Academic journal article Management Quarterly

Broadband: A Primer on Telecommunications Technology

Academic journal article Management Quarterly

Broadband: A Primer on Telecommunications Technology

Article excerpt

At the recent Annual Meeting, at the request of the Telecommunications Standing Committee, the Management Issues Committee recommended, and NRECA members approved, that the Resolution on Director, Management and Employee Training should include a directive to NRECA to "develop a primer that furthers the understanding of emerging telecommunications technology." This document attempts to respond to this resolution.

I. Introduction

Americans shop, trade stocks, pay bills and search for information on-line. This ability to rapidly send or receive digitized information has transformed the global economy. Unfortunately, the technologies to provide this capability -- the technologies of broadband Internet access- are not penetrating all areas of the country equally.

A recent article in the New York Times was called "Life in the Slow Lane: Rural Residents are Frustrated by Sluggish Web Access." It described a real estate agent in Pryor, Oklahoma, who uses a dial-up modem to connect through her local Internet Service Provider. According to the article, "the connection is never very fast -- 33 kilobits per second at most, although she has a 56K modem -- and at night it slows to a crawl." Like millions of others, she wants a faster Internet connection. But unlike urban and suburban Americans, she is stuck with slow dial-up service because there are no other choices in Pryor, Oklahoma, population 8,300.

This lady may have been inconvenienced, but the problem she faces in other circumstances could turn out to be a matter of life and death. Many communities cannot support medical specialists, but journals are full of stories about how sick or injured people can be diagnosed from afar. Digital technology and advanced imaging systems allow doctors to diagnose and design treatments for people living thousands of miles away from hi-tech medical facilities. The technology for delivering a fine-grained signal must be precise, allowing doctors to peer with precision into a human body using a wire smaller than your little finger.

You may recall reading about Dr. Jerri Nielsen, a physician who served at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Research Center at the South Pole. Dr. Nielsen found a lump in her breast. Worse, it was the Antarctic winter, and no planes could get in or out for a six-month period. Because of the Internet, she was able to e-mail photographs of slides of the tumor to doctors back home, and they were able to guide her through her initial treatment.

These examples show the obstacles to and the promise of broadband technology. Most urban Americans have fast, stable access to the Internet. The generic term for this is "broadband." It refers to the ability to transmit and receive large amounts of data to and from a computer.

The ability to transmit this data is determined by the size of the "pipe" through which it moves, referred to as bandwidth. As the Internet has become more graphical and interactive, the need for broadband has increased.

Numerous applications have been developed that require greater bandwidth to be used effectively. Broadband services include interactive purchasing, video-on-demand, remote interactive medical services, remote access to stored video materials, and two-way teleconferencing. As a result, government agencies, hospitals, and consumers all want broadband access.

Additionally, many electric cooperatives are investigating telecommunications technologies, and cooperative boards are being asked to invest in broadband infrastructure. But exactly what are these technologies, how do they work, and which have applications in rural America?

This Primer attempts to answer these questions. Its objective is to explain basic broadband technologies to non-technical readers. It will begin with a

brief explanation of the "bits" and "bytes" of the digital world, and then explain the role of the Internet Service Provider. …

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