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A closer look at broadband services

For all the talk about “broadband,” there is no set definition of just how high this description of high-capacity Internet signal really goes.

“Broadband” isn’t a fixed definition, says Judith Dumont, director of The Massachusetts Broadband Initiative. “It moves as the technology increases and speeds increase. When the state’s broadband emphasis began in 2008, the Federal Communication Commission’s technical definition of broadband speeds were at least 256 kilobits per second. By 2010, that formal definition had boosted the minimum speed 15-fold to 4 megabits per second .

That’s likely to change again as things require more bandwidth on the Internet.

That’s about the only certainty when it comes to a fast-changing technology, and increased people’s dependence on the Internet to “stream” movies and television programming. When it comes to various technologies people use to access the Internet, that rapidly changing technology, along with topography, weather conditions and the popularity of usage at any given time are among the factors greatly affecting speeds for downloads to your computer and uploads to your computer or wireless device.

About the only certainty is that any of the various available technologies will be much faster than telephone dial-up service, as the FCC describes below:

Broadband speeds vary significantly depending on the particular type and level of service ordered and may range from as low as 200 kilobits per second (kbps), or 200,000 bits per second, to 30 megabits per second (Mbps), or 30,000,000 bits per second. Some recent offerings even include 50 to 100 Mbps. Broadband services for residential consumers typically provide faster downstream speeds (from the Internet to your computer) than upstream speeds (from your computer to the Internet).


Digital Subscriber Line technology, where available, transmits data faster over traditional copper telephone lines already installed to homes and businesses. DSL-based broadband provides transmission speeds ranging from several hundred Kbps to millions of bits per second. The availability and speed of your DSL service may depend on the distance from your home or business to the closest Verizon hub, typically no more than about three miles at best.

The Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) technology offered around Franklin County is used primarily by residential customers who receive a lot of data but do not send much. ADSL typically provides faster speed in the downstream direction than the upstream direction, and it allows faster downstream data transmission over the same line used to provide voice service, without disrupting regular telephone calls on that line.

Cable modem

Cable modem service enables cable companies to provide broadband using the same coaxial cables that deliver pictures and sound to your television. Most cable modems are external devices that have two connections, one to the cable wall outlet and the other to a computer. They provide transmission speeds of 1.5 Mbps or more. You can watch cable TV while using cable modem service. Transmission speeds vary depending on the type of cable modem, cable network and traffic load. Speeds are comparable to or exceed typical residential DSL. Although cable providers may use fiber-optic cable along roadways, service to the home may use wire to serve individual homes.


Fiber optic technology, being employed in MassBroadband 123’s “middle-mile” and contemplated for “fiber-to-the-home” last-mile networks, converts to light electrical signals carrying data and sends the light through transparent glass fibers about the diameter of a human hair. Fiber transmits data at speeds far exceeding current DSL or cable modem speeds, typically by tens or even hundreds of Mbps. The actual speed you experience, however, will vary depending upon a variety of factors, such as how close to your computer the service provider brings the fiber and how the service provider configures the service, including the amount of bandwidth used. The same fiber providing your broadband can also simultaneously deliver voice and video services, including video-on-demand.

Some network operators (mostly telephone companies) are offering fiber-based broadband in limited areas and providing bundled voice, Internet access and video services.


Satellite broadband can be particularly useful for serving remote or sparsely populated areas. Downstream and upstream speeds for satellite broadband depend on several factors, including the provider and service package purchased, the receiving dish’s line of sight to the orbiting satellite and weather. Satellite service can be disrupted in extreme weather conditions. Typically a consumer can expect to receive (download) at a speed of about 1 Mbps and send (upload) at a speed of about 200 kbps. These speeds may be slower than DSL and cable modem, download speed is still much faster than with dial-up service. New facilities are expected to support consumer broadband services for several million customers at speeds up to 12 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads. A user must have a 2- or 3-foot dish or base station, a satellite Internet modem and clear line of sight to the provider’s satellite.


Fixed wireless technologies using longer range directional equipment can provide broadband service in remote or sparsely populated areas where other types of broadband would be too costly to provide, although the topography in the hilltowns can severely limit penetration of the signal. Speeds can be comparable to DSL service speeds. An external antenna is usually required. With newer services now being deployed (WiMax), a small antenna located inside a home near a window may be adequate, and higher speeds are possible.

Mobile wireless broadband services are also available in some locations on “smart phones” and other devices. Accessing mobile wireless broadband services may require a special card with a built-in antenna.


After long wait, broadband begins to arrive in under-served parts of Franklin County

Friday, March 15, 2013

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Like the rural electrification and development of a telephone system in the last century, building a multi-million-dollar telecommunications system across the region is seen as key to economic development and bridging the “digital divide” that becomes ever more important to how we live and do business. This is the first in a five-part series.) When the Massachusetts Broadband … 0

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