Saturday, September 18, 2004

Broadband, the FCC, the Internet, the Future

This article by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. is quite an eye-opener and an excellent summary of our country's lack of progress in the DSL-powered broadband arena.

The article mentions an oft-repeated statement that DSL prices revolve nowadays around $20. I would like to qualify this statement. If you want real broadband at speeds of no-less than 1.5Mbps downstream and 128Kbps upstream, all prices across all ISPs are essentially the same: you're looking at $50/month. This, to me, really is the most basic entry-point into today's interesting broadband applications. Many ISPs will lure customers with promotional deals and lengthy contracts, while making big marketing "hooplas" of their $26.95 prices. Those deals usually last 6 to 12 months, during which the non-telco ISPs lose money. After the initial promotional deal, you're back at $50, unless you switch ISP.

With all this in mind, I wouldn't say we have made that much of a progress in the DSL-powered broadband arena since the original $70 offerings.

It's furthermore quite a challenge to switch DSL providers, as there typically are 3 entities involved: 1) your current ISP needs to release your phone line and register that with your telco company. 2) your new ISP must snag your line after your original ISP releases the line. 3) steps 1) and 2) depend on your local phone company registering those transactions in a timely fashion. You're looking at a non-negligible hassle and significant downtime in your home broadband connectivity.

I believe proper FCC regulations would enable ISPs to better streamline those processes.

On a semi-related note, David Beckemeyer, a Distinguished Research Engineer at EarthLink points in one of his blog entries at how we may well have "broken the Internet". The main idea I took out is the fact that current broadband offerings were crafted around the current most popular applications: Web Surfing and e-Mail. These applications require very little "upstream" bandwidth and shine with high "downstream" bandwidth. Hence today's typical $50/month 1.5Mbps downstream/128Kbps upstream offerings.

128Kbps upstream allows a user to enjoy an Internet Phone Call (VoIP) with one person. However, while that "phone call" is in progress, forget about browsing the Web at anything but crawling speeds. You also cannot initiate a "conference call" with a 3rd person. Not enough bandwidth.

We need prices to come down, and bandwidth to go up. This will be achieved through competition. Competition will be enabled through proper FCC regulations.

France is ahead of us with far more appealing offerings: ~$30-$40/month for 512Kbps upstream, and 6Mbps downstream. Korea is leading the pack: Koreans are watching their favorite Soap Operas on-demand, over IP, in near-broadcast quality, through their broadband connectivity.

I'm hoping ISPs such as EarthLink, SpeakEasy, and Covad are actively lobbying to bring us out of the bandwidth stone age. Meanwhile I see ray of hopes in wireless technologies such as WiFi and WiMax, and wired alternatives such as Broadband over Powerline.

To me, the future lies in most form of communications being powered by the Internet Protocol. Text, Images, Sound, Video. We're moving too slow.


1 comment:

Daniel said...