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Nevertheless, many of the conference’s attendees and exhibitors seemed ambiva­lent. Sure, they felt, all this was exciting. Simultaneously, however, they told each other in muted tones that the economy was sinking and the industry needed to undergo consolidation. And who, they asked, would pay the up-front costs for these next-­generation networks?

“Nobody wants to pay,” Jag Bolaria, a ­Linley Group analyst and former director with Intel’s Ethernet division, told me. “That’s why British Telecom is asking the U.K. government for subsidies to install DSL bandwidth. It’s the same in France and Italy, and it’ll happen here.” Bolaria was particularly critical of U.S. carriers. “Test what you get through your broadband connection, and you’ll find a one- or two-meg link is what you end up with,” he said. “In Europe and even parts of Asia, they’re getting significantly more–maybe 10 megs. But in America, carriers own the pipes, and we don’t really see much competition. If they don’t want to give you much bandwidth–and AT&T and other carriers are selling T1 lines and charging seriously for them–you don’t get much bandwidth. Furthermore, the carriers want to control content and charge for that.” If the U.S. government gave American telecoms taxpayers’ money, Bolaria said, the companies should be strictly prevented from pushing tiered services or content restrictions onto consumers.

He was guardedly optimistic about the future. “We’re slowly moving toward more than 25 megs of bandwidth in a fiber-optic pipe into your house,” he said. “I think as you start getting two- to five-meg uplinks, then you’ll reach the point where users can put their own content in high definition.” That, he speculated, might change Hollywood as radically as the Internet had already changed newspapers. “Overall,” he said, “I’m looking forward to the time when you can truly choose or create your own content, as opposed to ‘This is what you get and how much you pay for it.’”

Altogether, the telecosm in 2008 is much as Gilder predicted at the beginning of the century.

Mark Williams is a contributing editor to Technology Review.

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Credit: Michael Temchine/The New York Times/Redux

Tagged: Communications, Internet, bandwidth, fiber optics, data traffic

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