Thursday, August 26, 2010

Time to relegate "broadband" to the history books

The term "broadband" is outdated and should be retired.

It came into wide use a decade and a half ago to denote a premium telecommunications service on the publicly switched telephone network (PSTN) that provided a faster, "always on" Internet connection compared to now obsolete "narrowband" dialup and ISDN service.

The Internet is now a de facto global telecommunications system providing Internet protocol-based voice and video communications in addition to early "broadband" fare of email and the World Wide Web.

Instead of broadband, we should simply refer to the Internet. The term "broadband' is out of place in the context of today's "Internet ecosystem" to borrow a phrase from the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan issued in March. (Which should be retiled the "National Internet Plan")

References to "broadband" also pose problems insofar as they spark debates over what bandwidth and speeds constitute "broadband." Its continued use also aids legacy telco and cable industry players who want to keep it around so they can incrementally charge a premium for "broader" bandwidth.

The incumbent legacy providers also like the term "broadband" because it keeps the calendar where they want it: around 1999 when the phrase meant only Web and email — and not the bandwidth intensive applications we're seeing in 2010 that their incomplete and outdated infrastructures are unable to deliver to all customers in their self proclaimed "service areas."

It also helps the incumbents conjure up (and dust off old) self serving studies purportedly showing many folks don't "adopt" broadband because they have little interest in the Web or email. Ergo, it's not critical telecommunications infrastructure should be available to all homes and businesses when in fact it should be.

It's time to say "bye" to "broadband."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Richard Florida still doesn't get it

Richard Florida apparently hasn't gotten the memo that information-based work -- performed by what Florida calls the "creative class" -- isn't bound by geography in the Internet age.

In a post on The Atlantic blog this week titled Where the Creative Class Jobs Will Be, Florida wrote as follows:

The good news is that creative class jobs will continue to grow and provide high-wage, high-skill employment for a large and significant share of the American workforce. It's important to recognize that not all of these jobs require college degrees. Though nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of college graduates go on to do this kind of work, four in 10 creative class workers do not hold college degrees, according to analysis by my colleagues at the University of Toronto's Martin Prosperity Institute. The bad news is that creative class jobs will be geographically concentrated. (Emphasis added)

Wrong. The bad news is Florida is still thinking inside the box of a pre-Internet world where creative work could only be done in office buildings in metro areas.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Suck a bigger, faster satellite!

Satellite companies have been the also-rans of Internet providers. They serve a little more than one million customers, most in rural areas that have no other options. Their services can be painfully slow and cost twice as much as high-speed broadband. But two companies, WildBlue and HughesNet, are now in a race to change all that.

Both plan to launch satellites in the next couple of years that will dwarf their predecessors in space. WildBlue’s alone will have 10 times the capacity of its three current satellites combined. Such behemoths, the companies say, will enable them, at prices similar to what they now charge, to provide Internet service at speeds many times faster than they now offer — as fast, in some cases, as fiber connections.

Further, the companies argue, satellites can provide service more easily and cheaply per subscriber than their earthbound cable and phone company competitors, particularly to the 14 million to 24 million Americans who live in areas without broadband service.
Read more of this New York Times story by clicking here. (Registration required)
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This is a crock and a travesty. Internet protocol based services via satellite will never measure up to terrestrial fiber telecom infrastructure and should never be offered anywhere outside of the polar and most remote regions of the globe.

The mere fact that satellite Internet connectivity is sold anywhere in the lower 48 United States is and should be regarded as a national embarrassment showing the rest of the world how far behind the information technology curve the nation has fallen.

Memo to HughesNet and Wildblue: sell your new and improved services to SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) in order to allow off world intelligent life to connect to the global Internet.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

FTTH Council prematurely buries open access networks

In a recent filing with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, the FTTH (Fiber to the Home) Council is urging the FCC avoid placing Internet protocol-based telecommunications services under common carrier requirements of the Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.

In its 87-page filing, the FTTH Council contends doing so would inject a large degree of business uncertainty into what's arguably an already tenuous for profit business model and discourage private investment in the build out of fiber networks.

The FTTH Council also worries that the FCC's placement of IP-based telecom services under Title II would lead to the FCC declaring such services a monopoly -- not a hard stretch considering that high CAPEX costs make fiber networks natural monopolies. Once it has done so, the FCC would then require private companies to share its fiber facilities as phone companies were required to do with DSL under unbundling rules until the FCC reversed that policy in 2005 by deeming DSL an information service rather than Title II telecom service. Also once the FCC formally finds wireline telecom a natural monopoly, the FTTH Council warns, price controls will be put in place, further clouding the business case for for-profit providers.

Another more disturbing part of the filing beginning at page 19 effectively asserts that if the FTTH business case can't work in the context of a regulated monopoly for investor owned FTTH providers, then it can't pencil out for open access nonprofit municipal or other community-owned fiber networks either. The FTTH Council's filing quotes Tim Nulty, former manager of the Burlington, Vermont muni fiber network, as dismissing the open access wholesale model in which network owners sell access to service providers as "a recipe for financial failure."

But in a footnote on p. 19, the FTTH Council lauds closed proprietary (non open access) muni fiber networks as playing an important role where legacy incumbent providers aren't meeting community needs. Moreover, the organization notes, open access community networks require subsidization. Well of course they do. So do investor owned networks in areas where it's difficult to make a business case for deploying fiber given the slow return on investment.

My impression is the FTTH Council is jumping the gun. It's far too early to pronounce open access fiber networks unworkable as the U.S. searches for a sustainable business model alternative to address market failure among legacy telcos and cablecos that has spawned innumerable broadband black holes across the nation.

Open access can work if people truly regard fiber infrastructure as a community asset like roads and other public infrastructure, recognize its importance to a community's economy by making it far easier for information-based businesses to operate and workers to telework at distant jobs. And most importantly, having a willingness to pay for that infrastructure in recognition of its inherent value.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Solar storm could hit GPS and satellite broadband

Another reason not to be suckered in to sucking a satellite....

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Internet access is the new dial tone, but millions of Americans are disconnected

Three years ago, then-U.S. Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein called on the nation to make broadband "the dial-tone of the 21st Century."

Adelstein's characterization is correct. Today, the Internet is the telecommunications network. Those who don't have access to it are disconnected and isolated.

The Huffington Post has posted a summary of Akamai Technologies' State of the Internet" report for the first quarter of 2010 showing which states are the most offline. (Hat tip to Jason Wilson) It wouldn't surprise me if these states find it toughest to help boost the nation out of a deep economic contraction, being sidelined in an increasingly Internet-based economy.

The governors of these (and other) states should ask the Obama administration to create a Work Projects Administration-like entity to embark on a crash program to construct locally owned and operated fiber networks to serve all Americans where they live and work. Achieving this goal is a stated administration policy. Moreover, given the administration's projected multiplier effect of a project like this in terms of job creation and economic activity, it could well end up being revenue neutral when increased tax revenues are factored in.

 
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