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Broadband Internet access, often shortened to "broadband Internet" or just "Broadband", is a high data-transmission rate internet connection. DSL and cable modem, both popular consumer broadband technologies, are typically capable of transmitting 256 kilobits per second or more, starting at approximately four times the speed of a modem using a standard digital telephone line.

Broadband Internet access became a rapidly developing market in many areas in the early 2000s; one study found that broadband Internet usage in the United States grew from 6% in June 2000 to over 30% in 2003.

Modern consumer broadband implementations, up to 30 Mbit/s, are several hundred times faster than those available at the time of the popularization of the Internet (such as ISDN and 56 kbit/s) while costing less than ISDN and sometimes no more than 56 kbit/s; though performance and costs vary widely between countries.


Broadband is often called high-speed Internet, because it usually has a high rate of data. In general, any connection to the customer of 256 kbit/s (0.256 Mbit/s) or more is considered broadband Internet. The International Telecommunication Union Standardization Sector (ITU-T) recommendation I.113 has defined broadband as a transmission capacity that is faster than primary rate ISDN, at 1.5 to 2 Mbit/s. The FCC definition of broadband is 200 kbit/s (0.2 Mbit/s) in one direction, and advanced broadband is at least 200 kbit/s in both directions. The OECD has defined broadband as 256 kbit/s in at least one direction and this bit rate is the most common baseline that is marketed as "broadband" around the world. There is no specific bitrate defined by the industry, however, and "broadband" can mean lower-bitrate transmission methods. Some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) use this to their advantage in marketing lower-bitrate connections as broadband.


In practice, the advertised bandwidth is not always reliably available to the customer; ISPs often allow a greater number of subscribers than their

In practice, the advertised bandwidth is not always reliably available to the customer; ISPs often allow a greater number of subscribers than their backbone connection can handle, under the assumption that most users will not be using their full connection capacity very frequently.

backbone connection can handle, under the assumption that most users will not be using their full connection capacity very frequently. This aggregation strategy works more often than not, so users can typically burst to their full bandwidth most of the time; however, peer-to-peer file sharing systems, often requiring extended durations of high bandwidth, stress these assumptions, and can cause major problems for ISPs who have excessively overbooked their capacity. For more on this topic, see traffic shaping. As take-up for these introductory products increases, telcos are starting to offer higher bit rate services. For existing connections, this most of the time simply involves reconfiguring the existing equipment at each end of the connection.

As the bandwidth delivered to end-users increases, the market expects that video on demand services streamed over the Internet will become more popular, though at the present time such services generally require specialised networks. The data rates on most broadband services still do not suffice to provide good quality video, as MPEG-2 quality video requires about 6 Mbit/s for good results. Adequate video for some purposes becomes possible at lower data rates, with rates of 768 kbit/s and 384 kbit/s used for some video conferencing applications. The MPEG-4 format delivers high-quality video at 2 Mbit/s, at the high end of cable modem and ADSL performance.

Increased bandwidth has already made an impact on newsgroups: postings to groups such as alt.binaries.* have grown from JPEG files to entire CD and DVD images. According to NTL, the level of traffic on their network increased from a daily inbound news feed of 150 gigabytes of data per day and 1 terabyte of data out each day in 2001 to 500 gigabytes of data inbound and over 4 terabytes out each day in 2002.


The standard technology in most areas is DSL, followed by cable modem. Newer technologies for twisted pair phone lines such as VDSL and pushing optical fibre connections closer to the subscriber in both telephone and cable plants are opening up the possibility of higher performance for streaming data, such as audio and video streams. There are now many streaming audio services, and several streaming video services. In a few of the many areas not served by cable or ADSL, community organizations have begun to install Wi-Fi networks.

ISDN is an older telephone data service that can operate at speeds of up to 128 kbit/s. It is therefore not really considered a true form of broadband, but it does have the advantage that it can share an existing phone line, and it has no distance limitations like DSL. When a phone call occurs, some of the bandwidth is allocated to the call, reducing the connection speed. When the call ends, the connection increases speed again. ISDN is a relatively low-cost option for rural users with otherwise terrible dialup access speeds, but it is starting to be phased out and is no longer available in some areas.

One of the great challenges of broadband is to provide service to potential customers in areas of low population density, such as to farmers and ranchers. In cities where the population density is high, it is easy for a service provider to recover equipment costs, but each rural customer may require thousands of dollars of equipment to get connected. A similar problem existed a century ago when electrical power was invented. Cities were the first to receive electric lighting, as early as 1880, while in the United States some remote rural areas were still not electrified until the 1940's, and even then only with the help of federally-funded programs like the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

Several rural broadband solutions exist, though each has its own pitfalls and limitations. Some choices are better than others, but depend on how proactive the local phone company is about upgrading their rural technology.


A DSL filter is an analog low-pass filter installed between analog devices (such as telephones or analog modems) and a POTS telephone line, in order to prevent interference between such devices and a DSL service operating on the same line. Without DSL filters, signals or echoes from analog devices at the top of their frequency range can result in reduced performance and connection problems with DSL service, while those from the DSL service at the bottom of its range can result in line noise and other issues for analog devices.

Typical installation for an existing home involves installing DSL filters on every telephone, fax machine, voiceband modem, and other voiceband device in the home, leaving the DSL modem as the only unfiltered device. For wall mounted phones, the filter is in the form of a plate which hangs on the standard wall mount, and upon which the phone hangs in turn.

In cases where it is possible to run new cables, it can be advantageous to split the telephone line after it enters the home, installing a single DSL filter on one leg and running it to every jack in the home where an analog device will be in use, and dedicating the other (unfiltered) leg to the DSL modem. Some devices, such as monitored alarms and Telephone Devices for the Deaf, mainly certain older models using an acoustic coupler, may be hardwired and may not easily accept a DSL filter. Some of these devices can be successfully filtered with a DSL filter or splitter, especially if the hardwired connection is converted into a jacked connection.

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Satellite Internet

This employs a satellite in geostationary orbit to relay data from the satellite company to each customer. Satellite Internet is usually among the most expensive ways of gaining broadband Internet access, but in rural areas it is often the only viable option. However costs have been coming down in recent times to the point that it is becoming more competitive with other high speed options.

Satellite Internet also has a high latency problem caused by the signal having to travel 35,000 km (22,000 miles) out into space to the satellite and back to Earth again. The signal delay can be as much as 500 milliseconds to 900 milliseconds, which makes this service unsuitable for applications requiring real-time user input such as certain multiplayer Internet games and first-person shooters played over the connection. Despite this, it is still possible for many games to still be played, but the scope is limited to real-time strategy or turn based games. The functionality of live interactive access to a distant computer can also be subject to the problems caused by high latency. These problems are more than tolerable for just basic email access and web browsing and in most cases barely noticeable.

There is no simple way to get around this problem. The delay is primarily due to the speed of light being only 300,000 km/second (186,000 miles per second). Even if all other signalling delays could be eliminated it still takes the electromagnetic wave 233 milliseconds to travel from ground to the satellite and back to the ground, a total of 70,000 km (44,000 miles) to travel from you to the satellite company.

Since the satellite is being used for two-way communications, the total distance increases to 140,000 km (88,000 miles), which takes a radio wave 466 ms to travel. Factoring in normal delays from other network sources gives a typical connection latency of 500-700 ms. This is far worse latency than even most dialup modem users experience, at typically only 150-200 ms total latency.

Most satellite internet providers also have a FAP (Fair Access Policy). Perhaps one of the largest cons against satellite internet, these FAPs usually throttle a user's throughput to dial-up speeds after a certain "invisible wall" is hit (usually around 200MB a day). This FAP usually lasts for 24 hours after the wall is hit, and a user's throughput is restored to whatever tier they paid for. This makes bandwidth-intensive activities nearly impossible to complete in a reasonable amount of time (examples include P2P and newsgroup binary downloading).

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Remote DSL

This allows a service provider to set up DSL hardware out in the country in a weatherproof enclosure. However, setup costs can be quite high since the service provider may need to install fiberoptic cable to the remote location, using horizontal boring equipment at a cost of US$360/metre (US$600,000 per mile). Also, the remote site has the same distance limits as the metropolitan service, and can only serve an island of customers along the trunk line within a radius of about 2 km (7000 ft).

Remote DSL access is becoming a sore point for many rural customers, as the technology has been available for some time now and phone companies keep promoting its availability, but at the same time the phone companies keep dragging their feet and are not doing anything to install the remote services. In the United States, this is particularly a problem with the very large multistate conglomerates that serve mostly rural areas

DSL repeater

This is a very new technology which allow DSL to travel longer distances to remote customers. One version of the repeater is installed at approximately 3 km (10,000 ft) intervals along the trunk line, and strengthens and cleans up the DSL signal so it can travel another 3 km (10,000 ft).

Power-Line Internet

This is a new service still in its infancy that may eventually permit broadband Internet data to travel down standard high-voltage power lines. However, the system has a number of complex issues, the primary one being that power lines are inherently a very noisy environment. Every time a device turns on or off, it introduces a pop or click into the line. Energy-saving devices often introduce noisy harmonics into the line. The system must be designed to deal with these natural signalling disruptions and work around them.

Broadband over power lines (BPL), also known as Power line communication, has developed faster in Europe than in the US due to a historical difference in power system design philosophies. Nearly all large power grids transmit power at high voltages in order to reduce transmission losses, then near the customer use step-down transformers to reduce the voltage. Since BPL signals cannot readily pass through transformers, repeaters must be attached to the transformers. In the US, it is common for a small transformer hung from a utility pole to service a single house. In Europe, it is more common for a somewhat larger transformer to service 10 or 100 houses. For delivering power to customers, this difference in design makes little difference, but it means delivering BPL over the power grid of a typical US city will require an order of magnitude more repeaters than would be required in a comparable European city.

The second major issue is signal strength and operating frequency. The system is expected to use frequencies in the 10 to 30 MHz range, which has been used for decades by licensed amateur radio operators, as well as international shortwave broadcasters and a variety of communications systems (military, aeronautical, etc.). Power lines are unshielded and will act as transmitters for the signals they carry, and have the potential to completely wipe out the usefulness of the 10 to 30 MHz range for shortwave communications purposes.

Wireless ISP

This typically employs the current low-cost 802.11 Wi-Fi radio systems to link up remote locations over great distances, but can use other higher-power radio communications systems as well.

Traditional 802.11b was licensed for omnidirectional service spanning only 100-150 metres (300-500 ft). By focusing the signal down to a narrow beam with a yagi antenna it can instead operate reliably over a distance of many miles.

Rural Wireless-ISP installations are typically not commercial in nature and are instead a patchwork of systems built up by hobbyists mounting antennas on radio masts and towers, agricultural storage silos, very tall trees, or whatever other tall objects are available. There are currently a number of companies that provide this service. One is firenet1.com base out of Southaven, Mississippi.


T-1/DS-1 is a type of service which is possible for a rural customer desiring broadband speeds, but the cost can be in the hundreds or thousands of dollars per month depending on the distance from the provider.

These are highly-regulated services traditionally intended for businesses, that are managed through Public Service Commissions in each state, must be fully defined in PSC tariff documents, and have management rules dating back to the early 1980s which still refer to teletypes as potential connection devices. As such, T-1 services have very strict and rigid service requirements which drive up the provider's maintenance costs and may require them to have a technician on standby 24 hours a day to repair the line if it malfunctions. (In comparison, ISDN and DSL are not regulated by the PSCs at all.)

People attempting to establish rural service via a Wireless ISP, ISDN, or T-1 will run into an additional cost issue, where the physical connection (or local loop) is considered separate from the actual Internet service provided from a Point of Presence (POP). This is as if you had to pay the water utility to rent the water main in the ground, in addition to paying to get water delivered through the main from the tower. For a T-1, for example, in the US the loop alone may cost $1200 per month, and the 1.5 megabit per second business-class Internet service (with a fixed IP address and a subnet) may cost an additional $1000 per month. Attempting to reduce monthly costs by establishing your own non-profit Wi-Fi network and sharing the T-1 connection costs has an additional pitfall: your service provider may want to charge you an additional "ISP reseller's fee" of $800 per month.

Broadband worldwide

Broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants, by technology, December 2005 in the OECD (source)

Rank Country DSL Cable Other Total Total Subscribers
1 Iceland 25.9 0.1 0.6 26.7 78,017
2 South Korea 13.6 8.3 3.4 25.4 12,190,711
3 Netherlands 15.7 9.6 0.0 25.3 4,113,573
4 Denmark 15.3 7.2 2.5 25.0 1,350,415
5 Switzerland 14.7 8.0 0.4 23.1 1,725,446
6 Finland 19.5 2.8 0.1 22.5 1,174,200
7 Norway 17.8 2.9 1.2 21.9 1,006,766
8 Canada 10.1 10.8 0.1 21.0 6,706,699
9 Sweden 13.3 3.4 3.6 20.3 1,830,000
10 Belgium 11.3 7.0 0.0 18.3 1,902,739
11 Japan 11.3 2.5 3.8 17.6 22,515,091
12 United States 6.5 9.0 1.3 16.8 49,391,060
13 United Kingdom 11.5 4.4 0.0 15.9 9,539,900
14 France 14.3 0.9 0.0 15.2 9,465,600
15 Luxembourg 13.3 1.6 0.0 14.9 67,357
16 Austria 8.1 5.8 0.2 14.1 1,155,000
17 Australia 10.8 2.6 0.4 13.8 2,785,000
18 Germany 12.6 0.3 0.1 13.0 10,706,600
19 Italy 11.3 0.0 0.6 11.9 6,896,696
20 Spain 9.2 2.5 0.1 11.7 4,994,274
21 Portugal 6.6 4.9 0.0 11.5 1,212,034
22 New Zealand 7.3 0.4 0.4 8.1 331,000
23 Ireland 5.0 0.6 1.1 6.7 270,700
24 Czech Republic 3.0 1.4 2.0 6.4 650,000
25 Hungary 4.1 2.1 0.1 6.3 639,505
26 Slovak Republic 2.0 0.4 0.2 2.5 133,900
27 Poland 1.6 0.7 0.1 2.4 897,659
28 Mexico 1.5 0.6 0.0 2.2 2,304,520
29 Turkey 2.1 0.0 0.0 2.1 1,530,000
30 Greece 1.4 0.0 0.0 1.4 155,418
  OECD 8.44 4.2 1.0 13.6 157,719,880

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