Why broadband still matters

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 10/05/2011 - 08:12

Now that the broadband stimulus money has been distributed, and the Google fiber initiative has taken root in the two Kansas Citys, a lot of communities seem to have lost interest in broadband initiatives. The cable companies have done a fairly good job of keeping up with demand, and the telephone companies continue to cling to their share of the broadband market by competing on price rather than on bandwidth.

But this apparent "Remain calm! All is well" approach is the calm before the storm. And the storm is coming to us in a huge cloud. In the past week, Amazon and Apple have rolled out new cloud-based initiatives that will stream content everywhere, all the time. If cloud storage seems like a gimmick, it is not. It is the answer to the utter uselessness of trying to keep all our media content, personal and business, on local hard drives. Music, pictures, movies, and what we used to quaintly call "TV" are driving this problem. Even though you can buy a two terabyte hard drive for $150, you can fill it faster than lickety-split with purchased video. And then you have to figure out how to back it up. Backing it up with a second drive is a good start, but suppose your house or business burns down? Both drives are gone, as is all your data.

Add to that the fact that everyone now wants everything available on every computing device they own, which typically comprises, for many people, FOUR devices: a smartphone, a laptop, a tablet, and a desktop computer. And the portable devices will never have enough storage to keep everything on the device itself. So the cloud is not a typical IT solution in search of a question. We know what the question is, and the cloud is the answer. But streaming everything to everyone all the time is going to create, over the next several years, exponential increases in demand for bandwidth. And that's when the copper-based DSL and cable modem networks will run out of steam.

Communities that have not made plans to ensure a modern fiber-based infrastructure that also supports ubiquitous wireless mobility access will be at a severe disadvantage from an economic development perspective.

Oh, and one more thing. There is another sleeper in the battle for streaming content....Rhapsody (the music service) just bought Napster to try to fight Spotify. Spotify is a streaming music service that is huge in Europe but only recently began operations in the U.S. So the music industry is still undergoing a massive reorganization that is focused on streaming any song every recorded to anyone, at any time, anywhere. And it is going to be a battle of Titans, with Apple, Amazon, Rhapsody, Spotify, and even tiny Microsoft with its Zune music service all going head to head.

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