FCCs RFC for the Definition of Broadband

William Herrin herrin-nanog at dirtside.com
Wed Aug 26 16:45:55 CDT 2009

On Tue, Aug 25, 2009 at 7:30 PM, Fred Baker<fred at cisco.com> wrote:
> On Aug 24, 2009, at 9:17 AM, Luke Marrott wrote:
>> What are your thoughts on what the definition of Broadband should be going
>> forward? I would assume this will be the standard definition for a number
>> of years to come.
> Historically, narrowband was circuit switched (ISDN etc) and broadband was
> packet switched. Narrowband was therefore tied to the digital signaling
> hierarchy and was in some way a multiple of 64 KBPS. As the term was used
> then, broadband delivery options of course included virtual circuits bearing
> packets, like Frame Relay and ATM.


Historically there was no such thing as a "narrowband" Internet
connection. We used "bandwidth" as slang for the speed of an Internet
connection, possibly because in communications in general you can send
more information in a wide frequency band than you can in a narrow
frequency band and we knew that a phone line used a 4khz frequency
band while a T1 used a 1.5mhz frequency band.

When we started selling residential Internet connections that were
significantly faster than a modem (i.e. DSL, cable modems) some
marketing guru somewhere came up with the idea that if Internet speed
is bandwidth then fast internet must be -broad- bandwidth. The same
marketing gurus wouldn't be particularly guruish if they had then
started referring to their modem products as "narrowband." So the
choice was "dialup or broadband" not "narrowband or broadband."

As the term caught on, it was the expanded by various marketing and
salesfolk to encompass any kind of commodity Internet connection
(commodity = not custom, that is not doing anything uncommon like
dynamic routing or multiplexing) which was better than a dialup modem.
When you start assigning CIDR blocks and what not, that's generally a
business service rather than "broadband."

So historically speaking, broadband is anything faster than POTS dialup.

What it -should- mean for stimulus purposes is another matter... But
I'd personally prefer to see the stimulus money only used for
delivering rural high speed. The telcos and cable companies are in a
race to deliver fast residential Internet access in any densely packed
area where the governing authority isn't making it a costly PIA to
install. Where they need the swift kick in the tail is in the low
density areas.

Really where they need the swift kick in the tail is in the product
tying where you can't buy a high speed connection to J. Random ISP,
you can only buy a high speed connection to monopoly provider's
in-house ISP. Which means you can only get commodity service since
monopoly provider isn't in the business of providing low-dollar custom
solutions. But it sounds like that's outside the scope of what
Congress has approved.

Bill Herrin

William D. Herrin ................ herrin at dirtside.com  bill at herrin.us
3005 Crane Dr. ...................... Web: <http://bill.herrin.us/>
Falls Church, VA 22042-3004

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