I struck up a conversation with a Bellsouth tech last week who regaled me with all the planned improvements Bellsouth hoped to make with its network. He was a DSL tech as well as a line installer and was quite fluent in the upcoming technology. Among the gems he threw out were a 6 Mbit download speed coming in September and video on demand coming soon afterward. The goal is 100 Mbits to the home, and will be here sooner than you think. Bellsouth has embarked on an aggressive deployment of new DSLAMs to growing neighborhoods with the goal of bringing fiber to within 5000 feet of their subscribers.
The video on demand stuff sounded appealing, as that’s where I expect things will be heading. I’ve said for a while that the television network is a dying breed. PVR’s like Tivo blaze the way for viewers to purchase their programming by the half-hour, not by the channel. Bellsouth hopes to capitalize on this with their video service, which will pipe three or four simultaneous channels into your home over their copper. Then again, those of you who were in the game in the early days will remember that ISDN was hawked for video on demand. Look how that turned out!
The tech repeated a line I’ve often heard from other telecom technicians: things aren’t fair because the phone companies are regulated and other ISPs (like Time Warner, or competing DSL providers) are not. The view from the phone companies is that their hands are unfairly tied. That all changed last week when the FCC has effectively killed DSL competition. The ruling allows incumbent carriers like Bellsouth to cut loose competiting ISPs from their DSL network. No longer are the ILECs required to offer their copper to competiting providers. As others have noted, the future doesn’t look good for Internet users.
In many other cases it would be a win for a free market. It doesn’t quite square here, though, because the phone companies owe their existence to their early days as monopolies. That fancy infrastructure the phone companies so jealously protect was bought and paid for at the expense of you, the ratepayer. AT&T executives used to brag how the government, in the name of national security (sound familiar?), paid for a large chunk of its network.
So if we want to talk about fairness, we should take that monopoly into account. We should also take steps to ensure another monopoly doesn’t grow up around broadband access. Last week the FCC opened the jailhouse door and now the robber barons are on the loose again.
If there ever was a time for home-grown, wireless neighborhood networks to show how broadband shold be, it’s now. Let’s dust off those yagis and get to work.