Friday, October 31, 2014

The American way of broadband: slow - LA Times

The American way of broadband: slow - LA Times: In Southern California, for example, an open-access arrangement would allow upstart Internet companies and low-cost wireless providers to book space on broadband and cellular networks owned by the likes of Time Warner Cable, AT&T and Verizon.

"If you want to lower prices and improve service, you need to increase competition," said Allen Hammond, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law who specializes in telecom issues. "One way to do that is keep the network open."

A primary reason existing telecom infrastructure providers are slow to upgrade and build out their networks is their reliance on closed access, proprietary networks serving customer homes and businesses. That introduces a lot of business risk that impedes upgrades since they cannot easily predict how many will subscribe to and maintain Internet service offerings.

Since they operate on a wholesale basis selling access to Internet service providers, open access networks substantially reduce and spread that risk since any one provider doesn't have to bear network construction costs directly alone and cover them by signing up and keeping subscribers.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Despite more favorable market conditions, incumbent telephone and cable companies unlikely to expand limited Internet infrastructure footprints

Over the past 15 years, the market dynamics for incumbent legacy telephone and cable Internet service providers have improved from a risk standpoint. Early on, there was substantial uncertainty as to how many customers would subscribe to premise Internet connections. Telcos marketed advanced “broadband” services as an add on to their voice telephone service as did cable companies as an adjunct to their pay TV offerings.

They calculated only a fraction of customers would choose to receive these services -- and pay extra for them. Hence, they deployed the infrastructure to deliver them to a select set of homes and small businesses -- favoring higher density and income levels -- to reduce the risk that there would not be sufficient revenues to cover the cost of deployment and ongoing maintenance.
Some developed formulaic approaches to utilize large numbers to spread their risk. For example, Comcast adopted a hard rule that it would build infrastructure only in areas where there were 16 occupied premises per linear road or street mile. That mitigated risk because it could be reasonably predicted that with that many premises, enough would take Internet services to help defray the cost of building out and upgrading the network in order to serve them.

Now with premise Internet service increasingly regarded as essential as landline telephone service was before it was succeeded by the Internet, the risk picture has changed. The likelihood of residential and small business customers subscribing to the incumbents’ Internet service is significantly higher, even than it was just five years ago.

One might think given the improved commercial risk picture, the legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies would be undertaking an aggressive effort to construct infrastructure to serve nearly all and not limited “footprints” within their service territories. Not likely. The reason is the large, shareholder- owned incumbents that dominate in much of the United States lack business models that allow them to make the significant capital expenditures that would be required. That would divert dollars that could boost earnings, pay generous shareholder dividends and fund stock repurchases.

Consequently, the nation continues to need alternative approaches to ensure all premises have Internet service to meet their current and future telecommunications needs such as community operated networks or public-private partnerships that tap into sources of patient investment capital such as Utah’s UTOPIA.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Rural America: Welcome to Verizon LTE Broadband - $120/Mo for 5-12Mbps With 30GB Cap • Stop the Cap!

Rural America: Welcome to Verizon LTE Broadband - $120/Mo for 5-12Mbps With 30GB Cap • Stop the Cap!: “Definitely stay away [...] unless you like to see your data charges skyrocket (in my case more than doubling) when your use doesn’t,” reported Richard Thompson. “I’ve pulled the plug on it — literally.”
Time to dump the "bandwidth by the bucket" pricing model that bears no economic relationship to the marginal cost of providing it. It's a gouge, pure and simple, enabled by a natural monopoly market. Verizon has these consumers over a barrel in areas where its landline marketing partner, Comcast, doesn't offer service.

Frontier Faces Lawsuit in West Virginia Alleging False Advertising, Undisclosed DSL Speed Throttling • Stop the Cap!

Frontier Communications customers in West Virginia are part of a filed class-action lawsuit alleging the phone company has violated the state’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act for failing to deliver the high-speed Internet service it promises.
The lawsuit, filed in Lincoln County Circuit Court, claims Frontier is advertising fast Internet speeds up to 12Mbps, but often delivers far less than that, especially in rural areas where the company is  accused of throttling broadband speeds to less than 1Mbps. The suit also alleges Frontier’s broadband service is highly unreliable.

Frontier Faces Lawsuit in West Virginia Alleging False Advertising, Undisclosed DSL Speed Throttling • Stop the Cap!

Another exhibit in the case demonstrating how the United States has thoroughly bungled telecom infrastructure deployment and regulation under the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, creating lack of access and uncertainty. It also illustrates the moral hazard associated with excessive (and lazy) policymaker reliance on telecom provider promises relative to service availability and quality.

Instead of devoting resources to litigating how many bits and bytes constitute "broadband," we should be developing plans to construct fiber to every American home and place of business -- work that should have been started two decades ago.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Deficient telecommunications infrastructure limits growth of telehealth

Just What the Doctor Ordered: Telehealth Poised for Growth: “Rural healthcare providers (HCP) continue to suffer from limited access to broadband speeds necessary to fulfill their rapidly expanding public and private Internet network needs vital for telehealth communications with patients and HCPs,” said Tim Koxlien, founder and CEO of Rural Health Telecom. “Upgrading rural health care provider broadband networks will dramatically enhance their ability to implement new telemedicine technologies and increase access to electronic medical records. This will ultimately enable them to better serve patients through streamlined operational efficiencies, expanded patient service access, reduced costs and improved quality of care.”

Koxlien also noted that high equipment installation costs and a workforce deficit of trained IT personnel as two challenges facing telecom accessibility. “Many local service providers are reluctant or unwilling to expand into these underserved markets because of the costs associated with designing and implementing rural networks, [and a] lack of funding,” Koxlien said.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Disruptive forces bringing U.S. telecommunications infrastructure to an inflection point

Several disruptive forces are building toward a tipping point heralding a new era of construction, operation and regulation of telecommunications infrastructure in the United States. 

  • The realization amid exponential growth in bandwidth demand that the nation needs to rapidly fiber up its legacy metal wire infrastructure and should have begun the work 20 years ago.
  • The growth of local fiber to the premise infrastructure projects inspired by Google Fiber and the associated push back against state laws restricting the ability of local governments to build and operate telecom infrastructure.
  • The obsolescence of bandwidth-defined "broadband" delivered over legacy metal wire infrastructure as an extension of plain old telephone service (POTS) and cable TV.
  • The Federal Communications Commission's potential classification of Internet infrastructure as a common carrier telecommunications service amid growing popular sentiment that premise Internet service is a utility that should be universally available. 
  • Excessive commercial risk that limits fiber infrastructure deployment to discrete neighborhoods.
  • The recognition of the large moral hazard risk associated with public policy reliance on incumbent promises to build out the footprints of Internet infrastructure in their service territories.
  • Growing unease with Comcast gaining excessive market power and getting a lock on most U.S. Internet premise infrastructure.
  • The breakdown of the triple play "smart pipe" vertical business model due to high video programming costs and the rise of a la carte Internet video offerings.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

High TV content costs threaten the “triple play” commercial Internet infrastructure business model

Television programming costs associated with the “triple play” (TV, Internet, voice) offering of legacy telcos and cable companies are the primary business risk facing the subscription-based, closed access, “own the customer” infrastructure business model employed by the legacy telephone and cable companies as well as Google Fiber.

Those costs are steep and threaten the viability of commercial fiber to the premise deployments that depend on future cash flows from service offerings – which include TV – to cover CAPex and provide ROI to investors.

Susan P. Crawford’s book Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age describes the self-reinforcing TV programming market dynamics that cement the dominance of the big subscription-based incumbent telcos and cablecos – and Comcast in particular for live sporting events. These large players can afford the high TV programming costs. But large scale notwithstanding, it’s not TV for all since the big legacy telcos and cablecos cherry pick their service areas, leaving lots of consumers redlined and without Internet TV since they opt not to build the infrastructure to deliver it.

One possible way around this negative circumstance would be for the OTT Internet TV content players to organize consumers into large regional purchasing pools and cater to smaller providers as well as open access community fiber networks operated by local governments and utility cooperatives. That would shift market power to the purchasing side while at the same time bolstering these home grown Internet infrastructure players.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Spiral Internet gearing up for fiberoptic network in Nevada County |

Spiral Internet gearing up for fiberoptic network in Nevada County | “Years ago, every home in the U.S. had copper wires put in, going to each home, but we never got wired again for the 21st century,” he said, referring to fiber. “That’s the kind of network we need.”
Very true words spoken by Spiral Internet CEO John Paul as his Nevada City, California company soft launches fiber to the premise infrastructure serving 2,900 households and 300 businesses with deployment planned for 2015-17.

US Telecom Association wants 'archaic' regulations gone | TheHill

US Telecom Association wants 'archaic' regulations gone | TheHill: Steve Davis, chairman of the board of U.S. Telecom, said some of the regulations cited "don't apply to cable companies or any of our competitors, and to the extent that they ever served a purpose, that purpose has long since evaporated."

The group pointed to a number of regulations they want to avoid, including requirements that companies "separate local and long-distance business, and requiring traditional phone companies to continue the provisioning of obsolete technology."

The group cited a speech Wheeler gave in February in which he noted that a large percentage of investment recently by telephone companies went to "maintaining the declining telephone network, despite the fact that only one-third of U.S. households use it at all."

"The future regulatory environment should be one that is based upon the world as it exists today," the group’s president and CEO, Walter McCormick, told reporters. "That is sort of like the overall theme we think public policy should move towards. This petition is a little tiny baby step in that direction."

The world of POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) is still very much alive in much of the United States, where some 19 million homes and small businesses still rely on the publicly switched telephone network (PSTN) and dialup wireline Internet service. As long as it exists, regulators will be hard pressed to scrap rules designed for POTS without a firm transition plan in place.

The Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILECs) could potentially get more than they wish for in making this request. The Federal Communications Commission could respond by effectively saying, "OK, if you don't want to comply with outdated POTS rules, you are hereby subject to Title II of the Communications Act and thereby must deploy advanced telecommunications infrastructure throughout your service territories."

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

South Korea’s gigabit broadband woes should serve as object lesson for FCC regulators | Network World

South Korea’s gigabit broadband woes should serve as object lesson for FCC regulators | Network World: Private South Korean firms, notably KT (the former Korea Telecom), SK Telecom and the cable provider CJ Hellovision, became the principal participants in the gigabit project, with the government committing about 5 percent of the total estimated budget.

But by 2011, only a very small-scale 1Gbps pilot project with 1,500 households in five South Korean cities had been launched, all with government funding. None of the private firms could make a case for moving ahead, however, since they had not yet developed a business model to justify the scale of investment that the KCC had said would be necessary.

Three years passed without any indication of progress on the effort, leading many to believe that the plan had hit an impasse. Then in July 2014, Chairman Chang-gyu Hwang of KT, the dominant broadband provider in Korea, representing almost half of the country’s total broadband market share, called a press conference—an announcement that I hoped would be an encouraging milestone.

Chairman Hwang told those assembled that the company faced its first annual deficit in 2013 due to its sales declines in wired broadband, along with almost-flat growth in mobile subscribers. It was the worst time in the company’s history, one that he called a “devastating year of poor performance.” KT even had suspended new customer marketing for 45 days and asked 8,300 employees to voluntarily resign to help the company overcome this crisis.

The real object lesson here is commercial investment in high cost telecommunications infrastructure is fraught with substantial business risk. It's that business risk -- and not the risk of common carrier regulation as some such as this article warn -- that produces market failure that in the United States has left some 19 million homes and small businesses without wireline Internet access according to Federal Communications Commission estimates.

The Perennial Need for Speed | Light Reading

The Perennial Need for Speed | Light Reading: Vodafone, for one, sounds eager to get away from this obsession with the megabit flow. Matt Beal, the operator's head of technical architecture, envisages a time in the not-too-distant future when speed will be irrelevant and customers will not be able to distinguish between network technologies on that basis. "Customers will solely be focused on the service that we render -- its ability to be agile to their needs, and its ability to be relevant and personalized," he told UBB Forum attendees during his presentation.

Beal is correct in this assessment. Speed is important now because existing infrastructure is still largely metal wire-based and limited in the throughput it can offer. The pricing models of the legacy cable and telephone companies also reflect this, charging consumers more for higher speeds and imposing bandwidth consumption caps.

But as fiber to the premise providing excellent throughput replaces legacy infrastructure, speed will no longer be a distinguishing feature of Internet service for the vast majority of consumers.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Digital Desert: The Internet Debate Pits Local Communities Against Broadband Giants

A Digital Desert: The Internet Debate Pits Local Communities Against Broadband Giants: Bradley County and other rural communities outside Chattanooga have requested that EPB expand its world-class fiber connection to their area, because companies like Charter have failed to do so. EPB wants to expand its service to rural customers where economically feasible, but a state law passed in 1999 - before most American homes had internet access - is keeping the utility from doing so.

The economics for EPB (Chattanooga's local nonprofit electric utility) to construct fiber to the premise (FTTP) telecommunications infrastructure for Bradley County, Tennessee could well pencil out more easily than for the incumbent legacy phone and cable providers -- where it thus far hasn't.

It's time for state policymakers to repeal laws (or the federal government to preempt them) that restrict expansion by nonprofit telecommunications providers like EPB. It makes no sense from a public policy perspective to preserve a for-profit duopoly as an exclusive franchise without a broad socio-economic justification when lower cost community providers may be economically more able to bring FTTP connections to most all American homes and small businesses.

CWA's support of AT&T/DIRECTV merger based on fallacious logic

CWA says AT&T-DIRECTV merger will advance broadband buildout, help consumers, Workers | Speed Matters - Internet Speed Test: The AT&T/DIRECTV merger will improve the economics for AT&T’s investment in high-speed broadband, the critical infrastructure for the 21st century, CWA said. Video is the major driver of broadband expansion, producing the revenue stream to support investment in high-speed networks. As a stronger video competitor, a merged AT&T/DIRECTV will have the economic incentives to increase investment in the high-capacity networks that are so essential to drive economic growth, jobs, and the social benefits enabled by high-speed digital technology.

So asserts the Communications Workers of America in comments filed with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in support of AT&T's acquisition of DIRECTV.

The problem is the logic does not hold up. AT&T's deriving additional revenues from DIRECTV video services does not necessarily mean those additional funds will be invested in landline Internet infrastructure.

And why should that be the case, AT&T will likely ask itself once the deal goes through, when satellite does the job of delivering video content to residential premises? Instead, any video revenue bump from the deal will likely be plowed into earnings and dividends, not CAPex.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

LTE Reinvigorates the Broadband Wireless Access Marketplace, According to ABI Research - Yahoo Finance

LTE Reinvigorates the Broadband Wireless Access Marketplace, According to ABI Research - Yahoo Finance: LTE has turbocharged the mobile Internet experience for end-users, which has reflected in rapid adoption of LTE-capable smartphones along with other mobile devices, but it has also reinvigorated the broadband wireless marketplace. According to ABI Research, 1.26 billion households do not have DSL, cable, or fiber-optic broadband. Fixed and mobile telcos are looking to LTE to make the connection.
This is more an aspirational than realistic scenario. Radio spectrum lacks the bandwidth necessary to serve premise demand where there are typically multiple devices and heavy use of video streaming. In addition, the business and pricing models of the mobile space players like Verizon and AT&T are not designed to serve premises with "bandwidth by the bucket" pricing tiers and consumption caps.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Consumers Need Greater Internet Access and Faster Broadband Speeds

Consumers Need Greater Internet Access and Faster Broadband Speeds: Washington, D.C. – The Internet Association submitted comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today calling on the agency to implement pro-consumer policies to bring faster and better broadband service to all Americans, promote competition and choice in the broadband market, and protect an open Internet.

“The Internet is an indispensable tool that is necessary to stay competitive globally, and the Commission has a mandate to ensure the deployment of advanced broadband services nationwide,” said Michael Beckerman, President and CEO of The Internet Association. “Access to high speed Internet service is not a luxury in today’s economy. It is a necessity. Policymakers must encourage broadband abundance and ensure high speed Internet service is deployed everywhere.”

Of course there is little competition at the network edge controlled by incumbent legacy telephone and cable companies because the microeconomics make it a natural monopoly or duopoly with little incentive to invest in upgrades and expansions.

If the Internet Association wants to see the edge upgraded and expanded to fiber to the premise (FTTP) infrastructure needed to create the abundance it wants, it will have to build that infrastructure as its member company Google is doing with its Google Fiber unit.

But as an open access network. The incumbent telephone and cable companies would be hard pressed to respond. But they too could win in the end with open access FTTP since they could offer services to customers over it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Don't call it broadband

It's time to relegate the term "broadband" to the history books. Along with "high speed Internet." The reason is these terms are no longer appropriate in the 21st century when fiber optic cables can deliver 1 gigabit and greater bandwidth to customers.

Exhibit A in the case against "broadband" is none other than the legacy incumbent telephone companies that coined the term in the 1990s to differentiate what was then called "advanced services" from dialup narrowband service. They want to dictate to consumers what constitutes "broadband" and "high speed" and what they consider good enough using technologically obsolete and rapidly outdated standards. Their other motivation is to preserve pricing schemes based on contrived scarcity that treat Internet service like a consumption-based utility where consumers pay more for higher speeds and bandwidth tiers similar to those used in water and electricity service.
Using the terms "broadband" and "high speed Internet" allows the legacy telephone and cable companies to control the conversation by defining what constitutes "broadband" and "high speed Internet."

It also misdirects resources. If the United States had uselessly wasted time and effort in the 1920s and 1930s debating the definition of electric power service (the number of volts, amps, etc.), electrification of much of the nation would have been significantly delayed.

It's time for consumers to take control and define for themselves what constitutes high quality Internet telecommunications services that meet their needs and provide good value and service for their money.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The biggest telecom infrastructure challenge facing the U.S.

The United States faces major challenges in addressing its telecommunications infrastructure needs going into the 21st century.

But the biggest by far is its ability to have an informed and honest discussion of the challenges and how they can best be overcome. And weighing the associated tradeoffs involved with the various policy options that always come with major infrastructure initiatives.

Unless the nation can meet this basic standard, it isn't likely to successfully address its telecommunications infrastructure needs. That will consequently condemn large parts of the country to substandard and outdated 20th century infrastructure for another 20-40 years. That should not be acceptable.

Here's one example of how policymakers are struggling to obtain a complete and factual picture of their telecom infrastructure needs. It's a scenario that's playing out all over the United States.

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