What Is Broadband?
High-speed Internet access or “broadband” allows
users to access the Internet and Internet-related services at
significantly higher speeds than those available through “dial-up”
Internet access services. The Federal Communications Commission
(FCC) generally defines broadband service as data transmission
speeds exceeding 200 kilobits per second (Kbps), or 200,000 bits per
second, in at least one direction: downstream (from the Internet to
your computer) or upstream (from your computer to the Internet).
How Does Broadband Work?
Broadband allows users to access information via
the Internet using one of several high-speed transmission
technologies. Transmission is digital, meaning that text, images,
and sound are all transmitted as “bits” of data. The transmission
technologies that make broadband access possible move these bits
much more quickly than traditional telephone or wireless
connections, including traditional dial-up Internet access.
Once you have a broadband connection to your home
or business, devices such as computers can be attached to this
broadband connection by existing electrical or telephone wiring,
coaxial cable, or wirelessly.
What Are The Advantages of Broadband?
Broadband allows you to take advantage of new
services not available with a dial-up Internet connection. One such
service is Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), an alternative to
traditional voice telephone service that may be less costly for you
depending on your calling patterns. Some VoIP services only allow
you to call other people using the same service, but others allow
you to call anyone who has a telephone number – including local,
long distance, mobile, and international numbers.
Broadband permits new developments in
telemedicine, where patients in rural areas can confer online with
medical specialists in more urban areas.
Broadband helps you efficiently access and use
many reference and cultural resources, such as library and museum
data bases and collections. You also need broadband to best take
advantage of many distance learning opportunities, like online
college or university courses, and continuing or senior education
programs. Broadband is an important tool for expanding educational
and economic opportunities for consumers in remote locations.
In addition to these new services, broadband
allows you to use existing services such as online shopping and web
surfing more quickly and efficiently. Downloading and viewing videos
and photos on your computer are much faster and easier. With
broadband you can access the Internet by turning on your computer
without needing to dial-up your Internet Service Provides (ISP) over
a telephone line, which permits you to use the Internet without
typing up your telephone line. As of the end of 2004, 35.3 million
residential and small business subscribers had opted for broadband
What Types of Broadband Are Available?
Broadband includes several high-speed
transmission technologies such as:
The broadband technology you choose will depend
on a number of factors. These include whether you are located in an
urban or rural area, how broadband Internet access is packaged with
other services (like voice telephone and home entertainment) and, of
course, price and availability.
Digital Subscriber Line (DSL)
DSL is a wireline transmission technology that
transmits data faster over traditional copper telephone lines
already installed to homes and businesses. DSL-based broadband
provides transmission speeds ranging from several hundred Kbps to
millions of bits per second (Mbps). The availability and speed of
your DSL service may depend on the distance from your home or
business to the closest telephone company facility.
The following are types of DSL transmission
Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line
(ADSL) – used primarily by residential customers, such as Internet
surfers, who receive a lot of data but do not send much. ADSL
typically provides faster speed in the downstream direction than
the upstream direction. ADSL allows faster downstream data
transmission over the same line used to provide voice service,
without disrupting regular telephone calls on that line.
Symmetrical Digital Subscriber Line
(SDSL) – used typically by businesses for services such as video
conferencing. Speed of downstream and upstream traffic is equal.
Faster forms of DSL typically available to
Cable modem service enables cable operators to
provide broadband using the same coaxial cables that deliver
pictures and sound to your TV set.
Most cable modems are external devices that have
two connections, one to the cable wall outlet and the other to a
computer. They provide transmission speeds of 1.5 Mbps or more.
Subscribers can access their cable modem service
simply by turning on their computers without dialing-up an ISP. You
can still watch cable TV while using it. Transmission speeds vary
depending on the type of cable modem, cable network, and traffic
load. Speeds are comparable to DSL.
Fiber, or fiber optics, is the newest technology
available for providing broadband. Fiber optic technology converts
electrical signals carrying data to light and sends the light
through transparent glass fibers about the diameter of a human hair.
Fiber transmits data at speeds far exceeding current DSL or cable
modem speeds, typically by tens or even hundreds of Mbps. However,
the actual speed you experience will vary depending upon a variety
of factors, such as how close to your computer the service provider
brings the fiber, and how the service provider configures the
service, including the amount of bandwidth used. The same fiber
providing your broadband can also simultaneously deliver voice
(VoIP) and video services, including video-on-demand.
Telecommunications providers (mostly telephone
companies) are offering fiber broadband in limited areas and have
announced plans to expand their fiber networks and offer bundled
voice, Internet access, and video services.
Variations of the technology run the fiber all
the way to the customer’s home or business, to the curb outside, or
to a location somewhere between the provider’s facilities and the
Wireless broadband connects a home or business to
the Internet using a radio link between the customer’s location and
the service provider’s facility. Wireless broadband can be mobile or
Wireless technologies using longer range
directional equipment provide broadband service in remote or
sparsely populated areas where DSL or cable modem service would be
costly to provide. Speeds are generally comparable to DSL and cable
modem. An external antenna is usually required. With newer services
now being deployed (WiMax), a small antenna located inside a home
near a window is usually adequate and higher speeds are possible.
Fixed wireless broadband service is becoming more
and more widely available at airports, city parks, bookstores, and
other public locations called “hotspots.” Hotspots generally use a
short-range technology that provides speeds up to 54 Mbps. Wireless
fidelity (Wi-Fi) technology is also often used in conjunction with
DSL or cable modem service to connect devices within a home or
business to the Internet via a broadband connection.
Mobile wireless broadband services (3G) are also
becoming available from mobile telephone service providers and
others. These services are generally appropriate for highly-mobile
customers and require a special PC card with a built in antenna that
plugs into a user’s laptop computer. Generally, they provide lower
speeds, in the range of several hundred Kbps.
Just as satellites orbiting the earth provide
necessary links for telephone and television service, they can also
provide links for broadband. Satellite broadband is another form of
wireless broadband, also useful for serving remote or sparsely
Downstream and upstream speeds for satellite
broadband depend on several factors, including the provider and
service package purchased, the consumer’s line of sight to the
orbiting satellite, and the weather. Typically a consumer can expect
to receive (download) at a speed of about 500 Kbps and send (upload)
at a speed of about 80 Kbps. These speeds may be slower than DSL and
cable modem, but download speed is about 10 times faster than
download speed with dial-up Internet access. Service can be
disrupted in extreme weather conditions.
Obtaining satellite broadband can be more costly
and involved than obtaining DSL or cable modem. A user must have:
a two or three foot dish or base station – the
most costly item;
a satellite Internet modem; and
a clear line of sight to the provider’s
Broadband over Powerline (BPL)
BPL is the delivery of broadband over the
existing low and medium voltage electric power distribution network.
BPL speeds are comparable to DSL and cable modem speeds. BPL can be
provided to homes using existing electrical connections and outlets.
BPL is an emerging technology, currently
available in very limited areas. It has significant potential
because power lines are installed virtually everywhere, alleviating
the need to build new broadband facilities to every customer.
Contact a provider in your area, which can be a
local telephone company or other provider for DSL and fiber, a cable
company for cable modem, and a wireless or satellite company for
wireless broadband. There are differences among broadband services,
and the equipment of one provider may not work in another area or
with another provider. Check with your broadband service provider
for information on compatibility. Providers sometimes offer
promotions or discounts on necessary equipment.
Prior to ordering service, check with the service
provider to find out the cost and transmission speeds promised. Be
aware that the actual transmission speeds you experience depend on
many factors, and may be less than the maximum potential speed
stated by your provider. After receiving the service, contact your
provider regarding any problems. Investigate obtaining service
through a different provider if you are not pleased with your
current service or provider.
If you experience a problem with your broadband
service and can’t resolve it with your provider, you may file a
complaint with the FCC. You can file your complaint by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org); the Internet (www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html);
telephone 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice; or 1-888-TELL-FCC
(1-888-835-5322) TTY; or mail:
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Inquiries and Complaint Division
445 12th Street,
Washington, DC 20554.
For general information
on other telecommunications-related issues, you may
contact the FCC’s Consumer & Governmental Affairs
Bureau in the following ways:
Internet at http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/
Consumer & Governmental Affairs
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554