February 02, 2009

The information superhighway off-ramp

My DSL connection had been degrading for a while and finally gave up the ghost, only sustaining a connecting during very cold and dry weather. The Qwest tech who came out to take a look confirmed that I was sitting at the maximum radius of the DSLAM for my current speed, and the slightest degradation in the signal resulted in a storm of errors until the packet losses mounted and the connection dropped.

After a bit more poking around, he determined that the line coming in from the street wasn't terminated correctly at the curb, which would have caused more lossy signal reflection. Ultimately, the only solution was to crank down the data rate to within the tolerances of the local loop. I'm off the information superhighway and toodling around on the side streets. Better than dial-up, to be sure. But pokey in comparison.

I was considering Comcast, but literally the day before the Qwest guy came by, a Comcast guy spent the entire afternoon restoring the signal to the apartment right below me. It's the same problem: thanks to all this ancient wiring, the break could be anywhere. With DSL, at around two miles, I should be within 1.5 Mbps tolerances, and that's what Qwest reports when I plug in my address (based on geography).

The wiring in my neighborhood is buried. It's nice aesthetically, and eliminates worries about wind, rain, snow or ice bringing down power and phone lines. But the near quarter-century-old system is showing its age. Plus, every time a line is extended or new line added to the existing hodgepodge, yet another impedance mismatch is created, resulting in all kinds of signal reflection and degradation.

The Qwest tech was pretty sure that a new DSLAM going in sometime this year would cut the distance of my local loop more than in half. After that, a minimum 1.5 Mbps down was guaranteed. But in a new subdivision at that range, I should get ten times that.

A job for President Obama's Economic Recovery Plan! One of those "shovel-ready" projects helping to upgrade U.S. Internet infrastructure. Forget about twisted-pair and install fiber-to-the-home. It'd require pulling wire through existing conduits, and some backhoe work to get it from the curb to the buildings. Heck, while they're at it, hire a bunch of contractors (more employment!) to install fiber in all the buildings.

To be sure, that business about pigs and lipstick applies here. This is one super-massive chunk of pork-barrel spending--which I am supposedly against philosophically--masquerading as a swan. But if pork is going to be spent, then I want it spent on ME! (Samuel Palmisano, chairman and CEO of IBM, argues that spending money on me is good idea too, except he uses cool terms like "smarter infrastructure.")

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# posted by Blogger Th.
2/02/2009 9:45 AM   

If the money's going to be spent, we might as well spend it on the future.
# posted by Blogger Eugene
2/02/2009 10:12 AM   
Unfortunately, in my neighborhood, simply bulldozing the place would probably be the most economically rational thing to do. "Neither do men put new wine into old bottles." But for the time being, inexpensive, convenient housing beats fast Internet access.
# posted by Blogger Joe
2/02/2009 6:49 PM   
In Gene's neighborhood, the cost per paying DSL customer is probably astronomical. I'm surprised Qwest even bothered sending someone out.
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
2/04/2009 1:07 PM   
My neighborhood is on the other end of the economic spectrum. Yet due to the low housing density I venture Gene's neighborhood is worth more to Qwest and whatever cable operators serve it than is mine to Comcast.

Yet just this fall Verizon showed up to lay down its FIOS cables. I imagine somewhere at corporate there is a spreadsheet showing this endeavor has a positive net present value. One must wonder what rate of return they used since the shabby way Comcast services their network in our neighborhood suggests they know it is a loss leader.