Redefining Broadband

The FCC for years has been considering any connection greater than 200kbps to be broadband. For the past several years that’s been pretty misleading. In addition, they only collect downstream, not upstream. They also consider an entire zip code to have broadband if only 1 home can get it. That’s not very accurate. This makes the broadband situation in the US look better than it really is.

The definition of broadband in the US is now being redefined as 768kbps. They will now collect upstream data, and use census-track data. This is a major win since it will more accurately show how many people really do have broadband, and more importantly how many do not.

I personally disagree on the number and think it should be at least 2Mbps, but it’s a win regardless.

The pacific rim annihilates the United States when it comes to broadband. According to Akamai’s State Of The Internet for Q1 2008 high broadband (greater than 5Mbps) is where we really start to show our deficiencies. Here’s a look at broadband which they define as simply greater than 2Mbps:

Rank Country % >2Mbps Q4 07 Change
Global 55% -2.0%
1 South Korea 93% -1.5%
2 Belgium 90% +1.5%
3 Switzerland 89% +0.5%
4 Hong Kong 87% -1.5%
5 Japan 87% +1.0%
6 Norway 83% -2.3%
7 Tunisia 82% +29%
8 Slovakia 81% +0.5%
9 Netherlands 78% -2.6%
10 Bahamas 74% -3.0%
24 United States 62% -2.8%

Pretty pathetic considering our last Vice President invented the Internet 😉 . We are the largest in terms of sq miles, but when you consider the US population density, the bulk of our land is very sparsely populated. 80.8% of the US population lives in an urban setting [Warning: PDF].

US Population Density

Japan by comparison has 66.0% of it’s population in an urban setting. Belgium has a surprising 91.5% which may account for it’s #2 position. Switzerland has 44.4% yet makes 3rd place threatening Belgium’s position.

I’m far from the first one to complain about the poor state of broadband. BusinessWeek and CNet both have relatively good discussions about the topic.

The future of media is clearly moving online as people demand to consume it on their schedule as they desire. Take a look at some of the statistics and it’s clearly a large industry. I suspect the lack of broadband infrastructure will be a real problem in the next several years as the rest of the world becomes very easy to distribute media to, and the US still faces challenges.

Solution? Highly debatable, but if so many other countries can do something about it, I suspect it’s achievable here in the US as well. I suspect that the taxes made from companies that do business on the internet from ecommerce to advertising would make this a decent investment for the US government to at least partially back. The more places companies make money, the more places the government does. That may be necessary as not all markets are profitable enough for telco’s to bother with. There have been various attempts to jumpstart this effort, but none to date have been successful.

It’s not only about just having access, it’s also the cost. As BusinessWeek points out in the article above, broadband in the US is not cheap.

Perhaps wireless will finally allow for competition and lower prices, at least that’s what everyone is hoping for. The question is if it will happen, if the technology will be there (wireless is generally high latency), and if it will be affordable for the common man.

I suspect in the next 4 years this will become and even bigger topic of discussion as some of the top ranking countries start to reach the point of saturation.

Poor Broadband Performance

For the past several weeks, the cable modem has been getting more and more unstable. Having dealt with this before I knew the signal quality was pretty poor from looking at the stats. By using a different line that goes more direct, it made a real difference as the data below shows (sidenote: I need to start tracking this using RRDtool).

Before

Forward Path:
Signal Acquired at 723.000 MHz
SNR: 27.1 dB
Received Signal Strength: -19.4 dBmV
Bit Error Rate: 0.459 %
Modulation: 256 QAM

Return Path:
Connection: Acquired
Frequency: 31.6 MHz
Power Level: 61.0 dBmV
Channel ID: 4
Modulation: 16 QAM

After

Forward Path:
Signal Acquired at 723.000 MHz 
SNR: 37.1 dB 
Received Signal Strength: -6.9 dBmV 
Bit Error Rate: 0.000 % 
Modulation: 256 QAM 

Return Path:
Connection: Acquired 
Frequency: 31.6 MHz 
Power Level: 49.8 dBmV 
Channel ID: 4 
Modulation: 16 QAM 

The performance before was getting pretty bad (never more than 10Mbps, often below 4Mbps). Just ran another test and got this:

Comcast Speed

You can see the packet loss was at 100% for several hours yesterday, and was even when up the connection was pretty poor. Around 3:00 it was disconnected while they fixed the coax hookup. You can see the clean connection afterward, with only one small hiccup while I made a little adjustment to the networking cabling that resulted in a few minutes down.
Packet Loss

Pings to this server are still a little high after the tornado incident due to some weird routing on Comcast’s part. Not sure when will get resolved.

Accepting Less Than 99.999% Uptime

The Standard has a good writeup on how we accept less than stellar uptime for things that are becoming more and more valuable such as broadband.

Phone service is reliable because it’s mandated to be. There’s pretty strict rules regarding uptime. As a result it’s pretty good. The reason for this is that phones are used for emergencies (911). But what about VoIP?

It makes you wonder why broadband access isn’t being held to these standards. Of course the answer is “money”. But should it be changed? Should ISP’s need to ensure connectivity is as reliable as old POTS lines? I suspect for people to ditch POTS, it will need to be.

I wonder if FiOS is held to the same 99.999% uptime requirements when it’s run by the phone company, and used for VoIP. I doubt it, but I’m not sure.

I suspect reliability of broadband will become more of an issue as VoIP interest increases in the next 18-24 months and larger players like Verizon and Comcast start pushing it to even more homes.