Saturday, March 28, 2009

Forget about broadband mapping; it's time for consumers to take control

I concur with Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge that "broadband mapping" is an exercise in distraction and a waste of time and money better directed to getting broadband infrastructure in place. Infrastructure that was needed yesterday, last year and five years ago in much of the U.S. No map can provide that.

In fact, as Brodsky suggests, mapping is nothing but a feel good PR ploy favored by the telco/cable duopoly to create an impression they're doing something to fill in the holes while at the same time playing hide the pea. It's about going through the motions while doing nothing.

Homeowners and small business owners don't need a map to know they're in a broadband black hole when they're forced to resort to early 1990s era dial up or substandard satellite for Internet connectivity. They should get together with their neighbors and take control of their telecommunications destiny by forming fiber optic telecom consumer cooperatives as quickly as possible and applying for federal and state grants and loans to help finance the cost of deploying the fiber. Bringing the U.S. last mile telecommunications infrastructure up to date is a bottom up-- not top down -- endeavor that does not require maps.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Just say no to broadband stimulus funding for satellite

Here's another boondoggle in the making: a plea by satellite Internet providers for some of the $7.2 billion in federal economic stimulus funding for broadband infrastructure.

Giving even a dime to satellite Internet providers would be a major mistake and waste of taxpayer dollars. Doing so would underwrite an inferior and costly stopgap technology intended to temporarily fill in where advanced telecommunications infrastructure is lacking -- and not be a permanent solution. Talk about unclear on the concept.

Friday, March 20, 2009

4 of 5 proposed California state subsidized broadband projects challenged

Since the California Public Utilities Commission began accepting proposals last year for broadband infrastructure projects eligible for 40 percent subsidies from the CPUC's California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), about four out of five of 30 projects proposed to date have not been approved.

The reason, according to a recently issued CPUC resolution as well as other documentation posted on the CPUC's Web site is they were challenged by unnamed providers on the grounds they didn't comply with CASF funding guidelines targeting unserved areas (no broadband access) and underserved areas of the Golden State (broadband access at speeds less than 3 mbs down and 1 mbs up).

There's a lesson here as the federal government revs up its own plans for subsidizing broadband infrastructure buildout: avoid going down this slippery, ever changing slope of throughput requirements and attempting to define what constitutes served, unserved and underserved when it comes to advanced IP-based services.

These metrics are simply too subjective and prone to being manipulated and gamed by providers, particularly incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) more interested in preserving their territorial hegemony than serving their customers' telecommunications needs.

The better course is to allow entities such as local governments and telecommunications cooperatives with priority for federal broadband economic stimulus funding determine for themselves where infrastructure buildout is most needed. Most of these entities will likely opt for fiber and avoid the issue of throughput speeds altogether given fiber's tremendous capacity to accommodate current and future bandwidth requirements.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Feds shouldn't provide broadband funding directly to large telcos, cablecos

From Bloomberg today:


March 16 (Bloomberg) -- Groups representing companies including Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc. pressed U.S. regulators to let broadband providers and equipment makers apply to a federal program disbursing $4.7 billion in grants to expand high-speed Internet. Companies already providing broadband “have extensive technical, financial, and managerial experience and expertise,” Curt Stamp, president of the Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance, told a meeting in Washington today. The program is part of the U.S. economic recovery package.

Bad idea. True, these companies have technical expertise to deploy broadband infrastructure. But their role -- except perhaps for small, locally owned providers -- should be limited to that when it comes to distributing $7.2 billion in grants and loans contained in the recently-enacted federal economic stimulus legislation. They should NOT be the direct recipients of any grants or loans for last mile infratructure.

Instead, the stimulus finding should be directed to nonprofit telecommunications cooperatives and local government entities to put in place buried and aerial fiber optic cable and distribution plants over the last mile the telco/cable duopoly has neglected for years.

We should not forget the lessons of history and repeat the fiasco following the enactment of the Federal Telecommunications Act in 1996 that saw an estimated $200 billion in tax breaks and subsidies to deploy advanced digital telecommunications infrastructure virtually disappear, spawning in the current plague of broadband black holes instead of near ubiquitous fiber that was to be in place by 2006.

If the feds directly provide the telco/cable duopoly broadband infrastucture monies as either part of the stimulus measure -- described by the Obama administration as a down payment on America's sorely needed telecommunications upgrade -- or in follow on funding, the U.S. will likely find itself shortchanged again with a substandard telecommunications infrastructure done on the cheap that won't meet the nation's current or future needs.

California PUC sets March 23 public meeting re broadband funding in federal stimulus act

The Schwarzenegger administration is preparing to request some of the $7.2 billion earmarked for broadband telecommunications infrastructure subsidies and loans in the recently enacted federal economic stimulus legislation.

The governor's office has asked the California Public Utilities Commission as well as the nonprofit California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) to get stakeholder input on how best to use the CETF and the CPUC's California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) as vehicles to "quickly target initial federal stimulus funds toward California." The goal is also to determine how to leverage California’s existing broadband programs to assist applicants seeking federal funding available for broadband infrastructure in the stimulus bill.

The CPUC has set a public hearing for March 23 in San Francisco.
"We seek input from a broad spectrum of interests, including broadband providers, public agencies, and consumer groups," the CPUC's notice states.

California PUC approves broadband subsidies for 9 Northern California, Central Valley communities

The California Public Utilities Commission last week approved 40 percent subsidies for wireline broadband infrastructure build outs to 1,262 households in nine Northern California and Central Valley communities.

The $728,093 in funding for the projects comes from the CPUC's California Advanced Services Fund, which is funded by a surcharge on intrastate long distance telephone calls.

Here's the CPUC's press release.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Using U.S. economic stimulus funding for native fiber backbone and FTTH

Good piece in Network World today on using federal stimulus funding for fiber build out, both for native backbone and over the last mile. The article also touches on a point that's problematic in mainstream media coverage of broadband access: covering the issue exclusively along urban and rural lines as if it were still 1950. U.S. settlement patterns have changed substantially since then, with many Americans migrating to the exurbs, penturbs and semi-rural areas filled with broadband black holes. Here's the relevant excerpt:

In addition to building fiber backbones in rural areas, some ISPs also think that subsidizing fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) connections would be feasible for certain rural areas that have relatively high population densities. Patrick Knorr, the COO of cable and broadband provider Sunflower Broadband, says there are some suburban communities in his vicinity that have been sprouting up in rural areas that would have enough population density to justify building out FTTH infrastructure.


"Fiber to the home, like a lot of wire-based solutions, is cost intensive," he says. "But it is cheaper than DSL or coaxial cables. Fiber works better over long distances because it doesn't require as much maintenance as a lot of other technologies. The issue is that there is a significant initial infrastructure cost, which is why there should be opportunities for subsidies to build FTTH in areas that otherwise wouldn't be able to access fiber service."


The article also discusses the downside of Broadband over Power Lines (BPL), which in the opinion of this blogger isn't deserving of either investment capital or federal stimulus subsidies.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Analyst calls it wrong: DOCSIS doesn't support U.S. policy to expand broadband access

This MSNBC item quotes from an analysis by Pike & Fisher:

The Silver Spring, Md.-based research house also predicts that DOCSIS 3.0 will garner a lot of support from government officials distributing funds from the economic stimulus package.

"Considering the massive bandwidth increases that will be enabled by upgrading DOCSIS 2.0 to 3.0, the government is likely to view DOCSIS 3.0 as a most feasible and affordable near-term solution to perceived bandwidth scarcities," says P&F Chief Analyst Tim McElgunn, who authored the report.


This analysis is fatally flawed and reflects a major misapprehension of U.S. government policy. That policy is to expand broadband access -- and not to subsidize efforts by cable cable operators to increase their throughput speeds.


The issue with cable providers isn't that their broadband throughput is lacking for current needs. Rather it's the limited footprints of their local access networks that were planned decades ago when they served as single purpose TV delivery platforms that are no longer revelevant to current build out of homes and businesses that could benefit from their IP-based advanced services including high speed Internet and VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol).

Monday, March 09, 2009

Broadband black hole preservation act introduced in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, the state government controls alcoholic beverage sales via a state run monopoly. Apparently the telco/cable duopoly wants similar protection in the form of proposed legislation that would bar local governments from being involved with or helping finance the construction of local broadband telecommunications infrastructure, MuniWireless reports.

Talk about a state with mixed up crackpot regulatory policies. It treats one industry that's a naturally competitive private market (alcoholic beverage distribution) while proposing telecommunications infrastructure -- a natural monopoly -- be treated as a competitive private market and protected from government "competition."

Congressman seeks broadband infrastructure deployment to alleviate "economic disaster" in California's Central Valley

The Bakersfield Californian reports Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno sent a letter to President Barack Obama late last week requesting Obama create a federal economic disaster designation and declare the San Joaquin Valley its first designee.

The letter to the president requests rural broadband deployment as well as higher unemployment benefits, other infrastructure improvements to put people work, and expansion and modernization of federally qualified health centers.

U.S. "headed into an extraordinary period where the government is directly investing in broadband infrastructure"

From PC World today:


The nation is headed into an "extraordinary period where the government is directly investing in broadband infrastructure," said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, a media reform group. "This process of handing out $7 billion, although there's a great deal of urgency to get the money out the door, must fundamentally be data driven. We need to make sure the money is spent wisely, on projects that deliver the biggest bang for the buck for the American taxpayer."


Scott also called on the government to fund high-speed networks, not just basic broadband. "We're concerned that stimulus dollars not be used to build obsolete networks," he said. "If we want to make sure that ... we're not simply re-creating a digital divide by building a substandard network that then has to take another leap to catch up."


Scott's got it right on the money here. The greatest hazard with government subsidization of broadband telecommunications infrastructure is subsidizing yesterday's obsolete technology (such as DSL over copper) instead of tomorrow's (read fiber to the premises).


Anyone who's ever bought more than their first personal computer understands this principle. The best value isn't the lowest priced bargain. It's the machine that's got more processing power, memory and storage than what's presently needed but allows the user to expand and add new applications and programs in later years.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Vermonters declare independence from telco/cable duopoly

The Wall Street Journal today features an initiative by 22 central Vermont towns to take their telecommunications destiny into their own hands instead of relying on a telco/cable duopoly that cannot meet their needs.

They're doing so with a public/private partnership to deploy 1,400 miles of aerial fiber-optic lines to provide high-speed Internet access, phone and video. The project is to be financed through a capital lease, with the towns raising money from investors to build the network, then leasing it back from the investors over 23 years.

Tim Nulty, the project's consultant to the towns, told the WSJ he originally wanted loan guarantees as part of the recently enacted federal economic stimulus package but is now looking into grant funding under the legislation, which allocated $7.2 for broadband built out.

While this project involves a sparsely populated rural area, I expect other more densely populated areas will also form municipal and cooperative fiber ventures as it becomes more apparent that locals must take responsibility for getting fiber over the last mile and cannot continue as they have for years in vain to expect telcos and cable companies to provide it -- particularly when it's not in their business plans.

The article also contains a desperate comment by a telco flak to keep the telco's outmoded copper-delivered DSL relevant -- which due to DSL's notorious technical limitations can't easily serve areas like rural New England -- amid the growing realization that its future prospects are severely limited in the era of fiber.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

California legislation would form broadband task force with eye on federal economic stimulus funds

Legislation has been introduced in California to speed up deployment of broadband in areas of the Golden State that lack access.

The urgency legislation, which would take effect as soon as it's signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, would update the status of several recommendations issued by Schwarzenegger's Broadband Task Force last year to expand the availability of broadband access.

Its main objective is to develop a strategy to expedite access to $7.2 billion in grants and loan guarantees contained in the recently enacted federal economic stimulus legislation, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The proposed California Broadband Task Force would also be tasked with identifying public and private community development partners, necessary statutory or regulatory changes, and needed resources to qualify for the stimulus funding.

The full text of the measure is available here.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Survey: Aussies don't see wireless broadband as viable fixed premises solution

While wireless broadband can provide an interim solution for fixed premises broadband, a survey of Australians shows folks down under lack confidence in its ability to deliver broadband to their homes in one of the developed world's most broadband deprived nations.

According to iTnews, the survey of 20,000 respondents, conducted between Dec. 31, 2008 and Feb. 1, 2009, found that fewer consider wireless broadband a viable alternative to wireline for fixed premises broadband than they did a year ago. Last year, 43.3 percent of respondents said they would consider wireless broadband to be a "serious option" for home Internet access. This year the number drops to 36.8 percent.


"Consumers are now more educated about the limitations of wireless broadband, whereas a few years ago they might not have actually tried it," says Whirlpool founder Simon Wright.

"Also, historically wireless broadband has meant [nomadic] services like Unwired; now it means little USB dongles they buy from the likes of Telstra and Vodafone. These are marketed as a different type of product; and the limitations of 3G are generally better known."

 
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