Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sen. Kerry deplores 'unacceptable" state of U.S. broadband access

"It’s almost hard to wrap your head around the fact that 7 years into this century, more Americans than not have either no Internet access at all or are still stuck on dial-up. It seems like so long ago that the buzzword was the “information super-highway,” but much of America is still bouncing down a country lane. That is just unacceptable."

WISPs endeavor to provide needed broadband "third pipe" in El Dorado County

The pathetic state of wireline broadband Internet access in El Dorado County, California has spawned locally based Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) to provide a much needed "third pipe" for county residents and small businesses who have been stiff armed for years by AT&T and Comcast.

Startup Remotely Located run by Jason and Jennifer Wilson is deploying Wi-Fi based service using both directional and non-directional transmission technology. Remotely Located is serving areas deprived of wireline broadband service in the Mosquito/Swansboro Country area and has recently expanded into West Camino and your blogger's neighborhood.

Sierra Advantage emerged out of the bankruptcy earlier this year of one of El Dorado County's first ISPs, Direct Connect. According to the WISP's service area map, it covers my area. Not quite yet, according to Brett Patterson, director of sales for Shingle Springs-based Sierra Advantage. "We continue to build out our network and get closer each week to offering you service," Patterson wrote in an email yesterday. "Soon we will have additional equipment up in your area. There are some very exciting, positive changes coming for us regarding our Internet services."

My hat's off to these WISPs. Providing fixed terrestrial wireless Internet access in El Dorado County's rugged terrain where steep canyons and tall trees create obstacles for wireless signals is no easy feat.

Aside from overcoming these technological hurdles and providing reliable service at advertised throughput speeds, a key challenge as they add customers will be obtaining sufficient backhaul connections to the Internet -- wireline circuits capable of providing large amounts of bandwidth -- to accomodate the growth. Subscribers won't be pleased if a bandwidth traffic jam at the backhaul makes their speeds slow to a crawl and drag with the high latency that afflicts substandard satellite-based Internet access.

Readers who subscribe to services offered by these WISPS are invited to share their experiences and satisfaction with them by posting comments to this post.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Telcos protest California PUC's draft build out requirements

When telcos advocated the enactment of California's Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006, they argued it would create a more competitive marketplace and speed the deployment of broadband-based telecommunications services to consumers.

However, judging from their recently filed comments on the California Public Utilities Commission's proposed rules implementing the statute's build out requirements, telcos could hardly be described as in a hurry to expand their systems and heartily embracing an open, competitive market.

They protest draft rules that would require franchisees to include "clearly stated build-out milestones " that "demonstrate a serious and realistic planning effort." In addition, the draft rules would require franchisees to "clearly state the constraints affecting the build-out" and "clearly delineate and explain" areas within the franchisee's service area that pose "substantially higher" costs.

The small telcos don't want to be held to the same build out requirements as the larger players like AT&T and Verizon. And the big guys don't want to provide customer data by census tract or report on how they are utilizing wireless technology to deliver broadband services.

One might think broadband providers would support regulation that actually encourages them to offer more services to greater numbers of customers. Nearly all other regulated industries desire this and typically complain regulation constrains their ability to offer new products and services to larger numbers of customers. But it's just the opposite in the perverse broadband marketplace. The providers want regulation that allows them to limit rather than expand their services and serve fewer rather than more customers. While providers may think less is more, less is truly less and explains why the United States is rapidly falling behind other developed parts of the world when it comes to broadband access and choices.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Report: AT&T to ramp up fixed terrestrial WiMAX service in 2008

Last month, AT&T announced it began deploying fixed terrestrial wireless broadband service in Alaska as part of an initiative to test the service, which utilizes WiMAX protocol, in 22 areas of the United States. Eight of those became what the telco in August termed "active commercial deployments."

Quoting an industry source, Unstrung is reporting that Ma Bell will ramp up the service in the second quarter of next year, most likely in the southern U.S. where AT&T has preexisting licenses for using the 2.3 GHz band to provide the wireless broadband service as an alternative to DSL or cable.

Unstrung's analysis is taken in combination with the Alaskan rollout last month, this move into the lower 48 suggests AT&T might use the technology to provide better broadband coverage in areas where it has less wireline infrastructure.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

California PUC issues state franchise to Wave Broadband

The California Public Utilities Commission has issued a state broadband franchise to Seattle-based cable provider Wave Broadband. Wave Broadband joins Cox Communications as one of just two cable providers that have applied for and received a state franchise, issued under California's Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006.

Wave joins telcos AT&T and Verizon having received franchises from the California PUC. MIA is the state's biggest cable player, Comcast. The cable provider likely isn't all that interested in a state franchise with its limited build out requirements when local jurisdictions like El Dorado County already allow it to bypass large parts of the county, leaving consumers without access.

According to the CPUC franchise certificate issued on Sept. 7, Wave Broadband intends to provide service in the Northern California cities of Dixon, Loyalton, Portola, Rio Vista, West Sacramento and Plumas and Sierra counties. The company isn't talking when asked if it planned to serve other areas that currently are not offered broadband services by AT&T or Comcast.

FCC delays report on broadband access

For the past several years, the Federal Communications Commission each January and June has released data on the number of high speed telco and cable connections to the Internet. The most recent report was issued Jan. 31, 2007. As your blogger reported in early February, it revealed that local telephone companies failed to provide DSL in more than 20 percent of their service areas as of June 30, 2006.

The FCC report covering the last half of 2006 was due out in June. But it's been inexplicably delayed. An FCC spokesman assured me in a July 20, 2007 email that it would be released "soon" but it's still MIA nearly two months later. A likely explanation is the FCC is delaying the report's release at the behest of the telcos since it's likely to show that telcos have made little if any progress shrinking their massive broadband black holes during the last six months of 2006.

Federal appeals court rejects telco's bid to dismiss anti-trust action brought by competing ISPs

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected a bid by SBC Communications (now AT&T) to toss out a federal anti-trust action brought by four California Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The ISPs sued the telco claiming it jacked up wholesale prices charged competing ISPs for access to its lines in order to subject the ISPs to a "pricing squeeze" as part of a scheme to drive consumers to SBC's proprietary retail DSL services.

The federal appellate court decision affirms a U.S. district ruling that the suit could proceed as an anti-trust action under the Sherman Antitrust Act. SBC unsuccessfully argued that the action was barred by the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Verizon Communications, Inc. v. Law Offices of Curtis V. Trinko, LLP, 540 U.S. 398 (2004). In Trinko, the Supreme Court held that the Sherman Act doesn't apply to Verizon's failure to deal fairly with a competing ISP. A customer of one of Verizon's competitors alleged Verizon engaged in anticompetitive practices by discriminatorily delaying orders placed by customers of Verizon’s competitors that Verizon was required to fill by the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The Sept. 11 ruling comes as AT&T and other telcos have requested the Federal Communications Commission to relieve them from the requirement that they continue making their lines available to competing ISPs under the 1996 Act, according to this recent post at Broadband The FCC is expected to act on the requests this week.

The full ruling by the Ninth Circuit in Linkline Communications et. al. v. SBC California, et. al. can be read here.

Friday, September 07, 2007

FCC needs to get it right with wireless broadband

The Federal Communications Commission has to get the wireless "third pipe" of broadband Internet access right in order to inject meaningful market competition and consumer choice into the moribund, duopolistic market it has fostered with its wireline broadband policies, writes columnist Keith Girard of in The New York Times:

The FCC has made a mess of telecommunications policy. As FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps noted recently, the nation is getting "too little broadband at too high a price."

Thanks to the FCC, Cable TV and telephone companies dominate the broadband market. They've basically skimmed the cream off the top by focusing on densely populated, easy-to-service areas. As a result, large parts of the country are underserviced. Only 31 percent of rural households and 41 percent of African American households have broadband service compared with 70 percent of households overall that have a computer, according to a new study by the Pew Internet Project, a nonprofit group. The same holds true for small rural businesses. They are less likely to use broadband services, in part, because of cost and lack of availability, according to several government studies.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

America's growing broadband gap with Japan

In the 1980s, the United States fretted about a management gap with Japan. Japanese business management techniques such as kaizen -- continuous, systematic improvement -- and a focus on quality control fostered an inferiority complex on the part of American business leaders.

Now the U.S. is about to develop a new inferiority complex with the Japanese: it's fallen far behind Japan when it comes to broadband Internet, The Washington Post reports. "America may have invented the Internet but the Japanese are running away with it," the newspaper reports, noting that Japanese broadband service is eight to 30 times faster than in the U.S. Japan boasts the world's fastest Internet connections, delivering more data at a lower cost than anywhere else, The Post adds, citing recent studies.

Japan's speedy Internet access is helping the nation fulfill its goals of allowing more people to telecommute -- work from home -- and increasing the use of telemedicine, which allows doctors to remotely diagnose and evaluate a person's medical condition without the need for the patient to travel long distances to see a specialist.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is interested in telemedicine and recently announced $25 million in grant funding for "expanding broadband capabilities to support telemedicine, tele-health and e-health programs."

Schwarzenegger has also formed a Broadband Task Force that is due to issue a report next month on the state of broadband access in California. What it will likely find is California, which likes to view itself as a leader in information technology and innovative public policies, is like the rest of the U.S., falling far behind Japan when it comes to broadband access, making it difficult for the governor to fulfill his goal of expanding telemedicine in the Golden State.
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