Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Fiber: It's good for you!

Twelve years ago, when I was still living in Utsunomiya, and NTT still had a monopolistic stranglehold on all things connected with telephones, including being able to certify a phone or modem as acceptable to use (in fact, this acceptance was actually law: If you used a device that they found unacceptable, you were actually in violation of the law), which they had a disincentive to do, since they were also selling telephones, fax machines, and modems, I had this idea: I would like to use the Internet. As a student at Carleton College, I had used Kermit, FTP, Telnet, e-mail, and Internet BBS's. When I graduated, and was home in Eugene, Oregon, I dropped into the University of Oregon's computer lab. They had some DEC terminals, and I tried one in the off-chance that it would allow me to log in. It did! I still had an alumni account from Carleton, and using this far-flung terminal, I could access the account as if I were directly connected, which in fact I was. The big mainframe makers in those days--Sun, IBM, DEC--all had their own networks, which used the Internet to connect one another: DECnet, SunSite, and something Blue that I don't remember. If you were connected to one DECNet site, you could connect to other sites, if you had permission, of course.
After my very pleasant experience at the U of O, when I got to Utsunomiya, I tried the same thing at Utsunomiya University. The conversation went something like this:
"Hello, kind lab ass, could you point me to a terminal."
"Who the hell are you and what do you want?"
"I would like to sit down and use one of your terminals."
"And who the hell are you?"
"I am a fellow netizen, with rights to access a node at Carleton College. In order to do so, I need first to find a terminal."
"Well, fellow 'netizen' , who let you in, and why are you still here?"
"Look, Mr. Lab Ass (hole), I am not asking for an account, nor to compromise your obviously huffy security policy, nor to inconvenience you in any other way except to ask you once again WHERE CAN I FIND A F*CKING TERMINAL?"
The convesation degenerated somewhat after that.
I relayed this story to the owner of a computer shop that I frequented, and he laughed his head off.
I had to wait another two years before public Internet access came to Utsunomiya. It was accessed with a, wait don't laugh, 14.4 kbp/s modem, and I paid 3.33 yen per minute just in local phone charges. Non-negotiable. I upgraded to a Power Mac 8100 with GeoPort adapter, which ran at 28.8 kbp/s, which was heaven for a (very short) while. I then splurged on an ISDN line, which pissed my wife off, because it required us to change our number, our local exchange not yet supporting ISDN. The whole time, my phone bill kept climbing, until it hit a pain threshhold of around 20,000 yen per month. That is about 100 hours of access per month, though that wasn't counting my long distant phone calls, basic rate, etc., so it was actually about 60 hours a month. This was a bone of contention with my wife every single month. This kept up after I had move slightly north of Utsunomiya, in fact because I moved: Utsunomiya had ADSL from about 1998 onwards. My town didn't get it until October, 2000. I was one of the first recepients in a long line of people who signed up very quickly. Ironically, I had to change my number again, because for ADSL you have to switch back to analogue. This went on for four years, until I moved last August. This being Japan, the pressure to upgrade is everywhere. So, it was time for fiber. Yes, fiber.
One hundred megabits per second, upstream and downstream. No laws of copper physics to deal with, no thought that if they put too many people on the exchange my performance might degrade. Lightspeed. And actually, it cost very little more than ADSL. Fiber is about $40/month, and ADSL about $30. Definitely worth the extra.
Recently, I upgraded again, this time to gigabit speeds. No extra charge. I did, however, need to keep my analogue phone line: NTT's rules said you needed one 'real' phone line into the house in case of emergency. A rather self-serving rule, but some things never change, until, of course, they suit NTT. They do now: I get a VoIP number which has a regular city prefix (all VoIP numbers have had the 050 prefix until now, no matter where they are located), and doesn't require that I have a copper line. It's basic fee is 1/3 that of 'normal' copper rates, and the sound quality is actually better. This is how NTT does it: They create a frustrated customer, and then fill the pent up demand for that thing the customer craves.
I will say, though, that having this speed is great: My Tivo-like box takes mere seconds to download the TV schedules, I downloaded all six Redhat discs in less than 30 minutes (would have been faster, but the universities that I downloaded from seemed to have bandwidth issues ;), and BitTorrent rocks. There is one TVoIP (TV over IP) service which uses a cable-box-like gizmo to stream programs directly to your TV. This even uses IP v.6, the newest version.
Japan literally went from the Internet dark ages to clear world-leading status in about 6 years. It is mind boggling. It is now cheaper by about half to have a fiber line with Internet service, telephone service, and television service, than my copper 14.4 connection was 10 years ago. Having been involved in reactionary telecoms (in Japan, any telecom that wasn't NTT was reactionary, since everything we did was a reaction to their monopoly: Callback was a reaction to their price-setting; mobile was a reaction to the high price of buying the 'right' to have a line; cheap mobile service was a reaction to PHS; and so on) during much of that time, I have had the ride of my life. As a customer I have also had the ride of my life, though a little more bumpy, with alternately wonderous and frustratingly backward experiences (I wrote the first Mac modem driver for my TA/DSU). What a place!

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