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Fast enough for you?
By Ed Gubbins

May 7, 2007 3:21 PM


The telecom industry has forever wrestled with the question of how much bandwidth to deliver to residential consumers. But this year, a chorus of authoritative voices is offering new proposals for specific speed goals. How those target speeds should be calculated, however, is one more tough question to ponder.

In January, Vermont's governor proposed a plan to ensure all Vermonters at least 3 Mb/s of symmetric bandwidth by 2010 and at least 20 Mb/s symmetrically by 2013. In March, the Fiber-to -the-Home Council called on Congress to ensure 100 Mb/s of symmetric broadband to most Americans by 2010 and to all Americans by 2015. And a bill introduced in the Minnesota state legislature the same month called for the availability of 1 Gb/s of symmetric bandwidth to all Minnesotans by 2015. How did they arrive at these numbers, and whose methodology makes sense?

Joe Savage, president of the FTTH Council, admits that one of the main reasons he's calling for 100 Mb/s in particular is to promote FTTH, the council's raison d'etre. “When you get to 100 Mb/s, there's really no question that it will be fiber all the way to the home,” he said. But the chief reason the group fixed on 100 Mb/s was to help the U.S. catch up with countries such as Japan and South Korea, where some citizens already enjoy those speeds. “100 Mb/s is perceived as the standard in most of the municipal networks in Scandinavia and is the competitive bar in France,” he said. “Our call for 100 Mb/s is in part to keep us at least in the hunt with some of the other more advanced infrastructure countries around the world.”

Keeping up with the Joneses is one of the recurring themes in discussions about how to set bandwidth goals among some of the parties currently taking a crack at it. Ask Minnesota legislators why they're calling for 1 Gb/s, and they'll point to similar initiatives in California and Singapore. This approach might seem backward to broadband equipment vendors and service providers, which typically base assumptions of broadband needs on the services they think customers want and the cost and capability of their networks. So are these bandwidth arms races-between states or nations-a good way to decide how much capacity to roll out to consumers?

“No,” said Vince Vittore, Yankee Group analyst. “In fact, it's about the worst way to decide bandwidth goals. It's like saying because lots of people in rural areas drive pickups, the entire country should drive pickups. The race to 100 Mb/s is a laudable goal, but you have to be realistic about it and fit that goal to each market.”

Jim Baller, a broadband advocate and partner in the Baller Herbst law firm, concedes that a one-size-fits-all approach is probably not a realistic way to address the country's broadband needs. But initiatives such as the FTTH Councils' — no matter what speed they set as a goal — are at least useful in spurring discussions that are long overdue, he said. “The more voices we hear, the more our country will be pushed toward figuring this out, and we'll arrive at the right number as a goal. We don't know if it's 100 Mb/s or 1 Gb/s or something else, but we need to find out what it is and start working toward it.”

Still, he underscored the need to keep pace with global broadband trends and applauded 100 Mb/s as a reasonable goal for the U.S.

Next Page: 100 Mb/s is not enough

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