What is broadband?


by Ann Treacy | April 2, 2009 • It’s a question a lot of folks are asking. The FCC defines it as 786kbit/sec. Some say that isn’t fast enough. While the OECD defined broadband as 256k in 2006. The definition changes as the need increases.

Often people want to equate broadband with the functions you can do at certain speeds. It would make a fun “you might be a redneck” type list. You might have broadband if you can watch a full TV show on your computer. You might have broadband if you can use Skype without hiccups. You might have broadband if 3 of you can surf on computers on your home network…

The Daily Yonder recently did a nice article on what broadband is and how it has evolved in rural areas. The article is worth reading – so I’ll just hit some of the highlights here:

What we had

* When the web first appeared, we were getting speeds of about 28k. Modems are now able to handle faster speeds, but most rural phone lines are still 28k.

What we have

* DSL is about 10 times the speed of dialup but only work about a mile out from the source.
* Wireless DSL is emerging and can extend the reach to 6 miles “line of sight.”
* Popularity of service will make it slower. So if everyone on your block subscribes to broadband you will all be drinking from the same trough. You may get great speeds when no one else is on, but during the popular times there will be a slowdown. (I know we saw a seasonal difference in Northern Minnesota back when I worked for an ISP. Everyone wanted to be online in January, not so much in June.)
* Satellite is more consistently stable and works well for uploading or downloading files but the latency renders it useful for online interaction.

What we might have

* The FCC has made “whitespaces” available; that will allow for faster wireless connections. But that won’t happen until the DTV transition is complete and I haven’t seen signs that the technology is ready yet either.
* FTTH (fiber to the home) is very fast but requires a cable to every home, which can be expensive.

What we need

* If you’re access to broadband is unreliable or slow, you can still have web site, ebay site or sell things on Amazon – because those sites don’t need to be hosted locally. But without broadband, it’s difficult to give or attend online presentations, get some mode of technical support, do online banking, download video…

Rural broadband is based on supply and demand. To improve supply consumers must understand what they want and need and may need to talk to other consumers to aggregate demand to make a business case to improve supply.