty Streaming: The Internet’s Big Secret, there has been a call for the discrepancies in the 25-minute programme to be addressed.

The issue? The influx of online data usage from Netflix watching, gaming, and Instragramming is driving the demand for more data centres, which is contributing to climate change.

The discrepancies? The documentary claims the data centre usage is ‘exploding’, refers to the power used as ‘dirty’ and makes claims alluding to data centres being the internet’s ‘big secret’.

Emma Fryer, Associate Director, Data Centres, techUK spoke extensively with Data Economy regarding some of the points the documentary made that raised questions.

“The programme made the important point that we need to become more responsible digital citizens,” said Fryer. “Not everyone understands that our internet society is enabled by physical infrastructure that has an impact beyond our own devices and the freemium and advertorial business models that tend to predominate send no signal to the consumer of the carbon and energy impact of their online activity. We have stated that it is important that people understand how the internet works and that we do have an impact beyond charging our phones and laptops.”

She added that Google is the world’s largest purchaser of renewable power, meeting its requirements through power purchase agreements; direct contracts with renewable generators that create additional utility-scale renewable capacity.  

The documentary made some points regarding the disconnect in the business, as well as the high concentration of data centres in Northern Virginia.

Fredrik Jansson, Strategy Director at DigiPlex told Data Economy that: “There is of course more to life than Northern Virginia, Europe in general and the Nordic region, in particular, has seen dramatic growth in data centre investment and construction as (mainly US-based) hyperscalers choose to locate data centres here. One of the key drivers of this interest is the sustainability credentials of the region. It’s about more than the cold climate (as the BBC suggests) although this is important."

“The use of 100% renewable energy is hugely attractive to those global brands that have committed to zero carbon, and it is in plentiful supply in the Nordic region (unlike Virginia it seems). This, plus the close connectivity to growing markets across Europe, and the presence of a skilled and experienced workforce to build and manage data centres, mean the gravity of the internet is shifting to more sustainable locations.”

Read the complete online article by Data Economy and watch the documentary (available in the UK only).

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