Friday, April 13, 2018

U.S. doesn’t have a definitive “rural broadband” problem; it’s all about service area “footprints” and redlining

In the first part of the 20th century, U.S. policymakers appropriated funding to cooperatives and local governments to bring electrical and telephone service to rural America. As the century got underway, these utilities were offered only in cities – where investor-owned providers deemed them sufficiently profitable to build the necessary distribution infrastructure.

Many similarly describe the nation’s advanced telecommunications infrastructure deficiencies as a rural issue as it was for these utilities. It’s not that simple. True, the deficits tend to be greater in rural areas. But it’s not purely a matter of rural geography as it was many decades ago. Back then, entire rural regions lacked electric power and telephone infrastructure.

The situation today is different and more nuanced. Legacy telephone and cable companies first began offering always on “broadband” services using existing infrastructure starting in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It was offered not as a general telecommunications service, but as a premium “high speed” add on service in highly localized “footprints” in urban, suburban, exurban and rural areas compatible with their business models. Those models generally require capital build costs to be recovered in five years or less.

These highly granular "footprints" and the redlined areas outside of them -- passed over due to long durations to ROI and insufficient profit potential relative to the cost of building out infrastructure – cannot be compared to the large rural regions that lacked electrical and telephone service in the early 20th century. Consequently, building out advanced telecommunications infrastructure in the 21st century cannot be undertaken with a 1920s or 1930s perspective, framing it simply as a “rural broadband” issue.

Hence, the inability of “rural broadband” subsidy programs to close the gaps. Rural electrification and telephone subsidy programs were the right approach for their time. But that context does not easily translate to the complexities of modern advanced telecommunications infrastructure. Other factors beyond rurality come into play such as the number of occupied premises per mile of landline infrastructure and average income levels. The former trumps the latter as many high income homeowners in exurban areas without access to landline service can attest.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Legacy incumbent phone companies propaganda canard: Describing a duopoly as "intensely competitive"

Broadband Deployment & Competition Growing: Dedicated Federal Funding Needed to Close Digital Divide | USTelecom: U.S. Broadband Deployment Is Intensely Competitive. Our analysis also examines broadband deployment from the perspective of competition, which is not a focal area for the FCC’s legislatively mandated deployment analysis. U.S. providers have been deploying broadband infrastructure using a range of technologies for more than two decades. As a result, basic underlying competitive infrastructure from multiple providers is available in the vast majority of the country. On top of this foundational infrastructure, broadband providers invest tens of billions of dollars annually to upgrade networks with enhanced technologies, driving a competitive process of ever-expanding network capabilities The data indicate that competitive deployment is strong and growing, even at higher speeds. As of year-end 2016, 97 percent of Americans had at least one wired broadband network platform available to them and 86 percent had at least two wired options. Competitive availability – defined narrowly as at least two wired providers – at 25 megabits per second (mbps) download (DL) and 3 mbps upload (UL) was 50 percent at year-end 2016, up from 31 percent at year-end 2014 and 25 percent at year-end 2012. (Emphasis added).

Claiming that having a choice among two sellers constitutes an "intensely competitive market" is ludicrous. But that assertion is not to be taken literally on its face. The true intent of this propaganda from legacy incumbent telephone companies is to drive a perception that the line delivering telecommunications service to customer premises is somehow fundamentally different from the line that delivered voice telephone service decades before. True, advanced digital telecommunications can deliver data and video as well as voice. But that capability does not fundamentally alter the fact that a single line of fiber can deliver them all just as a copper one did for voice as well as optional custom calling services that came later.

The real goal of this cynical propaganda is to deceive public policymakers into thinking America's telecommunications infrastructure deficiencies can be solved by market forces. That may be true in a competitive market defined as one with many sellers and buyers with relatively equal access to quality and costs. It's certainly not the case for telecommunications infrastructure. Moreover, if market forces truly operated in telecommunications infrastructure, they would drive down deployment costs, making it more widely available on favorable terms to the millions of customers who use it and eliminate persistent infrastructure deficits.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

ACA Summit: Pai: Open Internet Order Was 'Galling Regulatory Onslaught’ | Multichannel

ACA Summit: Pai: Open Internet Order Was 'Galling Regulatory Onslaught’ | Multichannel: U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai praised smaller cable operators for broadband deployment and as a competitive force, and renewed his attacks on edge providers in the network neutrality rule debate. Pai took aim at edge providers he said had pushed Title II on ISPs large and small. Those edge providers are an increasingly familiar target in Washington in conversations about power over internet content.

"Silicon Valley tech giants with market caps in the hundreds of billions of dollars demanded that the FCC regulate small companies like yours more heavily than they were!," he said. "That’s right... [T]hey claimed that small broadband providers like Spencer Municipal Utilities and Laurens Municipal Utilities were anticompetitive monopolists who posed a greater threat to a free and open Internet than companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter."

The thing is Mr. Chairman, telecommunications infrastructure is a natural monopoly. It doesn't matter whether it's owned by big players like Charter and AT&T or small cable companies. It thus requires a regulatory scheme predicated on that monopolistic reality. The FCC's 2015 Open Internet rulemaking does so in treating it as a common carrier utility as basic telephone service was in the pre-Internet era under Title II of the Communications Act.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

U.S. can't solve its telecom infrastructure deficiencies until it accurately defines the problem

Senate Kicks Off Series of Infrastructure Hearings With Focus on Broadband | Broadcasting & Cable: The Senate Commerce Committee kicked off a series of infrastructure hearings Tuesday with one focused on broadband, including a big focus on collecting accurate date about where broadband is, and more importantly, isn't. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) presided, saying he was greatly encouraged by the President's support for programs to increase broadband infrastructure in rural areas. While the President said getting broadband to farmers was a priority, he didn't actually earmark any funds for broadband in his infrastructure plan, though he did say that $50 million would be going to rural infrastructure, with states free to use all or part of that for broadband. Congress is currently weighing the best way to deploy that service. Democrats like to factor cost and underserved communities in the equation, while Republicans -- and ISPs -- want the money targeted to the unserved, rather than overbuilding existing private investment with public money.

The adage that a problem cannot be solved until it's properly defined certainly applies here. America doesn't have a problem of communities being "underserved" by advanced telecommunications. The real problem is that it has failed to put in place policy and planning over recent decades to support the timely modernization of legacy metallic telephone and cable company infrastructure designed to support analog voice telephone service and cable TV to digital fiber optic infrastructure connecting all the nation's homes, businesses and institutions for the Internet era.

It's not accurate to describe the problem as one of entire "underserved communities." The real issue is existing public policy that does not support universal service but rather the redlining of discrete neighborhoods and even parts of roads and streets by landline ISPs in both rural and non-rural areas of the nation.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

FCC Chair Pai falsely characterizes satellite Internet as innovative telecom technology

MARCH 12, 2018

Next-generation satellites are bringing new competition to the broadband marketplace and new opportunities for rural Americans who have had no access to high-speed Internet access for far too long. That’s why the FCC under my leadership has moved quickly to give a green light to satellite innovators.

Here, U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai falsely characterizes satellite delivered Internet connectivity as innovative. It is not. It's been around since the 1990s as a forced option for Americans who needed better than glacial dialup Internet access over legacy copper telephone lines but weren't offered DSL or later by cable companies.

We’ve also made satellite broadband providers eligible for our upcoming Connect America Fund Phase II reverse auction, which will provide up to $2 billion over ten years to expand broadband deployment in rural America. To be sure, I understand that the satellite industry disagreed with some of the decisions that the FCC made in developing rules for the reverse auction. We are forging new ground with this first-of-its-kind auction, and in doing so we had to make some hard choices. But, I nonetheless hope that satellite companies will study this opportunity closely and choose to participate in the reverse auction. 

This is an incredible waste of subsidy funding. With satellite, the FCC is subsidizing a substandard and kludgy form of connectivity subject to high latency and bandwidth usage caps. Subsidies should instead go to deploying fiber to the premise connections that offer far superior connectivity and aren't as subject to obsolescence.

Monday, March 12, 2018

U.S."bandwidth problem" direct consequence of massive policy failure

The moving target: The amount of bandwidth required to make people happy increases each year as the benefits of broadband increase. What looked like a good technical solution a few years ago may not look like one today. That means any true solution must be future proof. Providers in the United States have made great strides toward modernizing their network infrastructure, and they continue to do so. But truly solving the bandwidth problem will require a national commitment to ensuring a world-class infrastructure. 

So writes Masha Zager, editor in chief of Broadband Communities magazine in her column appearing in the the January-February 2018 issue. Zager's column is titled The Bandwidth Problem. The origins of that problem stem from a massive policy failure dating back to the early 1990s. Public and regulatory policy regarded advanced digital telecommunications as a luxury add on to legacy telephone and cable TV services.

That perspective badly hobbled the necessary modernization of America's metallic cable infrastructure designed for 20th century analog telephone and cable TV service to fiber optic to the premise infrastructure for advanced digital telecommunications in the 21st -- the world class infrastructure referred to by Zager. It also established a mindset of bandwidth poverty instead of bandwidth abundance.

Consequently, a generation later the nation is limping along, trapped in a continuous, frustrating cycle of infrastructure failing to keep up with burgeoning bandwidth demand and the embarrassment of Americans still forced to use dialup and satellite services. Also absent is the national commitment that Zager calls for to address the problem. That commitment should be to solve it once and for all with a declaration of a war on bandwidth poverty and an aggressive national initiative to fast track construction of a fully fibered telecommunications network reaching every American doorstep.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Big ISPs once again at odds with local governments over universal service demands

FCC says small cells will close the digital divide. Most say they won't | Center for Public Integrity: The FCC’s claim doesn’t convince officials in Lincoln, Nebraska, which experienced the same reluctance as Montgomery County did by wireless companies willing to deploy small cells to rural areas, said David Young, manager of fiber infrastructure and rights of way for the city. In 2015, when Lincoln officials were negotiating with Verizon Communications Inc. over how much the city would charge the company to attach small cells to municipal property, the city said it would charge the carrier an annual $95 fee — if the carriers would commit to deploying broadband in rural areas in Nebraska. Over the next two years, Lincoln offered the same deal to other carriers and builders. Young said the companies said they couldn’t commit to anything. So, Lincoln went ahead with an agreement that have the companies paying $1,995 a year to attach small cells to city poles, more than 20 times as much. If Pai is serious about 5G closing the digital divide, Young said, “then I’ll make that deal: You cannot deploy any small cells in an urban environment until all the rural markets are covered. Until we can make that deal, I'm calling foul” on the assertion 5G will help close the digital divide.

The deal here is the essentially the same one local governments proffered to cable companies that wanted a franchise. Serve all premises within our jurisdiction or no deal. No cherry picking and neighborhood redlining. Cable companies didn't want to have to meet universal service demands in franchise negotiations and went over their heads to state governments in the mid 2000s and lobbied them to preempt the localities and take sole authority over so-called "video franchises." That preempted local government leverage.

Now local governments are pressing big telcos for universal service such as Lincoln is here. The telcos don't like the demands for universal service and are once again seeking preemptive relief from federal and state governments. Large telephone and cable companies also successfully lobbied the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to scuttle its 2015 Open Internet rulemaking classifying Internet service providers as common carrier telecommunications utilities, subjecting them to universal service and anti-redlining requirements.

Playing the preemption card again to avoid universal service obligations and continuing to leave many homes, schools and small businesses without connecting infrastructure to advanced telecommunications services will likely backfire on big telcos (and cablecos looking to get into mobile wireless services). Angry voters who have gone more than a decade with limited or no service options are increasingly likely hold elected policymakers who side with them in this fight accountable at the polls.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Google Fiber reconnoiters, seeks 10x advantage over incumbents with fiber deployment

Ruth Porat on Google Fiber pause: At the Morgan Stanley Technology Conference, where Porat was speaking, an analyst asked about Fiber's change in strategy and the company's new milestones. Porat said that Fiber's rollout has been paused until the company finds a way to make the service 10 times better. "As we were looking at our rollouts going back to 2015, 2016, our view was that we had not done enough," Porat said. She said that Fiber hadn't achieved its "10x moment," which is Google-speak for getting a 10-fold improvement over existing technology.
It's been a tough couple of years for Fiber. Launched in 2010 with the promise of bringing fast and affordable internet service to municipalities across the country, the initiative has endured cost-cutting measures, layoffs and two CEO resignations since becoming part of the Alphabet unit Access. Porat said that Alphabet was holding off on pushing Fiber into new markets until it could find a better way to "bring technology to bear in a meaningful way." She said that the company won't start "accelerating the rollout" again until it can prove that it has a valuable new deployment and delivery method.

Google Fiber faltered because it offered no overwhelming technological, cost or marketing advantage over legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies. AT&T even mocked it as a bumbling rookie as it paused fiber infrastructure deployment in several U.S. metro areas last year. Now it's reconnoitering until it can find one.

Last October, Phil Dampier of Stop the Cap! penned this post mortem on Google Fiber's ill fated initial foray into fiber to the premise (FTTP). To achieve that 10x deployment advantage, Google Fiber will have to develop an innovative FTTP deployment methodology that is far less labor intensive given labor accounts for the vast majority of fiber deployment costs. And one that doesn't involve the ponderous mass digging up of streets and front yards to bury fiber conduit.

As former Google advisor and co-founder Larry Page put it in Dampier's blog post, "There’s no flying-saucer shit in laying fiber." But it will have to find some (and maybe enlist the help of some of those flying saucers) in order to achieve the radical workaround it needs to rocket past slow moving incumbents as well as new entrants hobbled by high construction costs.

Barring extraterrestrial technological assistance, Google Fiber might look at more conventional albeit cutting edge technology to reduce the labor cost of hanging fiber on utility poles such as employing UAVs to lift fiber spans between poles as installers make the connections and splices.
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