Chapter 5. Broadband: What Is It?

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I feel the need, the need for speed.

Maverick to Goose in the movie Top Gun

Broadband exists in our daily vernacular. It’s in TV commercials from cable and phone providers that depict it as something like mercury, that, when applied to your shoes, allows you to outrace rockets and airplanes. It’s on the radio as something you get for an amazing low price every month, with the first six months free. Even political leaders have used it as a rallying cry, promising to make it a part of their respective economic stimulus packages.

What is broadband, and why should you care?

In general terms, broadband is a high-speed network connection that allows you to do several things at the same time (each thing requiring a piece of that connection). For instance, with a broadband connection, you can download email messages with large pictures attached while watching an online video or listening to streaming music, while reading a blog and shopping on Amazon; you are not forced to do one thing or the other separately. And if the broadband is “broad” enough, the experience of doing it all will be pretty good (fast with no lag). It seems the more we get of it, the more we use it, and these new uses tend to demand more of the network, creating a self-perpetuating cycle that requires continual adoption and upgrading of our broadband connections.

So what’s the big deal? Well, ...

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