Supplement to “The Internet for Everyone”
A GUIDE TO INTERNET CONNECTIONS—HOW FAST IS FAST?
The Federal Communications Commission currently defines broadband as 250 kilobits per second (kbps.) Among today’s Internet users, however, broadband is generally considered to be 1,000 kbps, or 1 megabit per second (mbps) or more. Many Web sites and Internet applications require this kind of speed. More advanced applications, such as interactive online gaming or streaming video, can require much higher speeds. Bandwidth or speed as quoted by technology suppliers can be confusing because they will often quote their bulk throughput speeds, not the typical individual subscriber access speed.
Dial-up service connects to the Internet by dialing a number on a conventional phone line. Dial-up service is not always-on, and it is slow, transferring data at speeds of up to 56 kilobits per second. Dial-up service is available to anyone with plain old telephone service.
Hybrid fiber cable (HFC) provides Internet access through the same coaxial cable used for cable TV. This always-on connection transfers data at speeds of up to 20,000 kilobits per second (20 megabits per second). Typical retail subscriber access speeds are 1 or 2 mbps. The bandwidth is shared among all the users along the cable, so access speed is affected by the total usage along the cable system. HFC is available only to homes and businesses passed by cable TV systems that have been appropriately upgraded for broadband Internet service.
DSL stands for Digital Subscriber Line, a type of service that uses existing telephone lines. DSL is an always-on connection that can operate at speeds up to 8,000 kilobits per second. Typical retail subscriber access speeds are on the order of 1 or 2 mbps. DSL provides a dedicated bandwidth to each subscriber so an individual subscriber’s speed is not affected by other subscribers’ usage. DSL service can only be extended to subscribers that are within a couple of miles of the phone company’s “central office” facilities.
Fiber to the premises (FTTx) extends Internet access through a fiber optic cable. It is an always-on connection that can typically provide individual access speeds of 10 mbps or more. It is a shared bandwidth solution, but the potential bulk bandwidth is so great that there is little or no degradation for an individual subscriber no matter how much the total usage. Fiber can be extended essentially any distance, but it is very expensive to install and maintain, so it is typically available only in the most densely populated areas.
Fixed-wireless extends Internet connections through radio signals between a fixed transceiver and the subscribers’ premises. It can typically provide services to subscribers up to five miles away from the transceiver as long as it is unimpeded by geography, structures, or vegetation. Wireless is an always-on connection that operates at speeds up to 10,000 kilobits per second. Typical retail subscriber access speeds are 500 kbps. The bandwidth is shared among all users served by a transceiver, so individual access speeds are affected by total usage.
WiMAX is an emerging, industry-standard, fixed-wireless solution that can operate at higher speeds over longer distances. Because it is based on an open industry standard, equipment from different vendors will be interoperable. And since everyone is manufacturing to the same standard, equipment costs should be lower.
Satellite communicates the Internet via Ku-band radio to a satellite dish at the premises. This can provide service to remote locations not served by the other broadband technologies. Satellite access is always-on and typically connects at speeds up to 3,400 kilobits per second. It is a shared bandwidth so each subscriber’s access speed is affected by total usage.
Wild Blue is a new type of satellite Internet access utilizing Ka-band radio that connects at speeds up to 1,500 kilobits per second.
Broadband over power lines (BPL) is an emerging technology that communicates Internet via radio signals injected on power lines. BPL is an always-on connection that operates at speeds up to 20 mbps. Typical retail subscriber access speeds are 300 kbps. It is a shared bandwidth solution, so individual subscriber access speeds vary with total usage on the system. Internet access is available only to subscribers who are passed by BPL-enabled power lines, typically only a very few miles from a substation.
Wi-Fi is a short-range wireless Internet access technology typically used for on-premises applications (homes, hotels, coffee shops, offices). It is an always-on access that typically provides individual subscriber access at speeds of about 5 mbps. It is usually connected to one of the “backbone” broadband infrastructures described above.
BRINGING THE INTERNET TO EVERYONE
Additional discussion from the interview, “The Internet for Everyone,” published in the August 2005 Kentucky Living
In the summer of 2005 Kentucky Living talked with a panel of experts about high-speed broadband Internet access in rural areas and published that discussion in the August 2005 issue.
Posted here are additional excerpts from that conversation, covering the benefits of broadband to businesses and low-income people, and details of how each of the participating organizations is helping bring broadband to rural America.
The panel was made up of:
- Brian Mefford, president and chief executive officer of ConnectKentucky.
- Steve Collier, vice president for emerging technologies at the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative.
- Curtis Anderson, acting administrator of the Rural Utilities Service, a part of the Rural Development Mission of USDA.
The discussion was moderated by Paul Wesslund, Kentucky Living editor.
Wesslund: In promoting broadband service to rural areas, is it more persuasive to focus on trying to lower costs, or pointing out the benefits of high-speed Internet access?
Collier: We shouldn’t get too hung up on the cost. Several years ago when we were offering satellite TV programming, we found that even in some of the poorest counties in the country, every one of those folks bought a DirecTV dish. They did not have a lot of disposable income, but access to media was so important to their quality of life that they paid what seemed an astonishing monthly sum to have satellite television.
Anderson: We want the digital divide to shrink. At a conference earlier this summer, there was a public utility commissioner from California who made the point that now that she had a 5-megabyte speed broadband connection, she did not care about offers of cheaper broadband service from other providers. If she could not get the same speed, she would not change her provider. If you get broadband, you are not going to go back to dial-up. The question is, how do you get them to the broadband in the first place? I was in Ohio, where we did a Community Connect grant. I asked what the biggest attraction was for broadband, and the answer was eBay. With eBay, having broadband rather than a dial-up connection can be the difference between making your purchase or not. I also talked to a stockbroker who asked if he could be the first one to get a broadband line. He said he lost $60,000 because he had a dial-up connection rather than broadband, and as a result he made a stock transaction too late.
Mefford: I talked to a lady a few months back who has multiple sclerosis, and she lives in a very rural area with no broadband. Her employer said they would allow her to work from home because her doctor said she can’t keep commuting and sitting at a desk for eight hours a day. She called us to say, “All I need is a broadband connection, and my life does not change dramatically. I can continue to be a contributor.”
Wesslund: Should we accept that there might always be a digital divide? What about people with extremely low incomes?
Mefford: I was in Phelps, Kentucky, where they have a center that has been basically a food bank for the last several years that is using their Community Connect project to set up a center with 10 computers and a training course. When folks come in to get food, they are now required to do a session on the computer. Once they get through the training, they are given a computer.
Collier: There’s a guy in Washington, D.C., who has a company called One Economy Corp., and his belief is that poor people are unduly penalized because they are having to run around doing so much that that rest of us do not have to do. It makes it even harder for them to find aid, and get a house, and get their car fixed. He said he is trying to push a business center model to do exactly the same thing on a national basis—make sure that when you get a poor person, whether you are giving them food or medicine or whatever, give them the Internet at the same time.
Meffford: We have been working with the One Economy people as well. We talk a lot about electronic government, but electronic government is only good for people who have broadband access Internet.
Wesslund: What trends should people watch for to take advantage of the Internet and today’s “information economy”?
Collier: The author Daniel Pink has written about the fact that for a long time we thought the world was about knowledge, and knowledge workers were the competitive advantage of nations. But what has happened is that knowledge work is being outsourced to India or Pakistan or China. What is next? Idea work. Innovation. Media. It is creativity and skills that will be supported by a new way of communication.
Wesslund: Each of you represents a different specialty in getting broadband to rural areas. RUS has particular funding sources, ConnectKentucky brings organization and coalition building, NRTC does some of that as well, but also actually brings technology into the picture. How do you characterize the specialty you represent?
Anderson: Rural Development invests in rural America through loans and grants, and we do have a long history in this partnership with rural citizens. Many of our employees have more than 40 years of experience seeing the challenges in the past of providing electricity, telecommunications, water, and waste facilities to rural America, and we are applying those lessons to broadband.
Collier: NRTC’s role in telecommunications is much like the role that generation and transmission cooperatives play in the electric utility industry, bringing several electric distribution co-ops together to form a larger co-op that can build expensive power plants and transmission lines. NRTC aggregates our members to either get them a better deal—better prices, better terms, better relationships with the technology vendors—or in some cases to gain them access to a technology platform. We make it possible for small individual telephone and electric co-ops to have access to the DirecTV Satellite or the Wild Blue satellite or National 220 megahertz spectrum. For example, right now we are in the process of signing up programmers, Discovery, ESPN, and those kinds of folks for our telephone cooperatives to be able to deliver their content over DSL, as they attempt to compete with cable TV companies. Alex Morrison over at Discovery said, “I have got 300 contracts sitting on my desk from telephone co-ops all over the country. I do not have time to deal with 300 individual TELCOs. I need somebody to aggregate that, so I can do it once for all of them.” So sometimes we do that. We make it possible for our members to do business with a company that would find it to burdensome to try to deal with 1,100 TELCOs, and 850 rural distribution co-ops.
Mefford: ConnectKentucky is a partnership that involves private companies; economic development organizations throughout Kentucky; state, local, and federal government representatives; and universities. We bring everybody together with the focus on accelerating technology in Kentucky. Our current initiative is this aggressive push toward Governor Fletcher’s prescription for an innovation plan that encompasses full broadband employment by 2007, increased adoption of computers and the Internet, more use of electronic government services, and on-line services at the local level. Those objectives take us to the community level so we are working literally community by community. We establish a local leadership team focused on those objectives, inventory where they are, and go work on a business plan that helps them understand what specific investments have to be made.
To read the Kentucky Living August 2005 feature that goes along with this supplement, click here: The Internet for Everyone