Friday, March 30, 2007

Vermont House approves formation of state telecom authority

The state has set a goal of getting reliable cellular telephone service and high-speed computer service known as broadband into every area of the state by 2010. Now, wide swaths of Vermont get no cell signals and computer users must use much slower dial-up service.

The Telecommunications Authority would have the power to float state-backed bonds valued at $40 million to build the poles, towers and other parts of the basic network. It then would lease space on the network to companies that would sell their service to consumers.

The House Commerce Committee was the lead panel in crafting the legislation, which won overwhelming support. Chairman Warren Kitzmiller, D-Montpelier, said the bill "has as much important to Vermont as did the Rural Electrification Act of the 1930s. This bill can have profound impact on every citizen of the state and its economic impact is huge."

Broadband black holes in the Big Apple?

In much of America, market failure and lack of competition have cut off millions from broadband Internet access. It's typically in areas outside of more densely populated urban areas and most acutely felt in rural parts of the nation.

But in New York City, the nation's largest and most densely populated urban center? How can that be? It's apparently so according to this Newsday story that cites aging infrastructure and lack of competition in Big Apple boroughs where the telco/cable duopoly holds the cards.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Broadband over TV spectrum would dramatically alter Internet access

This is the biggest broadband development of the year so far: the potential of using frequencies in the television broadcast spectrum to carry broadband two years from now.

As Eric Bangeman of Ars Technica writes, should tests of the technology being pursued by Microsoft, Intel, Dell and Google succeed, the broadband landscape would be dramatically altered when it comes on the market in early 2009.

"Wireless networks using the spectrum should be relatively easy to deploy, and would provide residents of rural areas easy access to broadband while giving everyone else a third alternative to DSL and cable," Bangeman writes.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

AT&T chief's words at odds with company's pathetic broadband deployment efforts

In a recent meeting with AT&T employees in Atlanta, AT&T Chairman and CEO Edward E. Whitacre Jr. admonished them to go the extra mile to serve customers.

“I’m asking you, I’m pleading, don’t let them go until they’re happy,” The New York Times quoted Whitacre as telling AT&T employees. “You just can’t let them go. Hang on till it’s done.”


But rather than hanging in with customers, AT&T has hung out large numbers of them to dry, letting them go years without broadband services and without any meaningful hope of getting broadband anytime soon.

They may be only a mile from existing broadband infrastructure, but Ma Bell won't go the extra mile to provide service as Whitacre as exhorts his workers. Instead, customers are told the system cannot provide broadband because they're too far from a central office, their loop's too long, there's no neighborhood DSL gateway and any number of "no can do" excuses.

While Whitacre may insist AT&T can't "just can’t let them go," that's exactly what it's doing with a sizable segment of its residential customer base.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Analysts question AT&T broadband strategy

Analysts aren't the only ones questioning Ma Bell's broadband strategy, one that can't deliver any broadband services at all let alone IPTV to large portions of her service area.


But there is potential downside for AT&T too, analysts said, particularly when it comes to its closely linked broadband and television strategies. Some analysts assert that AT&T has set itself up poorly to compete in those areas, which are considered essential to the telecommunications product bundle.

In the case of TV, the strategy is called Uverse, and it entails delivering programming over the Internet, called IPTV. But the service has been plagued by delays and glitches and, even now, takes on average more than six hours to install in a home.

"If it cannot be called a complete failure, it's at least struggling," said Phillip Swan, president of TVPredictions.com, a Web site that tracks the television technology industry. He said that if things did not pick up soon, AT&T might have to get back into the acquisition game to buy a TV distributor, like a satellite or cable company.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Newspaper stories suggest AT&T contributions to Schwarzenegger committees linked to AB 2987

The Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee published stories this week suggesting that Ma Bell lavished love on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to the tune of $540,000 for the governor's approval last fall of AB 2987, the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act.

The Times reported AT&T gave a cool half million dollars to Schwarzenegger's
After-School All-Stars, a tax-exempt group founded by Schwarzenegger in the early 1990s to provide tutoring, recreation and other programs to poor children.

The Bee reported today in a page one story that eight high level AT&T executives gave $5,000 each to Schwarzenegger's reelection campaign committee in recent weeks.

Both stories contained strenuous denials from the governor's office and AT&T that the cash contributions had anything to do with Schwarzenegger's signature on AB 2987 last October.

The stories put the donations in the context of AB 2987's allowing AT&T to provide television programming and bypassing local governments by putting the California Public Utilities Commission in charge of issuing video franchises. It should be noted however that the cable TV industry also supported AB 2987.

The real issue isn't AT&T's ability to sell television programming since its aged copper cable-based infrastructure cannot reliably transmit Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) service to the vast majority of California households and won't be able to anytime soon. Rather, it's AB 2987's limited build out requirements that allow the telco/cable duopoly to leave vast areas of the state -- ironically many of them inland counties inhabited by Schwarzenegger's fellow Republicans -- without any broadband services whatsoever.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

State franchise laws codify the digital divide, consumer advocate argues

A push by the telco/cable duopoly to enact state laws putting states in charge of granting broadband video franchises rather than expanding broadband availability as backers claim will have the opposite effect, a consumer advocate argues.

Ben Scott, policy director of the advocacy group Free Press, told the National Journal's Technology Daily that by allowing telcos and cable companies to pick and choose areas where broadband will be offered, state franchising laws "unfortunately, are going to write the digital divide into law."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Qwest follows dubious AT&T strategy of video over copper via DSL

Western telco Qwest is considering offering IPTV services, the Rocky Mountain News reports. Analysts are skeptical since Qwest faces some of the same challenges as AT&T, which is opting for a similar strategy: Delivering video over a copper-based DSL that can't deliver broadband whatsoever to about a fifth of their multi-state service areas and at sub-video speeds in large segments where service is available.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Fiber may be the future, but copper is now for cable rustlers

Fiber may be the future for telecommunications but for meth-addicted thieves, copper is now:

Verizon spokesman Jon Davies said the company had lost $297,795 in copper since 2006 in California alone, not including money spent on work to replace the wire or loss of service to customers.

"This is a national problem," he said. "We try to keep our cables high on the poles to make it harder to get, but the people who do this are highly motivated, and they have the equipment to get at it."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

BPL technical standards announced

For many rural residents, the acronym for Broadband over Power Lines, BPL, might as well stand for Broadband over Propane Lines. Neither is delivering broadband as an alternative to wire line broadband offered (or frequently not) by cable companies and telcos.

Illustrating the still nascent state of BPL is a news release issued today by the IEEE Standards Association that establishes technical standards for BPL.

Tech coalition wants to use TV airwaves for broadband

The Washington Post reports Microsoft, Google Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Philips are pursuing an alternative fixed terrestrial route for wireless broadband using unused TV channels. The companies must first demonstrate the technology is feasible using a prototype device being developed by Microsoft and persuade the Federal Communications Commission the service won't interfere with existing broadcasts, The Post reported.

"Broadband drought" in the land down under

A first step is to build fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), extending optical fibre from telephone exchanges to street-corner nodes from where houses would be served by their telephone connections.

Telstra has offered to invest $4.2 billion in FTTN but has it on hold because the regulatory environment does not suit it.

Meanwhile, it is pursuing persuasion and public relations. "We have a broadband drought in this country, there's no question of that," Dr Burgess says. "This week the Government announced a broadband program at 256 kilobits per second, at almost the same time as Singapore announced a program to bring 100 megabits per second to 95 per cent of its population."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Comcast chief: DSL becoming the new dial up

Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts told the recent Bear Stearns 20th Annual Media Conference that given cable's broadband speed advantage over DSL, cable is to DSL what DSL is to dial up. Therefore, Roberts declared, DSL is the "new dial up."

Roberts' remarks reported in The Motley Fool would certainly give indigestion to lots of folks in places like El Dorado County who are stuck with dial up, unable to get DSL and often located only a mile or two -- or less -- from existing Comcast cable. Adding insult to injury, Comcast's Web site will inform visitors that cable is available in their ZIP codes when in fact it's not.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Telco/cable duopoly kills proposed legislation requiring disclosure of broadband deployments

This item comes from Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge, reporting on the successful lobbying efforts by the telco/cable duopoly to kill proposed Maryland legislation that would have required broadband providers report to the state on their deployments.

Apparently the telco/cable duopoly fears embarrassment and potential regulatory directives to expand broadband deployments if Maryland residents were able to determine the location of these companies' broadband black holes.

Friday, March 09, 2007

AT&T/Yahoo! High Speed Internet partnership in flux

AT&T is negotiating with Yahoo! over the future of its six-year-old partnership that features Yahoo! Web ads for AT&T's residential DSL service, The Wall Street Journal reports according to this Reuters story today.

One likely reason is AT&T has tapped out the Yahoo! market for its DSL services and lacks the necessary infrastructure to sell additional DSL connections to Yahoo! clickers such as your blogger who are constantly greeted with the message "AT&T Yahoo! High Speed Internet is not yet available" for their home phone number.

Additionally, given AT&T's promo rate of its lowest speed DSL service for $14.99 a month, there may not be enough money in the deal to justify continuing its partnership with Yahoo!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Wireless in America's heartland

Wireless broadband is best suited to America's heartland where line of sight radio signals travel relatively unimpeded over flat terrain. It's a natural interim alternative to more costly fiber wire-line based systems in places like Altus, Oklahoma. The city is entering negotiations for a citywide wireless broadband utility that will bring not only provide high speed Internet, but also bring money into the city's coffers.

Fiber consortium calls for national broadband policy

The Fiber to the Home Council, which describes itself as nonprofit consortium of telecommunications and networking companies as well as utilities and municipalities promoting the deployment of Fiber To The Home (FTTH), is calling on Congress to promulgate a national policy objective of providing next-generation (fiber versus metal wire based) broadband networks to a majority of Americans by 2010 with universal access by 2015. "To ensure that consumers can both receive and transmit video and other high-speed services, applications, and content, these networks should have transmission speeds in excess of 100 Mbps and symmetrical access capabilities," the FTTH Council said.

The FTTH Council is also urging Congress to enact legislation providing tax incentives for next-generation broadband deployment, preempting state laws barring local governments from building broadband infrastructure, reauthorizing the Rural Utility Service Loan Guarantee Program for next-generation broadband networks, permitting the Universal Service Fund to be used for next-generation broadband network deployment and earmarking $500 million in USF funds for broadband deployment in rural areas. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission should be required to issue annual reports on next-generation broadband network deployments and include recommendations on additional policies that would accelerate the deployment of next-generation broadband networks, the FTTH Council said.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The case for local government broadband initiatives

Thanks to Eldo resident Ron Britvich for passing along this comprehensive report by Becca Vargo Daggett of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Its premise is the "last mile" of the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure is a broken down highway onramp, clogged with Internet traffic jams of data on their way to the 10,000 lane fiber optic freeway that carries Internet traffic. It posits the best way to clear the backup is to bring fiber optic cable to all homes, which Daggett notes unlike copper-based DSL has a built in future growth capacity for decades to come. Currently the overall carrying capacity of the Internet in the U.S. is quite low because of the traffic jam on this critical "last mile." The Internet is only as strong as its weakest link, Daggett observes, and it's pretty weak in the United States.

The privately owned cable/telephone company duopoly that provides nearly all Americans their Internet access isn't likely to upgrade to fiber for the foreseeable and under current regulations has no business incentive to offer universal broadband access.

Daggett asserts that high speed Internet should be treated like other critical public infrastructure such as highways and municipal utilities like water and sewers. She lays out several scenarios for publicly owned, open access high speed Internet networks that contrary to the fears of telcos and cable companies don't cut them out of the picture. The report includes several case studies of local government open access networks. It also features a very clear and thorough description of various wire line and wireless high speed Internet technologies.

Future of the last mile: Fiber beats out wireless

A research study on behalf comms regulator Ofcom has found that wireless systems cannot compete on technology or cost grounds with optical fibre systems for the provision of broadband services to the user.

A six month research study, carried out by a group led by Plextek for Ofcom, was set up to investigate the use of wireless technology as an alternative for the provision of last mile communications to the home.

The study found that wireless cannot realistically compete with fibre for the provision of future broadband requirements over the whole of the last mile.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Municipal fiber in the heart of Silicon Valley

Most people probably think Silicon Valley lacks broadband black holes. After all, it is California and the nation's high tech capital and home the Internet's biggest innovators and suppliers.

But as a recent item on this blog showed, that's not necessarily the case. Much to his surprise, BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau chief recently moved to a new home on the wrong side of the digital divide, smack dab in Palo Alto. So it's no wonder the Palo Alto City Council is moving forward with plans to construct a city wide fiber optic system. According to this story, Palo Alto may be the first city in the Golden State to do so.

FCC rules local governments cannot impose build out requirements on telcos

The Federal Communications Commission has adopted a ruling that bars local governments from imposing "unreasonable" requirements on telephone companies seeking franchises to offer enhanced broadband-based video services. That includes requiring telcos serve areas designated by the local government in order to avoid the formation of broadband black holes where service isn't available because a telco doesn't want to make the necessary investment in infrastructure.

Here's a relevant excerpt from the 109-page order:

32. The record demonstrates that build-out requirements can substantially reduce competitive entry. Numerous commenters urge the Commission to prohibit LFAs from imposing any build-out requirements, and particularly universal build-out requirements. They argue that imposition of such mandates, rather than resulting in the increased service throughout the franchise area that LFAs desire, will cause potential new entrants to simply refrain from entering the market at all. They argue that even build-out provisions that do not require deployment throughout an entire franchise area may prevent a prospective new entrant from offering service.

33. The record contains numerous examples of build-out requirements at the local level that resulted in delayed entry, no entry, or failed entry. A consortium of California communities demanded that Verizon build out to every household in each community before Verizon would be allowed to offer service to any community, even though large parts of the communities fell outside of Verizon’s telephone service area. Furthermore, Qwest has withdrawn franchise applications in eight communities due to build-out requirements. In each case, Qwest determined that entering into a franchise agreement that mandates universal build-out would not be economically feasible.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Content providers could make a big play for the pipes

When television was a relatively new technology, mass communications theorist Marshall McLuhan predicted it would produce an electronic global village linked together by a medium so powerful that the medium itself would be as important as its content. Thus, McLuhan famously pronounced in his 1964 book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, “the medium is the message.”

If McLuhan were alive today, he’d surely say the same about Internet and with great emphasis. It’s become such a powerful global medium that it’s threatening to reshape TV itself along with other traditional media outlets such as radio and print publications. Because the Internet can transport all forms of communication and do so interactively, it’s arguably McLuhan’s uber medium. It’s no wonder that newspapers, television and radio are paying homage to the Internet, scrambling to get their content on it.

Given the power of this emerging medium, expect to see content providers to take a greater stake in owning Internet infrastructure directly as cable provider Comcast already does. Last year, News Corp. owner Rupert Murdoch complained about the current patchwork state of Internet access, with large numbers of people unable to obtain broadband connections to the Internet. Murdoch and other media titans could end up making plays for telcos and cable companies to speed broadband deployment in order to reach larger audiences for their content.

If they were joined by big Internet content amalgamators Yahoo! and Google, their economic power would be enormous, able to finance a crash program to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure to support near universal broadband access. It’s also quite conceivable that the debate over network neutrality in which the cable and telcos claim they should be able to charge media content providers for access to their systems (net neutrality advocates say they shouldn’t) could provoke media content providers to launch hostile takeovers of big telcos and cable companies. You want to charge us to use your pipes? Forget about it; we want those pipes!

Telcos like Verizon that are putting in fiber optic based systems that offer adequate bandwidth to easily carry all types of Internet content now and in the near future will likely be the most attractive takeover targets. By contrast, AT&T’s strategy utilizing both fiber and its legacy copper cable plant could make it a less attractive target for a media company. But Ma Bell would certainly have to be on the list by virtue of her sheer size and ownership of vast swaths of the nation’s Internet infrastructure.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Silicon Valley startup has big plans for wireless broadband coverage

This venture capital-backed Silicon Valley startup was mentioned on this blog about a year ago. M2Z says it will build a nationwide broadband network that will serve one third of the U.S. population within three years, two thirds within five years and 95 percent within ten years.

Wisconsin offers tax incentives for broadband infrastructure investment

Wisconsin is offering up to $7.5 million in tax incentives to companies that will make investments, over the next two years, in equipment designed to provide broadband Internet availability to unserved or underserved areas of the state.

California PUC a toothless watchdog on broadband access

The California Public Utilities Commission announced it's accepting applications from broadband providers seeking statewide franchises under the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act (AB 2987). The PUC said it will report on broadband availability in California by tracking households by census tract to determine which have broadband access and/or subscribe to broadband services. The PUC also said it would be "a vigilant watchdog in ensuring that this critical upgrade to the state's communication infrastructure reaches consumers of all income levels."

While the PUC's support for universal broadband access is laudable, AB 2987 doesn't give it the teeth to be that vigilant watchdog. The big telcos and cable companies aren't required by the legislation to build out their systems in order to offer broadband to all Californians. Instead, they are required to offer broadband to only half or less of their service areas by 2012 -- and there are are loopholes that reduce that requirement. The PUC can bark and snarl, but it has no bite when it comes to bridging California's digital divide, which by the way has little to do with a household's income but rather its location.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Verizon earns analyst plaudits for upgrading copper to fiber

Verizon paid a short term share price for committing itself to replace copper cable endangered with obsolescence by skyrocketing digital bandwidth demand. But the telco is earning high marks from industry analysts for adopting its FTTH (Fiber To The Home) strategy that better positions the company in the long term to offer the triple play service package of voice, high speed Internet and video since fiber offers far greater carrying capacity than copper. Local governments also see the long term fiber advantage, with some engaged in public/private partnerships to put in fiber-based systems, particularly in areas where legacy metal wire based systems aren't expected to be replaced with fiber in the foreseeable.

 
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