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1Why is Broadband So Important for Communities?
As more of our lives transition to the digital world, access to the Internet and its multitude of applications becomes increasingly more important. Where it was once just a complement to our physical lives, the virtual world has become a crucial part of what we do every day. Online applications for business, health, education, security, and entertainment have all become integrated into our daily lives. These applications and new ones continue to grow at an alarming pace. To function, they must be carried across high-speed, reliable broadband infrastructure, which we can think of like the highway system for the electronic world. Local roads feed into state roads, which feed into the interstate highway system to interconnect individuals to the country’s infrastructure. Similarly, local broadband infrastructure connects to regional and national high-speed networks that interconnect with the global Internet. If the local broadband infrastructure is insufficient, (i.e local roads are insufficient), users (drivers) will have difficulty accessing the global Internet (interstate highway system). Therefore, their broadband access is critical to ensure that users are able to reach the electronic world over a reliable, high-speed local broadband infrastructure. Without this, the applications they use everyday breakdown. The COVID-19 Pandemic has made these issues even more critical. People need to be able to work from home, engage in online learning, access telehealth, search for employment, and the list goes on. Access to high-speed, fiber-based broadband has become a necessity or even a utility that should be available to all citizens to engage in our digital world.
2What is broadband infrastructure?
Broadband infrastructure consists of the cabling and electronics that wire homes and businesses into the local telecommunications or cable company offices. From these offices, connections to other communications networks and the Internet are made, interconnecting local users with the Internet, telephone, television, and other services.
3What is bandwidth?
In a network, bandwidth (what engineers call bitrate) is the ability to carry information. The more bandwidth a network has, the more information it can carry in a given amount of time. Networks with high bandwidth also tend to be more reliable because fewer bottlenecks disturb the flow of information.
4How much bandwidth do we need?
The amount of bandwidth we need grows every year. The largest growth has been for video – traditional pay-TV, “over the top” or Internet-based video, and video communications. This trend is expected to continue at least for the rest of this decade. Video requires not only extra bandwidth but also extra reliability. Additionally, Internet-based video applications continue to push more and more bandwidth, such as Hulu and Netflix. Business applications have become more bandwidth-intensive and also need good reliability to function correctly. Here are just a few ways a gig connection (1000 Mbps) will improve your digital life: 1 song (4 minutes, 4 megabytes) = almost instant Web video (5 minutes, 30 megabytes) = almost instant 9-hour audiobook (110 megabyte ) = 1 second 45-minute HDTV show (600 megabyte ) = 5 seconds 2-hour HD movie (4.5 gigabyte ) = 38 seconds Archiving 10 gigabytes of various files = 1 minute 25 seconds (all speeds calculated with download-time).
5What about other kinds of data?
Bandwidth requirements for many kinds of data are exploding. For example, new digital cameras can create larger and larger images; 30 megabytes is not uncommon. In health care, the medical images produced by equipment such as CT scanners are a hundred times larger than camera images. In the last few years, many industries have entered the era of “Big Data” applications that collect and analyze data on massive scales. Today’s Big Data applications range from consumer pricing models to online marketing to DNA sequencing to particle physics to control of electrical grids. Big Data doesn’t work without broadband services that maintain high bandwidth and reliability.
6Can’t copper carry high bandwidth?
Copper, which includes broadband systems such as DSL and cable, can carry far less capacity than fiber-optic. It can support high bandwidth for only a few hundred yards, being a distance-sensitive technology. The longer a signal travels on copper, the more the bandwidth degrades and the fewer data that is available. Fiber-Optic is unique in that it can carry high-bandwidth signals over enormous distances. Fiber uses laser light to carry these signals. Under some circumstances, a signal can travel 40 miles (60 kilometers) without degrading. Fiber is also better able to support symmetrical bandwidth. Symmetrical bandwidth provides the same speed in both directions, whereas many copper-based broadbands carry different speeds, such as 6 Megs down, 2 Megs up. Symmetrical bandwidth is important as it provides high speeds in both directions, not just on downloads.
7What about wireless? I hear it can provide high-speed broadband.
Many wireless broadband systems are shared technologies whereby each user on the system shares bandwidth among other users. Cellular, 3G, 4G, and LTE systems are similar. In these cases, users do not receive guaranteed bandwidth for their use, if a few users are consuming all of the bandwidth, other users will not receive any. Wireless point-to-point or microwave systems do have the ability to provide guaranteed bandwidth in some instances and are widely used in areas where fiber-optic is infeasible. The carrying capacity of these wireless systems is far less than fiber-optic though.
8What exactly makes fiber “futureproof”?
The equipment used to send light signals over glass fiber keeps getting better. So equipping an existing fiber network with new electronics and with lasers that pulse light faster, or lasers that use different wavelengths of light can vastly increase available bandwidth without changing the fiber itself. New electronics are very cheap compared with the original cost of installing the fiber. Therefore, once fiber has been deployed, network operators can keep increasing bandwidth at a much lower cost.
9How long has fiber technology been in use?
Fiber-optic technology is the foundation of the world’s telecommunications networks. It has been used for more than 30 years to carry communications traffic from city to city and from country to country. Almost every country has some fiber-optic, delivering services reliably and inexpensively. The first time fiber delivered a signal directly to an American home (in Hunter’s Creek, FL.) was more than 20 years ago.
10Isn’t DSL and cable good enough?
It’s not good enough to make your community competitive in attracting or supporting a tech-savvy company or home-based businesses. Today’s cable modems and DSL lines may suffice for consumers to send emails, download songs, or share family photos. However, healthcare, education, and commerce are increasingly requiring more and more bandwidth. Almost 100 communities have deployed fiber broadband networks and more are on the way as communities realize that these types of networks are critical to economic development and competitiveness.
11Why Aren’t Providers Upgrading to Fiber-Optic Broadband in My Community?
One key issue found in many smaller communities is that the smaller demand does not warrant investment in upgraded broadband infrastructure by telecommunications providers and cable companies. In large metropolitan environments, providers can warrant the investment, given high volumes of users, which allow them to realize the return on investment needed for the upgrade. In smaller communities, this is not the case, because demand is lower and their fixed costs remain high. Upgrading communities to widespread fiber-optic broadband services is a significant cost for providers; the current average cost to wire a home for fiber-optic services is $1,200. Multiply that by 20,000 users in a community, and the cost to the provider is $24,000,000. Providers must be assured that they will gain enough market share to generate a reasonable return on this investment. Without a strong uptake, providers will not make the investment. In small communities, this generally holds true and thus, the current infrastructure, which may be DSL or cable, is maintained.