Friday, September 22, 2006

"My neighbors get high speed Internet. Why can't I?"

For many El Dorado County residents, one of the most vexing aspects of the telecommunications infrastructure is its seeming arbitrariness. They rightfully wonder why folks just down the road — or in some cases immediate neighbors — have access to broadband Internet while they’re stuck with dialup or the undesirable choice of having to sign up for satellite Internet service.

It simply doesn’t make sense. It would be like those neighbors getting electric power while those who by the mere misfortune of their address must generate their own or live like the early settlers.

The reason is the county’s incumbent local exchange carrier, AT&T, relies on a less than robust technology to provide broadband to those able to receive it: Digital Subscriber Line (DSL). DSL transmits digital data over copper cables that were not designed to carry data but rather standard, plain old analog telephone service. Since copper cable — and particularly aged, pair gained cable that’s plentiful in El Dorado County — isn’t optimally designed to carry digital data, DSL data has a hard time moving over the cable. After just a few miles from the central switching office, the data stream falls apart and can’t deliver reliable broadband service.

In the telecom industry, DSL’s fragility is part of a bigger problem known as the “last mile problem.” In short, the last mile problem refers to systemic shortcomings in the nation’s telecom system. Telcos are able to build vast networks of major transmission lines and trunks, but they can’t seem to build a complete system that reaches all homes and businesses in their service areas. It’s a truly odd circumstance that begs serious analysis. Why, by comparison, is there no last mile problem in the electric power industry? Power distribution goes over high voltage transmission lines to substations and distribution systems that bring it to all consumers. One never hears of a “last mile” problem in electrical power systems despite physical parallels to wire line telecommunications systems. Why is that?


vbiker said...

As a future EDC resident (summer '06) I found your blog hitting close to home. Thank you for being an advocate for us tech junkies.

You are right in stating that DSL has many limitations. The biggest is that it can only be extended to roughly 2000 ft (yes, feet) from the at&t central office. I don't know where the CO is in Placerville or Diamond Springs, but I'm pretty sure that my house is not going to be in range. :-[

Don't hold your breath on BPL being adopted by PG&E. They won't break out of their core business. Which, IMHO is a good thing. Comcast is a joke that cares less about service than they do customers. Sat technology is getting better, but still expensive and can't deny the laws of physics. At&t will only upgrade their main transmission trunks between CO's and POPs. I haven't checked any other carrier maps for fiber, but I'll venture a guess that they are just leasing Bell's rather than incur additional construction and capital costs. (I may be wrong though)

But what about other options? T1s are expensive and residential areas rarely have enough feed pairs. I can't afford ~$650/mo let alone the $1500 install. And frac-T1s cost the same. Does Bell offer ISDN-BRI anymore? Still pricey for only 128kps. Are their any wISPs in the area? Do you know if EID has a clue that their right-of-ways is a gold mine for fiber/cable routes? If we can use Grizzly Flats quick sign-ups for service as an example, then there is a hungry market out there.

It just all comes down to $$ doesn't it? What's the cost of installing and maintaining an infrastructure for a rural area versus profit? Do you think it would be possible to do something? And be profitable? Hmmmm......that's something to ponder. It doesn't look like AB 2987 is going to offer much help.

-Future EDC Resident.

Anonymous said...

Im in the Gold Ridge Subdivision and not only can I not get DSL but I cant even get 56k dialup. My connection is 28.8 at best.

Armil@high speed internet in my area said...

It is no good to be a victim of "last mile problem". It is just unfair. That's why it is just good to have a good first before deciding to subscribe.

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