The new fedgov stimulus bill was signed into law and it contains $6.3 billion to expand broadband in the United States. Hooray! The problem of Internet access in the United States is solved, right?
Hah! Not by a long-shot.
The U. S. is 15th in the world in broadband penetration. And our primary technologies used for broadband are still cable modems and phone companies’ Digital Subscriber Link (DSL). Cable modems give relatively high speed – 6 to 30 megabits per second, but that speed is shared among dozens or hundreds of households. And it is typically much slower “upload” rather than download.
DSL gives a dedicated connection to each user, but still, typically, at relatively low speeds such as 1, 2 or 7 megabits per second, and, again, much slower on the upload rather than download.
Now, you might think “gee a million bits a second is really fast”. Yes, yes it is, if you are reading static websites or doing e-mail. But the future of the “net” is video – and not the grainy, jerky (no pun intended), YouTube variety, but HDTV. And HDTV requires 6 megabits per second each way. Read on …
Most developed nations deploying “broadband” are NOT doing cable modems or coax or DSL or copper. They are deploying fiber optic cable to each household and business. S eoul and Tokyo have deployed. Amsterdam and Paris and Venice and Singapore are deploying.
A few forward thinking cities in the United States are – on their own – also deploying fiber to each premise. Lafayette, Louisiana, Clarksville and Chattanooga and Pulaski and Jackson Tennessee are examples. (See a great map of fiber deployments here.)
The beauty of fiber broadband is really high speed – 100 megabits-per-second or more, and true, two-way, symmetric networking. These are networks capable of downloading whole movies in HDTV in a few minutes. Or networks which can stream two-way HDTV so that every home/business can be an HDTV studio or a video conference/telework center or give people a phenomenal new Internet gaming experience.
Think about working at home, and joining meetings via HDTV video conference with quality so great you can actually watch your co-workers sweating. With HDTV quality you can actually participate! Or how about having your high school kid join a virtual HDTV classroom for that college-credit advanced placement class. Or having your grandparents join you and their grandkids for dinner – several nights a week – using HDTV. Think of the difference in their lives (maybe NOT yours!).
These same networks can be used to manage the energy use and carbon footprint of homes and businesses and buildings. These are networks capable of telehealth and telemedicine – visiting your nurse or doctor from home and they can SEE you in HDTV.
And what will the fedgov broadband stimulus deliver? Well, there is $2.5 billion for broadband to “rural areas” via the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Services.
In terms of urban areas, a lot of the requirements are still to be determined before $4.7 billion in stimulus grants are awarded. The funds need to be spent in unserved or underserved areas. But what does that mean? Compared to the fiber deployments being undertaken elsewhere in the world, most places in the United States – other than those served by Verizon FIOS – are “underserved” because we only have DSL and cable. How fast is this proposed stimulus-funded broadband? Is it 256kb per second, or a megabit or 100 megabits? Is it symmetric or is a very slow upload speed acceptable?
The fedgov NTIA ( National Telecommunications Infrastructure Administration) has published in the Federal Register an extensive list of such questions for us all to answer to help design their program.
I certainly hope this great new stimulus package will not just try to extend DSL or cable Internet and call that “broadband”. I hope the NTIA and Agriculture stay true to the Obama administration’s goals of being bold, inventive, and innovative. And, with this broadband stimulus, they don’t try to make the United States a “better” third world nation in terms of broadband, but rather sponsor projects which show the way for the future of a truly high-speed, two-way-HDTV-networked world.