Q: Why is Broadband So Important for Communities?
A: As more of our lives transition to the digital world, access to the Internet and its multitude of applications becomes increasingly more important. Where it was once just a complement to our physical lives, the virtual world has become a crucial part of what we do everyday. Online applications for business, health, education, security and entertainment have all become integrated into our daily lives. These applications and new ones continue to grow at an alarming pace. To function, they must be carried across high-speed, reliable broadband infrastructure, which we can think of as the highway system for the electronic world.
Local roads feed into state roads, which feed into the interstate highway system to interconnect individuals to the country’s infrastructure. Similarly, local broadband infrastructure connects to regional and national high-speed networks that interconnect with the global Internet. If local broadband infrastructure is insufficient, (i.e local roads are insufficient), users (drivers) will have difficulty accessing the global Internet (interstate highway system). Therefore, their broadband access is critical to ensure that users are able to reach the electronic world over a reliable, high-speed local broadband infrastructure. Without this, the applications they use everyday breakdown.
Q: What is broadband infrastructure?
A: Broadband infrastructure consists of the cabling and electronics that wires homes and businesses into the local telecommunications or cable company offices. From these offices, connections to other
networks and the Internet are made, interconnecting local users with Internet, telephone, television and other services.
Q: What is bandwidth?
A: In a network, bandwidth (what engineers call bitrate) is the ability to carry information. The more bandwidth a network has, the more information it can carry in a given amount of time. Networks with high bandwidth also tend to be more reliable because fewer bottlenecks disturb the flow of information.
Q: How much bandwidth – or information delivered by bandwidth – do we need?
A: The amount of bandwidth we need grows every year. The biggest growth has been for video – traditional pay TV, “over the top” or Internet-based video, and video communications. This trend is expected to continue at least for the rest of this decade. Video requires not only extra bandwidth but also extra reliability. Additionally, Internet-based video applications continue to push more and more bandwidth, such as Hulu and Netflix. Business applications are also generally bandwidth-intensive and also need good reliability to function correctly.
Q: What about other kinds of data?
A: Bandwidth requirements for many kinds of data are exploding. For example, new digital cameras can create larger and larger images; 30 megabytes is not uncommon. In health care, the medical images produced by equipment such as CT scanners are a hundred times larger than camera images, and more. In the last few years, business and science both entered the era of “Big Data” applications that collect and analyze data on massive scales. Today’s Big Data applications range from consumer pricing models to online marketing to DNA sequencing to particle physics to control of electrical grids. Big Data doesn’t work without Big Bandwidth.
Q: Can’t copper carry high bandwidth?
A: Copper, which includes broadband systems such as DSL and cable, can carry far less capacity than fiber-optic. It can support high bandwidth for only a few hundred yards, being a distance sensitive technology. The longer a signal travels on copper, the more the bandwidth degrades and the less data that is available. Fiber Optic is unique in that it can carry high-bandwidth signals over enormous distances. Fiber uses laser light to carry these signals. Under some circumstances, a signal can travel 40 miles (60 kilometers) without degrading. Fiber is also better able to support symmetrical bandwidth. Symmetrical bandwidth provides the same speed in both directions, whereas many copper-based broadband carries different speeds, such as 6 Megs down, 2 Megs up. Symmetrical bandwidth is important as it provides high speeds in both directions, not just on downloads.
Q: What about wireless? I hear it can provide high-speed broadband.
A: Many wireless broadband systems are shared technologies whereby each users on the system shares
among other users. Cellular, 3G, 4G and LTE systems are similar. In these cases, users do not receive guaranteed bandwidth for their use, if a few users are consuming all of the bandwidth, other users will not receive any. Wireless point-to-point, or microwave systems do have the ability to provide guaranteed bandwidth in some instances and are widely used in areas where fiber-optic is infeasible. The carrying capacity of these wireless systems is far less than fiber-optic though.
Q: What exactly makes fiber “future proof”?
A: The equipment used to send light signals over glass fiber keeps getting better. So equipping an existing fiber network with new electronics and with lasers that pulse light faster, or lasers that use different wavelengths of light, can vastly increase available bandwidth without changing the fiber itself. New electronics are very cheap compared with the original cost of installing the fiber. Therefore, once fiber has been deployed, network operators can keep increasing bandwidth at a much lower cost.
Q: How long has fiber technology been in use?
A: Fiber-optic technology is the foundation of the world’s telecommunications networks. It has been used for more than 30 years to carry communications traffic from city to city and from country to country. Almost every country has some fiber-optic, delivering services reliably and inexpensively. The first time fiber delivered a signal directly to an American home (in Hunter’s Creek, FL.) was more than 20 years ago.
Q: Isn’t DSL and cable good enough?
A: It’s not good enough to make your community competitive in attracting or supporting a tech-savvy company or home-based businesses. Today’s cable modems and DSL lines may suffice for consumers to send emails download songs or share family photos. However, healthcare, education and commerce are increasing requiring more and more bandwidth. Almost 100 communities have deployed fiber broadband networks and more are on the way as communities realize that these types of networks are critical to economic development and competitiveness.
Q: Why Aren’t Providers Upgrading to Fiber-Optic Broadband in My Community?
A: One key issue found in many smaller communities is that the smaller demand does not warrant investment in upgraded broadband infrastructure by telecommunications providers and cable companies. In large metropolitan environments, providers can warrant the investment, given high volumes of users, which allow them to realize the return on investment needed for the upgrade. In smaller communities, this is not the case, because demand is lower and their fixed costs remain high. Upgrading communities to widespread fiber-optic broadband services is a significant cost for providers; the current average cost to wire a home for fiber-optic services is $1,200. Multiply that by 20,000 users in a community, and the cost to the provider is $24,000,000. Providers must be assured that they will gain enough market share to generate a reasonable return on this investment. Without a strong uptake, providers will not make the investment. In small communities, this generally holds true and thus, the current infrastructure, which may be DSL or cable, is maintained.
Q: What Role Can Public Organizations Play in Expanding Broadband?
A: Public organizations have several important roles to play in the expansion of broadband in their communities.
- First, local government has by charter, the objective of serving its local community. Broadband is a community-wide issue that impacts residents, businesses, schools, hospitals, public safety and overall quality of life.
- Second, local government has financial instruments at its disposal that the private sector does not, including a variety of bonds that can be issued for various purposes.
- Third, local government has a much longer investment horizon than private service providers and the ability to invest in long-term projects, including water, sewer, roads, electric and gas. Broadband infrastructure falls into this same category as another infrastructure investment.
- Fourth, local government has important public policy powers that it can use to positively influence the development of local broadband infrastructure. Many local governments now incorporate broadband into their land development code, which enables this infrastructure to be installed with companion water, sewer, road, electric and gas projects.
- Fifth, local government has efficiencies in permitting and right-of-way management that allow it to streamline the construction of local broadband infrastructure.
- Sixth, local government has access to grants and loans that allow it to implement infrastructure projects using local, state and federal funding.
Q: What Are the Limits of Public Organizations In Broadband Development?
A: Generally, local governments are not in the business of providing telecom services, Internet or television. However, they are in the business of providing infrastructure, roads, water, sewer and other physical infrastructure. Broadband is just another form of infrastructure, digital infrastructure. It is constructed similar to existing infrastructure, follows right-of-way and interconnects throughout the community. This is the primary opportunity for government, to build local broadband infrastructure, which includes the conduit, fiber-optic cable and related items. However, instead of providing services directly, local government’s best option is to allow telecommunications and cable companies to use this infrastructure to reach customers in the community. Because local government can often times build this infrastructure under more favorable conditions than private providers, it makes sense for local government to do so and open the infrastructure to private providers in the area, under equal terms to all providers. This business model is known as open-access.
Q: What Role Do Service Providers Play if Local Government Builds Broadband Infrastructure?
A: Private telecommunications and cable companies utilize the public broadband infrastructure to deliver their services to the community. Local government owns the “pipes” over which the providers deliver their content to end-users. The recommended model to do so is known as open-access, whereby the local government allows any qualified service provider to use its infrastructure. The underlying broadband infrastructure is transparent to end users, allowing them to deal directly with the service provider of their choice.