National Broadband? There’s One Already–With No Taxpayer Funding!



Amongst the fuss and pointless politicking about the National Broadband plan, did you know that there already is a nationwide super-fast fiber broadband infrastructure? It’s called National LambdaRail (NLR), and it’s been privately funded.

It’s a coast-to-coast fiber network with 12,000 miles of cable (enough to stretch half way around the entire Earth) which has been quietly under construction since 2003. It’s so tightly managed and efficient that in November 2009 it had not one single second of downtime–a shocking stat to both sysadmins and any home broadband user fed up of repeated slow-downs or service dropouts. 

NLR is currently used as a test-bed of sorts for high-tech computer-based experiments about high speed networking, and as such lots of its traffic is from academic institutions. But NLR is noting it’s the only such grid in the world to host university research traffic alongside government data streams, commercial uses, and even data flowing between medical centers (the vaguely similar, and older, JANET system in the U.K. is purely for hooking up academic institutions). Cisco systems is a big partner in the project and says that although NLR does carry government data, it’s purely on a client-customer basis. NLR, Cisco adds, has in fact “built this peerless digital infrastructure with no government aid or direct tax payer funding.”

And that’s why the U.S. public should care at all about NLR. Though it’s only using 10% of its data capacity, it’d never be capable of supporting the needs of an entire nation–but it’s successful, reliable, high-tech, and already in place. It’s even sporting spurs off its main coast-to-coast grid to enable fast local NLR networks in cities. All this makes it a perfect model for how to fix crappy U.S. broadband from a governmental point of view. If the government threw enough tax dollars at the problem, building a similar network, with more capacity and a much increased use of regional spurs, then the U.S. could easily solve its problem of slipping down the global rankings in Net-connected citizenry. The issue, of course, is that those tax dollars would need to be intelligently, efficiently, and accurately targeted (copying NLR’s strategy) to achieve success…and that would seem an almost impossible task for any government-backed project. Still, it’s worth a try: Next time your local authority figure harps on about the National Broadband plan, just point them at NLR.

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