Sunday, January 15, 2017

Why aggressive federal intiative needed to modernize inadequate U.S. telecom infrastructure

Virginia “Broadband Deployment Act” would kill municipal broadband deployment | Ars Technica: Virginia lawmakers are considering a bill called the "Virginia Broadband Deployment Act," but instead of resulting in more broadband deployment, the legislation would make it more difficult for municipalities to offer Internet service.

The Virginia House of Delegates legislation proposed this week by Republican lawmaker Kathy Byron (full text) would prohibit municipal broadband deployments except in very limited circumstances. Among other things, a locality wouldn't be allowed to offer Internet service if an existing network already provides 10Mbps download and 1Mbps upload speeds to 90 percent of potential customers. That speed threshold is low enough that it can be met by old DSL lines in areas that haven't received more modern cable and fiber networks.

This is a big part of the justification for an aggressive federal telecom infrastructure initiative to build and publicly own fiber optic connections to nearly every American home, business and institutions. While many have placed hope in state and local government "muni broadband" efforts, they won't scale and rapidly enough to address the nation's current and future telecom needs. The nation now faces an infrastructure crisis, getting further and further behind the demand curve as time goes on and the need for robust connectivity grows.

There are two reasons why these local efforts fall short. First and most importantly, existing state and local governments lack the many billions of dollars and debt capacity needed to finance the job. They're already strapped by deferred infrastructure maintenance such as for highways, roads, government buildings, and water and sewerage systems. Not to mention the yawning economic black hole of underfunded public employee pension obligations that sucks up state and local funds. In a similar vein, we don't read accounts of new special districts being formed to build and operate telecom infrastructure, with the locals signing on to tax themselves to pay for it.

The second is the legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies call the shots on telecom infrastructure and will do -- as the above story reports -- whatever it takes to keep control, even if it means keeping in place obsolete infrastructure and impeding technological progress with minimalist incrementalism. State and local governments are simply outgunned by boatloads of campaign cash and armies of lobbyists and propagandists intent on keeping the calendar set at 1999 in order not to disrupt their capital expenditure averse business models. Nor is there any real private sector threat. For example, Google Fiber got its ass kicked and then publicly mocked by AT&T when it ventured into the telecom infrastructure business to connect homes with fiber and forming public-private partnerships with local governments.

As I wrote in my 2015 eBook, Service Unavailable: America’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Crisis, the United States requires an aggressive federal initiative to modernize the nation's aging and hugely inadequate telecom infrastructure so that it serves all Americans and not just some. Only the federal government has the authority and resources to make that happen and is justified in doing so given the essentially interstate nature of telecommunications.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

US Telecom head fundamentally misstates key obstacle to telecom infrastructure

The Next National Infrastructure Push Must Be Powered by Broadband - Morning Consult: Clarity. Broadband companies have invested more in America’s infrastructure over the last two decades than any other sector of our economy – $1.5 trillion and counting. Yet these same companies in recent years have suffered a case of Washington whiplash. On one hand, heady (and wholly accurate) talk about broadband’s importance to all citizens. On the other, increasingly regressive policy decisions that undermine that potential and are widely credited with 2015’s decline in capital investment in U.S. broadband networks. We need to reverse this troubling trend by establishing policies that encourage investment in new and better broadband.
This opinion from Jonathan Spalter,  president and CEO of the trade association USTelecom, is remarkable in that it fundamentally misstates what is a business problem as a public policy problem for telecommunications companies. The biggest obstacle facing the industry when it comes to investing in telecommunications infrastructure is its own business model. It's out of sync with the long term return on capital that comes with high cost telecom infrastructure, seeking lower risk short term gains. That's not public policy. That's just plain microeconomics.

Friday, January 06, 2017

As usual, AT&T decades late & dollar short, betting heavily on the come

Meanwhile, in terms of its fixed line activities AT&T confirms it is now marketing a 1Gbps connection to nearly four million locations across 46 metropolitan areas nationwide, including more than 650,000 apartments and condominium units. By mid-2019 the telco plans to reach at least 12.5 million locations across 67 metro areas with its fibre service. In addition, AT&T is conducting technology trials over fixed wireless point-to-point mmWave and G.fast technologies with a view to delivering greater speeds and efficiencies within its copper and fibre networks. Finally, the telco expects to launch a new fixed wireless internet (FWI) service in mid-2017 in areas where it has accepted Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II) support. The operator expects to reach more than 400,000 locations by the end of 2017 across 18 states, most of which will get internet access for the first time. By the end of 2020 AT&T plans to reach 1.1 million locations in those 18 states.
It's mind boggling to consider the boldfaced sentence above that notes premises in AT&T service territory will get their first Internet access between 2017 and 2020. Those premises will be served by a bolt on adjunct to its mobile wireless infrastructure that will be obsolete even before its deployed and highly likely bog down during peak periods as its shared bandwidth becomes saturated with heavy, multi-premise demand. Had AT&T's predecessor SBC Communications and other regional bell operating companies stuck to their early 1990s plans to replace their copper networks with fiber to customer premises, they would have likely completed that task by 2008 to 2010. They didn't. Consequently, the quality of America's telecommunications infrastructure has suffered greatly, deficient for the needs of today and tomorrow.

This item from TeleGeography (excerpted above) also outlines AT&T's residential strategy that heavily relies on its mobile wireless plant as a successor to its VDSL-based U-Verse hybrid fiber/copper service that suffers from severe bandwidth constraints due to the aging copper cable plant service customer premises. The wireless link to customer premises is apparently going to replace the twisted pair copper. It remains to be seen whether AT&T can overcome the technological challenge of being able to deliver adequate bandwidth over the wireless link to customer premises. And equally critical, the economic challenge of having to invest considerable capital in fiber to backhaul all of the necessary radios that would essentially require nearly every premise to have one, similar to step down transformers for residential electric service. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

The legacy telco communications strategy to shift focus away from infrastructure deficiencies

Understanding the Broadband Adoption Gap | USTelecom: And most Americans have chosen to take advantage of widely available internet service. According to NTIA’s data, the share of American households using the internet at home has risen from 26 percent (27 million households) in 1998 to 73 percent (92 million households) in 2015. The share of households in which someone uses Internet anywhere—at home or in other locations such as a school, a library, or a workplace—is now at 79 percent, Yet, 33 million U.S. households (27 percent) still do not use the internet at home. Government data suggests (link is external) that the gap between rural and urban area internet usage has remained stubbornly constant at anywhere from 6 to 9 percentage points. In 2015, 69 percent of rural residents reported being online, compared to 75 percent of urban residents. 
This is part of a continued push by the telephone company trade group to shift the focus away from modernizing America's outdated, metallic telecommunications infrastructure to fiber to the premise (FTTP). The strategy is to shift time back 15 to 20 years when consumers were first using Internet protocol-based advanced telecommunications services to "go online" to access email and websites via dialup and later "broadband" Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service. That glosses over the fact that IP provides other modes of telecommunications including video and voice in addition to these applications. Legacy telcos also like to conflate mobile wireless service with premise service to distract from landline infrastructure deficiencies.

Why the propaganda campaign? Because as the nation's crisis of inadequate telecom infrastructure deepens and grows more urgent, pressure builds for public policy solutions that could seriously disrupt the industry as it lacks the resources to address the infrastructure gaps. Lacking the financial resources, all the industry can do is to attempt to reframe the issue in an attempt to ward off any disruptive policy changes.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

State "Connect" efforts symbolic, fail to address U.S. telecom infrastructure deficiencies

Yemassee, Furman to get new fire trucks | The Hampton County Guardian: According to Connect South Carolina's website, the non-profit organization’s mission is to increase high-speed Internet access, adoption and use to diversify the economy and ensure South Carolina's competitiveness in the connected global economy of the 21st Century, the website states. Connect South Carolina was commissioned by the Office of the Governor to work with each of the state's broadband providers to create detailed maps of broadband coverage and to assess the current state of broadband adoption, community-by-community, across South Carolina. Connect South Carolina will continue to develop and update broadband data over time, ensuring state policymakers and citizens alike are equipped with important information. Connect South Carolina's efforts are funded by the United States Department of Commerce's State Broadband Initiative (SBI) Grant Program through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. More information is available at www.broadbandusa.gov.
This exemplifies the misguided and misleading "Connect" response throughout the United States to the nation's telecommunications infrastructure deficit. It is predicated on a lack of information as the source of the deficit. Gathering information about deficient infrastructure as well as use of existing telecommunications infrastructure isn't going to remedy the deficits. But policymakers have endorsed the approach because it gives the appearance of doing something about them.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Federal government must take lead on U.S. telecom infrastructure modernization

Under Trump, look to cities and metros to power America forward | Brookings Institution: As Republicans begin to exercise relatively unchecked executive and legislative power, it remains to be seen how they will interact with core tenets of our country’s federalist arrangement. The Trump administration and the Republican legislature should recognize that many essential public functions can only realistically be provided by the federal government. Washington must lead in promoting American interests overseas, providing a safety net for the elderly and disadvantaged, protecting civil rights, maintaining environmental and regulatory standards, and funding basic science and research. If the Republican-led federal government relinquishes these responsibilities, our country will undoubtedly suffer.

But on many other matters that determine our country’s future prosperity and shared growth—the vitality of our businesses, the education of our children, the quality of our infrastructure, the vibrancy of our public spaces, and the skills of our workers—Washington is a junior investor and partial decider. Of every public dollar spent on K-12 education and transportation infrastructure, for example, the federal government invests only 12 cents and 25 cents, respectively. These small contributions are also likely to decline further as our nation’s elderly population grows and spending on healthcare and retirement programs rises.

Relying on local governments to fill in the innumerable gaps in modern fiber optic telecommunications infrastructure is folly. State and local government budgets were decimated in the 2008 economic crisis and it's taking years to fully recover. They also have a pressing need to modernize other aging infrastructure such as roads, schools, and sewer and water systems. Not to mention the enormous burden of health care benefits and public employee pension obligations.

Telecommunications infrastructure is fundamentally interstate and international and not municipal. Replacing yesterday's metallic infrastructure designed to support voice telephone and cable television service with fiber optic infrastructure to support today's Internet-based telecommunications requires many billions of dollars of investment state and local governments cannot fund. The federal government -- not state and local government -- must take the lead as the senior investor.
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