As a child, I was an early Internet user. There were still .arpa addresses attached to things, and from day one, I realized I was a consumer of the vast data on the Internet. I needed bandwidth to download, view, exchange, and to work faster. And as a child with no job, the dream of having any high-speed access was a distant one. It shaped my career as I started my quest to have as much bandwidth as I needed. Over the course of the startups I have created, I always insisted that the offices connect with top-quality connectivity. The argument goes like this: We’re creating the world’s top new technology, why don’t we have access to it?
Spoiled over the years with having gigabit Ethernet to my desktop, I moved to Auburn, CA in the Sierra Nevada Foothills. Bay Area people may recognize its name because of the famous burger shack Ikeda’s that is right up the street from me. It’s where my family lives and I telecommute to work four days a week. But it’s difficult to telecommute to work when your home network connection is inconsistent with latency, bandwidth availability, or even having it work “most of the time.” As a result, it has hampered my VoIP calls, my research work, and my ability to do my job. Something had to change. I signed up for a fiber service for businesses that’s equivalent in cost to a the 90′s T1 line.
So what is a Gigabit? And so what? Well first off, it’s 1000 Mbps of bandwidth, and if it’s delivered over fiber, it has lower latency by an order of magnitude from a cable modem or DSL. So I bought burstable bandwidth. I only needed about 10 Mbps of the total 1000, but the ISP allows me to use all of the 1000 if it’s available and nobody is using it. It’s a great deal for me, and it’s really no sweat off the carrier’s back.
BUT NOW WHAT?
Why should everyone have burstable 1 Gigabit or 10 Gigabit service? Because the world has changed. People now consume bandwidth on most of their devices, cars, TVs, AppleTVs, Google services, etc… and it’s important to our daily lives. Lack of fast connectivity is like settling for tainted brown water from your local water utility, or having your lights shut off when you use an electric oven. People, we’re living in the stone ages of the Internet and we need to progress!
One of the main impacts of switching to an Ethernet-based solution is your upload speed does not (and should not) impact your download speed. For years, ISPs have used this as a false marketing mechanism to differentiate “business class” services from “home services.” They needed a reason they could charge businesses a boatload of money for their Internet access, while providing something similar to home users for a fraction of the cost. The marketing decision matched well with the cable modem DOCSIS and DSL technology, and as a result, became the standard for home Internet services.
That bandwidth model worked well for the 90s, but the Internet has changed. With a real Internet connection, we can download as fast as most storage devices can store, and fully utilize cloud services. HD videos play instantly, while not impacting overall network performance. Web pages snap into place, and everything just works better. Beyond being an Internet consumer, with a real Internet connection you can create – as well as consume. Uploading and serving content gives a user the ability to be more than just a consumer. This is an ideological change. When it affects millions, the Internet and culture will be directly impacted. The Internet will not be made of servers and users anymore, because everyone will have the capacity to be both.
Imagine if the new gold standard of home Internet connectivity was full duplex (the same speed both ways at the same time) 1GbE. Those huge HD files off HD cameras would then find their way onto the web very quickly. Sharing content between friends would no longer be done via a third-party service like Dropbox. The Internet would depend more on the cloud as the Internet connection, reducing the bottleneck between cloud services and the user. In addition, person-to-person networks would become feasible. It would spark innovation. Startups that are network-based could be hosted from your garage. Bandwidth would no longer be expensive, and networks would have a new renaissance of growth.
Beyond just the ability to upload at a reasonable rate, we would see our home networks become more stable. We would have fewer angry calls to call centers because, “the cable modem starts blinking a weird color when it’s raining outside.” The jitter of the network would be gone and we’d no longer be consumers of a poor quality service, we would have something we could trust to build a network-based society on.
All media companies should be pushing cable operators to switch everyone to gigabit Ethernet or faster. Why? Because they will consume (buy) more content. Right now on a gigabit circuit, it takes less than three minutes to download an entire HD movie from iTunes. People will use services like Netflix much more because it would work so much better than anything else out there.
So, what about the cost?
For an early adopter, it’s not easy. It’s expensive, because you have to buy what’s essentially a business-class or carrier-class service. However for the provider, the cost is nothing compared to the cable and here’s why:
- Physical copper cable costs more than fiber
- Replacing cable that is faulty is expensive and should just be done with fiber
- The equipment is inexpensive
- Support costs go down due to fewer interruptions
- Service quality increases
What about the arguments that uploaded content costs ISPs more, or that it will cost more to upgrade their networks? To that I say: I don’t see any telecommunications companies filing for bankruptcy. Innovation, social change, and inspiration bring customers. Their networks can support bi-directional communications. Companies like Comcast would love to make you think that it’s a huge burden to carry traffic out of their network, but just by the nature of Ethernet being bi-directional, if Comcast is supporting the same in-bound bandwidth to their customers they can rationally support the same out-bound bandwidth.
In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) was chartered by President Obama to create a National Broadband Plan. The plan itself is about effective as the HealthCare.gov website. However, unlike HealthCare.gov, the plan actually does not do anything for the consumer. It lays out a lot of legal liability for carriers such as Comcast to reduce their operating cost, but falls horribly short on making any real guidelines that will impact the future. The plan states, “Goal No. 1: At least 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second.” It suggests that should happen in the next DECADE. Ten years from now, my thermostat will have more bandwidth than that – actually it does already. Hmm, okay, in ten years my phone will have more bandwidth than that. Hmm, it almost does today. What they’ve done is to spend a huge amount of time and money to create short-sided goals. It should have read, “By X date, all Americans with at least X connectivity will be provided full bidirectional service of at least 1000 Mbps.”
When it comes down to it, consumers need to demand more – not just from their ISPs, but from the lack of any true leadership from elected officials. This country should be a leader in broadband, not a mess of red tape with the lack of any vision.