Verizon took a significant step this week with the introduction of a service option providing residential FiOS subscribers with the same capacity in the upstream and downstream directions. The maximum throughput of the symmetrical service is is 20 megabits per second (Mbps). Generally, broadband services offer far more downstream than upstream capacity.
The company says that the "20/20" service is available in the New York City metro area. It costs $65 per month for those with a Verizon phone and $70 for those without. Other areas served by FiOS will get the service soon, according to a company spokesperson quoted in the story.
While consumer activities, such as uploading videos, will be supported by the symmetrical service, providing telecommuters with the ability to upload large files, attend teleconferences and otherwise act like they are in the office is a big part of the telco's motivation.
Telecommuting has been moderately successful in the U.S. during the past couple decades. There always seems to be something in the news that proponents say will get it over the hump. The current rationale is the increasing desire to cut carbon emissions. PC World details the findings of a survey by the Consumer Electronics Association that found reduced power demand associated with commuting and working in a traditional office -- even when balanced against increased consumption in the home -- led to significant overall reductions in emissions. The report says that 3.9 million people work from home once a week or more and that they have an average commute of 22 miles. Telecommuting, the organization said, saves about 840 million gallons of gas by taking the equivalent of 2 million cars off the road annually.
This CNET commentary, written by a partner in the San Francisco office of a multinational law firm, clearly outlines the best arguments for telecommuting. The writer looks at the hours lost commuting and fuel wasted, the ability of telecommuters to work through events that close offices, these workers' increased flexibility, and the expansion of the pool of prospective employees. He also counters arguments against telecommuting, such as the feeling that people will goof off more at home. Just because somebody is physically in the office, he points out, there is no assurance that he or she is working hard.
Renewed interest in telecommuting isn't reserved for large companies. The Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) says that almost three out of four companies with 500 or fewer employees have one or more telecommuting employees. On average, the piece says, 7 percent of these companies' workforces work at home one or more days per week. The survey -- which focuses on mobility in general -- suggests that there is a good market opportunity in offering small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) smart phones, virtual private networks (VPNs) and similar hardware and software aimed at people who spend a lot of time working outside the office.
This long Network World feature about government attitudes to telecommuting is interesting in the close tie it draws between telecommuting security and mobile devices. Clearly, of course, the two are intertwined -- while it is possible to telecommute without packing sensitive information on laptops, these devices often are the way in which data gets from office to home and vice versa. However, concerns about mobile device security isn't discussed as often in the context of telecommuting in the private sector. The dynamic is tough for the feds. On one hand, government employees are doing a great job of losing portable devices laden with valuable data. On the other, there are laws on the books requiring federal agencies to push this mode of work.
The FiOS announcement clearly went beyond a desire to serve teleworkers. It is obvious, however, that symmetrical high speed services remove one of the remaining technical obstacles and makes home offices more attractive. Planners and IT managers with workers in FiOS' footprint should pay attention as the offer is introduced more widely. Other telcos also may get into the act, since this can be a key distinguisher from cable operators. Indeed, the The Washington Post story says that SureWest Communications has offered a similar, albeit more expensive, service in Sacramento, Calif., since 2005.