Fast Internet: Stuck in Traffic

In 1997, we got DSL from Bellsouth. The jump from dial-up to DSL was exhilarating. It changed our world. Now, in 2007, we still have the same connection speed with our DSL as we did in 1997. I’m weighing changing to a faster cable internet connection, which has a reputation for poor service quality (we have two home businesses that cannot function without a fast connection), versus staying with Bellsouth/AT&T, who provide excellent repair service.

In the excerpts below, Bob Cringely explains why the United States is stuck in the slow lane on the Internet.

Link: I, Cringely . The Pulpit . The $200 Billion Rip-Off | PBS

Misguided and incompetent regulation combined with utilities that found ways to game the system resulted in what had been the best communication system in the world becoming just so-so, though very profitable. We as consumers were consistently sold ideas that were impractical only to have those be replaced later by less-ambitious technologies that, in turn, were still under-delivered. Congress set mandates then provided little or no oversight. The FCC was (and probably still is) managed for the benefit of the companies and their lobbyists, not for you and me. And the upshot is that I could move to Japan and pay $14 per month for 100-megabit-per-second Internet service but I can’t do that here and will probably never be able to.

Despite this, the FCC says America has the highest broadband deployment rate in the world and President Bush has set a goal of having broadband available to every U.S. home by the end of this year. What have these guys been smoking? Nothing, actually, they simply redefined "broadband" as any Internet service with a download speed of 200 kilobits per second or better. That’s less than one percent the target speed set in 1994 that we were supposed to have achieved by 2000 under regulations that still remain in place.

The First Square Mile and Rural America

Rural areas need broadband so that people like me can buy some land, build a home, protect the land from being subdivided or monocultured, and put some money into the local economy.

Information workers can stop the extinction of the small farm — if we have broadband connections to do our work and stay connected with our friends and families.

Bob Frankston is a technology expert who has a mission: the First Square Mile.

Link: FSM – The First Square Mile, Our Neighborhood

Telecom is about services delivered over the last mile. Our connected neighborhood gives us the opportunity to discover the unanticipated. Instead of waiting at the end of the last mile we should look within our first square mile and see the possibilities, not just the choices offered.

Today’s underserved rural communities may provide the test beds we need. They may not have "broadband" but they do have phone service and those copper wires have a high carrying capacity if you use the right electronics. Today those wires are not available because the FCC Universal Service Fund (USF) collects billions by adding a fee for legacy phone service and then uses the money to assure that the wires are used for phone service. I should say wasted since that can leave each wire running at one millionth of its potential capacity. If the community had real ownership and honest and transparent funding it could use those wires to jumpstart neighborhood connectivity. While traditional DSL service is fairly slow we can use back to back DSL units to extend the reach and new technologies to run each wire at 100mbps or more.

The state regulators and commissioners have an opportunity to play a leadership role recognizing that their mission has changed. They can and must serve their community rather than presuming that anything good for the service providers is good for the community. It isn’t true because the telecom model serves the mythical average and not any of us. With analog signaling we may have had to subsume our individual needs to the restrictions of the technology but digital technology frees us from having to have a special wire for each purpose. Bits are just bits.

As long as we think of networking in terms of being at the last mile of a service delivery pipe we will have to settle for what happens to arrive. If we look at the first square mile around us — our neighborhood we will get the opportunity to be participants who can meeting their own needs while also contributing to the common good.