What is Broadband?

“Broadband” refers to a network that connects users to digital information or other users. We use one every day we read out mail, order something over the Internet, watch Netflix, or visit our children on Facebook.  It is a high capacity network, the meaning of “broad.”  However, broadband covers a wide variety of networks with an even wider variety of capacities, creating enormous opportunities for confusion.  It is rather like the phrase transportation network that can cover everything from city streets to the systems we use for air travel.  We are principally interested here in networks fashioned from fiber optic lines, but we will also treat networks designed with legacy telephone and cable television lines and the two principal networks that are nominally “wireless,” our home WiFi network and the various levels of mobile telephone networks, all broadband networks.


What is Fiber Optic Broadband?

Broadband networks we consider here have three parts, each a kind of network in themselves: (1) a home or business WiFi network that links to; (2) a last-mile network fashioned from copper wiring, fiber optic wiring, or the air (for mobile networks) that connects homes or business to: (3) the backhaul network, including the Internet, comprising millions of switching nodes almost exclusively today interconnected with fiber optic lines. These are roughly comparable to (1) our garage and driveway, (2) the street they connect to, and (3) the vast system of roads, intersections, and interchanges that enables a car to go to any other driveway and garage.  Our project concerns the second part, the last-mile network, fashioned with fiber optic lines.  We include here a discussion of fiber optic lines themselves.


Simplified Broadband Network

We speak of Digital Packet Networks. They have one job—transfer a packet of binary digital information (bits) from one point on the edge of a network to another point on the edge based on addresses contained in the packet. It is just like the postal service sending letters. The network itself is fashioned from just two kinds of things—switches and links connecting switches together, rather like intersections and roads. The weakest link is the “last mile” created from old copper telephone and cable television wiring…


Our Proposed Network

We are proposing a regional network with fiber-optic last mile links operating at 1 gbps to every home and business in our region.  The network will have a community component—the wires on the poles called trunk wiring—and a private partner component—the drop wiring from the pole to the home, home networks, and a regional electronic network.  It will be just like we treat roads…

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What Others Have Done

Some 20 million homes in the United States today connect to a residential fiber optics network, leaving 108 million homes to go.  None of these homes are in Connecticut.  But these 20 million have a wild diversity of origins and on-going support.  Seventy percent of these homes connect to an incumbent carrier such as Verizon and ATT, but almost all within urban settings.  The balance is spread among more than 1000 providers, including electric and telephone cooperatives and a number of networks owned and operated by municipalities (in the order of 700,000 homes across the U.S.), the larger ones through municipal electric utilities.  While nearly 40% of American homes today are passed by a residential fiber optics network, only 18% of homes in rural America are passed.  Most if not all of rural networks today enjoyed federal or state subsidies.  At that, most rural networks operate within an existing rural electric or telephone cooperative.  A number of towns in western Massachusetts have built or are building municipal networks, all with state funding.

Northwest ConneCT