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.

 
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