Monday, September 29, 2008

Pols pay lip service to vague "national broadband policy," support time wasting availabilty studies

In this election season, politicians are paying lip service to the idea of universal broadband access in the United States. The problem is just that: lip service in a support of a "national broadband policy" to spur broadband infrastructure rollout and studies to obtain "better data" on where broadband is and isn't.

Re the former, exactly would that policy be? They (and unfortunately too many advocates) are not saying. And in the unfortunate absence of specifics, they make it seem as if they would prefer the telco/cable duopoly be nationalized in order to speed broadband deployment. If that's what they're advocating, they ought to have the guts to say so directly instead of chanting repeatedly that the U.S. needs a "national broadband policy."

Re getting better data on broadband availability, that's a sucker's game that plays straight into the telco/cable duopoly's strategy of buying time to "study" the issue without having to spend a single dime on expanding their broadband infrastructure. Even if availability throughout the U.S. was extensively mapped down to the census tract level, we won't know much more than we already know right now: that the nation's telecommunications infrastructure is shot through with broadband black holes of all sizes, some massive encompassing entire communities and some as small as part of a single block. Politicians already know this, having heard from increasingly irate constituents tired of being forced to choose between obsolete dial up and substandard, costly satellite Internet service.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Aussies feel pull of broadband black holes

Just like their American counterparts who suffer from broadband black holes in metro areas, lots of Aussies are also relegated to dialup. Take the Adelaide metropolitan area, for example, where government statistics show 55,000 homes and businesses cannot cannot access fixed-line broadband internet services. Keep in mind this isn't the remote Outback we're talking about here.

The usual suspect: the limited range ADSL deployed by the big Australian telco, Telstra. Read the item in
Adelaide Now.

AT&T will likely abandon residential wireline segment, U-Verse in early 2010

Sometime during the first two quarters of 2010, AT&T will probably become a pure play wireless company in the residential market, abandoning its Project Lightspeed/U-Verse deployment as part of a general retreat from the wireline-based residential/home office market segment.

The nation’s dominant telco — like other telcos — has been losing landlines to wireless phone service for several years now. When AT&T pulls the plug on U-Verse, which it began rolling out in selected markets in 2006 and which continues to fall behind deployment targets, it will likely cite unanticipated cost, technological and competitive market challenges.

The Achilles Heel of Project Lightspeed/U-Verse lies in the technological shortcomings of digital subscriber line (DSL). While DSL allows AT&T and other telcos to provide broadband over their existing copper cable plants, it’s hobbled by very limited range. When telcos first deployed ADSL around at the start of the decade, DSL’s limited range forced telcos including AT&T into a lose-lose proposition. Either they could spend significant sums of money installing remote DSLAM terminals to extend DSL’s notoriously feeble reach or leave money on the table in the form of lost opportunity costs, unable to serve subscriber premises not located close enough to their CO’s (central switching offices).

ADSL’s limited range also makes for unhappy customers who believe they are purchasing a particular speed tier only to find themselves involuntarily downgraded because the DSL signal isn’t sufficiently robust to support the level of service they ordered.

VDSL, the upgraded version of DSL that AT&T utilizes in its hybrid fiber/copper Project Lightspeed deployment, suffers from even greater range limitations. As such, it requires far more field equipment and fiber/copper interface cabinets (VRADs) than ADSL since VRADs can serve only premises located within 3,000 feet. While providing theoretical downside throughput of 25 Mbs, VDSL over copper also suffers from limited ability to scale up bandwidth to 100 Mbs and higher in order to remain competitive —at least when it comes to video — with MSOs (cable providers) and pure fiber triple players like Verizon and Surewest Communications.

Some market observers believe once copper has reached its throughput limit — many would maintain it already has — all AT&T has to do is change out the old copper for new fiber. That isn’t likely to happen. AT&T won’t bear that additional and substantial CAPEX burden and threaten its generous stock dividends when it is already struggling with the cost of the limited Lightspeed plant it has deployed to date and is reportedly cutting expenditures on it.

Additionally, given its existing alliance with Dish Network (to be replaced with DirecTV starting Jan. 31, 2009), it can still offer video without the associated CAPEX costs of Project Lightspeed and U-Verse just as it does with its marketing partnership with Wildblue to provide satellite “broadband” to the many residences located outside the restricted range of its DSL services.

What will happen to AT&T’s aging residential copper cable plant when it goes all wireless in this market segment? It will be put into runoff mode and minimally maintained — a plan that some would argue is already being implemented as resources have been redirected to Project Lightspeed. That will likely result in noisy and failed lines. But AT&T will probably simply pay any fines levied by regulators as a cost of unwinding its residential landline business with the expectation residential customers will migrate to its wireless service with the encouragement of limited time pricing incentives.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Dialuggers have company in high places

If you're stuck with mid-1990s era dial up Internet access, you have company in high places. For example, Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who represents a district just outside Washington, D.C., and can't get broadband service at her Fort Washington, Maryland, home. (Keep in mind this is a major metro area and hardly the kind of rural area where many erroneously believe is the only place where broadband black holes can be found in the U.S.)

According to this item in PC World, Edwards said at a a OneWebDay event in Washington that she hasn't used her home dial-up connection for months. "It's too much of a pain," PC World quoted Edwards as saying. "It's too cumbersome. All of the data, all of the information that really I most want, you can't just handle on dial-up." Very true as many frustrated dialuggers well know.

PC World reports Edwards and Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein called on Congress to develop a far-reaching broadband policy that would accelerate the rollout of faster broadband across the U.S. But what specifically? How about greater financial assistance for communities and local governments to build open access fiber optic last mile infrastructure for starters since the existing telco/cable duopoly apparently can't absorb the required capital expenditures. After all, if the government can come to the aid to the U.S. financial services industry with hundreds of billions of dollars, it seems to me it could also help in the development of the infrastructure over which finance and commerce is increasingly transacted. A bonus would be increased economic activity as indicated by this California study issued last November that concluded the state 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 broadband technology.

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Behold America's broadband backwater"

Behold America's broadband backwater. For the nation that pioneered the Internet, extending fast connections to small towns and rural areas has proved a daunting challenge. Carriers are loath to build networks where they can't sell service at a profit, and since 2003 more than $1.2 billion in federal loans aimed at helping private carriers serve remote areas has addressed only the most extreme cases. According to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, released in July, only 38% of rural American households have access to high-speed Internet connections. That's an improvement from 15% in 2005, but it pales in comparison with 57% and 60% for city and suburb dwellers, respectively.

The lack of fast Web access is helping create a country of broadband haves and have-nots -- a division that not only makes it harder for businesses to get work done, but also impedes workers' efforts to find jobs, puts students at a disadvantage, and generally leaves a wide swath of the country less connected to the growing storehouse of information on the Web -- from health sites to news magazines to up-to-date information on Presidential candidates. "Broadband is a distance killer, which can especially help rural Americans," says John Horrigan, a Pew researcher. "Broadband is not just an information source for news and civic matters, but it's also a pathway to participation."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bugged by persistent Yahoo/Firefox browser navigation problem

Why couldn't Yahoo leave well enough alone? Come July, it forced users of its My Yahoo! home page to leave a perfectly good version of the page that had been in place for years for a new, upgraded version. After more than two months, however, it seems more like a forced downgrade than an upgrade.

The reason: a nagging navigation compatibility issue with your blogger's -- and many other folks' -- favorite browser, Firefox 3.0. Clicking on an article link in one of the My Yahoo! modules gets a user to the article fine and even remembers where on the page of the article one left off if one navigates back to the article from the My Yahoo! home page.

But back navigating out of the article back to the My Yahoo! home page takes the reader to the top of the My Yahoo! home page, losing the location of the module containing the article viewed. That requires scrolling up and down the My Yahoo! home page to visually locate the module.

Yahoo engineers say they're aware of the problem but point the finger of blame at Mozilla, Firefox's creator. Mozilla has confirmed the problem and has had an open "Bugzilla" on the issue since not long after Yahoo's "upgrade" but still no fix.

Since Mozilla can't seem to squash the irksome bug, seems to me the best solution here is for Yahoo to simply allow users to migrate back to the previous -- and bug free -- version of My Yahoo!

UPDATE 2/16/09: The problem still continues despite this 10/30/08 email from Yahoo! Customer Care:

We understand your concerns. We are working to resolve the technical issue with your browser not returning to the same position on the page when navigating back to it as soon as possible. While we cannot provide you with an accurate estimate of how long this resolution will take, you can rest assured that we hope to have the issue resolved soon. We appreciate your patience.

Patience, indeed. I imagine for many Firefox users out there, their patience has worn pretty thin by now after months and months with no fix.

Many industrialized nations barely keeping up with Internet throughput demand

A survey by router maker Cisco Systems out today reports many industrialized nations are barely able to provide their residents broadband connections that are capable of robust interaction with Internet content and applications.

According to the survey, that minimum standard is an asymmetrical connection of 3.75 Mbps on the downside and 1 Mbps for uploads -- with latency of no more than 95 milliseconds. However in just three to five years, burgeoning Internet content and applications will require download speeds of 11.25 Mbps and uploads of 5 Mbps even lower latency -- 60 milliseconds or less.

These numbers are sobering and starkly illustrate how fast broadband throughput demand is outstripping capacity, pointing to the need for a major overhaul of the current telecommunications infrastructure. What's more, many in the U.S. where Cisco is based, for example, can't even get throughput anything close to what the survey considers necessary for a decent Internet experience.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Senate Commerce Committee Sets Broadband Hearing

Broadcasting & Cable reports today that the Senate Commerce Committee scheduled a full committee hearing Sept. 16 on the benefits of broadband.


Extending broadband to underserved areas is one of the priorities of a Democratic administration, according to the recently approved Democratic platform, which pledged that the Democrats will "implement a national broadband strategy … that enables every American household, school, library and hospital to connect to a world-class communications infrastructure."

The hearing, "Why Broadband Matters," will examine various areas, including access to government information, education, jobs and telemedicine.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Misgivings in Maryland over Verizon FiOS reach

Charles County, Maryland commissioners are concerned a franchise deal the county is finalizing with Verizon to install Verizon's proprietary FiOS fiber optic cable in county rights of way won't serve the county's telecommunications needs.

SouthMdNews.com reports:

‘‘I want to know how we’re improving what we [have] now,” said commissioners’ President F. Wayne Cooper (D). He compared the pending Verizon deal to that of a builder making big promises in order to secure approval for a small project.

‘‘This sounds an awful lot like ‘let me build the retail now, and I’ll build the offices later.’”

Again, staff was reluctant to discuss the details of the Verizon agreement on the record. However, Rick Elrod, the county’s consultant for the Verizon deal, admitted that the Verizon project being discussed would not be as broad as the commissioners would like.


Sounds like the commissioners need to consider alternatives such as open access fiber lest they end up with angry constituents due to the limitations of the proposed Verizon FiOS project.

 
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