DSL, Second Rate Internet


Dave Burstein, who writes the very influential DSL Prime e-mail newsletter, and one of the earliest champions of DSL and Broadband has some interesting observations to make about the future of DSL.

His words, not mine: “ADSL is so last century. Today, it’s fiber home or fiber + VDSL at 50 meg or more. Japan is the first country to see a major drop in DSL as 5 million switch to fiber.” Now that is telling, because the man makes a living tracking this industry, so he knows the clock is ticking. He says that Comcast head honcho Brian Roberts is betting that the cable giant will go “50 meg down, 15 meg up pre-DOCSIS 3.0…in selected markets” by 2007. (Cablevision already is offering those kind of speeds.)

Meanwhile, Australia, Canada, and more than half of the U.S. are likely to spend the next decade with a second-rate Internet, 60% to 90% slower than leading countries.



I disagree. Computers took off when price went down and games and business apps proliferated. VCRs, likewise, had to meet a pricepoint.

Fiber ain’t there, and, as you indicate, has been around a long, long time. No one has developed anything useful for such a big pipe, especially considering the advances in compression. Furthermore, it is a far cry from a SONET ring to FTTH. SONET rings have the “killer app” (reliability, self-healing) – FTTH doesn’t.

SONET rings continue to pop up all over, because they are useful. FTTH is a slow grind, because it isn’t.

Usefulness is key, and FTTH isn’t there yet. How many RESIDENTS (not businesses) have ever said, or will ever say, “As I design my home-based real-time mission critical network to operate my television and computer services, I continue to run into bandwidth problems…”

Bandwidth is a business application problem, not a FTTH problem. Please remember the “H” stands for “Home.” And 99% of homes need a $3000 fiber pipe stuck into their home like they need to hire a full-time janitorial service.

I know it breaks hearts, but the term that best describes FTTH is “fun toy.”

James Carlini

To me, switching up to fiber is very 90’s as I recommended fiber to the central office from the Chicago 911 Center back in ’92 and it was implemented in 1995. They also have a SONET ring connecting all police and fire buildings (about 176 miles). SONET recommended in 1992 and installed in 1995 – long before many even looked at it as a commercial application.

Many commercial buildings are still being built with copper-based connectivity and that is totally unacceptable. ALL new commercial construction should be fiber-based and if possible, have connectivity to TWO central offices, not one. This should be the new “rule-of-thumb”, not the rare exception.

A more recent development I advised on, the DuPage National Technology Park, is currently building a network infrastructure that supports 10 Gbps (Today – not five years from now)

As for FTTH, it should be a goal and have the same broadband initiative as California – one gigabit or bust by 2010.

Too lofty? If you are going to do anything, you should be aiming high because you are not going to be ripping up the streets every two years to add fiber.

As for the one comment mentioned above about there is no “killer app” for fiber, that is the same negative thought process that so many had for the initial use of computers (at one time some industry executive said only a couple of them could ever be used commercially) as well as VCRs (again, only the “major” studios would have any use for them).

Just put it out there and see what happens. In designing real-time mission critical networks to run applications , the major negative comment for years has always been “we don’t have enough bandwidth to run that application.”

What if bandwidth is NOT an issue any more?

Vladimir Orlt

I agree with Paul J.: “DSL is ‘good enough’ for mainstream users”… mainly because the net is also bottlenecked by slow servers and THEIR connections to the backbones.

This will probably change, but I would like to see the path from server to my provider get faster before I fork out extra $ for more bandwidth at my end.



Good point about the MPEG4 on satellite. FTTH is a neat trick, and if you can goof the taxpayers into distributing the bill for it, great, but I really don’t know that there is much market for $150 200 channels w/ 30 HD via fiber when you can get that for about $100 through DISH or Direct TV.

Again, this is a niche flavor in the states: nice if you can get it, sweet enough to make some folks with excess cash downright evangelical, but not a true driver, personally or economically.

The hype kind of reminds me of the big urban/rural digital divide meme that blanketed the media in 2000, 2001. Well, now studies are showing that a higher percentage of rural communities (not remote farms, but towns smaller than 2000 people) have broadband access than do their non-rural counterparts.

So, these sort of international comparisons can be easily infused with meaning where no meaning exists. There’s more fiber in Japan because the market requires/demands it, not because they are on better footing. Anyone trying to tie Japan’s fiber use to economic superiority is smoking something. Fiber isn’t going to pull their economy back up to the high-growth eighties and nineties. It certainly isn’t doing it today.

Paul Jemison

In Austin I can get Cable, DSL or FTTH. I have Fiber 10Mbps down, 1 Mbps up dedicated fofr $50. But all of my friends are switching from $40 per month cablemodem to $19 per month DSL. DSL is ‘good enough’ for mainstream users. There’s no killer-app for fiber except p2p which is the college-student crowd where there’s no money for it.

It’d be a lot cheaper for AT&T or Verizon if they just bought Echostar and could bundle. There’s no biz case for FTTH other than video and satellite is MUCH cheaper for that and with MPEG4 can do local High-Def too.


Uhhh… so? Australia, Canada and the U.S. have FAR more geographic size and FAR less population density than Japan or Korea. That’s what drives expensive FTTH projects. You really think it is cost-efficient to drag FTTH across large areas that serve less than 13 users per mile?

Give me a break. Until there is an economically sound reason to switch to FTTH (i.e. it somehow increases personal income at a greater rate than DSL, or provides materials otherwise “ungettable” via any other form of broadband) large (geographically) leading nations simply don’t have a major need. I’ve been on fiber, and for most processes, doesn’t seem that advantageous. I’m sure, however, in a place like Japan, fiber makes sense, because of the density of users trying to share one pipe, plus the reduced cost for Fiber (in the U.S., it can range from $2000 to $5000 PER installation just to get the connection made. That is squarely in the “early adopter” price range and isn’t likely to reduce for quite some time) due to the vast number of people who can distribute costs for a single connection.

I hear the DSL lament all the time, but it doesn’t sing for me. It has much more to do with geography than it does forward thinking.

Om Malik

I bet the fiber fast cities could include Phoenix, Houston, New York or Miami. (of course this is in addition to ones where fiber is slowly being rolled out.)

Jesse Kopelman

Tom, no offense, but I think he meant MAJOR city. Sacramento is on a list with cities like Pittsburgh and St. Louis, not New York and Chicago.


I used to work for Verizon. Keller, TX has been fiber-ifyed.

It’ll all be one huge letdown though. Since these guys oversell bandwidth anyways (if all the ISP’s customers decided to watch streaming video all at the same time, thus using all their allotted bandwidth, the ISP would be brought down to its knees), in the not-too-distant future, same ISP selling 50/15 down/up will be forced to downgrade service.

Especially when Joe Sixpack realizes he can download entire movies via BitTorrent.

Or maybe they’d just make you pay for your all-you-can-eat plan, but indulge in some fancy traffic-shaping. Or bandwidth throttling. Or data transfer caps.


Om, if you were to make a bet, which cities in the U.S. do you think the fiber will be made available to first? S.F. Bay area? Boston? Gotham City? Chicago?

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