radioshow news headline: FCC Broadband Report Not as Rosy as It Looks

From the Aug. 4, 2006 edition of the mediageek radioshow:

Recently the FCC released a report saying that the number of high-speed internet connections in the US increased by 33% in 2005. The total number of high-speed lines at the end of 2005 was 50.2 millions, of which 43 million serve residential users.

For the first time DSL connections increased at a faster rate than cable modems, even though cable internet connections still account for 57.5% of high-speed internet lines, compared to 40.8% for DSL.

While those numbers may look encouraging, the US still lags behind other industrialized nations with regard to internet connectivity. In 2005, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) ranked the US at 16th in the world in broadband penetration.

But even more important is the difference in the quality and speed of service.

The FCC classifies a high-speed internet connection as one that provides at least 200 kilobits per second of data in at least one direction. To put that in perspective, that’s about 4 times the speed of the fastest phone modem connection. It’s fast enough to provide FM-quality streaming audio, but barely fast enough to provide decent real-time video. In fact, if your internet connection only provides 200 kilobits per second, it would take you much more than a half-hour to download a half-hour TV program from the iTunes music store or a similar service.

Compare this to South Korean, where it’s not usual for residential customers to be able to connect to the internet at 100 megabits per second — that’s 500 times the rate which the FCC considers to be high-speed. Even in many places in Europe 24 Megabit connections are commonly available — that’s one quarter the speed available in Korea, but still nearly 100 times faster than the FCC’s minimum.

But France Telecom is aiming even higher, announcing a pilot to bring 2.5 Gigabit connections to six districts in Paris for just 70 euros a month, which includes free installation and free phone service.

The truth is that US internet connections have not grown nearly as quickly as the big telephone companies promised in 1996 when they got all sorts of regulatory concessions from the Congress. Back then the telcos were predicting 25 megabit connections would be happening now. Yet, most of us are lucky to get more than 2 megabits for our 50 to 70 dollars a month.

So while more Americans are getting onto the internet at higher speed, most of us still lack a connection fast enough to really take advantage of the ability to share high-bandwidth multimedia content and video. And with their all-out fight against network neutrality, the big telcos aim to keep it that way by creating a two-tiered internet, where the big companies are connected like they were in 2006 Paris, and the rest of us will enjoy speeds straight out of 1996.






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