Broadband Shorts for December

fast fiberFollowing are a few topics I found interesting but which are too short for a whole blog.

Petabit Fiber Speeds: Bell Labs announced a successful trial in the lab of 1-petabit speeds on a fiber (that is 1,000 terabits). This was done by using real-time space-division multiplexed optical multiple-input-multiple-output (MIMO-SDM) technology. The technology is able to send six separate signals through the fiber without having them interfere with each other. Within each of those signals is another full set of other signals that utilize separate light frequencies.

It always take a few years to go from lab to finished product but this is a major breakthrough with the fastest commercial fiber systems operating at 20 terabits. This is a 50 times increase in capacity. This kind of technology would be used on long-haul routes to move massive amounts of data between two points. The lasers and electronics for this are bound to be very expensive, but in places where that much capacity will be needed it will probably be much cheaper than operating large numbers of fiber pairs. In a world where data usage is growing at a geometric rate, a 50-times increase in capacity only moves us a decade or two ahead of demand.

Comcast Data Caps: A leak of internal documents used to train customer service reps show that Comcast has dropped all pretense that their new ‘trial’ of data caps is based upon network congestion. In fact, Comcast is now training their employees to emphatically deny that congestion is an issue and instead wants customer service reps to tell customers that caps are all about ‘fairness’ and of offering ‘a more flexible policy’ for customers.

I could buy that new story line if they were using the caps to somehow give customers the ability to buy a cheaper connection by agreeing to have a cap. That would indeed be flexible and fair to the small users. But it’s hard to see any flexibility where nobody’s price goes down but customers that actually use the data to which they have subscribed must pay more. But like most huge companies. Comcast is now in full double-speak mode and telling customers the exact opposite of what they are actually doing.

Fewer Ads on Cable: While cable companies will not publicly acknowledge that their major competition might be Netflix, a number of major content providers like Time Warner, Fox, and Viacom are quietly cutting back on the number of ad slots they cram into a given hour of television.

For example, the CEO of Time Warner pledged to try to cut advertising slots during prime time in half – a major reduction. They will start with a trial after New Year’s with TruTV which carries programming that is largely reality TV aimed at younger viewers. If the trial is successful they plan to move this same idea to other networks like TBS, TNT, and CNN.

It’s becoming obvious that the average person is tiring of intrusive advertising. The spread of ad blockers on the web shows how much people hate ads. As a cord cutter I have almost entirely eliminated video ads from my life and it feels like this has given me more time (which of course I then use to watch more time-wasting programming – but it still feels good).

Media Usage by Kids: Common Sense Media did a major survey of the media usage of kids and gave us a detailed look into how kids use various kinds of digital media. For instance, they found that tweens (kids between 8 and 12) use digital media of some sort an average of six hours per day. This might be streaming music, watching television and videos, using social media, playing games, texting, or posting to web sites. Older teens use digital media over 9 hours per day.

Kids are often using digital media in the background while doing other things, so they might not be concentrating on it the whole time, but have it on in the background. Tweens still use television as their most common digital activity. But for older teens music has bypassed television.

25% of teens who go online say that their parents don’t understand what they do online. 30% say that their parents don’t understand or know about the social media they use. 53% of teens and 72% of tweens say that their parents have talked to them about the time they spend using media and the content they view.

The biggest problem identified in the study was the continuing digital divide. As schoolwork goes online, kids without adequate broadband are finding it impossible to keep up with kids that have access. The report showed that 10% of lower-income kids still have dial-up Internet access and only half of lower-income kids have smartphones – both very different statistics than kids from more affluent households.

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