• United States

High-speed communications and a slow joke

Nov 24, 20034 mins
BroadbandNetworkingTelecommunications Industry

For the last couple of weeks we have talked about vision with regard to IT vendors and end-user organizations. This week, I want to talk about the visions of telecom companies and government in relation to the Internet.

There can be no doubt in the mind of anyone who has a clue about our culture that the Internet is maturing into an essential service for business and private communications. Moreover, we are finding there really is no such thing as too much bandwidth, even for consumers.

Taking this as a given, it would seem to be blindingly obvious that the faster we roll out high-speed access to everyone, businesses and consumers alike, the better.

Now I am lucky enough to live near Los Angeles, where DSL service from SBC is generally easy to get. I have DSL service at 384K bit/sec bursting to 1.5M bit/sec downstream and 128K bit/sec upstream with five static IP addresses for $65 per month.

DSL might be easy to get but dealing with SBC customer service is a joke. For example, it would have been nice if SBC had told me a new reduced price was available for my DSL service. When we moved in 2000 I signed up for Enhanced DSL at $80 per month so I could get the higher speed. But when I started writing this column I thought I’d check the DSL options. I found to my surprise that there were nine new consumer DSL services available, and my Enhanced DSL, now called Standard Plus-S, is $15 less than I was paying.

The first customer service representative I talked with told me I should have seen the ads on TV. “But I don’t watch TV,” I said.

“The new services are listed on the Web site,” she replied.

I resisted the temptation to point out I am not in the habit of scanning the Web sites of my service providers on the off-chance they might be offering better pricing and asked her to change my account. Of course, that had to be done by a different department. In all, it only took an hour. Need I say anything?

The problem is that while DSL and cable service provision has gotten much better in the last few years, the fact is high-speed access is difficult to obtain when you aren’t near a major metropolitan area and, as fast as DSL and cable are, they aren’t fast enough.

For companies serving the business-to-business and business-to-consumer markets the next big step will require serious bandwidth that will allow, for example, full-length, high-resolution motion pictures to be transferred in minutes rather than hours.

Interestingly, Utah is planning to build the largest ultra high-speed public network in the U.S., serving Salt Lake City and 17 other cities. It will provide a basic data rate of about 100M bit/sec to 723,000 residents in 248,000 households and 34,500 businesses, and cost only $25 per month!

This project, called the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, or UTOPIA (nice one), is scheduled to start in early 2004 and will cost about $470 million. They expect it to break even within seven years!

These cities are taking the initiative because the telcos and cable companies won’t. And predictably the telcos in those areas already have started to complain about unfair competition and how the bandwidth will be far greater than anyone needs.

Here’s a fabulous example of differing visions: The municipalities see the need and opportunity for really high-speed communications while the telecom companies are blinkered and shortsighted.

We should all be rooting for the UTOPIA project because it will jump-start the national communications infrastructure we need. Of course, customer service still will be a joke.


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

More from this author