This is the second of a series of three blog posts about broadband in America in response to Susan Crawford’s book Captive Audience and her recent blog post responding to positive assessments of America’s broadband marketplace in the New York Times. Read the first post here. This post addresses Crawford’s claim that every American needs fiber, regardless of the cost and that government should manage the rollout.
It is important to point out that fiber is extant in almost all broadband technologies and has been for years. Not only are backbones built with fiber, but there is fiber to the mobile base station and fiber in cable and DSL networks. In fact American carriers are already some of world’s biggest buyers of fiber. They made the largest heretofore purchase in 2011, some 18 million miles of fiber optic cable. In the last few years American firms bought more fiber optic cable than all of Europe combined.
The debate is about a broadband technology called fiber to the home (FTTH). The question is whether and how to pay for fiber from the existing infrastructure—from the curb into the house itself as it were. Typically the it’s the last part of the journey that can be expensive given the need to secure rights of way, eminent domain, labor cost, trenching, indoor wiring and repair costs. Subscribers should have a say in whether the cost and disruption are warranted by the price and performance. There is also a question of whether the technology is so essential and proven that the government should pay for it outright, or mandate that carriers provide it.
Fiber in the corporate setting is a different discussion. Many companies use private, fiber networks. The fact of that a company or large office building offers a concentration of many subscribers paying higher fees has helped fiber grow in as the enterprise broadband choice for many companies. Households don’t have the same economics.
There is no doubt that FTTH is a cool technology, but the love of a particular technology should not blind one to look at the economics. After some brief background, this blog post will investigate fiber from three perspectives (1) the bandwidth requirements of web applications (2) cost of deployment and (3) substitutes and alternatives. Finally it discusses the notion of fiber as future proof.
Broadband Subscriptions in the OCED
By way of background, the OECD Broadband Portal report from December 2012 notes that the US has 90 million fixed (wired) connections, more than a quarter of the total (327 million) for 34 nations in the study. On the mobile side, Americans have three times as many mobile broadband subscriptions as fixed. The 280 million mobile broadband subscriptions held by Americans account for 35% of the total 780 million mobile subscriptions in the OECD. These are smartphones and devices which Americans use to the connect to the internet.
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