Cut the Cable Already

I never went in for the digital cable modem thing because I didn't believe it would last. My colleagues all told me how silly I was, and how the cable companies were ideally positioned to upgrade customer premises equipment, upgrade their cable ends and distribution plants, and offer superior service at an affordable price. Hah!

It's not that I love the phone companies so much, but I thought DSL was an inherently more reasonable and potentially profitable service than cable modem bandwidth.

First off, there's distribution. DSL is a one-to-one connection; cable is a shared party line. DSL involves a span of wire terminated in a DSLAM (DSL aggregator/multiplexor) port that is in turn aggregated and fed out (typically) over an ATM network routed into the Internet. Cable service involves lots of intermediate steps, and turns a set of thousands of cable customers into a large Ethernet network.

Second, the cable folks weren't really prepared for real Internet needs and usage. It was hard (in the early days at least) to get static IPs and business service. A one-size-fits-all approach led to @Home restricting upstream bandwidth to 128 kbps to prevent customers from operating servers. A stupid idea. Effective network management could have easily blocked Web and other ports based on monitoring patterns automatically instead of using the schoolroom approach of revoking privileges because of a few bad kids.

Third, the telco and DSL provider pricing model wasn't guaranteed to put them into bankruptcy. Sure, it was possible to get free installation, free DSL modems, and some free initial service, but $25 to $100 per month isn't an unreasonable price for a service which, ultimately, is simpler to provide than voice calls.

Finally, telcos have been providing data services for decades, and I saw US West and then Qwest gets its digital act together over the last couple of years. (My dad continues to report remarkable service from Qwest: they just sent him a CD-ROM to upgrade his Cisco 675 modem to the latest software.)

Okay, one more point. I always felt that cable modem service was an effort by cable companies to make money off existing customers because they could. I thought that DSL service was an attempt to telephone companies to remake their networks in a way that would transform voice and data communications by reducing costs and increasing homogeneity.