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Thomas the Tank Engine and Broadband


July 15, 2008 - 17 Comments

I was reading a Thomas the Tank Engine book to my son Jack last night and the conflict in the story arc came when a piece of hail made a crack in the track. Thomas, of course, could not continue because of the crack in the track, so he (and all the trains behind him) had to wait until the track was repaired. Thomas was a bit embarrassed that he could not complete his trip and his passengers had to unload and walk. (Don’t even get me started about the toad in the road that made the passengers unload.) Thomas thought that there was nothing he could not do, but, in the end, he learned that he is only as good as the track that he runs on. This, of course, made me think of broadband. At this point, Jack fell asleep.Why did this make me think of broadband, you say? Broadband was once famously described as a “series of tubes” that carries data to and fro. Not a dumptruck that you can just dump things on. The series of tubes analogy isn’t that far off, but, of course the size of the tubes (or track) is critical to the amount of data that the tube can carry. In the U.S., broadband was defined by the FCC as 200Kpbs (or, how this measurement was arrived at, the online equivalent of time it took to turn a page in a book), which I have lamented was woefully low and didn’t give us a true measurement in the worldwide broadband stakes. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps wrote about this as well.So, what’s my point?My point is that the FCC has now redefined broadband. See the FCC site here (look in “headlines” on June 12, 2008).Here’s the nut of it in the Report and Order:

B. New Broadband Connection Speed Categories19. Form 477 currently gathers information within”speed tiers” in which providers categorize the maximum speeds of connections offered to customers. The lowest of these tiers includes connections with information transfer rates that exceed 200 kbps in both directions and are less than 2.5 mbps in the faster direction. The next tier includes connections with information transfer rates that exceed 200 kbps in both directions and are greater than or equal to 2.5 mbps and less than 10.0 mbps in the faster direction. In the Data Gathering Notice, we sought comment on modifying these tiers, offering as one possible approach the creation of a new, separate tier that includes those connections with information transfer rates greater than 200 kbps and less than 1.0 mbps. As many commenters noted, the range of information transfer capacities included in the current lowest tier of 200 kbps to 2.5 mbps captures a wide variety of services, ranging from services capable of transmitting real time video to simple always-on connections not suitable for more than basic email or web browsing activities. We find that requiring providers to report data in more detailed speed tiers will better identify services that support advanced applications, creating distinctions that reflect different capacities for transmitting high quality video and similar high bandwidth communications. We also find that, as technologies and services evolve, upload speeds are an increasingly significant aspect of broadband services, and increased granularity in reporting both download and upload speed data will assist us in understanding the broadband services market.”

Drew Clark does a much better job of describing the broadband breakdown in this post.So, while the 200Kpbs measurement still plays a role in the measurement of broadband from the FCC’s historical measurement perspective, they have now evolved the measurement to recognize that that need to repair their “crack in the track,” if you will, and measure what is really broadband, which, at minimum starts in Mbps. So, next step is, of course, measuring the “series of tubes” in terms of 100Mbps to the home.



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17 Comments

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  6. I guess what with fibre optic lines now replacing broadband copper, they will now be the equivalent of the 'Bullet Train' line.

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  11. Hopefully there will be a FilmFour announcement soon (or apparently the Freeview website is being done over) so it will go at some point.

  12. Such a great book for children, i never note what you say up ! thanks for sharing your lecture ! i will be more interestd in what i read to my daughter next time !

  13. I agree the analogy is very interesting. Can anyone think of a better one?

  14. Actually those numbers are higher anyways for me. I just have 150 mbps and I think it should be higher. lol. :(

  15. I can't help imagining Ringo saying Thomas the 'sodding' Tank Engine"" when I say the thread title. Hopefully there will be a FilmFour announcement soon (or apparently the Freeview website is being done over) so it will go at some point."

  16. Using Thomas the Tank is an interesting analogy to say the least ;)

  17. John, I posted about your comment on our orginal story.Also wanted to make sure you saw this extensive piece about why carriers should help support the Broadband Census."