One of the founders of the internet said in a keynote address at the annual Metropolitan Communications Conference in San Francisco yesterday that the system was doing just fine, in spite of general economic woes.

Lawrence Roberts was, from 1967 until 1973, director of information processing techniques at Arpa (Advanced Research Projects Agency), where he designed ARPAnet, the first incarnation of the internet.

He said internet traffic is still growing rapidly and he predicts a surge in high-end internet hardware sales by the end of the year.

In his keynote speech, Roberts revealed the methodology he used to arrive at the numbers backing his claim.

"For the first 20 years or so, Arpa measured internet traffic," Roberts said. "Then the NSF (National Science Foundation) took over. But since 1996, when the NSF turned the internet over to commercial companies, there haven't been any reliable numbers on total backbone traffic."

Roberts interviewed the top 20 internet carriers to compile his numbers. "They were only willing to share [the numbers] with me under the condition that I reveal only the totals," Roberts said. His methodology took into account factors such as average number of packet hops and peering arrangements between carriers.

The results show total internet backbone traffic in January 2002 at 55 petabytes (a petabyte is one million megabytes) per month, — a little more than double the figure from a year ago.

"We have added our numbers on to the old Arpa and NSF statistics, and it shows that growth has been steady since the inception of the internet. Traffic has more than doubled every year," Roberts said.

Roberts predicts that this trend will continue until the end of the decade, when he thinks internet traffic growth will start to slow.