Glossary of Cable, Internet, and Phone Terms

A comprehensive glossary of terms you may come across when dealing with an internet, cable, or phone service provider.


3G: The term for the 3rd generation wireless telecommunications standards usually with network speeds of less than 1 Mbps. 

4G: The term for 4th generation wireless telecommunications standards usually with network speeds greater than 1 Mbps. 

5G: The term for emerging 5th generation wireless telecommunications standards that are usually associated with network speeds of up to 1 Gbps or more.


Access Channels: Cable channels, including public, educational, and governmental, made available to community members on a free or leased basis either with or without studio and production facilities. An Issuing Authority (governmental entity authorized to grant a cable license or franchise) may require that such channels be provided as part of a licensing agreement. The cable operator may not exercise editorial control over the programming on these channels, except that a cable operator may refuse to transmit any programming that contains obscenity or indecency.

Access Charge: A fee charged subscribers or other telephone companies by a local exchange carrier for the use of its local exchange networks.

Access Corporation: A corporation organized within a municipality for the purpose of operating that municipality's access channel(s).

ADSL (Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line): A form of Internet service communications technology that delivers constantly accessible data transmissions over copper telephone lines. ADSL is a common brand of DSL and has download speeds between 2 and 6 Mbps and upload speeds reaching 512 Kbps.

Analog: Technology originally designed for transmitting voice (e.g., telephones) where signals are sent as electromagnetic waves. For video service, the signal is sent from the television broadcaster to the local cable operator to the subscriber's home (compare Digital).

Analog Signal: A signaling method that uses continuous changes in the amplitude or frequency of a radio transmission to convey information.

Ascertainment: A process that affords the public an opportunity to comment and participate during the initial licensing of a cable operator or the renewal licensing of the incumbent cable operator. It is also a period of time for the Issuing Authority to gather data and review the cable operator's past and present performance and to identify the community's future cable-related needs and interests.

Asymmetrical Bandwidth: A connection in which the maximum transfer rate is different for download and upload speeds.

Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM): A transmission method where information is re-structured into cells. It is asynchronous due to the fact that the recurrence of cells from an individual user is not necessarily periodic.


Backbone: A major high-speed transmission line that strategically links smaller high-speed Internet networks across the globe.

Backhaul: The portion of a broadband network in which the local access or end-user point is linked to the main Internet network. 

Bandwidth: The capacity of a telecom line to carry signals. The necessary bandwidth is the amount of spectrum required to transmit the signal without distortion or loss of information. FCC rules require suppression of the signal outside the band to prevent interference.

Basic Service Tier (BST): Lowest level of service available and required by federal law to include, at a minimum, the retransmission of local television broadcast signals and local public access channels in the event programming in a community is subject to rate regulation, rates for the basic service tier are the only programming rates currently regulated.

Bit: A single unit of data, either a one or a zero. In the world of broadband, bits are used to refer to the amount of transmitted data. A kilobit (Kb) is approximately 1,000 bits. A megabit (Mb) is approximately 1,000,000 bits.  

Broadband: The term broadband commonly refers to high-speed Internet access that is always on and faster than traditional dial-up access. Broadband includes several high-speed transmission technologies, such as fiber, wireless, satellite, digital subscriber line, and cable. For the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), broadband capability requires consumers to have access to actual download speeds of at least 25 Mbps and actual upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps.

Broadband Adoption: The use of broadband in places where it is available, measured as the percentage of households that use broadband in such areas. Link to Digital Inclusion definition

Broadband Over Powerline (BPL): A theoretical technology that would provide broadband service over existing electrical power lines. 

Broadband Passive Optical Network (BPON): BPON is a point-to-multipoint fiber-lean architecture network system that uses passive splitters to deliver signals to multiple users. Instead of running a separate strand of fiber from the CO to every customer, BPON uses a single strand of fiber to serve up to 32 subscribers.  

Burstable: Authorizes a connection to exceed its specified speed, normally up to a set maximum capacity for a period of time.

Burst Speed: A method that momentarily allots additional bandwidth to consumers’ services for short periods of time.


Cable Advisory Committee (“CAC”): The CAC is appointed by the Issuing Authority (government entity authorized to grant a cable license or franchise) and its role varies according to the authority defined by the Issuing Authority. Its main responsibility is to negotiate cable licenses with operators and oversee the ascertainment process. In addition, the CAC acts as liaison to the cable operator by supervising the cable operator's response to complaints, responding to residents' questions regarding the cable system, and staying abreast of community programming issues.

CableCARD: A CableCARD (or point-of-deployment module) allows a consumer to access cable programming using a digital cable-ready television set or a retail set-top box (navigation device) instead of renting a set-top box from a cable operator. Cable operators must provide subscribers with CableCARDs upon request.

Central Office: A telecommunication company’s building where consumers’ phone lines are attached to equipment that connects a consumer to other consumers in that central office or other central offices across the globe.

California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC): The organization mandated by the state Constitution to regulate public utilities in California. 

California Teleconnect Fund (CCTF): A public program that provides subsidizes phone and data service to schools, hospitals, CBOs, and other qualified institutions in California. Benefits are calculated net of E-rate federal subsidy.

Calling Party Pays: A billing method in which a wireless phone caller pays only for making calls and not for receiving them. The standard American billing system requires wireless phone customers to pay for all calls made and received on a wireless phone.

Cellular Technology: This term, often used for all wireless phones regardless of the technology they use, derives from cellular base stations that receive and transmit calls. Both cellular and PCS phones use cellular technology.

Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN): Authorization given by the CPUC to telecommunications carriers in order to provide service in the state of California.

Closed Captioning: A service for persons with hearing disabilities that translates television program dialog into written words on the television screen.

Coarse Wavelength Division Multiplexing (CWDM): is generally held to be WDM with less than 8 active wavelengths per fiber.

Commercial Leased Access: Manner through which independent video producers can access cable capacity for a fee.

Common Carrier: In the telecommunications arena, the term is used to describe a telephone company.

Community Access Television (CATV):  Also known as Public Broadcasting, it describes channels that are set aside for non-commercial broadcasting to community groups or members. 

Communications Assistant: A person who facilitates telephone conversation between text telephone users, users of sign language, or individuals with speech disabilities through a Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS). This service allows a person with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate with anyone else via telephone at no additional cost.

Community Anchor Institutions: Schools, libraries, medical and healthcare providers, public safety entities, institutes of higher education, and other community support organizations that provide outreach, access, equipment, and support services to facilitate greater use of broadband service by the entire population and local governments. 

Community Antenna Television (CATV): A service through which subscribers pay to have local television stations and additional programs brought into their homes from an antenna via a coaxial cable. The acronym CATV is also often used to describe Cable Television and Community Access Television.

Community-Based Organizations (CBO): Groups serving a community that are eligible for California Teleconnect Fund (CTF) Subsidy.  

Community Needs Assessment: An assessment of the deficiencies that exist in a community that is preventing it from reaching goals or desired results relating to broadband. 

Competitive Access Provider (CAP): Also known as a “Bypass Carrier," it is a company that provides network links between the customer and the Inter-Exchange Carrier or even directly to the Internet Service Provider. CAPs operate private networks independent of Local Exchange Carriers. Not to be confused with " Data Cap"

Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (CLEC): Wireline service provider that is authorized under state and federal rules to compete with ILECs to provide local telephone service. CLECs provide telephone services in one of three ways or a combination thereof: 

a) by building or rebuilding telecommunications facilities of their own, 

b) by leasing capacity from another local telephone company (typically an ILEC) and reselling it, and 

c) by leasing discreet parts of the ILEC network referred to as UNEs. 

Coaxial Cable: A type of wiring that is widely used in the cable television industry and can carry voice, data, and video simultaneously. The coaxial (or “coax”) cable consists of an inner conductor on which signal voltage is impressed with respect to the shield. The center conductor is surrounded by a dielectric, then a shield. Frequently, an insulation layer surrounds the shield.

Converter: Equipment authorized by and often provided by a cable operator for a fee that allows access or controls interference to cable services. Digital converters use computer technology and provide two-way transmission resulting in access to digital programming and interactive services, such as the on-screen purchase of pay-per-view movies and on-screen television guides (see also Set-Top Box).

Cramming: A practice in which customers are billed for enhanced features and services that they have not ordered.


Dark Fiber: Fiber that is in place but not being used for broadband services. (“non-lit” fiber, also see “Lit Fiber”).

Data Cap: Also known as "Broadband Cap" or "Bandwidth Cap" refers to limits imposed on the amount of data a user can use during a regular billing cycle before service is throttled, turned off, or begins to incur extra charges.

Demarcation Point:  The term Demarcation Point refers to a point on the cable wiring located, in the case of a single residence, approximately 12 inches outside of a subscriber’s home or, in the case of a multi-dwelling unit building, at the point where the wiring is first physically accessible outside of the subscriber’s unit. On the subscriber’s side of the Demarcation Point, the wiring is called Cable Home Wiring and the subscriber is responsible for costs associated with maintaining the Cable Home Wiring. The provider is responsible for the maintenance of the cable wiring on the other side of the Demarcation Point. 

Data Local Exchange Carrier (DLEC): DLECs deliver high-speed access to the Internet, not voice. 

Data Over Cable System Interface Specification (DOCSIS): The international telecommunications standard for cable signaling data and spectrum sharing.

Deaf and Disabled Telephone Program (DDTP): A public program that provides benefits, including specialized equipment, to qualified California disabled customers.

Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM): A SONET term that is the means of increasing the capacity of SONET fiber-optic transmission systems.

Designated Market Area (DMA): Standard established by Nielsen Media Research used to determine a broadcast station's market area. The FCC adopted this standard under which broadcast stations are given options of carriage by either selecting mandatory carriage (must carry) or retransmission consent (may carry) for each cable system operating within the broadcast station's DMA.

Dial Around: Long-distance services that require consumers to dial a long-distance provider’s access code (or "10-10" number) before dialing a long-distance number to bypass or "dial around" the consumer’s chosen long-distance carrier in order to get a better rate.

Dial-Up: A technology that provides customers with access to the Internet over an existing telephone line.

Digital: Computer technology that transmits signals by breaking up the message into electronic bits, sending the message over the network, and recreating the message at the other end. Since the signal is recreated at the end location, the system is less sensitive to interference such as noise and snow. In addition, digital technology allows for compression so that more channels can be carried. Often cable operators who utilize digital technology will offer digital cable television, high-speed data (Internet), and digital telephone services such as Voice over Internet Protocol (compare Analog).

Digital Divide: The gap between those of a populace that has access to the Internet and other communications technologies and those that have limited or no access. 

Digital Equity: Recognizes that digital access and skills are now required for full participation in many aspects of society and the economy. Digital Equity links Digital Inclusion to social justice and highlights that a lack of access and/or skills can further isolate individuals and communities from a broad range of opportunities. 

Digital Inclusion: Implies that individuals and communities have access to robust broadband connections; Internet-enabled devices that meet their needs; and the skills to explore, create and collaborate in the digital world. 

Digital Literacy: The ability to leverage current technologies, such as smartphones and laptops, and Internet access to perform research, create content and interact with the world.

Digital Skills: Any skills related to operating digital devices or taking advantage of digital resources.

Digital Subscriber Line (DSL): A form of technology that utilizes a two-wire copper telephone line to allow users to simultaneously connect to and operate the Internet and the telephone network without disrupting either connection.

Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplier (DSLAM): A piece of technology installed at a telephone company’s CO and connects the carrier to the subscriber loop (and ultimately the customer’s PC).

Digital Television (DTV): Technology for transmitting and receiving broadcast television signals. DTV provides clearer resolution and improved sound quality.

Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS/DISH): A high-powered satellite that transmits or retransmits signals which are intended for direct reception by the public. The signal is transmitted to a small earth station or dish (usually the size of an 18-inch pizza pan) mounted on homes or other buildings.

Distant Signal: A television channel from another market (DMA) imported and carried locally by a cable television system, e.g., "Superstation" WPIX Channel 11, New York.

Downstream: Data flowing from the Internet to a computer (Surfing the net, getting E-mail, downloading a file).


Early Termination Fee (“ETF”): A fee that you agree to pay to a service provider if you end a service contract before it expires. ETFs are included in contracts for a variety of services including cable service and satellite TV. Depending on your service plan, there may be no ETF. While ETFs are generally pro-rated over the term of the contract, they don’t all decrease at the same rate.

Easement: An easement is the right to use the real property of another for a specific purpose. The easement is itself a real property interest, but legal title to the underlying land is retained by the original owner for all other purposes. Typical easements are for access to another property for utility or sewer lines both under and above ground. Easements can be created by a deed to be recorded just like any real property interest. 

Effective Competition: A determination by the Federal Communications Commission ("FCC") that there is sufficient competition to control basic service tier ("BST") rates in a given community and thus government rate regulation is no longer required. If the FCC grants a cable operator's petition for a determination of effective competition, the FCC revokes the Department’s authority to regulate rates for the cable operator in that municipality.

eGovernment Services: The government’s use of web-based and information technology resources to connect with citizens and provide online services and resources.

E-mail: Also called electronic mail, refers to messages sent over the Internet. E-mail can be sent and received via newer types of wireless phones, but you generally need to have a specific e-mail account.

Enhanced Service Provider: A for-profit business that offers to transmit voice and data messages and simultaneously adds value to the messages it transmits. Examples include telephone answering services, alarm/security companies, and transaction processing companies.

En Banc: An informal meeting held by the Commission to hear presentations on specific topics by diverse parties. The Commissioners, or other officials, question presenters and use their comments in considering FCC rules and policies on the subject matter under consideration.

E-Rate: A Federal program that provides subsidies for voice and data lines to qualified schools, hospitals, CBOs, and other qualified institutions. The subsidy is based on a percentage designated by the FCC. CTF benefits are calculated net of the E-rate subsidy.

Ethernet Optical Network (EON): The use of Ethernet LAN packets running over a fiber network.

Equal Opportunity Rule: If a political candidate obtains time on a broadcast station, other candidates for the same office may obtain an "equal opportunity" on that station. Equal opportunity usually includes equal time, but the term means more than equal time. For example, it means the right to obtain time in a period likely to attract approximately the same size audience as the period in which the opposing candidate appeared. Bonafide news programming is exempt, meaning that a news program may determine one candidate is especially newsworthy on a specific occasion and does not need to provide equal coverage or opportunity to the other candidate(s). The equal opportunity rule applies to local origination channels and broadcast channels; it does not apply to access channels that are handled on a first-come-first-served, nondiscriminatory basis.

Evolution Data Only (EvDO): EvDO is a wireless technology that provides data connections that are 10 times as fast as a regular modem. 


Federal Communications Commission (FCC): Federal agency responsible for the regulatory oversight of the communications infrastructure in the United States.

Fiber (Also referred to as Fiber Strand): A flexible hair-thin glass or plastic strand that is capable of transmitting large amounts of data at high transfer rates as pulses or waves of light. 

Fiber to the Building (FTTB): A fiber-optic system that connects directly from the carrier network to the user's building.

Fiber to the Home (FTTH): The delivery and connection of fiber optics directly to a home.

Fiber to the Neighborhood (FTTN): A hybrid network architecture involving optical fiber from the carrier network, terminating in a neighborhood cabinet with converts the signal from optical to electrical.

Fiber to the Premise (FTTP): The delivery and connection of fiber optics directly to premises.

Fixed Wireless Broadband Access: The use of wireless devices/systems in connecting two fixed locations, such as offices or homes. The connections occur through the air, rather than through fiber, resulting in a less expensive alternative to a fiber connection.

Franchise Fee: Under federal law, non-capital costs relating to cable license requirements are considered franchise fees and may be passed on to subscribers. For example, local officials, in negotiating the cable license, may require cable operators to set aside channels for public, educational, or governmental use. The monies spent to maintain the access studio, equipment, and personnel are considered franchise fees and may be passed on to subscribers. A municipality may request up to five percent of the cable operator's annual gross revenue from operating in the municipality.

Franchise-Related Costs (also referred to as FRCs): Any capital expenses incurred by the cable operator as a result of required public, educational, and governmental channels, such as purchasing or upgrading access equipment and facilities. These franchise-related costs may be recovered from subscribers through basic service tier rates and may be listed as a separate fee on subscribers' monthly bills.

Franchising Authority: Legal term for governmental entity authorized to regulate rates, oversee the licensing process, and enforce customer service standards. In Massachusetts, the Department is the Franchising Authority (compare Issuing Authority) for purposes of rate regulation. 

Frequency Modulation (FM): A signaling method that varies the carrier frequency in proportion to the amplitude of the modulating signal.


Gigabits per second (Gbps): A measure of how fast data can be transmitted. Equivalent to 1,000,000,000 bits per second.

Gigabyte-Capable Passive Optical Network (GPON): GPON uses a different, faster approach (up to 2.5 Gbit/s in current products) than BPON.

Global Positioning System (GPS): A US satellite system that lets those on the ground, on the water, or in the air determine their position with extreme accuracy using GPS receivers.

Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM): This is the current radio/telephone standard in Europe and many other countries except Japan and the United States.


Headend: The electronic control center of a cable system. This is the site of the receiving antenna and the signal processing equipment essential to the proper functioning of a cable system.

High-Definition Television (HDTV): An improved television system that provides approximately twice the vertical and horizontal resolution of traditional television standards. It also provides greater audio quality.

Homes Passed: Those homes within a municipality that are located close enough to a cable line to be able to connect with cable service, regardless of whether those households actually opt to subscribe to the cable service.

Hybrid Fiber Coaxial Network (HFCN): An outside plant distribution cabling concept employing both fiber optic and coaxial cable.


Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier (ILEC): The traditional wireline telephone service providers within defined geographic areas. Prior to 1996, ILECs operated as monopolies having the exclusive right and responsibility for providing local and local toll telephone service within LATAs. ILECs include regional Bell operating companies such as SBC and non-Bell affiliated companies such as SureWest, both in California.

Inside Wiring Rules: FCC regulations governing the disposition of cable wiring inside multi-dwelling unit (MDU) buildings. These rules are designed to enhance competition among video service providers by making existing wiring in MDUs available under certain circumstances for competing providers’ use. The FCC’s inside wiring rules may be found at 47 C.F.R. §§ 76.800 et seq.

Institutional Network (also referred to as I-Net): A separate closed-loop network for municipal institutional use only. Used to connect police, fire departments, town or city hall, and schools; can contain both video and data; can also be used to monitor heat, light, and security systems.

Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS): A service provided by one or more fixed microwave stations operated by an educational organization and used to transmit instructional information to fixed locations.

Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN): An alternative method to simultaneously carry voice, data, and other traffic, using the switched telephone network.

Interactive Video Data Service (IVDS): A communication system, operating over a short distance, that allows nearly instantaneous two-way responses by using a hand-held device at a fixed location. 

Interconnection: The linking of numerous telecommunications networks to exchange user traffic. 

Internet Protocol - Virtual Private Network (IP-VPN): Also known as a VPN. A software-defined network offering the appearance, functionality, and usefulness of a dedicated private network.

Internet Service Provider (ISP): A company that provides users (individuals or businesses) with access (a connection) to the Internet and related services.


Kilobits per second (Kbps): 1,000 bits per second. A measure of how fast data can be transmitted.


Landline: Traditional wired phone service.

Land Mobile Service: A public or private radio service providing two-way communication, paging, and radio signaling on land.

Last Mile: The technology and process of connecting the end customer’s home or business to the local network provider

License or Franchise: An agreement between the Issuing Authority and the cable operator that authorizes the construction or operation of a cable system. It also establishes the terms and conditions of cable television service such as the length of the contract, customer service standards, and procedures for funding access channels. Under various state laws, the term of an initial license may differ.

License Amendment: Formal change in the terms and conditions of an existing license.

License Fee: The fee per subscriber per year that cable operators are required to pay various state governments by law to offset the cost of regulation. 

Line Extension: Construction of a cable line in an area that falls outside or exceeds the primary service area as defined in the license. The cable operator may require that subscribers pay for the extra costs involved in laying cable to this geographical area. (See also Primary Service Area; compare Non-Standard Installation).

Lit Fiber: An active fiber optic cable capable of transmitting data.

Local Access and Transport Areas (LATA): A geographic area within with a divested Regional Bell Operating Company is permitted to offer exchange telecommunications and exchange access service. Calls between LATAs are often thought of as long-distance service. Calls within a LATA (IntraLATA) typically include local and local toll services. 

Local Area Network (LAN): A group of network devices that are on a high-speed connection and typically within the same building or location. 

Local Loop: A generic term for the connection between the customer’s premises (home, office, etc.) and the provider’s serving central office. Historically, this has been a wire connection; however, wireless options are increasingly available for local loop capacity.

Local Multipoint Distribution Service (LMDS): A wireless broadband service that uses microwave signals to render communications service – voice, data, Internet – to customers within the last mile.

Long Term Evolution (LTE): A 4G wireless broadband technology that provides speeds up to 100 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload.

Low-Power FM Radio (LPFM): A broadcast service that permits the licensing of 50-100 watt FM radio stations within a service radius of up to 3.5 miles and 1-10 watt FM radio stations within a service radius of 1 to 2 miles.

Low-Power Television (LPTV): A broadcast service that permits program origination, subscription service, or both via low-powered television translators. LPTV service includes the existing translator service and operates on a secondary basis to regular television stations. The transmitter output is limited to 1,000 watts for normal VHF stations and 100 watts when a VHF operation is on an allocated channel.


Megabits per second (Mbps): A measure of how fast data can be transmitted. Equivalent to 1,000,000 bits per second. 

Metropolitan Area Network (MAN): A high-speed date intra-city network that links multiple locations with campus, city, or LATA. A MAN typically extends as far as 50 kilometers.

Middle Mile: The connection between a local network, also called a “last mile” connection, and the backbone Internet network.

Must Carry: Refers to situations where commercial and noncommercial television broadcast stations are considered local to the area served, and therefore the cable operator is required to provide the channel on the basic service tier in that area.


Network: Any connection of two or more computers that enables them to communicate. Networks may include transmission devices, servers, cables, routers, and satellites. The phone network is the total infrastructure for transmitting phone messages.

Network Infrastructure: The hardware and software components of a network that provide network connectivity and allow the network to function.

Non-Duplication Rules: Restrictions placed on cable television systems that prohibit the cable operator from providing programming from outside the service area if the programming is simultaneously available on a local channel.

Non-Standard Installation: Installation of cable service or a drop line that exceeds the standard installation distance specified in the license, which is typically greater than 150 feet from the cable line existing on a public road. The cable operator may charge the subscriber for the costs of laying the cable this extra distance (compare Line Extension).

Number Portability: A term used to describe the capability of individuals, businesses, and organizations to retain their existing telephone number(s) – and the same quality of service – when switching to a new local service provider.


Obscenity and Indecency: The United States Supreme Court set forth a three-prong test to be used in determining whether individual programming constitutes obscene or indecent speech. More information may be found on a fact sheet at the FCC's website.

Open Access Network: Networks that offer wholesale access to network infrastructure or services provided on fair and reasonable terms with some degree of transparency and nondiscrimination. 

Open Video Systems (OVS): OVS is a new option for those looking to offer cable television services outside the current framework of traditional regulation. It would allow more flexibility in providing service by reducing the build-out requirements of new carriers.

Operator Service Provider (OSP): A common carrier that provides services from public phones. This includes live or automated operator functions.

Optical Line Terminal (OLT): A device located in the CO or hut, is the interface to the customer and provides the subscribed services.

Optical Network Terminal (ONT): A device located at the customer/subscribers location, converts the optical media being sent by the OLT.

Overbuild: When a competing cable operator builds a cable network system in an area already serviced by a cable operator, this competing cable operator is known as an overbuilder. 


Paging System: A one-way mobile radio service where a user carries a small, lightweight miniature radio receiver capable of responding to coded signals. These devices, called "pagers," emit an audible signal, vibrate or do both when activated by an incoming message.

Parental Lock Capability: Option or feature available on some televisions that allows a user to block access to channels usually by activating a PIN number and programming a TV or cable set-top box t to limit or control the programs that can be viewed on your TV (see V-Chip).

Pass-Through Costs: Certain costs that may be recovered directly from subscribers (see Franchise Fee and License Fee).

Passive Optical Network (PON): A Passive Optical Network consists of an optical line terminator located at the Central Office and a set of associated optical network terminals located at the customer’s premise. Between them lies the optical distribution network comprised of fibers and passive splitters or couplers. In a PON network, a single piece of fiber can be run from the serving exchange out to a subdivision or office park, and then individual fiber strands to each building or serving equipment can be split from the main fiber using passive splitters/couplers. This allows for an expensive piece of fiber cable from the exchange to the customer to be shared amongst many customers thereby dramatically lowering the overall costs of deployment for fiber to the business (FTTB) or fiber to the home (FTTH) applications.

Pay-Per-View: Programming, typically movies or special events, that a subscriber specifically requests to receive for a single fee added to the monthly cable bill. Some cable operators have the capability of determining whether the pay-per-view program was purchased via telephone or by on-screen interactive remote control and whether the converter channel was then set on the appropriate movie channel in order to receive the programming. Rates for pay-per-view programming are not regulated.

PEG: Public, educational, and governmental channels (see Access Channels).

Personal Communications Service (PCS): Any of several types of wireless, voice, and/or data communications systems, typically incorporating digital technology. PCS licenses are most often used to provide services similar to advanced cellular mobile or paging services. However, PCS can also be used to provide other wireless communications services, including services that allow people to place and receive communications while away from their home or office, as well as wireless communications to homes, office buildings, and other fixed locations.

Point of Presence: The particular place or facility where local Internet service providers connect to other networks. Distance from the Point of Presence can affect service availability and pricing. 

Premium Channels: Channels not included in a cable operator's regular service tiers. HBO and Showtime are examples of premium channels. In order to obtain premium channels, cable operators may require that the subscriber purchase the basic service tier, rent or purchase a converter box, and pay additional fees. Rates for premium channels are not regulated.

Prescribed Interexchange Charge (PICC): The charge the local exchange company assesses the long-distance company when a consumer picks it as his or her long-distance carrier.

Promotional Price or Promotional Rate: A promotional price or rate is a discounted price or rate commonly offered by a cable or bundled services provider for a limited period of time (the “promotional period”). Upon the termination of the promotional period, the price or rate of the service changes (the “subsequent price”). Subscribers should ensure they understand the promotional price, the termination date of the promotional period, and the subsequent price before purchasing services.

Public Computer Center (PCC): A facility that is open to the public and provides broadband access, education, support, and training relevant to community needs. PCC locations include, but are not limited to, community colleges, libraries, schools, youth centers, employment service centers, Native American chapter houses, community centers, senior centers, assistive technology centers for people with disabilities, community health centers, and centers in public housing developments that provide broadband access to the general public or specific vulnerable populations, such as low-income, unemployed, older adults, children, minorities and people with disabilities.


Renewal Proposal: Application presented by a cable operator to a municipality setting forth its plan regarding the rights and responsibilities of both parties in providing cable services to the municipality. It typically outlines the cable operator's recommended terms and conditions for the renewal license. 

Resilient Packet Ring (RPR): RPR uses Ethernet switching and a dual counter-rotating ring topology to provide SONET-like network resiliency and optimized bandwidth usage while delivering multi-point Ethernet/IP services. 

Request for Proposal (also referred to as RFP): Documentation provided to cable operator(s) by a municipality seeking to initiate original licensing or renewal process. It outlines what the municipality expects the cable operator(s) to include in the proposed license and includes questions that require the cable operator's response.

Retransmission Consent: Cable operators are required by law to obtain the broadcaster’s consent in order to retransmit local commercial and noncommercial television stations.

Rights-of-Way (ROW): ROW are legal rights to pass through property owned by another. ROW are frequently used to secure access to land for digging trenches, deploying fiber, constructing towers, and deploying equipment on existing towers and utility poles.

Roaming: The use of a wireless phone outside of the "home" service area defined by a service provider. Higher per-minute rates are usually charged for calls made or received while roaming. Long-distance rates and a daily access fee may also apply.

Rural Utility Service (RUS): A division of the United States Department of Agriculture, it promotes universal service in unserved and underserved areas of the country with grants, loans, and financing.


Satellite: A radio relay station that orbits the earth. A complete satellite communications system also includes earth stations that communicate with each other via the satellite. The satellite receives a signal transmitted by an originating earth station and retransmits that signal to the destination earth station(s). Satellites are used to transmit telephone, television, and data signals originated by common carriers, broadcasters, and distributors of cable TV program material.

Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act of 1999 (SHVIA): An Act modifying the Satellite Home Viewer Act of 1988, SHVIA permits satellite companies to provide local broadcast TV signals to all subscribers who reside in the local TV station’s market. SHVIA also permits satellite companies to provide "distant" network broadcast stations to eligible satellite subscribers.

Satellite Master Antenna Television (SMATV): A satellite dish system used to deliver signals to multiple dwelling units (e.g., apartment buildings and trailer parks).

Scanner: A radio receiver that moves across a wide range of radio frequencies and allows audiences to listen to any of the frequencies.

Service Area: The entire area within which a service provider either offers or intends to offer broadband service.

Service Plan: The rate plan you select when choosing a wireless phone service. A service plan typically consists of a monthly base rate for access to the system and a fixed amount of minutes per month.

Service Provider: A telecommunications provider that owns circuit switching equipment.

Service Tier: Grouping of cable channels for which a separate rate is charged by the cable operator.

Set-Top Box: Equipment authorized by and often provided by a cable operator in a subscriber's home that allows access to or controls interference from cable services (see also Converter).

Signal Scrambling: Cable television companies typically encrypt or scramble the signal of channels that the subscriber has not purchased so only people who pay for the service will receive and view it.

Slamming: The term used to describe what occurs when a customer’s long-distance service is switched from one long-distance company to another without the customer’s permission. Such unauthorized switching violates FCC rules.

Small System: A small system is defined by Federal Regulations as "a cable television system that serves 15,000 or fewer subscribers. The service area of a small system shall be determined by the number of subscribers that are served by the system's principal headend, including any other headends or microwave receive sites that are technically integrated to the principal headend." 47 C.F.R. § 76.901(c).

Spectrum: The range of electromagnetic radio frequencies used in the transmission of sound, data, and television. These waves propagate through space at different radio frequencies, and the set of all possible frequencies is called the electromagnetic spectrum.

Splitter: A passive device that splits the light source into separate paths.

Streaming: Technology that downloads low-bit text data first, then the higher-bit graphics and video. This allows users to read the text of an Internet document first, rather than wait for the entire file to load.

Subscriber Line Charge (SLC): A monthly fee paid by telephone subscribers that is used to compensate the local telephone company for part of the cost of installation and maintenance of the telephone wire, poles, and other facilities that link your home to the telephone network. These wires, poles, and other facilities are referred to as the "local loop." The SLC is one component of access charges.

Subscribership: Subscribership is how many customers have subscribed for a particular telecommunications service. 

Switched Network: A domestic telecommunications network usually accessed by telephones, key telephone systems, private branch exchange trunks, and data arrangements.

Symmetrical (SDSL): A technology that permits the transfer of data over copper telephone lines. The transmission bandwidth for uploads and downloads is equal. 

Synchronous Optical Network (SONET): An American National Standards Institute standard for the simultaneous transmission of data over optical fiber.


Tariff: The documents filed by a carrier describing their services and the payments to be charged for such services.

Tax Increment Financing: A public financing method through which future property tax increases can be diverted to subsidize community development and improvement projects. 

Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS): A free service that enables persons with TTYs, individuals who use sign language, and people who have speech disabilities to use telephone services by having a third party transmit and translate the call.

Telemedicine: The use of high-speed, high-capacity Internet to support long-distance healthcare services, patient and provider education, and enhanced healthcare administration.

Telephony: The word used to describe the science of transmitting voice over a telecommunications network.

Tier 1 Internet Network: A network of Internet providers that form a superhighway that allows users access to every other network on the Internet.

Tier 2 Internet Network: A network of smaller Internet providers that allow users to reach some portion of the Internet but that still purchase IP transit.

Tier 3 Internet Network: A network that solely purchases transit/peering from other networks to participate in the Internet.

Trunk Level 1 (T-1): A digital transmission link with a total signaling speed of 1.544 Mbps. It is a standard for digital transmission in North America.

Trunk Level 3 (T-3): 28 T1 lines or 44.736 Mbps.

TTY: A type of machine that allows people with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate over the phone using a keyboard and a viewing screen. It is sometimes called a TDD.


Unbundling: The term used to describe the access provided by local exchange carriers so that other service providers can buy or lease portions of its network elements, such as interconnection loops, to serve subscribers.

Universal Service (Also known as Universal Lifeline Telephone Service): The financial mechanism which helps compensate telephone companies or other communications entities for providing access to telecommunications services at reasonable and affordable rates throughout the country, including rural, insular, and high costs areas, and to public institutions. Companies, not consumers, are required by law to contribute to this fund. The law does not prohibit companies from passing this charge on to customers.

Upstream: Data flowing from your computer to the Internet (sending E-mail, uploading a file).


V-Chip: System built into TVs that allows users to screen out, based on television ratings, programs they do not want household members to watch. Those subscribers with older TVs may need to purchase a set-top box that utilizes V-Chip technology in order to access this feature (see Parental Lock Capability).

Very High Data Rate Digital Subscriber Line (VDSL): Technology that employs an asymmetric form of ADSL, with projected speeds of up to 155 Mbps.

Very High Frequency (VHF): The part of the radio spectrum from 30 to 300 megahertz, which includes TV Channels 2-13, the FM broadcast band, and some marine, aviation, and land mobile services.

Video Description: An audio narration for television viewers who are blind or visually disabled, which consists of verbal descriptions of key visual elements in a television program, such as settings and actions not reflected in the dialog. Narrations are inserted into the program’s natural pauses and are typically provided through the Secondary Audio Programming channel.

Video On Demand: A service that allows users to remotely choose a movie from a digital library and be able to pause, fast-forward, or even rewind their selection.

Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN): A network of computers that behave as if they are connected to the same wire even though they may actually be physically located on different segments of a LAN.

Virtual Private Network (VPN): A software-defined network offering the appearance, functionality, and usefulness of a dedicated private network.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP): A technology that allows users to send and receive voice calls using an Internet connection instead of a phone line.


WiFi (Wireless Fidelity): A technology that uses radio transmissions to enable electronic devices to connect to a wireless local area network (LAN). 

WiMAX: A wireless technology through which wireless Internet access is provided with a significantly larger range than regular WiFi. WiMAX can provide broadband service up to 30 miles.

Wireless: Telephone service transmitted via cellular, PCS, satellite, or other technologies that do not require the telephone to be connected to a land-based line. 

Wireless Internet: 1) Internet applications and access using mobile devices such as cell phones and handheld devices. 2) Broadband Internet service provided via a wireless connection, such as satellite or tower transmitters. 

Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP): An ISP that provides service through a wireless network.

Wireline: Service based on infrastructure on or near the ground, such as copper telephone wires or coaxial cable underground or on telephone poles.


  • Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved from 
  • Newton, H. (2009). Newton’s Telecom Dictionary 217 (25th ed) Retrieved from 
  • Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. Retrieved from 
  • National Telecommunications & Information Administration. Retrieved from 
  • Closing the Digital Divide. Retrieved from 
  • Office of the Secretary USDA Glossary of Terms and Acronyms. Retrieved from 
  • American National Standards Institute. Retrieved from 
  • Field, MJ. (1996). Telemedicine: A Guide to Assessing Telecommunications in Health Care. Retrieved from
  • Broadband USA
  • California State Gov