Thursday, February 26, 2009

$.05 Cents or $183 Dollars? Hmmm?

Now that broadband funding made it into the stimulus package, we’re going to have to address a little known fact: All broadband is not created equal. Broadband is a generic word. Just like road is generic since it can mean gravel road, a two lane street, a four lane highway, or a six lane interstate. The term broadband has the same ambiguity with the difference being that most don’t have enough experience with broadband to know what questions to ask for clarification.

What are broadband characteristics and limitations? Is downloading that blurry, small screen, YouTube video the same thing as a high definition television program? It isn’t, of course. The transporting technology your carrier uses defines the quality and quantity of your voice, video, data and Internet services.

In some chosen communities, phone and cable offer the '$100 triple play', meaning that you can buy voice, TV and Internet in one package. This get’s tricky because sometimes the phone company which can’t carry television programs on its copper wire plant has a side contract with a satellite company for the video portion. And the cable company’s Internet, which can be a little faster than phone, isn’t reliable, because Internet speed varies based on how many people on your street are on line at any given time.

Stimulus package money is intended to make Internet service affordable and available to all homes and small businesses, because it’s so important for commerce, health and education based communications. Our international competitors use Internet universally on fiber lines that have unlimited capacity—transporting information at 100 Megabits (Mbps) per second, a thousand times faster than U.S. Internet at 1 Mbps. Technically, it’s all called broadband, but with 100 Mbps, you can download a video in seconds instead of the five plus hours it takes on 1 Mbps.

U.S. corporations build their own fiber networks which cost millions annually to deploy and maintain. For example, it can cost thousands per month just to connect to the phone company’s, ‘point-of-presence’ or POP, which is connectivity needed to switch signals between users. Obviously, small businesses can’t afford such expenditures.

Underserved and un-served are key terms in the stimulus package. We can simply save all the mapping money. How? By acknowledging that every one without fiber is underserved and those with dial-up Internet are un-served. That’s the whole politically incorrect truth of the matter. Only 1 million+ Americans with access to fiber have any hope of getting sufficient broadband capacity that’s competitive with what’s available overseas. And at this point, few would call existing U.S. fiber to the home service rates affordable.

The industry doesn’t advertise business Internet prices—that’s considered proprietary. Instead pricing packages are custom designed for each client. So I’ll use a personal example. Our cable company just started offering fiber service to a tiny, small business district in an upscale neighborhood—3 Mbps bidirectional Internet for $550 a month. Japan offered its 1 gigabit fiber-based Internet in October of 2008 for $51.40 per month. A G/bps is a hundred thousand times faster than 1 Mbps.

Just for comparison—that’s $183 dollars per Megabit for me in the U.S. and $.05 cents per Megabit in Japan. Or $6,600 annually for 3 Mbps, as much as I pay for renting a small office, while my Japanese counterparts pay $617 per year for 1 gigabit Internet. It’s mind boggling.

Do we care to know who can’t get 1 Mbps Internet from the phone company when copper wire can never, ever be upgraded to 1 G/bps Internet? Are we really going to subsidize the build-out of obsolete copper-based broadband and call it 21st Century infrastructure? Isn’t it time to replace copper phone and cable with fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) networks?

Elected officials who want to do the right thing are going to remain confused as long as we, pubic-interest, folks play along with the industry game of ‘all broadband is created equal.’ It’s time to say out loud: Replace phone and cable lines with fiber, ASAP.

We know that President Eisenhower saw the German autobahns and built our nation’s interstate highways. Let’s help the Obama administration see the Japanese 1 Gigabit fiber Internet and build it here in the U.S.

Rita R. Stull 2/26/09

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