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Sunday, July 07, 2013

White House Down with Broadband

The White House has released a report on Four Years of Broadband Growth.  Without reading it, I know what it says: We have had great success, but challenges remain.  That's what politicians always say when assessing their own performance.  But let's take a real look.

Yes! It opens with bullet-point factoids.  My second-favorite form of information, behind graphs.  And it allows me to make my own bullet points:
  • In 2000, 4.4% of households had broadband; by 2010, 68% did.  Further evidence supporting my claim that the E-Rate can't take all the credit for the large number of connected schools.  Are they counting every household with a smartphone?
  • Networks with >10 Mbps reach 94% of homes.  More evidence that the E-Rate can't take all the credit for the large number of connected schools.  Or it would be, if I believed this number, which I do not.  There is no way 94% of US homes are connected at >10 Mbps.  So I guess "reach" means "run somewhere close to" or "serve a customer in my town" or some other useless metric.  My town is served by FiOS, but that does me no good in my office, because Verizon chose not to run fiber on this block, so I might as well be on the moon.  I cannot get FiOS.  Now now, not ever.  But the FCC would probably say that FiOS "reaches" me.
  • Delivered broadband speeds doubled.  That's disappointingly slow.  According to Moore's Law or Nielsen's Law, doubling should take 2 years, not 4.  Butler's Law calls for a doubling every 9 months. Again, I need a footnote.  Are we talking about average or median?  All homes and businesses, or only those with Internet connections, or only with broadband connections?  Average mobile data connection speed was 2.6 Mbps.  That's pretty impressive.  I think I found the source of this number, too, even without a footnote.  But 3 Mbps is the cut-off for broadband, so what's this factoid doing in a report on broadband?
  • Annual investment in wireless networks grew more than 40%.  OK, but shouldn't we be talking about investment in broadband, not cell phones?  Some of that investment might lead to broadband speeds, but who knows how much of it.
  • Over 500 million Internet-connected devices.  That sounds about right.  But it should be higher.  The first Internet-enabled fridge was sold in 2000.  Shouldn't we all be updating anti-virus on our toasters by now?  What are we waiting for?  Don't you think my Facebook friends would want to know how dark I'm making my toast?  Imagine the productivity gain if my appliances could save me the trouble of tweeting what I'm having for dinner or watching on TV.  And my damned fridge should be telling me when it's time to buy milk (and when it's time to throw it out), suggesting foods I might like based on past selections, and telling me where the best tomato prices are.  Right now the only info I'm getting from my fridge is a whine telling me that I'll probably need a new fridge soon.
Uh oh, here we go into the text.  I think I'll keep going with bullets:
  • Today, about 91 percent of Americans have access to wired broadband speeds of at least 10 Mbps downstream.  (page 2)  Wait, didn't you just say that it was 94%?  Or are you saying that the 9% of Americans who don't "have access" are in the 6% of houses that are not "reached" by 10 Mbps networks?  The stat I want to see is the percentage of people (or households) which have 10 Mbps. According to Akamai, that's 19%.
  • 81 percent of Americans have access to 10 Mbps on mobile wireless broadband (p.3).  What does that mean?  At some point during the day, 81% of Americans will be bathed with radio transmissions that have the potential to transmit 10 Mbps, if they had the right device?  Because we for damned sure can't actually get 10 Mbps.  My 4G device on Verizon's network, sitting stationary in tower-rich suburban NJ, does not consistently get 10 Mbps downstream.  Hey, didn't we just read that the average mobile data speed in 2.6 Mbps?
  • In just the last two years, more high-speed fiber cables have been laid in the United States than in any similar period since 2000 (p.5).  Translation: it only took 10 years to catch up with the fiber glut that was part of the dot com bubble which burst in 2000, and there are now places where there is no idle fiber.
  • The ConnectED initiative will, within five years, connect 99 percent of America’s students, through next-generation broadband (at speeds no less than 100 Mbps and with a target of 1 Gbps) to, and high-speed wireless within, their schools and libraries (p.24).  Well, that puts to bed any question of whether Priority Two funding can be saved or Web hosting should be dropped from the program or whatever.  To get to 99% broadband and 99% WLAN, the E-Rate will have to stop funding everything but WAN circuits, Internet ports and WLANs.  Voice and video services and equipment out completely, "Internet-related services" like email and Web hosting  out (which should mean no servers).  Imagine an Eligible Services List with just digital circuits, Internet ports, wireless access points, and data switches.  Or maybe all those are Priority One, and everything else is Priority Two.  There won't be any money for P2, but at least it makes it look like the program hasn't been completely changed.
What a plethora of weak stats leading to the strange conclusion that WLANs in schools are a national priority.  I can't say I oppose the new priorities, as long as cell phone companies aren't able to make "one-to-one" mean one mobile data connection per student.  That would be a shame.

Still, it is clear that we've had 4 years of success, but challenges remain.

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