Friday, December 29, 2006

San Jose Mercury News calls for national broadband strategy

Decrying the United States' slow progress in attaining universal broadband service, the San Jose Mercury News writes the time for mere talk on deploying more broadband infrastructure is over. "Let's roll," the newspaper editorialized this week. "The faster, the better."

The newspaper urges Silicon Valley business leaders to lead the charge. "Not only is universal broadband good for society, it's good for the technology business. Intel will sell more chips, Hewlett-Packard more computers, Cisco Systems more routers, Google more ads. Telephone and cable companies see huge profits in delivering TV, Internet and phone service over fast land lines," the editorial states.

The editorial calls for a "cohesive national strategy" to achieve the goal of universal broadband access in the next three years including revamping the Universal Service Fund to subsidize broadband in rural areas and auctioning off television frequencies that won't be needed when TV broadcasters go to full digital transmission in 2009 to help underwrite the cost of making broadband service ubiquitous.

The editorial is part of a growing chorus of doubt that the telco/cable duopoly has the ambition and/or the capital to speed broadband availability on its own.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Wireless can pencil out where wireline fails, Rescue resident says

Rescue resident Tim McFadden doesn’t foresee any wireline based deployment of broadband penciling out for AT&T in much of El Dorado County. The future according to McFadden, president of a company called Comsites that provides real estate services to cellular phone companies, is wireless. The simple reason, he explains, is that it’s far less costly to deploy. He points to wireless providers like Sprint and Verizon which he says are offering a “double play” of voice and data at speeds approaching 400 Kbps. McFadden also notes Craig McCaw's Clearwire is moving into the Sacramento market could be in the eastern portion of the El Dorado County before long.

While McFadden is likely correct that terrestrial wireless systems are cheaper to build out than wireline-based systems, such deployments are very technologically challenging in El Dorado County’s topography featuring high ridges, deep canyons and tall trees. That fact has made it difficult for cellular phone service providers to offer reliable service in parts of the county. That’s likely why wireless broadband players have concentrated on the low hanging fruit in the less hilly and vegetated terrain of Folsom and El Dorado Hills.

In addition, if wireless is to be a viable broadband alternative in El Dorado County or anywhere else, it will have to offer higher connection speed. While 400kbs may be considered adequate for some users of portable devices, it barely qualifies as a broadband connection.

WSJ columnist calls on federal government to speed broadband deployment

The Wall Street Journal is America’s flagship newspaper of free markets and free enterprise. It’s not known for advocating regulation and government involvement in business. When it comes to the business of deploying broadband Internet connections, however, a WSJ columnist suggests the business model has failed and can’t be left to its own devices. The federal government should launch an effort to hasten the build out the nation’s telecom system to accommodate more and faster broadband connections on a par with the Eisenhower-era program to build the interstate highway system, WSJ technology columnist Kara Swisher said at a recent Silicon Valley forum. “The government has got to get behind this, like it did with the public highways,” Swisher was quoted as saying.

Another panelist, the WSJ’s Walter Mossberg, a product reviewer and technology columnist, lamented the relatively slow speeds available to U.S. broadband users. “We need real broadband,” Mossberg told the panel, calling American broadband “pathetic” compared to what’s available in other countries.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Tech exec calls for federal universal broadband policy

With regular phone service service nearly universal, the federal government should develop policies to make broadband as accessible as telephones, argues Charles H. Giancarlo, senior vice president and chief development officer of Cisco Systems, in a recent San Francisco Chronicle op-ed piece. Giancarlo is a member of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Broadband Task Force.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

655 Tahoe residents petition AT&T for broadband

The Lake Tahoe basin is one of the most massive broadband black holes in El Dorado County. As this blog reported back in the fall, the residents there aren’t happy about it and are petitioning the incumbent local exchange carrier, AT&T, to get moving on a solution and enlisted Fifth District Supervisor Norma Santiago to help press their case with company officials.

A couple of weeks ago, Tahoe activist Patti Handal, who led the door-to-door petition drive, sent off 655 signatures representing 364 households to Ma Bell’s headquarters in San Antonio. That should send a clear message for AT&T to get off the dime in the Tahoe region, where www has been an acronym for wait, wait and wait some more.

Friday, December 15, 2006

BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau honcho falls into broadband black hole -- in Palo Alto

The many El Dorado County residents who are stuck in broadband black holes are by no means alone. Even residents in high tech, upscale Palo Alto can find themselves unwittingly getting too close to a dial up event horizon and falling in, such as Rob Hof, manager of BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau. Read about Hof's recent unfortunate moving experience.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

AT&T's MultiMedia Studio: An exercise in irrelevancy

I just received and completed an online survey from AT&T introducing its MultiMedia Studio server resident software. It will allow end users to use it in lieu of PC-based software for photo and video editing, managing music files, blogging, presentations and word processing.

For those of us residing in one of El Dorado County's many broadband black holes, the survey for MultiMedia Studio is an exercise in irrelevancy. That's because without a broadband connection to the Internet, server based software such as being contemplated by AT&T is simply useless.

First things first. AT&T should instead be focusing its resources on upgrading its aged infrastructure so it can make broadband available to those without access. Without it, MultiMedia Studio isn't even in the realm of possibilities.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Where the heck's my broadband?

When almost 200 of you signed the petition started at the beginning of 2006 urging AT&T to step up or get out of the county, AT&T put itself on record in late April in Bob Walter's Sacramento Bee column that it would expand broadband availability in the county by the end of the year.

But don't call up AT&T's high speed Internet department and expect to place an order for service considering that year end is just a couple of weeks away. When I did this week, I was told that was impossible because there's no planned date for rolling out service in my broadband black hole not far from U.S. 50.

Par for the course for Ma Bell despite speedy sounding rhetoric in 2002 "Project Pronto" (It wasn't) and AT&T's latest "get ready, it's coming" hype, "Project Lightspeed."

75% of residences have broadband connections

A study by Nielsen/NetRatings estimates that more than three fourths of American homes have high speed connections to the Internet, according to this Associated Press story via MSNBC.

That number is undoubtedly far lower in El Dorado County, which continues to be plagued by gaping broadband black holes where neither AT&T nor Comcast provide service, leaving residents to choose between the unfeasible -- dial up -- and the undesirable -- satellite.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Broadband will determine outcome of cable vs. telco market share struggle

The key determinant whether telcos such as AT&T or cable companies like Comcast come to dominate in El Dorado County and elsewhere is what each offers in the way of high speed Internet.

"That battle that is going on in the marketplace is really focused around the broadband connection," Oren Shaffer, telco Qwest's chief financial officer, told MarketWatch in this article that appeared today.

That's doubly true in much of "dark" El Dorado County where neither AT&T nor Comcast offers broadband connections. The first to enter these areas with a robust broadband product will over the short term have the market to themselves to sell bundled services and set the stage to develop long term loyalty among residents who have waited far too long for high speed Internet access.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Caught flat footed by Internet, telcos ponder their future

America's telcos were caught flat footed by the rapid rise of the Internet that has left them pondering what business they are in, according to this Reuters article appearing in VAR Business:

A decade into the Internet era, it is becoming clear to former telecommunications monopolies that they may not have what it takes to operate at Internet speed.

"The integrated telco model is broken. All innovation is coming from the edge of the Internet. It's coming from companies other than telecom companies, from the likes of Google, Amazon," said James Enck, an analyst at Daiwa Securities in London.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Schwarzenegger names 21 to California Broadband Task Force

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today announced the appointment of Ellis Berns, Rachelle Chong, William Geppert, Charles Giancarlo, Paul Hernandez, William Huber, Christine Kehoe, Wendy Lazarus, Lloyd Levine, Michael Liang, Bryan Martin, Timothy McCallion, Sunne Wright McPeak, Milo Medin, Peter Pardee, Peter Pennekamp, Debra Richardson, Rollin Richmond, Larry Smarr, Jonathan Taplin and Emy Tseng to the Broadband Task Force.

Click here for news release.

Under the executive order Schwarzenegger signed to create the Broadband Task Force, it is to provide the governor a preliminary report by the end of January, 2007 that identifies "administrative actions that can result in immediate promotion of broadband access and usage within California."

Apparently the governor has opted to appoint a blue ribbon commission to examine the issue. What's missing however is the consumer perspective and particularly the consumer point of view from outside California's urban centers where broadband availability leaves much to be desired.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

All dressed up with nothing to sell

Some of you may have noticed that I've opened Eldo Telecom to advertisers. The ads you see are not placed by human beings, but by Google's so-called "ad bots" that seek out blogs that accept advertising based on automatic key words searches. Ads you see appearing here aren't chosen by me and don't necessarily represent an endorsement of what's being advertised -- and certainly no guarantee it's even available.

Take for example Comcast's pitch for its high speed Internet services that has appeared today. Many El Dorado County residents clicking on the link are likely to find Comcast has no such service to sell them. That's because Comcast's marketing is also on automatic, run by cyber robots. Going to Comcast's Web site and typing in Camino's ZIP Code, 95709, for example, will produce a message that Comcast's TV programming and high speed Internet service are available in 95709. Not necessarily true. It's only available in parts of the ZIP Code.

Both Comcast and AT&T advertise as if they can deliver broadband to all of El Dorado County when in fact both cover only limited parts of the county. It's not exactly a formula to win the hearts of minds of consumers and violates the maxim of marketing experts to avoid creating customer expectations that cannot be fulfilled.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

WISP “inundated” with service requests

Shingle Springs-based Direct Connect, one of El Dorado County’s first homegrown Internet Service Providers, reports overwhelming demand for its wireless Internet service.

Since becoming a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) in addition to its established wire line-based services earlier this year, the company has been “inundated” by requests for its terrestrial fixed wireless service, Direct Connect President & CEO Ken Garnett reported in a letter to potential subscribers this week. The WISP's service area is growing beyond the small 15-square mile area initially served earlier this year, now reaching to the western edges of Placerville and into Diamond Springs.

It’s certainly no surprise county residents are clamoring for the wireless service given the county’s many gaping broadband black holes where residents face a Hobson’s choice of dialup or satellite-based Internet access.

“With such a huge demand, it is extremely difficult to service everyone in a timely fashion,” Garnett writes. “In order to solve this problem, we are actively raising capital in order to accelerate our deployment capabilities…this will enable us to hire more installers and to more rapidly expand our network.” Garnett also notes that even within Direct Connect’s existing wireless service area, there are many locations that lie in a “shadowed” area unable to reliably receive service and in need of “additional backfilling” for complete coverage. “Expanding our network/service area will occur as rapidly as we are able to raise capital and thereby bolster our resources,” Garnett writes.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The balkanized state of U.S. broadband access

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who recently issued an executive order creating a broadband task force to identify and eliminate obstacles to making broadband internet access ubiquitous in the Golden State, sees it as the great equalizer.

But throughout more rural parts of California and the rest of the nation, the broadband infrastructure and available service choices are far less equal to that of more urban areas. Ironically, Information Week writer Richard Hoffman notes in his comprehensive article on the state of U.S. rural broadband access, broadband access tends to be least available in the very areas that can most benefit from it as the U.S. continues into a post suburban, penturbian settlement trend.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

DSL reportedly in the works for two Pollock Pines area neighborhoods south of Hwy. 50

A resident of the Gold Ridge Forest subdivision off Sly Park Road and Gold Ridge Trail in Pollock Pines reports AT&T crews are upgrading lines for DSL service to the area. The neighborhood is about a mile south of Highway 50.

In addition, an AT&T lineman advised the resident that DSL service is expected to be offered several miles farther south in the Sierra Springs subdivision after the first of the year.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

FCC member Michael Kopps calls tepid U.S. record on broadband expansion an outrage

"The solution to our broadband crisis must ultimately involve public-private initiatives like those that built the railroad, highway and telephone systems. Combined with an overhaul of our universal service system to make sure it is focusing on the needs of broadband, this represents our best chance at recapturing our leadership position.

It seems plain enough that our present policies aren't working. Inattention and muddling through may be the path of least resistance, but they should not and must not represent our national policy on this critical issue."

Full op-ed in today's Washington Post.



Monday, November 06, 2006

Broadband coming for Camino's Rancho del Sol?

One of El Dorado County's many broadband black holes may be gone by early next year. That's according to Dan Gallagher, chair of the Rancho del Sol maintenance committee. Dan tells me AT&T has been installing and testing equipment to bring the community of 160 homes located off Snows Road in Camino that has been stuck with dial up Internet access into the digital age.

Earlier this year, Ma Bell promised to offer a number of broadband options to the county by the end of the year. As this blog exclusively reported, DSL was made available to parts of Grizzly Flat this past summer. Dan's report is encouraging because it's further evidence of concrete action from AT&T following years of unkept promises and more recently, AT&T's direct mail promos suggesting that El Doradans instead turn to ill-favored satellite-based Internet access.

If you are seeing indications that AT&T upgrading its infrastructure in your El Dorado County neighborhood or have recently obtained broadband access that wasn't previously available, please email with the details.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

AT&T's Homezone misadventure

This has turkey written all over it right out of the box. The San Francisco Chronicle reports today that AT&T is unveiling a new service that bundles satellite TV from Dish Network with AT&T's DSL service. The idea of the so-called Homezone service is to allow subscribers to send movies, TV shows and music downloaded from the Internet to their TVs. It's supposedly to allow AT&T to better compete with the cable providers. It sounds too jury-rigged and complex to ultimately succeed and gain customer acceptance.

Rather than embark on such misadventures, AT&T should stick to the knitting of telecommunications. Ma Bell should concentrate on upgrading her long neglected wireline infrastructure in places like El Dorado County where AT&T is the incumbent telecom provider. There is plenty of work to do to ensure the delivery of reliable phone service and to eliminate the many broadband black holes that exist in the county. Homezone is a distraction and a misguided diversion of resources.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Schwarzenegger issues executive order to expand broadband access

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has issued an executive order to expand broadband access in the Golden State. Schwarzenegger's Press Office says the order, Twenty-First Century Government: Expanding Broadband Access and Usage in California, is to "clear the government red tape for building broadband networks" and "ensure all government agencies are using the best technologies to serve the people." The order also creates a broadband task force to "identify and eliminate obstacles to making broadband internet access ubiquitous in the state." The governor sees broadband as a "great equalizer" when it's accessible to all Californians, an administration source tells me.

Schwarzenegger says expanding broadband access will ensure California's high tech leadership, promote economic growth and enhance government operations through telemedicine for healthcare, distance learning for education, and better coordination of public safety.

While not specifically mentioned in Schwarzenegger's order, expanding broadband in California would also promote telecommuting. That would reduce automobile trips on California's overcrowded and deteriorated freeways and roads as well as fuel usage and environmental pollution.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Broadband becoming an essential utility

Here's a story on some research that illustrates the urgency for rapid deployment of robust broadband Internet in El Dorado County and elsewhere as Americans and Canadians have come to regard broadband as essential as basic telephone service.

The research also found that 85 percent of all broadband household segments are interested in receiving multiple telecommunication services over their broadband connections.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"Blue" California most likely to benefit from AB 2987

There's an interesting political angle to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's recent approval of AB 2987, the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006, that hasn't been picked up by the mainstream media.

Readers of this blog should be familiar with this legislation that takes effect next year and puts the California Public Utilities Commission in charge of issuing franchises to cable companies and telcos. For the major players such as Comcast and AT&T, the legislation requires the companies to upgrade their networks to provide video services and broadband Internet for only half or less of their service areas by Jan. 1, 2012.

Most likely, residents and businesses located in more densely populated coastal urban areas -- which also tend to lean Democratic and hence are dubbed "Blue" California -- will be in this group. Less densely populated inland areas -- Republican leaning "Red" California -- are likely to be given low priority by the cable and telco providers and left on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Schwarzenegger may have been attempting to make nice with legislative Democrats in this election year by approving AB 2987, championed by Democratic speaker Fabian Nunez. But he left his political base in GOP Red California hung out to dry while Blue California is likely to be first in line for advanced telecommunications and video services.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Big telcos see shift from DSL to fiber

Telecommunications Industry News reports big telcos such as AT&T and Verizon anticipate a movement away from copper-based Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) broadband service and toward fiber optic-based infrastructure, citing a similar trend in heavily fibered East Asia.

El Dorado County's incumbent telco, AT&T, hasn't responded to multiple requests for comment on industry reports that Ma Bell has ceased deployment of all new copper cable DSL infrastructure in AT&T's 13-state service area to focus exclusively on fiber installations.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Former FCC chair calls for "full scale policy debate" on U.S. digital divide

Excerpts from an op-ed by former FCC Chairman William E. Kennard in today's New York Times:

"The nation should have a full-scale policy debate about the direction of the broadband Internet, especially about how to make sure that all Americans get access to broadband connections."

"As chairman of the F.C.C., I put into place many policies to bridge the narrowband digital divide. The broadband revolution poses similar challenges for policymakers. America should be a world leader in broadband technology and deployment, and we must ensure that no group or region in America is denied access to high-speed connections. "

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hilary Clinton takes up broadband access cause

In the late 1960s, the federal government devised the Internet. Now it's time for the feds to speed its deployment in areas of the U.S. that lack broadband service, argues blogger Pretson Gralla.

Gralla puts in a plug for legislation by Sen. Hilary Clinton, who frames the issue in the context of helping her upstate New York constituents, many of whom live in broadband black holes. However, given Mrs. Clinton's former first lady status and much rumored presidential ambitions, her championing efforts to bridge the digital divide could put the issue in the national spotlight.

Mrs. Clinton's bill would create an Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives at the Department of Agriculture to provide grants and loan programs to spur investment in broadband infrastructure in underserved rural areas. It would also create a Rural Broadband Innovation Fund which would invest in broadband services to rural areas including satellite, fiber, WiFi, and broadband over power lines (BPL).

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

AT&T sends mixed messages on broadband service

I recently blogged about the seeming arbitrariness of one El Dorado County neighbor with access to wireline high speed Internet while one nearby or even next door can’t get it. Most vexing.

There’s another huge annoyance. How many of you have seen or heard advertisements by AT&T for DSL on sale — as low as $12.99 a month — as if broadband connections were so plentiful Ma Bell would basically give them away cheap?

The pitches are seemingly everywhere. In full page newspaper ads, on television, and on the Internet where AT&T has teamed up with Yahoo. Even on the outside of the phone bill. They’re misleading and unrealistically raise customer expectations. One has to read through gobs of dense fine print to find the disclaimer: “Not available in all areas.” More accurately, it should read not available in many areas and not available in most areas of El Dorado County.

In other words, service is available. But maybe it isn’t. Here’s a striking example of AT&T’s Orwellian doublespeak excerpted from a news release the company issued today headlined AT&T Simplifies Residential Broadband Pricing and Adds New Speed Tier.

“AT&T Yahoo! High Speed Internet service is available in the company's 13-state incumbent local exchange areas,” the news release states. Then in the same sentence comes the qualifier: “where high speed Internet service is available...”

Like Ma Bell says, it’s available…but then again it really isn’t.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Schwarzenegger signs AB 2987 into law

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office announced today the governor has signed into law the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006.

Your blogger's analysis of the legislation found it would
reinforce California's digital divide between urban and non-urban areas by not requiring telephone and cable companies to build out their digital networks to serve all customers, leaving many in El Dorado and other counties stuck in the early 1990s or earlier without access to wireline-based broadband Internet services. (On an interesting political note, many of these counties are in "red" California representing Schwarzenegger's Republican voter base)

Schwarzenegger however insists that AB 2987 will "help speed the spread of new and innovative technologies across the state." Perhaps it will after decades have gone by. In the meantime, much of non-urban California will slide into the telecommunications equivalent of third world nation status.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Internet boom leaves rural areas disconnected

Here's an excellent article in today's New York Times (registration required) that illustrates how the Internet boom is colliding with reality in rural areas of the United States that still rely on sluggish, impractical dial up Internet access that was state of the art when Bill Clinton was entering the White House in 1993.

The article details declining economies of scale as major telcos sell off land lines, inconsistent federal subsidies, and impatient capital that discourages private sector investment in rural telecom infrastructure.

Friday, September 22, 2006

"My neighbors get high speed Internet. Why can't I?"

For many El Dorado County residents, one of the most vexing aspects of the telecommunications infrastructure is its seeming arbitrariness. They rightfully wonder why folks just down the road — or in some cases immediate neighbors — have access to broadband Internet while they’re stuck with dialup or the undesirable choice of having to sign up for satellite Internet service.

It simply doesn’t make sense. It would be like those neighbors getting electric power while those who by the mere misfortune of their address must generate their own or live like the early settlers.

The reason is the county’s incumbent local exchange carrier, AT&T, relies on a less than robust technology to provide broadband to those able to receive it: Digital Subscriber Line (DSL). DSL transmits digital data over copper cables that were not designed to carry data but rather standard, plain old analog telephone service. Since copper cable — and particularly aged, pair gained cable that’s plentiful in El Dorado County — isn’t optimally designed to carry digital data, DSL data has a hard time moving over the cable. After just a few miles from the central switching office, the data stream falls apart and can’t deliver reliable broadband service.

In the telecom industry, DSL’s fragility is part of a bigger problem known as the “last mile problem.” In short, the last mile problem refers to systemic shortcomings in the nation’s telecom system. Telcos are able to build vast networks of major transmission lines and trunks, but they can’t seem to build a complete system that reaches all homes and businesses in their service areas. It’s a truly odd circumstance that begs serious analysis. Why, by comparison, is there no last mile problem in the electric power industry? Power distribution goes over high voltage transmission lines to substations and distribution systems that bring it to all consumers. One never hears of a “last mile” problem in electrical power systems despite physical parallels to wire line telecommunications systems. Why is that?

AT&T sinks fiber in Lake Tahoe

The Tahoe Daily Tribune (registration required) reports AT&T has laid fiber optic cable in Lake Tahoe between lake's north and south shores.

Durocher Marine also installed a new fiber optic cable for AT&T as a part of the project. Sierra Pacific and AT&T partnered in coordinating their work so that both cables could be installed simultaneously, minimizing the cost of installation and environmental impacts. The old power and phone cables were not removed from the lake because of their historical significance and because environmental studies of the project concluded it was best to not to stir up sediment by pulling them up, Matthews said.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Virginia governor signs executive order to promote broadband access, telework

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger take note of this item from NRTC Update:
A key success factor for the adoption of telework is the availability of affordable broadband level telecommunication services. Because of the critical role broadband plays in the deployment of advanced applications such as telework, widespread access to broadband services is critical to the economic well-being of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” the governor said in the text of the order. “At present, too many communities both urban and rural are not afforded access to broadband telecommunications and hence deprived of their ability to participate in enhanced social, education, occupation, healthcare, and economic development opportunities.”

Report: U.S. faces broadband availability crisis

Last week, I blogged (America stands at broadband crossroads) about market and policy failures that are holding the United States back from other nations when it comes to broadband (high speed) Internet access. I suggested that these failures might spawn a massive federal government program similar to the interstate highway construction project in the 1950s to rapidly bring the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure up to where it should be for America’s present and future needs and economic competitiveness.

Apparently I’m not the only one thinking along these lines. A report issued today by The Free Press, the Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union, Broadband Reality Check II, concludes the U.S. now faces a broadband availability crisis in which a third of the nation’s households remain stuck with dial up access. Here are some excerpts:

It may be time for the government to think boldly and build a true “information superhighway” by deploying “dark fiber” to American communities nationwide — rural and urban, rich and poor alike. With the pipes built, private companies would then be free to “light” the fiber and provide broadband and other services. Competitive companies could pay the government a nominal rental fee for use of the dark fiber lines.

Fiber-to-the-home or fiber-wireless hybrid networks would develop in competitive markets where multiple service providers compete on the basis of quality of service, rather than stifling competition through gatekeeper control over infrastructure.

A project on this scale wouldn’t be cheap, with some estimates as high as $1,000 per home, $115 billion to wire the entire nation. But the cost of not taking this path could be even higher. Some economists estimate the social surplus of a universally wired broadband nation at $350 billion. Regardless of the path U.S. policymakers chooses, it is imperative that we guide the market toward some big ideas for our broadband future. Absent that vision, we will continue to fall behind.

The report places blame squarely on the Federal Communications Commission, charging the FCC “has failed to adequately oversee the timely deployment of affordable broadband to every American, as they were mandated to do by the 1996 Telecommunications Act.” Consequently, Congress as well as state and local entities need to step up and solve this problem, it concludes.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

AT&T’s blighted neighborhood bad for El Dorado County

Imagine a neighborhood where the roads and streets are deteriorating, their paved surfaces eroded and ending at least two miles from most homes and businesses. After the pavement ends are badly rutted, pothole filled dirt roads with no funds budgeted to complete them. Such a community could well be deemed blighted, subject to local government comdemnation and redevelopment efforts.

This blighted neighborhood aptly describes AT&T’s existing wire line infrastructure in much of El Dorado County. The roads and highways of AT&T’s decades-old copper cable system are old and worn out. They’re in such bad shape they have a difficult time carrying reliable phone calls, especially when it rains and the potholes of poor connections grow larger. Nor can they transport broadband Internet access. Like the roads of our blighted neighborhood, once the pavement ends so does access to high speed Internet. Finally, like the byways in our blighted community, there are no funds budgeted to replace them.

It’s time for the residents and businesses of El Dorado County to call the county’s antiquated telecommunications infrastructure for what it is: blighted. AT&T should either make needed repairs and upgrades to bring the county’s dilapidated telecommunications infrastructure up to snuff, or sell her local holdings to make way for a more responsible landlord. Sign the petition urging AT&T to do so today!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Yes, we have broadband in Grizzly Flat

It's a story that seemed so improbable at first blush that it was difficult to believe. About a week ago in this space, I reported that I'd received several unconfirmed reports that AT&T has deployed broadband Internet access in Grizzly Flat.

Your blogger has now confirmed that broadband Internet service is indeed available on a limited basis in this remote El Dorado County community that lies deep on the far side of the digital divide that forms a three mile radius around central Placerville.

About two months ago, a notice was posted on the community's post office bulletin board advising that DSL service was available and residents began signing up. (Resident Ryan Snyder reports service extends only as far as the post office. Snyder, who lives beyond the post office, said he was told when the service was introduced to expect to DSL in a few weeks but says it's still unavailable.)

Bob Anderson, a 22-year resident of Grizzly Flat and owner of Short Circuit Computer Repair in Placerville as well as another Grizzly Flat resident confirmed the story.

Equally improbable is how it happened. Anderson tells me his understanding is AT&T ran fiber optic cable (yes, fiber) to bridge the 25 miles between its central office in Placerville and Grizzly Flat, where the fiber optic cable was then connected to a remote distribution terminal that feeds DSL service to local subscribers. Anderson says he's getting solid connections at 2.5mbs.

But why Grizzly Flat of the many El Dorado County communities with the misfortune to lie within the county's many massive broadband black holes? Anderson theorizes it was to bring distant medicine to the community's many elderly residents who are far from their doctors. With a high speed Internet connection, doctors and their patients can visit in real time video conferences and physicans can remotely obtain various diagnostic data.

AT&T's not commenting on the Grizzly Flat deployment to confirm Anderson's account. But he's a computer guy and thus brings some degree of technical credibility to bear.

Is this only a demonstration project? Or will Ma Bell lay in more fiber to bring the other numerous digitally dark communities of the El Dorado County into the light of the 21st century?

America stands at broadband crossroads

Much of America like El Dorado County remains stuck with an outdated telecom infrastructure better suited to the 1970s and 1980s than 2006 and beyond. Perceptive commentators are rightly beginning to ask deep questions to determine why that’s the case and why market competition hasn’t spurred more rapid deployment of advanced telecommunications services.

Al Senia suggests in America’s Network that the lack of a national telecom policy rather than fostering vibrant competition benefiting consumers amid minimal regulatory oversight is actually holding us back. Another article appearing in techdirt postulates a key reason is telecom infrastructure is an inherently uncompetitive monopolistic system just like roads and highways. We don’t see competition for thoroughfares because they are so expensive to build and maintain that the only the government can afford to run them.

Given the very slow deployment of telecom infrastructure, it appears increasingly possible that private sector providers despite their substantial resources won’t be able to rapidly raise the billions of dollars of investment capital that will be necessary to expeditiously put the telecom infrastructure on a par with those of other nations that are now surpassing the U.S.

The nation may well need a huge national telecom infrastructure authority like the Eisenhower administration’s massive federal highway project in the 1950s to get us caught up. Otherwise, America may fall further behind and become economically uncompetitive with other nations, relegated to driving the telecom equivalent of the old Route 66 while the rest of the world travels on modern freeway systems.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Letter to Gov. Schwarzenegger requesting veto of AB 2987

Readers are encouraged to send this letter or a modified version to Gov. Schwarzenegger.

* * *

The Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger
Governor
State of California

RE: AB 2987

Dear Gov. Schwarzenegger:

I urge you to veto AB 2987, the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006. While the legislation’s stated purpose is to expand modern digital telecommunications and market competition and consumer choice, it would not benefit large numbers of Californians living and working outside urban areas of the state.

Since the bill’s provisions require telephone and cable companies to only partially build out their digital networks, it locks in a flawed public policy of leaving less urbanized areas behind and undermines the decades-old public policy of universal common carrier access to telecommunications services.

AB 2987 would produce two separate but unequal Californias: one with access to modern, digital telecommunications services and one without. Residents of urban areas would be the winners and those outside these areas the losers under AB 2987.

There is no doubt that modern telecommunications services including broadband Internet access is critical to California’s economic well being by facilitating commerce and encouraging business and job formation. Such services also reduce impact on highways and the environment by reducing commute trips since they allow information work to be conducted remotely. Since most jobs are located in urban areas whereas housing development has spread far beyond these areas, Californians are traveling ever-longer distances between their homes and workplaces.

It is vital that all Californians and not just those in urban areas share in the benefits of modern, digital telecommunications services. Given the enormous impact of telecommunications policy on California’s economy, rather than sign AB 2987 into law, I suggest you instead direct the Public Utilities Commission or other appropriate body to study California’s telecommunications needs to determine the best policies and incentives to encourage the rapid deployment of digital telecommunications services that will benefit all Californians.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

More evidence AB 2987 won't benefit El Dorado County

The big telcos and cable companies pushing AB 2987 that’s now headed to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk claim consumers will benefit because it will increase competition and consumer choice. That’s not true for El Dorado County.

Take Verizon, for example. In a recent news release, the telco asserted the Digital Infrastructure and Video Choice Act “overhauls the state's outdated cable-franchising process and paves the way for new competitors such as Verizon to offer consumers a choice in video programming, better technology and increased value in a highly dynamic marketplace.”

The news release goes on to promise that if Schwarzenegger signs the bill into law, Verizon plans to accelerate the pace of its fiber network construction “to deliver the fastest broadband and best video service in many more communities across the state.” Does that increased competition mean Verizon will compete with AT&T in El Dorado County with its fiber optic-based system, possibly spurring Ma Bell to upgrade her creaky, aged copper cable-based system to fiber optic as well? Nope, says Verizon spokesman Jonathan Davies. Davies says that for the “foreseeable future, we will be concentrating on building the fiber network in our service territory.” In other words, where it’s not currently competing with AT&T for wire line-based telecommunications services. From this blogger’s perspective, that’s hardly the competition Verizon, AT&T and the cable providers promise consumers in their lobbying and PR for AB 2987.

Davies adds that Verizon hopes its fiber optic network will establish “a new standard for broadband capacity” to “encourage other carriers to upgrade their networks.” That’s also a fallacy. It might be plausible if there was true competition between Verizon and AT&T in places like El Dorado County. The fact is there is none. Only one telco (AT&T) serves El Dorado County. So the choice for county residents and businesses is whatever Ma Bell’s offering, which for too many is noisy, unreliable voice service, antiquated, circa 1993 dial up Internet access, or costly and inferior satellite-based Internet. Or simply do without and live in the 19th century. When there’s no competition, consumers lose and they’re losing big time in El Dorado County.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Broadband in Grizzly Flat?

I'm attempting to confirm with AT&T a report that Ma Bell has recently and rapidly (in the space of only two weeks) deployed wire line based broadband services, possibly as a test project, in the remote El Dorado County community of Grizzly Flat.

The story seems highly improbable, but nevertheless the tip comes from some good sources and deserves checking out.

If any readers know any details concerning this possible speck of light deep into the dark side of the county's digital divide, please share them in an email or post a comment to the blog.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Power company abandons BPL in favor of fiber

Last week, I posted a San Francisco Chronicle story reporting talks between El Dorado County's electric utility, PG&E and a provider of broadband over power lines (BPL) bogged down over money.

Here's a story from NRTC Update reporting that a municipally owned Tennessee electric company has opted not to pursue BPL, concluding it represented an inferior technology in the long run compared to a fiber optic-based system that rolls out in January.
Pulaski Electric System, a municipal electric power provider in rural Pulaski, TN, says it plans to begin offering triple-play (voice, video and broadband Internet) communications to its service area of 4,750 households by January 2007. The city of Pulaski is financing the fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network for the services through an $8.2 million bond measure. The group expects to exceed 50 percent penetration within the first three years. Greg Solomon, Pulaski Electric’s vice president and chief information officer, said the group made the decision to go with FTTH because the technology has matured to provide reliable service and the cost of fiber optic infrastructure is dropping to affordable levels. “Compared to the other technologies out there today and [considering] the bandwidth required for future applications, fiber to the home is the one we see as being the ultimate way to get to the customer,” Solomon said during an online presentation earlier today hosted by the Fiber to the Home Council. “We evaluated broadband over power line and it was more in its infancy then [in 2002] than fiber to the home was.” Pulaski Electric also evaluated hybrid fiber coaxial and fixed wireless approaches before deciding on FTTH, he said.

Broadband may be up to 2 years off -- and not even that's certain

After a meeting with AT&T officials, El Dorado County Supervisor Norma Santiago believes DSL Internet service could arrive in areas with dial-up within 18 to 24 months.

But she needs help.

Those who do not have the high-speed Internet service and wish to have it are requested to provide addresses and telephone numbers that will allow AT&T officials to begin a planning and cost analysis for a construction budget submission to the county, Santiago said.


Click here for rest of the story in the Tahoe Daily Tribune (registration required)

Let's analyze this for a moment. AT&T's actions mean either one of two things:

1. AT&T's system planners had planned to deploy advanced broadband services no sooner than 5 to 10 years from now, knowing that in order to do so it would need to upgrade its aged, pair gained copper cable system that isn't able to support expanded DSL to fiber optic. In the meantime, Ma Bell is "playing" Santiago and Handal in a delaying tactic to gather market data it likely already possesses in a cynical game of rope a dope. It's highly implausible that AT&T doesn't already know its customers' phone numbers and service addresses as well as the tremendous pent up demand for broadband as well as reliable voice service. The company's acting as if this information is "news" strikes this blogger is disingenuous.

2. AT&T has essentially written off large portions of its service area and has no plans to upgrade its system in El Dorado County to support advanced services such as high speed Internet, concluding it's not in its business interests to do so. But rather than say this publicly amid growing pressure to act, AT&T is engaging in a public relations palliative and running a "drill" to gather information and create an appearance of genuine concern.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Anger in Adelaide over lack of broadband

Even while El Dorado County is considered part of a metropolitan region, it suffers from widespread lack of broadband access that is increasingly angering local residents and business owners.

Turns out they are not alone. Residents of metro region down under in Adelaide, Australia are also upset over the same problem:
In metropolitan Adelaide there are many Internet users who still can't access broadband technology.

Broadband anger is not confined to the bush where Telstra has ditched a $4 billion roll-out of high speed internet connection.

The company has told some customers they will have to wait up to three years for the service.


Internet user Geremia Porcaro lives in Adelaide city and is fed up with being stuck on 1980's dial-up technology.

He lives close to the Unley telephone exchange and yet it takes him five minutes to receive an email using Telstra's basic dial-up service.

"I reckon if I go to the African jungle I can get faster dial-up speed there" he said.

Click here for full story.

California bill would define broadband as 384kbs or higher

Late amendments to SB 909 would define broadband Internet connections as running at a minimum of 384kbs. That's above the current Federal Communications Commission standard of 200kbs.

State PUC deregulates voice phone rates

The California Public Utilities Commission announced it is deregulating what telcos can charge for voice services while reserving the right to intervene to halt market conduct abuses or anticompetitive behavior. Rates for basic residential service will remain frozen until Jan. 1, 2009, the CPUC said.

Click here for CPUC news release.
Click here for Los Angeles Times story.

County supe Santiago reports on 8/21 meeting with AT&T

Here’s a news release issued Thursday evening by El Dorado County Fifth District Supervisor Norma Santiago reporting on a meeting she had earlier this week with AT&T regarding expanding DSL service in the Tahoe Basin. Motivating Santiago’s meeting with Ma Bell is an ongoing petition drive being run by South Lake Tahoe’s Patti Handal, who Santiago reports has collected nearly 500 signatures from 215 households imploring AT&T to expand DSL to those still stuck with sluggish circa 1993 dial up Internet access.

I applaud Santiago for her interest in this vital infrastructure issue for El Dorado County and urge her colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to share in her well-placed concerns since the county’s telecommunications problems are by no means limited to South Lake Tahoe. Unfortunately, it appears AT&T is continuing the same song and dance that it has for years on the county’s West Slope — which like Tahoe suffers from a creaky old copper cable system running out of good pair that barely provides adequate voice service and features massive broadband black holes.

Since the copper cable plant’s so dilapidated it can barely support voice and certainly won’t support more sensitive DSL signals, the reality is AT&T is looking at having to replace much of its aged infrastructure with fiber optic cable in order to ensure reliability of voice service and to offer advanced services such as broadband Internet access and potentially IPTV (Internet Protocol Television). That’s a big expenditure that probably won’t get past the bean counters in San Antonio anytime soon, particularly as AT&T absorbs the costs of its mergers in the past year with SBC Communications and Bellsouth. So not surprisingly, AT&T is telling Santiago what we’ve heard before on the West Slope from company representatives: We’ll look into it and see if it’s in the budget and get back to you. I call it the San Antonio (where AT&T is headquartered) shuffle.

Given the circumstances, Santiago and Handal are wise to court alternative providers including the cable company that serves the Tahoe Basin, Charter Communications — over which the county has direct influence since it grants franchises to cable companies — and to continue to gather signatures from residents and business owners to make the case to these providers that there’s plenty of market demand. The cable providers such as Charter and Comcast on the West Slope have a real opportunity to lock down market share as Ma Bell naps while digesting her recent acquisitions. They can offer a triple threat of high speed Internet, television programming and digital voice all over the same wire line connection in a bundled deal. Comcast has said it plans to begin rolling out digital voice service in Northern California early next year. Verizon, which is committed to abandoning obsolete copper cable in favor of fiber optic, has the right idea. Santiago and Handal should also be talking to Verizon about expanding beyond cellular service in El Dorado County and installing fiber-based landline services while AT&T sleeps in San Antonio.

The full news release issued by Supervisor Santiago along with contact information for Handal’s Tahoe Basin petition drive:

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For information, contact

Supervisor Norma Santiago, (530) 409-9615

On Monday, August 21st, El Dorado County Supervisor Norma Santiago held a meeting with AT&T representatives to further discuss prospects of obtaining high speed internet service throughout various areas within district five of El Dorado County. Santiago indicated that the discussions were very positive thanks in large part to a DSL Campaign headed by Mountain View Estates resident and veterinarian, Patti Handal. Handal had successfully collected nearly 500 signatures representing 215 households throughout South Lake Tahoe. “In my previous discussions with AT&T, I strongly expressed that there was a great interest for DSL not only for the public benefit but also as a tool for economic development. Now, thanks to Patti, I was able to provide the evidence,” Santiago said. Regarding the ongoing success of the DLS campaign and its implications, Handal states, “High speed internet access is no longer a luxury but part of everyday life in today's world. Through the campaign it has become very apparent how the availability of DSL would enhance the quality of so many people's lives and provide economic opportunities for our town.”

So what are the next steps? Specific information requested by AT&T (addresses and telephone numbers) from the petitions and e-mails received will be compiled and given to AT&T so that company representatives may begin a planning and cost analysis for AT&T construction budget submission. Budget decisions will be made early next year; however, even if the proposal was successful, residents would not be notified until 30 days prior to the actual completion of the project. This is due to a FCC regulation that prohibits announcing upcoming upgrades or changes provided by the utility that may create an unfair competitive advantage. In spite of this, Santiago remains confident indicating that she still sees DSL coming to the region within the next 18 to 24 months. Santiago further states that she is taking other steps to make this market attractive not only to AT&T but also to other potential carriers including Charter Communications. Discussions with Charter Communications are currently being arranged. In the meantime, Handal strongly encourages that proponents of DSL continue to send in their petitions. “The more households we have on record, the stronger our argument,” Santiago said.

Requests for petitions can be made by phone at: 530-314-9127 or by email at: BrutHilda@aol.com. Petitions can be returned by mail to: DSL Campaign; P.O. Box 17087; South Lake Tahoe, CA 96151. Or they can be faxed to: 530-577-2817.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

State franchise legislation won't benefit El Dorado County

While ostensibly designed to speed the deployment of bundled advanced digital telecommunications and television programming services, it’s highly unlikely the proposed Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 will hasten the availability of such services in El Dorado County.

AB 2987, which awaits approval by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, proposes to accomplish that by preempting the authority of local governments to negotiate video franchise agreements such as El Dorado County’s existing franchise agreements with cable providers Comcast and Charter. Driving the legislation is the big telcos, AT&T and Verizon, who want to offer wire line-based TV programming just like the cable companies under their own franchise deals. The telcos say it would take too long to effectively compete with the established cable providers if they must comply with current law that requires them to negotiate their own video franchise agreements with local governments. Giving the state Public Utilities Commission sole franchising authority would provide one stop shopping, cutting through local government red tape and afford them a level competitive playing field with cable providers, they argue.

If El Dorado County’s current telco, AT&T, could do what AB 2987 proposes, does that mean county residents and businesses could expect to see Ma Bell’s existing aged and obsolete copper cable system that marginally supports plain old telephone service be rapidly replaced with a fiber optic-based system to usher in a brave new post-AB 2987 digital world? Not at all. The bill allows big telcos like AT&T to serve only 50 percent of their service areas within five years of getting a state franchise. In practical terms, that means El Dorado County residents and businesses located within an existing broadband black hole would remain there with no hope of escape.

Nor would the bill help expand cable services in the county since it leaves intact existing county franchise agreements like the flawed agreement between El Dorado County and Comcast that's based on an urban grid model that leaves large pockets of county residences cut off from service.

Notwithstanding the measure's lip service to the notion that all Californians should have access to advanced telecommunications services, AB 2987 simply preserves and protects the status quo just as state residents, frustrated with the lack of broadband access, increasingly pressure local governments to take action as they have recently in El Dorado County's fifth supervisorial district.

The urban geographical bias of AB 2987 that neglects Californians living outside urban areas is evident in other provisions of the bill that prohibit discrimination against customers based on socio-economic status and ethnicity in determining where to offer advanced services. In non-urban areas like El Dorado County, those criteria are largely irrelevant as the county’s digital divide bears no relationship whatsoever to the socio economic or ethnic status of its residents.

Friday, August 18, 2006

EarthLink profits from broadband black holes

The New York Times (registration required) reports ISP EarthLink is transitioning into a telecommunications company and is sitting on piles of cash generated by high margin dial up services to finance the shift in strategy. EarthLink made and still is making buckets of money off the massive broadband black holes that exist in the service areas of the big telcos and cable companies.

EarthLink's current broadband strategy is based on leasing lines from telcos and cables. It is running into difficulty getting lines from the cable companies. And it won't be able to access telcos' fiber optic lines since a federal appeals court ruled this week telcos don't have to share their fiber with ISPs like EarthLink.

It would be richly ironic if EarthLink did an end around around the cable companies and telcos with the gobs of money it makes in dial up thanks to the slow as molasses speed at which the telcos and cable companies upgrade their networks and invested in its own proprietary fiber optic system.

PG&E talks with BPL provider short out over money

El Dorado County's electric utility provider, PG&E, confirmed it has had discussions with Maryland-based Current Communications, a provider of Broadband over Power Lines (BPL) services. However, a PG&E spokesman said that while the investor owned utility is interested in an alliance with a BPL provider, the talks have snagged over money.

Current Communications, which has attracted some $100 million in investment capital from Goldman Sachs, the Hearst Corporation and Google, wants PG&E to share in some of the start up costs to deploy BPL over its electric distribution system. No deal, PG&E told Current Communications.

Google is reportedly keenly interested in pursuing BPL as an alternative to relying on telcos like AT&T to carry the large amounts of data it sends over the Internet -- an understandable strategy given AT&T's suggestions that big media companies like Google pay access fees to use its system.

The San Francisco Chronicle story also provides a good account of AT&T's short-lived interest in BPL in 2004.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

US Court of Appeals: Telcos can keep proprietary fiber optic to themselves

The U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled the big regional "baby bell" telephone companies -- of which El Dorado County's provider AT&T is among the largest -- don't have to share their proprietary fiber optic cable infrastructure with other providers such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs.)

ISP Earthlink went to court to challenge the exclusivity rule, adopted in 2004 by the Federal Communications Commission. The telcos say they need to limit access to providers of competitive services in order to protect their investment in the next generation wire line technology.

Story by Reuters via Yahoo News
.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Local governments build fiber networks

Local governments lacking faith that private sector providers are able or willing to serve their citizens' telecom needs are building their own fiber optic networks, according to this AP story.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Tahoe area supe wants to hear from constituents on Internet access

This item was published in the Tahoe Daily Tribune (registration required) on Aug. 9:

El Dorado County Supervisor Norma Santiago is requesting residents of Lake Tahoe in El Dorado County wanting DSL service to contact her with specific reasons why they want the high-speed Internet option.

Santiago wants to use the information to help bargain with AT&T officials when she meets with them later this month. The county board of supervisors is not meeting with AT&T officials in a closed session as previously reported.

Specifics are requested, such as if DSL service will help those who are visually or hearing impaired, run a home-based business or to upload certain reports or videos for work.

A campaign to bring the high-speed Internet service to county areas has been started by Patti Handal, a resident of Mountain View Estates near North Upper Truckee Road.

Santiago can be contacted via e-mail at bosfive@co.el-dorado.ca.us. She requested those who do send e-mails include their physical address. The deadline for the e-mails is Aug. 18.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

No meeting on Aug. 21 between supes, AT&T

I've been informed by the office of El Dorado County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sweeney that yesterday's Tahoe Daily Tribune (registration required) story reporting that the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors has scheduled a closed door meeting on Aug. 21 with AT&T officials regarding expanding DSL service in West Slope neighborhoods is incorrect.

Tahoe area Supervisor Norma Santiago's office however reports a meeting is in the works involving her office, the county's IT director, Jackie Nilius, and AT&T representatives about expanding DSL service in Santiago's district.


Stay tuned for further updates.

Monday, August 07, 2006

El Dorado Supes set Aug. 21 meeting with AT&T

William Ferchland reports in today's Tahoe Daily Tribune (registration required) that the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors has scheduled a closed door (why closed?) meeting on Aug. 21 with AT&T officials regarding expanding DSL service in West Slope neighborhoods.

Instrumental in getting things moving is Tahoe-area supervisor
Norma Santiago who said addressing the need for high-speed is a priority issue for her. Adding to Santiago's cause is a petition from constituent Patti Handal, a resident of Mountain View Estates near north Upper Truckee Road, that the newspaper reports is being circulated in Mountain View Estates, Angora Highlands, the far end of South Upper Truckee Road and Echo View Estates.

Readers of this blog should also be aware of the petition calling upon AT&T to upgrade its wire line infrastructure to fiber optic or divest itself from the county at www.ipetitions.com/petition/EldoTelecom/

Stay tuned to this blog for details on the scheduled meeting between AT&T and the county supes.

Australia, El Dorado County share broadband woes

While Australia's a long way from El Dorado County, the two areas face a common problem of an aging copper cable telecom infrastructure that isn't suited to reliably deliver broadband Internet. There are also strong parallels between Austrialia's dominant telco, Telstra, and El Dorado County's AT&T. Here's what's going on down under according to Kenneth Davidson writing in The Age:

While broadband of sorts might work over the copper network while it attracts 30 per cent of customers, by the time the broadband share reaches 60 per cent, interference and cross-talk will severely degrade the service even if the copper is well maintained.

But Telstra's copper network is no longer well maintained. The deterioration in the network would be even more apparent than it is were it not that drought, rather than maintenance, has been keeping water away from degrading the copper connections.

Can you say "diaal up" mate? Like many of their El Dorado County counterparts, half of all Aussies remain stuck in the Internet slow lane with sluggish dialup connections, according to another article appearing in The Age.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Residential customers need "Lots and lots and lots" of bandwidth

Residential customers need "lots and lots and lots" of bandwidth. So says Robin Bienfait, VP Network Operations for AT&T, in an interview at last week's Globalcomm industry trade show in San Francisco, where broadband was a major topic of discussion.

Ironically, large numbers of AT&T customers in El Dorado County might not even be able to hear Bienfait's remarks
since they are streamed on a high speed video connection. That's because they have tiny, tiny, tiny amounts of dial up bandwidth since Ma Bell has done little if anything to upgrade her system in the county to support broadband.

To read about the Globalcomm conference and to attempt to listen to Bienfait's interview -- which could take quite a while at El Dorado County miniscule dial up bandwidths -- go to this Light Reading article. Bienfait's "lots and lots and lots" of observation is in video clip 3 under "Related Content."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A wireless broadband lesson from the Australian bush

Australian telco Telstra is hoping to avoid the expense of upgrading its wire line infrastructure to support broadband Internet access by turning instead to wireless broadband.

Sorry, mate, the service is turning out to be "absolutely dreadful" in trials, according to this article from down under in The Age. Back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

AT&T at strategic decision point for wire line service

It's decision time for Ma Bell. It's no secret that telcos like El Dorado County's provider, AT&T, have seen revenue from their wire line business decline as consumers stampede to cell phone service. Some consumers have even dropped their land lines completely, relying exclusively on their cell phones for voice communications. AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre told a meeting of regulators in San Francisco today that AT&T will lose 2.5 million to 3 million land line customers this year.

If AT&T is to restore lost revenues from its wire line services, it must offer more than just what's known as Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS). AT&T must bring high speed data service -- i.e. broadband Internet connectivity -- to its wire line offerings and so do very quickly throughout its customer base if it hopes to recoup its lost revenues.

In El Dorado County, there's tremendous pent up demand for broadband since many county residents and businesses are limited to dial up service that might have been adequate in 1993 but is woefully inadequate today. AT&T should seize this opportunity and upgrade its aged, deteriorating wire line infracture in the county to fiber optic, which would allow it to offer voice and broadband Internet as well as other services in a way that's far superior to the frequently problematic interim technology of DSL. By upgrading its wire line plant in El Dorado County, AT&T can offer multiple services that can generate revenues that can more than offset the decline in its traditional land line POTS service.

If AT&T concludes investing in its wire line assets in El Dorado County won't generate adequate investment returns, it's time for it to bite the bullet and make the necessary business decision to pull out of the county. Divesting would make way for other providers to serve the county's pressing current and future telecommunications needs. It would also remove the chilling effect on market competition in the county that AT&T casts by its mere presence.

Monday, July 24, 2006

AT&T's Project Pronto wasn't: 1 in 4 customers still without broadband

AT&T's Project Pronto, which set a goal of providing broadband to 80 percent of its service area by 2002 and the balance by now, wasn't. Consequently, at least a quarter of AT&T's customers are left twisting in the wind with sluggish dial up Internet connections, according to this editorial by Dave Burstein appearing today in DSL Prime.

Burstein calls upon FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to hold AT&T's feet to the fire by holding up its planned merger with BellSouth unless it acts -- and not just promises -- to deploy broadband to more of its customer base.

Here's some PR puffery from 2000 from what was then SBC Communication's PR firm on the now discredited Project-Not-So-Pronto.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

El Dorado telecom market needs local providers

El Dorado County’s market for voice and data telecommunications is stuck in the past, set up to serve the county as it existed nearly two decades ago but woefully behind where it needs to be today.

What the county needs to bring it up to date are nimble, locally owned and operated providers — enterprises to play the telecom equivalent of what El Dorado Savings Bank is to Bank of America.

The big, out of state domiciled Fortune 500 telecom behemoths are concentrating their growth strategies on large urban markets and on television and video services — services El Dorado County needs far less urgently than clear, reliable digital voice service and fast broadband Internet access. They have huge balance sheets and a nationwide territory to contend with and can’t focus their attention on a single, underserved market like El Dorado County. They are in the words of AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre in the “big pipes” business — providing the freeways that carry large amounts of telecom traffic. That’s a good business model for AT&T — to be the long haul carrier, the Internet backbone provider. It should pull out of local markets and make way for smaller, local telcos to provide services that AT&T by its actions (or more accurately, lack thereof) clearly does not want to offer.

What El Dorado County needs to compliment AT&T’s interstate and international digital highway system is a local telecom transportation department comprised of providers who can pave over its aging, deteriorating telecom roads and highways that are plagued with potholes of poor line quality and too narrow to deliver broadband Internet services.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Wireline market bifurcating as big telcos sell off lines

This New York Times (registration required) article reports big telcos are getting out of the traditional telephone business and selling off lines in some markets. The business rationale is these assets provide little revenue growth opportunity compared to booming wireless services.

Bucking the trend, The Times reports, is El Dorado County's telco provider, AT&T, which is sticking with its strategy of providing both wireline and wireless services. However, there's no evidence AT&T is doing anything to expand high speed Internet access in El Dorado County by upgrading its aged wireline infrastructure to support broadband.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Cable providers outscore telcos for basic phone service

On June 27, your blogger suggested Comcast has a competitive opportunity in El Dorado County to overtake AT&T by offering both broadband Internet access as well as digital voice telephone service. (See Regulatory uncertainty creates "double play" opportunity for Comcast expansion)

Blogger Preston Gralla cites a consumer survey by J.D. Power & Associates that finds cable providers outscored telcos in customer satisfaction for voice telephone service. Gralla questions the long term viability of the telcos if they cannot compete with cable operators when it comes to their core service of providing standard telephone service. That caveat applies doubly in El Dorado County, where AT&T draws complaints for unreliable phone service while also not providing high speed wire line Internet connectivity to large areas of the county, leaving thousands of residents and business owners stranded on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Swansboro Country: Another Eldo community on the wrong side of the digital divide

Since the start of the year, the good folk in Swansboro Country have suffered major road access challenges due to a wash out of Mosquito Road.

I've been hearing from some Swansboro residents that they're also cut off from the broadband Internet highway, stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide and relegated to sluggish dial up like all too many El Dorado County communities.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Telecom: Repeating failed promises

Brooklyn-based telecom analyst Bruce Kushnick insists that big telecom has systematically failed to deliver on its promises to the public and to policymakers.

In the early and mid 1990’s, telecommunications companies promised to build networks that could allow them to compete with cable. We were all supposed to get high-speed fiber optic cables (light pipes) right to the house, and they were supposed to carry voice, data, and video. There would be tons of competition, and 86 million homes would get 45 Megabits per second of two-way data capacity.

Excerpted from Public Knowledge blog.


Thursday, July 06, 2006

El Dorado County AOL dial up subscribers may face obsolescence penalty

If you're one of many who live on the wrong side of the digital divide in El Dorado County and limited to dial up Internet access, you could be facing an obsolescence penalty if you're an AOL subscriber.

According to The Wall Street Journal via this Reuters dispatch, AOL is considering offering customers with broadband (high speed) Internet services at no charge. Dial up customers, however, would still have to pay a monthly subscription fee.

This story illustrates how El Dorado County is being left behind at increasingly greater cost and inconvenience by its telecommunications providers while the rest of the world goes broadband.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Ma Bell tells El Dorado County: Go suck a satellite

Ma Bell has stiff armed much of El Dorado County clamoring for her to upgrade her aged and near obsolete copper cable plant to fiber optic to support improved voice service and wire line broadband Internet access. (See petition to AT&T)

Readers of this blog may recall the "Gut Check Time for Ma Bell" post on May 24 that included a link to AT&T's news release issued that day announcing the rollout of satellite-based broadband Internet service in AT&T's 13-state service area in a reseller arrangement with a satellite Internet service provider.

At that time, it wasn't clear if the service would be offered in El Dorado County. Now it's clear that it is: Direct mail postcards from AT&T pitching the satellite service have begun to hit El Dorado County mailboxes.

I expect many county residents and businesses aren't going to get excited over the service since they've long had the ability to go with satellite Internet providers at prices and speeds comparable to AT&T's offer. They're comfortable getting TV by satellite, but getting a second dish for Internet access? And after all, this is the Sacramento metro region, not the remote stretches of North Dakota or Alaska. Will we next have to get satellite phone service when the copper wire line system gives up the ghost?

By rolling out inferior satellite-based broadband (which by the way can't support voice over Internet protocol or gaming and lacks future growth capacity), AT&T is signalling it has no intention to upgrade its aged, antiquated El Dorado County wire line infrastructure anytime soon despite AT&T flackery in the Sacramento Bee in April promising county residents a number of broadband options by year end.

Bottom line, this is an unacceptable cop out. It's time for Ma Bell to decide if she really wants to be in the telecommunications business in El Dorado County or just another reseller like a Best Buy or Radio Shack, offering a service inferior to what she herself could provide. If she doesn't want to be here and serve El Dorado County's current and future telecom needs, then she needs to get out of the market and make way for other players who will.

Cable companies, telcos now in accord on state wire line TV franchises

Things are happening fast in Sacramento on legislation that would preempt local goverment jurisdiction over cable TV franchises and give it to the California Public Utilities Commission. The cable TV companies opposed the telco-proposed legislation fearing it would keep them under more restrictive local regulation while allowing the telcos to enter their markets under a less restrictive state franchise system.

John Hill reports in today's Sacramento Bee that the telcos and cable companies are now in accord over an amended version of the legislation that would permit both telcos and cables to opt out of local government control in favor of a PUC-issued franchise.

El Dorado County residents stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide with no broadband services likely care little about the regulatory rules. What's relevant for them is service choices and getting those choices ASAP.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Back to the future: U.S. Supreme Court accepts telco antitrust case

Many readers likely remember when AT&T agreed to be broken up into several regional, independent operating companies in 1984 under a consent degree to settle a federal anti-trust case.

When the feds splintered Ma Bell's progeny and cast them to the winds, they created a bunch of smaller monopolies in the process of breaking up a big one, plaintiffs allege in an anti-trust action that contends the regional operating companies are engaging in anti-competitive market conduct by agreeing to stay out of each other's territories.

The New York Times (registration required) reports today the U.S. Supreme Court has accepted the case, setting the stage for one of the new court's most far reaching decisions. The Times reports the case, Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, No. 05-1126, will be heard in the Supreme Court's next term which begins in October.

Regulatory uncertainty creates "double play" opportunity for Comcast expansion

As the big telcos including AT&T and Verizon battle it out in Sacramento with the cable companies over legislation that would preempt local government cable TV franchising authority, the cable companies have an opportunity under the current rules to expand and grab market share from the telcos.

In El Dorado County, Comcast is the franchisee. If Comcast's executives were smart and aggressive, they would put the pedal to the metal and dramatically expand in the county while AT&T is distracted down in River City fighting for the right to go around county authorities with a state authorized franchise. It's a strategy right out of the 1980s business bestseller In Search of Excellence that advised a bias for action to gain competitive market advantage.

Earlier this month, this blog reported Comcast plans to launch digital phone service across central California from Chico to Fresno as early as first-quarter 2007. Digital phone service -- and most certainly high speed Internet -- would likely be wholeheartedly embraced by El Dorado County residents who have for years experienced noisy and unreliable voice service over AT&T's aging copper cable plant and who lack broadband access to boot.

It's a compelling double play opportunity that Comcast could play out under the county franchise agreement provided both the county and Comcast waive a provision in the agreement requiring new subscribers outside Comcast's current service area to subsidize expansion costs. And it would likely produce a high take rate and rapidly expand Comcast's customer base in the county.

Comcast should step up to the plate and take advantage of the political uncertainty distracting its would be competitors now that Comcast going into full telco mode and expanding beyond its core entertainment service business model. A "triple play" bonus would be Comcast's ability to sell these newly acquired "double play" customers television programming services.

Friday, June 23, 2006

No fiber optic in Pleasant Valley: Just a conduit

A reader reports from the field: Fiber optic cable is being placed in the trench for the El Dorado Irrigation District's Pleasant Oak water main replacement project.

EID clarifies: No fiber is being installed -- just a conduit for possible future fiber optic cable deployment.

I guess that's a start. But I'm sure Pleasant Valley and Sly Park area residents and businesses would prefer the whole fiber enchilada now so they can get out of dial up hell and also enjoy reliable and high quality voice telephone service.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

May 2006: 72% of U.S. households with Internet used broadband connections

That's according to the results of a Nielsen//NetRatings survey reported today in Adweek. The survey found the 72 percent figure is up 15 percentage points compared to May 2005 (57 percent). New broadband users tend to be former dial-up users, as dial-up penetration dropped by 15 percentage points over the same period of time, going from 43 percent to 28 percent.

Much of El Dorado County continues to bring up the rear, stuck in the 28 percent category not out of a preference for dial up, but for lack of broadband Internet access. For too many in the county, it's still Al Gore's Internet, frozen in time where it stood when Gore assumed the vice presidency in 1993 and dial up was the only way to get Internet access.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Writer suggests threat of eminent domain to spur telcos, cable companies to compete

Maybe the incumbent network providers--the Verizons, Comcasts, AT&Ts--can be made to compete; threatening to seize their stagnating networks via eminent domain is just one creative idea to get them to do this. A truly competitive, non-neutral network could work, but only if we know its real economic value. If telcos or cable charge too much, someone should be in a position to steal the customer. Maybe then we'd see useful services and a better Internet. Sounds like capitalism.
Andy Kessler in The Weekly Standard.

In the public policy realm, this is what would be known as the nuclear option -- a final, overwhelming and extreme solution. Local governments have a number of interim measures they can take to encourage preferred outcomes to serve the best interests of the citizenry or discourage those things deemed harmful to the public interest.

As Mr. Kessler notes, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent Kelo ruling upholding local governments' broad authority to exercise eminent domain in the name of economic progress, it wouldn't be a major leap of logic to argue that just as governments exercise emiment domain to acquire rights of way for roads and highways, they might also do the same for telecommunications systems.

Just like roads and highways, these systems are key infrastructure vital to a community's economic health and well being and therefore, it could be reasonably argued, the public interest in them outweighs the financial interests of those who own them.

Local governments throughout the U.S. have already gone into direct competition with telcos and cable companies with their own municipal broadband systems. Perhaps in the post Kelo environment, they'll also begin to consider forming telecommunications redevelopment agencies to take over aging phone and cable systems. A key advantage to this strategy is that it eliminates an entrenched monopolistic provider that refuses to upgrade its systems to make broadband widely available, but by its very presence casts a chilling effect on the market, discouraging the entry of competitors.
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