I've noticed that motorists in Mariposa -- and I'm speaking here of locals, rather than the tourists, (who mostly seem to know better) -- have an inexplicable habit of driving the winding country roads that we enjoy in such profusion with two wheels over the center line, in seeming defiance of the principle that two physical objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. It scares me -- and I'm fearless.
Lately SierraTel, our local iLEC, has been making that situation even worse than normal on Indian Peak Road. SierraTel, you see, is in the process of extending its local fiber optic ring further toward yours truly and the countour of the land has forced them to do their trenching in the roadbed itself.
I can't say I'm wild about the upgrade's effects on traffic safety, but I enthusiastically approve of SierraTel's plans to improve local telecom service hereabouts.
It's not just the personal prospect of getting to rip out this coal-fired ISDN line and replace it with DSL, either. You see, I think SierraTel's strategy makes good business sense in general.
I only wish the big guys understood that, too, because our industry would be a whole lot healthier, financially, if they did.
Through a Glass, Darkly
In press and stock analyst circles, there's been a whole lot of beardmuttering about "dark fiber" in the past few months. In case you haven't been paying attention to the jargon, they're talking about fiber that's just taking up conduit space -- glass that doesn't carry any traffic.
As it turns out, the backbone boys have built so many high-volume long-haul runs that a substantial percentage of their capacity is simply going begging. There isn't enough traffic to justify lighting it up, because the equipment that's required runs four or five times as much as it cost just to stick the glass in the ground.
It's going to be a long, long time before that expense is justifiable, particularly in view of the fact that carrier prices are plunging like an Osprey-load of leathernecks -- and taking those carriers' profits along with 'em.
That's the bad news. The really bad news is that, according to a study by Lucent scientists published in the Thursday, June 28, 2001, British edition of Nature, the theoretical upper bandwidth limit of one standard glass fiber -- using wavelength division multiplexing -- is in the neighborhood of 100 terabits/second.
And, yes, that's ten times the capacity we're getting out of those same fiber strands today.
Meanwhile, the Net often seems to end users -- your customers, that is -- as though it's built out of tar paper and supercooled molasses.
That's due to what you might call the Public School Principle: a class can only move at the speed of its slowest member. And, while your users with dial-up modems are the ones who ride the short bus to the Net, since no more than 8% of the domestic Internet population enjoys broadband access, the problem of tiny pipes is ubiquitous at the edge of the network.
Raise Your Glass to the Hard Working People
The dearth of demand for new fiber and the gear that connects it, the oversupply of existing long-haul fiber and the slug-like access speeds that 92% of U.S. Internet users endure have a common solution: the glass needs to go all the way to the customers' premises. All the way to all of the customers' premises.
Consumers get broadband. All of 'em. The big fiber firms get to stay solvent. The LECs get to sell broadband services without the need to strongarm Congress into letting them play in the long-distance market -- and they get rural subsidy money to do it. And that dark fiber that's already in the ground lights up to carry all the new peer-to-peer rich media traffic.
It gets even better. According to a Brookings Institute study conducted by economist Robert Crandall and engineering consultant Charles Jackson, if broadband service was universally available, it could pump up the U.S. economy by as much as $500 billion dollars. A year.
Did I mention everybody wins?
That's why I'm happy to see those big spools of orange cable along Indian Peak Road. And it's why I cheerfully forgive SierraTel the temporary inconvenience of their trenching operation.
Because they get it.
Now, if only my fellow Mariposans would cotton on to the notion that they're supposed to stay all the way to the right of the center line, I'd be one happy fella.
(Copyright© 2001 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)