The Future of Broadband Technologies

The invention of the Internet has made it infinitely easier for people all over the world to communicate and engage in business with one another. Nowadays, it is difficult to think of a single facet of life that has not been improved in some way by the Internet. Whether you use the tremendous network for your entertainment or financial purposes, you have a connection present that defines the way you go about your day-to-day activities. That said, what if service providers or interested government agencies placed limits on what you could do with the time you spend online? The expanding nature of the Internet has raised numerous concerns regarding website content and the services provided by Internet companies.

Many of these problems revolve around the concept of net neutrality and how any form of online regulation will violate it. There is widespread concern about what these violations could mean in the future, leading to a multitude of questions regarding the ethics of regulatory actions. Subjects involve things such as the nature of internet service providers and the direction in which broadband is moving. To understand these concerns, one must first understand the core concepts, and why they are so vital to the Internet’s operation.

To learn more about net neutrality, check out the infographic below created by the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s online Master of Science in Electrical Engineering program.

NJIT Future of Broadband infographic

What is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality is the understanding that network-owned companies and general Internet access providers should never control how their customers use their services. This means that these companies should not place blocks on certain websites, or prevent certain types of content from being accessed. In simplest terms, it is Internet access that does not favor or block any particular products or pages. Many believe that this concept is the way the Internet should work already. However, with broadband companies becoming more powerful, many users are afraid that online censorship can infringe on their basic rights of using the Internet.

Timeline of Net Neutrality

Net neutrality is a concept that first originated in the 2000s. In 1969, Arpanet, the predecessor to the Internet, used 50 kbps circuits to transfer data. In 1984, higher levels of traffic made it more effective to lease connecting lines at 1.5 mbps. As technology advanced with the times, it became easier for more and more people to access the Internet through stronger connections. The term “net neutrality” was officially coined in 2003 by Columbia Law professor Tim Wu, who discusses the implications in his paper. In later years, the concept of net neutrality was picked up in many major courts. In 2006, United States senator Ron Wyden unveiled legislation that would ensure that the Internet delivered content equally on the Internet.

With such guidelines established, many companies were found to be guilty of violating them. In 2007, Comcast was accused of blocking user access to a legal file sharing website. This prompted courts to take legislative actions. In 2010, the FCC laid out the exact rules for net neutrality through the Open Internet Order. President Obama himself encourages the maintenance of net neutrality, and issued an executive order in 2012 to speed up the construction of a broadband infrastructure. He committed over $20 million to help develop and prototype new technologies for a faster and more open Internet.

Broadband in the United States and Europe

Compared to Europe, the United States enjoys a much stronger state of broadband. Over 85% of Americans have access to networks that deliver at least 100 mbps, while only 54% of Europeans have access to networks that only deliver at least 30 mbps. The average American household invests more than twice what the average European one does in Internet services. Download speed, on average, was better in European households, but only by a small margin, at roughly 4 mbps more during peak hours. Similarly, Internet services are much more affordable in Europe. A plan announced by Verizon at an average of $300 a month would only cost around $85 in Europe.

Future Technological Innovations

Despite existing problems, many are optimistic about the future state of net neutrality and broadband advancements. Technological developments, such as vectoring and bonding, can help service providers use their existing copper assets to increase existing internet rates by 100 mbps and higher. Planned deployments of fiber to the home can remove speed limitations and send broadband connections skyrocketing to as high as 1 gbps. Further advancements can even help bring Internet access to difficult to reach corners of the world. With such advancements planned, it is easy to see why so many users are looking forward to future developments.

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