For Better or for Worse

The National Broadband Plan will shape America's Internet access networks for a decade

2 min read

Today's the day for comments to be filed with the FCC on the National Broadband Plan Congress has asked the agency to prepare, and some of them are doozies. You can search them via the FCC's on-line system, entering 09-51 as the docket number. Some of the critical questions:

1. What's the goal and how do we measure it?

Cisco has some interesting comments to the effect that Quality of Service is as important as raw capacity. Sensible, even if you aren't in the video conferencing system. Others suggest a hard number, and others still a level of improvement year-over-year.

2. What about the non-discrimination rule?

This question raises the conflict between Open Access and restrictions on network management. If you believe that the primary rationale for the Plan is to promote innovation in the application space, it follows that you need some network innovation support to handle a diverse mix of QoS-dependent and non-dependent application, so the non-discrimination rule proposed by some activists is counter-productive.

3. Who owns the network?

Nobody really wants any level of government to own and control the Internet, except for activists who believe the phone companies to be so heinous in light of their history in the old monopoly days that they can't be trusted to get any of it right. As long as the Internet is a principal means of criticizing government action, I can't see turning it over to the except as as last resort. This is primarily an issue for Muni Fiber projects.

4. Where does the US rank in the world?

Not as high as we'd like, of course, but this is largely a matter of perspective. Highly urban nations like Iceland and Sweden have more broadband users per capita, but that's probably a matter of climate, culture, and options for entertainment. CTIA - The Wireless Association points out that the US is number 1 in wireless phone minutes (lowest cost per minute and most minutes per month) and 3G penetration. It appears that telecom has been investing more heavily in wireless than in fiber. 

5. What does the future hold in the way of challenges?

The Internet doesn't actually hold the promise of continuous improvement as it's currently structured, due to the problems we're going to see in edge routers due to route proliferation: there are currently some 280,000 Internet routes for edge routers to remember, but expect that to increase to the millions in the next few years. Moore's Law isn't going to bail us out forever, so we need to get to work on a scalable routing protocol.

Here are some links:



Richard Bennett (me)

Free Press



Innovation Policy Institute


Media Access Project



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Two Startups Are Bringing Fiber to the Processor

Avicena’s blue microLEDs are the dark horse in a race with Ayar Labs’ laser-based system

5 min read
Diffuse blue light shines from a patterned surface through a ring. A blue cable leads away from it.

Avicena’s microLED chiplets could one day link all the CPUs in a computer cluster together.


If a CPU in Seoul sends a byte of data to a processor in Prague, the information covers most of the distance as light, zipping along with no resistance. But put both those processors on the same motherboard, and they’ll need to communicate over energy-sapping copper, which slow the communication speeds possible within computers. Two Silicon Valley startups, Avicena and Ayar Labs, are doing something about that longstanding limit. If they succeed in their attempts to finally bring optical fiber all the way to the processor, it might not just accelerate computing—it might also remake it.

Both companies are developing fiber-connected chiplets, small chips meant to share a high-bandwidth connection with CPUs and other data-hungry silicon in a shared package. They are each ramping up production in 2023, though it may be a couple of years before we see a computer on the market with either product.

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