The conversations I've had, along with my partners in the project (Eric Lampland of Lookout Point Communications, Todd Kielkopf of Kielkopf Advisory Services, and Ken Demlow of NewCom Technologies) have been eye-opening on a number of fronts. So I've decided to share some of what we are hearing from folks about what's bothering them about their current broadband services. This entry is about reliability.
During presentations at these community meetings and individual discussions, one of the points that gets people's heads nodding is that good broadband needs to be reliable. After all, the fastest internet service, the most robust cable service, or the best telephone service means nothing if service is out. As I've pointed out numerous times, the consumer has become so reliant on these services, particularly internet, that any outage becomes a significant disruption. And it seems that, at least in these three cities, service outages are a problem.
One of the real advantages of all-fiber networks such as the ones these towns are considering is reliability. It's simply a matter of physics. A typical cable network has a LOT of active electronics between the customer and the cable office. Active electronics are devices that require power to operate and includes amplifiers, line extenders, fiber nodes, etc. They are complicated, and complexity introduces the chance for problems. Add in the fact that some of these networks are decades old and in some cases in need of significant repair, and you have inevitable service interruptions. Something as simple as a loose connector can cause service to degrade or go out. Sometimes those interruptions affect one or two customers. Other times half a town or more could go down due to some equipment or cable failure somewhere in the system.
Fiber to the home networks, by contrast, are much less complex. All of the devices between the broadband office (also called a headend or central office) are passive, meaning they do not require electrical power. Basically it's fiber optics that carry light generated on one end by a laser and received on the other end. There may or may not be passive devices like splitters in between (depending on how the network is designed), but many fewer opportunities for failure. Yes, an overzealous post hole digger can still take out a fiber just as easily as they can a copper cable (please use OneCall!!!!), but things like lightning and power outages are much less likely to cause disruption.
Regardless of the technology the broadband provider uses and how well maintained and operated the network is, bad things can still happen (above mentioned post hole digger, weather, etc.). What often separates excellence from mediocrity in broadband services is response time. And that's the subject for my next blog post.