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Canada Free & Open Internet

Can technology provide a better solution than ITMPs?

At the NCTA 2011 Cable show in Chicago (June 14-16), broadband service provider ARRIS demonstrated how it can undertake a 4.5 Gigabits per second file transfer after an upgrade to their existing DOCSIS cable systems, which could in turn strengthen the viability of HFC. If you’re like me and need Wikipedia to understand that sentence, let alone the press release, then let me try and break it down for you.

Optical fibre has a higher bandwidth and therefore has a higher information carrying capacity than cable does. People often point to it as a technical solution to Internet traffic problems (as opposed to a regulatory solution). Although optical fibre itself is less expensive than the copper wire that cable uses, building new infrastructure is extremely costly.

Essentially, ARRIS is combining 128 cable channels to act as a single lane for data to travel through. This demonstration shows how, instead of building expensive new infrastructure, ARRIS and other service providers can update and invest in existing infrastructure to improve bandwidth. ARRIS’s actions also demonstrate that coaxial cable does not have to become obsolete (HFC = a broadband network that uses both optical fibre and coaxial cable).

Canadian Internet connection speeds lag behind former Eastern Bloc countries such as Romania and the Czech Republic. Big telecom companies insist that the best way to ensure adequate Internet speed and service is through Internet traffic management practices. According to big telecom, economic ITMPs (e.g. usage-based billing) and technical ITMPs (e.g. throttling) curb congestion and improve Internet speed and service. Big telecom claims that infrastructure investment is costly and ineffective.

Yet as OpenMedia.ca’s recent report, Casting an Open Net, explains, not only has infrastructure investment been proven as the best solution to network congestion and slow speeds, the CRTC dictates that ISPs must prove that infrastructure investment has been exhausted as a solution before resorting to ITMPs.

This is not the case in Canada’s Internet service market and so if ARRIS’ experiment is successful, it further reinforces OpenMedia.ca’s thesis, that it is possible for ISPs to meet projected growth rates through infrastructure upgrades. In the past, technological developments in speed and efficiency have matched growth in Internet traffic. This seems to be an indicator that they will continue to do so.