Letter To the Editor of CACM (September 1999)
Robert A. Ellis
As Chair and Member, respectively, of SIGGRAPH?s Public Policy Committee, we read
with interest the article by Scott Tilley (The Need for Speed, CACM, July 1999, pp.
23-26). Because the use of graphics and graphical user interfaces requires high
bandwidth Internet connections, our committee has decided to focus on this issue.
Mr. Tilley correctly identifies the need and presents a reasonable introductory overview of
the subject, although we probably would not have included 56Kbps modems. Instead we
would have included satellite and terrestrial wireless as other high speed communications
alternatives. Our version of such a survey appeared in a recent issue of SIGGRAPH?s
quarterly member publication, ?Computer Graphics? (?Last-Mile? Bandwidth Recap and
Committee Survey Activity, ?Computer Graphics?, Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 49-53, May
1999). The article is also available on-line on the SIGGRAPH website
We are concerned, however, that Mr. Tilley did not discuss a number of critical technical
and public policy issues in his article. For example, DSL has serious limitations on the
distance between subscriber and central office. Most cable modems are non-standard
(new standard ones having come late to market), and the service is a shared resource
which means performance may deteriorate drastically as more users in Mr. Tilley?s
neighborhood sign up. Both of these technologies also have critical security problems due
to their ?always on? nature with a permanent IP address. And Windows users of either
technology might be surprised to find that their neighbors can easily access their files and
even their printers unless certain parameters are set appropriately.
In addition, there are numerous policy issues which may influence prospective customers
decisions. Cable modem customers have no choice of ISP and must use the ISP
designated by their cable company. Note also that cable operators are not common
carriers like the phone companies, and customers may find the content of their Internet
transmissions monitored and perhaps censored by the cable operator and its captive ISP.
DSL policy issues include reasonable tariffing, openness of telcos' copper loops to
independent DSL providers, and (for single-line homes) loop-sharing between a voice
service provider and an unrelated data service provider, who use different frequencies on
the same wire.
Wireless broadband users in apartments and condominiums, despite recent legislation
favoring them, remain limited in where they may mount outdoor antennas. Cellular and
PCS providers are held back from offering broadband service in part by regulators'
reluctance to impose uniform technical standards. (And as for fiber carriers, their
non-conducting 'wires' clash with rules that they must power users' telephones, even
when commercial utility power isn't available.)
While use-oriented experience reports can be helpful, the examples above hint at the
complexity of a subject that deserves fuller treatment by a magazine with CACM's