Monday, February 5, 2007

Verizon's Fiber Plans - Need for Speed

In Saturday's Globe & Mail, Catherine McLean ran a nice feature about Verizon's $23 billion investment to deploy fiber to the home. It's not a new story, but I haven't seen many treatments on it that talk about what it means to the consumer, and how complex this undertaking really is - especially in the Canadian press.

I'm sure the story had been in the works for some time, and I found the timing interesting given the news earlier in the week about Videotron announcing their 100 MB/second capabilities. The Globe writer was nice enough to cite me in his story, and I had also posted about it earlier that day.

I found the Verizon story a good read, and am sure it made lots of Canadians think about why Bell and Telus aren't going down the same road. Actually, that issue was touched on briefly towards the end of the article but not really taken very far.

Together, these stories - one from a telco and one from a cableco - raise some big questions about the need for speed. How much do we really need? How much are we really willing to pay for? Can the operators earn a decent ROI for the network upgrades needed to provide those speeds? Are they doing it because they want to, or because they have to?

At least in Videotron's case, they don't need to spend much on their network, and they're already in the video business, so it's not that big of a stretch for them. But it's a very different story for a telco, and there's just so much at stake. Verizon is certainly taking the view that it's better to spend big now and deliver the maximum throughput rather than stop short at the node and try to get by with middling speeds. Middling speeds could turn out to be enough, but nobody really knows. The demand for bandwidth just seems to increase endlessly, but I really have to wonder sometimes, to what end? So we can entertain ourselves even more, with bad music and bad movies? I'd better stop there - that's a whole other topic...

Well, at first glance, I'd say the answer lies in these articles. What I love about online versions is that they allow for reader comments. The Globe's Videotron story has garnered 34 comments so far. It's not a huge sample, but two really strong themes come out in these:

1. 100 mbps - bring it on. The people have spoken, and yes, if they can get it, they want it.

2. Go, Videotron, go! There seem to be a lot of people out there who welcome any form of competition and an alternative to their telco.

So, is there a valid need for speed? I'd say the highbrow answer is no, but it seems to me there's a decent segment of the market who will take it, for either or both the basic reasons above. If anything, the Verizon story amplifies my feelings about the Videotron story - this is becoming a high stakes game, and the fastest pipe wins.

Coda - fellow blogger Mark Goldberg raises some of these questions in his post earlier today, which also cites these same two stories, so I know it's not just me!

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