SALT LAKE CITY — During the past two decades, broadband service has become nearly as common as telephone service at home and at work.
Along the Wasatch Front, there are more than 20 residential Internet service providers, from large nationwide corporations to small locally based companies, in addition to several providers that cater specifically to businesses. While all providers offer Internet service, some also bundle phone/voice and television/video in packages that offer customers discounts over the cost of the individual services purchased separately.
When architect Tom Walsman and his wife moved to Provo from Virginia to help care for his elderly father-in-law, he knew he would need reliable high-speed Internet to conduct business effectively from his home office.
“Practically all my business is done over the Internet, (including) sending (large) files,” he said. During the past few years, he has tried a number of providers and most recently settled on Comcast. He uses its premium service, which offers downloads at 250 megabits per second with bundled phone, internet and TV at a monthly cost of around $150, he said.
Though he said the cost to have the combined service isn’t exactly inexpensive, the overall value “works for us.”
With so many Internet providers, there are also a large number of service levels offered with transmission speeds ranging from $40 per month for basic service at relatively slow speeds to as much as $150 for monthly premium-level service at ultra fast speeds.
Internet transmission speeds are typically gauged in megabits per second, the standard measure of broadband speed that refers to the speed at which information is downloaded from, or uploaded to, the Internet. The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates broadband, characterizes basic service as 1 to 5 megabits per second, medium service as 6 to 15 megabits per second and advanced service as greater than 15 megabits per second.
One megabit per second equals 1 million bits per second — the industry standard used by Internet service providers. Today, some premium services can reach as high as 1 or 2 gigabits per second.
The term download refers to the measure of how fast your connection delivers content to your computer or local area network, while upload is the measure of how fast content is delivered from your computer or local area network to others on the Internet.
According to the FCC, the term broadband commonly refers to high-speed Internet access that is always on and faster than any dial-up access. Broadband includes several high-speed transmission technologies such as digital subscriber line or DSL, cable modem, fiber, wireless, satellite and broadband over power lines or BPL.
Digital subscriber line is a wire line transmission technology that transmits data faster over traditional copper telephone lines already installed to homes and businesses. The availability and speed of the service may depend on the distance from the home or business to the closest telephone company facility.
Another option, cable modem service, enables cable operators to provide broadband using the same coaxial cables that deliver pictures and sound to a television set.
Increasingly popular, fiber-optic technology converts electrical signals carrying data to light and sends the light through transparent glass fibers about the diameter of a human hair. Fiber transmits data at speeds far exceeding current DSL or cable modem speeds, typically by tens or even hundreds of megabits per second.
Wireless broadband connects a home or business to the Internet using a radio link between the customer’s location and the service provider’s facility. Contrary to its name, wireless broadband can be mobile or fixed.
Satellite broadband is another form of wireless broadband that is also useful for serving remote or sparsely populated areas.
Meanwhile, broadband over power lines is the delivery of broadband over the existing low- and medium-voltage electric power distribution network at speeds comparable to DSL and cable modem speeds.
In Utah, the geographic area in which residents or businesses are located heavily influences the service choices that are available. While some providers may offer higher speeds, consumers may not always be able to access them due to their location.
Utah has the sixth fastest average broadband speeds in the nation, said Kelleigh Cole, manager of the Utah Broadband Outreach Center in the Governor's Office of Economic Development.
“There has been a lot of private investment in broadband in Utah,” she said. “Broadband is becoming increasingly more important in Utah. Many industries are reliant upon broadband, including economic development, education, health care and public safety.”
In 2014, CenturyLink deployed fiber-enabled 1 gigabit-per-second broadband speeds to residential and business customers in Salt Lake City and many other Utah communities.
The company has pledged to bring 1 Gbps speeds to approximately 100,000 residential customers over the next 12 months. Currently, the company already has more than 19,700 gigabit-enabled business locations across Utah.
The state’s other large national provider, Comcast, announced the company would roll out its new residential multigigabit broadband service to customers throughout the Utah service area starting this summer. Gigabit Pro is a symmetrical, 2 gigabit-per-second service that will be delivered via fiber to the home.
Like virtually every other provider, Comcast has numerous service and speed options for customers to choose from based on their needs.
Among the government-sponsored projects available, UTOPIA — Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency — operates on an open access model in 11 participating cities along the Wasatch Front. The agency owns and manages the infrastructure but leases the lines to private Internet service providers that deliver services to subscribers. Similar to other ultra-high-speed infrastructure, the service is carried through fiber-optic lines.
Recently, Salt Lake City announced that it was among a number of U.S. cities to strike a deal with Google Fiber to bring high-speed Internet service to city residents.
In April 2013, Provo announced it would become just the third city in the nation at the time to have Google Fiber. The company uses a fiber-optic network to provide fast and powerful Internet, as well as TV service.
Pete Ashdown, founder and CEO of locally based Internet service provider XMission, said though his company operates as one of the UTOPIA providers and independently, he believes that civic governments should take the lead on making Internet access “ubiquitous” and available to everyone.
“The cities should take a role in building the infrastructure and wholesale it out to the data providers on a level playing field,” he said. “If you don’t like one of (the providers), you could switch in a day.”
Creating an environment for fair competition would offer the best service options at the most affordable prices for consumers, he said.
“Competition is a much better option than having a regulated monopoly (like most utilities) because it puts the decision in the hands of the consumer,” Ashdown said. “The level playing field that government infrastructure brings is what also gives us an incredible ability to have (online) commerce. These are (ideas) that have supported our economy for years and years.”
For a full list of providers who serve the Utah Broadband Project, visit broadband.utah.gov/providers.
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