Sunday, February 28, 2016

A manifesto for telecom infrastructure in the 21st century


More than a decade into the twenty-first century, it is clear a new set of principles is needed to support the modernization and expansion of telecommunications infrastructure. Much of the United States remains without adequate advanced telecommunications infrastructure necessary to deliver modern voice, data and video telecommunications services to homes, schools and businesses. A major impediment is how the problem and solutions are conceptualized, based on the subscription-based, vertically integrated proprietary infrastructure model established in the pre-Internet era. A new set of principles is necessary in order to move forward in the 21st century.
  1. Holistic view of telecommunications infrastructure. Rather than discrete, local “broadband networks,” a holistic view of telecommunications infrastructure is needed in accordance with Metcalfe’s Law, which holds the value of a network increases with the number of connections to it. A complete network enables users to obtain information and communicate across town, across state borders and globally. 
  2.  With fiber to the premise (FTTP) infrastructure, throughput speed should not be key metric. There exists a general consensus that FTTP infrastructure has the capacity to support both current and future telecommunications needs and is not prone to obsolescence. Given fiber’s large carrying capacity, throughput speed should no longer be used as a primary method of defining telecommunications infrastructure.
  3. Public works infrastructure. Due to high costs of construction and maintenance, telecommunications infrastructure should be built and maintained as public infrastructure like streets and highways. Its high cost structure does not allow it to function as a competitive market offering and produces widespread market failure and disparate access.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Yet another think tank makes false "market competition" argument in defense of legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies

Don’t put bureaucrats in charge of broadband | Columns | richmondregister.com: State lawmakers instead should search for ways to eliminate barriers to additional investment by private ISPs instead of raiding their customer base, which threatens to drive them, the jobs they support and tax revenues they send to Frankfort out of the commonwealth altogether.

By ending KentuckyWired once and for all, the Bevin administration would accomplish what federal bureaucrats who want to dictate the Bluegrass State’s broadband policy can’t be trusted to do: protect the best interests of Kentucky taxpayers and consumers who pay the bills.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.

Yet another think tank attempts to argue public sector investment -- even disregarding the fact that it's woefully insufficient -- is inappropriate for telecommunications infrastructure because telecommunications infrastructure is a competitive market. This is the falsity at the heart of the argument. It's not a competitive market because competitive markets by definition have many sellers and many buyers. Telecommunications infrastructure, however, is a natural monopoly or duopoly market because the high cost of building and maintaining it keep out potential new providers. That makes it like other high cost infrastructure such as roads and highways that are financed by the public and not private sector.

Mr. Waters is preying on economic ignorance to make a disingenuous argument and in so doing is rendering a great disservice at a time when the nation's telecommunications infrastructure is far behind where it should be in 2016 and for the future. He also employs a favored tactic of the dinosaur incumbents by focusing the discussion on "broadband speeds" in order to distract from the need to replace America's outdated metallic landline telecommunications infrastructure with modern fiber to the premise networks -- a thought trap that has ensnared most public policymakers and the mainstream and info tech media. It's time he and others stopped trying to postpone the future to protect last century's telephone and cable companies and allow technological progress to take its course into the 21st century.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

If a meter of FTTP was installed every time a politician uttered the phrase "Access to broadband is essential," the entire nation would be fibered by now

Congressional Rural Broadband Caucus Launches | Multichannel: “Access to broadband is essential," said (Bob) Latta, vice chairman of the House Communications Subcommittee in a statement.

If a meter of fiber to the premise telecommunications infrastructure was deployed for each time a politician repeated that phrase over the past 10 years, every American address would have a fiber connection in 2016.

Slogans stating an obvious need do nothing to address it. What's needed is a national policy and fully funded initiative to construct fiber to the premise infrastructure every American premise needs in the 21st century. And stop allowing 20th century legacy telephone and cable company dinosaurs to postpone the future to serve their own interests.

Legacy incumbents circle the wagons against WV telecom infrastucture initiative

Charleston Gazette-Mail | Senate OKs creating state-owned broadband network: The West Virginia Senate approved legislation Thursday that would create a state-owned broadband Internet network, but Frontier Communications and cable companies already are lobbying members of the House of Delegates to kill the bill. State senators voted 29-5 to build a fiber-optic network “zone by zone” across West Virginia, using money borrowed through the Water Development Authority, one of the few state agencies authorized to issue bonds.

The legislation (SB 315) aims to expand high-speed Internet in rural areas, drive down prices and bolster Internet speeds.“This bill is one that can really promote West Virginia and move our state forward,” said Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam. “Without this type of infrastructure, we aren't giving the people the opportunity to succeed.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael, a Frontier executive, sharply criticized the legislation on the Senate floor, saying the bill would discourage Internet providers from expanding existing broadband networks or building new ones. “The capital allocations are chilled when they know the government is going to be competing,” said Carmichael, R-Jackson. “The best way to deliver broadband is through the private sector. We don't have to always turn to government to solve technological issues.

If it were only a technological issue as Mr. Carmichael wrongly frames it, it would merely need a technological solution the private sector could provide. In fact, it's a market issue. The state is attempting to address private market failure to construct telecommunications infrastructure needed for the 21st century. In that regard, it's also not about market competition. By definition, competitive markets are not failed markets.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Curb your enthusiasm: Google Fiber won't likely serve "thousands" of municipalities

Google To Use City-Owned Network To Bring Fiber To Huntsville 02/22/2016: This private-public model for broadband could spread far beyond Huntsville, according to muni-broadband proponent Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's Community Broadband Networks Initiative."In many ways, I think this is a tremendously hopeful development," Mitchell tells MediaPost. "It gives cities a great confidence that if they build passive infrastructure, they will be able to work with ISPs."

Mitchell adds that many of the municipal officials he has spoken with recently have said they're willing to build fiber networks, but not provide broadband or telephone services. He adds that he expects a few other cities cities to follow Huntsville's lead in the next one to two years, and that "thousands" of municipalities could ultimately do so.

Thousands? Unlikely. Few local governments have the existing utility infrastructure or financial resources to build fiber to the premise networks serving their residents as they continue to recover from the 2008 economic collapse and face competing demands for other infrastructure such as roads and sewer systems and public pension obligations.

Facebook's Telecom Infra Project appears focused on mobile wireless and not premise service

Telecom Infra Project – The Telecom Infra Project (TIP) is an engineering-focused initiative driven by operators, infrastructure providers, system integrators, and other technology companies that aim to reimagine the traditional approach to building and deploying telecom network infrastructure.: The growth of the internet and the rise of data-intensive services like video and virtual reality require us all to collaborate on the development of new technologies, rethink how we deploy existing technologies, and focus on simplicity, flexibility, and efficiency in everything we do.

TIP will explore new approaches and technologies across three initial focus areas: access, backhaul, and core and management. The project groups within these areas will leverage the unique engineering and operational expertise of each member. They will focus on developing new technologies and exploring new approaches to deploying in both developed and emerging markets.

This Facebook-led R&D effort appears targeted at disrupting the mobile device market as the two illustrations on the left of the below schematic suggests. No mention is made of fiber optic to the premise telecom infrastructure needed to adequately serve homes, businesses and public institutions that can provide the robust bandwidth necessary for these settings. Premise service is dominated by stodgy, techno-averse telephone and cable dinosaurs with shitty service options and customer service and is also a fat target for massive disruption.





UTOPIA reconnoiters as resistance to local parcel fee halts PPP with Macquarie

Macquarie is probably dead, and that’s probably okay – Free UTOPIA!: While I wasn’t able to attend the latest UTOPIA board meeting (bit of a drive from Cedar City), I did get a summary of what was discussed during that meeting. One of the things that came up was the long-delayed Macquarie deal. For all intents and purposes, it’s most likely not going to happen. There appears to be slow action on a binding public vote and the utility fee was very unpopular (and wasn’t coming down). The board has voted to pay Macquarie what they are due and take those reports as valuable information to plan for the future with no further action.

As this blog reported last March, resistance to a utility parcel fee stalled progress on a public-private partnership between the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA) and an Australian firm that invests in public infrastructure projects, Macquarie Capital Group. That resistance created a massive stumbling block to the expansion and financial future of the UTOPIA regional fiber to the premise (FTTP) that serves 11 Utah municipalities.

Now nearly a year later as the blog cited above reports, that resistance has proven fatal to the partnership. In order for it to work under the long term financial plan prepared by Macquarie, the parcel fee was a necessary component of the partnership given that a public-private partnership by definition requires the contribution of public financial resources. No public contribution means no partnership, leaving the private partner like a single hand clapping.

This development is yet another example of the lack of adequate funding mechanisms at the state and local government level to ensure the construction of FTTP telecom infrastructure serving all American homes, businesses, and public institutions. The situation calls for an aggressive federal public works program to construct this needed infrastructure for the 21st century as I propose in my recently issued eBook Service Unavailable: America’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Crisis.

Telco CEO offers succinct description of FTTP market failure at network edge

Cincinnati Bell to Slow Fiber Build by 2017 | DSLReports, ISP Information: "Our buildout of fiber is 100 percent success-based and as long as we see the returns that are appropriate we're going to continue to build," Cincinnati Bell CEO Ted Torbeck told attendees of the company's earnings call.

"We anticipate by the end of the year we'll be somewhere over 60 percent and we fully anticipate that we'll be getting close to the upper range where in 2017 our build will decline significantly. The cost of the build is increasing as we expected as we build out and we're getting to the edge of the buildout and it's getting more expensive," the CEO added. "Once we reach the threshold where the margin decreases to the level is acceptable we'll stop the build.
A very succinct description of market failure in the words of a telco CEO that explains why private market forces cannot ensure the ubiquitous fiber to the premise infrastructure needed in the 21st century.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Why the "last mile problem" is a national problem

In the United States, telecommunications infrastructure deficiencies tend to be defined as a local or "last mile" problem. Residents of homes, businesses and government buildings have orders for services refused by providers because no infrastructure exists to deliver them. Or the cost of service is exorbitant, offering very poor value.

Since the problem typically manifests in a specific neighborhood or at a particular address, it's naturally seen as local problem. Particularly when premises just down the road, around the block or elsewhere in the neighborhood are offered service, a broader selection of services or service at considerably higher value.

But while the problem manifests locally, it is not fundamentally a local problem nor is it confined to a single area with a local root cause or causes. It's a microeconomic issue that occurs throughout the nation due to a common cause: market failure on the sell side due to incumbent telephone and cable companies deeming a neighborhood, road, street or even address not sufficiently profitable to serve -- even if consumers request service. It's known as redlining.

Local problems with local causes naturally lend themselves to local solutions. However, telecommunications infrastructure market failure and redlining and price gouging are not local in origin. They are the national business policy of the dominant incumbent providers that while not legal under current U.S. Federal Communications Commission rules, nevertheless are a widespread pattern and practice affecting similarly situated consumers. The resulting market failure is a national problem because telecommunications infrastructure is essentially interstate. National problems require national solutions.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Debate over government role in telecom needs to distinguish between infrastructure and services

Internet access tops Legislature’s list, despite questions of risk - OANow.com: Lee County: Alabama’s Republican legislators are championing a bill that, if passed, would make the state the first in the country to have broadband Internet in all of its public schools. Locally, Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, sponsored a bill to remove restrictions on the service area of a municipal public provider, like Opelika Power Services.

But David Williams, president of the National Taxpayers Protection Alliance based in Washington, D.C., argued that providing Internet is not the role of government. “I’ve been doing this for 23 years now,” Williams said, adding that he has been looking at municipal broadband projects for the last five years. “Providing broadband and cable TV services isn’t a core function of the government.

Williams' assertion needs to be broken down in order to engender a more informed debate. Let's stipulate he is correct insofar as providing digital media services isn't a core function of government, particularly given the critical role of a free and independent press in a democracy.

However, Williams ignores the fact that the providers of these services generally lack the telecommunications infrastructure in order to make them available to every home, school and business since their business models cannot support the capital investment necessary to build it. The resulting market failure has left some 14.7 million American homes without landline connections needed to deliver high quality data, graphics and video -- not to mention VOIP -- according to this analysis by Doug Dawson of CCG Consulting.

Government has a key role to remedy this market failure in telecom infrastructure by constructing fiber to the premise networks as public works just as they do roads and highways -- while leaving the services delivered over them to private providers.

Monday, February 15, 2016

California telecom infrastructure deficiencies concentrated in metro central, north valley counties


The large bulk of California’s deficient access to landline advanced telecommunications infrastructure manifests in the state’s central and north valley regions, concentrated in counties designated by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as urban metro counties.



Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/datafiles/Rural_Definitions/StateLevel_Maps/CA.pdf

The below state map produced by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium (h/t to Steve Blum of Tellus Venture Associates) shows areas designated by the California Public Utilities Commission as unserved and underserved for landline advanced telecommunications infrastructure are concentrated in and around the Central Valley municipalities of Modesto and Fresno, in the Sierra Nevada foothills east and northeast of the state capital of Sacramento in Placer and El Dorado counties, and up the Interstate 5 corridor in Sutter, Butte and Yuba counties to the Shasta County seat of Redding in far northern part of the state.

These are not sparsely populated areas as shown by the map’s legend, which indicates a large presence of census blocks with populations of 150 to 300 people per square mile (designated as orange) and more than 300 per square mile (designated as red). By definition, a portion of these census block areas is not even considered rural (population density of less than 250 per square mile) by the California Healthcare Workforce Policy Commission relative to the availability of medical services.


Source: Central Coast Broadband Consortium. http://map.centralcoastbroadbandconsortium.org/
Accessed February 14, 2016
 
The takeaway is America’s telecommunications infrastructure deficits and disparate access cannot be necessarily be described as a “rural broadband” issue, particularly when looking at the nation’s most populous state. The operative "R" word here is these areas have been redlined for telecom infrastructure modernization as have similar areas throughout the United States.

Monday, February 08, 2016

5 key indications of America's telecommunications infrastructure crisis

The crisis confronting the United States relative to modernizing its telecommunications infrastructure to support fiber connections for all occupied premises manifests in five key areas:

  1. Ongoing access disparities with 34 million Americans unable to obtain telecommunications service capable of delivering high-quality voice, data, graphics and video.
  2. Excessive reliance on the constrained, subscription-based business models of legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies to undertake needed infrastructure modernization and expansion.
  3. Underfunded state and local government efforts to build and subsidize telecommunications infrastructure modernization projects.
  4. Underfunded, restrictive federal government programs to subsidize telecom infrastructure serving rural regions based on obsolete technical standards.
  5. Tightly restrained private sector construction of fiber to the premise infrastructure, limited to selected major metropolitan area neighborhoods.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Modernizing telecom infrastructure too big of a job to be left to cities

101 US Cities Have Pledged to Secure High Speed Internet | Motherboard: The US has a big and rather complicated internet speed problem. Its broadband infrastructure is woefully behind in speed and price compared to a broad swath of other countries, and much of this has to do with its tenacious commitment to maintaining the status quo: that is, giving big telecommunications companies a lot of our money without being able to demand a fair amount in return. But here’s a change: 101 cities are have agreed to band together to bring their residents gigabit-speed internet connections, even if they have to build it themselves.

Municipal governments are justifiably concerned that not having modern fiber to the premise telecommunications infrastructure adversely affects their economies, making them less than desirable destinations for residents and businesses considering locating there. The problem is constructing and maintaining it isn't in the budgets of local governments still reeling in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis. Other infrastructure such as streets, public buildings and water and sewer systems are at the end of their useful lives, competing for any dollars that could be directed toward building telecommunications infrastructure. Local governments nationwide are also strapped with enormous public pension obligations.

Aside from these financial challenges, legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies regard their service areas as sovereign territories, deploying armies of lawyers and lobbyists to defend them from local governments hoping to build fiber to the premise infrastructure to remedy service deficits and access disparities. Thus far, no munis appear inclined to assert their jurisdictional authority by exercising inverse condemnation powers and/or creating Internet telecommunications franchises. Even if they did, it would likely result in costly litigation that would delay construction for years if not decades at a time when telecom infrastructure modernization is already a generation late.

These circumstances do not bode well for municipal telecom infrastructure efforts. Given the billions needed to upgrade the nation's legacy telecom infrastructure in order to bring fiber connections to every American home, school and business, a national telecommunications infrastructure modernization initiative is clearly needed. Telecom infrastructure doesn't serve only cities. It connects cities to their states, states to other states and the nation to the world. It supports interstate commerce and is fundamentally interstate in nature, not just urban or rural as it is often mischaracterized. Building interstate infrastructure is a national undertaking that can't be left to local governments to accomplish.
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