The harsh reality of suburban broadband

Like millions of other Americans and many of New York City's "bridge and tunnel" crowd, I live in the 'burbs. While I do a great deal of travel for my full time job, I am also classified as a "mobile" employee, so I'm not formally attached to an office -- I've been issued a company laptop and they pay my monthly broadband, cellular and phone bills, which are in the form of an AT&T Callvantage VOIP account.

Like millions of other Americans and many of New York City's "bridge and tunnel" crowd, I live in the 'burbs. While I do a great deal of travel for my full time job, I am also classified as a "mobile" employee, so I'm not formally attached to an office -- I've been issued a company laptop and they pay my monthly broadband, cellular and phone bills, which are in the form of an AT&T Callvantage VOIP account.

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Currently, I'm a cable modem subscriber. I pay approximately $65.00 per month for Optimum Online's  boost plan,  which gives you up to 5Mbps/30Mbps in theoretical upstream and downstream bandwidth. In practice, however, I've become accustomed to a number of service interruptions, where my broadband can go down for hours at a time, and days where the local XBOX kiddies and torrenters are clearly over-saturating the network. But I tolerate this because I have very few options for broadband in my immediate area.

Recently, I got a note from my employer that they would only cover part of the cost of what I was currently paying for my broadband -- so I'd have to eat the rest of the bill myself. Well, in order to try to bring my costs down, I investigated the possibility of either ratcheting my cable plan down, which would cut 15 bucks a month, or going with an alternate broadband method, Verizon DSL. Verizon DSL costs $40 a month in my area, so that would just about exactly cover the costs.

Of course, what I really wanted was FIOS. For about the same or a little less than what I was currently paying Optimum Online for, I could get fiber optics direct into the house. I could stop paying DirecTV my $100 plus per month in subscriber bills, get HDTV content and super high speed Internet at the same time, for less of the cost of my cable modem connection and satellite dish.

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The reality of the situation, however, is completely different from the Star Trek technology that Verizon says we're all going to be getting soon.

In the suburban northern New Jersey town that I live in, we have telephony infrastructure that is absolutely ancient. This is par for the course for many communities all over the United States. We have copper wire dating back to the 1950's, with junction boxes to match. Most of our telephone wiring is on good 'ol telephone poles, a lot of them still made out of wood. Now, understand that I don't live in Mayberry -- I live a whole 30 minutes driving time and eight miles from Midtown Manhattan, and I can get to a Yankees game or the Belmont section of the Bronx (my favorite NYC Italian dining destination) in about 20-25 minutes if there isn't any traffic.

To make matters worse, we've got a shortage of Central Offices and POPs in suburbia. I may happen to live in a really nice town where our yearly real estate taxes are out the ying yang, but the closest CO to my house is in Englewood, NJ, and that's 17,000 feet away as the crow flies. Fiber? HA! They'd have to string it on the existing telephone poles or start jackhammering the streets -- and I hardly think my town would go for that, given how obstructive they've been to simple matters like not allowing the  abundant local Orthodox Jews to run something simple as a string eruv demarcation line on the telephone posts to symbolically partition their community. So fiber optics? I suspect that is going to take a very, very long time before we see anything like that.

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Just for kicks, I decided to order a Verizon Online DSL account. Granted, the provisioning was extremely easy -- I ordered it online, and within a few days, they sent me my modem device, line filters, and notified me that my service was activated. Over this last weekend, I decided to give it a whirl. As you can see, when you are more than a few thousand feet away from a CO, you get some major performance degradation, and is a far cry from the 1.5Mbps they advertise. Oh, I'm sure there are parts of the country where people are getting super fast SDSL and ADSL lines and getting effective bandwidth in the multiples of megabits, but this isn't Northern California or the Pacific Northwest where the infrastructure is pretty new, or in a major city where you can run abundant dark fiber or new copper from underneath the streets into a multiplexer box that serves an entire high-rise. But I won't be dumping my Optimum Online account anytime soon.

Are you stuck in Suburban broadband hell? Talk Back and let me know. 

The postings and opinions on this blog are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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