Friday, June 29, 2007

California Broadband Task Force issues report on state government actions to increase broadband access

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration has released the first report of the administration's Broadband Task Force formed late last year. The task force was formed under an executive order issued in October 2006 to "identify and eliminate obstacles to making broadband internet access ubiquitous in the state."

The June 25 report identifies actions state agencies can take to "immediately promote broadband access and usage." As might be expected since it's focused on administrative agency actions, there's little in the report that addresses the fundamental "last mile" problem that leaves many Californians cut off from wireline-based broadband services that aren't offered to them by the telco/cable duopoly.

The task force is due to issue a second report in October that "lays out a vision for California to be the model state where barriers to broadband access and adoption are eliminated."

Falling U.S. broadband penetration rate called "national embarassment"

Newsweek is out with an article reporting the United States has fallen to 15th place among economically developed nations when it comes to the number of households with broadband Internet access.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps is quoted as calling the findings by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development a "national embarrassment."

Copps describes the growing gap between America's broadband haves and have nots as the nation's most recent infrastructure challenge and one that demands rapid action.

"Every generation in America has had an infrastructure challenge. And the response has been canals, turnpikes, railroads and the interstates," he told Newsweek. "But in the 21st century, it seems that no one is looking out for us. We're frittering our future away."

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Revamp wireless USF charge to subsidize wireline broadband, Qwest reportedly urges FCC

The Denver Post reports Colorado-based telco Qwest wants the Federal Communications Commission to change the formula for wireless phone surcharges for the Universal Service Fund (USF).

Qwest is proposing that the wireless surcharge be applied on a per household rather than per customer basis. The difference between the two methods is estimated to be around $500 million, which Qwest says should be set aside to subsidize wireline broadband deployment.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tahoe fire could end persistent broadband black hole

If the fire lines continue to hold, there could be a silver lining for a Lake Tahoe area neighborhood hard hit by this week's devastating Angora Fire.

The neighborhood in the path of the wildfire has been one of El Dorado County's most puzzling and persistent broadband black holes. Despite a reasonable density of residences, there's no broadband from AT&T and the local cable franchisee, Charter Communications, reportedly pulled its equipment out of the area some months back.

Last year, resident Patti Handal (whose home has apparently been spared thus far) submitted a petition signed by 600 of her neighbors to AT&T demanding it stop stalling and roll out wireline-based broadband services. Patti also enlisted El Dorado County Supervisor Norma Santiago to argue the residents' case to AT&T officials.

Now there's a glimmer of hope that out of the ashes the long suffering neighborhood might finally come in from the dark side of the digital divide and go broadband.

An AT&T official was quoted in Tahoe Daily Tribune as saying new fiber-optic cable will be laid today in damaged areas. I hope it brings wireline broadband to beleaguered residents whose homes survive the inferno and something to look forward to for all residents, including those less fortunate who opt to rebuild.

Monday, June 25, 2007

CWA calls its broadband survey results "deeply troubling"

The Communications Workers of America has been hounding the telcos that employ them to get off the dime and upgrade their broadband networks. CWA accurately complains that current telco broadband deployments are a disorganized "hodge podge" that leaves many customers mired in broadband black holes while others get service.

To build its case, the union recently conducted a web-based survey in which visitors tested their broadband connection speeds and recorded their location.

The results, CWA concludes are "deeply disturbing," showing a median download speed of 1.9 megabits per second (mbps), which it called "positively sluggish" compared to other countries. In France, for example, the median download speed is 17 mbps, 45 mbps in South Korea and 61 mbps in Japan.

The 1.9 mbps median speed means half of those who took the CWA speed test are higher than that number and half are lower. Had more dial up users taken the test, the median speed would be even lower, CWC noted. Only five percent of the test takers used dial up connections, compared to 30 to 40 percent of the country who are still using dial up CWA said.

The CWA survey results feature a map of the U.S. that allows users to check average reported download and upload speeds by state, county and ZIP code.

CWA President Larry Cohen blamed weak regulatory policy for America's broadband gap. "Our nation's current plan of allowing the market to determine who gets true high speed and who doesn't is bad public policy," he said.

CWA said it's delivering the report to every member of Congress and added it supports pending Senate legislation, the Broadband Data Improvement Act that would require the federal government to collect and evaluate detailed data on the current state of high speed internet deployment.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

More telco baloney courtesy of Qwest

Telco Qwest is having a fit over local Colorado governments that want it to tell them where and when it plans to build upgraded broadband infrastructure to enable it to offer Internet Protocol TV.

The Denver-based telco complains that doing so is divulging trade secrets and would tip off competing cable companies of its plans.

Baloney! Markets are made by what is actually offered, not what is planned. The real issue is all about buildout. All too often, the telco/cable duopoly wants to put in place incomplete systems that leave entire neighborhoods without access to advanced broadband services. Local governments are right to demand providers serve all of their residents and not leave gaping broadband black holes.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ma Bell frustrated with doubts over U-Verse

AT&T is apparently growing frustrated with analyst and media doubts that its hybrid fiber to the node (FTTN) and bonded copper pair over last mile "Project Lightspeed/U-Verse" effort can competitively deliver Internet protocol TV (IPTV) programming and HDTV in particular.

Ernie Carey, vice president of AT&T's Advanced Network Technologies, told Reuters at the NXTcomm communications conference in Chicago that AT&T doesn't suffer from bandwidth inadequacy. Instead, Carey spun into a different issue: hiring enough techs to install its IPTV infrastructure.

"Everyone in the media wants to make the bandwidth a bigger issue than I believe it is," he said. "I would tell you my belief is the biggest challenge right now is finding ways to go faster in the build."

Based on AT&T's failed effort to speed deployment of Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) broadband earlier in the decade with its so-called "Project Pronto" and its continued inability to provide broadband to large portions of its service area years later, I think the media and the pundits have good reason to suspect Ma Bell has hatched another flight challenged turkey in U-Verse.

FCC chair says USF funding should subsidize broadband

CHICAGO -(Dow Jones)- Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin on Tuesday specifically endorsed the use of money in the Universal Service Fund to subsidize broadband deployment in rural parts of the U.S.

The comments from Martin, who was speaking via a video link at the NXTcom telecommunications conference in Chicago, mark the first time he has explicitly said that the fund should be used to speed up the deployment of broadband service.

Feds betting big on WiMAX

Forbes magazine is reporting today that the Federal Communications Commission and some in Congress are betting heavily on WiMAX technology to provide a wireless broadband alternative to the telco/cable duopoly.

They aren't the only ones. Forbes reports Yahoo!, Google, eBay, Intel , Skype and satellite TV providers EchoStar and DirectTV also want a so-called broadband "third pipe" installed to break the telco/cable choke hold whose incomplete wireline systems fail to bridge the "last mile" to bring broadband to far too many residences.

The FCC wants to auction off television broadcast frequencies currently used by TV channels 52 to 69 that will become available in 2009 when TV broadcasters are required by the FCC to convert from analog to digital transmission.

Forbes reports there are concerns that telcos like AT&T and Verizon could buy up the frequencies not to use them, but to keep them off the market in order to protect their wireline-based systems, prompting consumer groups to advocate for auction rules that would disallow the practice.

The FCC is also reviewing a wireless broadband concept being advanced by a coalition comprised of Dell, EarthLink, Google, HP, Intel, Microsoft, and Philips Electronics. A prototype device has been submitted for FCC testing by the White Space Coalition that uses different transmission technology to beam ultra-fast wireless broadband via unused "white spaces" in the current analog TV broadcast spectrum. It could come on line as early as February 2009 if approved.

The next year or so will likely determine if wireless broadband can become a viable "third pipe" alternative beyond the current coffee shop and airport Wi-Fi connections and which -- if any -- of these wide area wireless broadband technologies will provide that sought after third pipe.

Monday, June 18, 2007

AT&T sells broadband at $10 a month while others go begging

I don't know which is more pathetic: the story or the headline AT&T Lures Dialup Holdouts with Discount DSL Service.

The item illustrates how blatantly distorted AT&T's broadband market strategy has become where too many AT&T subscribers can't get wireline-based broadband at any price -- even $50 a month -- let alone at a "lifeline" rate of 10 bucks a month.

And as for "broadband holdouts," the real holdout is Ma Bell herself and her intransigent refusal to deploy broadband to many neighborhoods where customers are left without a choice for wireline broadband and left twisting in the wind on the dark side of the digital divide.

Seems to me that it's time for new management at AT&T that instead of turning a blind eye to unserved markets looks for ways of profitably serving them. Selling DSL at $10 a month while leaving vast areas without wireline-based broadband simply doesn't make sense.

Clearwire in WiMAX alliance with satellite TV providers

This deal looks at bit sketchy at first glance. On one hand, it makes some sense inasmuch as many satellite TV subscribers live in areas where over the air TV broadcast reception is poor and there's no wireline broadband infrastructure from the telco/cable duopoly.

Many of these folks would likely prefer a fixed terrestrial wireless option that provides broadband faster and cheaper than satellite ISPs such as WildBlue and HughesNet.

On the other hand, however, there are few if any proven WiMAX deployments in these areas that have an established track record. I asked Clearwire how its service would overcome rugged terrain and tall trees which are often found in areas that lack wireline broadband. Tellingly, the company demurred, declining to respond to the inquiry.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Ma Bell forsakes existing customers, deploys fiber for new ones

AT&T doesn't give a rat's patootie for its existing customer base, large numbers of which have no wireline broadband options at all.

New customers however get first class treatment and state of the art fiber optic connections to the Internet.

Way to go, Ma Bell! If you don't want your existing customer base and thus don't want to invest in it, why don't you sell it off instead of letting it die on the copper vine?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Virginia governor makes broadband access a priority

The governor's office is forming a Broadband Roundtable to develop a plan for ensuring broadband access for every Virginia business. The roundtable is to be led by former Gov. Mark Warner and Virginia Secretary of Technology Aneesh Chopra.

"Broadband access is a priority for my administration, and we intend to build on the successes of the Warner Administration, which worked to install 700 miles of broadband in our rural communities," Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said in a news release.

North Carolina municipalities attack proposed state franchise bill as uncompetitive

Where the private sector telco/cable duopoly won't provide broadband Internet access, local governments that have long been in the utility business want to step up. But local government officials complain duopoly-backed legislation, the Local Government Fair Competition Act, is really protectionist and would result in less competition and less densely populated areas being cut off from broadband access.

Mooresville Mayor Bill Thunburg agreed. "Folks, this bill is a pig with lipstick on," he said. "The whole notion of this being a Fair Competition Act is really absurd."

Mooresville entered the broadband Internet business after years of struggle with private industry. Town leaders haven't been able to convince Time Warner to launch cable modem Internet service—the company couldn't make enough profit, they were told.

"This is why we get into that business," Thunburg said. "Private sector's not going to build out into rural communities or poor neighborhoods because there's no money in it for them. Municipalities serve those folks, and we can serve them better than private industry can because we can be sure that they've got fiber to the home." He urged the legislators to consider the need for economic development.

"You don't do that by slamming the door in the face of the poor people or rural people, and that's what this bill does," he said. "One thing's for sure: If municipalities are in the broadband business, big businesses have competition. Right now, in Mooresville, they don't have any competition."

For legislators representing rural areas, Mooresville's dilemma has a familiar ring. Rep. Angela Bryant (D-Halifax, Nash), who sits on the public utilities committee, says Nash County has had a similar experience.

"Technology's moving so fast, some of my cities and counties say that as far as they're concerned, broadband service is almost like electricity, water and natural gas in terms of how essential it would be for citizens to have it and how much of a deprivation it would be not to, just because private industry won't do it," she says. She'd like to find some balance between the concerns of the industry and needs of local communities. As it stands, she says, the bill "is putting us too much at the mercy of the private businesses."

Friday, June 08, 2007

The telco video challenge: 25Mbs or bust

Here's an interview in the DesMoines Register with Qwest's Iowa President Max Phillips. It shows while telcos like Qwest desire to get into offering video programming like cable companies and push for state statutes easing the way into the market, they face a daunting technological challenge doing that over existing copper cable pair that was originally designed to carry analog voice signals and not huge amounts of digital data.

"We offer up to seven megabits in Des Moines. You've probably got to get those speeds up somewhere in the 25-megabit range to make this product work," Phillips tells the newspaper.

Getting that kind of throughput on a reliable level in order to support video appears to be a major reach, particularly when much of the telcos' existing copper cable plant can provide only 1.5 Mbs DSL service tops -- and in many areas can't provide DSL at any speed.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Why the private market fails on broadband

Robert D. Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington, DC-based technology policy think tank, explains why the private sector -- mostly represented by the telco/cable duopoly -- fails when it comes to deployment of broadband infrastructure, resulting in uneven distribution where some neighborhoods have broadband access while others don't:

To be sure, the conservative faith in markets is amply justified in many areas where consumer choice leads to the best outcomes. No one is calling for a national iPod policy or for tax subsidies on Blu-Ray DVD players, for the good reason that these are consumer items that the market best allocates.

But broadband is different: market failures lead to it being undersupplied. The principle market failure is that the provision of broadband involves what economists call "positive externalities."

For example, the fastest broadband connections simultaneously support a host of digital video, voice, and data applications, like telemedicine. Yet the success of these applications is hindered by a classic "chicken or egg" dilemma: they will not develop without a market of high-speed broadband subscribers, but consumers need these applications as a lure to enter the high-speed broadband market in the first place.

So yes, conservatives are right. Proactive policies and incentives for more broadband might "distort" the market. But they are wrong in saying that this distortion would outweigh the benefits. In fact, the innovation and productivity spurred by more and faster broadband is likely to vastly exceed any minor losses from "misallocation" of economic resources.

Broadband has become the 21st century equivalent of a "chicken in every pot." Everyone is in favor it. But the real issue is not whether broadband is good and more is better, but whether the market alone will provide the right amount of it anytime soon. The OECD numbers suggest that we can do better. Now it's up to us to do so. We can start by crafting and implementing a proactive national broadband policy.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Waxman calls for GAO review of federal broadband efforts

More than a decade after the enactment of the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 that directed the Federal Communications Commission to encourage the deployment of broadband, a House oversight committee wants to determine what has actually been accomplished.

Henry A. Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, asked for the review in a May 22 letter to Comptroller General David M. Walker. Waxman also wants information on how widely broadband is deployed and who has access to it.
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