Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Broadband infrastructure needs to be able to withstand storm; not everyone has "business class" service

The recent October snows in the Northeast call attention to another important, if tangential, aspect of the net neutrality debate.

The biggest concern is that large areas of mostly older or suburban neighborhoods stay without electricity and other utilities like cable broadband for days. 

Older neighborhoods, with older, weaker and denser trees and weaker structures, are quite vulnerable.  Newer developments usually have utilities more carefully installed. As far back as 1970, however, a “New Age” group insisted on underground utilities when building a closed community called Stelle, outside Kankakee, IL (south of Chicago).

Cable and phone companies are often not able to restore service quickly.  When I lost phone service in 2005 to a fallen tree limb (from a neighborhood) after an early morning winter thunderstorm (yes, they happen), Verizon took three days to restring the line.

The problem with slow restoration is that more and more people telecommute and work from home. This is good for the environment, but not sustainable in areas with an unstable or excessively vulnerable infrastructure.  People who own their own businesses in remote areas or at home in older neighborhoods can be put out of business by lack of ability of utilities to respond quickly enough.  Of course, you can say, that’s partly what zoning is all about. Utilities do sometimes offer “business class service” guaranteeing quicker response (especially for broadband Internet) but one needs real profit margins and volume (a real business) to afford it. 

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