Award Winning Blog

Sunday, May 10, 2020

U.S. Passes a Key Resiliency Test, But Let’s Not Get Carried Away

            In the good news department, we have ample evidence that U.S. Internet Service Providers recently have accommodated peak demand exceeding 20%+ of normal highs.  Excellent. Old timers might recall that in the legacy telephony world, exceeding the “busy hour” evidences a properly sized network.

            Proper network sizing to handle peak demand provides empirical proof that, where available in the U.S., broadband carriers have not scrimped on capital expenditures in “sunk” plant.  I believe ISPs throughout the world strive to properly size their networks and to install current generation equipment.  The ability to do so depends on lines of credit, the cost of capital and revenue projections—not the existence or absence of any specific regulatory mandate.

            What troubles me greatly is the false extrapolations made from evidence of network resiliency.   Scholars and regulators—who should know better—extend the achievement of resiliency into “proof” or confirmation of various regulatory and economic doctrines.  An example: thanks to the elimination of network neutrality, capex has risen so that the U.S. can handle Covid-19 driven demand increase, but Europe cannot. Another one: U.S. widespread fiber optic cable deployment has achieved best in class network performance.  All sorts of self-congratulatory, “mission accomplished” blather.

            Network resiliency has no direct link to a single deregulatory initiative, nor does it confirm universal accessibility and affordability.  From my perch in rural Pennsylvania, neighborhood broadband speeds have declined somewhat, especially during the new busy hours when lots of neighbors have several simultaneous, full motion video streams going.  However, I am glad to endorse the conclusion that networks have held up, despite demand surge.

            Evidence of broadband network resiliency juxtaposes with an inconvenient truth: lots of people cannot access properly sized networks, because this essential, “mission critical” plant does not extend into their rural locales, or they cannot afford service even where available.  There are plenty of people in my community who drive near a school or library to access Wi-Fi, because they have no at home option beyond costly satellite service, or a quickly exhausted cellular data plan.  Many people make do exclusively with smartphone-delivered broadband, even though the handset screen provides an inferior interface compared to a personal computer or tablet with keyboard.

            It’s probably a real good idea to take down the “Mission Accomplished” banners.