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Understanding Broadband - The History of Broadband

written by: Stephanie Mojica•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 1/28/2010

Government restrictions on the Internet partially kept the history of broadband technology stalled until the 1990's. But as early as 1965, educational institutions such as Dartmouth College experienced the beginnings of high-speed Internet access.

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    Early Days

    The history of broadband technology actually started in the 1960's, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC.) In 1965, labs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Dartmouth College used what was then considered high-speed Internet; 50 kbps network lines. By 1969, these prestigious colleges along with schools in California had upgraded their access. But it wasn't until 1984 that such universities acquired the high-speed Internet access we're accustomed to today. That year, participating colleges had gained T1 lines rather than continuing to use many 50 kbps channels.

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    Moving Forward

    Despite increasing availability of this high-speed Internet technology, considerable expense as well as government restrictions on commercial Internet access stalled growth of T1 and similar lines, according to the FCC. By 1991, all restrictions regarding commercial Internet use were repealed. This started moving the history of broadband technology forward.

    But until 1995, the government still maintained control of such Internet access. When private businesses were allowed to take over the Internet, households began using primarily dial-up access. Downloads were painfully slow, but broadband technology was still expensive and not widely available to small businesses or most private citizens. The best dial-up modems available in the early 1990's were 56 kbps.

    Right before the government relinquished control of high-speed Internet, its National Science Foundation (NSF) upgraded the primary Internet backbone of the nation to 145 mbps. The potential this 1994 upgrade created is virtually limitless, especially in the 21st century.

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    First Public Access to High-Speed Internet

    Though companies began offering dial-up Internet access on a larger scale in 1993 and many government restrictions were lifted in 1995, larger-scale progress in the history of broadband technology didn't happen until 1996. That year, Rogers Communications was the first North American company to offer household cable modem service. However, those first households were in Canada.

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    American Growth

    Once Rogers Communications paved the path, American companies soon followed suit. When high-speed Internet service became more widely available in the U.S., households signed up en masse. Between 2000 and 2001, residential high-speed Internet access subscriptions spiked by 50 percent. The following two years increased the numbers even more.By 2003, the FCC estimated that about 39 percent of American households enjoyed broadband Internet service.

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    Rural Communities

    As the 2000's progressed, a common complaint heard by American and Canadian government officials was lack of acceptable cable or DSL high-speed Internet service in rural communities. In response, some jurisdictions such as Nova Scotia announced broadband access initiatives. Nova Scotia began that effort in 2006 to bring high-speed Internet service to isolated areas of the Canadian province. The government declared that by 2010 every Nova Scotian would have access to wired broadband connections and most would also be able to enjoy wireless access. As of 2010, the effort was still continuing in Nova Scotia and beyond.

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    References

    "Building Rural High-Speed Internet." http://www.gov.ns.ca/econ/broadband/building/history.asp

    "History of Communications - INTERNET: Making the Connections." http://www.fcc.gov/omd/history/internet/making-connections.html