Broadband takes a few steps forward

It isn't the 100M bit/sec that the TechNet lobbying group has been pushing for, but DSL and cable TV broadband providers are making impressive gains in the services offered to home users.

In January 2002 TechNet, a group of 200 CEOs from top technology companies, called on the federal government to "adopt a goal of 100 megabits per second to 100 million homes and small businesses by the end of the decade."

TechNet argues that as a nation we are falling behind other developed countries in terms of building out the infrastructure required to support advances in everything from entertainment to product marketing and delivery.

In a speech earlier this year, TechNet General Counsel Jim Hawley said the "U.S., which once ranked third among all countries in broadband deployment, recently slipped to 13th, according to the International Telecommunications Union."

Other countries, Hawley says, are deploying 20M, 40M and even 100M bit/sec connections to homes, where broadband in the U.S. is typically limited to a few megabits per second. What's more, the pricing is out of whack. Hawley says "100 kilobits of connectivity costs the average U.S. consumer over $3.50 - but the Japanese consumer pays just 9 cents."

That is changing. Take the fiber-to-the-home upgrade that Verizon has started to offer in many of its locales. In suburban Boston, for example, the company just started to roll out a fiber-to-the-home upgrade for DSL customers that supports three levels of service: 5M bit/sec download/2M bit/sec uplink for $39.95/mo.; 15M/2M for $49.95; or 30M/5M for $199.95.

Do the math, and that comes out to 80 cents per kilobit for the 5-megabit service and 33 cents per kilobit for the 15-megabit service - far from the $3.50 average.

Verizon absorbs the cost of running the fiber to a house, installing an optical network terminal and battery backup, running CAT5e to the primary computer in a house and supplying a wired four-port router (wireless is extra).

Cable companies have also upped the ante. Comcast, for example, offers broadband speeds from 4M to 8M bit/sec in many locations.

While a far cry from the 100M bit/sec speeds that TechNet would like, it is heartening to see these service upgrades. When more fiber and fiber/coax hybrid networks are in place, it will be easy for such companies as Verizon and Comcast to scale up services as applications and competition demand.

Now it is simply a matter of spreading the wealth. We agree with TechNet that this basic infrastructure is important to the nation's competitiveness and should be a government priority.

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