There has been a lot of talk about the various money for fiber incentives being offered and discussed by various state governments and of course, the federal government. The real question is: what does money for fiber mean to consumers? Answering this question has been very difficult, especially given the hyperbolic tendencies of many news outlets and bloggers desperate to drive up their ratings at the expense of traditional analysis from a neutral standpoint. Instead, the issue has been clouded by wild claims that may or may not have any basis in reality.
In essence, money for fiber is a broad term use to describe grants, loans, and other incentives to companies to deploy networks that use fiber optical cabling. Due to the fact that there are multiple programs in place and/or being offered by various government bodies, it is only possible to look at the general proposition, reasons for, and implications of money for fiber.
Money For Fiber: Why Does America Need It?
America is a physically large nation with very few regions offering high population densities. As a result, deploying high-speed networks and keeping them updated is a very expensive proposition for carriers and network architects. While the relatively high standard of living that Americans have been accustomed to, in large part due to their spending habits, lead America to be one of the first countries to offer widespread broadband, the nation is at risk of falling behind many other countries that are much smaller but have dense population centers.
While the existing broadband connectivity in America is certainly quick by today’s standards, the fact is that metal wiring has finite limitations as a data transmission medium. These limitations are a byproduct of metal wiring’s age, and fiber optics are viewed as the next big thing in terms of macro-networking infrastructure. Without an upgrade to fiber optical-based cabling right to the door of consumers, it is conceivable that the next 10 years will see the United States fall noticeably behind other countries.
Money For Fiber: Why Do Consumers Need It?
Some consumers might argue that existing broadband connections are sufficient for tasks that they already perform, such as web browsing, e-mail, gaming, and media streaming. While existing VDSL and DOCSIS 3.x implementations might be sufficient to handle most of today’s computing environment, a few tasks certainly have the potential to strain many of the modern broadband connections available to consumers. Online data backups to remote sites are just emerging, and may be hampered if the future generations of broadband technologies do not scale very well, but media seems to be the biggest hurdle. Understanding that hurdle, however, will require a little trip down memory lane.
Broadband: Where We’ve Been
During the dawn of the age of broadband, the average screen resolution used by consumers hovered between 1024 by 768 and 1280 by 1024 pixels. Doing a little math, that places the number of pixels on the average screen between 786,432 and 1,310,720. At best, that is roughly half the pixels being displayed on the common 1920 by 1200 display that many computers ship with today, and roughly a third of the pixels available to users of high end displays offered by a stunning high-end, 2560 by 1600 display. The amount of storage, memory, and processing power packed by those computers is dwarfed by even the laughably slow netbooks of today.
While these figures are interesting, it is the results that are truly amazing: streaming video, and graphically rich content are very common features on websites today. How long will it be before HD-video or other bandwidth-intense components become common place? Will monitors have 10 million pixels in the near future? How much content could be displayed on such a screen? It would also be remiss to consider the conversation closed or over without considering the number of other devices that are now commonly connected to the digital home or office. PDAs, smartphones, digital photo frames, media extenders, and countless other devices may all rely on broadband technologies to perform their current and future functions.
Broadband: Where We’re Going Without Fiber
How will all these devices perform their tasks if the broadband speeds of tomorrow are not significantly different than today? Chances are good that they would not perform too many new tasks, and America would start to lag behind in ways that might not seem meaningful at first, but would likely become apparent over time. By the time that the majority of Americans even realize that their access to data is too slow, it might take years to alleviate the situation. In short, the price of not investing in future broadband technologies that do not rely on wiring is unknown, but it is unlikely to be low.
Additionally, metal wiring is physically larger, fails more frequently, and requires more electricity to operate than lengths of fiber optical cabling. The last is particularly troubling given America’s reliance on increasingly hostile regions of the world for power. This means that there are sweeping sociopolitical implications to sticking with metal wiring, even beyond those related directly to the future of a nation without sufficient next-generation broadband.
Broadband: Where We’re Going With Fiber
Money for fiber has another major benefit: spurring competition. Metal wiring solutions currently deployed by telecoms and cable companies currently compete with each other, but cannot be upgraded as easily as networks that rely exclusively on fiber optics for data transmission. Most cable companies and telecoms already use fiber optics for portions of their network infrastructure, and by offering complete fiber solutions or bridging the gap even further, it is likely the faster services will be available to consumers. Additionally, systems that rely on fiber optics all the way to the property lines of consumers is the future, and Verizon has certainly proved that with their FiOS network. Easy upgrades, blazing fast speeds, and the ability to carry multiple kinds of data that can be used for different purposes is almost certainly the future of data delivery.
Are There Any Catches or Conditions?
There are many news stories and rumors abound about the conditions given to organizations and companies that accept money for fiber assistance. Few, if any, assistance programs are offered to companies or organizations by any government without certain expectations. Considering the government’s current ability to access ISP records, it seems unlikely that any of the wild stories about ISPS accepting money for fiber turning over additional data to various law enforcement entities or the RIAA is mere exaggeration.
It ultimately seems that money for fiber seems to be beneficial to consumers, the IT industry at large, suppliers, and researchers. At a critical time in the country’s economic recovery, the benefits of offering financial assistance for the deployment of fiber optical cabling and systems may be just what the economy needs.