Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Is There a Broadband Stimulus Job For You?

The government is deploying another $795 million of the broadband stimulus funding, and just in time. The United States has been lagging other countries, including Japan and Korea, when it comes to the amount of bandwidth available to businesses and consumers at any reasonable price. At the same time, we are in what has been dubbed “The Great Recession,” with unemployment stuck at unreasonably high levels. Could there be a win-win here?

Get the government broadband stimulus to work for you.It looks like there may well be benefits for both today’s jobseekers and the long term prosperity of the United States. One report estimates
that the new high speed internet build-outs will create as many as 5,000 jobs right away. That may sound like a pittance, considering the millions looking for work, but it’s a move in the right direction. It’s also likely that the benefit from these jobs will multiply as new broadband resources come online. Once the bandwidth is available, there will be the urge to put it to good use. That means more computers, more wireless networks, more demand for video, more cloud services, and so on. It’s the nature of investment. There’s a multiplier effect as we gain new capability.

I deal mostly with business bandwidth. Since getting involved in this field nearly 7 years ago, I’ve seen a steady increase in demand for higher and higher speeds at lower prices. I originally launched to sell competitively priced T1 lines. These have been the staple of small and even some medium size businesses. But a T1 line tops out at 1.5 Mbps. Seven years ago that was still considered a goodly amount of bandwidth. Now many, many businesses are moving up to 10 Mbps Ethernet. The pricing is similar to what T1 lines used to cost and the bandwidth is high enough to support rapid file transfers, fast Internet browsing and real-time video. What’s just as attractive as the speed and the price is the fact that 10 Mbps Ethernet can be delivered on existing copper wiring.

We’ve got a copper-based infrastructure that needs to move to a fiber infrastructure. All that copper is thanks to an earlier government initiative to ensure that every business and home had access to reasonably priced telephone service. All that’s happened is that those analog phone lines have been re-purposed for digital transmission. It’s the same copper. Some of it has been in the ground for a century.

But copper has its limits. Ethernet over Copper is good for up to 50 Mbps if you are within a mile or so of the central office. If you are out in the boonies or have the need for more bandwidth, you really need fiber. That’s no problem downtown. It’s a big problem as you move away from the densely packed city cores. Why no fiber where there’s lots of copper? It’s because the lower the population density, the more expensive per drop it becomes to bring in fiber optic services. It quickly becomes too expensive for businesses and ridiculously expensive for consumers.

This is what the broadband stimulus is intended to help fix. The idea is to build out what is called the “middle mile.” That’s the span from the provider’s main points of presence to smaller towns, neighborhoods and industrial parks. From there, it’s not so costly to hook up the “last mile” to actual users. That last mile or fraction thereof might be fiber, wireless, or even high speed copper.

We really need to think of our broadband infrastructure as a standard utility. No one thinks twice about expecting electricity and telephone service to be available. In most areas, water, sewer, and natural gas hookups are a given. Fiber optic lines need the same status. Bring in a bundle with both copper and fiber strands and you’ll have the best of both worlds. What’s more, our nation will have the 21st century resource to continue being a leader in science, business, education, and health care. It’s what we’ll need if we expect to maintain our lifestyle in a world where other nations are deploying broadband Internet as a strategic resource.

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