Were We Betrayed?

The conditions that forced Northwest Connect into existence–-thousands not connected to now vital broadband services, no competition in broadband services, no timely upgrades in our region–-grew from the 1996 Telecommunications Act. That Act exchanged universal service as a mandate for monopoly telecom services for competition in the telecom marketplace. For our region it has not worked out well. For us the Act has made universal service and real competition only possible through municipal ownership of new broadband networks. Yet our incumbent carriers battle against such networks at every turn. Yes, we were betrayed.

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Broadband Rates Will Only Increase

Broadband 20 years ago meant 200 kbps; today it means 25 mbps; in ten years it may be touching a gigabit per second. Upward pressure will come from 4K and 8K television, the latter needing 90 mbps, plus the Internet of Things clogging local WiFi networks with constant messages, plus Augmented and Virtual Reality, plus uploading massive files that now take days. In ten years cable television networks will be as out of date as DSL networks are today. Increasing speed will drive Fiber to the Home networks…


All Roads Lead to Fiber

The global Internet includes tens of thousands of switches interconnected by fiber optic lines often operating at 100 billion bits per second (gbps).  Fiber will go much faster; copper will never get there.  As speeds increase the “last mile” will inevitably become fiber optic as well, replacing ancient twisted-pair and coaxial copper lines.  The only questions are who will be doing it, and when.


Call in the Lawyers and Lobbyists

Our incumbent carriers like Frontier and Comcast are not going to provide broadband networks to everyone and they are not going to upgrade their networks in Connecticut to the latest technology.  But that doesn’t mean they will not fight against communities that want to satisfy these needs themselves.  A battle has raged over the last several years regarding Connecticut Statute §16-233, the law that enables municipalities to construct and own new networks.  It was recently rescinded by our Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), igniting lawsuits and a legislative campaign pitting Connecticut communities against Frontier, AT&T, and their army of lobbyists.   Here is the emerging story.  It doesn’t have an ending yet.

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Is 5G the answer?

Depends on the question. But as a substitute for fiber optics to the home, or a short term driver for amazing new applications, or a solution to rural communities suffering from inadequate broadband services, the answer is no.  Behind all the hype is a host of serious problems and the unnerving fact that none of the new applications critical to the success of 5G exist yet. We are looking at decades, not years, for universal 5G. Those who listen to the hype as a reason to delay municipal fiber optic networks to homes and businesses trap themselves in carrier mythology. Some day 5G will be part of the landscape.  Just don’t set your clocks by today’s promises.


Is Cable Television the Answer?

If your home is passed by a cable television network and the cable television company is willing to connect your home without some extraordinary charge, then cable television will provide adequate broadband service to many homes for quite some time. The reason is less that the cable network itself is growing in base capacity, although cable companies do what they can to upgrade and improve capacity short of an overhaul.  What saves the cable network is that we actually use the network at much lower rates than would be expected given the aggregate capacity available.  However, cable networks have limited flexibility relative to upstream capacity that is becoming more important for a certain class of users and applications, its network will not support the future without massive upgrades, cable television companies will not connect everyone, and their service is terrible.  Oh, and we would surely profit from having real competition in our region, best if it had good service as well as universal connectivity.


Why is Telephone and Cable Service So Bad?

Telephone and cable television companies live at the bottom of the barrel in the service department.  They are universally and justifiable reviled. Many customers would bolt from all of them if a company had comparable products but real human beings living nearby who responded to the first call and knew what he or she was talking about.  Why has no major player in the business done this, service like it used to be when carriers were highly regulated, or service we still get for home security systems? The answer lies in their history. Simply put, they cannot. They are trapped in an ancient system that treated service as a cost rather than a product, and they are too large, too controlled by their markets, to change.  They are stuck.

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