Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Rather than wimpy DSL that can't reliably propagate more than three miles from the phone company central office, Evslin prognosticates, homeowners will get broadband via WiFi-enabled mobile phone services. “Trust me, by 2012 we’ll all have wireless hotspots in our homes by one means or another,” Evslin wrote.
Evslin points to the high cost of maintaining copper cable in less densely populated areas and the continuing decline of residential land lines as people migrate to mobile phones as their primary telephone number.
Evslin could be onto something. Just last week, AT&T sent out a market research survey to gauge interest in a potential product called Unify that would combine voice and Internet service and chose either a wireline or wireless broadband connection depending upon the subscriber's location.
Point well taken. Many Americans get broadband over twisted copper cable designed for the pre-Internet era. Even the relatively bigger pipe offered by the cable providers may max out soon without additional bandwidth. Finally, there are millions of Americans still stuck on the dirt roads of dial up, unable to reach the broadband highway.
Monday, May 28, 2007
Since U-Verse is deployed only in selected areas, large areas will not only go without IPTV but broadband access altogether since these gaping broadband black holes remain on early 1990s dial up technology or a satellite, a costly, crippled poor broadband substitute. Those living in areas fortunate enough to have broadband by today's standards using Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service may not in as little as 3-5 years as broadband applications and their bandwidth demand continue to grow.
AT&T says that the bill would have increased competition in the pay-TV sector, by presenting viewers with another option aside from cable and satellite providers.
Opponents of the legislation, however, claim that it would have allowed AT&T to cherry-pick high-income neighborhoods for the service, potentially widening the so called “digital divide” between rich and poor.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
“The first step in an improved broadband policy is ensuring that we have better data on which to build our efforts,” said Inouye. “In a digital age, the world will not wait for us. It is imperative that we get our broadband house in order and our communications policy right. But we cannot manage what we do not measure.”The measure also directs the Census Bureau to assess levels of residential computer use and dial-up versus broadband Internet subscribership and would have the Government Accountability Office (GAO) develop broadband metrics that may be used to provide consumers with broadband availability and cost.
In addition to mapping broadband availability geographically, the bill also sets a capacity standard for “second generation broadband,” which would have to be capable of carrying high-definition video , i.e. about 9mbs. That's more than four times faster than the average broadband connection available to most Americans.
Friday, May 25, 2007
This goes to the crux of why telcos and some cable companies have backed state legislation preempting local governments and putting the state in charge of issuing broadband "video franchises." The legislation typically allows franchisees to build out their systems to serve half or less of their service areas, leaving everyone else on the wrong side of the digital divide. Local elected leaders are more sensitive to this digital redlining than state legislators, who are often the recipients of campaign contributions from telco and cable company sources.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
The Open Internet Coalition, in a letter to Congress sent Thursday, said the U.S. government needs to adopt new measures to ensure universal affordable access to broadband, net neutrality and increased competition in the broadband market. The letter is the first step in a concerted effort coalition members will make to push broadband legislation in Congress, members said.
The U.S. lacks "any stated policy" to bring affordable broadband to more residents, added Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a digital rights advocacy group and member of the coalition. "The government doesn't have an overarching vision on how to address these problems," she added.
“DSL shipments into North America will continue to decline, due to the slowdown in AT&T’s buildout, Verizon’s shift to FTTH and the absence of alternative service providers,” Dittberner said.
This likely means those who have been waiting for AT&T to deploy DSL to their neighborhoods will probably have to continue waiting indefinitely.
U.S. Rep. Zack Space, the Dover Democrat who represents Ohio’s 18th Congressional District, will hold two one-day broadband summits called "Connect Appalachia" next week in an effort to explore bringing high-speed internet access to rural areas of Appalachia.
"Just as railroads in the 19th century and our interstate system in the 1950s represented revolutionary breakthroughs in transportation infrastructure, broadband represents the breakthrough for our generation. We absolutely need wider access to broadband in order to attract new industries and jobs," Space said in a news release.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
The lack of high speed internet access frustrated both business owners and residents in the area, and also began to take a toll on real estate values. Local real estate agent and petition organizer Brett Williams of Agate Bay Realty had this to say: “It’s starting to affect the values of the properties of the areas that are not serviced by high-speed,” said Williams. “If you are trying to fill a rental property, two that are similar, one with high-speed and one without, its difficult to lease the second property. You have high-tech people who are looking to lease a property for four to five months for a ski lease, and can’t telecommute.”
This "killer app" is called white space broadband and would provide wireless broadband at speeds that would blow away DSL and cable high speed Internet offerings and offer throughput comparable to fiber optic connections. It would utilize unused parts of the television broadcast spectrum called "white space."
Eric Bangeman of ars technica reports:
The White Space Coalition is comprised of Dell, EarthLink, Google, HP, Intel, Microsoft, and Philips Electronics. The FCC should conclude its testing of the white space broadband prototypes in July and the first rules governing the use of the spectrum by wireless broadband devices should be released in October 2007. Once that happens, the IEEE will likely begin the work of standardizing the tech. If all goes as planned, white space broadband service could begin in the US as soon as February 2009.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
"Together with an investment from the California Emerging Technology Fund, the FCC’s funds will make quality health care more accessible to Californians living in rural areas," the caucus wrote in a May 15 letter to FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin. "Many of the challenges in rural health arise from limited access to core health care services. Lack of access to healthcare may mean that appropriate treatment is delayed or deferred, causing unnecessary hospitalizations, higher costs, and greater disability and personal suffering. Health information technology (HIT) provides powerful tools to enhance access to comprehensive, quality healthcare services in the most geographically isolated areas. HIT can assist rural providers to better coordinate services for their patients by bridging distances and providing immediate access to clinical knowledge, specialized expertise, and services otherwise unavailable in rural areas."
The letter was sent the same week Blue Shield pulled out of four California counties, complaining medical care costs incurred by state and local government workers and retirees covered through the California Personnel and Retirement System (CalPERS) are signficantly higher in rural parts of the state.
Monday, May 21, 2007
"I will be surprised if the majority of these are successful and they do not prove to be drains on taxpayers' money," said Michael Balhoff, former telecom equity analyst with Legg Mason Inc. "The government is getting into hotly contested services."
The vendors remain confident despite technical and other problems. Chuck Haas, MetroFi Inc.'s chief executive, said Wi-Fi networks are far cheaper to build than cable and DSL, which is broadband over phone lines.
Demand could grow once more cell phones can make Wi-Fi calls and as city workers improve productivity by reading electric meters remotely, for instance.
Balhoff, however, believes the successful projects are most likely to be in remote places that traditional service providers skip — and fewer and fewer of those areas exist. Cities, he said, should focus on incentives to draw providers.
I think Balhoff's called it right. In more densely populated areas where municipal wireless broadband Internet access is being deployed, residents generally have one or more wireline broadband providers -- telcos and cable companies -- whose speeds and reliability can often exceed those offered by wireless systems.
At present, wireless broadband appears most suited to the plains and deserts -- relatively less populated regions in the heartland and the southwest -- where both economics and relatively flat terrain make it a viable option for the relatively near future.
Bloomberg reports the U.S. Supreme Court today tossed out a lawsuit alleging telcos Verizon, AT&T Inc. and Qwest violated anti-trust law by colluding not to compete in each other's service areas.
The high court found there was no evidence of collusion. Rather, the justices ruled 7-2, the fact that the former baby bells hardly ever directly compete is a natural consequence of their business models. "There is no reason to infer that the companies had agreed among themselves to do what was only natural anyway," Justice David Souter wrote for the court.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
The insufficiency of existing services doesn’t come as news to Ken Decker, chairman of the Carroll Cable Regulatory Commission. Home-based workers in Carroll often need broadband access and can’t get it, he said.
The report recommends the county increase broadband access by exploring partnerships with service providers, conducting a feasibility study of a public broadband network and considering how other infrastructure projects can provide opportunities to add fiber-optic lines.
Friday, May 18, 2007
The council also proposed a revolving fund under the control of the authority that would be used to help pay for rural broadband projects that could be funded by a 50 cent surcharge on the monthly bills of existing broadband customers, said Michael Keeling, chairman of the council. Implicit in this subsidization scheme is the recognition of broadband as vital as basic telephone, roads and utilities.
A broadband census has already been enacted in California as part of that state's Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006, AB 2987. It requires those providers who hold broadband "video franchises" issued by the California Public Utilities Commission to provide the PUC broadband penetration data by census tract each year beginning April 1, 2008.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Today, another postcard — actually the size of a flyer — arrived in the mail. This one from HughesNet satellite Internet and addressed to:
DIAL UP INTERNET USER AT
CITY, STATE, ZIP
"Been overlooked by DSL and cable?” it asks. “Your high-speed Internet solution has arrived."
Judging from a neighbor’s experience with HughesNet, I hardly think so. It’s maddenly sluggish and not surprisingly so considering each keystroke to load a Web page must make a 46,000 mile round trip up to the HughesNet satellite and back down to the surface. For months, about 20 percent of his inbound email wouldn’t download to his Outlook Express program. So we installed Thunderbird mail as an alternative. The emails came in OK, but nothing would go out.
We spent two hours on the phone with some incompetent HughesNet support guy in Bangalore who couldn't solve the problem. So my neighbor is now relegated to using HughesNet’s crappy Web-based mail program. That’s not all. About a month ago, his granddaughter downloaded a TV program and HughesNet responded by throttling down the throughput to dialup speed as punishment for using too much bandwidth since it has too many ex-dialup desperados trying to cram onto too little HughesNet bandwidth. Many of these ex-dialuggers including my neighbor — large numbers of them seniors simply seeking a viable Internet connection to share pics with the grandkids — have been sucked into signing two-year contracts for what more aptly should be dubbed “MolassesNet” on steroids.
I imagine in another two years, another postcard will arrive in the mail addressed to:
DIAL UP INTERNET USER AT
CITY, STATE, ZIP
“In addition to deploying new and innovative products and services in urban and suburban communities, telecom companies are spending billions of dollars to reach many of the most geographically challenging and expensive rural areas in the nation,” said USTelecom President and CEO Walter B. McCormick Jr. “The FCC’s market-based policies encourage communications companies to stay ahead of the competition and continue to make significant infrastructure investments. These policies are working and we strongly urge the Commission to allow the highly competitive broadband market to continue to thrive.”
First of all, there's no real market competition in areas that lack broadband access since no one's providing service there. Second, telcos are NOT investing in infrastructure in less populated portions of their service areas. Just the opposite. Infrastructure investment is being concentrated in urban areas such as AT&T's Project Lightspeed and U-Verse initiatives and Verizon's FiOS fiber optic deployment. The FCC's own research found that as of last June, more than 20 percent of telco customers couldn't even get DSL over telcos' aging copper cable plants.
The telco/cable duopoly has pursued similar legislation in about a dozen states, claiming it would allow them to bypass local governments, bring greater market competition (pretty hard to do in a duopolistic market) and deploy broadband-based services more rapidly. However, at the slow pace at which the telcos and cable companies are expanding the availability of their broadband services, doing with local government regulation one area at a time certainly doesn't seem to be an impediment.
Rather than speed up deployment of broadband, the true objective of the state franchise measures, like a recently-promulgated Federal Communications Commission rule (which is being legally challenged by local governments), is to protect telcos and cable companies from local government demands they hasten the build out of their infrastructures in order to make broadband available to unserved areas.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
John Stankey, AT&T's president for operations support, told the Reuters Global Technology, Media and Telecoms Summit in New York that advertising could bring $1 billion to Ma Bell's top line in three years time. Stankey said AT&T can reach that revenue goal by virtue of being the biggest U.S. broadband provider, a wireless carrier and most recently, a purveyor of Internet Protocol Television Service (IPTV) via its nascent U-Verse video service.
Rather than the pipe providers getting into the advertising biz, the more likely scenario is the media giants like Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and Web portals Yahoo! and Google getting into the pipes business, partnering with other companies to build their own broadband infrastructure after tiring of waiting on the telco/cable duopoly to expand their networks.
Monday, May 14, 2007
The bill encourages both public and private provisioning of service. It includes authorization for up to $40 million in revenue bonds by the State to build infrastructure like radio towers and middle-mile fiber. The State is NOT authorized to become a retail ISP but the plan is to encourage private wireless ISPs (WISPs), wireline ISPs, and cellular operators – as well as municipalities – by making infrastructure broadly available at a reasonable cost even in areas where the short term economics are tough. The bonds need to be repaid out of revenues but this will be “patient” money.
The measure also authorizes local governments to engage in municipal broadband projects. As Evslin states in an earlier post on the legislation, implementation of it could prove more difficult than getting the bill into law. I would agree, considering that $40 million likely represents a small portion of the investment that will be needed to bring universal broadband access to Vermont in just three years.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Dorr outlined several key elements of the proposed rules: Promoting deployment to rural areas with little or no service; Ensuring that residents in funded areas get broadband access more quickly; Limiting funding in urban areas and areas where a significant share of the market is served by incumbent providers; Clarifying and streamlining equity and marketing survey requirements; Increasing the transparency of the application process, including legal notice requirements, to make more informed lending/borrowing decisions; Promoting a better understanding of all application requirements, including market survey, competitive analysis, business plan, and system design requirements; and ensuring that projects funding are keeping pace with increasing demand for bandwidth.
Dorr noted that significant progress has been made in facilitating rural broadband deployment since the program began. Over 70 loans have been made totaling $1.2 billion for broadband deployment projects headquartered in 36 states. Through these loans, more than half a million households in more than 1,000 rural communities will receive broadband service. Over 60% of these communities had little or no broadband service at the time.
"[T]he reality is that the consumer internet,…has matured, and its future, unless there is significant investment will constrain economic development in this country.”
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Cable provider Comcast insists Denver-based telco Qwest be required to provide broadband video service to everyone in the Colorado municipalities it wants to serve, charging Qwest will leave some neighborhoods unserved if local governments don't require it to do so in exchange for granting Qwest a video franchise. (Note however, hypocritical Comcast does exactly what it accuses Qwest of doing, including in my own El Dorado County, California ZIP code where Comcast serves some neighborhoods but refuses to serve others).
If Colorado local governments force Qwest to serve their entire jurisdictions, the Rocky Mountain News reports Qwest may counter by invoking a recently promulgated Federal Communications Commission rule that Qwest sought prohibiting local governments from imposing "unreasonable" build out requirements on telephone companies seeking franchises to offer enhanced broadband-based video services. The rule also requires local governments to make a decision on a video franchise application within 90 days.
If Qwest presses ahead with this reported effort to accelerate local government video franchise applications, it will set the stage for litigation over the meaning of what constitutes an "unreasonable" build out requirement under the FCC rule. Local governments have already gone to federal court to challenge the rule, contending the FCC overstepped its authority.
Qwest's initiative also marks a quick reversal of a strategy announced earlier this month by CEO Richard Notebaert, who told Bloomberg Qwest planned to hold off offering video over phone lines, concentrating instead on accelerating residential broadband Internet access.
Friday, May 11, 2007
The problem is that competition is geographically restricted, playing out in a limited market where both the telco and cable provider have a presence. Consumers not in these proscribed markets don't benefit from the increased competition envisioned by AB 2987.
In California and most states, there exists a de facto duopoly in which the big telcos and cable companies like AT&T and Comcast have the market all to themselves. There are few if any other competitors nipping at their heels and forcing them to provide more and improved services.
Exhibit A is the large number of broadband black holes that exist in California where hapless residents can't get broadband Internet access from their telco (who in AT&T's case tells them to "go suck a satellite") or from the cable provider (upon whose maps these would be customers simply don't exist). Here, AB 2987 fails to spur competition and better services and does nothing to expand broadband services to unserved areas of the Golden State since the legislation allows the telco/cable duopoly to offer services to just half of potential customers by 2012. That effectively locks the providers into the market they presently serve, creating two separate but unequal Californias -- one with broadband Internet access and the other without.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Rockefeller noted that at the current pace of deployment, "next-generation" broadband networks (which the resolution defines as being capable of 100Mbps) will not be deployed throughout the US for another 20 years. The resolution calls on Congress to work with the President to develop a strategy with the goal of passing legislation by year end, but since a resolution doesn't carry the force of law, there's no guarantee that it will have any tangible results.
Roberts went on to demonstrate how wideband can download four gigabytes of data, the entire Encyclopedia Britannica Library--55 million words and more--in just under four minutes. It would take a traditional cable modem about three hours and a dial-up connection two weeks to download the same amount of data, which Roberts said is equivalent to how much the average family consumes online a month.Satellite Internet with triple play? What planet is Roberts living on? Satellite Internet is crippled broadband, with sluggish connections and high latency that can't even support Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP). As for the telcos, the only real threat is Verizon if it continues to speed deployment of Fiber To The Home (FTTN). If Comcast really wants to compete with the telcos and satellite, it should expand its coverage to those areas where residents are stuck with a Hobson's choice of dial up over aging telco copper cable or satellite.
“It’s kind of mind boggling to think what you’d be able to do with that speed,” said Roberts.
In the short term, Roberts and his fellow cable operators plan to use that speed to continue to hammer away at the competitive threat from both the telcos and satellite with their triple-play offering of video, broadband and voice services.
The federal government’s lack of leadership in this area is a disgrace. Despite a 2004 promise by President Bush to deliver “universal, affordable access to broadband technology by the year 2007,” his administration has done nothing to advance that goal.
Last month, the Federal Communications Commission, chaired by Bush appointee Kevin Martin, launched yet another study of the sorry state of broadband service in this country.
The U.S. needs action, not another study.
Lafayette's Fiber to the Home project is expected to provide residents and businesses with Internet, cable and telephone services at a low cost.
Salter said cities with fiber networks have experienced economic growth as a result.
"We just think that the ability to move information is where everything is going," he said.
Huval said telecommunications companies have infrastructure with limited capacity.
Fiber will not artificially limit capacity, he said. Residents will be able to choose how they want their fiber.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Their customers face a purgatory of sluggish connections slowed by the 46,000 mile round trip from their computers to satellites that they must share with thousands of other customers, unlike the commercial and military users of the technology.
"If you look at this industry ten years from now, there's still a good chance consumers will still be unhappy. And the reason is that satellite bandwidth is extremely expensive," said Randy Scott, manager at VSAT U.S., a Monument, Colo., company that installs satellite dishes for commercial customers. HughesNet is one of the companies he works with.
Monday, May 07, 2007
Broadband franchise legislation or not, AT&T not expected to deploy broadband to Tennessee small towns
A lobbyist for local governments opposing the measure however says even if it were enacted, AT&T would continue to concentrate on large metro areas of the state and leave smaller towns on the dark side of the digital divide.
Which is likely true because similar statewide franchise bills such as California's Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 (AB 2987) -- which was also sought by AT&T -- requires big providers to deploy broadband to just half of their service areas by 2012, leaving non-urban areas out in the cold.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
But if they do, will Comcast and other cable providers tell California local governments to take a hike and opt to obtain a statewide franchise under legislation that took effect earlier this year, the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006?
Enacted last year as AB 2987, the law allows both cable and telephone companies to bypass local governments and instead obtain authority to offer video-capable broadband through franchises issued by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). But AB 2987 also allows cable companies to operate under existing local government franchise agreements if they choose. So far, Comcast is doing just that and has not applied for a statewide franchise from the CPUC. (To date, only one cable provider, Cox Communications, has applied for a statewide franchise.)
If enough California local governments pressure Comcast to build out its cable plant to provide service to more neighborhoods, Comcast could well opt for a state charter under AB 2987. The reason: the law has very limited build out requirements that require providers serve only half of their regional service areas by 2012. Opting for a statewide franchise would provide Comcast and other cable providers an easy exit from local political pressure to expand broadband access.
Designed by Northern Enterprises, the network will be "vendor neutral," meaning private companies offering high-speed Internet access, telephone service or other telecommunications services will be able to use it for a fee, instead of building their own infrastructure, officials said.
Leahy, D-Vt., helped secure $500,000 in federal funding for the first phase of the project and $3 million in economic development grants for the network.
Friday, May 04, 2007
"I think broadband is the number one priority for the commission and the additional deployment of it," said Martin. Broadband technology can drive economic growth and impacts areas such as health care delivery and education, he said. The FCC has done work to try to foster additional infrastructure investment and some increased competition in broadband, he said.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
AT&T Yahoo! High Speed Internet
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The satellite service is from satellite Internet provider WildBlue. AT&T entered into a reseller deal with WildBlue about a year ago to sell the inferior (compared to what AT&T could offer if it chose to seriously invest in its wire line infrastructure), costly satellite service in areas it has written off over the foreseeable for wire line broadband.
Keep in mind this is from the same AT&T that boasts "Your world delivered" and actually believes it can provide television service over the same tired copper cable-based system that can't even support DSL let alone IPTV.
It's a wise move on Notebaert's part. Residential customers need high speed Internet access first and foremost. Telcos like Qwest should be prioritizing it and speeding deployment considering they didn’t offer DSL in more than 20 percent of their service areas as of mid 2006, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
If and when Qwest wants to offer wire line-based TV service, it would be well advised to follow Verizon and utilize fiber optic cable rather than a hybrid fiber/copper play in the early stages of deployment by AT&T, dubbed Project U-Verse.
High definition TV itself needs about 9Mbs. Getting that much data over twisted copper pair that comprise the last segment of U-Verse that was originally designed to provide plain old telephone service (POTS) packaged with telephone and high speed Internet service could well prove problematic. Notebaert is in a position to watch it fail on someone's else's dime instead of investing his own shareholders' money.
The Washington Post has been looking into the program, which provides grants, loans and loan guarantees to expand housing, small business, water and sewer, electricity and telecommunications services in rural areas.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Manchin recently vetoed legislation that would have mapped which areas in the state aren't wired for broadband service and allowed nonprofits to offer broadband service throughout the state.
While the efforts of Cisco CEO John Chambers to light up this infamous broadband black hole are laudable, I hope he doesn't neglect Cisco's own back yard in Silicon Valley and California. As reported last year, Rob Hof, manager of BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau, inadvertently found himself mired on the wrong side of the digital divide Palo Alto when he moved to a new home in the city.
The bill bans the government from forcing utilities to build out their infrastructure to offer services to all neighborhoods. But it also names the attorney general as the agent responsible for enforcing antidiscrimination rules, giving the office the power to fine utilities not in compliance.
The antidiscrimination provision seems to be open to some interpretation, with the antibuildout language giving companies accused of discriminating a strong leg to stand on.
Brad Ashwell, consumer advocate for Florida Public Interest Research Group, said that while rates may drop initially, he expects gradual increases over time. "This bill doesn't guarantee that everyone is going to be served or enjoy the benefits of 21st century technology."