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The Tale of the Tube

As high-speed Internet connections reach into more and more American homes, so too does the promise that telephone companies could use them to deliver television content. The problem is, if they did so today your bill could be more than your car payment. A lot more.

That's the way Hank Kafka, BellSouth Corp.'s chief architect, figures it, because of the huge amount of bandwidth required if Americans were to watch video-on-demand and other high-definition TV programming over the Internet the same way we watch the tube now, which is an average of eight hours a day, often from more than one set in the house.

Kafka took some generally accepted cost estimates for today's Internet -- that the average user downloads about 2 GBs of data every month, which costs service providers about $1 -- and made some extrapolations. If a subscriber were to watch five standard definition movies per month, about 9 GBs of data, that would cost about $4.50. But if all TV viewing were in standard definition, the price tag jumps to $112 for 224 GBs. And if all viewing were high definition -- carried at 24 megabits per second -- the quantity reaches 1,120 GBs per month and the bill totals a whopping $560.

But Kafka, who first announced his estimates at a recent telecom industry trade conference, doesn't expect anyone to pay those kinds of prices. He just wants to make a point.

"If this kind of traffic develops and we just follow the same Internet model we have now, then the Internet is going to be a mess. We need to find other ways to address it," he says. "What you want is massive amounts of cheaper bandwidth."

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