Monday, March 15, 2010

My "Satellite is Not Broadband" Letter to the Editor, FCC Test Data, and More

dish-ice-200I just noticed that my letter to the editor of the Daily Star about rural broadband was published (back on February 15). I have pasted the letter at the bottom of this post.

The letter is part of my ongoing campaign to evangelize the need for affordable broadband connectivity in rural areas. I truly believe that if affordable broadband is not made available to what are currently "dialup-only" areas, once-thriving villages will eventually become ghost towns. On the other hand, if such connectivity is made available, then many rural areas can be transformed through better jobs, better education, and a variety of digital community-building initiatives that are currently impractical.

fcc-broadband-test-resultSometimes you will hear people say "rural households can get satellite Internet, so they have broadband available to them."

As I have described at length before, my opinion is that satellite Internet service is NOT broadband and never can be. In my letter I try to explain that in plain English in the context of recent efforts by Otsego County to get federal funding for improved broadband access.

On a brighter note, one positive step the federal government is taking in this field showed up recently on the special FCC site called broadband.gov. The agency has posted a test that anyone can use (rural or sub/urban) to check their connection's speed. This test evolved out of growing suspicion that most broadband providers claim to provide higher performance than they actually deliver. (For example, I pay for a download speed of over 1,000kbps but as you can see from my test result, I get nothing like that.)

I urge you to test your own connection. In the meantime, here is my letter titled "Satellite Internet not same as broadband."

Dear Editor,

Your coverage of Otsego County's struggle to provide affordable broadband to rural residents is much appreciated by those of us whose property prices are being hit by the lack of broadband access. ("County's request for Web funding denied," Feb. 4.) I have seen neighbors move already, putting property up for sale because of the lack of broadband.

With all due respect to Rep. Betty Anne Schwerd, whom you quoted, satellite Internet service is not broadband.

A broadband Internet connection should support real-time trading, Voice over IP (like Vonage), video streaming (like YouTube and NetFlix), and Virtual Private Networking (VPN is required for many telecommuting jobs).

Satellite does not support these core broadband functions, as stated on the website of HughesNet, one of Otsego County's two main satellite providers. The other provider, Wild Blue, is not accepting new customers in parts of Otsego County due to capacity issues. These can cause a big drop in performance. As a HughesNet customer, my median download speed is 258kbps, much slower than the "headline rate" of 1.6mbps for which I pay $70 per month.

Cheap dial-up delivers 56kbps plus better latency than satellite (which will always be weak in this regard because every bit travels 45,000 miles into space and back).

Sadly, lobbyists for cable and phone companies, fighting requirements that they serve rural customers, have tricked politicians into thinking that "everyone in rural areas can get broadband thanks to satellite." This is deceptive at best. Satellite Internet is not broadband and, if there's no broadband where you live, you cannot participate in all the opportunities that the Internet affords. As a result, the value of your property, like mine, will continue to decline relative to areas that have broadband.

Stephen Cobb
Cherry Valley

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