Monday, July 30, 2007

Ohio governor issues executive order to expand state broadband network

The order directs the Ohio Broadband Council to coordinate efforts to extend access to the Broadband Ohio Network to every county in Ohio. And the order allows public and private entities to tap into the Broadband Ohio Network – all with a goal of expanding access to high-speed internet service in parts of the state that presently don’t have such service.

“Ohio’s economic future relies on our ability to compete in a high-speed, high-tech global marketplace,” Strickland said. “The Ohio Broadband Council will partner with the public and private sectors to help make sure that every Ohioan has viable access to affordable, high-speed internet service, regardless of where they live, work or learn.”

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Covad reaches interim line sharing agreement with AT&T

Covad Communications, a publicly-traded Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (CLEC), announced today it has reached an interim line sharing agreement with AT&T.

Covad says the agreement provides access to AT&T's copper plant through May 2009 including the former BellSouth territory acquired by AT&T at the start of the year. Covad and AT&T also resolved a number of disputes that Covad declined to disclose.

A spokesman for the San Jose-based Covad said the company will attempt to negotiate a successor agreement before the expiration of the interim deal reached this week to assure line sharing with AT&T remains in place.

"If Covad and AT&T are unable to reach such an agreement by May 1, 2009, then Covad can no longer order line sharing under the commercial agreement for new customers," wrote Michael Doherty, Covad's vice president for corporate communications. He added Covad "would have the right in that event to seek access to line sharing through regulatory and legal avenues."

This development signals Covad is reaching the end of the line with AT&T, most likely because AT&T won't be extending its digital subscriber line (DSL) infrastructure beyond its current footprint, leaving Covad little opportunity to gain new DSL customers.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

White Spaces Coalition device could compete with satellite, cable and telco TV

Earlier this year, the White Spaces Coalition, comprised of Dell, EarthLink, Google, HP, Intel, Microsoft, and Philips Electronics, submitted a prototype wireless broadband device to be tested by the Federal Communications Commission. The device would utilize unused portions of the television broadcast spectrum, 2MHz to 698MHz. Like current TV signals, it would penetrate structures.

The coalition is hoping to have the device approved for use when analog TV broadcasts cease in February 2009 in favor of digital transmission.

The coalition's device reportedly has the potential to deliver download speeds approaching 80Mps. That means it could not only compete with and blow away much of existing wireline broadband providers -- with the exception of Verizon's FiOS -- it could also pose a threat to TV providers -- satellite, cable and telco TV -- if the FCC approved the technology for transmission of digital TV signals. At 80Mbs, there's sufficient bandwidth to transport multiple high definition TV channels.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

FCC Commissioner: "We need to make broadband the dial tone of the 21st Century."

Kudos to Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein for these remarks excerpted from his written testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. It's refreshing to hear a positive, let's get it done attitude in contrast to the pathetic, defeatist whining and foot dragging from the telco/cable duopoly:

We need to make broadband the dial-tone of the 21st Century.

* * *
Some have argued that the reason we have fallen so far in the international broadband rankings is that we are a more rural country than many of those ahead of us. Even if that is the case, and since geography is destiny and we cannot change ours, rather than merely curse the difficulty of addressing rural communications challenges, we should redouble our efforts and get down to the business of addressing and overcoming them.

I am concerned that the lack of a comprehensive broadband communications deployment plan is one of the reasons that the U.S. is increasingly falling further behind our global competitors. Virtually every other developed country has implemented a national broadband strategy. This must become a greater national priority for America than it is now.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Why Verizon opted for fiber over DSL

Verizon’s Chief Technology Officer, Mark Wegleitner, explains in an interview with CNET

“I wouldn’t say that AT&T has gotten it wrong. DSL is a good technology,” he noted. “Our concern was more about what happens a few years out. And that’s why we picked fiber … I can’t really predict how other technologies will grow, but we know that fiber gave us the headroom we needed.”

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Report: American consumers trapped in stagnant duopolistic broadband market

The United States has a broadband problem. All of the excuses offered to explain away America’s performance on the international broadband stage are just that: excuses. The fact is that many countries continue to deploy and adopt broadband at a higher level than in America. Consumers in these countries pay far less for far more service, and have many more marketplace choices.

American consumers are trapped in a duopoly marketplace with no relief in sight. The boasts of “third-pipe” competition from wireless providers ring hollow, as the offerings from these companies are slow, expensive, and extremely restrictive, making them unattractive as a true competitor to the current duopoly.

Incumbents argue that the marketplace will save our sinking ship, even as the water level rises. This blind faith in the market would be reasonable if the U.S. telecommunications market was perfectly competitive. But it simply is not, and it’s high time to face reality.

We rely on the market forces of a duopoly to produce robust cross-platform competition at our peril. When the chief supporters of the status quo, wait-and-see approach to the arrival of a third competitor to DSL and cable are the incumbents themselves, we should understand that they do not expect it will happen.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Big WiMAX players unlikely to fill in broadband black holes

There's more evidence the big wireless players making WiMAX plays aren't going to fill in broadband black holes that commonly exist outside of heavily populated regions.

Some observers have held out hope that wireless providers would provide the long awaited broadband solution to less urban areas that are underserved by the wireline telco/cable duopoly. Instead, the big guys like Clearwire are concentrating on serving mobile consumers in big metro areas shown by this announcement today that Clearwire Sprint Nextel have signed a letter of intent to jointly construct America’s first nationwide mobile WiMAX network.

The key word here is "mobile." In short, that doesn't mean residential consumers who remain mired in broadband black holes across much of America. Their wireless option for now is going to continue to remain among the 1,500 or so small wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) that provide fixed terrestrial service.

That is unless a high powered coalition is successful in demonstrating a prototype service called white space broadband that would deliver wireless broadband over unused portions of the television broadcast spectrum.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

White space broadband seen more feasible for rural vs. urban wireless broadband

Blogger Jacob Levin of the Washington-based advocacy group Public Knowledge isn't bullish on so-called white space wireless broadband as a way around the wireline telco/cable duopoly on broadband access. But Levin does see white space broadband, which would harness unused or "white space" of the television broadcast frequency spectrum to transmit broadband signals, as having real benefit in less densely populated areas:

While I can’t say all the ways white space will be used, I can say how it probably won’t be: it will not be used to provide the third pipe that will finally break open the last mile bottleneck, thus reclaiming the internet from the ISP gatekeepers and ensuring a dynamic, innovative and generally neutral net. White space may be used to provide last mile wireless Internet connectivity at speeds comparable to DSL and cable, but only in rural areas where broadband competition is worse than the oligopoly city dwellers suffer under. The data transfer speed over white space is closely related to the amount of spectrum available and the number of users. As this study shows, there are vacant channels everywhere, but there are more vacant channels in areas with less population density due to the smaller demand for broadcast licenses in those areas. Because of the great amount of spectrum available, and the small number of people who will be using the spectrum, it is likely that rural wireless ISPs will try using the white space to provide broadband.

Local governments in federal courts to block telcos' end run to the FCC

Telcos adamant to avoid local government broadband infrastructure build out requirements went to Congress last year seeking legislation preempting local government authority to award "video franchises" and place it in the hands of the feds.

When that failed, the telcos then directed their efforts at state legislatures to get the locals off their backs. They have been successful in at least a dozen states, getting legislation with limited build out requirements that allow them to bypass local areas they don't want to serve, effectively making the digital divide law.

The telcos apparently want to buy insurance at the federal level despite their failure to get Congress to go along. So they're doing an end run around Congress by going to the Federal Communications Commission. Earlier this year, the FCC went along with them and promulgated regulations barring local governments from requiring telcos to build out their broadband infrastructure to serve an entire community and also giving the locals a short time frame to act on telco applications for franchises.

Not so fast, a coalition of local government and non-profit groups say. This week, they filed briefs in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit arguing the FCC lacks statutory to do so since the telcos failed to get federal legislation enacted last year.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Media fails to ask what's being done to lower broadband infrastructure costs

The high cost of installing wireline-based broadband infrastructure is cited as the main reason for the lack of broadband access that leaves gaping broadband black holes across the landscape. Providers simply shrug and tell desperate dialuggers and satellite suckers, "Tough, it simply costs too much to serve you."

But why is it among the growing media coverage of the nation's broadband shortcomings no one is asking or discussing what telcos and cable companies are doing to lower costs to make broadband more widely available? It's a major oversight that has led to a one-sided, circular debate that does nothing to solve the problem.

Western Massachusetts towns called "a new kind of ghetto"

The Boston Globe published a story today reporting much of western Massachusetts exists in dial up purgatory with no broadband Internet infrastructure. The story includes a map that shows broadband availability -- and specifically the lack thereof -- in much of the Bay State.

"We have to make sure that all of Massachusetts is open to business -- not just the areas where it is easier or more profitable for certain companies to make available high-speed Internet access to their customers," said Stan McGee, the state's director of wireless and broadband development, at a budget hearing in March.

While communities wait for a statewide policy, they are using the resources at hand.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Telco trade calls for more targeted funding by Rural Utilities Service

“The RUS broadband program is an important resource to ensure that high-speed Internet services reach as many rural areas as possible,” said USTelecom President and CEO Walter B. McCormick Jr. “Unfortunately, the RUS’ recently proposed rules don’t sufficiently target the areas that need help most. We strongly urge the RUS to revise these critical rules to ensure that the program maximizes its important goal of helping to provide broadband service in unserved areas.”

Report: DSL must make way for fiber

Many people fail to understand that the world's most predominant method to deliver residential broadband Internet access -- Digital Subscriber Line or DSL -- is an interim technology and not a viable long term option.

I and others have observed that as broadband bandwidth consumption increases, driven in large part by the proliferation of bandwidth intensive full motion video, DSL capacity will grow increasingly tight. Already there are reports that DSL users are straining the telco network, with users reporting their connection speeds declining or losing their connection altogether, often during night and evening hours.

Like the U.S., Europe and much of the world gets broadband access via DSL. Consultant Frost & Sullivan is out with a report warning Europe must wean itself off of DSL and migrate to fiber optic to the home (FTTH) which offers far greater carrying capacity than copper cable-based DSL.

Broadband black holes plague California, PPIC study finds

The Public Policy Institute of California has issued a study of broadband Internet access in the Golden State that not surprisingly finds broadband access lacking outside of urban areas.

The study, Broadband for All? Gaps in California’s Broadband Adoption and Availability, found California households with high-speed Internet ranges from under 30 percent in the Sierra Nevada (21%) and northern part of the state (29%) to just over 50 percent in the San Francisco Bay Area (51%) and the greater Los Angeles area (52%).

After controlling for individual characteristics such as income and education, the PPIC analysis finds that more than half the regional differences remain, indicating that broadband availability — or more specifically the lack thereof — explains why many residences aren't on line with broadband.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Broadband Task Force, which is expected to issue its own report in October, could help identify barriers to providers’ offering service in rural areas and the state could offer subsidies to providers serving rural areas, the PPIC report suggests.

In addition, it recommends the California Emerging Technology Fund should focus on broadband deployment in rural areas. "Our findings have important implications for broadband policy," PPIC Research Fellow Jed Kolko concludes. "If closing gaps in broadband availability is a policy goal, raising availability in rural areas should be the top priority."

As the study finds, household income and ethnicity aren't germane when it comes to broadband access. Unfortunately the issue managed to make its way into California's DIVCA (the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006) which erroneously assumes broadband providers "redline" poor neighborhoods when in fact deployment of broadband infrastructure is based on residential density. There are people with million dollar homes -- even ones relatively close to other homes -- who can't get wireline-based broadband short of installing business class T-1 lines.

The PPIC study correctly views broadband as vital infrastructure and not as a socioeconomic issue. It's all about availability and build out and not about income or ethnicity.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Silicon Valley businesses meet on broadband infrastructure needs

Leaders of high tech Silicon Valley companies are growing concerned that the telco/cable duopoly is failing to keep up with their growing Internet bandwidth needs:

These company and city leaders will discuss how to overcome current regional challenges to building a telecommunications system worthy of the region many consider the technology capital of the world. The meeting will be guided by a keynote presentation by Scott McNealy, Chairman and Co-Founder of Sun Microsystems, plus a report by the Bay Area Council, prepared by Bonocore Technology Partners, that reviews what other countries or regions have done to improve their infrastructure, and recommends Bay Area actions.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

U.S. wireline broadband expansion hitting the wall

USA Today and many other media outlets are carrying an Associated Press story reporting a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows the rate of broadband growth among American households is slowing sharply. Broadband adoption grew just 12 percent from March 2006 to March of this year compared to the 40 percent rate of the previous 12 months.

John Horrigan, Pew's associate director for research, says providers have picked the low hanging fruit. They now have to make substantial investments in their infrastructure to bring in more broadband customers since many households who don't use wireline broadband can't get it because it's not available.

Their prospects of getting it in the near term don't look good, which could produce even lower broadband adoption numbers when Pew and other think tanks report on broadband growth in 2008.

The results of the Pew study aren't surprising considering that AT&T appears to have all but halted deploying additional equipment necessary to expand its Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service beyond three miles from the telco's central offices. Those who can't get DSL get pitched to sign up for inferior satellite Internet service via AT&T's reseller deal with WildBlue announced a year ago.

The other big player in the telco/cable duopoly, cable provider Comcast, also doesn't appear to be expanding its footprint in existing neighborhoods, concentrating instead on new home developments seen as good prospects for the company's bundled video, Internet and voice services.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sierra foothills economic development nonprofit gets federal funding to expand broadband

According to this report in, the Sierra Economic Development District is getting a $190,000 grant from the USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant program.

The funds will be loaned to local Internet providers -- in this case apparently Wireless Internet Service Providers or WISPs -- to help extend their services.

Analyst: Telcos no threat to cable

Sanford Bernstein Senior Analyst Craig Moffett opines that cable companies face no near term threat from telcos. Moffett is particularly dismissive of AT&T, which he sees unable to match broadband throughput speeds provided by cable companies and unlikely close the gap. Moffett also echos my own observation earlier this year that customers will find DSL increasingly inadequate as they download higher amounts of video content:

But while AT&T may upgrade 40 percent of its DSL plant to fiber in order to bring faster high-speed data service to its customers, some 60 percent of its network won’t be upgraded, Moffett projects. That means that AT&T will still be competing at a maximum standard DSL bit rate of 768 Kbps while cable operators offer substantially higher bit-rates, a disparity that could become more of a competitive challenge for AT&T as consumers download more video online through services like YouTube.
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