Silicon Valley’s shameful secret: lousy broadband

Robert Berger has finally revealed the dirty little secret of the world’s supposedly most innovative tech community, Silicon Valley. Robert lives in Saratoga, which is home to a lot of entrepreneurs, and says that there is no broadband. None. His startup’s office is in Mountain View, home to companies such as Google and the only “high speed” service they could get is 1.5Mbps down / 512Kbps up ADSL.

Robert says it’s time for re-divestiture: the physical plant (fiber, rights of way, conduits, utility poles) are community owned. I agree with him. I posted an Open Letter to President-Elect Obama urging the government to open the incumbents’ networks to all competitors, forcing the incumbents to separate their service and network businesses, and building fiber networks that are owned by the city, county or state (open to all service providers).

Read Robert Berger’s post on the US national broadband shame (it shows the top 10 broadband countries – guess which one isn’t on the list?).

The US government’s policy on broadband, which is to leave it to the “free” market, on the belief that the “free”market will sort things out and bring us true competition (lower rates, higher bandwidth), has utterly failed, just like its unfettered belief that light regulation of banks and hedge funds will make the financial markets stronger.

Related news:

French operators agree to share fiber local loop

Orange and SFR agree to share fiber access in buildings, Iliad-Free cries foul

European Commission launches public consultation on fiber networks

Progress in reform of EU telecoms regulations


  1. I think Silicon Valley bandwidth depends a lot on where you live. Here in sunny San Mateo the cable broadband is smokin’ — 16 Mbps and sometimes more — and AT&T U-verse trucks are on every street corner working on the neighborhood boxes. Astound (the old RCR) is also littering the neighborhood with leaflets about their cable overbuild service.

    That said, open infrastructure is still a good idea — though I think it’s OK if the incumbents get some of the government handout dough (mainly because it means that maybe some of those 12,000 AT&T employees get their jobs back); just add a condition that says they need to build *two* pipes — one for themselves, one for open interconnect — whenever they use govmn’t funding. Then let the competition begin.

  2. Its true that there are some spots that have cable broadband and U-Verse DSL which can hit some good peaks if the monopolists don’t decide to rate limit them. They are already making technology decisions (like the ATT U-Verse and the PON Fiber of Verizon) that are more about limiting competition rather than providing the most cost effective highest bandwidths.

    “Modern Day” Telcos and Cablecos are all about creating artificial scarcity and “billing events”. When there is no competition and no regulation, the mature capitalist will do everything possible to maximize profits at the cost of their “customers”. See Wall Street for another example.

    So the Telcos should not get any handouts. They should be divested of the physical plant / last mile chokepoint that was already paid for by the ratepayers.

  3. Oh, and there is a U-Verse Vrad box connected to the one wire distribution box that feeds my neighborhood. But I am still about 12,000 feet from the puny 3000 feet range of the Vrad.

    It seems that if they weren’t so hung up about making DSL a TV distribution system, they could have put data dslams in there that can do 18,000 feet. Or they should invest in more Vrads for my neighborhood.

  4. My company imports 1.25Gbps, full-duplex, point-to-point radio links from Russia, and we have other competitors in the 71-86GHz band, as well. Our product (not necessarily the competition’s) is transparent to any protocol, and still provides a robust data link up to 3 miles during an average rainfall. Its data capacity is scalable up to 10Gbps, depending on how many radios you want to co-locate at each end. I have often thought that this technology would be a quick and easy way for broadband providers to extend their service beyond the reach of the wired data infrastructure, but they have shown no interest in this concept.

  5. 18,000 feet is about the maximum reach of a DSLAM. Signal attenuation at that distance would be too great to run all the bells and whistles like phone and TV. It seems that AT&T’s strategy is to bring the DSLAM closer to you (VRAD). Verizon figures, why bother, just bring the fiber pair out to the customer (FiOS).

    The true range of the VRAD is 18,000 feet. Anything beyond 3,000 ft would be less than optimal for additional Uverse services they want you to buy into.

    Most people have been duped into paying for bandwidth they don’t use. I don’t use IPTV or Phone. I think most people like me would be wise to step down a tier or two. 16Mbps is excessive for a home with 1 or 2 computers. An analysis of home network utilization would be an interesting study.

  6. A business, home or otherwise, should get as much bandwidth as they need. It really is a shame that a shop in Silicon Valley can’t get more than 1.5/512.

  7. I just moved back after spending 2 wonderful years in Idaho (yuk yuk yuk).

    One of the bright spots up there was the fact that I could get a 10mbps link for $35/month.

    The ISP had the following tiered levels for stand alone internet service (they had other package deals for VoIP, etc.):
    10MB $34.95
    14MB $44.95
    17MB $54.95
    30MB $104.99

    I figured that the speeds in the Valley must have improved during the 2.5 years I spent there but, alas, I have a 6mpbs Direct DSL line from AT&T that’s costing me $45/month plus the initial equipment cost for the modem.

    I can’t believe that a backwards-ass place like Idaho has faster, cheaper internet than the Valley….

    Very disappointing!!!

  8. Oh great, so once again we raise the bar to redefine broadband poverty line. Sorry, but 1.5M *IS* broadband, and I have yet to figure out what why anyone “needs” more than 128K.

    No one “needs” voip services.

    That said, I agree with Berger, the last-mile should be divested from the phone companies and held as a cooperative for public benefit. But it should not be government-owned or operated.

  9. Of course you could get high speed Internet – T1’s through DS-3’s all available pretty much anywhere there is twisted pair. I’ve put T1’s in places where there are mostly cows and goats. You could also get PtP wireless and a lot of other services if you knew where to look. Instead you are looking to get commercial speed services over a “residential class” networks.
    Until the population density or demand for these service increases, I’m afraid you are stuck with your “puny” 1.5 Mbps.
    Gimme a break – this post is a joke. People are starving in Africa and they can’t keep the lights on in India – and you are crying over your 1.5Mbps.
    I’d say lousy, cheapskate, snobby technologists are a core problem in Silicon Valley. They want commercial class without having to pay for it.

  10. John Keels says:

    Uh huh, Matt Galvin obviously works for AT&T and thinks that making lots of money is the best thing ever. Especially, if you can avoid having any regulators watching you shady business practices. The actions of MCI, worldcom, Microsloth, AIG, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Wachovia, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac prove (oh I must add Duke energy lately) prove that American Corporations cannot be trusted to do the right thing. They don’t want to be nannied in order to get away with being dishonest. However, I believe people need to be nannied by the government because they are too dumb or too stupid to do the right thing. Yes, we must all be responsible for ourselves. But we also have a tremendous responsibilities to do the right things for society and for each other when it comes to business, commerce, taxes, healthcare, education, etc. Childish conservatives are getting a boot in the behind right now for a reason.