Broadband, DSL, and the Race for Internet Connectivity
Abstract This paper discusses current technologies and trends relating to Internet connectivity. Broadband cable, DSL, and fixed wireless are examined. Issues addressed relating to these technologies are the potential for providers to favor specific content on broadband cable and the 'digital divide' or the trend of inaccessibility of the internet in poor and rural areas.
In recent years, the Internet has radically changed both our economic and social institutions. The driving force behind the Internet has been increasingly cheap, fast, and reliable connections between distant machines. As Internet connectivity increases, internetworking can be used in more places for more purposes. Until recently, businesses and consumers depended on modems to connect to the Internet, but now several new technologies are being used to continue the trend of greater connectivity. These include digital subscriber lines (DSL), cable modems, and fixed wireless networks.
This paper briefly examines each of these new technologies. More important than the details of how they work, however, is the effect they will have on the Internet and society. This paper discusses two of the biggest issues: corporate control of Internet content and equal access to the Internet by all races and classes. The creators of the Internet designed a system where all people everywhere could access the inter-network and where information sharing could not be suppressed. However, the cost of implementing these technologies has resulted in greater access for affluent communities, putting poor and rural communities at an economic disadvantage; this inequality is often known as the "digital divide". Also, the cable providers have developed technology wherein they can favor content provided by business partners, transferring it at much higher speeds.
These issues are discussed in depth in this paper, but first the high-speed technologies are introduced.
Means of High Speed Access
There are currently two competing high-speed connection technologies, DSL and cable modems. DSL uses existing copper phone lines to reach extraordinary transmission speeds. At central offices, which are connected to the Internet via high speed fiber-optic connections, a DSLAM machine routes network traffic along the pre-existing dedicated copper phone lines to consumers. This has the apparent advantage of using pre-existing wiring. There are, however, difficulties. The broadband signal has a limited 3-mile range on copper wire, so DSL is only available in areas near a central office. Also, some newer telephone wires are not compatible with the DSLAM technology. The result is that while DSL may work well in heavily populated areas, but it is far less practical in rural areas.1
Cable broadband uses a modified version of...