Saturday, August 16, 2008

Universal Broadband Needed In New Hampshire

Yes, there is broadband access throughout the Lakes Region. But the question is, is there enough? Unfortunately the answer is no.

While Metrocast, Time Warner , and Comcast offer video, data, and in some areas, phone service, too many people in the towns they serve are left without the services they offer. It isn't that they can't afford it, it's that it isn't available at all.

A few years ago I was living in Plymouth off of Fairgrounds Road. The late, un-lamented Adelphia had a cable trunk running right past the end of my road. Everyone along the Fairgrounds Rd. and most living on the side roads off of it had cable and Internet service. But not me. Even though I could see the cable from my windows, even though my next door neighbor on Fairgrounds Road had access, I did not. Nor could I get it unless I laid out thousands of dollars to Adelphia to run a line from the road to my home, a distance of 250 feet. Unlike telephone service, cable service is not required to be universal. This means the cable franchise can bypass potential customers if they deem it isn't worth their while to extend their optical fiber/coax cable to them.

FairPoint, née Verizon, must provide phone service to anyone wanting it. They are required to provide universal service (at least on the phone side of things), even if they can't yet provide anything other than dial up Internet service. But as they expand their DSL service, they will offer to a majority of their customers. But even they will bypass some of their customers in regards to broadband service.

Sadly, even as broadband service expands throughout the Lakes Region and the rest of New Hampshire, there's another question that must be asked: Will the broadband technologies being deployed today be adequate for the demands of tomorrow? While there are those groups looking into this question, there are too few of us knowledgeable about telecommunications and future demands saying the answer is “no”. This is an issue that must be addressed by business, educational institutions, and workers to ensure that our local/state economy will not be crippled by inadequate broadband access.

At the moment many of us with broadband service can expect between 1 and 6 megabits per second download speeds and 256 kilobits to 1 megabit per second upload speeds for residential cable modem service, and between 128 kilobits to 2 megabits per second upload/download speeds for residential DSL service. For business class accounts cable modem and DSL speeds may be higher and symmetric (upload and download speeds are identical). Those without broadband service are stuck with 56 kilobit per second upload/download speeds with dial up service. (My in-laws are lucky if they get 33 kilobits per second with their dial up ISP in their home town.) At best DSL service will provide between 20 and 25 megabits per second, a blazing speed for today's demand, but hardly future proof.

Even with the 'blazing' broadband speeds presently available in the area, they will be inadequate in 5 years as new services become more popular, with Internet video being one of the fastest growing and most bandwidth intensive applications at present. The demand and the required bandwidth will quickly blow past the capabilities of the present telecommunications infrastructure as more video and data services become available to users. Six megabits per second download speeds will be too slow. 10, 20, maybe 50 megabits per second will be required for such things as IPTV (Internet Protocol TV), teleconferencing, telepresence (particularly crucial for medical applications), peer-to-peer networking, and a host of other applications that have barely made it out of the media and computer labs. And as even newer services become available, even 50 megabits per second will be too slow.

The cable companies are working to increase the speed of their Internet service and they may be able to come close to what other services like FTTH (Fiber-To-The-Home) can offer, but they won't surpass it.

If the telephone companies and cable companies aren't willing to step up to the plate to provide the needed telecommunications infrastructure in New Hampshire, then perhaps it is up to us to promote it, if not find a way to provide it. There are already groups of towns in Vermont and New Hampshire forming coalitions to build out FTTH networks, making sure everyone in those towns will have access, in other words, providing universal service.

If we want to attract businesses, entrepreneurs, and telecommuters to the state, and particularly the Lakes Region, we need a 21st Century telecommunications infrastructure. At best we have a late 20th Century telecommunications system, and a barely adequate one. This must change.

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