Broadband is pivotal

Broadband is pivotal

George Kotelly

Executive Editor

Although the words "fiber," "optics" and "lightwave" are nowhere to be found in the 50,000-word Telecommunications Act of 1996, the word "broadband" appears one time under Title VII--Miscellaneous Provisions, Section 706 (Advanced Telecommunications Incentives), Paragraph (c) on Definitions.

The associated paragraph reads, "For purposes of this subsection: (1) Advanced telecommunications capability--The term "advanced telecommunication capability" is defined, without regard to any transmission media or technology, as high-speed, switched, broadband telecommunications capability that enables users to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics and video telecommunications using any technology."

The federal government tries to avoid officially endorsing a particular communications technology by using the words "any technology." But as Stephen Brown, Regulatory and Policy Update columnist for Lightwave, argues, "The appearance of a broadband reference in the law`s miscellaneous provisions downplays the importance of fiber-optic technology. Everyone associated with high-quality voice, data, graphics and video communications immediately equates high-speed, switched broadband telecommunications with fiber-optic technology."

Apparently, the Congress was not properly informed. That is surprising because both President Clinton and Vice President Gore have often been quoted in both the commercial and trade press (including Lightwave) for several years on the specific merits of fiber-optic networks.

Whereas the law deliberately omits the word "fiber," it has sprinkled the word "wireless" throughout several sections. As Brown points out (see page 32), the law`s language is heavily tilted to personal wireless service facilities. He meticulously notes that the word "wireless" is used 13 times. The word "wireline" appears 10 times, without a definition.

The extensive technical advantages of fiber-optic broadband communications over copper wireline and wireless networks are well-known to Lightwave`s readers. Suffice it to say that fiber can optically transport virtually unlimited interactive voice, video, data and imaging communications. On the other hand, wireless technology is noninteractive, broadcast-based, environmentally constricted and informationally restricted.

In promoting fiber, though, the lightwave industry has been lax in educating the public, the communications industry and the federal government about the economic, operational and installation advantages of broadband fiber.

One way to more effectively market broadband fiber has been presented by Bruce L. Egan, executive vice president at Indetec International, an information decision technologies consultancy in Jackson, WY. He suggests that the fiber optics community should jump all over the word "broadband," as referenced in the Telecom Act, and define it for all interested parties, including the lawmakers in Washington. In a special session on the Telecommunications Act at the OFC `96 conference recently held in San Jose, Egan said that "broadband" represented an opportunity to lobby for a megabit standard that would affirm fiber`s capabilities.

Proving the case for fiber-optic broadband communications is this month`s Special Report section (see page 37), with several articles that appropriately focus on "Broadband Equipment and Networks." The articles present insight on the impact of the Telecom Act. For example, in one article, Koslowsky and Boatwright of Northern Telecom Ltd. state that passage of the telecommunications bill means open competition in the local and long-distance telephony markets, and that network providers must, therefore, strive to upgrade their fiber-optic broadband communications networks.

In another article, Broadband Technologies` Don McCullough maintains that upgrading the wireline network with fiber is imperative if telephone companies are to compete over the long term with upgraded broadband coaxial-cable networks. Similarly, William Martin of ADC Telecommunications Inc. contends that customer demands for high-speed digital service applications are forcing equipment and product suppliers into partnerships to structure fiber-optic broadband networks using asynchronous transfer mode and synchronous optical network technologies. The remaining articles cover a customer-centric approach to future fiber-optic networks that could more easily handle new broadband services.

In short, fiber-optic broadband network technology represents an important methodology for effectively unlocking the convergence potential of voice, video and data communications. To support that goal, Lightwave is planning to cover in more detail the continuing impact of the Telecom Act on fiber-optic technology, applications and products, starting with this "broadband" issue. Look for the special "Telecom" icon that will spotlight news and feature articles that deal with Tele com mun ications Act issues.

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