Wired Broadband Technologies

Homes and businesses have many different wires or connections for telephone, cable and electricity. For many years these were separate networks and could only deliver one type of service. Telephone lines delivered phone service, cable delivered video service, and electric lines delivered electricity. Today it is technically possible to deliver broadband service and digital content (voice, video, data) using any of these wire connections or "pipes." Your phone company might also be your cable company and vice versa or your electric company might be delivering broadband and phone services. Each of these connections or pipes has pros and cons relative to broadband delivery.

Broadband Over the Telephone Network (DSL)

The telephone network is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous communications infrastructures. Without any upgrades the same network that brought your grandparents a party line can give you access to the Internet through a dial-up modem. The telephone network can also provide broadband service using Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL). DSL is available through the local phone company. Call your local phone company to find out if DSL service is available in your community or neighborhood.


A major advantage of DSL service is that it works with existing wiring. The only equipment needed is a modem plugged into an existing phone jack and filters for each telephone in your home or office. Another benefit of DSL service is that each user has a dedicated link and the speed is constant and will not diminish if more people in your neighborhood are also using DSL. DSL provides reliable broadband service for residential and small business customers but is unlikely to be adequate for large businesses.


A major disadvantage of DSL service is the inability to deliver the service further than 18,000 feet from the central phone office. DSL cannot be delivered to homes or businesses beyond this distance. Another disadvantage is that upload speeds do not match download speeds.

Broadband Over the Cable Network (Cable Modem)

Another pipe running into most homes is the coaxial cable that traditionally provides television programming. According to the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (http://www.ncta.com/) cable passes by 99% of occupied homes in the United States. Most cable companies have upgraded their networks to deliver cable modem broadband service over the same network that delivers video programming.


A major benefit of cable modem service is its availability to all customers of cable companies in communities where the cable network has been upgraded to deliver cable modem service.


An obvious disadvantage of cable modem service for rural communities is the lack of cable service beyond the edges of the larger towns. Another disadvantage is that the connection speed may vary greatly at different times of the day. Residents in neighborhoods where cable modem penetration is high may notice a significant increase in the time it takes to upload and download information in the evening when people return home from work and school. Another disadvantage is that upload speeds never match download speeds.

Cable modem service is adequate for residential service and many small businesses. However, like DSL it is not adequate for large businesses.

Broadband Over the Electric Network (BPL)

Another pipe that goes to every house is from the electric company. It is now possible to deliver broadband service through a technology called Broadband over Power Line or BPL. BPL is a relatively new entry in the delivery of broadband service. Several electric companies have developed pilot projects to determine the economic feasibility of using BPL to deliver broadband. Technically BPL service allows customers to simply plug a special modem into any outlet in their home to access high speed Internet.


BPL can leverage existing power lines decreasing the cost of installing a new transport infrastructure and the ability to connect a modem to any electric receptacle. BPL also sends and receives data at the same high speed. You can upload mail, video files, and business data as quickly as you can download similar files.


A major hurdle for BPL in rural areas is the cost of equipping the power lines to carry the broadband signal. Financial analysis of several pilot projects determined that there would need to be between 4 and 6 homes/per transformer to deliver broadband service a prices equivalent to DSL or Cable Modem service.

Recommended Resource: "Delivering Broad Band over Power Lines: What You Should Know", (http://ieeexplore.ieee.org) provides a good overview of Broadband over Power line.

Fiber to the Home (FTTH)

Fiber optic cable is another type of wired broadband delivery technology. Fiber optic cables carry digital information in the form of light pulses and are capable of delivering very high levels of broadband. The Internet backbone runs across the world on fiber optic cable.

There are many acronyms associated with fiber cable build outs. Below is a brief list of the common fiber acronyms you may encounter.

  • FTTH - Fiber to the home, also known as FTTP - Fiber to the premise
  • FTTN - Fiber to the neighborhood
  • FTTC â- Fiber to the curb
  • FTTx - Fiber to everyplace

Fiber to the home networks connect a fiber optic strand the diameter of a hair to each home or business. The high bandwidth available through fiber technology enables delivery of the Triple Play (voice, video and data) over the same network infrastructure.

The number of fiber to the home networks is growing. Several large telephone companies are in the process of building fiber to the home networks to deliver video services in addition to voice and data services. Most new fiber to the home connections are located in suburbs and new developments where companies get enough subscribers to pay for the network deployment or government supported projects such as UTOPIA in Utah that involves several cities.


Fiber optic cable can deliver more bandwidth than other broadband technologies at a lower cost of maintenance.


The cost of installing and lighting the fiber cable.

Examples: Powell, Wyoming, Buffalo, Minnesota and Columbus, Kansas. In addition to fiber to the home projects several rural communities and counties such as Pickens County, Alabama are building "fiber rings" to improve the availability and affordability of broadband services to businesses and residents.