Friday, April 21, 2017

NC bill that permits leasing of muni fiber raises question of how it reduces infrastructure construction costs

Rural broadband internet bill passes NC House | News & Observer: House Bill 68 is titled the BRIGHT Futures Act, which stands for Broadband, Retail, Internet of Things, Grid Power, Healthcare and Training. Its main goal is expanding access to high-speed, broadband internet in rural areas of the state where it’s often too expensive for private service providers to extend their lines.

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Bill sponsors say cities, towns and counties could make use of what’s known as “dark fiber” – additional capacity in existing infrastructure that government uses to connect traffic lights, schools and public facilities. Leasing capacity to private internet providers could provide revenue to local governments that could support the expansion of
government-owned fiber networks.
The problem as stated here is it's too costly for private telecom providers to extend their infrastructure to rural areas. So how does allowing these providers to lease local government owned fiber address the cost of building the needed infrastructure that connects homes and small businesses? Particularly given the challenging business case to justify building infrastructure to serve these areas?

Monday, April 17, 2017

A concise summary of poor state of American telecom

The FCC Is Leading Us Toward Catastrophe – Backchannel: Adding a little internet-y flavor to basic, physical telecommunications lines makes zero difference to the economics of building these essential connections. Because the upfront costs of building communications lines — very physical things, lots of labor costs involved — are high, because no one needs two lines to their house, and because it was cheaper to upgrade the cable systems to higher speeds than to dig up copper wires and replace them with fiber, we have ended up with a country subject to geographically divided markets, private, unconstrained monopolies, and big holes where internet access is rare and expensive where it exists at all. In urban areas, local cable monopolies generally wield tremendous power and charge as much as they like. Rural places, meanwhile, are often relegated to inadequate connections over copper phone lines.

Susan Crawford provides an concise summary of the poor state of American telecommunications borne out of misguided and excessive reliance on market forces to modernize and build out the nation's telecom infrastructure in a natural monopoly market where market forces don't work.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Robert W. Taylor, a pioneer of the modern computer, dies at 85 - LA Times

Robert W. Taylor, a pioneer of the modern computer, dies at 85 - LA Times: Robert W. Taylor, one of the most important figures in the creation of the modern computer and the Internet, has died. He was 85. According to his son Kurt Taylor, the scientist died Thursday at his home in Woodside. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease and other ailments. Taylor’s name was not known to the public, but it was a byword in computer science and networking, where he was a key innovator who transformed the world of technology. Taylor was a Pentagon researcher in the 1960s when he launched Arpanet, which evolved into what we know today as the Internet.
Presaging the concern in our current time over disparate access to advanced Internet-based telecommunications, Taylor wrote the following in a paper he co-authored, The Computer as a Communication Device published in April 1968 in Science and Society:
For the society, the impact will be good or bad, depending mainly on the question: Will "to be on line" be a privilege or a right? If only a favored segment of the population gets a chance to enjoy the advantage of "intelligence amplification," the network may exaggerate the discontinuity in the spectrum of intellectual opportunity.

USTelecom is right -- and wrong -- on public telecom infrastructure

Survey: Most Americans cities to build, sell Internet plans: Proponents of independent Internet networks argue that a "public option" for Internet access could help drive down the price of broadband and increase speeds. Opponents say the expense of building new networks represents an unacceptable financial risk for many local governments. "Municipal broadband networks too often end up failing and costing taxpayers millions," said USTelecom, a trade association representing Internet providers and telecom companies.

USTelecom is right. Modernizing telecommunications infrastructure rapidly enough to meet the nation's needs in an era of Internet protocol-based services will indeed cost tax dollars. It simply has to because infrastructure costs billions to build. That high price is not compatible with the short term business models of private investor owned legacy telephone and cable companies. That's why they're confined to piecemeal build outs and bandwidth rationing that leave many existing and putative customers in their service territories unserved and undeserved and complaining about lousy, poor value service. Even conservatives are waking up to the fact of this market failure, recognizing that market forces don't work well when it comes to high cost infrastructure. And it's about time.

USTelecom is also correct that local governments face significant financial risk due to the large sums involved. That's why I propose in my eBook Service Unavailable: America’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Crisis a federal "public option" since only the federal government -- and not state and local government -- can shoulder the burden.

Where USTelecom as well as those who support local government telecom infrastructure modernization projects are wrong is claiming these projects represent market competition with legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies. They do not and cannot. Local governments are responding to market failure, not any desire to compete in the telecommunications industry. They are looking to meet their needs to support economic development in the digital economy and address their citizens' complaints about crappy service from the incumbents. That situation has occurred because telecommunications infrastructure by definition is a natural monopoly and not a competitive market characterized by many sellers and buyers. Thus market forces fail, too weak to provide incentive for incumbent telephone and cable companies to provide better service.

Monday, April 10, 2017

U.S. at crossroads on telecom infrastructure modernization. The choice is to look to the past -- or to the future.

The United States stands at a crossroads when it comes to modernizing its telecommunications infrastructure. Many observers including Susan Crawford and this writer believe that modernization must be future-focused, providing an infrastructure that’s sufficiently robust and able to accommodate the rapidly growing demand for bandwidth that comes with the transition to digital, Internet-protocol based telecommunications. That means replacing the legacy metallic infrastructure that worked well for telephone and cable TV service in the 20th century with the infrastructure of the 21st: fiber optic connections serving every American doorstep. The future is big and it demands big thinking.

Others such as Doug Brake of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation argue for a retrogressive approach that encourages us to think small. It proposes incremental fixes, prioritizing those areas worst impacted by market failure borne out of the misguided heavy reliance on investor-owned infrastructure. Instead of producing a future of bandwidth abundance where the term “broadband speed” is obsoleted, Brake’s incremental outlook would condemn Americans to a future of ongoing bandwidth poverty and its adverse effects for the larger socio-economy.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Competition isn't the answer for better premise telecom service

California lawmakers give cable utility perks, without utility obligations: Historically, there was a difference between telephone companies, which have been state regulated utilities for more than a century, and cable companies, which were originally franchised by local governments but managed to escape that oversight ten years ago. At least in California. Today, the differences are diminishingly small, particularly in urban and suburban markets where cable and telephone companies sell the same services and enjoy a comfortable, unregulated duopoly.

The distinguishing characteristics of a natural monopoly are high initial capital costs, usually related to infrastructure construction, and powerful economies of scale, both of which give the first mover in the market insurmountable advantages over would be competitors. In the old analog world, telephone and television service were completely different businesses, linked only by a common dependence on wireline networks. Now, both offer voice and video, and face competition in those segments from wireless providers. But they are also almost always the only wireline broadband option and wireless service is not a credible substitute, in either practical or microeconomic terms.

This is an excellent and much needed microeconomic description of the dominant privately owned telecommunications infrastructure that dominates in the United States that is all too often absent from the current policy discussion. Many ask why there isn’t competition in the telecommunications industry like exists in most consumer products and services. If it works there, then it must work in telecommunications also. More competition is the answer for better choice and consumer value, they conclude.

But as Steve Blum explains in his blog post, that reasoning is fatally flawed. More competition isn’t possible in a natural monopoly market where high cost barriers and the power of incumbency deter would be competitors. (Just ask Google how its flagging Google Fiber venture worked out) Telecommunications infrastructure will never be a robustly competitive market, defined as one with many sellers and buyers offering consumers many choices, enabling market forces that allow consumers to choose the best value and force out uncompetitive players.

When it comes to landline premise telecommunications service, most Americans can select from no more than two providers. And sadly for millions, none at all since the business model of vertically integrated investor owned providers must naturally redline and cherry pick among neighborhoods, creating winners and losers among consumers. As long as the nation relies on this broken model, it
will continue to lag when it comes to building the world class telecom infrastructure it needs to accommodate the explosion in digital communications.
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