Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Blair Levin misses key distinction on advanced telecom infrastructure

A broadband agenda for the (eventual) infrastructure bill: Governors have internal agencies and incentives for spending federal discretionary funding on traditional infrastructure sectors like water, sewer, and roads, a point missed in the White House’s argument that money would flow to rural broadband. If we want universal connectivity, the reality is that we need dedicated funds.
Blair Levin's right. But he misses a crucial distinction. Current U.S. policy regards advanced telecommunications infrastructure not as infrastructure per se but rather as a commercial enterprise of selling "broadband" bandwidth to individual customer premises. Expanding it has thus involved tossing token sums (millions for infrastructure that costs billions) to mostly incumbent legacy telephone companies with no real strings attached and no universal service mandate -- unlike subsidies for analog voice telephone service over copper in high cost areas.

And since the focus has been on bandwidth, the debate over subsidization has bogged down over what constitutes adequate bandwidth -- a debate in which Levin has found himself mired in the rest of his piece. It's absurd since bandwidth isn't static and demand continues to grow rapidly with various connected devices and high definition video. Tragically, as the years long controversy over bandwidth adequacy continues, the United States continues to fall further behind where it should be: having fiber connections to every address and not just a select few. That is a real, solid definition of universal service.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Time to abolish the term "broadband" and progress to AT or IP

PUD plans internet questionnaire: Survey part of strategy to expand broadband | Peninsula Daily News: Community member Tom Thiersch said that the terms “broadband” and “high-speed” were used randomly and interchangeably in the survey. He felt the demographic questions were invasive and served little purpose. He said he would provide a marked-up copy of the survey for commissioners to review. Thiersch added that the survey responses will be part of the public record and subject to disclosure. Randy Trost, senior broadband consultant with Magellan — which was selected in December to provide planning services to the PUD, funded with a grant from the Community Economic Revitalization Board — told commissioners that broadband has several definitions. “The term broadband has become a little broad, no pun intended,” Trost said. “Someone who only has dial-up considers it broadband. The FCC has its definition. Everyone uses broadband differently."

A good argument to abolish the term "broadband." It's become an overused, misunderstood term overly prone to BS usage and the incumbent telco and cableco agenda to keep people fixated on throughput speed (so service can be sold in speed tiers) instead of modernizing legacy metallic infrastructure to fiber to the premise (FTTP). The term came into common use in the 1990s to differentiate it from narrowband, dialup and ISDN connections. Advanced telecommunications and Internet protocol (IP) telecommunications are more accurate descriptors. Or AT or IP for short.

Speed tests, "broadband surveys" no longer make sense in 2019

PUD plans internet questionnaire: Survey part of strategy to expand broadband | Peninsula Daily News: Commissioners aim to help expand access to broadband infrastructure throughout the county and will gather information though a survey of customers March 19-25.

“We are going to be getting more information on what internet and what broadband access is available in Jefferson County,” said Will O’Donnell, PUD communications manager. “We will be doing a survey of the county’s households and businesses to find out how they are using the internet, what kind of access they have and what kind of speeds they have,” he said. Denver-based Magellan Advisors worked with PUD staff and members of the Citizens Advisory Board broadband subcommittee to develop the fact-finding questionnaire that will be made available to customers through an online portal. A link to a speed test is part of the survey along with questions about cost, what the internet is used for and how reliable it is.

These kinds of surveys and "speed tests" might have made sense a generation ago when IP-based telecom was a novelty and people "went online" to browse websites and retrieve email. It would have been prudent to determine people's needs and preferences around a newly emerging pre-utility service before making plans to built it.

In 2019, it's antiquated, backward looking and no longer makes sense for future telecom infrastructure planning. Fiber to the premise (FTTP) is the infrastructure standard and not prone to throughput speed limits like earlier, metal cable technologies. Now that so much communication has migrated to Internet protocol-based services (voice, data and increasingly HD and UHD video) consuming an ever growing amount of bandwidth, there is no question about it.


Friday, March 08, 2019

"Broadband maps," mobile speed tests won't fix America's telecommuncations infrastructure deficiencies

NACo, Rural LISC and RCAP announce Bridging the Economic Divide Partnership: WASHINGTON, DC — The National Association of Counties (NACo), the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) and Rural LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) have partnered to address the critical need for affordable high-speed internet for rural communities across the country. Together, the three organizations developed a mobile app that gives mobile phone users the power to accurately identify areas with low or no internet connectivity and share that information to push for change. Armed with that data, the organizations will advocate for adequate funding for broadband infrastructure across the country.

TestIT Mobile App “TestIT” (available for iOS and Android) uses an open-source sampling tool developed by Measurement Lab (MLab) to aggregate broadband speeds from mobile device users across the country. Accurate data ensures that broadband infrastructure receives the investments needed to provide internet access to rural communities.
America's telecommunications infrastructure crisis is not due to lack of accurate data. Nor will more granular data promote the needed investment to fix it. Identifying the holes in its deplorable swiss cheese advanced telecom infrastructure -- be it by government sanctioned "broadband maps" or mobile speed tests -- won't remedy them because no one is out looking to fill them. Only government investment in the infrastructure can because there is no business case for private sector, investor owned providers to do so.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Municipal broadband internet: The next public utility? | Smart Cities Dive

Municipal broadband internet: The next public utility? | Smart Cities Dive: “Indeed, according to new data, over half of these municipal fiber systems fail to bring in enough revenue to cover their ongoing operating costs, bleeding red ink every day they operate and falling further and further into debt,” McAuliffe, who is also federal affairs manager at the conservative Americans for Tax Reform organization, wrote. “These bad investments crowd out other needs and, in the worst case, can put a city’s financial solvency at risk.”

This warning is grounded in the paradigm of so-called "take rate risk:" that too few premises will subscribe to advanced telecom connections. It's predicated on the now two-decade-old view of advanced telecommunications over Internet protocol as a cutting edge, luxury service that would be shunned by many. That's no longer the case. The expectation now is there be landline connections as common as voice telephone connections were in most of the 20th century. Particularly now that they deliver such a wide array of voice, data and video services. And unlike private sector, investor owned providers wholly reliant on subscription revenues, governments have other forms of financing available to them to build and operate advanced telecom networks.

The more real risk public sector owned advanced telecom projects face now is faulty financial planning and poor project management that leads to cost and budget overruns -- a common problem that many public works projects encounter. These can be managed by employing best practices and fails to support the view expressed here that only private sector, investor owned entities are competent to own and operate advanced telecom networks.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Tipping point may be at hand; advantage public sector ownership of advanced telecom infrastructure

Municipal broadband internet: The next public utility? | Smart Cities Dive: Despite many cities and counties looking to put together a municipal broadband initiative of their own, there remains strong opposition from telecom companies, as well as concerns over cost. While the CTC report found that municipal internet in Seattle is feasible, it also raised concerns about the price tag of the project, which is complicated by the fact that SCL cannot assume additional financial risk and so would need guaranteed payments to cover operations and maintenance.

The legacy incumbent investor owned telephone and cable companies have been conservative in modernizing their infrastructures to fiber and building out to reach every customer premise in their nominal service territories. It goes back two decades to the late 1990s when telephone companies offered digital subscriber line (DSL) as a luxury upgrade over standard sluggish dialup service. Soon thereafter, cable companies offered IP telecom services as an extra cost add on to create more lucrative service bundles beyond their traditional TV programming.

Naturally, these companies wanted to offer a high end upgrade product only where there were a sufficient number of densely developed neighborhoods with incomes high enough they would be a good bet to sign up. Those neighborhoods deemed too risky are redlined -- where too many of them remain today with some 19 million Americans lacking access to landline connections according to current U.S. Federal Communications Commission data. 

Now a tipping point may be at hand. Instead of being regarded as a luxury service as in the past, IP telecom service delivering voice, video and data is widely becoming viewed as a basic utility like voice telephone service was before it, with nearly every home, school, business and institutional building expected to have a landline connection. That shifting expectation alters the risk picture for investing in building universal fiber to the premise #FTTP. If most everyone will take the service, the risk of not generating sufficient revenues to cover capital and operational costs of the infrastructure decreases considerably. Particularly if it's offered at single price point affordable by most rather than costly, confusing and misleading offers that plague today's IP services. Yes, potentially lower ARPU, but a lot more end users to spread out the costs. And there should be subsidies for low income households; it's better they pay something rather than nothing because they can't afford it.

The public sector is beginning to see things as this story suggests. It has a major advantage over investor-owned ISPs in having access to far more patient capital that does not demand a rapid return on investment. Public sector owners of advanced telecom infrastructure also have an advantage in having more broad-based incentives to get it built in the form of what Paul de Sa, former head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, termed "positive externalities" in a white paper since retracted by the current FCC. That's an economic term referring to the beneficial, knock on impacts on economic activity, healthcare, property values and local tax bases, education, and transportation demand reduction when most every premise can get connected to modern, advanced telecom infrastructure.

That's not to say there's no role for investor owned players. They know how to build and operate advanced telecommunications networks and should partner with public sector owners to bring the United States to where it should be amid explosive demand that shows no signs of slowing down.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

U.S. falling well short of 2010 National Broadband Plan goal of 100 million homes passed by fiber next year

Small Fiber Builders Making an Impact | POTs and PANs: The research firm RVA, LLC conducted a study for the Fiber Broadband Association looking at the number of homes and businesses that are now passed and/or served with fiber. The numbers show that smaller fiber providers are collectively having a big impact on the industry.

RVA found that as of September 2018 there were 18.4 million homes with fiber, up from 15 million a year earlier.

Goal #1 of U.S. 2010 National Broadband Plan: 100 million homes have affordable #FTTP connections by 2020. With less than a year to go, it appears highly unlikely to be achieved.

Looking back a generation shows still unrealized U.S. policy vision

Excerpted from Service Unavailable: America’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Crisis (2015):

U.S policymaking on Internet infrastructure began shortly before the Internet was decommissioned as a government-run network in the mid-1990s. In 1993, the Clinton administration issued a policy framework titled The National Information Infrastructure: Agenda for Action.[i] It called for the construction of an “advanced National Information Infrastructure (NII),” described as “a seamless web of communications networks, computers, databases, and consumer electronics that will put vast amounts of information at users’ fingertips.” Development of the NII, the document stated, “can help unleash an information revolution that will change forever the way people live, work, and interact with each other.” For example:

· People could live almost anywhere they wanted, without foregoing opportunities for useful and fulfilling employment, by “telecommuting” to their offices through an electronic highway;

· The best schools, teachers, and courses would be available to all students, without regard to geography, distance, resources, or disability;

· Services that improve America’s health care system and respond to other important social needs could be available on-line, without waiting in line, when and where you needed them.

Among its nine principles and goals, the policy called for extending the universal service concept to ensure that information resources are available to all at affordable prices. “Because information means empowerment, the government has a duty to ensure that all Americans have access to the resources of the Information Age,” the policy declared.

In addition to this policy document, the Clinton administration sponsored legislation championed by then Vice President Al Gore, who foresaw the coming role Internet-based telecommunications would play in the future. The Telecommunications Infrastructure Act of 1993 created a framework for its integration with the Communications Act of 1934.[ii] The legislation, which was not enacted and died in Congress, included several findings. The first three findings stated that:

(1) it is in the public interest to encourage the further development of the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure as a means of enhancing the quality of life and promoting economic development and international competitiveness;

(2) telecommunications infrastructure development is particularly crucial to the continued economic development of rural areas that may lack an adequate industrial or service base for continued development;

(3) advancements of the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure will increase the public welfare by helping to speed the delivery of new services, such as distance learning, remote medical sensing, and distribution of health information.

[i] The National Information Infrastructure: Agenda for Action, September 15, 1993, https://archive.org/stream/04Kahle000911/04Kahle000911_djvu.txt

[ii] Senate Bill 1086 (103rd Congress, introduced June 9, 1993), https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/103/s1086.

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