Saturday, July 13, 2013

The 2 key inaction risks facing community fiber projects

Creative risk taking is essential to success in any goal where the stakes are high. Thoughtless risks are destructive, of course, but perhaps even more wasteful is thoughtless caution which prompts inaction and promotes failure to seize opportunity.

Communities contemplating fiber Internet infrastructure projects should keep in mind that there are risks -- negative impacts -- associated both with taking action as well as not taking action.  The latter risk -- termed inaction risk -- is perhaps one of the most threatening and pervasive risks.  For some regions and communities, that risk is being left permanently off the modern Internet grid and unable to realize the benefits it offers for government, public safety, health and education, economic development and transportation demand mitigation. 

Milo Medin, Google's vice president of access services, laid out two major underlying rationales explaining why communities needlessly run the risk of inaction in his address to the 2013 Broadband Communities Summit. 

1.  The unswerving belief despite more than a decade of market failure that incumbent legacy telephone and cable companies will upgrade and build out their infrastructures to serve all premises.  Here's what Medin had to say on that point:
Part of the reason the U.S. is falling behind is that most cities haven’t been intentional about their broadband infrastructure. Cities know they have to make sure the water system works and scales to support growth, the roads are maintained and built, garbage is collected properly. But often, they think broadband is something that the phone company or the cable company will take care of for them and they can ignore it, or that the FCC will make sure the appropriate incentives are put into place to drive competition and upgrades. Depending on those processes is how we got into the situation we’re in today.

2. The misguided belief that wireless services have obsoleted fiber networks. Medin explains:
Some argue that fiber networks are not really needed because of wireless network growth. As an engineer, quite honestly, this kind of talk makes my brain hurt. Wireless network growth is driven by fiber. All those base stations that smartphones connect to are increasingly connected by fiber because, as speeds go up, fiber is required to carry that kind of traffic. Copper just won’t do for modern wireless networks.
Cisco and others expect wireless data to grow by a factor of 50 in the next few years, and you’re not going to be able to solve that kind of growth by throwing more spectrum at it. You’re going to have to reduce the size of the cells, shrinking them, reducing the number of users that are being served by a given base station. And that means a lot more cell sites and a lot more fiber to feed those cell sites. In the limit, the future of mobile is going to look a lot like Wi-Fi: tons of small cell sites connected by a wireline network, connected by fiber – and that’s just physics, folks.

The full Broadband Communities article excerpting Medin's speech can be viewed here and here (pdf). 

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