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back to article How to turn a world leader into a fourth-rate broadband economy

There is an interesting report out this week from an organization in the US calling itself Speed Matters. It is backed by the Communications Workers of America, and it makes a seriously cogent point about US broadband capability. It is in its third year and it points out that US broadband connection speeds have not improved …

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FAIL

Population Density?

The USA has the lowest population density of any country nearly as rich.

Of course its infrastructure is different. This is why the USA has much worse public transport; the suburbs and exurbs sprawl at low density for hundreds of miles.

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Boffin

poor alaska

pwn'd by geography

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Alert

Can't say I'm surprised

Just look at the scale of the task.....

This is what happens when there is no regulation, watch out UK when BT gets let off the hook.....

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Grenade

Stop Press Shocker

What's this?

1) Sparsely populated rural areas have worse infrastructure than major metropolitan areas.

2) Poor people spend less on something than rich people do.

The heck you say! I am shocked, *shocked* I say, to hear this!

Obama, do something!

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Silver badge
Boffin

Does Speed Matters take into consideration...

...that the United States is one of the largest industrialized nations in the world while the leaders of broadband (including Japan and South Korea) are among the smaller of the bunch? One of the big problems with deploying any kind of broadband infrastructure (wired or not) is the physical cost to deploy it all, and in a country as large as the United States, that's a tall order. Think of it this way--how much would it cost you to run high-speed broadband links from Miami to Seattle? And it has to be uninterrupted since a connection will only be as good as its weakest (slowest) link. It's an even taller given the large amount of rural area a country as large as the USA contains (and thus why the US has such a low population density--again, the leaders have much higher densities). Put mildly, wiring up New York City is easy--plenty of people to share the load. OTOH, a much smaller community say in the middle of Nebraska might call for alternatives.

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Anonymous Coward

Does anybody actually live in the white areas?

Y'know, same as does anybody important in the UK live outside the cabled/LLU'd areas?

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Anonymous Coward

fill in the white spaces?

Overlay that map with one that shows population and you'll understand why those spaces are white.

Do prairie dogs, rattle snakes, fundie mormons in compounds, and wacko survivalists waiting for nuclear armageddon really need 10Gb download speeds?

OTOH, I live in the north east and I'd like FTTH without Verizon blocking port 80.

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Dead Vulture

it's better to burn out than to fade away... or not?

Last century was when Europe lost the centre stage and the US took over as world leaders. This century is when the US falls into irrelevance. They have a limited internal market, inability to finance large public projects, appalling levels of education, lack of understanding for other cultures. McDonald's and Nike can only do so much to save the american world dominance and Google will eventually crash against the regulators' actions and the realisation that internet advertising is just a waste of advertisers' money.

There you go... you read it here first and you put all this in the history books.

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A little unfair...

...to compare a country with the geographical spread of the USA with small places like South Korea, Japan and Sweeden with (relatively) dense populations. Most of those white regions are deserts and suchlike - certainly low population densities. I know the - 'there's no call for it' - statements from providers can be a tad irritating, (I remember BT's glacially slow broadband 'roll-out') but if you live in the middle of the Arizona desert, it's probably true.

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Silver badge

Straw Poll

Ok ... presently tested, the speed test registers ... 6.93Mb/s and 0.49Mb/s

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Stop

Comparables

I'm always dubious about the argument that "S Korea does it, so why can't we?"

The popular method for delivery of broadband is xDSL. This requires that the distance from your phone to the local exchange is less than a few km. In most developed countries, the great majority (90%+) of households fall into this category, but in the US there are substantial areas (e.g. much of the mid-west) where your neighbour may be farther away than that. These account for many of the areas coloured white on the map.

How is it proposed to deliver high-speed broadband to such locations (assuming a demand for it in the first place)? 3/4G and Wimax are going to suffer from similar geographical constraints (and would take a long time and a lot of money to build).

While I'm griping, can anyone explain to me why I'd ever want 100Mbps to my home? Am I expected to view 10 HDTV streams simultaneously? And won't this just move the bottleneck somewhere else - contention at the exchange, the Internet, the target server?

Just because something *can* be done, doesn't mean it *should* be done.

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I read this on Wired yesterday

...and then went on to read their article on the state of Americas dams. They have an annual maintenance budget of $60m and need something like $16bn to sort out the dangerous (i.e. falling to bits) ones. There you have a Gov led prosperity investment programme waiting to happen, rather than pissing billions on lining the ISP/infrastructure providers pockets, you could create real jobs in the construction sector which is one of the hardest hit industries and put tens of thousands of blue collar workers back in employment. The Same needs doing for a lot of their bridges too.

Wont happen.

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Bronze badge
Megaphone

"sampling the last-mile connections ... an online test"

I put it to you that the minimum speeds are not 768Kbps, but near zero. The method just cannot test such, and the victims don't hang around speed-testing-pages.

/megaphone as it may be faster for info exchange.

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Happy

Funny how those white spaces

Coincide with huge swaths of desert. Clearly the run down shack off the freeway(motorway) next to the solar plant needs 100 MBPS connection. As much as I would like a 100 meg connection I dont see a use for it. I like the idea of FTTH as a way of improving the last mile quality. But however the cash rich companies we deal with should be doing this on their own accord. But as with anything it takes time and this recession isnt helping much

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Paris Hilton

Priorities

We are definitely fourth-rate in a lot of ways.

Until everyone is fed and housed, and has access to a doctor when needed, and can be educated, broadband has a rather low priority. Watching movies on a computer is what most people use it for anyway.

I live in New York, where Verizon FIOS is not available everywhere, and I got DSL just to manage servers remotely. Otherwise broadband is just another pretty face. Like that dopey person shown here.

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Bronze badge

Geography and population density matters

Evidently the author has *not* been to the "white areas" on the map. I have. In the populated areas you have maybe one house per mile. Cattle do not surf the web. You would do better to have a good cell data connection than land-based broadband.

All of the US states with the highest speeds are also the smallest, so of course they have the highest broadband speeds.

Now has anybody noticed that home broadband does not create economic wealth? Spending money on a fast home connection is the *result* of being affluent. No, you can't get wealthy sitting in your boxers at home surfing the internet.

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Thumb Down

Pity the poor lineman.

Notice Faultline is a UK consultant channeling a report by the US communications workers union. Oh, the humanity! Must get those tax dollars channeled into jobs for the poor workers, so they can lay a hundred miles of cable to serve each house in the wide, empty west.

Reminds me of all the wankers who move to the country and complain about the lack of city services.

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e.g. Sweden

As an American, I understand that there is a lot of spread in this country. Suburbs, exurbs, etc. But if we can't have better broadband than Sweden, something's wrong.

Sweden is fairly comparable to California in terms of area and shape. Its got approximately 1/5 the population of California.

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FAIL

re: Population density

"The USA has the lowest population density of any country nearly as rich."

WRONG. Sweden and Finland have a much lower density than the US, and they still managed to build first-class communications infrastructures. Quit making excuses.

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Thumb Down

Not the white space

It's not the white space that is the problem. It's the yellow. Lots of the yellow areas are rather densely populated (not dense on S. Korea's scale, but not even close to being fields). I live in a city with over 1 Million people, in the middle of the Research Triangle in North Carolina (companies like Cisco, Red Hat, SAS have large offices here), and still can't get decent broadband speeds.

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Bronze badge
Unhappy

white spaces

I live in Deepest South Florida. The big white spots on the map of Florida happen to sit right on top of Lake Ochechobee and the Everglades. I suspect that the great blue herons and the 'gators don't need much in the way of broadband.

That said... in my area, Comcast will sell 12 Mb/s (and deliver about 8 Mb/s at peak usage times, though that can climb to as much as 20 Mb/s if you have a good enough modem and use it at low-usage times, such as 03:00) while AT&T's DSL service delivers a max of 6 Mb/s (really about 5 Mb/s; they ain't called 'BellSloth' for nothing). AT&T's U-verse service has been 'coming to this area' for at least two years; when (if!) it arrives it will bring speeds 'in excess of 20 Mb/s' if you can believe the AT&T PR flacks. (I don't.) Comcast allegedly will be updating their service to deliver speeds in excess of 20 Mb/s, possibly as much as 50 Mb/s, 'soon'. It may be a good idea to not hold your breath. The WiMax boys are promising 'high speed' systems, but right now the furthest south they are is Daytona, about 200 miles north of me. Not holding my breath waiting for them, either. The HughesNet people run major ads in all media they can, and are getting customers.

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Obviously Korea has lots of broadband

I have travelled to South Korea many times, and it is a very different place from the USA. For a start, it's very mountainous so usable land is expensive - hence almost everybody lives in an apartment.

Also, almost everything is new - you rarely see a building more than 30 years old.

Unemployment is almost non-existent compared to western levels and the populace is mad for new technology.

So it's hardly surprising they can whup everyone in the broadband stakes.

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@Sweden

Sure it's big. And most of the population live in the south where the industry and the big cities are.

There's a whole lot of not very much up north. Maybe the Lapps would like hi-speed broadband on their, er, Lapp tops.

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Speaking as the bright red spot in the middle of yellow and white...

It's easy to say that we should just pour money into buildling out the fiber network. However, there are some key things not already touched on. While it is true that there are vast stretches of the US that contain few residences and more cattle than people, I believe well over half of the US population actually does live within a close distance of a major city. Case in point, my state of Minnesota has a population of 5.2 million, giving it a density of 65 people per square mile (25 per sq km, for everyone else). However, the "metro area" of Minneapolis/St. Paul has 3.2 million people in it and only has about 1/10th of the state's land, which means that the other 71,000 sq miles has 2 million people. That area has 10 times the size and only 3/5th the number of people. And even in those areas, there are mini-cities that act as the urban area. So there are islands of population, with not much in between. For those in between areas, it's too expensive and a poor use of resources to spend all that time and money. Mobile phone coverage is only now getting to near saturation of digital bands, and those have been growing since the 80s. It's just a fact of life that if you chose to live in the middle of nowhere, you can't expect the same level of service. In some places, a township (land that isn't part of an incorporated city) contracts to cities, counties, or even the state to provide basic service such as police, fire, and emergency. In some cases, it's up to each landowner to contract out for the services, and to pay for build-outs of power, water, sewer, and paved roads to their land. Otherwise, you drill a well, have a gravel road, drain into a septic tank, and install solar and wind turbines to fill your power needs.

I know it's hard for even those in the densely populated parts of the US, let alone the very densely populated EU contries, that there are people who choose to be off the grid, and probably wouldn't use the services even if built to them. There are really no incentives for a multi-million broadband build out to some township of 15 houses and farms, when only two will actually use it, until they get the first bill.

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Alert

The Report Ignores Satellite ISPs

The map is wrong. All areas of the contiguous 48 states are currently served by satellite ISPs. Try googling "hughesnet" for an example of what is available in the fictitious white spaces. Contrary to what the Communication Workers of America union would have you believe, it makes no sense to serve remote areas with terrestrial ISPs when they can be served more economically by satellite.

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Silver badge

Bah!

"County Boundaries"?

I think you'll find that in the vast majority of cases, those are *state* boundaries.

If the key of the map isn't correct, how can I trust what the rest of it is claiming to tell me?

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Wilson, North Carolina has one solution...

A town of 50K in eastern NC with good broadband speeds because the town decided that broadband should be a public utility like water and sewer.

http://www.indyweek.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A259848

For their troubles, the phone companies and cable companies have sued the town and have lobbied in the state legislature to prohibit such activities.

As for the others in North Carolina complaining about broadband. AT&T uVerse *IS* being deployed ever so slowly. I do not understand their deployment strategy, but the pattern I perceive is that they are putting a higher priority on areas with a high level of affluence with aging telco gear that are close to the cable path to large subdivisions that started construction since the first uVerse deployments.

And I've been pleased with the service. The link to my house is 25M down 2M up traffic shaped to 12M data 7M iptv down and 1.5M data up.

I'm not very fond of the matter that nearly every click on my remote results in IP traffic sent to the VRAD, but they should be able to get a premium on advertising dollars since they have the data to correlate channel changes with the show or content being viewed and then correlate that to a specific demographic household. I don't know what they do with the data, but I know they have it.

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Anonymous Coward

I'd be happy to take have the speed at half the price!

My bill for Verizon FiOS has gone from $30/month to $50/month over the last 4 years.

Sure, the speed has gone from 5/2 to 20/5, but I'd rather have the 5/2 and keep the extra $20 in my pocket, thank you very much. But that's not an option - I can take Verizon's $50 service, or I can do without.

Doncha just love the "free market"!

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Unhappy

What the heck are:

RBOCs and CLECs

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Boffin

@Mike S

"As an American, I understand that there is a lot of spread in this country. Suburbs, exurbs, etc. But if we can't have better broadband than Sweden, something's wrong.

Sweden is fairly comparable to California in terms of area and shape. Its got approximately 1/5 the population of California."

I would agree - except Sweden is actually more compact than CA due to the mountains... (The CA central valley is pretty big and has a lot of farms...)

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They should have...

...compared by cities between countries. This would ensure clearer comparison, with additional info, ofcourse (eg, population, land area, population density, average salary, etc).

But somehow, I'm guessing US still won't fair any better. Heck, it may even cement the fact that it has a lousy infrastructure compared to other industrialized nations.

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The key point is..

There're three biggest broadband companies that control all the networks of South Korea. (

government already granted a right to them long time ago.) They've been struggling to take the priority from S.Korea's network market by making their network faster, cheaper and more secure to appeal to customers.

This is the key point of how South Korea could be equipped with such a fastest network on the land. Of course short distance and densly populated area makes it more viable.

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Anonymous Coward

@George Schultz

Want to know what a CLEC is? Theres a useful little service on the interwebs called Google, have you ever tried using it?

You'd be surprised what you can learn just by typing in a few words. (sarcasm)

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wsm

Faulty data

It's not just the size of the country and its varied population densities that seem to have confused the broadband report. Their approach to data analysis is naive.

Look at an obvious example like the State of Nevada. In the Las Vegas area, mediocre speeds abound. In an area north-east of Sin City, where only nearly deserted national parks and ranches are the norm, with a single town of 1,252 residents within hundreds of square miles, broadband speeds are extraordinary.

I say the sample size is remarkably poor and the map is wholly inaccurate. There may be those who want broadband everywhere, but it's not likely to happen where it's not needed. Though some communication abilities are beneficial for everyone, the Internet is not a necessity everywhere.

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Anonymous Coward

Information Systems Consultant

Speed Matters testing is flawed.... I'm on a 10MB connection - both directions...It correctly measured my download speed, but upload speed was measured at 256KB. They need to fix their tool before using it to assess the state of things.

I'm not trying to defend what we have in the US, but I think things are being under reported, and the issues we face are different than many European countries, or Japan and South Korea. Out here in Montana we have some very open spaces with sparse population, yet we've put in a lot of fiber to back it. My home connection (cable) is 15MB down, 1MB up and generally pretty reliable. Most of the infrastrucure is new and works well. With very open areas in the west the cost of installing broadband is significantly more than in smaller, more densely populated countries.

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