Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Virginia local governments endeavor to get broadband infrastructure in place

“People are tired of us saying it’s coming, it’s coming - they want results,” said Corum, the director of economic development and tourism in Nelson, on whose lap the responsibility for coming up with a solution to the county’s broadband problem has fallen.

Broadband for far too many in Virginia and other states is merely an unfulfilled promise. Kudos to Nelson County Virginia Economic Development Director Maureen Corum and other Virginia economic development directors who are working to bring broadband to their counties. They like and their counterparts like El Dorado County, California Economic Development Director Sam Driggers wisely see the issue as vital infrastructure linked to the economic health of their counties.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Spread broadband, not asphalt

Some words of wisdom for our time from Washington Post syndicated columnist Neil R. Peirce. Policymakers, read closely:

Put your ear to the ground, and you can hear other voices, especially in new technologies, suggesting a less frenetic lifestyle in a nation clearly confounded by congestion, obesity, energy consumption, global warming and air quality issues.

Enter then the broadband-transportation link. Fast, reliable Internet connection makes telecommuting far more feasible –– to transfer files, worksheets and video clips, access company databases, create videoconferences and more. But "telework" can't function well when employees don't have broadband access. Simple equation: Universal broadband equals increased telecommuting, which in turn means less roadway demand, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and less pollution. Even if a worker telecommutes a day or two a week, it can make a real difference.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Local governments play critical role in ending digital divide

Illinois IT consultant Jim Carlini reports representatives of communities outside urban regions throughout the US who attended this month's Rural Telecon Conference in Springfield, Illinois are developing an increasing sense urgency as they continue to remain mired on the wrong side of the digital divide by the telco/cable duopoly. They realize they cannot count on the telcos and cable companies to build out their infrastructures to provide advanced telecommunications services like broadband and need alternatives.

Carlini suggests they turn to their local elected officials. "If your municipality isn’t looking at creative ways to develop new strategies that include having a state-of-the-art network infrastructure to support economic growth and development, they will be stagnating your property value and quality of life in your area," Carlini writes at

"Simply put, the three most important words in real estate (“location, location, location”) have turned into “location, location, connectivity” in urban, suburban and rural America. Corporate site selection committees have included broadband connectivity as one of the top three criteria they are looking for when researching locations for corporate facilities. If your community does not have a good platform for broadband connectivity, it will simply be passed over in favor for one that does."

El Dorado County, California, while located in the Sacramento metro area, is like many other areas of the country, plagued by spotty and inferior broadband access. County Economic Development Director Sam Driggers conveyed Carlini's point recently to the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors.

Your blogger agrees with Carlini that local governments must take a proactive role in ensuring their telecommunications infrastructures can support the current and future needs of their residents and businesses. In that spirit, I've drafted petitions to El Dorado County Board of Supervisors and the El Dorado Irrigation District urging those local government entities to partner with private fiber optic telecommunications providers to lay fiber in their rights of way to build a fiber to the neighborhood network as the foundation for a badly needed upgrade to the county's telecommunications infrastructure.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Friday, October 19, 2007

Why competition suffers in the broadband market

One of the biggest debates is over how much broadband telecommunications should be regulated. That debate is in turn fueled by another over the fundamental nature of the market. Is it a competitive market and will competitive pressures force the market to provide broadband to those who want it at reasonable prices? Or is it an uncompetitive market as Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, described it at a conference today in San Francisco.

Atkinson like your blogger and many other observers tend to see it as a monopoly or duopoly with broadband provided by just a telco, a cable company or in all too many cases, neither, leading to the formation of broadband black holes stretching across the landscape. The reason, Atkinson explains, is the high cost of becoming broadband provider and deploying the necessary infrastructure.

Atkinson's right. By way of illustration, if another high cost infrastructure such as roads and highways was left to private market providers who would charge tolls for access, there would only be a small number of road builders and plenty of places where roads -- like broadband -- don't go. That's why roads in the vast majority of places are provided by the public sector.

Despite the substantial financial heft of the big telcos and cable companies and their ability to raise money on Wall Street, they simply can't put up the money themselves to build out their infrastructures to provide broadband to nearly every one who wants it. They'd have to take on billions more of bond debt and sacrifice near term earnings --something their investors wouldn't tolerate.

Increasingly, it appears only a partnership of both the private and public sectors can eliminate America's numerous broadband black holes and close the digital divide.

Connecticut should tell AT&T to hit the road

AT&T is at loggerheads with Connecticut regulators that want it build out its infrastructure to serve more residents and businesses as a condition of getting approval to deploy its triple play (voice telephone, Internet access, Internet protocol TV) "U-Verse" offering in the state.

AT&T contends it can't do so profitably and is threatening to pull the plug on U-Verse in Connecticut. Good riddance; this technologically challenged turkey probably won't fly anyway. Connecticut should stick to its guns and tell AT&T in clear terms that building a swiss cheese telecommunications infrastructure filled with broadband black holes is not acceptable.

This is a prime illustration of the need for the locals to take charge and create public-private partnerships with locally owned and operated telecommunications providers and tell the big, out of state corporations who would create broadband winners and losers to hit the road.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Connecticut AG, AT&T clash in court over broadband build out

As this blog reported in early August, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal wants to ensure the "connect" in Connecticut means the entire state and not just selected local jurisdictions when it comes to broadband access.

Blumenthal therefore is moving to force AT&T to deploy its triple play U-Verse service under state rather than local regulatory jurisdiction. AT&T is fighting back, taking Blumenthal to court to challenge his order.

This is a high profile legal showdown worth watching as a state AG with a strong consumerist reputation is basically telling the telco/cable duopoly that with market domination comes the responsibility to serve everyone as is current regulatory policy for basic telephone service.

Monday, October 15, 2007

WISP pulls out of Northern California, El Dorado County

In June 2006, NuTel Broadband Corporation, a Cranbury, NJ-based broadband wireless managed services provider announced plans to deploy wireless "mesh" broadband networks in Sacramento, Chico, San Jose and El Dorado County as part of a 14-state rollout. The company is now pulling out of Northern California.

The WISP had plans to begin rolling out service in Folsom and El Dorado Hills and then head east up US 50 into the foothills. NuTel CEO Joe Fiero confirmed the withdrawal in an email today. Fiero said the decision to pull the plug on the region was prompted by concerns from would be business partners that Fiero says feared potential competition from municipal Wi-Fi networks that would provide free or very low cost access to users. NuTel's business model involves partnering with existing ISPs and WISPs as well as residential telecommunications wiring contractors, with NuTel providing back office management as well as a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) offering via NuTel's proprietary backbone and switch.

"From a demographics point of view, we would love to be in the region," Fiero wrote. "It’s finding willing partners to build and operate the system that has been the issue. We have done exhaustive research and spent hundreds of hours to locate economic sources for bandwidth and proper antenna locations. Someday we hope to put all that to good use."

El Dorado County's locally owned and operated WISPs including Remotely Located and Sierra Advantage likely welcome Nutel's retreat, although from this blogger's perspective it appeared doubtful NuTel like Clearwire and other big multi-state WISPs would have ever served areas east of El Dorado Hills. Nor would they likely face competition there from free or cheap public Wi-Fi.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

El Dorado County economic development chief calls Internet access key

Sam Driggers, installed earlier this year as El Dorado County's economic development director, told county supervisors this week that having good Internet access is key to the county's economic health. Moreover, Driggers suggested, a higher quality of life that can be had outside urban areas should not mean going without broadband:

Driggers said El Dorado County appeals to people who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of more urban regions.

"People want to live in quality-of-life areas, but they also want to work. It's in tandem," he said, and Internet access is key. "If you don't have broadband, you don't have access to the world."

Your blogger and El Dorado County home-based business operator is heartened by Driggers' remarks to the board and hopes the supes give them the serious consideration they deserve.

To underscore Driggers' efforts to get his bosses to view the county's telecommunications infrastructure as being as vital as highways, water and power when it comes to the county's economic health, I urge county residents to sign this petition. It calls on the supervisors to direct county staff and retain necessary outside consultants to establish a public private partnership with fiber optic telecommunications vendors to utilize county rights to way to construct open access fiber to the node/neighborhood (FTTN) infrastructure to serve the current and future telecommunications needs of residents and businesses situated within unincorporated El Dorado County.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

AT&T offers fixed terrestrial wireless broadband

AT&T is now offering fixed terrestrial wireless "broadband" connections where it doesn't provide wireline-based Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service in addition to reselling WildBlue's satellite Internet service.

According to a customer service representative I spoke with today, the service offers speeds of 400-700 Kbs down and 250-300 Kbs up for $59.95 per month plus a $99 installation charge which includes a computer adapter card interface. Not quite broadband in this blogger's definition of 1.5 Mbs and higher, but certainly better than dial up. Ma Bell is offering a 30 day trial period for new customers, who can cancel if the service doesn't live up to their expectations.

This development comes as AT&T increases its fixed terrestrial broadband presence, deploying WiMAX-based offerings in Alaska and in the former BellSouth territory it acquired earlier this year, as well as spending $2.5 billion to acquire additional wireless radio spectrum, according to this AP dispatch today.

AT&T's foray into fixed terrestrial wireless isn't likely to offer Ma Bell a competitive edge over Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) who are moving to fill the many broadband black holes in locales like El Dorado County, California. Wireless broadband offerings by El Dorado County WISPs Remotely Located and Sierra Advantage offer a greater range of choices -- including significantly higher connection speeds -- that equal and exceed AT&T's fixed terrestrial wireless offering based on speed and price. The only way AT&T can hope to compete with these emerging WISPs is to battle them on the ground by upgrading its wireline infrastructure to allow it to reliably offer higher speed connections for comparatively lower prices. So far, there's no indication it's willing to make the necessary investment, leaving the market wide open for the WISPs.

Peter Bernstein: Telcos and cable companies should deprivatize local infrastructure

Peter Bernstein correctly notes the telco/cable duopoly doesn't want to invest in infrastructure, especially over the "last mile" or two before it reaches the subscriber. Instead, telcos and cable companies want to deliver -- and bill -- for broadband-based services -- TV, voice or Internet access. Bernstein proposes the telcos and cables companies sell off their local infrastructures to local governmental entities to be operated as public utilities:

Telcos and cable companies don't really want to install, manage and maintain “plumbing.” The days when customer control was asserted because access to all services came through a monopoly access network ended with the mass adoption of the Internet. Voice over IP and wireless are just the nails in the coffin.

Why not have the service providers divest their outside plant and local switches? Local or regional authorities could regulate them and, perish the thought, really do the job.

Monday, October 08, 2007

FCC to retest white spaces devices

The Federal Communications Commission will retest several prototype devices developed by a high tech consortium to transmit long range wireless broadband over unused portions of the TV broadcast spectrum called "white spaces," Broadcasting & Cable reports. The devices failed testing earlier this year to determine if they would interfere with TV and wireless microphone signals.

The devices developed by the White Spaces Coalition, which includes Microsoft, Google, Dell, HP, Intel, Earthlink and Phillips represent a potentially "disruptive technology" that can bypass the telco/cable duopoly and bring broadband to areas unserved by telcos and cable companies.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

AT&T signals end of wireline copper-cable based system outside of urban areas

AT&T appears to be moving toward a wireless future outside of urban centers where the telco is upgrading its wireline plant and deploying its hybrid fiber/copper Project Lightspeed/U-Verse equipment. AT&T is currently test deploying fixed terrestrial WiMAX broadband in parts of Alaska and 22 other regions in the lower 48 states, apparently as an alternative to making upgrades to its wireline copper cable plant or replacing the copper with fiber in order to provide broadband-based services.

This week, an AT&T executive disclosed Ma Bell plans to ultimately shut down its existing voice network and replace it with a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) system in metro areas where U-Verse is being deployed.

Those not in these areas might have to wait a long time to get U-Verse VOIP service, Ralph de la Vega, AT&T's group president, regional telecommunications and entertainment, told Investor's Business Daily. Taken in combination with AT&T's move into fixed terrestrial wireless in less densely populated parts of its service area where U-Verse isn't present, it's unlikely they'll ever be offered wireline-based VOIP. All broadband-based services will likely be delivered via fixed terrestrial wireless as the aging copper cable plant and central offices built for the era of analog, plain old telephone service (POTS) are dismantled.
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