April COVID-19 Update

April COVID-19 Update

During the current crisis, while we are trying to work, attend school, and entertain ourselves from home, many of us are finding that our outdated internet infrastructure is failing us. The cable television lines some 65% of us have for Internet access have two serious limitations: each line may be shared by as many as 250 homes; and the upstream (upload) bandwidth is much smaller than the downstream (download), and cannot be improved much. Under normal conditions these limitations do not trouble most of us except the slowing down of Netflix during evening hours when many people on the same line want to watch at the same time. But the Coronavirus has highlighted how we’re actually operating our regional cable network beyond its maximum capacity.

With more than twice as many people working at home, schools operating virtually, and doctor visits conducted now over video conference calls, the daytime demands on the network have increased to the point of exasperation. Zoom conferences break up, students have to stagger their work days with others, speakers get interrupted, and data rates per user plunge. Measured data rates for a 300 mbps service drop to 5 mbps, a 98% decrease at 7:00pm when the network is crowded. We have to admit it now—at times like these we are 100% unserved, unless you have a fiber optics line into your home or business. This is what our initiative intends to bring to the region.
The copper cable television lines most of us use for internet are like roads, shared by many cars—they work well when traffic is light, but congest when traffic gets heavy, every car slowing; at some point traffic come to a halt. Cable networks were designed seventy years ago for broadcast television—all channels going to all homes, with channel selection in the home. When the Internet arrived, cable networks carved out additional frequency bands for upstream and downstream data and adopted a protocol that enables sharing in both directions among individual users. Rather than block new users when a line is saturated, the network slows all users down proportionally. The networks were designed assuming 5% or less simultaneous data users. We are way beyond that now with the stay-at-home order forcing so many people to use Internet from home. The network can upgrade its downstream capacity, and has done so in major urban areas (not here). But the more serious problem now for these new applications is the upstream.


The diagram above shows the problem. The upstream bandwidth was placed at the bottom of the cable spectrum, where it cannot be increased easily. The downstream, placed at the top, has been able to grow, and has grown with suitable network modifications. But we need more upstream now, for video conferencing and working at home. A Zoom video channel, one needed for every picture on the screen, requires around 1 mbps. Ten users on one line with Zoom calls will eat up the entire bandwidth for uploading our video. The next ones slow things down, and the video starts to tile, shudder, or become still. This is not necessarily caused by those on the Zoom call; it is caused by other users on the same line doing other things. This problem can be solved with a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Cable companies have not upgraded our legacy networks here for years. We can be certain that they are not upgrading to fiber to the home here anytime soon, measured in decades. We need fiber optics networks here, not only for times like these, but to maintain our regional resiliency and quality of life. Fiber is the future; we should have it sooner rather than later. Given the recent changes in the world, there is no better time to bring our broadband infrastructure into its new world than now.

We are not the only ones who don’t have the broadband we need to function in a world so reliant upon it. But we have a plan to address this need here in Northwest Connecticut– we just need to have a broad-level of support and funding to implement it. Interested in learning more about our plan and how your town can get fiber to the home? Visit www.northwest-connect.org where you’ll find answers to frequently asked questions and more information than you ever knew you wanted. Looking for something to watch? check out our recorded webinars about this initiative:

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