DSL's Long Goodbye

Carl Weinschenk

DSL, as has been pointed out, is an antiquated legacy technology, but one that still has a foothold and vital role today. The news during the last few months has been good and bad for the technology.

The good news, as reported early last month, is that a new technique, called vectoring, has the potential to speed DSL to 100 megabits per second (Mbps). If that comes to pass, many of the DSL doomsayers will be shut up.

Verizon, however, made a move last week that likely will make the technology less popular than it previously was. In addition to its actual impact, the move shows how the carrier feels about DSL. It's not surprising, since Verizon chose not to use DSL as the last-mile technology in its FiOS platform.

Verizon unleashed a frontal attack on DSL this week. Generally, DSL is sold as part of a bundle in which voice, video and/or data services are included. However, plain DSL unconnected to any services - often called "naked DSL" - usually is available as well. Folks can use this to support third-party voice services such as Vonage. As of May 6, according to DSL Reports, Verizon customers will have to take voice. Subscribers with naked DSL are grandfathered in, though virtually any change will force them to add voice. Karl Bode puts it in historical perspective:

For those of you familiar with the ridiculous fight consumers had to go through to get phone companies to offer standalone DSL, this is quite a surprising and bizarre step backwards for the telco. Carriers for years tried to protect landline revenues by insisting that standalone DSL wasn't even technically possible. Verizon's latest effort is only the latest indication by Verizon that they're focused on wireless and really not particularly interested in legacy users, having sold off many DSL markets -- and now eager to bleed the rest of them.

It's good reporting by Bode and he is right that the company is focusing on wireless. But the move shouldn't be seen as ridiculous or bizarre. And, perhaps Verizon has a point: While the tale told by CNET's Eric Mack about DSL and his rural home in New Mexico isn't an indictment of DSL technology itself; it is about the shenanigans surrounding it in his region and suggests that emerging high-capacity wireless approaches seem far more feasible.

It also is worthwhile noting that AT&T is losing DSL customers. FierceTelecom included this commentary in its report on the latest finding by Leichtman Research Group:

During the fourth quarter, AT&T and Verizon both saw growth with their next-gen U-verse and FiOS data products, adding 587,000 and 201,000 subscribers, respectively. However, AT&T lost 49,000 traditional DSL broadband connections, an issue likely attributable to subscribers in non U-verse markets subscribing to a cable offering.

There is no question that DSL is a passing technology. The question is whether it will fade quickly or slowly. The bottom line is that Verizon is trying to make it fade more quickly.

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