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Faster Broadband! Thrill! Thrill!

The curve of acceleration for faster residential broadband seems to be kicking in at long last, but coverage lags and costs are still high.
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We in the U.S., and particularly me in Seattle, Wash., suffer from the heartbreak of slow-broadband-paralysis. A large percentage of U.S. residents can't obtain speeds that are typical in Japan, South Korea, and some countries in Europe. You can easily buy 100 Mbps connections in Japan at an affordable price, and 8 Mbps ADSL is quite typical and cheap in the UK - it's thrown in as an extra for satellite TV and mobile phone service, for crying out loud. (BT is about to offer a 24 Mbps DSL flavor, ADSL+, to about a million homes this year and 10 million next.)

But broadband speeds and availability are finally starting to accelerate. AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and others are rolling out 10 to 50 Mbps service across the country using fiber to the node and faster cable standards. Coverage areas for those services are increasing, even while rates below 10 Mbps become more widely available and faster, too.

In my home city, a territory controlled by Qwest, we're finally seeing DSL rates that match or exceed cable service. Qwest has a 14-state region dominated by rural areas, and the company has been in turmoil for several years following allegations about stock sales and financial results.

Qwest is now rolling out in 23 of its markets 12 Mbps and 20 Mbps DSL. They're the last major ILEC (incumbent local exchange carrier, formerly known as Baby Bells before mergers) to create a real plan for true high-speed broadband. Qwest charges $105 per month for 20 Mpbs service and $52 per month for 12 Mbps. A bundling discount of $5 per month applies. Upstream speeds don't seem to be disclosed on Qwest's site or in reporting on the matter.

Qwest isn't offering IPTV--just plain, fast broadband. This puts them in less conflict with customers who want to choose their own content, too.

Of course, neither my work nor home address qualifies yet for this faster service, which uses fiber to the node (an interchange point) rather than fiber to the home, which costs vastly more. DSL is used over the short interchange-to-customer premises link.

Our other incumbent, Comcast, has deployed its first 50 Mbps downstream/5 Mbps upstream service in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, charging $150 per month for residential service. They plan to cover 20 percent of their territory by the end of this year. Comcast also said they'll have 100 Mbps service within two years and 160 Mbps service after that point.

None of this puts us rapidly in the same category as admittedly countries with smaller area and even more population in the densest portions. But it's nice to finally see a bit of motion. The next step is dramatically lower prices. I'm not holding my breath until competition heats up, probably as wireless broadband starts to hit in 2009 and 2010, which could push costs down for sub-10 Mbps service, forcing wireline providers to increase speeds and lower prices.

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