The Arguments Against Building Fiber

Fiber CableAny time that there is talk of putting public money into broadband the same arguments against funding broadband are made. I’ve seen these claims made in survey responses, public meetings and in newspaper editorials. If your City is thinking about funding broadband or thinking about taking part in a public private partnership, you should be prepared to counter these typical arguments against your participation.

People Don’t Really Need Fast Speeds. This generally comes from folks who don’t use the Internet much and who just can’t imagine that others need or want a faster Internet. You will often see people cite the fact (for example) that Netflix suggests that you have 5 Mbps to comfortably use the service.

What these people fail to recognize is that there is video everywhere, not just on Netflix. It seems that every news page on the web and many advertisements are full of videos. Facebook and other social media sites are full of video and are going to be more video-intense in the near future. I know that my family starts crashing if our Internet slows down to about 25 Mbps.

And of course, this ignores the long-term trend we’ve seen where broadband consumption by households doubles about every three years. That was not so noticeable when the demand grew from 1 Mbps to 2 Mbps, but it is now starting to become very obvious. And nascent web services like 4K video (which needs a 25 Mbps stream) are going to really put the pressure on service providers.

Government Has No Business Competing with Commercial Companies. This has been the mantra of the fiscally conservative, and perhaps there are times and places where this might be a valid point. But in rural America – and even in cities under 100,000 – there are not many commercial companies out building broadband. There are independent telcos, electric cooperatives, and local governments building fiber, but all of these entities together are barely scratching the surface for the 34 million people that the FCC says don’t have access to broadband.

Communities are waking up to the realization that if they don’t find their own broadband solution that they are never going to get it. And that frankly scares a whole lot of communities that are afraid of becoming irrelevant and becoming a place where nobody wants to live. History has shown us that it doesn’t take a lot to send a community into a tailspin. There are a huge number of ghost towns around the country that were left behind by the railroads, the interstate highways or that lost their only major employer, and lack of broadband is going to create the next wave of abandoned communities.

Wireless is Going to be Fast in the Future. This myth is being fed by the constant hype that AT&T and Verizon put out about the coming 5G cellular with gigabit speeds. The expected specification for outdoor 5G cellular service is going to be aimed at ‘several tens of megabits’, or 20 – 30 Mbps. The 5G spectrum is going to be capable of supporting speeds up to a gigabit – within a room as a competitor to WiFi – but not for outdoor cellular service. 5G is going to increase cellular data speeds a few times faster than today in cities, but cellular performance in rural areas will still be as spotty as today due to the way that cellular bandwidth decreases with distance from a tower.

People Can Use Satellite Broadband. Anybody that says this ought to try using satellite broadband for a week and they would change their mind. It is better than dial-up, but not by a lot. There is a lot of latency, meaning that it’s nearly impossible to do something in real time like play a game or take part in distance learning. And most of the satellite services have draconian data caps that are even worse than cellular caps, because once you cross them you get cut off for the rest of the month.

The Incumbents are Going to Fix It. This is a relatively new argument that comes from the hype behind CAF II. The large telcos are getting federal grant money to expand rural broadband, but with speeds that only have to be 10 Mbps download. Anybody that gets this upgrade is going to be happy with it for a week or two until they realize that they still can’t do the things on broadband that people in cities can do. And within a decade, with the inevitable increase in demand it will feel as slow as dial-up.

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