If You Lived Here, You'd Be Downloading By Now
Yesterday, my colleague Kim Hart wrote a great piece about the uproar in a Loudoun County subdivision over a sole-source deal for TV and Internet access.
To recap: Residents say the firm anointed under this contract, OpenBand, delivers lousy service at expensive prices and complain that they may be stuck with it for 75 years; OpenBand and the subdivision's developer, Van Metre Homes, say this incentive-laden deal was necessary to persuade anybody to build a broadband network in former farmland. (Tammi Marcoullier's Living in Loco blog has also covered this controversy.)
This isn't the first time people in the Washington area--especially the outer suburbs--bought homes without fully considering a new neighborhood's telecom resources. The same issue surfaced yesterday in comments on this blog about Internet and cable-TV service provided in Loudoun by Adelphia and its successor, Comcast.
In general, time plus population density equals broadband competition. Time allows both cable and phone companies to reach every home in a given area (which, in the case of phone line-based DSL, also means a choice of service providers besides the incumbent carrier). Density makes it profitable for companies to upgrade those connections and offer additional options--for example, fiber-optic links such as Verizon's Fios and municipal wireless networks such as the ones EarthLink is building in Alexandria and Arlington.
If, however, you're on the wrong end of this equation, you may find yourself with only one cable or DSL carrier--or perhaps just satellite Internet access from companies like HughesNet or WildBlue, which suffers from the latency imposed by the 44,000-mile round-trip data takes to and from geosynchronous orbit. Some frustrated homeowners have resorted to going into the Internet-access business on their own, as we noted in this 2002 story (scroll down to the "Fights on the Home Front" heading).
Finding a well-connected neighborhood, unfortunately, can take a lot more work than locating one with good schools or Metro access. Unless you can plug a specific street address into a provider's check-availability page, you may have only vague promises of broadband availability. The "Find Service" search on BroadbandReports.com does a decent job of outlining all the options in a given Zip code but can't forecast what might be offered a year from now.
It's all a mess, and it may not clear up for years.
So, three questions:
* Do you think you have a right to broadband Internet service?
* How much research have you done into the availability of high-speed Internet access before looking for a new home?
* How much does broadband access factor into your home-shopping math?
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