Broadband rumble: cable vs. DSL

— 10:13 AM on December 30, 1999

OK, news is a bit slow today, so it's time to incite a riot. Looking back at the year, one of my favorite tech articles has to be Salon's piece on cable vs. DSL written by Simon & Garfunkel (or something like that). This is one of the more clear-headed looks at the relative merits of these two types of high-speed data service, and it especially does a nice job of cutting through the telcos' FUD. For instance:

The argument that cable modem connections are inferior to DSL connections because the bandwidth on a cable link is "shared" is disingenuous as best. The entire Internet is based upon shared bandwidth. The bandwidth on an individual subscriber's DSL connection may not be shared; the DSL connection ultimately terminates at an Internet router, at which point the multiple streams are merged together into one or more shared upstream connections. . . . The issue isn't whether or not a link is shared. The issue is whether or not there is enough bandwidth on the shared link to satisfy all of the users at a particular time.
That stacatto *whack* you hear is the nail being hit on the head. Most any high-speed ISP hits Internet backbone bandwidth bottlenecks well before the "last mile" data rates become an issue, even if the "last mile" data network is shared. The article also talks about the options cable modem providers have to split the network into smaller segments, offering more bandwidth closer to the customers' homes as demand grows. (Yes, Virginia, cable networks will scale.)

Although I'm very much convinced by DOCSIS cable modem technology because I work with it every day, I have no doubt DSL is also a viable broadband option, provided the telco and/or ISP providing the service is competent. Good or bad things happening in broadband service are more about the companies than about the tech. The same is true for cable modem service providers, where an ISP teams with a local cable company to provide the service.

Now you know what I think; the question is, what do you think?

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