The Law of Accelerating Returns | POTs and PANs: The FCC recently set the new definition of broadband at 25 Mbps. When I look around at the demand in the world today at how households use broadband services, this feels about right. But at the same time, the FCC has agreed to pour billions of dollars through the Connect America Fund to assist the largest telcos in upgrading their rural DSL to 15 Mbps. Not only is that speed not even as fast as today’s definition of broadband, but the telcos have up to seven years to deploy the upgraded technology, during which time the broadband needs of the customers this is intended for will have increased to four times higher than today’s needs. And likely, once the subsidy stops the telcos will say that they are finished upgrading and this will probably be the last broadband upgrade in those areas for another twenty years, at which point the average household’s broadband needs will be 32 times higher than today.
I laud Google and a few others for pushing the idea of gigabit networks. This concept says that we should leap over the exponential curve and build a network today that is already future-proofed. I see networks all over the country that have the capacity to provide much faster speeds than are being sold to customers. I still see cable company networks with tons of customers still sitting at 3 Mbps to 6 Mbps as the basic download speed and fiber networks with customers being sold 10 Mbps to 20 Mbps products. And I have to ask: why?Some excerpts from an excellent blog post from Doug Dawson of CCG Consulting that explains to a great extent why the United States suffers from inadequate telecom infrastructure: employing an ill suited linear planning and business model for today's Internet-based telecommunications space that is expanding exponentially. I too have asked why -- why providers and regulators view Internet-based telecom like a consumptive utility such as electric power, water or natural gas and base their business models on packaging and selling bandwidth rather than telecommunications services? For example, see this provider's "dedicated optical fiber" service that slices and dices bandwidth into seven (yes, seven) bandwidth tiers at exorbitant prices on a fiber circuit that can easily deliver 1 Gigabit of bandwidth.
The consequence of the linear, incremental thinking that dominates in telecom manifests in what I have termed Levin's Law of Internet Infrastructure Inertia.*
*Blair Levin, a former U.S Federal Communications Commission official and lead author of the FCC’s 2010 National Broadband Plan observed in 2012 that the major landline ISPs had no plans to improve and build out their infrastructures. “For most Americans, five years from now, the best network available to them will be the same network they have today," Levin stated.