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Geoff Daily

App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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March 3, 2009 8:30 AM

Is San Francisco Underserved?

Last week I grabbed lunch at the fabulous Black Market Bistro in Kensington, MD with the even more fantabulous Joanne Hovis of Columbia Telecommunications Corporation. She and her team consults with cities wanting to take control of their own broadband future.

While our conversation was far-reaching and exhilarating throughout, towards the end we got onto a particularly interesting subject: does a city like San Francisco count as "underserved"?

My first reaction was to guffaw and say no, San Francisco is not going to be getting any broadband stimulus dollars. I just didn't think a big city like that was what our policymakers had in mind when they crafted this legislation.

But then Joanne shared something interesting: apparently the fastest upload speeds SF residents can get from their cable provider on a standalone Internet package is 384Kbps. They can get up to 768Kbps if they bundle Internet with other services, but if all you want is Internet 384Kbps upstream and 6Mbps downstream is all you can get.

Now I should say that I'm not gnashing my teeth over 6Mbps being the ceiling on the download side as while I'd like it to be higher it's not horrible. And we should also note that DSL service is available in the area, though only plain old vanilla DSL.

But even still, I have to admit I found this rather shocking. 384Kbps is pathetic. Barely enough to do one low quality videocall, and over a pipe that big it'd take hours to upload files of any meaningful size.

This hit home especially hard for me as I'm on a non-bundled, non-DOCSIS 3.0 cable connection because it's the fastest I can get in DC, and I've begun uploading bigger files more regularly like the VidChats, so I can't imagine my only option being 384Kbps upstream on cable or only getting 1-2Mbps on DSL.

Even more mind-boggling is that this is San Francisco. Isn't that area supposed to be the hotbed of development for broadband applications? How is it that a city that's not only a major metropolitan but a hub for application developers could have such crappy connectivity?

And then back to the original question: does this mean San Francisco should qualify as "underserved" and therefore be eligible to apply for stimulus dollars?

The more I think about it the more I have to say, "Yes!"

Just because a community has multiple providers of 768Kbps service doesn't mean that it's well-served. In fact, I'm pretty sure other countries would laugh at that idea as it's pretty absurd in this day and age of two-way high quality online video.

This also highlights how just because a speed is offered in a community doesn't mean everyone can utilize it as I have to admit as someone who's cut their cable TV cord it's hard to swallow the idea that I'm going to be relegated to a lesser broadband service.

And the fact that the city that's supposedly the hotbed of activity for developing next generation online experiences is stuck back in the 20th century in terms of broadband speeds is both depressing and disturbing, highlighting the reality that we do face a broadband crisis in this country.

Of course there are many communities where this isn't a problem, where both fiber and DOCSIS 3.0 cable are available offering speeds of 10Mbps symmetrical and beyond.

But as we move forward with determining where to spend the broadband stimulus dollars to support underserved areas, let's not assume that that only means the most rural areas and urban poor. Just as we can't afford to leave rural America behind, we can't ignore the plight of cities like San Francisco that while not unserved definitely count as underserved in my book.

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Comments (1)

I don't know who this "Joanne" is, but her assertions regarding broadband speed in San Francisco are far off base. I have regular Comcast high-speed Internet service at the regular price, and speeds on my connection, as measured by speedtest.net, are routinely well above 15 mbps download (highest was 26) and 2.5 mbps upload (highest was 6). Furthermore, this is not DOCSIS 3.0, which Comcast is only beginning to deploy in the bay area.

I suppose it's possible that the speeds claimed by "Joanne" apply to AT&T;'s lowest-rate DSL service, but my Comcast connection, at regular price, is vastly faster than what is claimed in the entry above. Furthermore, AT&T; is well under way in the process of deploying its much faster U-Verse service in San Francisco, so even if the speeds cited are accurate for low-end DSL, that will be changing in the near future -- and without a dime of borrowed, so-called "stimulus" money.

Posted by Acorn on March 4, 2009 11:53 AM

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