Broadband Just Got Sexier

No doubt, a lot of attention has been paid to online video delivery. High-speed connections enable a far superior Web experience and make the Internet a viable option for delivering marketers’ video assets (:15 and :30 spots, and beyond). MTV, with its target of teens and young adults who are rabid Internet users, is one of the latest examples. It’s getting into the fray with a new broadband video offering called MTV Overdrive.

With all of this attention on broadband, it’s unsurprising competition for broadband service delivery is heating up, too. Residential customers have basically had option of cable (provided by cable operators such as Comcast, Time Warner, and Cablevision) or DSL (provided by a phone company). Each type has benefits and drawbacks, but on average broadband delivered via cable modem has proven a faster (albeit costlier) option than DSL, which is delivered over standard twisted copper wires.

The primary drawback for cable modem subscribers has been the effect of neighborhood usage on individual household performance. Whereas cable subscribers share bandwidth across a neighborhood network, DSL subscribers have an always-on, direct one-to-one connection with the phone company. This provides DSL subscribers with the potential for faster connections during peak usage hours, although cable operators seem to be getting better about load-balancing bandwidth across their footprint as usage ebbs and flows.

Typical U.S. cable modem bandwidth speed is about 3Mbps downstream, and 384Kbps upstream. DSL typically clocks in at about 1.5Mbps down, 384Kbps up. (Incidentally, this significant disparity between up- and download speeds is what has made file-sharing applications such as BitTorrent so popular.)

Enter the new age of broadband services: fiber (optic cable) to the home.

If you one live in certain upscale neighborhoods around the country, you may have already received notice of Verizon or SBC Communications offering new fiber-optic services. The service will provide voice and data delivery at speeds unmatched by current providers. Phone companies, which have not been fond of seeing their revenues erode to competitors, are finally striking back.

I just received a direct mail piece alerting me that Verizon FiOS is available in my area. FiOS is a new suite of fiber-optic services. Eventually, FiOS will offer a competitive TV package that will deliver more high-definition content than my cable operator. For now, FiOS offers broadband services that blow away my present offering.

Currently, I receive broadband access through Cablevision’s Optimum Online product. Optimum Online is no slouch. I currently clock my performance at about 5Mbps downstream (and significantly less upstream). FiOS offers different service levels, with the initial tier at 5Mbps downstream and 2Mbps upstream at a standalone price of $39.95 per month, slightly more efficient than Optimum Online. It’s also offering a blazing 15Mbps down and 2Mbps upload service at $49.95. If you use FiOS for your traditional phone service, there are some efficiencies you can realize.

Fifteen Mbps is three times the speed of my current offering — at the same cost. Am I excited? Yes!

Naturally, one starts thinking about all the logistical problems that accompany a home installation. New wiring, new equipment, and the potential for unsightly cosmetic changes only begin to underscore the issues (not to mention all the time and energy needed to convince your significant other this is a necessary upgrade).

I should note there’s a bit of controversy swirling around these new offerings. Both Verizon and SBC have been accused of discrimination related to their market rollout priorities. Not surprisingly, they’ve prioritized the rollout in the country’s most upscale counties, which has some legislators crying foul.

With luck, these issues will eventually be resolved as the phone companies continue to make tremendous capital investments in delivering fiber to the entire country’s dwellings. It’s certainly an exciting development to all of us in the Internet space. I, for one, am eager to test it out.

Vroom, vroom, vroom. Happy surfing!

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