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A familiar song

By Scott Bradner

I wonder just why the recent announcement about the Baby Bells
deciding to follow the asymmetric digital subscriber line star has
received so much press.

I've heard the ADSL technology and product plan song before - it just
never quite seems to get to the point where real users join in the

One question I have is about the technology itself. It is good stuff. It
can run fast over existing copper phone lines, assuming that your site
meets the distance and cable path restrictions. But should this have
been enough to warrant a front page story, above the fold, in The
New York Times and extensive coverage in The Wall Street Journal
last month?

ADSL is not a quantum leap over already deployed technology such
as cable modems. I've been a happy user of a cable modem Internet
service for a number of years. It performs very well - I can transfer
files from my office to my home at 1.3M bit/sec and send them the
other way at 224K bit/sec (my cable modem service also features
asymmetric bandwidth).

The service has proven to be extremely reliable, with less than two
hours of unplanned outage over the past year.

The service also is quite popular. @Home, one of the service
providers, announced surpassing 50,000 subscribers the day before
word of the Baby Bell ADSL announcement leaked out in the Times.
@Home's number is quite small when compared with UUNET's
subscriber numbers, but @Home's subscriber base is more than 11
times that of the current ADSL subscriber base, according to the

And the cable modem-ready cable infrastructure is growing rapidly.
Media-One - my provider - already offers cable modem service in 55
communities with a total of about 500,000 homes in eastern
Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.

Some people worry about cable modem security, given that cable
modem services operate as shared LANs.

I do not consider this to be a major problem, since I use application
level security, such as Secure Shell and secure Web browsers, which
encrypt the data stream.

In addition, ADSL is not all that different on the security front in that
ADSL conversations typically traverse a shared Internet service
provider infrastructure on their way to a shared LAN at the

But even the security issue cannot explain the level of press coverage.

Yes, some other big companies - Microsoft, Intel and Compaq - are
associated with the Bells' plans, but these other companies make
significant announcements almost daily that rarely get this much

I think the reason that the announcement got such prominence is
because a lot of people in the press still don't quite think that the
Internet is real. For years they have been expecting that the real
Internet would happen when the regional Bell telephone companies
decide to join in.

Every time that a Bellette mumbles anything about the Internet, these
press people take it as a sign from heaven that the real Internet may
show up soon. Someday they just might notice that it is already here.

Disclaimer: Harvard's grasp of reality varies, but the above are my