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America abandoning DSL in favour of faster cable

Dash to fibre as people abandon twisted copper

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ADSL connections to US homes are on the slide as companies and consumers turn to cable and fibre for faster connectivity.

End of 2011 results show Verizon lost almost half a million DSL customers during last year, while AT&T managed to lose more than six hundred thousand in the last quarter alone - but those customers aren't turning away from the internet they're just switching to a more 21st-century form of connectivity.

So AT&T lost 636,000 DSL customers in the last three months of 2011, but picked up 587,000 for its U-Verse service which used fibre for the majority of the connection, if not all of it. Those missing 50,000 haven't dropped off the net either, Time Warner's cable operation picked up 130,000 customers over the same period, showing that anything is better than twisted-pairs of copper these days.

A decade ago methods of last-mile connectivity dominated many a pub conversation, with ADSL compared to cable and almost always winning despite its slower speed, as only ADSL could offer an uncontended connection which was seen as essential in making internet access pay.

Since then ADSL has got a lot faster, but cable companies have been very busy upgrading their infrastructure to support even faster connections with portioned bandwidth making contention a matter of contracted priorities rather than best-effort packets.

The telcos have been busy too - pushing fibre connections to the exchange, and then to the cabinet and in some places even to the home, reducing the burden on the aging copper which has hitherto been their unique selling point.

So those in cities, where lifting roads is cheap and competition drives innovation, are increasingly turning away from their twisted-pair copper connections to download (and upload) movies ever faster. Meanwhile their rural counterparts remain locked in a lottery of ageing copper which no-one is ever planning to upgrade - and which would probably be left to rot if it weren't for universal-service obligations.

These days it's often not the last mile which matters, but the spaghetti-like sprawl of connectivity between the service providers. A UK internet connection might offer iPlayer's "HD" content perfectly, but choke showing an SD trailer from LoveFilm: that's nothing to do with the speed of the last mile but of the connectivity between all the companies involved, something common to all forms of internet access. ®

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

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