Blog Post

How Much Broadband Do We Need?

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 (s csco) 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?”


22 Responses to “How Much Broadband Do We Need?”

  1. Please find below both a short and full link to a public Google Map, showing the location of Fiber To The Home (FTTH) Internet providers in the USA. If you live or move to these communities, make sure that your new place falls within the area where bidirectional, synchronous fiber can be received.

    Why live anywhere else? #Map (full URL below) ~ AS of October 22, 2010, only these American providers offer bidirectional, synchronous Internet, though the price for 100Mb/100Mb #Fiber #FTTH does vary. Over 22 communities are currently served by #Utopia, UT; #Greenlight, NC; #EPB, Chattanooga, TN; #LUS, LA. Please see the map for more specific locations.

    Remember Google’s Go Big for a Gig 5 communities will be announced in 2011. The first might be Stanford University, Stanford, Ca, near Google’s headquarters.

    As the cities are announced I will add them to the map even before they offer the service as unlike the telcos, we can count on Google to follow through and provide true, honesty High Speed Bandwidth. Enjoy the map. Here is the full URL as my cable provider prevented the short form from loading once and redirected it. Only after I used the full link, did the short link work again. Yes we need net neutrality, don’t we!,-98.129883&spn=22.725937,53.481445&t=h&z=5

    Where’s the Fiber? ….check the map at the link provided.

  2. In 2015, we will be still talking about the same targets except they will be in 2020 and 2025 respectively if the $18 million per week spent by the telcos lobbying our elected leaders in Washington D.C. to keep their failed tiered pricing system, perpetuating the bandwidth scarcity myth (except to boost their stock prices with financial analysts) and increasingly higher fees each month to consumers.

    I have thought about what options might give Americans true high speed broadband via Fiber one day. No other media except fiber is honestly viable and our telcos know it. They are on the record stating that every household will need 300GB of bandwidth in the future and yet they try to institute a 50 GB bandwidth CAP. That is CAP and TRADE folks. (pun intended as most Americans do not understand what that means anyway, thus our politicians use it to confuse and take our attention away from more important issues. If you hear a politician use that phrase, try to see what their other hand is doing; they are hurting you, count on it.

    The only options that I could come up with are the four below. The best chance is government de regulation as happened in Japan, that should have happened here in 1996, but the telcos very successfully lobbied against it and won. (This factual success on their part is the reason for my hypothesis at the beginning of this comment)

    The second best chance is another business. This new business would need to have no relationship with any current American telco. Why, simple, if the American telcos wanted Americans to have fiber, we would have already had it. We would have had it before the Japanese got it, regardless of the miles of fiber that needed to be laid. The fact that the telcos fight communities wanting to put fiber over the last mile to American homes in and of itself is telling. We know they (telcos / Cable Cos / Wireline / Wireless) are a monopoly / oligopoly as they have very, very successfully stifled any innovation that would free up Americans from their preferred tiered pricing schemes. Sadly they have no incentive to change and we Americans should condemn them for it. (Teach your children the truth of the matter. Free markets work, if the market is not working, follow the money to determine the reason why.)

    Here are the only 4 solutions I could conceive of. The best chance is #1 and #2.

    1) Government de regulation as they had in Japan in 2000. It was tried here and failed in 1996. (While there is a better chance today then ever as the Telco track record can be successfully used against them if the politicians want too. Most have already been paid off and will not. Again actions speak louder then rhetoric.)

    2) A new, not related or in bed with any American telco, business enters the market and starts laying fiber to consumer homes. While I know the US Government will NOT let a foreign entity become a telco in this country. I also know that the current telcos will fight tooth and nail to prevent anyone else from offering to our homes. We have a real world example in Greenlight; after being invited by local politicians into their town, and after the telcos refused to offer service; found the very same telcos filing lawsuit after lawsuit to prevent them from laying Fiber to homes and apartments in that community. Greenlight charges approx $100 for 100Mb / 100Mb. I am unaware of any other company offering or planning to offer this service. (To all companies, contact me I will work to help you realize this dream. It would be a life well spent as it would benefit not just my children, but my friends and neighbors.). Even FIOS charges $119 for 50MB / 10MB.

    3) Google to leverage their undersea cables combined with another entity (un related to the telcos) that lays Fiber from their data centers to customers homes. This new business could provide 100MB / 100MB or even 1 Gb / 1Gb, as Japan had in 2006 thanks to their fiber investment, service to residential customers. I have not seen anything from Google to remotely indicate they are interested in this. (Please Google, it would be a great birthday present for America!) This is a shame as the market would be worth multiple hundreds of billions of dollars. Also the first company to do this will have an extremely loyal following that American telcos will NEVER win back. Their history will hurt them eventually, it is not a matter of if, only of when as more and more communities put their citizens first and demand fiber to everyone’s homes and apartments. Sadly the American telcos have abused their monopoly and oligopoly power to prevent innovation since the 1990s. Most American consumers find this unforgivable. It is very easy to point out the facts to Joe Public and once they see a multiple decade history of actions, it no longer matters what the marketing slicks say. The up hill battle is the money in our political system. Do not under estimate $18 million per week spent buying politicians. With the focus being politicians sitting on specific committees and its game over.

    4) The LHC Computing Grid, launched in October 3, 2008: Necessary to process the data from the Large Hadron Collider; will be an Internet separate from the current Internet. Designed by CERN to data stream 300 GB/s. Perhaps when the 27 TB of raw + 10 TB of event summary data (per day) is not using it, some lucky people will be able to get Internet access via it. Personally I am not holding my breath. being

    Can you think of any other possibilities where American consumers would have fiber coming to their homes and thus true high speed broadband? Please share if you can think of anything.

    Because the telcos actively prevent companies like Greenlight (a #2 option) from offering innovation via fiber to American citizens, the only hope we have is government de regulation as they had in Japan. Now Japanese consumers are getting bandwidths that are leading to new jobs and innovation! In 2000 they had 100Mbps / 100 Mbps for less than $55 per month. Thanks to the fiber already laid (fixed cost) in 2006 Japanese consumers started getting 1 GB / 1 GB for less than $52 per month. Yes the price went down, yes consumers got more bandwidth, yes free markets work!

    Technology existed pre 2000, that would let a single strand of fiber’s bandwidth get increased from 1X to 1024X by simply switching out the hardware router on either end. With Fiber there is no bandwidth scarcity. The reality is there is no bandwidth scarcity NOW, to increase pricing and justify that increase; the myth is perpetuated.

    Any Republican that does not work for this, but still touts FREE MARKETS needs to be tarred and feathered for the charlatan that their lack of action on this issue portray them to be. Forget their words, what are their actions? What has their actions been since the 1990s? How much telco / cable company money have they received? Game over for them based on their own actions.

    Being a capitalist, I never thought I would be looking to the Democrats to free up markets, however after over two decades of telco abuse, that is the only chance any of us have to see change. If the telcos wanted us to have it, we would already, never forget this. Markets do work, when they don’t there is a reason they are not working.

    As to costs, the Japanese estimate it costs less than pennies to offer 2 GB of bandwidth. So personally I do not get our telco excuses on this either, as at $50 per month (what I am paying now for throttled 100Kbps / 4 Kbps Cable Internet High speed broadband; they promise up to 8MB but you never see that except in a speed test, never in usage.) they would still be making millions, probably billions.

    All politicians should be ashamed of themselves for preventing and limiting American innovation and jobs that will follow higher broadband bandwidths. The telcos and Cable companies are obviously un ashamed and thrilled that their preferred business model,tiered pricing, is working so well. They publicly state this when talking to Financial Analyst to increase their company’s stock prices. (This should be unforgivable to all Americans.)

    Twenty plus years is enough already. Where’s the Fiber?

  3. And what about the 2%, 5%, and 10% of the population? Shall we just forget about those folks who live too far away from a wire center, wireless tower and/or middle mile POP? Are there really 6 to 7 million people in this country who deserve to be left without broadband?

    • Skeptic Internet User

      This is the land of *opportunity* – not guaranteed equality and government-subsidized or -guaranteed privileges. There is no Constitutional right to high speed, in spite of what the press and liberals want to believe and impress upon the public.

      Everyone in this country has the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness without governmental restriction – but the Constitution doesn’t state that it’s the Government’s responsibility to ensure that everyone *has* life, liberty, and happiness. There’s an important distinction there.

      Sorry to turn this into a political argument, but folks, that is what this is all really about. Open your eyes.

      • I live in France and they really have done it right here. The former government operator was forced to open up the local POP to competitors, which means there is actual real competition between ISPs!

        What this means is that since 2004 I have paid 29.95 euros/month and I get all of this over ADSL/copper wires:
        25mbit down/1mbit up internet
        HD + Standard TV
        Telephone (unlimited free calls to 100 countries, including USA of course.)
        DVR function, etc etc..

        My parents pay Time Warner $140/month for similar service (but 6mbit down and 384kbit up) .

        The problem is there is no real competition in the US to drive down prices. When the town of Wilson NC tried their hand at this themselves, Time Warner sued them!

        By next year most of Paris, France should be cabled for Fiber (FTTH), 100mbit down, 50mbit up, and with my ISP this will still be 29.95/month!

  4. In my neighborhood we have 7 mbps for $49.95. In 1997 we had 3 mbps for $44. That is with the cable company. The phone compnay (AT&T) offers DSL but it is more money for less speed, it really doesn’t compare. Time Warner recently tried to change their rates to a monthly useage but ran into strong resistance. Video streaming works but the cable company wants to resist the attack on their video turf. How much do we need? 100 megabits per second would be a good goal. Tokyo and Seoul have had 45 mbps since 2003 and for $37.00 per month (Yahoo Broadband). They have their government behind the push and it looks like ours is going to also. This isn’t pie in the sky, just the electronics on the ends, and a willing government.

    Greensboro, NC

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

    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.”

  6. 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.

  7. Brett Glass


    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.

  8. 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.

  9. Brett Glass

    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.

  10. 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.

    • 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.