Broadband BlahBlahBlah

1:30 AM -- A little something for the broadband time capsule…

When Gary R. Bachula, VP of Internet2, testified before Congress last month, he said, gosh, it sure would be nice if we had 100-Mbit/s broadband to every home within five years:

We would like to see Congress set a national goal of 100 megabits of symmetrical bandwidth, meaning the same speed for both uploaded and downloaded content, to every home and business and school in America in five years – and a gigabit (1000 megabits) in ten years. This is absolutely doable using coaxial cable and fiber to the home. That would allow plenty of bandwidth for telephone, video, email, and many other uses – and enable brand new uses that we cannot even imagine today.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, speaking at a Communications Workers of America meeting last week, echoed a similar desire:

We also believe that the nationwide deployment of high speed, always-on broadband and Internet and mobile communications will fuel the development of millions of new jobs in the United States.

Well, okay, the millions of new jobs bit is a little naive*. Obviously she's never read Headcount. Still, Pelosi did stand firm on the five-year goal:

Here in the U.S., when we talk about ‘universal service,’ we’re talking about making sure that everyone has a voice dial tone. We have really fallen down in the list. When the countries that are ahead of us talk about ‘universal service,’ they’re talking about universal broadband deployment. In the last decade, the United States has slipped from leading the world to the 16th in the world. So our agenda guarantees that every American will have affordable access to broadband, and we intend to achieve it in five years.

But how much bandwidth will we really need in five years' time? Venture capitalist Drew Lanza, in a column he wrote for Light Reading a couple of years ago, was skeptical that the needs of Americans would ever approach the 100-Mbit/s mark:

If we’re sending mere text, we’ve had enough bits to do that job since we began sending messages with two cans and a string. Voice is also trivial. If we’re sending still pictures (like Web pages), we require nothing more than a bit rate of 100 to 200 kbit/s. Even very high quality audio requires no more than 200 kbit/s. That leaves us with video. To watch a video in real time on HDTV would require about 12 to 15 Mbit/s. If you have three HDTVs operating simultaneously in one home, you could run into requirements of 40 Mbit/s. This extreme scenario might call for fiber to the home. (See Fiber's Sticky Wicket.)

Caffeinated billionaire Mark Cuban has quite a different view. He says that with just a few HDTV PVRs and a smattering of mobile devices, each family will need a bandwidth firehose in five years or less:

Today its difficult for people to imagine a High Def TV in every room, but within 10 years HDTVs will be ubiquitous. More importantly, over the next 5 years, the homes with a HDTV in every bedroom and the family room, with HD PVR with Terabyte drives centrally housed, or connected to each PVR will be the most important homes in the neighborhood… What is the max amount of simultaneous bandwidth being consumed during a day? Three Tuners bringing in 3 networks in bedroom 1 , one being watched, two being saved. Thats 24 mbs. Same thing going on in bedrooms 2 and 3. Thats another 48mbs. thats 72mbs per sec and thats just the kids rooms…

So what camp are you in? Will any home ever need 100 Mbit/s? And, given the patchwork of different networks, geographies, and access methods out there, is "national broadband" coverage in five years a completely unattainable goal?

— Phil Harvey, News Editor, Light Reading


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