Monday, December 31, 2007

California Broadband Task Force report delayed

A report by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Broadband Task Force making specific recommendations on "how California can take advantage of opportunities for and eliminate any related barriers to broadband access and adoption" has been pushed back until sometime in January, a spokeswoman for the governor confirms.

The report was due out in late November under an executive order issued by the Governor in November 2006. About a month ago, Schwarzenegger had told the University of Southern California's Annenberg Center for the Digital Future conference it would be released in December.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Comcast applies for California video franchise

Comcast has joined cable providers Cox, Time Warner, Charter and Wave Broadband in applying for a statewide franchise with the California Public Utilities Commission under the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act that took effect in early 2007.

Comcast's Dec. 12 application can be viewed on the CPUC's Web site.

California PUC allocates $100 million as broadband build out incentive

The California Public Utilities Commission announced it has formed the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), allocating $100 million in matching funds for 2008 and 2009 to encourage broadband providers to bring service to unserved and underserved areas of the state. In order to qualify, providers will be evaluated on a broadband throughput benchmark of 3 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload and would also have to offer Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) service.

The CPUC said the funds will come from a .25 percent surcharge on telephone bills, estimated to be five cents a month for an average customer. The CASF surcharge will be offset by an equal reduction in the California High Cost Fund-B surcharge created to subsidize deployment of basic voice telephone service.

One year ago, your blogger suggested the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger direct the CPUC to reform the five funds in California's Universal Service Fund program including the High Cost Fund-B -- which together received a total of $2.8 billion since 2003 to serve more than 7,600 designated high-cost areas -- to help speed the deployment of high speed Internet access in higher cost areas of the state.

The CPUC action sets a deadline of June 2, 2008 for submission of CASF funding requests. Consideration will be technology neutral and applicants will be required to provide a minimum of 60 percent matching funds as a prerequisite for consideration of their applications.

The CPUC decision finds that broadband infrastructure is critical to the economic health and welfare of the state and that "ubiquitous deployment of broadband holds tremendous opportunities for consumers, technology providers, and content providers, and is important to the continued health and economic development in California."

"Today's decision signals that this state is not content to sit around waiting for federal action to bring broadband to every part of our state," said CPUC President Michael R. Peevey. "We encourage every broadband provider in California to be a part of the solution for ending the digital divide in our state and participate in the CASF process."

As with other state-based broadband build out initiatives, the question is whether funding in the millions is sufficient to result in a meaningful expansion of broadband considering that in California and other states, the existing metal wire line based infrastructure is increasingly obsolete for the deployment of advanced telecommunications services and requires billions of dollars of investment to bring it up to date.

Here are links to the decision implementing the program and related proceeding documents.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Qwest abandons IPTV in Colorado

Qwest, the former Baby Bell US West spun off from AT&T two decades ago, has abandoned plans to deploy Internet Protocol TV in Colorado next year. At the same time, the Denver Post reports, Qwest has shelved lobbying efforts like those pursued by AT&T in its 22-state operating territory to get a statewide video franchise bill enacted preempting local governments and their irksome demands that telcos deploying advanced telecommunications services including video service to compete with cable be available to everyone and not just selected neighborhoods.

The build out issue apparently figured into Qwest's decision:

Ken Fellman, former mayor of Arvada and a local communications lawyer, said he respects the company's decision to back off of its video plans. Fellman has asked that Qwest be required to offer video services to all members of a city or town, not certain select neighborhoods.


"It was a concern that Qwest didn't have the financial resources to widely deploy service," said Fellman, who also represents the Greater Metro Telecommunications Consortium. "We would have ended up with pockets of competition. Perhaps in some ways, (Qwest CEO Ed) Mueller came to a similar conclusion."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Back to the future: Could AT&T be facing major federal regulatory action two decades after divestiture order?


Could AT&T once again find itself facing sweeping federal government regulatory action on the scale of the 1984 federal court ruling ordering the big publicly traded telecommunications company be divested on anti-trust grounds?

It’s possible because in the more than two decades following the break up order, AT&T through a combination of mergers and acquisitions including its purchase of BellSouth one year ago has regained much of its territorial hegemony and is now the dominant telecommunications provider in 22 states.

If it happens in the next several years, this time around federal policymakers will be motivated by a different set of circumstances: Not just the company’s dominant market position, but growing alarm over the insufficiency of AT&T's aging copper wire-based local distribution infrastructure to meet the burgeoning demand for advanced telecommunications services based on broadband Internet access.

The realization that broadband Internet access is vital to the health of the nation’s economy and concern the U.S. will end up uncompetitive relative to other industrialized nations measured on broadband Internet access will fan the unease.

Public policymakers could ultimately require AT&T to sell off regions within its service area where it does not commit to deploy infrastructure ensuring near universal broadband access by a future date. Congress is already laying the groundwork for such a move with legislation that would map out America’s broadband black holes.

Skeptics might argue such strong regulatory action is improbable because unlike in 1984, AT&T competes with cable companies and other telcos to offer broadband-based services. Not necessarily. Cable companies often aren’t anywhere to be found in AT&T broadband black holes. Moreover, there’s a lack of competition among telcos since their market practice is to avoid competing in each other’s territories with wire line-based services.

Monday, December 10, 2007

From dialup to 100mbs by 2015

There are some numbers in the broadband initiative announced last week by New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer that starkly illustrate the gulf between the current state of broadband throughput speeds and the where Spitzer wants the Empire State to be in 2015.

At present, much of upstate New York and surprisingly even parts of New York City are relegated to dial up, a sluggish connection that was state of the art Internet connectivity technology when Bill Clinton was beginning his first term as president nearly 15 years ago. That's around 24kbs -- higher or lower depending on the distance to the central office switch and the condition of the lines.

By 2015, Spitzer wants all parts of the state to have access to at least 20mbs in each direction, and 100mbs in major metropolitan areas.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Will state broadband build out incentives be enough?

As states gear up public-private partnerships to provide incentives to broadband telecommunications providers to build out their incomplete infrastructures, the question of whether these programs will be sufficient arises.


In allocating $5 million in seed funding for competitive grants to research, design and implement accessible Internet for unserved and underserved areas of rural and urban New York, Gov. Eliot Spitzer made clear the funds would not be used to build needed digital infrastructure. "Instead, state money will be used to leverage matching funds from the private and not-for-profit sectors," Spitzer noted. "In the end, it is New York's vibrant telecommunications sector—together with their tireless and invaluable workers—who will implement this vision in partnership with government."


But will telecom providers respond to the state incentives and will relatively paltry sums such as New York's $5 million begin to make a dent in the billions that are needed to bring a metal wire-based telecom infrastructure built decades ago for an analog, pre-Internet era technologically up to date? Especially considering that America's existing telecom infrastructure is already at least a decade behind where it should be to meet current needs and becomes increasingly obsolete as demand for high speed Internet access at greater bandwidth grows.


As this reality is confronted, a number of public policy options emerge. Should the states float multi-billion dollar bond issues – perhaps combined with tax breaks -- to provide low interest loans to telecommunications providers in order to provide more patient capital that the providers themselves cannot access given their short-term earnings horizons?


Or might these state-level efforts prove inadequate, providing too little money over too long a period to fund the massive investment that should have been made a decade or more ago in order to bring America's telecommunications system to the point where it should be today? It certainly seems likely, which would lead to calls for the federal government to step into the gap.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

More state-level broadband access initiatives predicted for 2008

The end of 2007 and the start of 2008 will see a shift in governmental attention to state-level broadband access and away from municipal Wi-Fi.

That's according to Craig Settles, a consultant to governments regarding mobile and wireless networks, who was inteviewed by newsfactor.com's Richard Koman in this Yahoo News story:

"In rural areas and many small towns, providing access is something government should be involved in," he said, adding that, unlike with municipal Wi-Fi, residents probably don't necessarily expect it to be free.


Settles worked with local governments in rural North Carolina and Kentucky, where it was not economically feasible for the incumbent provider to come in. "In those outlying areas, they don't really have an option for technology and there's a greater need for people to be served by local or state government activity."


A key issue is how the build-out should be funded. States are providing grant money and seeking funds from federal homeland security and other programs. "The bottom line is that the vendor picks up a check," Settles said. "There can't be any of the silliness of how advertising will pay the bills."


Looking at 2008, "we'll see more state-driven initiatives for underserved areas," Settles said. Just as municipal Wi-Fi spread as cities started talking to each other, "a similar kind of dynamic will happen at the state level," he predicted, "but with a much more pragmatic and cautious approach than cities showed."

Friday, December 07, 2007

NY Gov. Spitzer forms state broadband council; RFPs issued for research of nontraditional infrastructure

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced the state would issue RFPs today to begin the process of distributing $5 million in seed funds allocated in the Empire State's budget for competitive grants to research, design and implement accessible Internet for unserved and underserved areas of rural and urban New York. Spitzer also announced the formation of the New York State Council for Universal Broadband. The council will recommend "a comprehensive statewide strategy that charts a course towards affordable broadband access throughout the state" and "leverage existing resources, consider new ways to extend high-speed Internet access beyond traditional means and recommend approaches to increase digital literacy in underserved urban and rural communities."

“As we build an innovation economy we must make New York the most connected and technologically advanced place to live and do business in the world," said Spitzer said in a news release. "Internet access is no longer a luxury. We must implement a strategy that leads to every New Yorker having access to affordable, high-speed Internet so that they may take advantage of the economic, social and cultural opportunities it provides.”

When he was inaugurated in January, Spitzer set a goal of universal broadband access, starting by mapping out existing infrastructure and broadband black holes. The state Broadband Council will be charged with this task.

Spitzer said a lack of federal leadership to establish a national broadband policy requires his state take the initiative, which comes as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is to issue a report this month his Broadband Task Force has been developing over the past year. The report will make specific recommendations on "how California can take advantage of opportunities for and eliminate any related barriers to broadband access and adoption." Similar state-level initiatives are have been undertaken in several other states over the past two years.

A key element of Spitzer's strategy -- one likely to be embraced by Schwarzenegger's Broadband Task Force -- is public-private partnerships. "State government will not be the one constructing these networks, Spitzer emphasized. "Instead, state money will be used to leverage matching funds from the private and not-for-profit sectors. In the end, it is New York’s vibrant telecommunications sector—together with their tireless and invaluable workers—who will implement this vision in partnership with government."

It remains to be seen whether states can inject enough money into public-private broadband initiatives to spur telecom providers to build out their networks -- particularly when states such as California continue to deal with sizable budget deficits. And because the telcos and cable companies are publicly traded, short term earnings pressures make it difficult for them to undertake major projects to expand their broadband infrastructures.

States could be convinced to find ways to fund broadband initiatives if they believed the funding would have a multiplier effect by stimulating economic activity and generating tax revenues that could be used, for example, to service state bond debt.

An AT&T-funded California study released in November found the Golden State would gain 1.8 million jobs and $132 billion of new payroll over the next 10 years with a 3.8 percent increase in the utilization of DSL and cable broadband Internet services.

“There is a clear connection between investing in broadband technology and job growth,” said Dr. Kristin Van Gaasbeck, Assistant Professor of Economics at California State University, Sacramento and one of the authors of the report.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

AT&T distorts build out as socioeconomic issue

As it did in California and other states where it has sought statewide broadband franchising statutes, AT&T is once again distorting the issue of build out requirements as one of socioeconomic status.

This time it's Tennessee and AT&T Tennessee President Gregg Morton is insisting that AT&T supports language in proposed state franchise legislation that prohibits red-lining of low income neighborhoods.

That's an irrelevant red herring. Building out advanced telecommunications infrastructure has nothing to do with neighborhood income levels. AT&T wants states to issue franchises rather than local governments because they know the locals will rightly insist they serve their entire communities and not just parts of them with an incomplete system.

The reality in Tennessee and other states where it has petitioned for state franchise laws is that AT&T wants to build advanced telecommunications infrastructure on the cheap, leaving some residents and businesses with access to advanced broadband-based services and others without.

Tennessee should reject this effort and tell AT&T and other backers of the bill it won't tolerate dividing the state into digital haves and digital have nots.

California PUC receives several franchise applications from cable providers

The California Public Utilities Commission has received several new applications for broadband video franchises from cable companies. Among the new applicants are Charter Communications and several of its operating units as well as Seattle-based Northland Cable Television.

Time Warner Cable, which was issued a franchise in October by the California PUC, also submitted several new applications for subsidiary operations in the state.

Verizon, which received a franchise earlier this year, filed an amended application reflecting an expansion of its service area in Southern California.

The applications can be viewed at the CPUC's Web site by clicking here.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Telco/cable duopoly an obstacle to information tech progress

The U.S. telco/cable duopoly is getting slammed in articles this week for standing in the way of progress in terms of getting more Americans connected to high speed Internet access.

PC World magazine blasted the big telcos like AT&T and Verizon as among the most anti-tech organizations in America:

The effect of slow broadband speeds and poor availability on tech is obvious. A whole generation of innovative businesses that depend on real broadband is still waiting to come into existence. For now, consumers will have to wait for new, lightning-fast information, media, and telecommunications services that could change the way we work and play.


Tech.Blorge.com, meanwhile, writes that the lack of competition has made big cable player Comcast indifferent to its customers who compete for a static amount of bandwidth over its coaxial cable. Tech.Blorge.com sees Comcast as headed the way of the dinosaurs into tech extinction with the likes of America Online (AOL):

For a short time, Comcast will be able to sit on the customer base it has developed and sap money from customers that could receive better products at a more competitive price. But, just like AOL, once people get a taste of where technology is heading, that pile of money will deplete to nearly nothing…unless Comcast can step up, stop functioning like a monopoly, and start being competive.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Report: AT&T hikes dial up prices

The story here isn't so much about Ma Bell raising dial up prices. Rather, it's that AT&T is leaving lots of money on the table by pricing DSL too low relative to dial up prices.

AT&T's costs to deploy DSL are obviously going to be higher in areas where cable loops are long and remote terminals must be installed in order to distribute the service. Its one-size-fits-all pricing scheme for DSL would be fine if there were enough total revenues to subsidize these higher costs. Clearly there are not. Consequently, AT&T and other telcos leave more than 20 percent of their U.S. service areas with no DSL service whatsoever.

The obvious solution would be to charge higher rates for DSL -- including for reseller ISPs -- in higher cost areas where 20 bucks a month for service doesn't allow for a reasonable profit. That would gain a lot more wire line broadband and potential bundled service customers who'd gladly pay two to three times that amount rather than be stuck with dial up or the high up front costs and sluggish connections afforded by satellite "broadband."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Broadband Task Force report due in December, Schwarzenegger tells USC conference on digital infrastructure

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger addressed the University of Southern California's Annenberg Center for the Digital Future conference on California's digital infrastructure today. But despite the stated focus of the conference, Schwarzenegger devoted very little of his keynote speech to the state's digital infrastructure. Like the state's other critical systems such as water and transportation, the state's digital telecommunications infrastructure is years behind where it should be and now requires billions of dollars of investment to bring it up to date to serve California's current and future needs.

I had expected the governor would use the conference as a platform to unveil a report that his Broadband Task Force formed by executive order last year was due to issue this week. It will now come out in December, Schwarzenegger said during a question and answer session following his speech. The report is to make specific recommendations on "how California can take advantage of opportunities for and eliminate any related barriers to broadband access and adoption."

Data recently released by the Federal Communications Commission show nearly 20 percent of California residents were unable to obtain broadband DSL service from their telephone companies as of Dec. 31, 2006.

Schwarzenegger told the USC conference he's directing the California Public Utilities Commission to be "much more aggressive in pushing broadband." But the CPUC's authority to prod telcos and cable companies to build out their infrastructures -- which in many areas of the state are unable to provide broadband Internet access -- is sharply limited by legislation Schwarzenegger signed into law last year, the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006.

While the legislation pays homage to the notion of wider broadband deployment, it also allows the big telcos and cable companies that dominate the state to avoid building out broadband infrastructure to as much as half of their service areas over the next four years. Backed by telco and cable companies, the statute effectively sanctions California's digital divide and makes any gubenatorial rhetoric to bring broadband to nearly all Californians ring hollow.

As Cisco Systems' Director of Technology and Communications Policy Jeffrey A. Campbell aptly put it in a panel discussion at the event: “The key is broadband infrastructure. We can have everything in terms of content, but if people cannot access them and at the appropriate speeds, it is worthless.”

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bandwidth "currency of the global Internet economy"

Broadband bandwidth is the currency of the global Internet economy and the U.S. is short on funds, Computerworld's Robert L. Mitchell writes.

Twenty years after DSL’s invention, we’re still relying on the same basic technology — and in many areas, providers haven’t even delivered that. Maximum uplink speeds are limited in some locations to as little as 128Kbit/sec., with best-case downlink speeds of 768Kbit/sec.

Next-generation technologies such as Verizon’s FiOS promise metropolitan areas 2Mbit/sec. uplink speeds and 15Mbit/sec. downlink speeds eventually. But Europeans have 20M-30Mbit/sec., and some areas of Korea and Japan have 100Mbit/sec. — enough to support full-motion video. Meanwhile, Gagnon, struggling with basic VoIP, is forced to tell customers to forget DSL and go back to leasing 1960s technology: a T1 line.

Monday, November 19, 2007

AT&T bungles bundle, loses business

AT&T is big on business bundles. Problem is, it can't seem to deliver them. Last week, your blogger successfully placed an order for a bundled package of an unlimited local and long distance business line conbined with AT&T's DSL Pro level service. The AT&T sales rep said the DSL service -- which she said is a new product offering called "DSL Red" -- would be provided via a remote terminal.

Turns out that while the rep was extremely courteous and helpful -- one of the best encounters I've had with telephone sales or service people -- she was sadly misinformed according to an AT&T account rep who called to say the order couldn't be fulfilled.

No such product; no DSL service. No bundle. No deal.

California uniquely positioned to demonstrate benefits of telemedicine

With rural areas comprising about 70 percent of the state along with its well developed medical care and high tech industries, California is uniquely positioned to be a national model for the use of telemedicine, the use of broadband telecommunications to allow doctors to consult with patients online. That reduces the need for patients to drive long distances to see medical providers in distant metro areas.

Kate Ackerman reports in today's California Healthline:


Telemedicine advocates across the country are working to alleviate some of these barriers to facilitate widespread adoption, but California is in a unique position to be a model for the rest of the country.

"California is the perfect state to do this in," said Peter Yellowlees, professor of psychiatry and director of academic information systems at the UC-Davis Medical Center, adding, "Officially, 70% of the state is rural, and it's a huge state. ... So I think the rural geography in California makes it ideal, but I think also there's an attitude of 'can do' in California where people clearly are prepared to try things differently."

One of the biggest obstacles to the use of telemedicine the article neglected to mention is the lack of advanced telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas of California. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose administration is about to issue a report by a blue ribbon task force report on what can be done to remove obstacles to wider broadband availability, is a proponent of telemedicine.

Study warns "last mile" congestion will bog down Internet connectivity

If you're mired in a broadband black hole and relegated to slow dial up or sluggish satellite connections, everyone else could be dealing with slow speeds in as little as three years.

A study by Nemertes Research warns unless another $42 billion to $55 billion is spent on U.S. telecommunications infrastructure above and beyond the $72 billion service providers are already planning to invest in the next three to five years, there will be a developing capacity problem.

“This groundbreaking analysis identifies a critical issue facing the Internet – that we must take the necessary steps to build out network capacity or potentially face Internet gridlock that could wreak havoc on Internet services,” said Larry Irving, co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance. “It’s important to note that even if we make the investment necessary between now and 2010, we still might not be prepared for the next killer application or new internet-dependent business like Google or YouTube. The Nemertes study is evidence the exaflood is coming.”

The choke points will occur on the so-called last mile or so that connects businesses and residences to the fast fiber backbone of the Internet. Current in much of the U.S., the last mile infrastructure cannot support any type of broadband connections let alone the coming "exaflood."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

AT&T engaged in digital infrastructure redlining, telecom prof says

Barry Orton, a University of Wisconsin at Madison telecommunications professor, says AT&T's actions show the big telco is engaged in digital redlining in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports AT&T has deployed its fiber-copper hybrid U-verse infrastructure in parts of Racine and Milwaukee. But if the company decides to offer service in Madison or elsewhere, it won't announce the rollout, AT&T spokesman Jeff Bentoff told the newspaper. Rather, Bentoff said, AT&T will contact consumers individually through direct mail and door-to-door visits.
"When it 's available, we 'll let them know, " Bentoff said.

AT&T's rollout strategy shows the big telco wants to select the neighborhoods in which to offer advanced telecommunications services, Orton says, unlike cable agreements with local governments that typically require providers to serve the entire jurisdiction. "That 's what this is fundamentally about -- the ability to cherry-pick neighborhoods, " Orton said.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

California study finds "clear connection between investing in broadband technology and job growth"

California stands to gain 1.8 million jobs and $132 billion of new payroll over the next 10 years with a 3.8 percent increase in the utilization of DSL and cable broadband Internet services, according to a study released today by the Sacramento Regional Research Institute (SRRI).

“There is a clear connection between investing in broadband technology and job growth,” said Dr. Kristin Van Gaasbeck, Assistant Professor of Economics at California State University, Sacramento and one of the authors of the report.

The study used statistical models as well as economic and broadband usage data from 2001 through 2005 to analyze 24 major regions of California and project future growth. It projected three levels of annual growth of the percentage of the adult population using broadband: a .2 percent annual increase, 3.8 percent increase and a 7.6 percent increase. Under the latter growth scenario, 2.2 million jobs would be created in the state representing $267 billion in new payroll.

Here are some key excerpts from a summary of the SRRI study:

SRRI’s analysis shows that this migration and the growth in broadband use appears to have had a positive and significant effect on employment and payroll in the state. Economic theory would suggest that increased investment in the deployment and, sequentially, the use of broadband has the potential to generate incremental benefits to many of the state’s regions and California overall.

All regions of the state could benefit from an incremental boost in jobs and total payroll with increased broadband use, but the magnitude depends on the local economic conditions
and unique distribution of Internet connections.

Unfortunately, that unique distribution of Internet connections currently leaves sizable areas of the state without access to cable or DSL broadband. AT&T, which funded the SRRI study and provides the bulk of DSL broadband service in California, bears a large degree of responsibility since it has effectively abandoned these areas, offering them only inferior satellite sub-broadband service, which notably wasn't included in the SSRI study.

Four months ago, a study by the Public Policy Institute of California revealed sharp differences among regions of the state when it comes to broadband access, ranging from under 30 percent of households in the Sierra Nevada (21%) and northern part of the state (29%) to just over 50 percent in the San Francisco Bay Area (51%) and the greater Los Angeles area (52%). The PPIC study recommended the California Emerging Technology Fund should focus on broadband deployment in rural areas.

The SRRI report comes as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Broadband Task Force nears completion of a one year study to find ways to remove barriers to broadband access, identify opportunities for increased broadband adoption and enable the creation and deployment of new advanced communication technologies.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Reverse regulation and the race to the bottom

This excerpt from the Jackson, Tennessee Sun once again reveals the real competition between the telcos and cable companies isn't about who can get the most customers with upgraded infrastructure that's able to provide advanced telecommunications and video services. Instead, it's just the opposite in the perverse state of today's wire line telecommunications industry. It's a battle in which the telcos and cable companies compete to serve the narrowest geographical base of potential customers while devising rules to force the other guy to serve the broadest possible base. Call it reverse regulation. In most industries, businesses want regulation that allows them to reach more -- not fewer -- customers. Not in wire line telecommunications, in which the players are engaged in a race not to the top, but to the bottom. (Incidentially, Sen. Ketron is dreaming if he truly believes AT&T plans to roll out its fiber/copper hybrid project U-Verse infrastructure in rural areas. U-Verse is targeted exclusively to select urban/suburban areas.)

By using its existing infrastructure, AT&T could reach smaller rural communities that do not have, and may never have, cable service because of their size, said state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro. Ketron is the main sponsor of the cable legislation. The bill does not ask for any state funding for AT&T.


"The faster we get broadband into our rural communities, the faster those communities can be connected to the world," Ketron said. "Not only from our children in education in being connected but in providing the economic link to industrial development to those communities."


(Tennessee Cable and Telecommunications Association Executive Director )Briggs argues otherwise.

"They have said they intend to serve 70 communities, and there are over 500 to 600 franchises," Briggs said, "so right there it tells you they do not intend to serve everyone."

Friday, November 09, 2007

Tennessee broadband build out bloodbath predicted for 2008 legislative session

Tennessee state Senator Tim Burchett of Knoxville is predicting there will be a “bloodbath” in the 2008 legislative session as lawmakers once again entertain AT&T's request to preempt local governments and put the state in charge of broadband franchises that include delivery of high bandwidth IPTV video service.

Local governments won out this year when they convinced lawmakers Ma Bell was trying to avoid local government demands that AT&T build out its infrastructure to serve all of their residents and businesses. AT&T doesn't want to make that investment and hopes legislation making the state government the sole regulator will allow it to avoid negotiating with local governments.

“We believe that [the AT&T legislation] weakens consumer protections because there are no build-out requirements,” Carole Graves, communications director for the Tennessee Municipal League, told the Knoxville News Sentinel in this article via Free Press.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Wisconsin lawmaker wants protections for rural areas in AT&T-backed state franchise legislation

The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin) notes in an editorial today:

As state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, notes, Plale's proposal does not contain needed consumer protections and offers no assurances that rural areas -- including the western Wisconsin region that elected her last year -- will enjoy the same access to telecommunication services as the Milwaukee County communities that elect Plale.

In proposing to rewrite the cable franchise bill to require AT&T, cable and other companies to contribute up to $7.5 million to a new "digital divide" fund to protect rural areas from being left behind, Vinehout says, "I'm representing the people that weren't at the table."

Monday, November 05, 2007

Wisconsin lawmaker likes Illinois 90 percent build out standard

Wisconsin state Senator Kathleen Vinehout isn't about to roll over to Ma Bell's proposed advanced telecommunications services regulatory framework that would require a far lower build out standard for AT&T's Project U-Verse product.

Vinehout likes what Illinois has done in requiring the company to build out its hybrid fiber and copper cable U-Verse infrastructure to serve 90 percent of the state rather than the 50 percent build out requirement favored by AT&T that leaves large areas on the wrong side of the digital divide:

Not every state meekly surrendered to AT&T. Illinois passed a bill with real teeth, including very specific consumer protection standards: requirements to bring services to 90 percent of the state, standards for quality, and protection for community access television.

Friday, November 02, 2007

AT&T fined by California for poor telephone service restoration

The California Public Utilities Commission announced it has levied nearly $1 million in fines against AT&T for failing to restore phone service outages in a timely manner in 2006. The fines are in addition to $900,000 in fines imposed on the telco for failing to meet service standards the previous year.

At the root of the restoration problem is AT&T's aging copper cable infrastructure that took a beating during California's rainy season during the first three months of 2006.

The regulatory actions against AT&T raise major questions about the big telco's ability to deliver advanced telecommunications services including high speed Internet access when it has difficulty maintaining even plain old telephone service (POTS) and explain to a large degree why many California customers of AT&T are still not offered wireline broadband nearly two years later.

Time Warner Cable applies for California franchise

Nearly two months after the Southern California city of Carlsbad accused Time Warner Cable of operating in a regulatory no mans land because it lacked either a franchise from the city or a statewide franchise issued by the California Public Utilities Commission, Time Warner has applied for a statewide franchise. That will enable it to avoid build out requirements that Carlsbad or other local California governments might seek to impose on providers.

More than 20 percent of U.S. local phone company customers still couldn't get broadband in last half of 2006

In September, your blogger speculated the Federal Communications Commission was delaying the release of a semi-annual report on the number of high speed telco and cable connections to the Internet covering the last six months of 2006 at the behest of telcos because it would show little or no improvement in the percentage of residential customers able to subscribe to high speed Internet from their incumbent local telephone exchange carriers.

This week the FCC finally released the long delayed report and it's clearly unflattering to the telcos. It reveals more than 20 percent of American residences could not get broadband from their telephone companies in the latter half of 2006. That represents no change whatsoever in the national average from the first six months of that year and illustrates that rather than making an effort to extend broadband to these unserved customers, telcos are hanging them out to dry, permanently stranding them on the dark side of the digital divide.

States with the highest levels of telco broadband access in the last six months of 2006 include Florida (89% ); Georgia (90% ) Colorado (86%) and surprisingly, Nebraska (89%).

States with the lowest levels of telco broadband access in the period were Maine (67% ); Arkansas (66% ); Michigan (64% ); New Hampshire (61% ); Vermont (64% ) and Virginia (66% ).

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Author of California legislation benefitting telcos solicited charitable contributions from Verizon

The Sacramento Bee is reporting California Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez solicited $120,000 in contributions to his designated charities from Verizon three months after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Núñez's Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 into law.

In addition, the newspaper reports AT&T made three grants of $5,000 apiece last year at Núñez's behest.

The law permits telcos like Verizon and AT&T to offer advanced broadband-based telecommunications services including Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) with a statewide franchise granted by the California Public Utilities Commission. The legislation authored by Núñez, AB 2987, shafted areas outside of urban centers such as Núñez's Los Angeles district because it does not require providers to build out their infrastructures, sanctioning digital redlining and leaving gaping broadband black holes in these areas intact.

A spokesman for Núñez issued the perfunctory denial of any link between the solicitation of Verizon and the legislation.

Trend: Rural telcos move to fiber

Two years ago, only about 12 percent of rural telcos were utilizing fiber to the home (FTTH) and/or fiber to the curb (FTTC) to offer broadband to customers. Last year, that number had grown to 28 percent. It now stands at 32 percent, according to surveys of members of the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, and the vast majority of survey respondents (84 percent) already utilize fiber fed nodes to extend the reach of their digital subscriber line service.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Virginia local governments endeavor to get broadband infrastructure in place

“People are tired of us saying it’s coming, it’s coming - they want results,” said Corum, the director of economic development and tourism in Nelson, on whose lap the responsibility for coming up with a solution to the county’s broadband problem has fallen.

Broadband for far too many in Virginia and other states is merely an unfulfilled promise. Kudos to Nelson County Virginia Economic Development Director Maureen Corum and other Virginia economic development directors who are working to bring broadband to their counties. They like and their counterparts like El Dorado County, California Economic Development Director Sam Driggers wisely see the issue as vital infrastructure linked to the economic health of their counties.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Spread broadband, not asphalt

Some words of wisdom for our time from Washington Post syndicated columnist Neil R. Peirce. Policymakers, read closely:

Put your ear to the ground, and you can hear other voices, especially in new technologies, suggesting a less frenetic lifestyle in a nation clearly confounded by congestion, obesity, energy consumption, global warming and air quality issues.

Enter then the broadband-transportation link. Fast, reliable Internet connection makes telecommuting far more feasible –– to transfer files, worksheets and video clips, access company databases, create videoconferences and more. But "telework" can't function well when employees don't have broadband access. Simple equation: Universal broadband equals increased telecommuting, which in turn means less roadway demand, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and less pollution. Even if a worker telecommutes a day or two a week, it can make a real difference.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Local governments play critical role in ending digital divide

Illinois IT consultant Jim Carlini reports representatives of communities outside urban regions throughout the US who attended this month's Rural Telecon Conference in Springfield, Illinois are developing an increasing sense urgency as they continue to remain mired on the wrong side of the digital divide by the telco/cable duopoly. They realize they cannot count on the telcos and cable companies to build out their infrastructures to provide advanced telecommunications services like broadband and need alternatives.


Carlini suggests they turn to their local elected officials. "If your municipality isn’t looking at creative ways to develop new strategies that include having a state-of-the-art network infrastructure to support economic growth and development, they will be stagnating your property value and quality of life in your area," Carlini writes at MidwestBusiness.com.

"Simply put, the three most important words in real estate (“location, location, location”) have turned into “location, location, connectivity” in urban, suburban and rural America. Corporate site selection committees have included broadband connectivity as one of the top three criteria they are looking for when researching locations for corporate facilities. If your community does not have a good platform for broadband connectivity, it will simply be passed over in favor for one that does."

El Dorado County, California, while located in the Sacramento metro area, is like many other areas of the country, plagued by spotty and inferior broadband access. County Economic Development Director Sam Driggers conveyed Carlini's point recently to the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors.

Your blogger agrees with Carlini that local governments must take a proactive role in ensuring their telecommunications infrastructures can support the current and future needs of their residents and businesses. In that spirit, I've drafted petitions to El Dorado County Board of Supervisors and the El Dorado Irrigation District urging those local government entities to partner with private fiber optic telecommunications providers to lay fiber in their rights of way to build a fiber to the neighborhood network as the foundation for a badly needed upgrade to the county's telecommunications infrastructure.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Friday, October 19, 2007

Why competition suffers in the broadband market

One of the biggest debates is over how much broadband telecommunications should be regulated. That debate is in turn fueled by another over the fundamental nature of the market. Is it a competitive market and will competitive pressures force the market to provide broadband to those who want it at reasonable prices? Or is it an uncompetitive market as Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, described it at a conference today in San Francisco.

Atkinson like your blogger and many other observers tend to see it as a monopoly or duopoly with broadband provided by just a telco, a cable company or in all too many cases, neither, leading to the formation of broadband black holes stretching across the landscape. The reason, Atkinson explains, is the high cost of becoming broadband provider and deploying the necessary infrastructure.

Atkinson's right. By way of illustration, if another high cost infrastructure such as roads and highways was left to private market providers who would charge tolls for access, there would only be a small number of road builders and plenty of places where roads -- like broadband -- don't go. That's why roads in the vast majority of places are provided by the public sector.

Despite the substantial financial heft of the big telcos and cable companies and their ability to raise money on Wall Street, they simply can't put up the money themselves to build out their infrastructures to provide broadband to nearly every one who wants it. They'd have to take on billions more of bond debt and sacrifice near term earnings --something their investors wouldn't tolerate.

Increasingly, it appears only a partnership of both the private and public sectors can eliminate America's numerous broadband black holes and close the digital divide.

Connecticut should tell AT&T to hit the road

AT&T is at loggerheads with Connecticut regulators that want it build out its infrastructure to serve more residents and businesses as a condition of getting approval to deploy its triple play (voice telephone, Internet access, Internet protocol TV) "U-Verse" offering in the state.

AT&T contends it can't do so profitably and is threatening to pull the plug on U-Verse in Connecticut. Good riddance; this technologically challenged turkey probably won't fly anyway. Connecticut should stick to its guns and tell AT&T in clear terms that building a swiss cheese telecommunications infrastructure filled with broadband black holes is not acceptable.

This is a prime illustration of the need for the locals to take charge and create public-private partnerships with locally owned and operated telecommunications providers and tell the big, out of state corporations who would create broadband winners and losers to hit the road.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Connecticut AG, AT&T clash in court over broadband build out

As this blog reported in early August, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal wants to ensure the "connect" in Connecticut means the entire state and not just selected local jurisdictions when it comes to broadband access.

Blumenthal therefore is moving to force AT&T to deploy its triple play U-Verse service under state rather than local regulatory jurisdiction. AT&T is fighting back, taking Blumenthal to court to challenge his order.

This is a high profile legal showdown worth watching as a state AG with a strong consumerist reputation is basically telling the telco/cable duopoly that with market domination comes the responsibility to serve everyone as is current regulatory policy for basic telephone service.

Monday, October 15, 2007

WISP pulls out of Northern California, El Dorado County

In June 2006, NuTel Broadband Corporation, a Cranbury, NJ-based broadband wireless managed services provider announced plans to deploy wireless "mesh" broadband networks in Sacramento, Chico, San Jose and El Dorado County as part of a 14-state rollout. The company is now pulling out of Northern California.

The WISP had plans to begin rolling out service in Folsom and El Dorado Hills and then head east up US 50 into the foothills. NuTel CEO Joe Fiero confirmed the withdrawal in an email today. Fiero said the decision to pull the plug on the region was prompted by concerns from would be business partners that Fiero says feared potential competition from municipal Wi-Fi networks that would provide free or very low cost access to users. NuTel's business model involves partnering with existing ISPs and WISPs as well as residential telecommunications wiring contractors, with NuTel providing back office management as well as a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) offering via NuTel's proprietary backbone and switch.

"From a demographics point of view, we would love to be in the region," Fiero wrote. "It’s finding willing partners to build and operate the system that has been the issue. We have done exhaustive research and spent hundreds of hours to locate economic sources for bandwidth and proper antenna locations. Someday we hope to put all that to good use."

El Dorado County's locally owned and operated WISPs including Remotely Located and Sierra Advantage likely welcome Nutel's retreat, although from this blogger's perspective it appeared doubtful NuTel like Clearwire and other big multi-state WISPs would have ever served areas east of El Dorado Hills. Nor would they likely face competition there from free or cheap public Wi-Fi.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

El Dorado County economic development chief calls Internet access key

Sam Driggers, installed earlier this year as El Dorado County's economic development director, told county supervisors this week that having good Internet access is key to the county's economic health. Moreover, Driggers suggested, a higher quality of life that can be had outside urban areas should not mean going without broadband:


Driggers said El Dorado County appeals to people who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of more urban regions.

"People want to live in quality-of-life areas, but they also want to work. It's in tandem," he said, and Internet access is key. "If you don't have broadband, you don't have access to the world."

Your blogger and El Dorado County home-based business operator is heartened by Driggers' remarks to the board and hopes the supes give them the serious consideration they deserve.

To underscore Driggers' efforts to get his bosses to view the county's telecommunications infrastructure as being as vital as highways, water and power when it comes to the county's economic health, I urge county residents to sign this petition. It calls on the supervisors to direct county staff and retain necessary outside consultants to establish a public private partnership with fiber optic telecommunications vendors to utilize county rights to way to construct open access fiber to the node/neighborhood (FTTN) infrastructure to serve the current and future telecommunications needs of residents and businesses situated within unincorporated El Dorado County.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

AT&T offers fixed terrestrial wireless broadband

AT&T is now offering fixed terrestrial wireless "broadband" connections where it doesn't provide wireline-based Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service in addition to reselling WildBlue's satellite Internet service.

According to a customer service representative I spoke with today, the service offers speeds of 400-700 Kbs down and 250-300 Kbs up for $59.95 per month plus a $99 installation charge which includes a computer adapter card interface. Not quite broadband in this blogger's definition of 1.5 Mbs and higher, but certainly better than dial up. Ma Bell is offering a 30 day trial period for new customers, who can cancel if the service doesn't live up to their expectations.

This development comes as AT&T increases its fixed terrestrial broadband presence, deploying WiMAX-based offerings in Alaska and in the former BellSouth territory it acquired earlier this year, as well as spending $2.5 billion to acquire additional wireless radio spectrum, according to this AP dispatch today.

AT&T's foray into fixed terrestrial wireless isn't likely to offer Ma Bell a competitive edge over Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) who are moving to fill the many broadband black holes in locales like El Dorado County, California. Wireless broadband offerings by El Dorado County WISPs Remotely Located and Sierra Advantage offer a greater range of choices -- including significantly higher connection speeds -- that equal and exceed AT&T's fixed terrestrial wireless offering based on speed and price. The only way AT&T can hope to compete with these emerging WISPs is to battle them on the ground by upgrading its wireline infrastructure to allow it to reliably offer higher speed connections for comparatively lower prices. So far, there's no indication it's willing to make the necessary investment, leaving the market wide open for the WISPs.

Peter Bernstein: Telcos and cable companies should deprivatize local infrastructure

Peter Bernstein correctly notes the telco/cable duopoly doesn't want to invest in infrastructure, especially over the "last mile" or two before it reaches the subscriber. Instead, telcos and cable companies want to deliver -- and bill -- for broadband-based services -- TV, voice or Internet access. Bernstein proposes the telcos and cables companies sell off their local infrastructures to local governmental entities to be operated as public utilities:

Telcos and cable companies don't really want to install, manage and maintain “plumbing.” The days when customer control was asserted because access to all services came through a monopoly access network ended with the mass adoption of the Internet. Voice over IP and wireless are just the nails in the coffin.

Why not have the service providers divest their outside plant and local switches? Local or regional authorities could regulate them and, perish the thought, really do the job.

Monday, October 08, 2007

FCC to retest white spaces devices

The Federal Communications Commission will retest several prototype devices developed by a high tech consortium to transmit long range wireless broadband over unused portions of the TV broadcast spectrum called "white spaces," Broadcasting & Cable reports. The devices failed testing earlier this year to determine if they would interfere with TV and wireless microphone signals.

The devices developed by the White Spaces Coalition, which includes Microsoft, Google, Dell, HP, Intel, Earthlink and Phillips represent a potentially "disruptive technology" that can bypass the telco/cable duopoly and bring broadband to areas unserved by telcos and cable companies.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

AT&T signals end of wireline copper-cable based system outside of urban areas

AT&T appears to be moving toward a wireless future outside of urban centers where the telco is upgrading its wireline plant and deploying its hybrid fiber/copper Project Lightspeed/U-Verse equipment. AT&T is currently test deploying fixed terrestrial WiMAX broadband in parts of Alaska and 22 other regions in the lower 48 states, apparently as an alternative to making upgrades to its wireline copper cable plant or replacing the copper with fiber in order to provide broadband-based services.

This week, an AT&T executive disclosed Ma Bell plans to ultimately shut down its existing voice network and replace it with a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) system in metro areas where U-Verse is being deployed.

Those not in these areas might have to wait a long time to get U-Verse VOIP service, Ralph de la Vega, AT&T's group president, regional telecommunications and entertainment, told Investor's Business Daily. Taken in combination with AT&T's move into fixed terrestrial wireless in less densely populated parts of its service area where U-Verse isn't present, it's unlikely they'll ever be offered wireline-based VOIP. All broadband-based services will likely be delivered via fixed terrestrial wireless as the aging copper cable plant and central offices built for the era of analog, plain old telephone service (POTS) are dismantled.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sen. Kerry deplores 'unacceptable" state of U.S. broadband access

"It’s almost hard to wrap your head around the fact that 7 years into this century, more Americans than not have either no Internet access at all or are still stuck on dial-up. It seems like so long ago that the buzzword was the “information super-highway,” but much of America is still bouncing down a country lane. That is just unacceptable."

WISPs endeavor to provide needed broadband "third pipe" in El Dorado County

The pathetic state of wireline broadband Internet access in El Dorado County, California has spawned locally based Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) to provide a much needed "third pipe" for county residents and small businesses who have been stiff armed for years by AT&T and Comcast.

Startup Remotely Located run by Jason and Jennifer Wilson is deploying Wi-Fi based service using both directional and non-directional transmission technology. Remotely Located is serving areas deprived of wireline broadband service in the Mosquito/Swansboro Country area and has recently expanded into West Camino and your blogger's neighborhood.

Sierra Advantage emerged out of the bankruptcy earlier this year of one of El Dorado County's first ISPs, Direct Connect. According to the WISP's service area map, it covers my area. Not quite yet, according to Brett Patterson, director of sales for Shingle Springs-based Sierra Advantage. "We continue to build out our network and get closer each week to offering you service," Patterson wrote in an email yesterday. "Soon we will have additional equipment up in your area. There are some very exciting, positive changes coming for us regarding our Internet services."

My hat's off to these WISPs. Providing fixed terrestrial wireless Internet access in El Dorado County's rugged terrain where steep canyons and tall trees create obstacles for wireless signals is no easy feat.

Aside from overcoming these technological hurdles and providing reliable service at advertised throughput speeds, a key challenge as they add customers will be obtaining sufficient backhaul connections to the Internet -- wireline circuits capable of providing large amounts of bandwidth -- to accomodate the growth. Subscribers won't be pleased if a bandwidth traffic jam at the backhaul makes their speeds slow to a crawl and drag with the high latency that afflicts substandard satellite-based Internet access.

Readers who subscribe to services offered by these WISPS are invited to share their experiences and satisfaction with them by posting comments to this post.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Telcos protest California PUC's draft build out requirements

When telcos advocated the enactment of California's Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006, they argued it would create a more competitive marketplace and speed the deployment of broadband-based telecommunications services to consumers.

However, judging from their recently filed comments on the California Public Utilities Commission's proposed rules implementing the statute's build out requirements, telcos could hardly be described as in a hurry to expand their systems and heartily embracing an open, competitive market.

They protest draft rules that would require franchisees to include "clearly stated build-out milestones " that "demonstrate a serious and realistic planning effort." In addition, the draft rules would require franchisees to "clearly state the constraints affecting the build-out" and "clearly delineate and explain" areas within the franchisee's service area that pose "substantially higher" costs.

The small telcos don't want to be held to the same build out requirements as the larger players like AT&T and Verizon. And the big guys don't want to provide customer data by census tract or report on how they are utilizing wireless technology to deliver broadband services.

One might think broadband providers would support regulation that actually encourages them to offer more services to greater numbers of customers. Nearly all other regulated industries desire this and typically complain regulation constrains their ability to offer new products and services to larger numbers of customers. But it's just the opposite in the perverse broadband marketplace. The providers want regulation that allows them to limit rather than expand their services and serve fewer rather than more customers. While providers may think less is more, less is truly less and explains why the United States is rapidly falling behind other developed parts of the world when it comes to broadband access and choices.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Report: AT&T to ramp up fixed terrestrial WiMAX service in 2008

Last month, AT&T announced it began deploying fixed terrestrial wireless broadband service in Alaska as part of an initiative to test the service, which utilizes WiMAX protocol, in 22 areas of the United States. Eight of those became what the telco in August termed "active commercial deployments."

Quoting an industry source, Unstrung is reporting that Ma Bell will ramp up the service in the second quarter of next year, most likely in the southern U.S. where AT&T has preexisting licenses for using the 2.3 GHz band to provide the wireless broadband service as an alternative to DSL or cable.

Unstrung's analysis is taken in combination with the Alaskan rollout last month, this move into the lower 48 suggests AT&T might use the technology to provide better broadband coverage in areas where it has less wireline infrastructure.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

California PUC issues state franchise to Wave Broadband

The California Public Utilities Commission has issued a state broadband franchise to Seattle-based cable provider Wave Broadband. Wave Broadband joins Cox Communications as one of just two cable providers that have applied for and received a state franchise, issued under California's Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006.

Wave joins telcos AT&T and Verizon having received franchises from the California PUC. MIA is the state's biggest cable player, Comcast. The cable provider likely isn't all that interested in a state franchise with its limited build out requirements when local jurisdictions like El Dorado County already allow it to bypass large parts of the county, leaving consumers without access.

According to the CPUC franchise certificate issued on Sept. 7, Wave Broadband intends to provide service in the Northern California cities of Dixon, Loyalton, Portola, Rio Vista, West Sacramento and Plumas and Sierra counties. The company isn't talking when asked if it planned to serve other areas that currently are not offered broadband services by AT&T or Comcast.

FCC delays report on broadband access

For the past several years, the Federal Communications Commission each January and June has released data on the number of high speed telco and cable connections to the Internet. The most recent report was issued Jan. 31, 2007. As your blogger reported in early February, it revealed that local telephone companies failed to provide DSL in more than 20 percent of their service areas as of June 30, 2006.

The FCC report covering the last half of 2006 was due out in June. But it's been inexplicably delayed. An FCC spokesman assured me in a July 20, 2007 email that it would be released "soon" but it's still MIA nearly two months later. A likely explanation is the FCC is delaying the report's release at the behest of the telcos since it's likely to show that telcos have made little if any progress shrinking their massive broadband black holes during the last six months of 2006.

Federal appeals court rejects telco's bid to dismiss anti-trust action brought by competing ISPs

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected a bid by SBC Communications (now AT&T) to toss out a federal anti-trust action brought by four California Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The ISPs sued the telco claiming it jacked up wholesale prices charged competing ISPs for access to its lines in order to subject the ISPs to a "pricing squeeze" as part of a scheme to drive consumers to SBC's proprietary retail DSL services.

The federal appellate court decision affirms a U.S. district ruling that the suit could proceed as an anti-trust action under the Sherman Antitrust Act. SBC unsuccessfully argued that the action was barred by the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Verizon Communications, Inc. v. Law Offices of Curtis V. Trinko, LLP, 540 U.S. 398 (2004). In Trinko, the Supreme Court held that the Sherman Act doesn't apply to Verizon's failure to deal fairly with a competing ISP. A customer of one of Verizon's competitors alleged Verizon engaged in anticompetitive practices by discriminatorily delaying orders placed by customers of Verizon’s competitors that Verizon was required to fill by the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The Sept. 11 ruling comes as AT&T and other telcos have requested the Federal Communications Commission to relieve them from the requirement that they continue making their lines available to competing ISPs under the 1996 Act, according to this recent post at Broadband Reports.com. The FCC is expected to act on the requests this week.

The full ruling by the Ninth Circuit in Linkline Communications et. al. v. SBC California, et. al. can be read here.

Friday, September 07, 2007

FCC needs to get it right with wireless broadband

The Federal Communications Commission has to get the wireless "third pipe" of broadband Internet access right in order to inject meaningful market competition and consumer choice into the moribund, duopolistic market it has fostered with its wireline broadband policies, writes columnist Keith Girard of AllBusiness.com in The New York Times:

The FCC has made a mess of telecommunications policy. As FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps noted recently, the nation is getting "too little broadband at too high a price."

Thanks to the FCC, Cable TV and telephone companies dominate the broadband market. They've basically skimmed the cream off the top by focusing on densely populated, easy-to-service areas. As a result, large parts of the country are underserviced. Only 31 percent of rural households and 41 percent of African American households have broadband service compared with 70 percent of households overall that have a computer, according to a new study by the Pew Internet Project, a nonprofit group. The same holds true for small rural businesses. They are less likely to use broadband services, in part, because of cost and lack of availability, according to several government studies.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

America's growing broadband gap with Japan

In the 1980s, the United States fretted about a management gap with Japan. Japanese business management techniques such as kaizen -- continuous, systematic improvement -- and a focus on quality control fostered an inferiority complex on the part of American business leaders.

Now the U.S. is about to develop a new inferiority complex with the Japanese: it's fallen far behind Japan when it comes to broadband Internet, The Washington Post reports. "America may have invented the Internet but the Japanese are running away with it," the newspaper reports, noting that Japanese broadband service is eight to 30 times faster than in the U.S. Japan boasts the world's fastest Internet connections, delivering more data at a lower cost than anywhere else, The Post adds, citing recent studies.

Japan's speedy Internet access is helping the nation fulfill its goals of allowing more people to telecommute -- work from home -- and increasing the use of telemedicine, which allows doctors to remotely diagnose and evaluate a person's medical condition without the need for the patient to travel long distances to see a specialist.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is interested in telemedicine and recently announced $25 million in grant funding for "expanding broadband capabilities to support telemedicine, tele-health and e-health programs."

Schwarzenegger has also formed a Broadband Task Force that is due to issue a report next month on the state of broadband access in California. What it will likely find is California, which likes to view itself as a leader in information technology and innovative public policies, is like the rest of the U.S., falling far behind Japan when it comes to broadband access, making it difficult for the governor to fulfill his goal of expanding telemedicine in the Golden State.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

California PUC proposes broadband build out rules, wireless broadband reporting requirement

The California Public Utilities Commission has issued draft rules implementing the state's Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act's build out requirements for telcos and cable companies wishing to obtain a state franchise to offer broadband-based video services.

The draft rules require franchisees to include "clearly stated build-out milestones " that "demonstrate a serious and realistic planning effort." In addition, franchisees must "clearly state the constraints affecting the build-out" and "clearly delineate and explain" areas within the franchisee's service area that pose "substantially higher" costs.

The CPUC declined requests by consumer groups to require franchisees to provide data on the broadband transmission technologies they use and throughput speeds. However, under the proposed rules, it would require franchisees to provide data on the extent it is utilizing wireless broadband technology.

"The State and the Commission have a strong interest in making sure that unserved or underserved areas gain access to broadband services," the proposed decision states. "We believe areas currently unserved or underserved by broadband at this point will likely
be rural areas, or other areas that are high cost due to distance, terrain, demographics and density issues. It is thus important that the Commission gather data that will help us understand the extent to which wireless broadband is reaching these difficult-to-serve areas, and the degree to which consumers view these services as a means to satisfy their on-line needs. Accordingly, we will require subscriber data relating to wireless broadband to indicate whether the subscription is for a data-enabled wireless phone, PDA or other wireless hand-held device, or whether the subscription is for the use of a wireless data card. Wireless data cards are capable of providing either mobile or fixed broadband access to the internet from a customer’s personal computer, and may effectively substitute for wireline broadband access. Data about the adoption by customers of wireless broadband access for use with their personal computers will help guide our policies aimed at increasing investment in broadband infrastructure and closing the digital divide in our State."

Monday, August 27, 2007

White Spaces Coalition poised to move ahead with wireless broadband -- with or without FCC OK

The White Spaces Coalition, which seemed to be gearing up to take the Federal Communications Commission to court after the FCC recently panned prototype devices developed by the coalition to broadcast broadband signals in the "white spaces" between digital TV frequencies, appears to be shifting the burden back to the FCC.

There had been reports that the coalition, which is comprised of Microsoft, Google, Dell, HP, Intel, Earthlink and Phillips, had been mulling suing the FCC because it wasn't allowed to replace what it claims was a malfunctioning prototype that didn't assure government testers it wouldn't interfere with TV broadcasts.

Now it appears the coalition is preparing to move forward with or without FCC approval, according to this Broadcasting & Cable article. In short it looks like the coalition is telling the FCC if it has a problem with the devices, then the ball rests in its court to intervene.

Some commentators believe the coalition can't get a fair testing of its prototypes by the FCC because they say it's reluctant to approve a so-called "disruptive technology" that could threaten the existing duopoly of the telcos and cable companies and bring broadband where they aren't willing to go.

Well too bad. The telco/cable duopoly can no longer have it both ways, wanting to maintain territorial hegemony while at the same time leaving much of the U.S. mired in broadband black holes. The nation badly needs a "third pipe" to rapidly bring broadband to those who lack access.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Cable company in regulatory no man's land, SoCal city charges in lawsuit

This type of situation may begin to crop up frequently in California, where cable companies can opt to remain under local government franchise agreements or get a statewide franchise from the California Public Utilities Commission under new legislation that took effect this year, the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the city of Carlsbad believes Time Warner is operating outside the law because it doesn't have a franchise from the city nor has it received a statewide franchise. Nor has it even applied for one according to the CPUC's Web site.

Holding up a city franchise with Time Warner is Carlsbad's insistence on higher fees to fund broadcasts of city council and other government events.

It's probable there will be other such lawsuits brought by local governments over this and, more likely, when negotiations stall over buildout requirements in which the locals insist cable companies serve their entire communities instead of leaving parts in the dark on the wrong side of the digital divide. The likely targets include telcos and other cable players -- like Comcast for example -- that have so far not applied for or received statewide franchises.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

El Dorado County satisfaction survey omits broadband

El Dorado County, California officials have released the results of a telephone poll of 600 county residents in April assessing their satisfaction with living in the county.

The 331-page El Dorado County Resident Satisfaction Survey contains a major design flaw. While it asked those polled if they had Internet access and subcategorized residents who have it, the survey failed to ask residents if they have broadband Internet access. If it had, it would have likely found high levels of dissatisfaction with the lack thereof in much of the county where residents are forced to use early 1990s era dialup or sub-optimal satellite Internet connections.

A quick perusual of this petition to AT&T signed by more than 200 county residents and their accompanying comments shows had the survey included broadband access, it would have likely borne out high levels of resident dissatisfaction.

At best, county officials dropped the ball by permitting the omission of this question from the survey. At worst, they've chosen to sweep this vital infrastructure issue under the rug by deliberately leaving it out.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Aging copper cable plant drives — and limits – DSL

AT&T is facing a broadband conundrum brought on by the company’s historical reluctance to invest in upgrading its aging copper cable plant.

In El Dorado County, California, for example where your blogger resides, there are few good pair remaining in large stretches of the cable that in some cases is reportedly three to four decades old. Demand for additional lines from existing and newly arrived residents and businesses taxes the cable’s capacity, resulting in two subscribers ending up on the same line as well as noise and static when summer heat expands the cable and when winter rains penetrate it.


In an ironic twist, Ma Bell’s cable capacity crunch is driving the deployment of Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service to some neighborhoods, particularly where fiber optic trunk lines are nearby.


Last year AT&T deployed DSL to the remote El Dorado County community of Grizzly Flat, about 25 miles east of Placerville. What prompted this unlikely move was the lack of good pair left in copper cable in the community. The capacity shortage was being exacerbated by people ordering second lines in order to not tie up their phone line with dial up modems — their only option to access the Internet — and for fax machines. Since AT&T already had a fiber optic cable running to Grizzly Flat from Placerville to serve a school there, the company decided to reduce the demand for additional lines by placing a remote terminal in the community fed by the fiber and capable of supporting DSL. DSL runs over a subscriber’s existing phone line and doesn’t require a second line.


That solved one problem but led to another. DSL signals are notoriously weak and prone to attenuation over distance. They require “clean” copper cable in good condition in order to carry the DSL signal reliably. Aged, deteriorating cable on the other hand is a suboptimal carrier, which is exactly what AT&T faces in Grizzly Flat and elsewhere in El Dorado County. Consequently, some Grizzly Flat residents complained, they couldn’t get DSL service because DSL propagated over a shorter than normal distance and their homes were too far away to get service. Poor quality cable also limits customers to AT&T’s lower speed DSL packages since the cable cannot reliably support higher speeds.


A scenario similar to Grizzly Flat appears to be playing out in my neighborhood. DSL wasn’t even on the radar screen here until an infill lot was recently developed. The new resident needs a broadband connection for his home office and ordered up a dedicated T-1 business class data line. That turned out to be the proverbial straw that broke the back of the antiquated cable plant that has been barely able to support plain old telephone service (known in the industry as POTS).


Consequently, AT&T recently installed a remote terminal and may begin offering DSL in the near future pending further testing. As in Grizzly Flat, fiber is available and provides the “backhaul” connection upstream. However, an AT&T planner I spoke with is downplaying the remote terminal’s DSL capabilities. It’s salvage equipment (the faded graffiti on the side of the cabinet is a clue), is not AT&T’s standard DSL remote terminal equipment and may not provide the typical 14,000 foot range. Moreover, if testing shows the copper cable plant needs to be upgraded in order to reliably carry DSL, the planner warns, that would add to the cost of the deployment and increase the odds the bean counters at AT&T corporate will nix it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lack of broadband economic death sentence for small town America

Rural residents, some of whom remember living in the dark for decades while electrified city lights glowed in the distance, say they're being passed over again for services considered crucial to modern life.

Nearly all can get dial-up modem Internet service, the kind of connection that allows a user to link to the Internet for short periods of time, surf a few Web sites and check e-mail.


But dial-up connections are slow. A simple document exchanged in less than a second on a broadband connection can take hours with dial-up.

That slow pace makes running an Internet-based business from a rural area impossible, though that's exactly the type of business many people believe can help keep America's small towns from dying.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Broadband adoption slows; lack of access persists in rural areas

The Pew Internet and American Life Project is out with its latest survey of U.S. residential broadband that found the rate of broadband adoption slowing considerably as rural areas continue to remain left behind with just under one third having broadband Internet access at their homes.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Silicon Valley startup's big plans for wireless broadband blocked by FCC

Over the past year or so, this blog reported on venture capital-backed Silicon Valley startup M2Z's big plans to build a nationwide broadband network that would serve 95 percent of the U.S. within ten years.

But M2Z claims the Federal Communications Commission isn't giving the idea a fair hearing and has taken the FCC to court, Dow Jones News Service reports.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Startup hopes chipsets will expand reach of DSL

Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) over copper is notoriously underpowered, only able to travel reliably no more than 14,000 feet from a telephone switch to subscriber, with throughput speeds degrading as the distance increases.

A Denver-based startup, Xtendwave, has gotten $10 million in private funding to develop computer chipsets for DSL modems and terminals that the company hopes will push the distance limit out to more than 20,000 feet. If the technology proves feasible, it could provide a boost to telcos that have literally hit the wall with DSL and have reportedly all but halted further DSL deployments since extending the service beyond existing footprints requires them to make extensive investments to upgrade their infrastructures.

Wisconsin offers tax incentives to encourage broadband expansion

Nine businesses will invest more than $80 million to install equipment providing broadband service. The projects will reach 261 communities in 63 counties.

Businesses included in the plan are Amery Telcom Inc., AT&T, CenturyTel Inc., DiscoverNet of Wisconsin LLC, Door Peninsula Internet Inc., Lakeland Communications, Midwest Fiber Networks, Northern Net Exposure and TDS Telecommunications Corporation.

DIRECTV partners with BPL player for Dallas "premiere"

DIRECTV announced a couple of months back that it was looking to partner with a broadband over power lines (BPL) provider in order to be able to offer broadband to its satellite TV subscribers.

Today, it announced the "premiere" of the service in the Dallas metro market in alliance with BPL player Current. The companies claim the BPL service, to be offered sometime later this year and early next, provides a faster symmetrical connection than cable but no specific throughput speeds are mentioned.

BPL is considered a dark horse among three possible "third pipe" alternatives to the cable/telco duopoly for providing broadband in unserved areas along with WiMAX-based fixed terrestrial wireless and a venture by a coalition of high tech companies including Microsoft and Intel to use portions of the TV broadcast spectrum to provide broadband over the air.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Microsoft wants FCC to reconsider white spaces prototype interference test

As reported last week here, the FCC has told the White Spaces Coalition to go back to the drawing board after its prototype devices to deliver wireless broadband over unused "white spaces" in the television broadcast spectrum failed initial testing to assure they wouldn't interfere with TV and wireless microphone signals.

The Washington Post reports one of the coalition's members, Microsoft, wants the FCC to reconsider because it contends a backup prototype worked without producing any interference. The Post reports the FCC is to meet later this week to discuss testing protocols.

This is a major story that deserves close attention because if the devices pan out, they could provide a desperately needed "third pipe" to break the stranglehold of the telco/cable duopoly that has left large parts of the U.S. unwired for broadband.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

America's $200 billion broadband boondoggle

Robert X. Cringely explains what went wrong with the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 and why the U.S. is falling farther and farther behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to broadband Internet access:

There are no good guys in this story. Misguided and incompetent regulation combined with utilities that found ways to game the system resulted in what had been the best communication system in the world becoming just so-so, though very profitable. We as consumers were consistently sold ideas that were impractical only to have those be replaced later by less-ambitious technologies that, in turn, were still under-delivered. Congress set mandates then provided little or no oversight. The FCC was (and probably still is) managed for the benefit of the companies and their lobbyists, not for you and me. And the upshot is that I could move to Japan and pay $14 per month for 100-megabit-per-second Internet service but I can't do that here and will probably never be able to.

Despite this, the FCC says America has the highest broadband deployment rate in the world and President Bush has set a goal of having broadband available to every U.S. home by the end of this year. What have these guys been smoking? Nothing, actually, they simply redefined "broadband" as any Internet service with a download speed of 200 kilobits per second or better. That's less than one percent the target speed set in 1994 that we were supposed to have achieved by 2000 under regulations that still remain in place.

Mass. telecom czar: Broadband black holes "unacceptable"

Q You just took the helm of the new Department of Telecommunications and Cable. What is the plan?

A I have three hot priorities, one of which is broadband. The idea that in the 21st century we still have communities with no broadband is just unacceptable, and we have to fix it.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Connecticut AG wants to force AT&T to serve entire state with IPTV

Now here's a turnabout. Over the past two years, AT&T has lobbied states for laws that allow them to go around local governments and get statewide "video franchises." Looking out for their constituents, most local governments (unlike El Dorado County, California) naturally want advanced broadband telecommunications services including video available for all of their residents. But Ma Bell and other telcos -- as well as the cable companies -- instead want to pick and choose winners and losers when it comes to determining who will get service.

Connecticut isn't one of the two dozen or so states that put a statewide franchise law on the books. Nevertheless State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal worries that AT&T will work with the locals to leave much of the state on the wrong side of the digital divide and has petitioned the state's Department of Public Utility Control urging it to require Ma Bell to get a statewide franchise.

"Because AT&T serves virtually the entire state, the company needs to apply for a statewide license requiring it to eventually provide IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) service to all households, Blumenthal said in a press release. AT&T, which already offers IPTV in a few communities, had wanted to provide the service without state regulation and only in selected areas, according to Blumenthal's office.

Don't let the references to cable or video franchises and IPTV confuse the main issue. This issue isn't about TV or video competition. It's all about broadband buildout and closing the widespread digital divide.

Clearwire is missing market opportunity to fill in broadband black holes

A couple of weeks back, I blogged that the big WiMAX players like Clearwire aren't likely to fill in America's many broadband black holes where neither cable nor telco broadband is available.


Here's more evidence: The Tennessean.com reports today Clearwire is sticking to more populated areas of Nashville. There are more customers to be had there of course but there's also lots of broadband competition from the wireline telco and cable broadband providers. While there are fewer prospective subscribers outside the city limits, Clearwire shouldn't neglect these areas since they face little competition other than satellite Internet, which it can easily outperform from a price/performance standpoint.

Read this lamentation from one prospective Clearwire subscriber who like your blogger is situated on the dark side of the digital divide by only about a mile:


One group of people who may be disappointed with Clearwire is rural residents who don't have access to broadband through AT&T or Comcast. Clearwire is sticking mostly to major population centers in the Nashville area with its service.

George Reynolds hopes Clearwire gets to his house in west Nashville on the Cumberland River.

"Broadband is available on Charlotte (Avenue) and that's one mile from my house,'' he said, adding that he has been trying to get AT&T to give him broadband service for about three years.

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