Skip to main content

AT&T’s 'Project Eyesore’

I like to give credit where credit is due. Comcast has some television commercials that are quite amusing.

In one, a couple of turtles called the “Slowskys” tell the camera that Comcast’s high-speed Internet service is way too quick for them and that’s why they’re hanging on to their digital subscriber line connection. As we all know, stuff doesn’t fly so fast over twisted copper wire, and that’s A-OK for the Slowskys.

This is good news for AT&T Inc., because customers like the Slowskys will be their bread and butter.

As part of their much-ballyhooed “Project Lightspeed” architecture, phone company AT&T will roll fiber optics to a node and then deliver services to the home via 3,000 feet of twisted copper wire — an enhanced DSL, if you please. This is the broadband competitor to cable we’ve all been waiting for — kind of like trying to race a Lamborghini with two flat tires.

AT&T will connect fiber from its plant to humongous boxes (digital subscriber line access modules, or DSLAMs). They measure 4-by-5-by-2, and when combined you get an even bigger box. These aesthetically pleasing boxes will be stationed at various points throughout the neighborhood.

I’m thinking my association should hold a contest to figure out how to camouflage them so they don’t look so much like walk-in coolers; various shades of pastel paint would be nice.

It makes you wonder how they’re going to deploy these boxes in places like San Francisco, given the topography and the density of the housing units, many of which lack actual backyards. I suppose the sidewalks will do just fine — people can step out into the street to get around them.

Once the box is in place, AT&T will connect the homes to this node with the aforementioned copper wire.

Homeowners will be able to access video programming a whole new way by selecting the channel, sending a signal up the copper wire through the box back to the central office to servers (yes, servers) and — voila! — programming will appear on the TV screen, assuming those servers don’t go down, as servers are wont to do.

The speeds for data will be 1 Megabit per second to 6 Mbps downstream and a whopping 1 Mbps upstream — thus, the “enhanced DSL” label. And by the way, don’t have too many TV viewers pulling down programming all at once. It could put a strain on the system.

It’s one heck of a deal the way Congress is falling all over itself to abolish local franchising, so companies like AT&T can roll out technology that is obsolete the minute it hits the curb. But AT&T has been to the cable delivery dance before, so I suppose they know what they’re talking about. I mean, there’s nothing that sets you up for success like repeated failure.

But who am I to say? My only suggestion to our friends on Capitol Hill is: Let’s have AT&T roll out Project Lightspeed in your neighborhood first, with its attendant gargantuan boxes, and if that works for you (and your neighbors) then you can come back to the table with a national franchise scheme.

And by the way, any decorating hints you could provide would be quite helpful.