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September 14, 1998

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Subject: Re: grizzly bearish on AT&T
Author: CalicoJoe

This is really long. Sorry about that, but I wanted to address all the points.

Mark Housman: Digital subscriber line (DSL) is the only practical choice for telecommuters.


Cable modems are to high-speed Internet access what party lines were to early telephony. As soon as phone customers were offered a private line, they took it.

Hmm again. This may or may not be true. I understand that analogy, and it is basically true that the line is shared among a community (rather than being a "private line"). But there are at least three assumptions that don't ring true.

First, you may not be in an area with a high concentration of people on that line. My aunt, for instance, still has a party line. Noone else uses it, so it's essentially a private line. She can't use touchtone, but it's all hers for a much lower price than she could get on a true private line. But I digress. In my area, most people don't have a computer, much less a modem. Even if they did, the expense of a high speed connection is generally going to leave it unused. I realize this is becoming less and less true for many parts of the country, but while it is, I can have 10Mbps all to myself - or mostly so at any rate. I do realize this isn't true for everyone, so I can give some credit to this argument.

Second, how many telecommuters are there in your neighborhood. I can understand that, even in a high concentration area, most nights after dinner will be bogged down. How many telecommuters do work exclusively at that time? Generally speaking, I think people are going to do it during the day. And in most places I think that the concentration of any one area where people will be doing so is going to be small.

  "So I have to do without Internet access and TV for 10 minutes every three years? I can deal with that, too. Maybe I'll go outside and get a life."

Third, many places don't have the option of a "private" high-speed connection. ISDN isn't widely available (and is a pain to boot). xDSL has been announced in my area (Souteast US) but isn't even in testing so far as I know. Cable modems are on the verge of rolling out here, and I know they have rolled out in other territory serviced by the cable company (Time Warner). So it's just not an option.

Now I realize this may change in the future - but who knows what the future holds?!? Some company (such as Ciena did for fiber) could come along and create a device which allows you to partition cable bandwidth. Then it won't be an issue. Maybe there's going to be a wireless solution. Who knows? For the time being, the only clear advantage here goes to cable because it is available.

Do I think cable modems should be banished from the face of the earth? No. Even though it took four truck rolls to install mine? No. Even though they trenched my yard to lay new coaxial cable? No. Even though the cable modem couldn't plug into the existing cable jacks? No.

Sounds like the cable wasn't up to spec. And that's no big deal. It'll happen. While xDSL can travel over copper, it has the same problem - not everywhere can get it due to currently installed lines. You can't use this as an argument. Personally, I'm good to go (for either technology, actually). I need another cable jack installed, but that's part of the installation procedure. For $100, I get the line split, another jack and an ethernet card if I need it. I've already check and my complex is wired with the "right stuff". I don't know what that means exactly, but I do understand it to mean I just need the line split and another jack. I can deal with that. The installation for ADSL is going to cost more and I already have copper. Hmm.

Even though when my cable goes out, I lose Internet access and cable TV? No.

I don't know about his cable provider, but mine's gone out once in the last three years that I have had it. At the time it was during the last couple minutes of a close NFL playoff game, so I was a little pissed. But so what? One 10-minute period in three years, and that caused by a pretty nasty car wreck? Again, I'll live with it. So I may not have cable at the same time as an Internet connection? Possibly. The signal went out, but there wasn't anything wrong with the cable. Is the Internet signal coming from the same source as cable? I don't think so, but it's possible. So I have to do without Internet access and TV for 10 minutes every three years? I can deal with that, too. Maybe I'll go outside and get a life. But really - what does this have to do with telecommuting? I mean it would be nice if you could watch TV while doing your work, but how many people think that's a good idea?

And in fact, over those same three years I have had more problems with long distance phone lines than with cable. So I can call my neighbor, but I can't hook up with my DNS which is on the other side of the country? Oh yeah, that's a benefit.

In fact, I can't think of anything better than competition from cable modems to get DSL rolled out.

I agree here completely - on both sides. Competition is good. Some people use xDSL, some use cable, some use ISDN, some just use dial-up. Works for me - but to this point, I don't see much of an advantage to xDSL over cable. To be fair, I also don't see an advantage in the other direction either, other than current availability.

First, DSL is easily installed. Your copper's already there. Your competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC ) hot-wires your connection and you can order your pizza on your phone line while you're downloading your e-mail.

Again, just like many cable systems, that copper isn't always able to "just be hotwired". Sometimes it'll require upgrades. No advantage to either side.

Cable needs fiber to the neighborhood before two-way cable modems can be installed in subscribers' houses.

  "As I've pointed out, my cable goes out less than my phone service. And if my cable goes out, I can always watch broadcast TV if I just have to watch. If my phone goes out, I can't just use tin cans and string to talk to my mom in another state."

I have to say I don't know this to be true. But I don't think I have fiber to my neighborhood (although I could be wrong), and I've already been given the go for cable modem service. In any case, if it is required - it's in place in some communities (like mine) and won't need to be upgraded, just like the copper for xDSL. Still no advantage.

Second, DSL guarantees bandwidth. The bandwidth on a cable modem is shared and there are no service-level guarantees. On a DSL link, CLECs can provide specific bandwidth per customer.

Okay, I'll give that this could be an advantage for now. But having the opportunity of bandwidth, and the other factors I've already cited, is much better than not as xDSL isn't widely available.

I have to call this a push. xDSL may have an advantage, but not being as available and cable still having few subscribers evens things out.

Third, DSL outperforms cable. Cable appears to offer good performance,but that is temporary. Cable is lightly loaded right now with few subscribers.

And chances are it probably will remain so for the near future, just as ISDN and xDSL. Still no advantage.

Chuck Thacker of Microsoft recently warned: "In a heavily loaded branch ...downstream bandwidth available to any one cable modem user is about the same as it would be with a 33K bit/sec modem."

I don't know Chuck Thacker, but for the moment I'll accept the the fact he knows his numbers. The fact here is that a heavily loaded branch just isn't happening right now. It may, sure, but who knows what technological advances will occur by then? And what is it exactly that defines a "heavily loaded branch". In general, I understand cable modems to offer 10Mbps speed. Yes, this is to the entire "branch", whatever that entails. But to get down to 33Kbps performance, you'd have to have about 300 users on at the same time in order to push it to that level. I find that number to be high, although it's partially dependent on what a branch is.

For the moment, I'm going to call this a push as well, but I'm open to more data that provides actual numbers and usage rates.

What about the in-home LAN? If you are one of the growing number of users with more than one PC, you'll need to connect them all. Cable modems don't provide subaddressing or LAN capabilities.

This just isn't true.

First, where did this come from? How many people have more than one telecommuter in a home?

Second, cable modems provide LAN capabilities just like xDSL does. It plugs right into your network card, which can just as easily plug into a hub. The modem doesn't provide subaddressing, but you don't need that - go with IP masquerading or even a firewall to get that sort of performance, then you don't have to pay for multiple addresses.

Third, plugging your cable modem into a hub gives every PC on that hub access. It's not difficult. Each PC just has a copy of the login software. I also understand that you can purchase more than one concurrent connection if this is needed - so more than one of those PCs can be signed on at the same time - it's just going to cost you.

With some innovative DSL solutions, you get multiple virtual lines and the ability to do print and file sharing - without new wiring. This is the promise of the "smarthome" fully realized.

I'll admit, this is cool.

First, again we're talking home users - how does this fit into telecommuting?

Second, it is cool. Being able to run your network through phone jacks is just plain neat. But I bet you'll pay for it. Why not go to a vendor such as Symbol and set up a wireless LAN? You'll get as much as 2Mbps.

I'll give this advantage to xDSL over cable, but there are other options that can do it better.

What about security? The cable guys will tell you they have encryption, but who cares?

Uh, I do. Not sure about this point.

With DSL, you can create a virtual private network that completely bypasses the Internet.

With cable, you can create a VPN that uses the Internet to pass a sub-channel of data. And incidentally, many VPN implementations use encryption.

With DSL you can have either a fixed or dynamic IP address; cable only offers dynamically assigned addresses.


What about reliability? How often does your cable go out compared with your phone service?

As I've pointed out, my cable goes out less than my phone service. And if my cable goes out, I can always watch broadcast TV if I just have to watch. If my phone goes out, I can't just use tin cans and string to talk to my mom in another state.

For performance, quality of service, security, functionality and reliability, DSL is clearly the best bet for telecommuters.

To begin with, I think half (or more) of the argument has nothing to do with telecommuting. Furthermore, I think that even those arguments that apply to telecommuting are a crock.

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