The Challenge of Increasing Broadband Capacity

Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing, Networks and Infrastructure and Broadband

Article Snapshot


Dale Hatfield


Federal Communications Law Journal, Vol. 63, 2010


This paper looks at technology that increases the bandwidth of existing networks that carry broadband traffic.

Policy Relevance

To allow more broadband services to be offered in the home, it will probably be important to encourage communications carriers to build fiber optic networks out to people’s homes.

Main Points

  • The Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan has drawn attention to the problem of how to enable existing communications networks to support more broadband services.

  • The “bandwidth” of a digital network refers to how many binary digits or “bits” it can carry per second. 

  • The “bottleneck,” or shortage of transmission capacity, in existing communications networks is usually the portion of the network closest to people’s homes, lying between the home and the nearest network “node.”

  • Local network loops were often originally built to carry telephone or cable television signals, and usually made of a “twisted pair” of copper wires or coaxial cable. Wireless channels and fiber optic cables can also carry signals from the home.

  • It is hard to squeeze more carrying capacity out of twisted pair or coaxial cable.  Wireless channels can have problems with interference.

  • The Obama Administration plans to allocate more electromagnetic spectrum to allow more wireless channels to be used, but in crowded areas like New York City this additional spectrum will not be nearly enough.

  • To increase the capacity of local networks significantly, policymakers should encourage carriers to build fiber optic networks down to people’s homes.

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