The Deseret News reported that Utah has the highest rate of Internet use of any state, topping out at 74.8% of homes. In a “well duh” moment, they attribute it to the young population and large concentration of tech companies. What was missing, however, is the full picture on how we’re doing speed-wise.
And that, friends, is a mixed bag. According to the results from SpeedTest.net, Utah doesn’t even crack the top 10 for download speeds. We do, however, place second when it comes to upload speeds, no doubt due to symmetrical connections available on the various fiber networks in our state. When you narrow in on our state, the best download and upload speeds come from Lindon and Orem, both cities with UTOPIA fiber. Provo comes in fourth on both lists with Broadweave/iProvo. Incumbents don’t fare so well. Qwest doesn’t crack either top 10 list and Comcast only makes the download list.
We should be demanding not just that Internet access be widespread, but that it be high-quality as well. The incumbents’ inability to deliver next-generation bandwidth is leaving us far behind the rest of the pack.
A new study shows that broadband growth is starting to level off while a separate study claims we’re paying as much as $3 per minute for our cell phones. We’re also getting more details of the broadband stimulus package (sparse as they may be), Comcast claims to have more phone customers than Qwest (seriously!), and Google finally takes the wraps off of Grandcentral to rebrand it as Google Voice (phone operators, go ahead and wet yourselves). All that and more in this week’s Broadband Bytes!
Broadband is still growing, just not like it used to. With 59% of American households now on better-than-dial-up connections and a sagging economy, the broadband market is looking a lot like the cellphone market in that almost everyone who wants it has it. And how do you get the last little bits of the market? I’ll give you a hint: follow the wireless industry’s lead. They swooped in with cheap plans, pre-paid phones, and multi-line service to make sure that everyone became their customer. ISPs can do wild things like, say, offer WiFi service with fixed broadband plans.
How much do you pay per minute for your cellular phone? A recent survey in California says you’re paying an average of $3 per minute for your peak minutes. Even lopping off the top users takes the cost down to anywhere from $0.50 to $1.00 per minute. Granted, this study doesn’t factor in your “free” night, weekend, or in-network minutes, so take it with a grain of salt.
Comcast says that it’s picked up enough phone customers to be the third largest phone company in the country right behind AT&T and Verizon. (Sorry Qwest, but we knew this day would come.) They’ve been very aggressive at marketing phone service (unlike Qwest), offering competitive pricing on triple-play packages (unlike Qwest), and doing a lot of work to improve their company image (three strikes; guess who’s out). Not satisfied with their current numbers, Comcast is suing the feds so they can get bigger. The FCC currently prohibits any cable operator from owning more than 30% of the national market.
Sprint is moving one step closer to dumb pipe operator by hinting that despite betting the farm on WiMax via Clearwire, they haven’t ruled out using LTE in the future. Despite the impression that WiMax and LTE are day and night, the difference is more in the software than the hardware. I think Sprint is getting ahead of the curve and realizing that operating the wholesale pipe is a lot more stable than trying to please end users, a task it has proven ill-suited at handling. Given the massive vertical integration of landlines, video, fixed data, wireless, and mobile broadband from giants AT&T and Verizon, Sprint’s exit from the telco business by spinning off local operations as Embarq, and further pressure from Cox Communications, Time Warner, and Comcast as they ramp up wireless products, Sprint may have seen the writing on the wall.
Verizon’s big FIOS builds aren’t just benefiting dense East-coast towns. Their insatiable demand for fiber has dropped equipment prices substantively allowing smaller telcos to go fiber-to-the-home. Even Utah’s own Manti Telecommunications Company is reported to be getting in on the action. This FIOS upgrade comes Highly recommended for Verizon offers and users. With equipment costs dropping like a rock, now you just have to worry about the high cost of trenching and being obstructed by your “friendly” local incumbent.
The new mantra in real estate? Location, location, broadband. From this AP Article: “In less than a decade, broadband has gone from a luxury to a must for many people, and for some of them, it’s started to influence their real-estate decisions. Homes that have broadband are winning out over more remote ones that don’t. Areas with better and faster broadband are becoming more desirable than ones with slower access.”
Akamai has released the 2008 3rd quarter report on the State of the Internet. The U.S. is in 8th place in terms of speed, and just 26% of users have download over 5 Mpbs. Upload speeds are far more dismal.
Another telecom expert says the U.S. “needs more broadband competition”. We certainly aren’t going to get that in Utah with a Qwest and Comcast duopoly. We need UTOPIA and it’s accompanying open access principles to succeed.
Finally, Jesse already talked about this in his post, but the city of Monticello is moving forward with their own fiber network despite the legal appeal from TDS Telecom. The bond money has been locked in escrow by the courts, but they are moving ahead anyway with liquor store reserve funds. I guess they consider broadband that important.
I think we are seeing a trend here: fast broadband is becoming vital to businesses and individuals. It truly is becoming the “railroad” of this century. In the last six months, I personally know of three businesses that chose to locate in Murray because of UTOPIA and at least two friends that moved to Layton in the hopes of eventually getting UTOPIA. And can you believe I am in an area in west Ogden where neither Comcast nor DSL is available, it’s unbelievable!
Some universities seem to be cutting back on POTS (plain old telephone) offerings to dorms because of lack of use.
Cox and Time Warner were fined for implementing SDV and knocking CableCARD customers offline without proper notification.
It also looks like BPL (Broadband over Power Lines) is dead. Manassas, Virginia where the flagship BPL network was deployed has been turned over to the city who will keep it around until about 2010. For all you amateur radio (PDF) operators out there this is good news.
Apple is rumored to be working on a networked TV. That’s going to require a lot of bandwidth. In addition to normal TV functions, you could stream any content from iTunes like downloaded movie rentals, TV episodes on demand, etc.
Business Week recently did an excellent piece called “The Digital Divide” that talks about just how important broadband is becoming in spurring business in areas that have it, and leaving those that don’t in the dust.
President Bush signed the Broadband Data Improvement Act into law on Oct. 10. The bill will provide for improved data on the status of broadband deployment in the United States by forcing the FCC to make a couple of major changes to the way it puts together broadband information. This includes yearly metrics for “second-generation” broadband that can support full motion HD video and more granularity to for reporting of broadband broken down by ZIP+4 instead of just ZIP (as it is now). The bill also authorizes a program of grants to support public/private public partnerships to stimulate broadband deployment and adoption at the state level. I’m interested to know what this would mean for projects like UTOPIA. Thoughts?
With all the talk about city wifi networks becoming ubiquitous there are some downsides…scalability. Networkworld has an interesting article about the the technical problems with scaling WiFi to meet today’s bandwidth hungry users. As a side note, some users ask the network engineers at my place of employment (higher ed) when wifi will become our primary means of connecting desktops to the network. The answer is always the same: never. They say: “What do you mean I can’t use this new 2.4Ghz phone I just purchased?” Some departments decide to go wireless anyway (usually to avoid the cost of wiring) but later end up having to convert to physical connections anyway.
It looks like Comcast’s new caps are around thanks to Florida consumer protection laws. It seems that prior to the 250Gig caps there was no cap. They just cut off the top 1000 users every month. Because consumers were unable to find out how to avoid this in the future the Florida AG became involved.
Along those lines I dug up these oldarticles about Utah getting a jump start on converting the state-wide network of TV translators to digital signals. One interesting tidbit from the article: “It is widely believed that Utah has the largest terrestrial-analog translator network in the world. The system provides rural viewers with over-the-air television in approximately 80 percent of the state.”
Could things get ugly at Qwest? They still have not reached a labor agreement with the Communications Workers of America. Those 20,000 workers could begin a strike as early as Sunday (tomorrow), the day their existing contract expires.
“The U.S. may be winning world speed records in swimming at the Olympics, but not in average Internet speeds. According to a new report, the country that invented the Internet has now sunk to 15th worldwide in the percentage of the population subscribing to broadband.” This is a great AP News article that summarizes the state of broadband today in America and compares it with other countries. In other parts of the country, like Oklahoma, they are significantly behind. According to this article, Oklahoma ranks below most other states in broadband, which is a worry for officials. “Infrastructure and connection is so important to economic development…Many future industries will be knowledge-based.”
The FCC has a proposal to build a national, free, wireless broadband network that nearly everyone could access. It is inching forward despite controversy and worries by T-Mobile and others about interference. They are seeking feedback on this plan. I would like to point out though that this will never replace the interference-free, low-latency, high-bandwidth connections that are possible with fiber optic networks.
In the presidential race, net neutrality and other broadband issues have become points of contrast:
John McCain’s position: “John McCain does not believe in prescriptive regulation like “net-neutrality,” but rather he believes that an open marketplace with a variety of consumer choices is the best deterrent against unfair practices. John McCain has always believed the government’s role must be rooted in protecting consumers.”
Barack Obama’s position: “So here’s my view. We can’t have a situation in which the corporate duopoly dictates the future of the internet and that’s why I’m supporting what is called net neutrality.”
John McCain has put forward an excellent bill in the Senate called the Community Broadband Act of 2005, which Barack Obama has not yet signed on to. Interestingly, this bill is supported by EDUCAUSE and more than 40 education and trade associations, public interest groups, etc. This bill would protect the ability of local governments to provide Internet services
to their communities. Jonathan Karras and I have talked about EDUCAUSE before. Though Obama hasn’t signed on to this bill, he has stated that “Every American should have the highest speed broadband access—no matter where you live, or how much money you have. We’ll connect schools, libraries, and hospitals. And we’ll take on special interests to unleash the power of wireless spectrum for our safety and connectivity.”
Many cities haven’t been as successful as they hoped in building various municipal broadband network, primary wireless networks. The first of these was Philidelphia. “Philadelphia’s goal to cover 135 square miles with a cloud of Internet connectivity was ambitious. But the need was undeniable. High-speed Internet access was fast becoming an economic, educational, and social necessity.” This article has an in-depth look at a lot of municipal networks around the country, but no mention of UTOPIA or IProvo.