I want my fat pipes, what a rip-off
Opinion: Keeping a lid on broadband
By Robert L. Mitchell
January 28, 2008 (Computerworld) Deregulation of telecommunications has been nothing less than an unmitigated disaster for U.S. businesses. If the broadband mess isn't hurting your business today, it soon will be. It's time to do something about it.
The Internet binds businesses to customers, suppliers and partners in a set of federated networks, and the concept of the virtual office has extended the corporate network, delivering bandwidth-hungry services into many employees' homes.
Truly high-speed Internet services of 100Mbit/sec. to 1Gbit/sec. are opening up new business opportunities that could create the next Google.
But not in the U.S. Here, the Internet is being throttled at its endpoints by telecommunications carriers and cable companies with a record of spotty service quality, a broadband rollout that has left more than half the nation behind, and overpriced, overprovisioned "high-speed" broadband services that are still widely unavailable.
In five years, multimedia business interactions will be commonplace. Global, high-definition videoconferencing over the Internet isn't far off. Problem is, an HD video stream requires a sustained 2Mbit/sec. end to end, but today as many as 30 customers in a given area in the U.S. may share 30Mbit/sec. of broadband capacity. What's more, one cable company is monitoring Internet traffic and throttling back or stopping some audio and video streams that compete with its core business.
Will you get the bandwidth you need? If your business is in Europe or Asia, the answer is yes. The average advertised bandwidth in Japan is just under 1Gbit/sec. In Korea and France, it's over 40Mbit/sec. That sort of capacity will drive innovations that U.S. businesses can't even envision yet.
But in the U.S., except in a few metro areas, most people are lucky if they can get 6Mbit/sec. and in rural areas, most users can't even get that.
It's a disgrace born of political failure. In 1996, the government agreed to free the Baby Bells to compete in the long-distance market if they met certain conditions. Among other things, the Bells promised to share their facilities with other providers and pledged to run fiber to every home. "Almost every one of them reneged on their promises," says David Passmore, an analyst at Burton Group.
Ironically, the rate relief the carriers were given over the years in return for their empty promises by some estimates as high as $70 billion would have gone a long way toward running fiber to every home in the U.S.
"The politicians gave away the store, and all of the networks that were paid for by the rate [payers] were handed over to the Verizons of the world," says Passmore.
Businesses should pressure the telecommunications/cable duopoly and regulators to make a competitively priced, nationwide, guaranteed 100Mbit/sec. broadband infrastructure a priority and 1Gbit/sec. the goal.
Furthermore, all ISPs should be required to contribute to the Universal Service Fund just as land-line carriers do. Unless those subsidies are replenished, high-speed Internet access will never be fully extended to the 20% of businesses and homes in rural areas left behind by the market.
Business also has a stake in promoting Net neutrality. You not the telecommunications or cable TV companies should control your content.
Finally, businesses should demand that the FCC require the winning bidders in this month's auction for 700-MHz spectrum (which television broadcasters will abandon in 2009) provide open access. A clear separation of the basic Internet access infrastructure from the services that ride upon it is the only way to prevent today's carriers and cable companies from continuing to act as gatekeepers to the Internet and stifling innovation in an Internet economy that will be critical to U.S. business growth in the future.
Robert L. Mitchell is a Computerworld national correspondent. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.