John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Oh, Speaking of Broadband–What the Hell Is It?

speedtestBefore the Federal Communications Commission begins doling out the $7.4 billion in federal grants up for grabs through national broadband stimulus programs, the agency must answer an important question: What is broadband? And so, in a public notice issued today, the Commission is requesting “tailored” public comment on what the definition of broadband should be.

That might seem an inane question, coming from the FCC, but when you think about it, it has never really been answered, not even by broadband carriers, which would undoubtedly prefer that the term be ambiguous enough to allow for all manner of throughput/delivered speeds, usage caps, and latency. So it’s a good time to ask it. As senior adviser Carlos Kirjner explains in a post to the FCC blog today:

  • If we want to decide who has and who does not have broadband, we actually need to agree on what we mean by broadband.
  • If we want to decide who can take advantage of one type of application or another, we need to know what they are actually getting today, and what is the gap between that and what they actually need to get.
  • If we need to know how much it would cost the country to enable all or a subset of its households and businesses to take advantage of one application or another, we need to know what the gap is between where we are and where we want to be.
  • If we want to ensure that consumers have a clear and accurate view of what they are getting for their money, we need to decide what are the important metrics, and how to measure them.

Good points, all. But allow me to suggest one more:

  • If we’re going to start handing out $7.4 billion in federal grants for broadband improvements, we should make damn sure that broadband is improved.

Because the last time we invested in our broadband future, we didn’t see much return on that investment.

In the run-up to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the incumbent telecoms promised to provide fiber-optic connections to millions of households across the country. In exchange, they were given some $200 billion in tax cuts and higher service rates to pay for it. But the telecoms didn’t spend that money on fiber upgrades; they spent it on long distance, wireless and inferior DSL services.

“By 2005, if the Bell companies had actually delivered on their broadband promises, approximately 86 million households would have had fiber-optic-based services,” Bruce Kushnick, executive director of New Networks Institute, explains in “The $300 Billion Broadband Scandal.” “These state commitments also would have rewired schools and libraries, hospitals and government offices. And in most states, the plan called for ALL customers to be rewired equally, whether they were in rural or urban areas, rich or poor. Universal broadband was to be accomplished state-by-state because customers were, in essence, de facto investors funding these network upgrades.”

But that’s not what happened (click on image below to enlarge). Know anyone in California who had Pac Bell fiber in 1996? How about 2000? Yeah, didn’t think so. And that’s something worth mulling today.


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