I hadn’t much thought about the proposed Rural Broadband Stimulus until recently. The fact that the government is hoping to spend $7.2 billion, or more, on rural broadband just wasn’t all that interesting to me. I think they spent that much on toilet seats or something last month. The government wastes some money, spends some wisely, and will always continue to do both. However, upon recently relocating my home office to a different neighborhood, I really got to thinking about it, and started wondering whether the FCC has the right broadband strategy or whether they’re missing the bigger picture.
My old home office was in McLean, Virginia, one of the most broadband connected places on earth. I got to choose between COX Cable Modem, Verizon DSL, Verizon FIOS, and a number of others. I had COX because it was cheap and easy, and yet I’d often complain about it. What I took for granted though was that I never had to reset my cable modem, and I could start watching an HD movie from my Apple TV in about 1 minute, on average. Videoconferencing wasn’t a problem either, nor was VOIP. In general my service just worked, unless I needed help. COX customer support for my area was so bad I’d rather cancel and sign up elsewhere than have to call them, but fortunately I rarely had to.
Then I got relocated to a neighborhood in La Jolla, California. I love it here–I can see the beach from my office, I have a balcony where I can sit outside typing things like this blog post, and the house is great. I’m not sure how long I’ll be here, but for now I love almost everything about it. Except for my Internet service. You see, my neighborhood is over 50 years old. The house I’m in is a rebuild, its a little over 10 years old. The telecommunications infrastructure is definitely aged, and it shows.
My choices here are Time Warner’s Roadrunner or AT&T’s DSL. I got cable from TW, so I opted for their Internet service. I’ve been kicked offline twice since I started writing this post, and I have to reset my cable modem 4-5 times a day. It takes 85 minutes to start watching a 30 minute HD TV show on my Apple TV. I can’t use VOIP due to the quality, and at best I enjoy download speeds that range between 20KB/sec and 150KB/sec. I know that’s 160 Kbps to 1.2 Mbps, and that qualifies as broadband. But La Jolla, California is a wealthy suburb of San Diego, is definitely a semi-urban area, and hundreds of executives live here. How can Time Warner possibly offer such substandard service in an area that is rich in so many ways?
I was amazed to find that while here in the United States we still have the most Internet connected users in the world, we are only fifteenth in broadband adoption, what this says to me is that broadband isn’t just a rural problem. Instead of a Rural or an Urban Broadband Stimulus, maybe we need an American broadband stimulus. Maybe we need to deal with the core inadequacies of the system as a whole. It’s eye opening to see how inadequate connectivity is, especially when each day it’s becoming even more important to our daily lives. Hopefully over time good old fashioned competition will solve this problem for everyone, as I’m none too thrilled by the idea of the public sector running with this. Still, a solution can’t come soon enough for my tastes!
As you probably guessed, my AT&T DSL is being installed as I post this. People tell me not to expect much better. If any of you have similar experiences with broadband in your area, I’d love to hear your comments.
Photo by Free Press