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The State Of Broadband

We all remember the bad old days of having to load data into removable media in order to send it off to the data center. After all, it would have taken days to transmit the necessary data over slow telecom links.

Problem is, the bad old days aren't over. Instead of shipping tapes to data centers, organizations now regularly ship entire hard drives to cloud providers. Despite tremendous advances in line speeds, it still can take a week or more to transmit very large data sets, even if your line speed is 10 Mbps. Of course, companies don't regularly need to transfer terabytes of data over the internet, but the current level of sneakernet that's necessary for the transfer of even a few hundred gigabytes seems a bit high for the 21st century.

The state of broadband matters to your organization. There's been considerable consumer interest over the past several years, culminating in an FCC plan announced earlier this year to expand broadband coverage and speeds and promote competition. IT organizations can benefit by staying in touch with those regulatory issues, as well as taking advantage of new technology trends, such as wireless broadband, and partnering with alternative providers and municipal networks that buck the status quo. There are clearly risks in doing so, but taking no action almost guarantees that enterprise IT, with pockets of presence in rural and other nonurban areas, will continue to be held back by low-capacity, high-expense networks.

There are many reasons why the state of consumer broadband should matter to enterprise customers:

>> Companies need better broadband into their offices, factories, and warehouses, but they should also worry about the quality and cost of broadband that consumers get, for several reasons. First, their employees are using it, either as true telecommuters or for that bit-of-work-in-the-evening, especially across time zones. Second, excellent consumer broadband will change how your company can interact with its customers and the services it can offer them. For example, telemedicine is a big potential application; a few insurance companies are starting to reimburse for online "house calls," but spotty video connections won't allay patient fears that they're getting second-class care.

chart:  How G7 countries stack up based on percentage of population with broadband access

>> Besides telemedicine, applications like video streaming, off-site backup, videoconferencing, and remote education will greatly expand bandwidth needs--not only at corporations, but also for the small office and home office (SOHO) market.

>> IT has a vested interest in how much connectivity costs, and the level of competition depends significantly on how broadband regulations play out.

>> While the consumer model creates more competition and lower pricing, it doesn't come with the assurances of a service-level agreement that companies need. Enterprises that dabble with SOHO lines should be paying attention to the current brouhaha over whether carriers can prioritize traffic according to their own management policies, including which customers pay the most. As we write this, the FCC is trying to reassert its authority to regulate whether a carrier can prioritize traffic. The results will be important to enterprise customers. Keeping an eye on how providers are allowed to apply usage caps will be important, too.

>> The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's BTOP (Broadband Technology Opportunity Program) and BIP (Broadband Initiatives Program) matter to large enterprise in ways that you wouldn't consider. Read on.

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