Southern Berkshire Technology Committee

Broadband for all the Berkshires

Why Fiber is Better Than DSL.

By rohaver • Nov 26th, 2008 • Category: In the Media, The future of Broadband

"Broadband won’t help SBTC’s Area" Berkshire Eagle 09/07/08

by Charles Flynn, Chairman, South Berkshire Technology Committee

I am writing this letter on behalf of the Southern Berkshire Technology Committee (SBTC) and the eleven member towns of Southern Berkshire we represent. We are a community-led organization in which residents, with the official endorsement of the town Select Boards, have joined forces to work toward a common goal: To expedite the expansion of modern broadband infrastructure and services to the rural communities of our region, as soon as possible. The SBTC is comprised of representatives from the broadband committees that were formed in towns across our region to address the discrimination against rural communities with regard to high-speed Internet access. Towns currently represented include Great Barrington, Alford, Egremont, Monterey, Mt. Washington, New Marlborough, Otis, Sandisfield, Sheffield, Tyringham, and Becket. The members of our committee represent a cross-section of our communities: technology experts, professionals, educators, small business owners, parents, Chamber of Commerce representatives, seniors, and concerned citizens.

We are responding to the August 27th letter from Mr. Phil Santoro, from Verizon, as well as the August 29th article, “Verizon Boosts Rural Broadband Access.” We believe the letter and article are misleading in terms of Verizon’s contributions to rural broadband access in Berkshire County and how this current initiative by them will only serve to exacerbate the inequities between Eastern and Western Massachusetts. My questions on this service are: 1. For each of the communities Verizon says it will be serving, a) What percentage of the community will be served; and b) How far from the center of town will this service extend?

Over the past five years a number of rural Berkshire communities have requested DSL service from Verizon with no response. Last fall legislation was introduced by Governor Patrick in the form of a broadband bill that would leverage public funding with public-private partnerships to support the build out of a modern broadband infrastructure for un-served and underserved rural areas. At the prospective bill’s standing-room-only, five-hour hearing last February, it became clear the legislation had widespread support and would pass – which it did recently, with an additional $15 M added, bringing the total public funding to $40 million.

However, the state made it clear this bill would only invest in future-proof broadband technology, which does not include DSL. Only a couple of weeks after the hearing, Verizon announced that they would be expanding their DSL coverage in 23 communities in Berkshire County. It is extremely important to note that Verizon is replacing DSL in urban areas with a fiber-based network called FIOS, while expanding DSL in rural Western Massachusetts.

Several years ago the town of Egremont, in collaboration with Berkshire Connect was the recipient of a grant to study infrastructure to determine the best means to bring broadband to rural communities in our region. An exhaustive study and analysis by experts contracted by the Berkshire and Pioneer Valley Connects, determined the best solution would be a hybrid infrastructure composed of fiber, copper, and wireless.

But why should people care about speeds faster than DSL? Voice and bandwidth-intensive applications such as streaming and interactive video, educational applications, peer-to-peer file transfer, music and video downloads and file sharing are redefining the Internet. Additionally, wireless devices such as cell phones, Blackberrys and gaming accessories provide consumers ever-increasing access to the Internet, exponentially accelerating consumption of Internet bandwidth. Bandwidth capacity is the critical factor that will affect usage of the Internet in the years to come.

If that’s not enough, take a look at what the rest of the world is doing. Fiber networks are replacing copper-based networks globally and throughout heavily populated parts of the U.S. In rural areas where the phone and cable companies don’t deem it profitable enough to invest in fiber infrastructure, communities are taking the development of fiber networks into their own hands, and governments are subsidizing and otherwise enabling them. In Canada, for example, the phone company must allow competitors (and even some customers) to install fiber on its poles or rights of way. According to David Isenberg, of Fortune magazine, “Such places have determined that plentiful bandwidth is as critical to their economy as running water, sewers, roads, and electricity.” We need to be thinking this way here in Berkshire County.

A great example closer to home was the reaction of technology-savvy residents of New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine to the proposed sale of Verizon’s 1.3 million landlines in their states to FairPoint Communications. One of the conditions of the sale was that FairPoint promised to invest $40 million to expand DSL service in those states. Residents’ greatest concern was that this would make it extremely unlikely there would be any building in rural New England of fiber optic networks. The Boston-based “Phoenix” newspaper published a thorough examination of the transaction, stating,
“The trouble with this debate is that DSL is the wrong topic. We should be talking about fiber-optic technology, which transfers data over laser beams through glass wires. Because fiber-optic lines are capable of handling telephone, Internet, television, and other communications of the future, fiber optics is widely accepted as the immediate future of high-speed Internet connections…Whether the $2.7-billion Verizon-FairPoint deal goes through or not, the problem is that our state officials haven’t noticed that DSL is the wave of the past.”

In the wake of the sale announcement, widespread opposition was voiced, and many regions banded together to develop their own fiber-based networks. Clearly Fairpoint got the message. On July 28th, they announced they were building a fiber-based core network across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont that would include a $56 million investment in fiber-based broadband infrastructure in New Hampshire alone.

A fiber-based infrastructure is infinitely faster, scalable, requires less energy for operation, and is more secure and reliable than DSL. But more importantly, it allows our businesses, students and citizens to operate on a level playing field with the rest of the world – now, AND in the future.

We are asking citizens and the media to join us in advocating for future-proof technology here in the Berkshires – and not to settle for Verizon’s second hand scraps.

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