Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Solving the last-mile problem

The last-mile problem is what all broadband providers face -- how to get high-speed Internet into people's homes. The biggest provider methods of broadband right now are Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), which travels over existing phone lines (but requires you to be within a minimum distance of the telephone company's central office); high-speed cable, which travels over existing cable tv lines (but requires you to live in an area where cable is available and the cable network has been upgraded); Direcway, which travels over satellite (but the upload transmission speeds are about the same as dial-up and the equipment is very expensive); wireless (but the networks are being built slowly and coverage can be spotty). Companies like Level 3 and Qwest laid fiber along the nation's rail lines to form the backbone of their networks, but there is a larger and more pervasive infrastructure in the U.S. that not only will support a backbone, but also solves the last mile problem. The infrastructure is the nation's power infrastructure, and according to an article in, there is now technology to provide Internet over powerlines.

The question is whether or not this technology is too late. As companies like Verizon and Nextel bring wireless broadband networks online that run at or above the speeds of cable and DSL, it's possible that it's just taken too long for Internet over power lines to come to be. The core market for broadband services is really the densely populated areas, but those areas are the source of the most competition between competing service providers, so does the cost of installing expensive equipment to provide Internet service make sense for the power companies? Only time will tell.

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