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The Last Mile: Paving the Way

May 9th, 2016

When referring to telecommunications infrastructure, "the last mile" is a highly debated topic that questions exactly where the responsibility lies to upgrade the "last mile" from an internet service provider (ISP) to the end-user. The internet is connected through networks of fiber optic cable that span around the world; trans-oceanic networks serve as the backbone of the global infrastructure, and from there smaller networks form and connect. Corporations, municipalities and cities own and maintain these smaller networks, providing an efficient means of customer connectivity to the larger global network.

From these smaller networks, local service providers connect to the consumer – this portion of the network is commonly referred to as the last mile. This relatively short network configuration is the reason consumers are typically limited to internet speeds of less than 50mb/s. With the demand for increased bandwidth and network speeds, current last-mile configurations fall short of consumer needs which results in higher demand for network upgrades. ISP's associated with the backbone and smaller networks are hesitant to invest in upgrading a network that is currently profitable, claiming that upgrading throughout their entire optical network may result in expensive upgrade and integration costs in areas that may not have a high demand for increased bandwidth and/or speed.

What does this mean?

Consumers struggling to meet bandwidth needs requires them to equip their homes and businesses for connectivity to today's high-speed optical networks. These end-users argue that this should be a service provided by the owners of local utility networks, while at the same time the large corporations behind those networks argue that they have built the general infrastructure, therefore it should be the consumer's responsibility to meet their personal bandwidth needs.

With estimates of only 23% of the U.S. having access to fiber optic networks as of 2012, ultimately the responsibility lies in the hands of the consumer and the provider. The increasing demand for high-speed access has several service providers expanding their fiber optic networks in areas with higher demand. From there it is the responsibility of the consumer to upgrade their current configurations to be compatible with the expanding network. Systematically upgrading network connectivity on both ends is ultimately the optimal solution.

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