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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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January 9, 2008 2:46 PM

Thoughts from "Finding the Right Bandwidth" CES Session...

As mentioned yesterday, I attended a panel of representatives of the biggest broadband providers in the US, including: Tom Tauke of Verizon, Jim Cicconi of AT&T;, Joseph Waz of Comcast, Mr. Ali of Sprint (my apologies to him if he's reading this: I didn't write down his first name, it's not in the program, and Google has failed me), and the co-chair of the Internet Innovation Alliance Bruce Mehlman.

The panel started with short presentations by each. Here are a few notable items I took away:

- Waz mentioned that four out of ten of their customers are still analog, but that number is decreasing, and as it continues to do so it will allow Comcast to recapture bandwidth. How much that might improve the performance of their network I didn't get a chance to ask, but I'm going to follow up with him to find out.

- Tauke focused primarily on demand for bandwidth, showing a bar graph that compared the amount of bandwidth needed for different apps contrasted against the capacity of cable vs. DSL vs. FiOS. His overall assessment is that with demand continuing to grow, all carriers are and will continue to be forced to invest in their network.

- Tauke also specifically mentioned the challenges of and need for a better way to reach rural Americans who don't have access to broadband today. I found this somewhat surprising given Verizon's push to divest itself of its rural assets, but at the same time heartening that they seem interested in directly engaging with trying to find a solution to this problem.

- Cicconi shared AT&T;'s attempt at creating a graphical representation of the Internet, citing the 320,000 nodes that make it up, and briefly discussing the fact that the Internet's a network of networks and therefore not controlled by any one person or company. He also alluded to AT&T;'s own investment to keep up with demand as it works on quadrupling the capacity of its overall network (read more about this here).

They then started in on a series of questions from the moderator. As the answers sometimes made points that were somewhat tangential to the questions, I'm just going to continue my use of bullet points to highlight those tidbits I found most interesting.

- When asked if satellite counted as real broadband, Ali stated that he believes it's not broadband until you're at least at 700-800Kbps, which basically rules out satellite. I'm in total agreement with this. In my mind, if it can't deliver streaming video, it's not broadband. Not that satellite is a bad thing, it just needs to know its place.

- Cicconi made the statement that pure bandwidth buildout doesn't support itself today. And the truth of the matter is that this probably won't change any time soon as competition will continue to drive prices lower and all-you-can-eat contracts continue to obscure the connection between the amount you use and the amount you pay.

- At one point the moderator decided to touch on the net neutrality debate. Interestingly, Tauke boldly asserted that two to three years ago he would've spoken out in support of net neutrality, but between then and now the debate has shifted to focus heavily on enacting government regular that he believes freezes rules in place that often have unintended consequences down the line. Ali attempted to make a distinction between open networks and net neutrality, that you can have an open network where any app can be used on it without a regime of net neutrality. And Cicconi quipped that some people seem to think that all bits are created equal and are therefore endowed with inalienable rights, ignoring the different nature of bits for different things. (As an editorial note, not surprisingly no one on this panel spoke out in favor of net neutrality, so please excuse the lack of counterpoints.)

- The panel was then asked what they thought the killer app for broadband was going to be. While no one had a definitive answer, Tauke gave what I believe to be the best response, that there will be lots of apps that get people to understand the value of broadband, and that it'll be different for each individual. Waz followed up by stating his belief that the more bandwidth that's made available the more opportunities there are to innovate, which will drive demand and create the need for more bandwidth, and that we're right at that inflection point for broadband.

When they opened the floor for questions, I leveraged my central location to get in the first (and, unfortunately, only) question, asking if there's need and opportunity in expanding the dialogue beyond how do we get more broadband to include how do we get more people using it. Much to my chagrin, the moderator mistook my question to be specifically about how do we get more computers in people's hands, but it still sparked some interesting thoughts.

- Waz cited the possibilities of computing centers and programs like One Economy's low-cost loan system where low-income people could get loans to buy computers.

- Ali cited the potential of embedded, largely wireless devices and how they'll integrate more seamlessly into our lives, opening up more opportunities for the Internet to touch people's lives.

- Cicconi cited the need for more education, in particular to convince parents who might think they don't need broadband to realize that even if they don't their kids do.

But the best thing I probably heard throughout the whole panel was a comment by Bruce Mehlman, who when asked to talk about how much bandwidth we really need didn't delve into bitrates and access technologies but instead simplified it to one word: More!


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