The following text is copyright 1998 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.

A familiar song

By Scott Bradner

I wonder just why the announcement a couple of weeks ago that a bunch of the baby Bells decided to follow the ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) star got so much press. ADSL technology and plans have been announced with fanfare a number of times already -- this is a song I have heard before, it just never seems to quite get to the place where real users join in the chorus.

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 get the big splash that it got on the front page, above the fold, in the New York Times and extensive coverage in the Wall Street Journal?

ADSL is not a quantum leap over already deployed technology such as cable modems. I've been a happy user of an Internet via cable modem service for a number of years. It performs very well - I get 1.3 Mbits per second transferring files from my office to my home and 224 Kbits per second going the other way (the cable modem service I have also has asymmetric bandwidth.) It has proven to be extremely reliable, with less than 2 hours of unplanned outage over the last year. It is also quite popular, AtHome, one of the providers, announced passing 50,000 subscribers the day before the ADSL announcement. This is quite small when compared to UUNET but is more than 11 times the current deployment of ADSL according to the Journal. The cable modem ready cable infrastructure is growing rapidly with MediaOne, my provider, already offering the service in 55 communities with a total of about 500,000 homes in eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.

Some people worry about the security implications of the fact that cable modems operate as a shared LAN. I do not consider this to be a major problem since I use application level security, such as ssh and secure web browsers, which encrypt the data stream and anyway it is not that much of a differentiator with ADSL since an ADSL conversation will normally traverse a shared ISP infrastructure on its way to a shared LAN at the destination. Anyway, this detail can not explain the level of press coverage.

Yes, some other big corporate names were associated with the plans, Microsoft, Intel and Compaq are part of the party but these corporations make significant announcements almost daily and those announcements rarely get this coverage.

I think the reason that this 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 people in the press 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 is my observation.