Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Outmoded 1990s thinking retards U.S. telecom infrastructure modernization

Digitally Unconnected in the U.S.: Who’s Not Online and Why? | NTIA: But what about those Americans who do not use the Internet? Whether by circumstance or by choice, millions of U.S. households are not online, and thus unable to meaningfully participate in the digital economy. Data from NTIA's July 2015 Computer and Internet Use Supplement to the Current Population Survey confirm that the digital divide persists. In 2015, 33 million households (27 percent of all U.S. households) did not use the Internet at home, where families can more easily share Internet access and conduct sensitive online transactions privately. Significantly, 26 million households--one-fifth of all households--were offline entirely, lacking a single member who used the Internet from any location in 2015.
This report reflects the limited thinking that retards the direly needed modernization of telecommunications infrastructure in the United States. It adopts a one-dimensional view of modern telecommunications rooted in the later 1990s and early 2000s when internet protocol-based telecommunications solely meant going on line with a computer, using dialup or DSL where it was being rolled out.

Nearly two decades later, the internet isn't just about going online, particularly as legacy telephone companies look to retire their aged and obsolete copper cable plants and fiber to the premise (FTTP) obsoletes metallic cable and can support multiple telecom services. Internet protocol also supports voice service (Voice Over Internet Protocol) as well as video, both one way and interactive. It's a multi-modal telecommunications platform.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Why market competition cannot remedy America’s lousy telecom service

Almost daily, the justifiable criticism of the lousy state of America’s telecommunications service includes the demand for more competition as the solution. Providing more competition – and specifically as fiber to the premise (FTTP) -- for indolent incumbent legacy telephone and cable companies in no hurry to modernize their aging and increasingly obsolete metallic infrastructures will provide superior service and value for consumers. Sound good in theory, but completely misguided.

Telecommunications is not and will never be a truly competitive market where consumers can select among many sellers. The economics simply don’t allow it because it costs too much to enter the market and the return on investment under the dominant, vertically integrated, subscription-based business model is too skimpy or too far in the future to attract would be competitors. If telecommunications were a truly competitive market, consumers no matter where they live would have multiple sellers and services from which to choose just as they do other consumer offerings. Cherry picking in a few select metro markets as we’ve seen with Google Fiber and AT&T’s “Gigaweasel” as fellow blogger Steve Blum dubs it is hardly robust market competition.

That’s a key distinction. Telecommunications is not a consumer market. It’s a natural monopoly market and the incumbents have established their place in it. And they vigorously defend that place. That’s not evil as Susan Crawford recently pointed out. The incumbents are merely doing what they must do to faithfully and diligently serve the interests of their shareholders no matter how smarmy, greedy or disingenuous it may appear at times. Shareholders come first, market demand second. And the interests of the demand side of the market can easily remain in second place in a natural monopoly market because there is and won’t be any pressure to offer more to maintain market share because market share is assured. The market will accept whatever it’s offered because it has no choice – and cannot have meaningful choice. That’s why consumers complain service sucks equally between legacy telcos and cable providers.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Light-based quantum Internet protocol requires FTTP

Particle teleportation across Calgary marks 'major step' toward creation of 'quantum internet' - Calgary - CBC News: In a "major step" toward practical quantum networking, researchers at the University of Calgary have successfully demonstrated the teleportation of a light particle's properties between their lab and the city's downtown area, six kilometres away.
It doesn't exist yet, but the dream of a "quantum internet" involves taking advantage of a key element of quantum mechanics — the fact that observing a particle's quantum state changes that particle's quantum state. This creates the opportunity to communicate with a degree of security never before possible, because no one can intercept a communication without the intended receiver of the information knowing about it.

A couple of takeaways here:
  1. A light-based Internet protocol will require fiber optic to the premise (FTTP) communications infrastructure. The metallic infrastructures of the legacy telephone and cable companies that dominate today aren't going to cut it. (A bonus: fiber is non-conducting and thus invulnerable to high energy solar flares.)

  2. Quantum-based encryption as described here looks even more hack proof that the current cutting edge blockchain technology.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Relying on legacy incumbents, state government for telecom infrastructure modernization -- That dog don't hunt

Rural residents push for broadband | Local News | daltondailycitizen.com: After hearing from frustrated residents and community leaders, Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, who co-chairs the committee, sought to reassure service providers. "We need the Windstreams, the AT&Ts, the Comcasts," he said. "We're not running anybody off. We're trying to keep them here, keep their jobs here, but encourage more investment." One proposal is the elimination of a sales tax on telecommunications network equipment. Others have recommended boosting coverage by restoring state funding for local public-private projects and doing more to hold companies accountable when their service is not as advertised.

As they say in the south, that dog don't hunt. The "Windstreams, the AT&Ts, the Comcasts" aren't going to invest in telecom infrastructure to fill in service area gaps in any reasonable timeframe because the ROI is simply too far in the future to justify the investment to their shareholders.

Expecting state government to step up with the billions in needed funding isn't realistic either. A robust, well funded national telecommunications infrastructure initiative is needed.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

FCC Commissioner Pai's deeply flawed "Digital Empowerment Agenda"

Ajit Pai, a member of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, has proposed a "Digital Empowerment Agenda" relying on tax incentives to promote telecom infrastructure investment. Pai's proposal is deeply flawed because it:
  • Assumes tax breaks combined with regulatory streamlining will eliminate the massive telecom infrastructure disparities in the United States. Pai need only ask legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies (and Google Fiber) why he's misguided. They will tell him the primary impediment is the return on infrastructure investment is too far in the future in certain areas and neighborhoods to justify investment. Net present value is zero or below. That's a fundamental challenge of the investor-owned, vertically integrated business model to when it comes to infrastructure capable of supporting modern advanced, telecom services. Tax incentives and regulatory streamlining may help the math, but aren't alone going to make the business case for investment and eliminate disparities.
  • Reinforces existing infrastructure disparities by offering incentives for landline infrastructure in some areas of the nation but only mobile wireless in others that is inadequate for premise service.

Failure of Google's "Homes with Tails" concept correlates to dearth of consumer telecom coops

Britain mulling broadband speed disclosure for every home - AlphaBeatic: The idea is reminiscent of “Homes with Tails,” a paper published back in 2008 by Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu and Google public policy manager Derek Slater. In the paper, the duo envisioned a future where consumers owned the fibre connections to their homes, obviating the need to go through an ISP to connect to the internet. Such fibre connections would lower the cost of internet service and raise the value of the homes. A typical home with a fibre connection was worth $4,000 (U.S.) more than one without, the duo argued.

Home ownership of fibre was attempted in Ottawa several years ago, but the idea never got off the ground. Bill St. Arnaud, the project’s founder, attributed the problems to central exchange providers, who were unwilling to open up their networks to allow competition for the likes of Bell and Rogers. There was also the issue of trying to convince home owners to spring for building the fibre connections, which can run thousands of dollars. Consumers are accustomed to effectively renting their internet connections, rather than owning them, so it may have been an idea ahead of its time.

This also explains why consumer telecom cooperatives have not sprung up in the United States to build and own fiber infrastructure serving member premises. People have been conditioned to see telecommunications as a consumer commodity purchased from a centralized corporate provider. Even though these monopolistic providers have no incentive to avoid redlining neighborhoods they don't want to serve and have a lousy customer service ethic, people would rather bitch about shitty service options when renting their telecommunications circuit than pony up a few thousand dollars to own it and set their own terms of service. Even when that investment would raise the value of their property by amount of the investment as research has shown. Brings to mind the old adage that one gets what one pays -- or not -- for a product or service.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Why state and local government are ill equipped to modernize U.S. telecom infrastructure

West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council Chairman Seeks Gigabit Internet Statewide: (TNS) -- The new chairman of a governor-appointed panel wants to set a lofty goal for broadband speeds in West Virginia: Make gigabit internet service available statewide.

*  *  *
“I applaud your thought, but I think, at this point, it’s a very unrealistic goal,” said council member Robert Cole, adding that the 1-gigabit service would require extensive excavation work to install large high-speed fiber lines. “If we scare [internet providers] off, they’re going to put up a wall. Getting their cooperation is key.

This exchange encapsulates the challenge confronting state and local governments eager to modernize their telecommunications infrastructures to universally available fiber to the premise (FTTP) as an economic development strategy. There is currently no viable business model to finance it in either the private or public sectors.

The amount of investment capital needed is too high and the ROI too long for private investment capital. That's why investor-owned telecom providers have only sparingly deployed FTTP -- in discrete, compact neighborhoods they believe will generate sufficient revenue to offset construction and maintenance costs.

On the public side, state and local governments struggle with their existing obligations including maintaining roads and highways and water and sewer systems as well as accumulated public pension obligations. That reality leaves states like West Virginia here to engage in a pointless debate over "broadband speeds" which isn't really relevant when it comes to FTTP given the technology's enormous capacity compared to legacy metallic telephone and cable networks.


Thursday, September 08, 2016

Universally available advanced telecom infrastructure requires public ownership

EU seeks to spur fast broadband roll-out with telecoms reform | Reuters: The costs of running optic fiber - which can deliver speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second - into households are high. Telecoms operators such as Orange, Deutsche Telekom and Telecom Italia have long complained that the current rules forcing them to open up their networks to competitors at regulated prices do not allow them get a decent return on investment.

Unbundling of Networks Elements (UNE) is a key part of the 1996 amendment of the U.S. Communications Act. The thinking was this would hasten the availability of advanced communications services by spurring competition among service providers. The problem however is those advanced services require infrastructure upgrades and fiber to the premise -- upgrades the vertically integrated incumbent telephone companies are loath to make since they would have to share them with other service providers offering competing services. Meanwhile, 20 years after the enactment of the amendment, the United States suffers from widespread infrastructure access disparaties, with some premises still only offered the same dialup service that was available in 1996.

That's not to imply that the EU's approach is the right one since it like U.S. policy is overly reliant on competitive market forces that have limited effect in telecommunications infrastructure owned by vertically integrated, investor-owed players that want to protect their natural monopolies and cherry pick and redline down to the neighborhood level. Achieving universal advanced telecommunications service thus requires public ownership of the infrastructure.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Limited thinking major obstacle in telecom infrastructure modernization

Rapid climb in California's broadband speeds and use: The average speed at which Californians connected to Akamai’s content delivery network in the first quarter of 2016 was 16.4 Mbps, according to Akamai’s State of the Internet Report for the first quarter of 2016. Despite lagging behind U.S. leaders, that’s stilll a healthy jump from a year earlier, when the average was 13.6 Mbps, and a huge improvement over the 5.7 Mbps we were clocking five years ago – a 188% improvement.
This exemplifies a big part of addressing the challenge of modernizing America's telecommunications infrastructure for the digital age: how we think about it. Our thinking tends to be constrained and parochial, measuring success based on throughput speeds and limited to a given state or local jurisdiction rather than conceptualizing it as essential interstate infrastructure connecting every American home, business and institution.

State rep flustered by AT&T FTTP deployment to unspecified areas of Bradley County, Tennessee

Report: State broadband access lacking | The Cleveland Daily Banner: The debate is now continuing over whether Tennessee should change its laws allowing municipalities, such as Chattanooga’s EPB, to extend its broadband service footprint into adjacent areas. Communication conglomerates such as AT&T and Verizon have been vigorous in their fight against such measures saying any competition between government and private companies would not be fair. There are those who argue that point, particularly noting AT&T has received hundred of millions of dollars in federal subsidies that are supposed to aid in providing broadband access to rural areas.

AT&T announced Aug. 25 it would be introducing its fiber network to “areas of Bradley County.” State Reps. Kevin Brooks and Dan Howell, who have spearheaded efforts in Nashville to change the laws, questioned why the announcement said “areas” of the county. “What areas exactly? Why not all areas of Bradley County?” Brooks asked in a statement to the Cleveland Daily Banner in response to the announcement.

The answer, Rep. Brooks:

1. Whatever areas we cherry pick because the FCC isn't enforcing its Open Internet rules classifying Internet service as a common carrier telecommunications utility requiring universal service and barring redlining.

2. Even if it did, we couldn't afford to comply and would have to go bankrupt.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Russ Feingold calls for making internet a utility | Local | lacrossetribune.com

Russ Feingold calls for making internet a utility | Local | lacrossetribune.com: Feingold called for a “robust” federal program of broadband build-outs by both private and public providers to bring rural residents up to the same level of service as people in the city, at similar rates — similar to federal subsidies in the 1930s that expanded electricity to those same areas. “This needs to be a utility,” Feingold said. “Everybody needs to have it. You can’t let these three big companies have control.”
Feingold's on the right track here. States and local governments aren't up to the monumental task of modernizing the nation's telecommunications infrastructure from the metallic networks used for decades by telephone and cable companies to fiber to the premise (FTTP).

Feingold's also correct in asserting that the United States cannot rely on these legacy companies to ensure universal service. I propose a similarly aggressive approach in my 2015 eBook Service Unavailable: America's Telecommunications Infrastructure Crisis, calling for a crash federal telecommunications infrastructure modernization initiative to bring the nation to where it should be now and will need to be going forward.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

A refreshingly honest assessment from AT&T: Building advanced telecom infrastructure is "tough."

AT&T rips Google Fiber - Business Insider: Google's service has been a big threat to AT&T and other telcos since it promised to offer faster internet speeds at lower prices. But a series of recent reports noted that Google's broadband service has garnered disappointing subscription numbers and is scrambling for a new wireless-based model as it cuts back the size of its staff. The two corporate giants have clashed before, including ongoing legal battles over access to utility poles. But the latest salvo by AT&T, which reads as part take-down, part tantrum, stands out for the undisguised derision and sarcasm it heaps on Google, while touting what it says is its own $140 billion investment in broadband.

"Moral of the story," writes AT&T VP of federal regulatory Joan Marsh, "Building reliable, ubiquitous high-speed broadband connectivity is tough."

A refreshingly honest assessment here. AT&T certainly knows it's hard building ubiquitous advanced telecommunications infrastructure, particularly when it like other legacy providers is hamstrung by a vertically integrated, "bill and keep," subscription-based business model that requires selling one customer premise at a time. The evidence: the widespread infrastructure gaps in its nominal "service territory."

If the United States continues to rely on this impaired business model, it will continue to suffer from inadequate infrastructure and disparate service access for decades to come.
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