Charlie Giancarlo of Cisco Systems writes in the San Francisco Chronicle that America is at risk of falling seriously behind in the next wave of innovation and capability on the Internet:
Based on the current growth and availability of household bandwidth speeds and quality, the answer is clearly no. Household bandwidth demand continues to increase and is expected to reach approximately 1.1 terabits per month per household by 2010 in the United States. For comparison, 20 of these homes would generate more traffic than the entire Internet of 1995. However, the demand is not being met by increasing supply.
He’s correct. The “dot-com bust” of 2001 halted serious expansion of bandwidth supply in the US. Companies were laying fiber and installing facilities like mad because the dot-coms were all saying that bandwidth demand would only increase faster than ever. When the bubble burst and companies hailing their products as “must-have, killer apps” suddenly vanished under a sea of red ink, all that fiber that was laid in preparation for all those homes using all those products either stayed dark or went that way fast.
Phone companies and cable firms offered broadband that was designed to allow users to access technologies that were essentially unchanged from the mid-90′s. Web pages offered more interactive content and started putting up more graphics and audio files, but the allure of broadband was basically a matter of getting those pages on your screen faster. In the last couple of years, we’ve started to see more sophisticated services being offered, the most recognizable being Voice over IP (VoIP) service. YouTube showed quite nicely that what follows voice is video and usually quite quickly. Mr. Giancarlo addresses that point head on:
Though once considered a luxury, broadband access is quickly becoming basic infrastructure for any country wishing to benefit from the development of modern digital communications and Internet technologies. In particular, video, in all its forms and many that have yet to be imagined, will emerge as a common language of Internet communications. Advances in video are now making it possible for people to view and share video across the Internet to virtually any type of device from TVs and cell phones to PCs and portable video players. The wild popularity of video sharing Web sites clearly foreshadow where 21st century communications are headed.
The change is happening in corporations as well. As 80 percent of human communications is non-verbal, breakthrough technologies, such as TelePresence video meetings, are proving that a virtual meeting can be as effective as being there. TelePresence can help companies by boosting productivity while reducing the need for business travel, dramatically decreasing carbon emissions. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and that math is proving true for digital communications.
But video, despite many advances, is a bandwidth hog. Video requires ubiquitous and affordable, high quality broadband connections; without those, the next wave of Internet innovation will be lost to many.
The US was once the leader in high-speed access. No longer. As the article notes there are several countries where access speeds are both higher and more available than virtually anwhere in the US. Here in northern Virginia we’ve got DSL and cable speeds running (for the most part) as high as 3 megabit on download. (That’s from the Net to your house.) Upload speed is usually half of that. There’s a new service coming from Verizon called FIOS where speeds can get as high as 30 megabit down, 5 Megabit up. Giancarlo’s article mentions South Korea where users can get speeds up to 50 megabit. And that’s across the country right now. Verizon’s FIOS still isn’t available even across the northern Virginia area, let alone across Verizon’s service area as a whole. (Example: me. I can’t get FIOS even if I wanted to and, like most phone companies, Verizon’s in no hurry to tell me when they’re going to get it in place.)
Mr. Giancarlo is suggesting action on a federal level to help keep America at the front of the pack with regard to the coming next wave of Internet development. Go have a read and let me know what you think.