Introduction--Broadband and Its Impact

Broadband networks provide a medium capable of quickly delivering information, communications and entertainment (“ICE”).  High speed wired and wireless networks can transmit digital bits making it even possible for instantaneous delivery of capacity intensive applications such as full motion video like that seen on broadcast, cable and satellite television channels.  Prior generations of narrowband networks could not deliver such content, because they had available limited amount of channel capacity, also known as bandwidth.  Such narrowband channels only could handle slow speed services, such as electronic mail, because of limited available radio spectrum, or closed circuit capacity, typically measured in cycles per second, or Hertz (“Hz”).  Attempts to use narrowband networks for services requiring high bandwidth resulted in user frustration as the desired content could not arrive fast enough to deliver a clear and constantly changing video image, or even a high fidelity signal for reliable voice and music delivery.  Narrowband lines created a backlog of traffic commonly termed a bottleneck.  The inability to provide timely delivery of traffic resulted in congestion.

Broadband technologies, like those used to support the Internet* offer the promise of faster, better, smarter, more versatile, personalized, cheaper and more convenient access to a wealth of ICE services.  Few users of available broadband networks would give up these benefits for the slower, but cheaper option of using older technologies, such as conventional, dial up telephone networks.  With retrofitting existing wired and wireless telephone networks can combine analog, voice services, with digital, data services.  Likewise cable television networks can add data and telephone services to existing video offerings.  Subscribers of these broadband services enjoy reliable and user friendly access to a broad array of services. 

Most subscribers of broadband networks readily can learn how to use them, but few acquire much insights of how the networks operate.  In most instances failing to acquire such “digital literacy” imposes no significant burden.  However, having even a basic understanding of how broadband networks work can provide a foundation for achieving more effective and possibly cheaper use of broadband technology.  Understanding how these networks operate can provide policy makers, regulators and users with a better sense of the strengths, vulnerabilities, opportunities and threats generated by the evolving migration from several different analog networks into a single, consolidated medium commonly referred to as the Internet, or World Wide Web.*

The promise of a single Internet medium for access to most content confirms that technological innovations have promoted a convergence of ICE markets.  Previously separate, stand alone media provided a specific subset of the services represented by this now convergent ICE marketplace.  Broadcasters delivered radio and television content to specific receivers, i.e., radio and television sets. Telecommunications companies provided voice connections between subscribers using wired and wireless telephones. Publishers of printed content, such as newspapers and magazines, delivered their “hard copy” products through physical distribution channels having nothing to do with electronic media.

Converging telecommunications and information technologies now make it possible for the Internet to provide a single medium for delivery of content to several devices in both fixed and mobile locations.  While television broadcasters transmitted content for reception by one type of screen, Internet-mediated video content also can reach television sets, but also computer monitors, tablets and smartphone screens.  Delivery to multiple devices and screens can occur, because content carried via broadband networks have been converted from their native analog state, to digital bitstreams.

Broadband Type Comparison

Source: Government of Japan, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, available at http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/asp/CMS/Events/2010/ITU-MIC/S5-06_Mr_Atsushi_Ozu.pdf

Once digitized all forms of content appear as a sequence of data capable of carriage via the broadband networks that make up the Internet.   The standards that organize the Internet provide common formats for identifying, addressing, labeling, switching, routing and managing traffic.  In particular, the Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol,* provide standards for managing content broken up into small units of capacity known as packets for transmission via any available network interconnected with other networks that collectively comprise the Internet.  The Internet Protocol provides an addressing system much like the numbering system used by telephone companies. 

Telecommunications and Information Processing via the Same Network

 The technologies that support innovation in telecommunications also provide new ways to deliver, process, manipulate and add value to information.  Policy makers and regulators working in the telecommunications sector increasingly face issues involving the combination of legacy services, such as broadcasting and video program delivery, with new services that use telecommunications as the transport medium for information processing.  The expanding use of the Internet as a primary medium for delivering most information, communications and entertainment (“ICE”) services shows how convergence in markets and technologies will impact assumptions about how the ICE ecosystem operates. For example, increasing reliance on the Internet to deliver content to retail users means that previously stand alone technologies will converge so that one cannot segregate—and apply separate regulatory and market impact assumptions—about the print, radio, television, cable television, wired and wireless telecommunications and Internet media.

One way to appreciate the impact of converging technologies is to combine them in a vertical array ranging from the physical transmission media at the base and rising to the most sophisticated software, applications and content deliverable to consumers.  The Open System Interconnection (“OSI”) model provides a vertical view of the elements that combine to offer ICE services via new media such as the Internet.  This model layers the Internet’s architecture into seven increasingly sophisticated and specialized components: physical, data link, network, transport, session, presentation and application.  The model calls for the independent operation of the layers, but also supports the interaction of various applications and equipment designed to use the features represented by each layer.

At the physical layer various media provide a wired or wireless conduit for the transmission of ICE content.  It provides the hardware used to send and receive data on a carrier, including defining aspects of the physical medium used.  At the data link layer traffic is encoded and decoded into bits that are collected in units called packets.  This layer includes the traffic management rules used in the Internet’s Transmission Control Protocol to control the flow of traffic and its synchronization as occurs in the routing of content via Ethernet, Asynchronous Transfer Mode and Frame Relay networks.  The Network layer provides switching and routing technologies that create temporary pathways for traffic to move toward the desired final destination. This layer, in conjunction with the Transport and Session layers above it, handles the use of the Internet Protocol addressing system for identifying the source and destination of traffic, plus error handling, congestion control, packet sequencing and the setup and break down of the temporary pathways.  The Presentation layer defines the format of the data exchanged (e.g., text, graphic), followed by the Application layer that defines how applications communicate with each other over the network (e.g., e-mail) using various protocols. 

OSI 7 Layer Model

Source: Escotol.com, available at: http://www.escotal.com/osilayer.html

Looking at the OSI Layered model, one might consider telecommunications infrastructure concerns as limited to the lower layers that more directly focus on the physical connections contained in information and communications technology (“ICT”) networks.  However the integrated and convergent nature of all seven levels requires an appreciation by all stakeholders.  For example, when retail subscribers experience congested or inoperative service, they may not know which of several ventures should bear the blame.  They simply want service to return to normal without regard to which layer of service became dysfunctional and which, if any, regulator has jurisdiction. 

Analog Humans and Digital Networks

Broadband networks provide the medium for digital bitstreams, having converted analog traffic.  This conversion takes content created by and for humans and makes it possible for carriage by computers and digital networks.  Humans have several analog body parts used to see, hear, feel and communicate.  Air held in our lungs provides a carrier for signals created (modulated) by our larynx, also known as the voice box.  We receive sound via our ears where the modulated signals are replicated by ear drums and converted into weak electrical signals useable by our brains.  Our eyes concentrate light and color at the optic nerve which also converts the signals into electrical impulses.

While the human body retains its analog characteristics, ICTs mostly have migrated to digital transmission and processing formats.  The digitization of networks promotes more efficient use of spectrum such as the ability to compress a signal so that it uses less bandwidth.  Digitization also makes it possible to for a single network to handle different types of traffic generated from many sources, by subdividing the content into small units, called packets, and switching these packets via available transmission capacity offered by possibly many network operators.  When coupled with improvements in content storage and the speed of broadband network transmission, digitization supports fast transmission, switching, processing and delivery of content.  Consumers can more readily access, transmit, share, copy and store digitized content.

Digitization operates as a key driver for making broadband networks capable of providing faster, better, smarter, more versatile, cheaper and more convenient services.  Digital networks can transmit content faster than narrowband networks thanks to the availability of wider transmission channels (more bandwidth) and larger allocations of radio spectrum to create more channels having larger capacity.  Transmitting signals within larger channels can increase the bit transmission speed which in turn reduces the time it takes for content to arrive at the desired destination.  The term bitrate refers to the speed by which a carrier can transmit and deliver content.  Broadband networks can transmit digital bitstreams at a rate of between less than one million bits per second, i.e., 1 Megabit per second (1 “Mbps”) and more than one billion bits per second, i.e., 1 Gigabit per second (1 “Gbps”).   Narrow strands of glass fibers provide a much faster transmission medium than available via copper networks.

Another measurement of broadband networks’ comparative advantages to analog predecessors lies in their ability to transmit bandwidth intensive content without triggering congestion that would cause a backup in the delivery of bits.  Broadband networks can deliver content so quickly that users can download, process and view full motion video content in the same manner as reception via conventional broadcast, cable and satellite media.  The term throughput refers to the successful transmission of a certain amount of content, measured in bytes, represented by a file, or other source of content.  Narrowband networks could only make timely delivery of small files containing a few kilobytes of content.  

Larger files, such as those containing full motion video content, including images in high definition, constitute many megabytes of content.  This type of content requires that networks operate at fast transmission speeds having the ability to deliver large megabyte files on a timely basis, with no significant latency.  For so called streaming content, the network must transmit bits that immediately will be processed and converted into pictures and sound, as occurs when the Internet serves a medium for “simulcasting” live television content, or for the immediate decoding and display of video files as occurs when consumers download and simultaneously view content like a movie or television program received via the Internet.

In addition to operating at vastly higher transmission speed, digital networks also promote the likelihood that content will arrive without significant degradation in quality.  Digital networks offer high data integrity, because they convert content into a coded sequence that travels easily through digital transmission links.  Should any portion of the data sequence get lost, dropped or delivered too late for timely conversion back into usable content, digital network can resend it. Consumers welcome the ability to send and receive perfect copies of content, but National Regulatory Authorities, policy makers and courts should appreciate that fast network transmission of perfect copies makes it much easier for piracy of copyrighted content.  Previously analog networks could not transmit high capacity files corresponding to video content.  While these networks could handle smaller music files, the delivery process took significant time with the potential for noise and other factors to degrade the quality of illegal copies.  

Digital transmission through broadband networks also promotes the proliferation of new services that requires two-way interactivity between users.  Even with a narrower and possibly slower uploading capability, broadband network users now can create and share content as they interact with others.  For example, many social networking sites allow subscribers to upload content, such as photographs, and for selected “friends” to comment on the shared material.

Broadband is the Common Thread in a Network of Networks 

Reliable and high quality access to the complete range of services available via broadband networks requires that every participating carrier operate with generally the same speed and efficiency.  Consumers of broadband services typically rely on several carriers, commonly referred to as Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”) to provide a portion of the complete, two-way (“duplex”) link from and to sources of content.  The Internet has been characterized as a “network of networks"* and a cloud* to emphasize how many different carriers must cooperate with each other by interconnecting their networks using common operating standards so that subscribers have easy, reliable and uninterrupted access to services and content located anywhere.   Because many services require broadband connections for each leg that combine to form the complete link, any gap or reduction in service quality will degrade the total performance of the network as perceived by end users, i.e., final recipients of content and services. 

The concept of cloud computing emphasizes the integrated and interconnected nature of broadband networks, but inside the cloud are specific networks and data centres containing the telecommunications lines, and data traffic routers that link consumers with the content they desire.   The information and communications technology (“ICT”) ecosystem seamlessly combines the basic building blocks of telecommunications transmission capacity with software and other forms of information processing.  Much of the content and network enhancements are located at the edges of networks where content is originally transmitted and eventually received. However the networks transmitting such content must have sufficient intelligence to identify the location of source material as well as its destination.  Data networks use intelligent switches and routers to make decisions how to route traffic in the fastest and most efficient way at the time of the decision.

Vizualizing the Internet as a Cloud and Network of Networks

Source: The Opte Project, available at http://www.opte.org/maps/tests

The Broadband Communications Supply Chain

Source: The World Bank, Mark D.J. Williams, Broadband for Africa Developing Backbone Communications Networks, p. 4 (2010); available at: http://elibrary.worldbank.org/content/book/9780821381724

When broadband subscribers experience inferior service they may not readily know the cause, because they lack the diagnostic tools to identify the worst performing device or transmission link in the group of participating ISPs.  Additionally packet switching of content constantly changes which carriers participate as cloud computing and data networking typically use any available network transmission capacity offered by many different carriers. 

You can get a sense of how multiple carriers participate in broadband networking by launching a simple tracking tool known as traceroute.  This software program transmits and tracks a small amount of data sent from your location, or an origination point you designate, to a destination you also specify.  You receive a line-by-line report on which carrier networks participated in the carriage of your traffic to the final designation.  The traceroute report identifies the networks used to route your traffic.  Using multiple tracereoutes over time, you can see how the routing can change as the then current availability of networks changes.  Traceroute tools also provide a report on the length of time it took to traverse a network from one geographical point to another. 

  1. veserv1 (  0.172 ms  0.096 ms  0.062 ms
  2. (  1.902 ms  6.314 ms  1.311 ms
  3. ge-6-24-515.car1.Denver1.Level3.net (  1.305 ms  1.556 ms  1.842 ms
  4. ae-31-51.ebr1.Denver1.Level3.net (  6.402 ms  2.217 ms  13.363 ms
  5. ae-2-2.ebr2.Dallas1.Level3.net (  23.835 ms  17.447 ms  17.972 ms
  6. ae-1-60.edge2.Dallas3.Level3.net (  17.510 ms  20.658 ms  18.097 ms
  7. ex-3-1-0.er1.dfw2.us.above.net (  17.328 ms  17.148 ms abovenet-levle3-        xe.dallas3.level3.net (  57.938 ms
  8. 0.mpr1.dfw2.us.above.net (  17.128 ms  19.487 ms  18.245 ms MPLS Label=448742 CoS=6 TTL=1 S=0
  9. 0.cr1.iah1.us.above.net (  23.410 ms  22.282 ms  21.876 ms MPLS Label=633529 CoS=6 TTL=1 S=0
  10. 0.er1.lax9.us.above.net (  66.848 ms  47.634 ms  47.212 ms MPLS Label=391497 CoS=6 TTL=1 S=0
  11. 0.mpr3.lax9.us.above.net (  47.524 ms  46.298 ms  45.649 ms MPLS Label=774617 CoS=6 TTL=1 S=0
  12. so-0-0-0.mpr4.lax9.us.above.net (  100.005 ms  45.132 ms  49.471 ms
  13. (  46.608 ms  50.029 ms  45.204 ms
  14. so-4-0-0.bb1.b.syd.aarnet.net.au (  197.119 ms  196.145 ms  195.272 ms
  15. ge-1-1-8.bb1.a.syd.aarnet.net.au (  191.984 ms  192.289 ms  193.792 ms
  16. gigabitethernet0.er1.usyd.cpe.aarnet.net.au (  232.429 ms  194.210 ms 191.807 ms
  17. gw1.er1.usyd.cpe.aarnet.net.au (  192.326 ms  200.158 ms  195.941 ms
  18. vlan3166.brc-h69-1.gw.usyd.edu.au (  193.937 ms  214.900 ms  195.490 ms
  19. vlan3072.nx7-s01-2.gw.usyd.edu.au (  199.189 ms  193.544 ms  193.193 ms
  20. solo-rproxy.ucc.usyd.edu.au (  201.936 ms  193.163 ms  195.268 ms
BOX 5.1
Example of a Traceroute from Denver, Colorado, United States to Sydney, Australia

Higher Stakes for Developing Countries

Consumer demand for broadband network delivered services raises the stakes for timely and effective deployment of ICT.  Nations that do not have widespread access to affordable broadband service risk losing comparative advantages in global markets, particularly for information intensive applications.  Lesser developed countries (“LDCs”) which may not have achieved ubiquitous access to narrowband, voice services, now face the task of adding broadband access to a universal service mission.   The added broadband burden may raise the total cost of network development, but technological innovations can help LDCs possibly avoid having to retrofit legacy networks and instead concentrate on installing next generation networks (“NGNs”) that can “leapfrog” prior generations and vintages of technologies.   These cutting edge technologies exploit technological convergence making it possible to provide both voice and data services via a single Internet link.

Broadband technologies can expedite a nation’s access to digital networks configured to transmit data bitstreams combining voice, text, data, video, graphics and other content.  In many LDCs the opportunity to install and operate best in class technologies may lie in wireless networks that already may provide widespread geographical coverage for narrowband voice telephone service.  Third and fourth generation wireless networks provide faster data services, possibly reaching parity with some current generation wired broadband options.  However, the use of radio spectrum may constrain the ability to scale services to a large subscriber population if National Regulatory Authorities do not authorize access to more bandwidth.  Likewise developing countries may not have achieved the same pace in migrating from second generation wireless technologies to third and fourth generations that offer more bandwidth and data transmission capabilities. 

Additionally consumers in developing countries may not have the opportunity to select from two or more broadband distribution technologies as occurs in many developed countries where both cable television, telephone and possibly electric companies offer broadband services.  The lack of so-called intermodal competition from two facilities-based carriers using two different broadband technologies, may limit the degree of competition and consumer choice.  Similarly the lack of more than one carrier using the same technology may limit intramodal competition as occurs when a nation has more than one wireless telephone company.

 Because broadband networks can achieve significant improvements in many types of personal and commercial transactions, nations increasingly recognize the importance of making broadband access widely available and affordable.  The Finish legislature enacted a law that recognizes the right of all residents to access affordable broadband, while many other nations have integrated broadband access into existing universal service programs that subsidize access and provide other financial incentives to operating carriers.* Other nations, have added access to affordable and widely available broadband service as a policy goal worthy of government funding and subsidies previously used only to promote access to voice telephone service.

  • 5.1.1 Managing the Transition from Narrowband to Broadband

    Despite the allure of broadband technologies and the obvious market demand for it, incumbent carriers cannot simply execute a strategy of quickly replacing all existing plant that use “legacy” technologies such as narrowband copper wire used to provide conventional public switched telecommunications services (“PSTN”).  Both carriers and National Regulatory Authorities (“NRAs”) have to manage the transition with caution to ensure that subscribers do not face substantial and immediate hikes in service rates resulting when carriers seek to “write off” substantial plant investments, i.e., to recoup all PSTN investment in a short period of time.  Additionally complex regulatory issues will arise including the valuation of the rights of way used for replacement broadband services, the potential for a reduction in the geographical scope of access to broadband services and the need for subscribers to acquire additional equipment such as computers and terminal adapters to make it possible to use existing telephones over a Voice over the Internet Protocol (“VoIP”) network.   NRAs will need to reform universal service policies to achieve progress in access to both voice and data services. 

    Broadband technologies require carriers to invest substantially in new plant at the very same time as these ventures have high capital expenditures in expanding the range and upgrading the services of both wired and wireless networks.  While the Internet can provide a single medium for virtually all types of services, now provided via separate networks, the carriers must manage an incremental conversion that squeezes out as much value as possible from embedded plant for as long as possible. 

    For example, carriers providing wired voice telephone service can retrofit the PSTN to provide some types of broadband services at a relatively low additional investment per line.  This Digital Subscriber Line (“DSL”) service cannot match the versatility and transmission speed of fiber optic glass networks, or even the latest generation of wireless service, commonly referred to as 4G.  But as a transition technology, DSL can provide a more quickly installed broadband service without the need for carriers to replace the copper wire network with a completely new wired or wireless distribution network.

    Both developing and developed nations will have consumers keen on accessing the most recent services and technologies available.  Both broadband carriers and NRAs may struggle to satisfy such demand.  Carriers will need to upgrade even recently installed networks, so that they can offer even higher bit transmission speeds.  NRAs may need to find additional radio spectrum to accommodate demand for wireless broadband service.

    Video will serve as a key driver for faster broadband networks with ever improving content delivery capabilities.  Initially improvements in image resolution could occur using the same amount of radio spectrum and wired capacity through the use of compression techniques that help conserve bandwidth.  In many areas of the world, broadcast, satellite and cable television operators have successfully migrated from delivering standard definition television to high definition television.  However engineers have devised even higher resolution video images that will double or even quadruple the number of columns and lines that must be reproduced thirty times a second.  So-called ultra high definition television, delivered via wired and wireless broadband networks, will require more bandwidth and the implementation of more effective conservation techniques.

  • 5.1.2 Reference Documents and Case Notes

    Traceroute and the Network of Networks

    You can receive a line by line report on the networks used to send a small amount of data.  Traceroute software provides a graphical summary of how the Internet operates as a Network of Networks providing users with seamless connectivity via the networks of many interconnected carriers.  Here are some Traceroute World Wide Web sites:

    Visualizing the Internet Cloud 

    The traceroute and other network diagnostic tools provide a visualization of how the Internet functions through the physical interconnection of networks at various locations around the world.  Many telecommunications lines, routers, servers and other equipment provide service in a such user friendly, seamless way that the Internet can be analogized to a cloud.  The following sites provide a visual depiction of the networks that form this cloud:

    Packet Switching 

    Most Internet traffic is subdivided into small units of capacity called packets.  The Transmission Control Protocol (“TCP”) used by ISPs offers traffic management procedures for the transmission and delivery of these packets to the intended recipient using the network capacity of two or more participating carriers.  Each separate packet traverses the network facilities of any participating ISP with available transmission and switching capacity. TCP usually provides for “best efforts” routing of packets meaning that first arriving packets at a router are the first to be delivered to recipients, or carried onward toward the final destination. 

    The following sites offer a tutorial on how packet switching works:

    Internet Addressing 

    One can access a desired Internet site by keying in an easily remembered name into a World Wide Web browser such as Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.  The Internet Protocol establishes a series of rules for the creation of an address and a governance system operates for the registration of the names and the resolution of disputes.  The addressing system combines a name with a top level domain designation such as .com, .edu and .gov representing commercial ventures, educational institutions and government organizations respectively.

    For background on the Internet addressing system see: