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Summary:

After reading a report out today from the National Broadband Coalition, I found myself thinking about conversations in recent weeks with guys from Cisco and my colleagues about how far the U.S. needs to go when it comes to fast broadband. The report tries to help […]

iStock_000006826969XSmallAfter reading a report out today from the National Broadband Coalition, I found myself thinking about conversations in recent weeks with guys from Cisco and my colleagues about how far the U.S. needs to go when it comes to fast broadband. The report tries to help set the agenda for the National Broadband Plan the Federal Communications Commission is crafting. Do we set our sights on 100Mbps, or pull out all the stops and race to 1Gbps? We’re talking residential broadband here, people — a huge leap when you consider that our current speeds range between 3Mbps and 5Mbps, and our national backbone capacity is about 40Gbps and is being upgraded to 100Gbps.

The coalition comprises 160 companies that in December 2008 organized to help craft and set an agenda for the National Broadband Plan that’s due in February. Members include telecommunications equipment companies, consumer organizations, technology firms, education groups and others. In the report, the group stressed that its members were heavily divided on the speed issue (but they all agreed that broadband is important and should be more widely used in education, health care and government activities). However, check out the chart below from the report (which isn’t a formal recommendation since the members were divided), and you’ll see that having a conversation about how much broadband is enough seems necessary.

We’re huge believers that, like improvements in processing power, faster broadband speeds will drive innovation, new business models, and even change the way we interact with each other. But private companies, governments and even consumers have a finite amount to spend. Do we allocate those dollars to laying a faster pipe, or put more of our resources toward taking advantage of that speed and optimizing the pipe? Just as chipmakers have declared the Gigahertz race to be largely irrelevant, when do we look at broadband speeds and say, “Enough?”

dataspeeds

  1. There is no natural point at which additional broadband speed becomes irrelevant except perhaps at the speed of the network used within the home (today largely 100 Mbps). Enough is largely a factor of the applications in use, and these are crafted around what developers believe is the typical bandwidth available to a user. Enough will always be a moving target.

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    1. Don’t agree. Netbooks are flourishing in part because processors long ago surpassed the needs of most activities (apart from gaming). I think broadband will go the same way. Once broadband speeds are fast enough that you can seemlessly remote desktop – I’m thinking 50 to 100 Mbps wireless (still a ways off I know) – then what does it matter. Run whatever you’re going to do remotely (either the clouds or on your own home computer) and only send input/output information.

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  2. I can be thankful that my local broadband provider ( is upping residential speeds to 60 Mbps in a week: http://www.bendbroadband.com/residential/hsi_index.asp?pageID=hsi&adct=3

    That said, the struggle that we still have as a community here is a central technical hub that takes advantage of these speeds…

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    1. So you’re going to pay $90 per month for a 150GB cap? No thanks.

      -Josh

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  3. And how, exactly, are users going to be able to afford such capacities? In my rural city of 28,000 souls, the wholesale cost of Internet backbone bandwidth is $100 per Mbps per second per month. In many locations, it’s $425 or more per Mbps per month. ISPs used to be able to reduce the cost of connectivity to end users by overselling bandwidth, but with the move of video to the net — creating high peak loads when everyone is streaming at “prime time” — and threatened “network neutrality” regulation preventing them from rationing bandwidth or preventing bandwidth hogging — ISPs will be able to oversell very little, if at all.

    All of this “pie in the sky” talk about faster speeds ignores the fact that BANDWIDTH COSTS MONEY. There’s no “bandwidth fairy” who will miraculously provide it for free. And in all areas other than dense urban centers, the cost per megabit is going up, not down, due to the increased cost of “special access” lines for backhaul. Instead of setting goals that are economically infeasible, perhaps we should demand that existing bandwidth be used more efficiently instead of squandered.

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  4. How much broadband do we need? All of it, of course. :)

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  5. The best way to optimize a pipe is to add capacity. The longer we go without big broadband the longer it’ll be before we can realize the benefits of a world where things like two-way HD video is ubiquitous.

    That doesn’t mean we should ignore the adoption/utilization issues. But many of those can be addressed by reallocating existing budgets, and a lot can be done by simply changing mindsets and establishing best practices that can be shared between agencies and communities.

    Finally, to Brett’s point, while bandwidth to the Internet isn’t free, in-network bandwidth can be, or if not free then very, very cheap. There is the debt service to pay off the network buildout to deal with, but if that can be covered by other revenue and/or once the network’s fully paid off then there is very little incremental cost to delivering in-network bandwidth.

    I think it’s important we start thinking about broadband not just as a fatter pipe onto the Internet, but as an opportunity to network our local communities together in more robust ways. I see a future where there’s a lot more value being realized by in-network applications than the Internet, things like getting connected with your local hospital, school, government facility, etc.

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  6. Geoff:

    Adding capacity to a pipe isn’t “optimizing” anything;. In fact, it’s the opposite if it promotes waste.

    What’s more, the only way “in-network” bandwidth (which is not that cheap so long as spectrum is scarce) can help anything is if the carrier is the content provider. Yet, proponents of “network neutrality” rage against the idea of the carrier being anything but the provider of a commodity “dumb pipe.”

    As a small businessman trying to make payroll and keep customers satisfied, I have to deal with realities — not “pie in the sky” ideas. Bandwidth costs money, and I have to pay the bills.

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  7. Happy filesharing. Can you imagine downloading HD movies with torrent over 100Mbps line? Can’t wait :))

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  8. i think 100 mbps is enough its what we get in local lan over ethernet !!

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  9. The key question is, what would we do with it? Very few people need more than 12Mbit/s each way, which is enough for two-way HD video a la Cisco TelePresence. Theoretically, they might want to stream a couple of HD videos at once, which would require 24Mbit/s. But for now, that’s probably as much as 99% of the population needs, and it’s about where Verizon’s reasonably-priced offerings top out (they offer more, but for a much higher price), for example. Of course, if 3D video really takes off, or if there is such a dramatic shift to online HD video, then more may be required, hence – as others have pointed out – there’s no answer which will be true forever, just what’s needed now.

    There’s a bigger philosophical question about which is more important – getting a majority of people to a really high bandwidth, or getting 100% of the population to some minimum. Our broadband stimulus plan seems to be aiming for the latter, but I’d argue from a competitiveness point of view the former is probably more important.

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  10. There’s at least one response in here that’s relevant:

    http://www.ftthcouncil.org/sites/default/files/Questions%20for%20Dick%20Lynch%209-11-3.pdf

    Dick Lynch of Verizon:

    “the speeds we decide to offer reflect market analysis, not broadband capacities. Power users will always want all you can give them, but slavishly satisfying them skews the service and the market unrealistically. We could go to 75 or 100 Mbps and beyond tomorrow, but the larger market doesn’t require that capacity at the moment. We’re watching and planning, though. And we’re ready.”

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