Tuesday, May 20, 2008

US third broadband option an elusive goal

Earthlink's withdrawal from the municipal WiFi business, leaving the future of networks in Philadelphia and other cities uncertain at best, and similar news from MetroFi, has closed a chapter in the search for alternatives to the phone company and the cable company for a third broadband competitor.

Third-tier cities and rural areas are most affected. When the cables and telcos are offering higher-speed services (like Verizon's FiOS), they are doing so in the major metro areas. So it's not surprising that cities themselves are getting, perhaps reluctantly, into the broadband business. The efforts of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to build out a municipal fiber network, are profiled in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.

While covering US broadband problems profiled before in this blog, like lower coverage, high prices and relatively low speeds compared to other countries, the WSJ article usefully shows the impact on customers, especially business customers, of poor broadband availability and performance:

In a converted saddle factory here, Jonathan Bragdon, 38 years old, runs a 40-person company that he says couldn't exist without a lot of affordable Internet bandwidth. Seven of his employees live and work in other cities, including New York and Leeds, England. His business, called Tricycle Inc., transmits high-resolution 3-D simulations of carpeting to interior designers.

More important than download speed for such work is upload speed. Yet, on most connections it often takes longer to upload files to the Internet than it does to download them from the Internet. With Comcast, Mr. Bragdon was getting a download speed of eight megabits a second, but an upload speed of only one megabit a second.

About two years ago, Tricycle switched to the EPB's fiber network. Mr. Bragdon says that lowered his costs several-fold and gave him the flexibility to upgrade to speeds as fast as 100 megabits a second. "With the rivers and the mountains, young people want to live here," says Mr. Bragdon. "But you need good bandwidth to work here."

Let's hope businesspeople like Mr. Bragdon can get the bandwidth they need, from whatever provider. And if the cables or the telcos won't provide it everywhere it's needed, perhaps the municipalities will have to.

Related Posts:
US broadband prices vs. the rest of the world: nothing has changed
US consumers need a third broadband option

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