The FCC Needs to Set Its Sights Higher.. Much Higher

I’m a fan of the concept behind the FCC’s National Broadband Policy.  I’ve been of the position for a long time that the internet is a stable utility and like phone, electricity and water, it should be available to everyone. So there is no question we need to roll out broadband internet to everyone.

The question I have is why 100mbs ?

While 100mbs is much faster than most people have available to them we know 3 absolutes when it comes to internet speed:

1. The true speed is only as fast as the weakest link between you and the destination site.

2. Pretty much everyone shares their internet connection at some level, so your throughput /speed is also impacted by other people who are sharing the onramp you are using to the net.

3. The more bandwidth you have available to you, the more ways you will find to use that  bandwidth, Which means that at some point between now and not too soon after you get your 100mbs, its not going to seem like much.

Just ask all those people using all that bandwidth in all those other countries that we are comparing ourselves to. Japan, Korea, pick a country, all get more bandwidth for less money. Are they all screaming for joy about their good fortune ?

Of course like everything else, from chips to beer, if everyone else has more of what we want  at a cheaper price, we want more of it at a cheaper price too. Right ? Of course right.

BUT, and here is the rub. Is there anything that has come of all that bandwidth that we envy and wish we had ? We hear about speeds and pricing from other countries, but I haven’t heard of applications coming out of those countries.  In a recent NYTimes Op-Ed a Harvard Law School Prof argued his reasons why other countries broadband speeds were faster and cheaper,but he never mentioned a single example of any benefits derived from faster and cheaper bandwidth. Should the FCC aspire to make sure we can all get to faster than before ?

Of course we would all like more for less, but the FCC is talking about spending BAZILLIONS of dollars over the next 10 years. The question I have is WHERE DOES IT GET US ?

Are we building 2 lane highways when we can expect that 2 lanes wont be enough for the things we really want to do ?

As I wrote in my last blog post, I truly believe that with more bandwidth and more specifically more throughput comes unique and amazing applications. But we already know that 100mbs is not enough to do amazing.

We already know that people are planning to pollute the bandwidth with TV and TV like video. More Gilligan’s Island Reruns and The Benefactor on demand or maybe in a fulltime streaming loop..Maybe up-ressed to Ultra High Def 3D. All you need is 100mbs of throughput and special glasses to get it. Now that would make the FCC Broadband money well spent, wouldn’t it ?

There are already plenty of people (I know you hate the fact that its not you) in corporations and educational institutions that have 100mbs of throughput available to them. Have you heard of all the amazing developments coming from that bandwidth ? Neither have I.

There are some cool things happening with Internet 2, but its going to take more than 100mbs to get them. Which is exactly why the FCC plan has destinations that will get 1gbs of bandwidth. In other words, they will be able to talk to each other, but not share those same apps with you.

The point is that there is some amount of bandwidth/throughput to your home,  that when available will open up a new world of applications. Remember, when we went from modems to broadband we didn’t see new applications as a result. We saw better use of the same applications from the incremental speed. We need to find out where the new applications come from.

Before we peg 100mbs as the speed to which all bandwidth providers should aspire, we need to find the water mark at which bandwidth creates new applications and we need to see some of them.

So maybe before we start digging more trenches and upgrading equipment the FCC should focus on applications and providing some funding, or holding an open forum for high bit rate applications. Once we have some application to learn from, the people building the networks can better design them.

The last thing we need is for 2020 to roll around and the national discussion to be “Who’s bright idea was it to build out to only 100mbs and leave 40pct of America unable to use these new DNA sequencing application that can readily save lives, and forget about point to point XRays and Virtual Education. To name a few.

There is a way to get beyond 100mbs. I will wait till I talk to the FCC to share my thoughts. This is one I want to keep.

28 thoughts on “The FCC Needs to Set Its Sights Higher.. Much Higher

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  3. Since when was waiting for the killer app the reason technology gets upgraded and improved. It’s a flawed way of trying to determine how much or when to spend capital. You innovate and improve technology because it adds incrementally more value to things that exist.(speed, time, power) Hopefully in the process new applications that utlize the new capabilities are developed

    I agree setting ANY standard and saying “that’s enough” is not a good way of doing it. It’s never going to be enough and that’s kind of the point. At least for now the 100MBps gives most people the impression that the country is woefully underdeveloped.

    The part of your argument where you dismiss the use of bandwidth for video… I’m not sure how that isnt an important capability imnprovement. Certainly tons of money has been spent improving traditional cable TV infrastructure for channels, better channels. Why not improve bandwidth so that those consumers who do not want to rely on cable TV for video benefit in the same way.
    The media industry is an enormous part of our economy. Heck it might be one of the few industries this country still dominates. There are tons of industries that have benefited from spending on things that we would at one time another call giant wastes of time. The entire GPU market was developed almost solely to serve people playing video games.

    Comment by boundariesofimagination -

  4. Mark,

    I agree with your opine — we need more than 100mbs.

    Billionare Entrepreneur and 4K Originator, Jim Jannard champions 4K — Jim talks 4K on his RED forum

    Therefore, as time unfolds we will watch 4K content from 4KNET 🙂 on our 75 inch 4K Televisions — some of this 4K content will be pushed from the web.

    Sony,Christie,Barco,Meridian,JVC,Epson have 4K projectors all they need is a system to deliver 4K content to future 4K Televisions.

    Comment by 4ktelevision -

  5. Again I must disagree. Many inventions from the past came about not because people were seeking to create or discover something, they just happened to do it “accidentally”. Perhaps just having the bandwidth there will increase the speed of app development.

    Let’s frame the argument this way:

    (1)The objective here is to have these awesome Internet 2.0 applications and have them available to the average user to transform the Internet into even more of an awesome tool.

    (2)Necessarily these awesome apps will require 100+ MB of bandwidth, and therefore the users must have this available.

    Your conclusion is that because (1) hasn’t been developed yet, we should wait to develop (2).

    My rebuttal is that simply because the apps aren’t there yet doesn’t mean we shouldn’t roll out the fiber. Simply having the bandwidth may speed up the Killer-App development process. And if it’s going to eventually be rolled out anyways, why not do it now?

    Comment by loucons -

  6. I wouldn’t have thought of this myself, but it makes sense. You don’t build a house without first coming up with a plan and then lining up the materials (also happens to be a Bible verse). Why not hit the pause button, brainstorm, and then decide what the bandwidth goal should be. Makes sense to me.

    Comment by josephwesley -

  7. Hey Mark, thanks for keeping this blog. It’s always interesting to read and consider your contrary views. I agree with your contention that we need to set our sights higher than 100mbps.

    That said, I disagree with your adamant opposition to “polluting” the internet with TV-like video. This TV-like video is what is driving demand for the increased bandwidth and financing the rollout. As Reed Hastings of Netflix has stated, Netflix’s streaming service is “a killer app for broadband data.” According to Hastings, the main reason customers upgrade to faster internet service isn’t because of email or basic web surfing—it’s because of bandwidth-demanding video streaming such as Netflix’s service.

    As you have lamented, there has been no socially invaluable killer app to come out of broadband. I think it’s safe to say you expect one to arise at some point. My question is what would the state of broadband be if not for this demand for video over ip? I’m guessing consumers wouldn’t be willing to shell out so much money to bankroll the infrastructure in the absence of such a “big broadband application”– if it didn’t provide them with video, gaming, etc.

    So assuming one day we’ll find your “next and 1st big broadband application,” which could be an affordable extension of quality education, telemedicine, telecommuting, fighting wars via UAV drones, smart energy, etc…it will have been the kids’ demand for high-definition TMZ and willingness to pay $100/month that will have subsidized the broadband that enabled these apps.

    I agree that effectively moving cable television to a switched IPTV standard would be an inefficient means of transmission and a bandwidth hog. I’m okay with the idea that this inefficient use of bandwidth would unnecessarily drive private investment in expanding capacity. Anything that drives investment in the network and increases bandwidth, speed and accessibility is okay with me. I’m more than happy to have teens and their parents subsidize the foundation for distance learning, working, etc.

    At some point, the technology base of the video distribution will improve (perhaps through improved processing power, p2p technology and more efficient codecs like h.265) and the bandwidth demand will drop and we’ll hopefully be left with a sufficient broadband infrastructure for more socially valuable applications.

    I’d note that cable providers, most of whom are still delivering their content via mpeg2, are hardly efficient users of bandwidth themselves.

    Comment by dcalifornian -

  8. All of the cable companies are in such shambles because of the monopolies they’ve owned for so many years in their regions. Which leads to lack of innovation, stupid expenditures and wastes of money, and lower quality for the consumer.

    It’s gonna take a company like Google to whip out their 1gb service to spark some real innovation in the other cable companies.

    Comment by pickingpros -

  9. Mark, you always write like bandwidth is static. But it’s dynamic, and it could change. Bandwidth might be delivered in some completely different way in 10 years.

    Comment by Dingo's Football -

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    Comment by harrisaga -

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  13. Specifying a single downstream rate isn’t enough to support new applications. In addition to copious downstream bandwidth new applications will likely need

    1) high upstream bandwidth so that users may create as well as consume.

    2) quality of service and latency guarantees to support human-to-human interactive and communications apps.

    3) publicly routable IP addresses so that people may reach new apps in their homes from anywhere.

    Comment by bikerglen -

  14. Google owns the internet… if I’d have to guess at somebody that will do amazing things it would be them. They have the brainpower and the means to create and do amazing things on the internet. I’m not so sure about the FCC mandating things… it always seems suspicious to me.

    Comment by jamakmfg -

  15. The idea of pushing toward “amazing applications” seems to be behind Google’s recent move to create ultra-high speed internet in some communities. It may be a good preview of what is possible with such speeds.

    Maybe I’m stating the obvious but that’s only because Google wants to be the engine that runs all of it.

    Comment by satyricon1969 -

  16. “DNA sequencing application that can readily save lives, and forget about point to point XRays and Virtual Education. To name a few.”

    – The feds should open up competition to integrate a user accessible med records app for trial in major areas.

    Comment by satyricon1969 -

  17. All good points – extension plans need to based on need for rural economic growth – the labor is localized and so is the cash flow. Yes, 1GB speeds if not faster need to be norm – but graduate this service into major metro areas LA, NYC, CHICAGO. Maybe they should make federal support contingent with speed development to spur competition and drive prices down.

    Comment by satyricon1969 -

  18. Mark,

    So it’s right that we’re overcharged until the developers and engineers can design amazing new applications theoretically without actually having the benefit of access to the faster speeds?

    Come on Mark, “If you build it they will come,” wasn’t just a line from a Kevin Costner movie.

    Comment by sudojudo -

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  20. Question:
    “Who’s bright idea was it to build out to only 100mbs and leave 40pct of America unable to use these new DNA sequencing application that can readily save lives, and forget about point to point XRays and Virtual Education?”

    You could insert any number in place of ‘100mbps’ and the concept would be the same. The real question is “Who the hell is this person who thinks they know what is best for the marketplace?”

    Any legislation will force somebody to come up with an idea that they hope is right.

    Then it never is. And then there are new constraints and obstacles to the market getting what it wants because the law already made the decision for them of what they will get.

    Mark, come on, man… you are smart, what is it about free markets that fall short in your vision of the future?

    Comment by Jeff Nabers -

  21. It’s not fair to say that there are no great applications with high bandwidth because we don’t see any on Internet 2. First off, lots of mental energy went into file sharing and social networking on Internet 2. Secondly, the value of a network is the number of users squared. One hundred thousand college students having a 100mbs network between each other is a lot different than 125 million homes and businesses being connected at that speed. Consider if the entire US was on dialup and colleges were the only ones with fast networks. Would there be youtube? iTunes? MMORPG’s? Cloud anything? The scale is not great enough. Tons of Internet companies went under in 2000 because major markets like NYC did not have broadband available at any price for households. It would be 3-5 more years before everyone had it.

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  24. The idea of pushing toward “amazing applications” seems to be behind Google’s recent move to create ultra-high speed internet in some communities. It may be a good preview of what is possible with such speeds.

    Comment by Joshua -

  25. c’mon mark, you are a smart business person who makes investments. would you honestly make an investment in the federal government now? with their track record? lol, no way! they are already quoting a price of 350 billion USD — that is just the quoted price, it is going to cost more if they do push it through, it always does. the feds are also too corrupt and incompetent to execute any plan they mention. how many times are the american people going to trust their government? how many times do we need to get burned before we realize we can’t trust a word they tell us??? and even if they could actually execute their plan, why should i pay for it? i don’t mind you paying for it. i don’t want to pay for it. i’m getting robbed enough as is. i don’t have enough US dollars and the purchasing power of those dollars has dropped over the past ten years. this trend shows no real signs of stopping.

    of course, the responsible thing to do would be to cut the war budget and use those proceeds to build out this thing. it starts with 9/11 truth. that’s also how we clean up government.

    Comment by kidmercury -

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  27. Mark,
    you make some very well thought out points but perhaps you’re putting the cart before the horse? While higher speeds are clearly attainable, shouldn’t the people who are developing apps be the only argument needed? What I mean is, If you go into the bank and ask for money for a business with no business plan they will give you a lollipop and tell you to go F yourself. If you go into the bank with a well thought out plan of attack they will most likely provide you with your funds. Why doesn’t the interweb work this way. Your average user does Not need 100mb speed, but will be happy just to have it (the proverbial Lollipop) but if you are developing applications that require a higher speed than perhaps priority should be given to those. Equality is great but my grandmother and my business partner deserve different speeds of internet. Let the FCC give to some first based upon their ideas, then worry about the rest of us later.


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