Posted by: silverback | 2010/03/17

communication breakdown

please tell me that i’m not insane for thinking the following passage is horrifying:

There’s a bigger problem: money. (FCC Broadband Initiative Exec Dir Blair) Levin was also at the FCC in the 1990s, when the commission tried to impose open access on the U.S. telephone industry. The phone companies fought tooth and nail, and eventually won. Private investors have not forgotten that fight, says Paul Gallant, an analyst at Concept Capital. Gallant says any startup looking to compete with the big boys will have a tough time finding investors.

“You’d have to have a stomach for a fair amount of risk. And you’d have to have some pretty good lawyers on your staff who could tell you that, in the end, you’re going to survive the judicial gauntlet that you know the cable and phone companies are going to throw at you,” Gallant says.

It’s unlikely the FCC or Congress would want to pick that kind of fight in an election year, says Ben Scott, policy director at the Washington, D.C., nonprofit Free Press.

WHAT!?!? so wait – you’re telling me that the cable and phone companies have so much power and political clout that our Government – supposedly protecting the common interest of its citizens – is AFRAID to push for a true free-market among broadband providers? how absurd. and tragic.

it is becoming increasingly obvious that this is what America has come to. what amounts to an oligarchy – power held by an elite few; the CEO’s and shareholders of the world’s largest corporations. they’ve demonstrated their power over oil, the stock market, and healthcare. next, we can look forward to third-world communications systems as our best & brightest ideas for the development of future technologies get squelched in the name of shareholder dividends. even more ironically, the same corporations are effectively killing the supposed free-market system they depend upon for their very existence by quelling any and all potential competition with preemptive legislative strikes.

as i write this, i’m attempting to stream live music via a “high speed internet” connection from Charter “Communications” (ironic quotes are mine) – one of the above “cable and phone companies” that Congress and the FCC are afraid of. i am using a wireless router located approximately 30 feet from this high-end Mac PowerBook G4. the stream has to stop and buffer every 45 seconds or so, which is adding mad on top of crazy. here’s what the “broadband” speed to my computer looks like:

high speed?

“oh,” you might say, “6 Megabits per second down doesn’t sound bad…that’s gotta be miles better than the old 56k dial up!” which on some level is true. however, i think it’s important to consider how much richer the data we’re trying to move around is today, compared to even five years ago. digital photos used to be 256kB or so – now a 1080 or 1240p image is 3MB, minimum. we’re streaming music at 64-128 kbits per second, webpages are filled with .php and .aspx data, not to mention the secure protocols. in short, 6Megabits/sec sounds like alot of data, but it’s going to actually take me 7-8 seconds to download a 5MegaByte music file, i suppose partially because the file gets taken apart & sent as packets of data, then reassembled as i get it. also, it’s a trick of semantics. there are 8 “bits” in a “byte,” so a “Megabit” is only 1/8 of a “MegaByte.” suddenly 6 Megabits of “data” begins to look more like less than 1 MegaByte of useful information. note that my “upload” speed is more representative of how much data i can actually move around in a second.

i say all that to say this: America, for all our arrogance and self-righteous claims of being the “richest country in the world,” or the “producer of the highest quality goods in the world,” has fallen far, far behind many other much smaller, less affluent nations in the general modernization of our infrastructure, and our communication systems in particular. too many dollars spent blowing shit up in one desert or another, i suppose.

go ahead - find the richest nation in the world

taking a look at another interesting, colorful chart, it becomes just a bit more clear where we stand on the world stage. the numbers are the weighted rank of the three factors concerning broadband internet service. for example, we can see that South Korea has the best penetration – ie the most people per hundred, or whatever – of broadband service in the WORLD, providing those people with the third-fastest service, but they’re only fifteenth when it comes to price. Japan has the cheapest high-speed service in the world, and the second-fastest, but they’re only twelfth when it comes to per capita penetration. those pesky Scandinavians are putting it to the rest of the world when it comes to weighted ranks – i bet they even have wireless broadband in their Saabs. the U.S. is…oh, there we are – way down in 16th, right behind Portugal. Portugal. with the 12th-fastest internet, the 18th-best penetration, 17th when it comes to price. the country of Monaco is number 1 in penetration, with high-speed internet to 100% of its citizens. it does not appear on the chart, likely because if you have to ask how much internet service in Monaco costs, you may not live there.

as an interesting side note, “broadband” speed is apparently a very broad (hehe) definition. Japan, South Korea and France all boast broadband speeds in excess of 50Mb/s – roughly five times that of the U.S. average, and nearly ten times that of my connection. perhaps if i were in France, i could actually stream this live show from Austin, Texas without the frequent stops to rebuffer.

hopefully, my point has not been lost amongst all this data. we are already far behind the rest of the world, and quickly, perhaps determinedly, falling farther behind. these cable and broadcasting corporations currently keep our government chasing its tail, meanwhile emptying the last bit of the change from our pockets in their unending quest for profit.

having run a business in my not-too-distant past, i know that a corporation without profit is an exercise in futility and frustration. the difference being that i was responsible for providing a service that my customers felt valuable enough to willingly and voluntarily pay for, against a market filled with competitors. i was not permitted to ice all my competitors, nor could i force my vendors to sell only to me at prices i determined ahead of time, and which were largely subsidized by the government. it doesn’t sound like an economy when i put it in those terms, does it?

i suppose none of this will matter once the first EMF pulse hits. i think i’m going to teach my son how to build a fire this weekend.



  1. So you know I happen to work for one of those “incumbent” telecommunication companies (at&t) and and I don’t think that they really want to sell you true broadband. They want the most dollars for the least cost. They could care less about what speed your getting just so long as you pay your bill.

    However, around Asheville pretty soon (available now in limited areas) there will be a new service called U-verse that does promise 24mb service and will be able to stream hi-def video to up to 2 tv’s at a time and surf the internet and talk on the phone at the same time, but you gotta live within 3000′ of the equipment. no doubt you have seen these beige colored boxes about the size of a chest freezer being installed all over the place they’re called a VRAD (Video Ready Access Device). If you’re not within 3000′, you get 6mb or 3mb dsl.

    The problem with broadband penetration is the fiber… there ain’t enough of it and it only goes to the equipment not the house. Imagine replacing all of the copper hanging on poles or buried in the ground in America with fiber and that fiber feeds all of the homes and businesses (no cheap endeavor). Yes, they do have a thing called FITL (Fiber in the Loop) that has neighborhood fiber but there is no solution to sell true broadband on these smaller fiber loops within the broader network. In other words your limited by the equipment that you put on the ends of the fiber.

    The best and most successful product out there is what Verizon sells in the hi-density population centers in the north-east called FiOS (Fiber Optic Service). It has true broadband speeds (30mb) and is very reliable. It is also less expensive to deploy because of the population density. There is a greater return per foot of cable placed. Versus a rural area where you might have to place miles of cable to serve 10 customers, might take you years to turn a profit on those folks. So you can see why the “incumbents” would prefer higher density centers to deploy fiber optic networks.

    That said… I have seen and built some truly bad-ass fiber links, some of the equipment that transmits and receives data between the central offices would blow your mind. An OC-192 which is basically this big fiber modem called a multiplexer (mux) will run at 9.6 gigabits per second, its about the size of a refrigerator and costs about $250,000 and you gotta have at least 2, one on either end of the fiber. We actually daisy chain them together from town to town to route data all around the country.

    So anyway your right Fred the big telecommunication companies got us by the balls, but remember, this is a free country we don’t have to buy it. we can disconnect at any time. but I’m addicted to the nets and from what I can see so are you.

  2. 6 Megabits per second may be a bit slow for some of the richer video feeds, but way more than fast enough for music streaming it’s rare to find an internet radio stream above 128kbps. Those that are tend to be around 192 kbps. Plug into your router directly with an ethernet cable, and you’re likely to have no stuttering. If your Wi-Fi is set to a bad frequency band for the noise in your area, you’ll have crappy delivery to your computer, gauranteed. Play with the different frequency bands in your router’s spectrum and you’ll see a night and day difference. Oh-and for the record, point taken on our position relative to other countries. Japanes folks get a 100 Mbps connection for what you pay-and I get a 15Mbps connection here in Md.

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