Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Guiding principles for U.S. broadband infrastructure economic stimulus

As Congressional leaders and the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama mull economic stimulus legislation including a portion of which is expected to be devoted to telecommunications infrastructure to boost broadband Internet access, I offer these guiding principles:

1. The focus should be on the so-called "last mile" or local access network portion of the system. There's a broad consensus that the lack of adequate broadband access in the United States is due to technological shortcomings on this segment of the telecommunications infrastructure, its weakest link. The overall goal should be full build out of this currently incomplete but vital infrastructure to serve all residents and businesses.

2. The "copper wall" that comprises the last mile telecommunications infrastructure is the primary barrier to wider broadband Internet access. It has been obsolete for about a decade and will become increasingly so as demand for broadband access and more bandwidth intensive content like video grows. The copper wall should be torn down and replaced with fiber optic cable, either aerial or buried depending on local construction cost factors and neighborhood preferences. Calls by large telcos for funding for DSL over copper should be rejected. Funding for such projects would keep the U.S. lagging behind other developed nations on broadband telecommunications technology and constitute an economic bailout to build increasingly obsolete technology rather than a true stimulus.

3. The last mile is the most local element of the nation's telecommunications infrastructure. Accordingly, stimulus should favor local entities to replace copper with fiber such as locally owned private companies, local governments and fiber cooperatives, the latter aided by incentives to encourage homeowner-owned fiber over the last mile.

The 12 year period following the enactment of the 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act has shown providing tax breaks and other incentives to large publicly traded telcos has not resulted in adequate capital expenditure on infrastructure to serve the nation's future telecommunications needs or the selection of broadband technology best suited to do so.

As for private providers, Congress and the Obama administration should note that even generous subsidies to incumbent telcos to build out broadband infrastructure may prove indequate as seen from their less than enthusiastic response to a California Public Utilities Commission program that subsidizes broadband deployments in unserved and underserved areas with a surcharge on intrastate voice long distance calls.

The investment cycle of these companies is apparently too short to earn a return on broadband infrastructure investment even at the 40 percent funding level provided by the program -- and even for arguably obsolete DSL equipment proposed in the handful of projects approved by the CPUC in 2008. Accordingly, broadband infrastructure stimulus funding directed to community-based cooperatives, nonprofits and local governments would likely produce the most rapid deployments.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Media reform group recommends $44 billion broadband "down payment"

Free Press, a nonprofit group that advocates "diverse and independent media ownership, strong public media and universal access to communications," has issued a paper calling on the Obama administration and Congress to make a $44 billion "down payment" investment in U.S. broadband telecommunications infrastructure as part of the incoming administration's planned economic stimulus package.

Free Press plan recommends the bulk of the $44 billion be used to fund grants and interest free bonds to private sector providers as well as municipalities and nonprofits fund deployment of wireline and wireless broadband to underserved areas of the U.S. capable of providing minimum 5 Mbps symmetrical service with priority
given to projects that can deliver speeds in excess of 50 Mbps. The funding would be paid out over three years.

Free Press properly raises the concern that the funds could end up becoming a slush fund and like the Universal Service Fund has for voice telephone service could be used to fund broadband infrastructure in areas that already have a range of broadband services.

"Congress must not simply write blank checks to industry," the organization states in an executive summary of the report. "To maximize the effectiveness of scarce taxpayer resources, oversight and accountability measures must be established." Free Press suggests these measures include strict build-out schedules and affordability and capacity requirements, including minimum rather than "up to" throughput capacities.

"We offer these proposals as a starting point — not the bottom line," the group states. "Our hope is to expand the public debate and the deliberative process on broadband stimulus proposals to include a wide variety of ideas that have been put forward or are coming soon. Though we strongly believe that principles of accountability, future-proof quality, and public service priorities must guide any final legislation, this set of ideas should serve as a foundation for policymakers and the public."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Another sign of the coming end of AT&T's U-Verse

In late September, this blog predicted AT&T will abandon its Project Lightspeed/U-Verse deployment sometime in the first half of 2010 as part of a general retreat from the wireline-based residential/home office market segment.

Another sign of the coming end of the U-Verse universe emerged this week when AT&T pushed back -- again -- the rollout of VDSL copper pair bonding technology to extend the range and throughput of its bundled IP-based U-Verse product. The new target date is sometime next year, the second delay after a planned late 2007 deployment was pushed back a year.

The obstacle is the same one that has plagued AT&T 's ADSL service: not enough good, clean copper in the telco's last mile cable plant, much of it put in place decades ago to support POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) and never expected to support advanced digital services like ADSL let alone U-Verse. Telephony Online explains:

Perhaps a more pressing limitation, however, is the simple requirement for extra pairs of existing copper, which are not in plentiful supply in AT&T’s network outside the territory of the former BellSouth, where extra pairs were deployed extensively in the 1990s to accomodate dialup and fax services.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sacramento Bee: More than third of $500 billion federal economic stimulus package earmarked for infrastructure investment -- including broadband

The Sacramento Bee reports today that infrastructure investment will comprise more than one third of a $500 billion economic stimulus measure being drafted into legislation for approval by the Obama administration when it takes over Jan. 20.

The infrastructure investment is expected to encompass expanding broadband Internet access and creating "digital highways" for the 21st century economy, the newspaper reports quoting unnamed Democratic lawmakers and aides.

In a radio address one week ago, President-elect Obama pledged to renew U.S. broadband infrastructure, declaring it's "unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sacramento Bee: Internet access still a wish for many in rural areas

The Sacramento Bee is out with a story today that's likely to be familiar to folks all over the United States and not just in the Bee's Northern California circulation area. Your blogger is featured. Click here for the story. As for my recommendations re this issue to the incoming Obama administration, click here.

The difficulty getting good solid broadband Internet access isn't by definition a rural issue given that U.S. residential development isn't confined to only urban and rural areas. For much of Northern California, it's far more "granular" as demographers would say when the exurbs and quasi-rural areas are taken into account. Most of the Sacramento Bee's circulation area is considered part of the Sacramento metropolitan area.

It's also worth noting that some of those who have posted comments on the Bee's Web site at the online version of the story are located relatively close in, including one from Silicon Valley. Broadband black holes like their physical counterparts in space can be found anywhere. See also Silicon Valley’s shameful secret: lousy broadband at MuniWireless.

BTW, the article didn't include the name of my WISP (Wireless Internet Service Provider). For you El Dorado County and Amador County residents looking for service, it's Remotely Located.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

White paper calls on next president to form National Broadband Strategy Commission

When it comes to the proliferation of robust broadband access, the United States has relied too heavily on the private sector and has gotten less than impressive results, asserts the Benton Foundation in a white paper calling for increased public involvement by the federal government.

The paper urges the incoming administration to create a National Broadband Strategy Commission composed of members from the public, private, academic, nonprofit, and other sectors to produce "an ambitious, yet achievable, comprehensive National Broadband Strategy to deploy robust, affordable broadband to every household in America," by Jan. 1, 2010.

The commission should lay out a "roadmap and timetable" to provide all U.S. households access to "robust and affordable broadband" by the end of 2010 and "affordable access to modernized broadband networks that are as robust as those of any other nation" by the end of 2015, the foundation advises.

The foundation's recommendations are likely to be well received by President-elect Barack Obama, who said in an address last weekend that it's unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption.

Report: AT&T pulling plug on Pahrump, Nevada WiMAX by year end

A few years back, AT&T rolled out an early market test deployment of WiMAX in Pahrump, Nevada. Now an AT&T customer there tells me AT&T will stop offering the service effective Dec. 31 and has opted instead for DSL and is deploying remote DSLAMs around the town about 60 miles from Las Vegas.

Apparently there wasn't enough bandwidth to handle the demand. "We had it for about two years, and the longer we had it, the slower it got," the AT&T customer reports, noting he generally got 384 Kbs to 768 Kbs downloads on WiMAX. He's now on AT&T's 6 Mbs DSL plan, so while the switch to DSL cost $5 a month more, it was a no brainer.

What's notable about this development is AT&T's new technology chief John Donovan said only four months ago that the big telco viewed WiMAX as a less costly alternative to replacing aging copper plant and installing remote DSLAMs in order to provide DSL, particularly in less densely populated areas.

I sent an email to AT&T spokesman Michael Coe Dec. 10 asking why WiMAX was scrapped in favor of DSL in Pahrump but received no reply, so readers will have to draw their own conclusions. AT&T has also deployed WiMAX in Alaska offering sub 1 Mbs throughput speed and in parts of the former Bellsouth territory AT&T acquired at the end of 2006.

If AT&T's version of WiMAX can't provide more than 1 Mbs, it is already essentially obsolete and calls into question AT&T's expectations that it will serve as lower cost broadband option compared to DSL.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Fixed terrestrial wireless supplanting DSL as interim premises broadband technology

When it was widely introduced starting nearly a decade ago, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) was viewed by telcos as an ideal interim broadband technology on the road to Fiber To The Premises (FTTP) and a means to utilize their existing investment in copper cable plant over the last mile. But since telcos are many years behind where they should be in deploying FTTP, DSL became more of a permanent thoroughfare rather than temporary byway.

The problem is DSL has not been able to adequately fulfill that role due to technological limitations that restrict its range and require the use of near pristine copper that's in increasingly short supply as telcos' decades-old cable plants grow old and frazzled.

Now fixed terrestrial wireless is poised to take the place of DSL as the preferred transitional technology on the way to FTTP, starting in areas where DSL cannot due to its notorious handicaps. Over the past few years, a large number of mom and pop Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) offering fixed terrestrial wireless via over unlicensed spectrum have sprung up, exploiting DSL's far more limited geographical reach and providing a faster and less costly connectivity than satellite Internet. The big telcos have also incidentally picked up some fixed premises customers with their mobile wireless 3G broadband offerings, but don't represent a threat to the WISPs due to high latencies and bandwidth usage caps.

The proliferation of WISPs as a substitute for DSL is evident in this blogger's area of El Dorado County, California where one, Central Valley Broadband, is offering 3Mbs service to telco neglected SOHOs (Small Office/Home Office) located in telco broadband black holes.*
* (See 1/23/09 update)

Telcos and to some extent cable providers have effectively ceded these areas to the WISPs, leading to increased competition among them. More competition among WISPs is also driving consolidation. Central Valley Broadband announced in October it had acquired two WISPs serving Placer and El Dorado counties.

Going forward, I expect WISPs to continue to provide a more flexible and robust pre-FTTP premises broadband option than DSL. Since it will likely be many years before most all premises have fiber optic connections, the WISPs appear set for a good long run.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Russia shuns copper for broadband buildout

Light Reading Europe reports TTK, the state-owned Russian telco, is "embarking on a major push into high-speed broadband access, focusing on Russia's less well served cities and towns," noting that about 93 percent of Russia's 140 million inhabitants live outside Moscow.

Notably, those plans don't call for the use of metal wire-based cable plant used in most other nations, typically to provide underpowered DSL over copper. Instead, TTK's
Sergey Shavkunov told Light Reading, the company will use a mix of point-to-point fiber, GPON and WiMax as apppropriate.

Friday, November 28, 2008

France adopts universal broadband requirement but sets bar too low

More international broadband developments this Thanksgiving weekend. While the Australian government struggles to implement near universal broadband access in the land down under and wrangles with its partially state owned telco, Telstra, over build out requirements, Reuters reports a French government official said his nation would require telcos (called telecoms in Europe) to provide universal broadband access providing connectivity of at least 512kbs throughout France starting in 2010. According to the Reuters dispatch, France had been pressuring the European Union to adopt a universal broadband mandate for telecoms that provide universal voice service but abandoned the effort due to lack of consensus among EU member nations.

France's 512kbs minimum speed requirement is really setting the bar low, perhaps in order to allow French telecoms such as France Telecom to attempt to deliver DSL over long and ancient copper loops commonly found in broadband black holes in the U.S. and elsewhere. That throughput level is already obsolete and is below even the minimal 768kbs "basic" broadband standard adopted by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission earlier this year.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Trouble down under with national broadband program

The Australian labor government and the nation's predominant telco Telstra are at loggerheads over the government's National Broadband Project, the goal of which is to bring broadband to 98 percent of homes and businesses, reports Business Day. Telstra isn't willing to go that far and wants its rollout to reach only 80 to 90 percent.

It's also balking at the government's demand that its infrastructure and retail arms be separated, apparently to discourage the latter from driving the former's broadband deployment strategy as has occured in other nations including the U.S. where telcos concentrate on selling services to more profitable areas while leaving others without broadband access.

Fiber cooperatives pick up the slack where telcos won't go

Here's an item from the nation's least populated state, Wyoming, that counters the myth that fiber optic telecommunications infrastructure is feasible only in densely populated areas. This is where things are headed: while the major telcos shun less densely populated areas and deploy fiber in limited portions of their service territories, cooperatives are stepping into the gap just as they did several decades ago when the other large private utility companies wouldn't serve these areas. Most importantly, those forming fiber cooperatives hold a long term view of their future telecommunications needs in contrast to the big publicly traded telcos that operate with limited quarterly and annual time horizons.

Tri County Telephone, the cooperative that serves the Ten Sleep area, upgraded from decades-old copper phone wiring to fiber in 2006 — a step that has still yet to happen in many urban areas.

Chris Davidson, Tri County's general manager, said the company wanted "to build a network for the future.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Obama administration should offer incentives for homeowner-owned fiber over the last mile

The incoming administration of U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama has tagged rebuilding America's aging infrastructure as a key policy objective. That includes its badly outdated last mile telecommunications infrastructure in order to make broadband accessible to more Americans.

Since the primary inadequacy of the telecommunications infrastructure when it comes to supporting broadband-enabled IP services isn't with the long haul and mid-mile portion of the network but rather the so-called "last mile" local access network, the administration should concentrate its efforts on developing incentives to hasten the change out of copper cable to fiber optic cable over this segment.

The administration should pay particular note of a recently issued working paper by the New America Foundation authored by Derek Slater and Tim Wu. The paper, Homes with Tails What If You Could Own Your Internet Connection, recommends state and federal tax credits to create incentives for homeowners to spend a $2,500 to $4,000 to connect their homes to last mile fiber built by existing carriers, neighborhood cooperatives, developers, local governments and private fiber optic vendors.

The authors seem to acknowledge that while there's near universal agreement that fiber over the last mile is essential to the future of America's telecommunications system and the critical role it plays in the nation's economy, there also is a substantial amount of inertia on both the supply and demand sides of the equation that keeps the U.S. stuck behind a technologically obsolete "copper wall" built decades before the Internet was created. The limitations of telcos' circa 1970s and earlier copper cable plants have become painfully obvious to all too many Americans who have vainly attempted for years to subscribe to their telco's DSL (or VDSL)-based services, only to be told it can't reach their homes or the copper cable is too old and degraded to support it or find it can't reliably deliver the throughput they'd like.

Telcos that have to produce quarterly profits are inherently conservative and won't make a long term capital investment in deploying fiber over their entire networks. They argue there's not enough evidence that homeowners will subscribe to fiber-based services at a sufficient "take rate" to justify such a major expenditure unless homes are densely packed cheek to jowl, thus reducing their investment risk. The problem is a lot of Americans don't live in such neighborhoods nor have any desire to do so. And since telcos operate in a duopolistic and often monopolistic market environment, telcos eschew meaningful market research and don't get hard data that might indicate that if they built fiber, customers will sign up for advanced services.

Hence, Slater and Wu posit -- correctly in this blogger's opinion-- that it falls to consumers themselves to break down the copper wall in favor of fiber over the last mile since risk averse telcos will continue to default to the safe status quo whenever possible.

The authors aptly acknowledge that many homeowners might balk at dropping a few thousand bucks to connect their homes to locally owned fiber and that there needs to be a compelling financial argument in addition to bringing their dwellings into the modern telecommunications age. In this regard, they point to a study by RVA & Associates, a market research firm that focuses on fiber networks, estimating that fiber connection increases the value of a home by about $4000. If the Obama administration combined that with a tax break, the proposition becomes even more appealing, particularly along with incentives for mortgage companies and other lenders to extend low interest fiber loans to homeowners. The tax breaks could be partially offset by stimulating economic activity that would bring in additional tax revenues.

Slater and Wu are to be commended for advancing the discussion beyond the true but tired themes of how much the nation is falling behind other developed countries when it comes to broadband and needs a national broadband policy to outlining a strategy to make it happen. It's no longer useful to call for a vague "national broadband policy." Since the U.S. is already years behind where it should be when it comes to broadband telecommunications infrastructure, what's sorely needed an action plan and rapid implementation. The solutions don't have to be perfect when the dreary U.S. broadband status quo is unacceptable and grows increasingly so as time goes on. As business gurus Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. advised in their 1982 book In Search of Excellence: Ready, Fire, Aim.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tensions erupt between telcos, cablecos over over California broadband build out subsidy levels

As recently reported on this blog, California's incumbent telcos are bitching to the California Public Utilities Commission, complaining a 40 percent subsidy to underwrite the cost of building out broadband infrastructure to areas of the state lacking adequate access under the CPUC's California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) isn't likely to be enough for many potential projects.

Now the griping has turned into a contretemps between some of the biggest players and Comcast has jumped into the fray. In comments filed Nov. 19 on the eve of a CPUC hearing today to consider restructuring the CASF, Verizon criticizes AT&T's suggestion the 60 percent provider match be abandoned, warning it could lead to too much state funding of some projects.

In its Nov. 19 comments filed with the CPUC, cable provider Comcast takes issue with AT&T's "incredible" suggestion that the CASF fully subsidize some projects and Verizon's proposal that the CASF share be increased up to 80 percent for selected projects. The cable company warns the higher CASF funding threshold would be contrary to the CASF's goal of funding only projects that are economically viable.

AT&T's suggestion that CASF provide 100 percent funding for selected high cost projects in unserved areas "is truly outrageous, particularly coming from AT&T," Comcast said in its filed comments. "The CASF was not set up to be a slush fund to cover 100 percent of the costs of the largest ILEC in the state."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Vermonters starved for broadband

This item at Burlington FreePress.com starkly illustrates how far behind the demand curve telcos and cable companies have gotten in rolling out high speed Internet. Chittenden County, Vermont residents needed broadband yesterday. More accurately, make that last year or the year before.

The lag between broadband demand and availability here and elsewhere throughout much of the U.S. is likely to continue for many more years. The basic broadband such as being deployed here is already all but obsolete and will be unable to support the increased use of video that is making up ever larger portions of Internet traffic.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

BPL gets another lease on life

The obituary for Broadband Over Power Lines (BPL) had all but been written when IBM announced it would pony up $9.6 million in a venture with a small company to deploy BPL via electric power cooperatives formed decades ago in areas of the U.S. skipped by private power companies. Today, these same areas are being passed over by the private telco/cable duopoly and left without broadband Internet access.

According to Yahoo! Tech, the BPL rollout will take about two years and potentially serve 340,000 homes in Alabama, Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin where about 86 percent lack cable or DSL access. The project has received $70 million in low-interest loans from the Department of Agriculture.

Making this project work could prove challenging. BPL utilizes similar transmission technology as DSL that rapidly degrades over distance, requiring extensive and costly amplification to get the signal to homes over long distances.

In addition, by the time this BPL project comes on line, residents of these areas could have superior alternatives such as fixed terrestrial wireless broadband based on multiple current and emerging technologies such as WiMAX and white spaces broadband over unused television frequencies that was given the green light by the Federal Communications Commission last week. And given that these areas have a history of forming cooperatively owned utilities, they may similarly opt to form cooperatives to build fiber optic infrastructure to assure their telecommunications needs are met over the longer term.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Less than enthusiatic response to California broadband build out subsidy program

A key recommendation of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Broadband Task Force to build out broadband Internet infrastructure in the Golden State is getting a less than enthusiastic response from the state's incumbent telcos.

In comments filed last week with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which is considering expanding eligibility for 40 percent project subsidies to a wide variety of organizations and local governments, both large and small Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILECs) complain the 40 percent subsidy is too low to make it worthwhile to invest in infrastructure for high cost areas currently unserved or underserved by broadband providers. They call on the CPUC to abandon the fixed 40 percent subsidy and instead award amounts based on the cost of the project.

The CPUC's internal Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA) is also calling on the CPUC to revamp the subsidy program, the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). "The general paucity of bidders for CASF funding" and just six ILEC-proposed projects submitted for funding to date "suggests that the Commission’s anticipated advancement of broadband availability and competition is not bearing fruit," the DRA stated in its filed comments in the CASF proceeding. "While the factors that have led to this outcome are unclear, what is clear is that one of the Commission’s goals for the CASF – encouraging a diversity of advanced technologies and service providers – is unlikely to be met unless there is a critical review of the CASF, as it is currently structured and administered."

The DRA also recommends against allowing municipalities and other entities that are not under the CPUC's jurisdiction from proposing projects because the CPUC would have to enforce compliance with CASF funding requirements through the courts.

The six ILEC-proposed projects to bring wireline-delivered broadband unserved areas to be considered by the CPUC at its Nov. 21 meeting total just $372,976 in requested CASF funding.

The largest of the six proposals is by Verizon California and seeks $174,000 to serve 382 housholds in the Pinyon Crest area of Riverside County. AT&T has proposed four projects in both northern and southern California, including what is arguably a token effort to bring broadband to two residences in the Mount Wilson area of Los Angeles County.

Only one of the proposed projects meets original CASF project criteria of being capable of providing at least 3 Mbs downloads and 1 Mbs uploads -- one by Frontier Communications to provide service for 171 households in the Lake Almanor area of Plumas County.

Broadband squared: state leverging fiber for roadway information and local telecommunications service

Here's an interesting item out of Massachusetts courtesy of The Berkshire Eagle that illustrates how fiber infrastructure can be leveraged for multiple uses. In this case, providing traffic data while also providing backhaul capacity to help serve the western part of the state where broadband access has been severely constrained.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Gullible, disingenuous pols enact state video franchise schemes unlikely to lower cable rates

Gullible and intellectually dishonest politicians enacted so-called video franchise schemes in about a dozen states over the past few years pushed by big telcos like AT&T. They were gullible at best and disingenuous at worst because they parroted the telcos' party line that such regulatory "reforms" would enhance competition for video services by allowing telcos to compete with cable companies, resulting in lower prices for consumers.

Well surprise, surprise, surprise. Cable rates are headed up -- and not down -- despite the entry of telco TV offerings such as AT&T's U-Verse, according to this weekend item from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. This week, the Federal Communications Commission launched an inquiry into cable rate increases in advance of next February's mandated cutover to all digital television broadcasting.

"On balance, the law hasn't been good for consumers but has been very good for the companies that wanted it," Barry Orton, a telecommunications professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told the newspaper. "Two years from now, I don't think you will be able to say that consumers saved a lot of money if any at all."

Telcos sugar coated their true agenda with the false patina of increased competition and lower rates for consumers. Their real goal was to get local governments that wanted them to build out their broadband infrastructures evenly to serve all and not just some of their residents off their backs. It's far easier to lobby a single state regulatory agency and influence the pols who appoint their members (and get them to put in place rules sanctioning broadband black holes) than to herd the political cats who sit on city and town councils and county boards of supervisors.

Broadband's potential to drive small town economic boom

"If you don't have broadband, it's as bad as not having electricity, running water or sewer utilities in your town." So says Jack Schultz, author of Boomtown USA: The 7 ½ Keys to Big Success in Small Towns.

Schultz has got that right. Broadband enabled telecommunications services make location and distance irrelevant and allow entrepreneurial activity to occur where it might not otherwise, which Schulz says is increasingly important to the economy at a time when the number of big companies that are expanding is decreasing.

Access to broadband could also fuel a population shift along the lines predicted by author Jack Lessinger in his prescient 1991 book Penturbia: Where Real Estate will Boom After the Crash of Suburbia. (Perhaps aided by the current real estate bust that began in 2006?)

A big roadblock however is America's spotty and incomplete last mile telecommunications infrastructure that leaves far too many home-based entrepreneurs struggling with dial up or substandard satellite Internet connections. Schulz correctly notes they cannot wait for the telco/cable duopoly to provide them the broadband they need to grow their businesses. "People must try to research and find alternate ways to get broadband in their communities," he says.

Schulz's position here coincides with my view that the last mile telecommunications infrastructure will become increasingly locally owned and operated as we are seeing with the proliferation of small mom and pop fixed terrestrial wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) and in initiatives by local governments and cooperatives to install fiber optic connections to homes and neighborhoods.

Friday, November 07, 2008

CLECs fear loss of access to copper loops being retired and replaced with fiber

Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs) established under the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 that requires Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILECs) to sell them access to their copper cable loops apparently fear the copper is literally about to be pulled out from under them and replaced with fiber, leaving them without access to their customers.

An organization of California CLECs, the California Association of Competitive Telecommunications Companies (CALTEL), petitioned the California Public Utilities Commission to adopt rules requiring ILECs to obtain advance approval from the CPUC before retiring copper loops and replacing them with fiber and demonstrate doing so would be in the public interest.

The CPUC declined, instead requiring ILECs to notify the CPUC and all CLECs interconnected with their copper plants before replacing copper with fiber. In addition, ILECs must engage in "good faith commercial negotiations" CLECs that want to purchase or lease the copper loop, the CPUC said in a Nov. 6 news release.

"I believe that this decision balances state and federal goals of promoting the deployment of broadband networks against the interests of competitors to retain access to the copper loop," Commissioner Rachelle Chong stated in the news release.

ILECs have long chafed under the line sharing requirements of the 1996 federal reform law and have dragged their feet and litigated with CLECs seeking to connect to their lines. Apparently CLECs now fear ILECs are about to use their ultimate weapon to make them go away for good, rendering them irrelevant by replacing their copper with fiber since they don't have to provide CLECs access to their proprietary fiber under a 2006 U.S. Court of Appeals ruling.

But ILECs have largely resisted employing the fiber strategy on CLECs since it requires them to make substantial investments in upgrading their wireline infrastructures that they have been reluctant to make. It's possible ILECs are now concluding doing so is worth it because it both disposes of pesky CLECs while also enabling them to exclusively offer far more advanced IP-based services that can be more reliably delivered over fiber than copper.

It will be interesting to watch how this plays out in California and other states and whether CLECs will bid on telco copper loops made obsolete by fiber. Probably few will since copper does not provide a future growth path for offering advanced services due to its technological limitations as have been painfully illustrated with the limited range and throughput of DSL over copper. In addition, aged copper loops are likely to be a low repair priority for ILECs, making it difficult for CLECs to provide reliable service. This could be the beginning of the end for CLECs.

Location, location, location: Broadband access now a factor in residential real estate

Associated Press writer Peter Svensson reports on what I've predicted will be a growing factor affecting the residential real estate market: whether a home has broadband access. Broadband has become a basic telecommunications utility. Homes that lack it are becoming about as desirable as those without electricity or water hookups. Svensson quotes Edward Redpath, a real estate broker in Hanover, N.H., as saying he's seen deals fall through once the buyer realizes a home can't get broadband.

I disagree with Svensson's theory that over time the lack of universal broadband in the United States along with higher gasoline prices could pull people from the countryside toward cities and suburbs.

Small local Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) are springing up throughout the U.S. to provide wireless broadband where the telco/cable duopoly does not. Residents and businesses will also take matters into their own hands and form and invest in cooperatives to build their own local fiber optic telecommunications infrastructures just as they did several decades ago to bring electricity and telephone service to their communities.

Svensson's story suggests, they will be motivated by economic considerations to boost the market appeal and value of their homes -- particularly as they work to crawl out of the current real estate market downturn -- and to support their ability to start businesses and telecommute to their jobs.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

White spaces broadband faces uncertain future

Expectations should be tempered contemplating the implications of this week's action by the Federal Communications Commission approving the unlicensed use of television broadcast "white spaces" spectrum being freed up by the February 2009 transition to all digital TV broadcasting to deliver wireless broadband.

There are many unknowns as to whether white spaces will ultimately deliver broadband over the airwaves in the real world or whether it will remain an impractical concept that goes the way of Broadband over Power Lines (BPL).

They include a probable years long legal challenge by broadcasters worried over potential interference despite FCC field testing showing otherwise. It should be borne in mind the purpose of the FCC testing was to assess potential interference with broadcast and short range microphone signals. How white spaces broadband will perform and the kind of throughput it can reliably deliver remain major unknowns until it's actually deployed.

White spaces broadband could well end up being too little to late once the legal challenges have run their course given that Clearwire is already rolling out 2.5 Ghz WiMAX in some areas and deployment of 4G wireless broadband by telcos is expected by 2010.

Potential key advantages of white spaces broadband over these other wireless technologies is superior range and greater ability to penetrate trees and buildings since it operates in the 700 Mhz TV spectrum.

An additional challenge could come from telcos who may resist providing the necessary "fat pipe" backhaul for white spaces broadband if they see it as a competitive threat to their own wireline and wireless broadband franchises. That could generate more lengthy litigation such that between Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and telcos over access and pricing of line access under the Telecommuncations Act of 1996.

Finally, all wireless broadband technologies at this point don't appear likely to be able to match the fiber gold standard of 100 Mbs and greater throughputs that will increasingly be in demand for fixed broadband services. For the foreseeable, that relegates wireless broadband -- likely including white spaces broadband if it comes to market -- to a transitional broadband technology for fixed locations in areas unserved and underserved by wireline broadband providers and for general mobile use.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Cable company capitalizes on AT&T's failure to deploy DSL, inability of telco's aged copper cable plant to support bundled services

Two years ago, South Lake Tahoe was one of El Dorado County, California's most puzzling and persistent broadband black holes. Neither incumbent telco AT&T nor the incumbent cable provider, Charter Communications, offered broadband to many of the area's neighborhoods, leaving residents with the dreary Hobson's choice of antiquated mid-1990s era dialup technology or costly, substandard satellite Internet connections.

Patti Handal was fed up with the situation and went door to door with some of her neighbors, collecting signatures of nearly 700 residents of the affected neighborhoods petitioning AT&T to deploy DSL and do so ASAP. Then several months later in June 2007, the Angora Fire incinerated some of these neighborhoods along with portions of AT&T's aerial copper cable serving them. AT&T's replacement of the fire damaged infrastructure enabled the telco roll out DSL to Handal's and some -- but not all -- of the Tahoe neighborhoods stranded on the dark side of the digital divide.

In retrospect, Handal believes the petition campaign to show AT&T demand was there for DSL had no meaningful impact despite the encouragement of the effort by AT&T and local elected officials. Instead, it was the Angora Fire's destruction of AT&T infrastructure that altered the dial up status quo.

Now Handal reports Charter is about to roll out service to much of Montgomery Estates, all of Echo View Estates, all of Angora Highlands, and all of Mountain View Estates with Christmas Valley and all of Montgomery Estates in the near future.

Charter officials were likely motivated by a report in the Tahoe Tribune that AT&T decided in January 2008 not to expand DSL service in the area in the foreseeable future, seizing an opportunity to take and hold market share since in a duopolistic market, whichever provider deploys first enjoys initial customer appreciation and loyalty for bringing them out of dial up purgatory and into the modern era of telecommunications.

Notably, AT&T isn't matching Charter's bundled services including video. According to Handal, an AT&T representative told a South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce meeting two months ago that it would not be offering its bundled U-Verse service. Instead, AT&T has chosen to deploy DSL in some but not all of the areas served by Charter in a limited response to Charter's deployment initiative.

The likely explanation for AT&T's decision to select a partial DSL deployment strategy is going head to head with Charter for bundled services would require AT&T to replace most of its aged copper cable plant that can support only slower DSL speeds but cannot carry the higher bandwidth VDSL signal used by U-Verse.

Despite the expectation that AT&T introduced U-Verse in order to compete with cable companies, the scenario playing out in some South Lake Tahoe communities is likely to be mirrored throughout much of the United States where telcos' aged copper cable plant precludes them from offering bundled services and higher speeds to effectively compete with cable providers.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Netflix Tivo deal still not ready for prime time

SAN FRANCISCO - Home entertainment trendsetters Netflix Inc. and TiVo Inc. are finally joining forces to deliver more movies and old TV episodes to their mutual subscribers, consummating a relationship that was supposed to come together four years ago.

This deal is still four years too early and not yet ready for prime time given the pathetic state of America's broadband telecommunications infrastructure. The throughput speeds for downloading movies simply don't hack it in much of the nation and many homes are still unable to get even basic broadband connections.

Fairpoint chooses WiMAX where DSL fails

Fairpoint Communications, the successor to Verizon in much of New England, has opted to deploy fixed terrestrial broadband to make up the shortcomings of underpowered DSL. Fairpoint has selected WiMAX technology based on equipment provided by Nortel Networks Corp. and Airspan Networks that will provide throughput of 1 to 3 Mbs.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Telcos cynically cite demographic data to justify failure to invest in broadband infrastructure

Here's some typical telco funded propaganda on broadband. It's designed to shift and downplay the focus away from the lack of broadband availability due to inadequate telco infrastructure to broadband adoption rates. Once that's accomplished, it's time to play the socioeconomic card and decry low computer literacy among certain demographic groups.

Bottom line, the telcos are looking to justify their failure to upgrade their plants over the last mile to support broadband by blaming poor, older and less educated people who say they don't use computers and don't need broadband. In other words, we don't need to deploy broadband because you're simply too ignorant to use it even if we did.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

California PUC considering expanding eligibility for broadband build out subsidies

The California Public Utilities Commission is soliciting comment on potentially expanding eligibility for 40 percent grant funding from its California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to build out broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas of the Golden State. The commission has set aside $100 million for qualifying projects to be funded over a two-year period, paid for by a 0.25 percent surcharge on end-users’ intrastate telephone bills.

Proposals to serve unserved areas were due July 24 and underserved areas by Aug. 25. Only entities with a certificate of public convenience and necessity to offer telecommunications services or those registered with the CPUC provider of wireless telecommunications services were eligible to submit project proposals by those dates. The CPUC is now considering accepting proposals from municipalities, community-based cooperatives, Native American tribes as well as funding economic development corporations to issue loans to finance projects.

"We further anticipate significant unserved and underserved areas will remain after grant of the current pending applications," CPUC's Oct. 15 ruling states. "During our first round of applications we received significant interest from serious potential applicants who were uncertificated internet service providers in areas geographically close to unserved or underserved areas."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Survey suggests telcos should channel CAPEX to wireline -- and not wireless -- broadband

While mobile broadband has been much ballyhooed over the past few years, the vast majority of those with mobile devices don't utilize their Internet capabilities to watch videos, play games or even send email. That's according to a Accenture Research survey out this week picked up here by Telephony Online.

This survey strongly implies people want broadband at home much more than they do outside the home. For telcos, that means investing more in wireline -- and particularly fiber optic infrastructure -- and less in wireless broadband. The demand for home-based wireline broadband services is also likely to grow as people spend less time and money outside of the home and cocoon during the economic downturn.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Telco market segmentation has shrunk U.S. residential wireline service area map, setting stage for locals to take over last mile

The widespread prevalence of broadband black holes throughout the United States — which can be found in urban, suburban, semi-rural and rural areas — has brought to light a major change in the landscape of residential telecommunications service. In modern times, residential telecommunications has meant near universal service to all but the most remote areas.

With the advent of high speed Internet, the residential wireline market is no longer a single one but has been segmented by the telcos who maintain monopolistic control over their markets. Over the past 2-3 years, the boundaries of broadband black holes have hardened and delineate the two segments.

The more accurate description is the residential market hasn’t been so much segmented but rather shrunk. One only need compare the telcos’ maps of where they provide Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) and areas where advanced Internet protocol-based services are offered to graphically see the shrinkage.

This is a permanent alteration of America’s telecommunications map. Despite telcos’ promises to “turn up” advanced services to these areas over the past decade, it’s now apparent that these statements are a time buying PR ploy to keep regulators and politicians at bay. Now the residential wireline telecommunications map is posed to shrink even further with the limited rollout of fiber to the home service by Verizon and AT&T’s technologically constrained deployment of its fiber to the node Project Lightspeed as both companies migrate from DSL.

This redrawing of America’s telecommunications map has major implications for so-called “last mile” residential wireline. Where they don’t provide last mile IP-based access, the telcos will instead serve as first and middle mile telecom providers. Small local telcos and the residents themselves will become the default last mile providers. Where it makes business sense, smaller telcos that specialize in serving communities will deploy fiber to the node and fiber to the home. Where the numbers don’t pencil out for the small telcos, the residents will deploy their own fiber and fund it though voluntary cooperatives and special taxing districts.

Over the next several years, fiber will come to be viewed as a utility not unlike electric power and water and will appear on residential MLS real estate listings. Properties that lack fiber optic access will be at a distinct disadvantage to those that have fiber, creating a strong incentive for property owners to work together to bring fiber to their neighborhoods to better capitalize on recovering real estate values following the current market downturn.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Green movement could spur public sector investment in fiber to the home

When the 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act was enacted, it was anticipated it would drive competition giving most Americans fiber optic service by 2006. Didn't happen. Plenty of mid-mile fiber got laid but much of it was never lit up following the dot com bust of 2000. Then in the years following the dot com downturn, telcos opted to avoid the CAPEX of fiber over the last mile and instead retain and depreciate their aging legacy copper cable plants and deploy underpowered DSL service over them that left millions without broadband access.

Now the Fiber to the Home Council (FTTH) expects increased interest in reducing carbon emissions will drive fiber over the last mile. Updating the last mile to fiber will deliver substantial environmental benefits in the short term outweighing the environmental costs of deployment in as little as six years, the FTTH says, citing a study by the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The study found that by 2010 and later, an estimated 10 percent of the working population with FTTH service would telecommute an average of three days a week because bandwidth improvements will make working from home more feasible. That's a lot less driving and reduced gasoline consumption and savings on road maintenance and construction.

Since government is in business of building and maintaining roads, it indirectly benefits by investing in last mile fiber such as selling bonds to finance its build out as Monticello, Minnesota and other local governments have done. At this point, it appears to be far easier to make the business case for fiber to the home in the public sector -- which can raise more patient capital -- than the private sector where telcos and other providers require rapid returns on their capital investments that has discouraged them from deploying fiber to the home.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Private, public sectors clash on broadband deployment

As fiber optic guru Tim Nulty accurately observed, wireline telecommunications infrastructure is a natural monopoly. That fact has spawned conflict between the private and public sectors over which will build out infrastructure to provide modern IP-based services. At issue in this confrontation that has played out throughout much of the United States over the past decade is who will get first rights to build since whoever deploys infrastructure first dominates the market given its monopolistic nature.

But there's more to it than that. Both sides have conflicting agendas. The private sector telcos and MSOs (cable companies) want to maintain an open ended option to build whereas public sector entities like muncipalities motivated by constituent pressure to rapidly deploy, pressure that naturally increases over time as demand for broadband-based services from consumers and businesses grows. In that regard, time is on the side of the public sector. That reality has spurred private sector players to employ litigation to buy time to preserve the option to serve a given area.

Case in point: this week, a Minnesota judge ruled this week that Minnesota cities have the authority to issue bonds to finance community fiber-optic networks. Monticello, a town of 12,000, has been locked in a legal battle with its incumbent phone company, TDS Telecom, which filed a complaint to prevent the city from building a network its citizens overwhelmingly approved in a referendum last year, according to Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative for the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR). “All along, we have said that this lawsuit is frivolous and was merely a delaying tactic,” Mitchell said in a news release. Mitchell adds that TDS "was merely trying to protect its monopolistic interests, much to the detriment of the citizens of Monticello who clearly want a local, accountable alternative to existing services.”

More delay could be in store. ILSR reports Monticello had to put the project on hold until the case was decided and escrowed funding until the case is fully resolved and all appeals are exhausted.

At present, the rules allow private sector providers to game the system to buy time. Even if they lose on the merits of muni fiber project legal challenges as in this case, they still win because they've achieved their goal of buying time to exercise their option to build. The problem is that option is currently open ended at a time when the nation is falling farther and farther behind on broadband and time is of the essence.

It needs to be tightened up with legislation that would give either public or private sector providers the option to build broadband infrastructure and subject the party exercising the option to deploy it to stringent oversight including incremental progress deadlines, late penalties and completion bonds.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Limited DSL range disappoints in Western Massachusetts, divides towns into digital haves and have nots

As reported earlier this year, Verizon is rolling out DSL in 24 Western Massachusetts towns. But state Rep. Denis Guyer, D-Dalton, is hearing from irate constituents who understandably believed that if their town is getting the service, that's just what it means and are flummoxed that they're still stuck with dialup or forced to suck a satellite.

The problem is Verizon is using underpowered DSL technology -- which should be dubbed "Doesn't Serve Lots"-- that can only serve parts of the towns. This puts pols like Guyer who are pushing to bring their districts into the modern age of telecommunications in a tough spot since voting districts don't necessarily coincide with DSL availability limits. For those covered by Verizon's DSL deployment, pols like Guyer look like a hero. But from the perspective of his constituents outside Verizon's DSL service limit, he looks like a ineffective bum. As this blog notes, like politics all broadband is local.

The item published in the North Adams Transcript is aptly headlined Guyer says Verizon's Broadband not so broad. So true for not only Western Massachusetts but sadly anywhere in the U.S. served by feeble telco DSL.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Pols pay lip service to vague "national broadband policy," support time wasting availabilty studies

In this election season, politicians are paying lip service to the idea of universal broadband access in the United States. The problem is just that: lip service in a support of a "national broadband policy" to spur broadband infrastructure rollout and studies to obtain "better data" on where broadband is and isn't.

Re the former, exactly would that policy be? They (and unfortunately too many advocates) are not saying. And in the unfortunate absence of specifics, they make it seem as if they would prefer the telco/cable duopoly be nationalized in order to speed broadband deployment. If that's what they're advocating, they ought to have the guts to say so directly instead of chanting repeatedly that the U.S. needs a "national broadband policy."

Re getting better data on broadband availability, that's a sucker's game that plays straight into the telco/cable duopoly's strategy of buying time to "study" the issue without having to spend a single dime on expanding their broadband infrastructure. Even if availability throughout the U.S. was extensively mapped down to the census tract level, we won't know much more than we already know right now: that the nation's telecommunications infrastructure is shot through with broadband black holes of all sizes, some massive encompassing entire communities and some as small as part of a single block. Politicians already know this, having heard from increasingly irate constituents tired of being forced to choose between obsolete dial up and substandard, costly satellite Internet service.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Aussies feel pull of broadband black holes

Just like their American counterparts who suffer from broadband black holes in metro areas, lots of Aussies are also relegated to dialup. Take the Adelaide metropolitan area, for example, where government statistics show 55,000 homes and businesses cannot cannot access fixed-line broadband internet services. Keep in mind this isn't the remote Outback we're talking about here.

The usual suspect: the limited range ADSL deployed by the big Australian telco, Telstra. Read the item in
Adelaide Now.

AT&T will likely abandon residential wireline segment, U-Verse in early 2010

Sometime during the first two quarters of 2010, AT&T will probably become a pure play wireless company in the residential market, abandoning its Project Lightspeed/U-Verse deployment as part of a general retreat from the wireline-based residential/home office market segment.

The nation’s dominant telco — like other telcos — has been losing landlines to wireless phone service for several years now. When AT&T pulls the plug on U-Verse, which it began rolling out in selected markets in 2006 and which continues to fall behind deployment targets, it will likely cite unanticipated cost, technological and competitive market challenges.

The Achilles Heel of Project Lightspeed/U-Verse lies in the technological shortcomings of digital subscriber line (DSL). While DSL allows AT&T and other telcos to provide broadband over their existing copper cable plants, it’s hobbled by very limited range. When telcos first deployed ADSL around at the start of the decade, DSL’s limited range forced telcos including AT&T into a lose-lose proposition. Either they could spend significant sums of money installing remote DSLAM terminals to extend DSL’s notoriously feeble reach or leave money on the table in the form of lost opportunity costs, unable to serve subscriber premises not located close enough to their CO’s (central switching offices).

ADSL’s limited range also makes for unhappy customers who believe they are purchasing a particular speed tier only to find themselves involuntarily downgraded because the DSL signal isn’t sufficiently robust to support the level of service they ordered.

VDSL, the upgraded version of DSL that AT&T utilizes in its hybrid fiber/copper Project Lightspeed deployment, suffers from even greater range limitations. As such, it requires far more field equipment and fiber/copper interface cabinets (VRADs) than ADSL since VRADs can serve only premises located within 3,000 feet. While providing theoretical downside throughput of 25 Mbs, VDSL over copper also suffers from limited ability to scale up bandwidth to 100 Mbs and higher in order to remain competitive —at least when it comes to video — with MSOs (cable providers) and pure fiber triple players like Verizon and Surewest Communications.

Some market observers believe once copper has reached its throughput limit — many would maintain it already has — all AT&T has to do is change out the old copper for new fiber. That isn’t likely to happen. AT&T won’t bear that additional and substantial CAPEX burden and threaten its generous stock dividends when it is already struggling with the cost of the limited Lightspeed plant it has deployed to date and is reportedly cutting expenditures on it.

Additionally, given its existing alliance with Dish Network (to be replaced with DirecTV starting Jan. 31, 2009), it can still offer video without the associated CAPEX costs of Project Lightspeed and U-Verse just as it does with its marketing partnership with Wildblue to provide satellite “broadband” to the many residences located outside the restricted range of its DSL services.

What will happen to AT&T’s aging residential copper cable plant when it goes all wireless in this market segment? It will be put into runoff mode and minimally maintained — a plan that some would argue is already being implemented as resources have been redirected to Project Lightspeed. That will likely result in noisy and failed lines. But AT&T will probably simply pay any fines levied by regulators as a cost of unwinding its residential landline business with the expectation residential customers will migrate to its wireless service with the encouragement of limited time pricing incentives.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Dialuggers have company in high places

If you're stuck with mid-1990s era dial up Internet access, you have company in high places. For example, Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who represents a district just outside Washington, D.C., and can't get broadband service at her Fort Washington, Maryland, home. (Keep in mind this is a major metro area and hardly the kind of rural area where many erroneously believe is the only place where broadband black holes can be found in the U.S.)

According to this item in PC World, Edwards said at a a OneWebDay event in Washington that she hasn't used her home dial-up connection for months. "It's too much of a pain," PC World quoted Edwards as saying. "It's too cumbersome. All of the data, all of the information that really I most want, you can't just handle on dial-up." Very true as many frustrated dialuggers well know.

PC World reports Edwards and Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein called on Congress to develop a far-reaching broadband policy that would accelerate the rollout of faster broadband across the U.S. But what specifically? How about greater financial assistance for communities and local governments to build open access fiber optic last mile infrastructure for starters since the existing telco/cable duopoly apparently can't absorb the required capital expenditures. After all, if the government can come to the aid to the U.S. financial services industry with hundreds of billions of dollars, it seems to me it could also help in the development of the infrastructure over which finance and commerce is increasingly transacted. A bonus would be increased economic activity as indicated by this California study issued last November that concluded the state stands to gain 1.8 million jobs and $132 billion of new payroll over the next 10 years with a 3.8 percent increase in the utilization of broadband technology.

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Behold America's broadband backwater"

Behold America's broadband backwater. For the nation that pioneered the Internet, extending fast connections to small towns and rural areas has proved a daunting challenge. Carriers are loath to build networks where they can't sell service at a profit, and since 2003 more than $1.2 billion in federal loans aimed at helping private carriers serve remote areas has addressed only the most extreme cases. According to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, released in July, only 38% of rural American households have access to high-speed Internet connections. That's an improvement from 15% in 2005, but it pales in comparison with 57% and 60% for city and suburb dwellers, respectively.

The lack of fast Web access is helping create a country of broadband haves and have-nots -- a division that not only makes it harder for businesses to get work done, but also impedes workers' efforts to find jobs, puts students at a disadvantage, and generally leaves a wide swath of the country less connected to the growing storehouse of information on the Web -- from health sites to news magazines to up-to-date information on Presidential candidates. "Broadband is a distance killer, which can especially help rural Americans," says John Horrigan, a Pew researcher. "Broadband is not just an information source for news and civic matters, but it's also a pathway to participation."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bugged by persistent Yahoo/Firefox browser navigation problem

Why couldn't Yahoo leave well enough alone? Come July, it forced users of its My Yahoo! home page to leave a perfectly good version of the page that had been in place for years for a new, upgraded version. After more than two months, however, it seems more like a forced downgrade than an upgrade.

The reason: a nagging navigation compatibility issue with your blogger's -- and many other folks' -- favorite browser, Firefox 3.0. Clicking on an article link in one of the My Yahoo! modules gets a user to the article fine and even remembers where on the page of the article one left off if one navigates back to the article from the My Yahoo! home page.

But back navigating out of the article back to the My Yahoo! home page takes the reader to the top of the My Yahoo! home page, losing the location of the module containing the article viewed. That requires scrolling up and down the My Yahoo! home page to visually locate the module.

Yahoo engineers say they're aware of the problem but point the finger of blame at Mozilla, Firefox's creator. Mozilla has confirmed the problem and has had an open "Bugzilla" on the issue since not long after Yahoo's "upgrade" but still no fix.

Since Mozilla can't seem to squash the irksome bug, seems to me the best solution here is for Yahoo to simply allow users to migrate back to the previous -- and bug free -- version of My Yahoo!

UPDATE 2/16/09: The problem still continues despite this 10/30/08 email from Yahoo! Customer Care:

We understand your concerns. We are working to resolve the technical issue with your browser not returning to the same position on the page when navigating back to it as soon as possible. While we cannot provide you with an accurate estimate of how long this resolution will take, you can rest assured that we hope to have the issue resolved soon. We appreciate your patience.

Patience, indeed. I imagine for many Firefox users out there, their patience has worn pretty thin by now after months and months with no fix.

Many industrialized nations barely keeping up with Internet throughput demand

A survey by router maker Cisco Systems out today reports many industrialized nations are barely able to provide their residents broadband connections that are capable of robust interaction with Internet content and applications.

According to the survey, that minimum standard is an asymmetrical connection of 3.75 Mbps on the downside and 1 Mbps for uploads -- with latency of no more than 95 milliseconds. However in just three to five years, burgeoning Internet content and applications will require download speeds of 11.25 Mbps and uploads of 5 Mbps even lower latency -- 60 milliseconds or less.

These numbers are sobering and starkly illustrate how fast broadband throughput demand is outstripping capacity, pointing to the need for a major overhaul of the current telecommunications infrastructure. What's more, many in the U.S. where Cisco is based, for example, can't even get throughput anything close to what the survey considers necessary for a decent Internet experience.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Senate Commerce Committee Sets Broadband Hearing

Broadcasting & Cable reports today that the Senate Commerce Committee scheduled a full committee hearing Sept. 16 on the benefits of broadband.

Extending broadband to underserved areas is one of the priorities of a Democratic administration, according to the recently approved Democratic platform, which pledged that the Democrats will "implement a national broadband strategy … that enables every American household, school, library and hospital to connect to a world-class communications infrastructure."

The hearing, "Why Broadband Matters," will examine various areas, including access to government information, education, jobs and telemedicine.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Misgivings in Maryland over Verizon FiOS reach

Charles County, Maryland commissioners are concerned a franchise deal the county is finalizing with Verizon to install Verizon's proprietary FiOS fiber optic cable in county rights of way won't serve the county's telecommunications needs.

SouthMdNews.com reports:

‘‘I want to know how we’re improving what we [have] now,” said commissioners’ President F. Wayne Cooper (D). He compared the pending Verizon deal to that of a builder making big promises in order to secure approval for a small project.

‘‘This sounds an awful lot like ‘let me build the retail now, and I’ll build the offices later.’”

Again, staff was reluctant to discuss the details of the Verizon agreement on the record. However, Rick Elrod, the county’s consultant for the Verizon deal, admitted that the Verizon project being discussed would not be as broad as the commissioners would like.

Sounds like the commissioners need to consider alternatives such as open access fiber lest they end up with angry constituents due to the limitations of the proposed Verizon FiOS project.

Friday, August 22, 2008

4G wireless broadband seen as potential game changing technology

Fourth generation (referred to as 4G or LTE--Long Term Evolution) wireless service expected to be deployed between 2010 and 2012 has the potential to be a game changer for IP-based advanced telecommunications services. The GSM Association (GSMA) predicts the technology will be able to provide 100 Mbps broadband connections, rivaling the throughput of fiber optic wireline services such as Verizon's FiOS, according to a report published this week in mobile news. The big questions of course are whether and when it can.

Blair Levin, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus and a reportedly a rumored Federal Communications Commission nominee in an Obama administration, apparently thinks 4G will alter the playing field in broadband, telling this week's CoBank Communications Industry Executive Forum in Colorado that it has the potential to dramatically expand the cannibalization of wireline-based connections. That means people will not only ditch their voice landlines as they have in droves over the past few years, but also their cable and DSL-based broadband services since 4G's speeds will surpass these and at least approximate the 50Mbs throughput of pure fiber plays offered by Verizon, SureWest Communications and others.

But once again, 4G's broadband capabilities remain speculative and no one yet knows if 4G can really deliver on its potential and whether its costs can support a business model allowing it be be widely offered in the same footprint currently covered by existing 3G wireless services, which in some areas without wireline-based services is the sole terrestrial broadband option. Additionally, 4G must overcome the high latency that can render 3G connections decidedly less than snappy.

Meanwhile, the Sprint and Clearwire predict with expected regulatory approval by year end, their WiMAX rollout will leapfrog 3G and offer a technologically superior alternative with better range. Longer range translates into fewer transmission towers and lower latency.
Not only does WiMAX's longer range make it more suitable for less densely populated areas, it also reduces the need for fiber backhaul -- less widely available outside of metro areas -- since there will be fewer transmission sites to feed.

Looking ahead over the next several years, it appears likely the U.S. wireless broadband market will bifurcate with 4G/LTE-based systems run by the big telcos like AT&T and Verizon dominating in metro areas and WiMAX and WiMAX players such as Sprint/Clearwire taking control at the fringes and outside of metro areas.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Go suck a satellite, AT&T spokesman reiterates

AT&T's marketing slogan "Your world delivered" should be followed by a huge asterisk directing readers to fine print that states:

* Provided you reside in our world, which may or may not exist in this or other dimensions, parallel universes or those comprised of dark matter and/or energy.

An AT&T spokesman drove home the point this week, telling the Eureka (Calif.) Reporter “People choose to live where they choose to live. (How profound) We have a broadband solution for everybody in areas where it’s not feasible to stretch the wireline network via satellite.”

In other words, "Your world isn't necessarily our world and if it's not, we're sorry, you'll just have to go suck a satellite." However, that's hardly a good option as some local residents quoted in the Reporter article note, pointing to its slow and less than reliable connections and high costs that make it more suitable for remote Arctic regions than the lower 48 states.

Connie Davis, a Web-based business owner and treasurer of the Hoopa (Calif.) Association, has the right idea when it comes to countering the big telco's lackadaisical stance. Davis says people cannot look to large telcos or even their local governments for help (the latter hardly surprising given California's difficulty in keeping both state and local govenment functioning these days) getting broadband. They must take matters into their own hands at the grass roots level and most importantly, think outside the box. Moreover, Davis has no time for delaying games packaged as "studies" of broadband availability and demand. "We don’t need to do studies," Davis says. "We don’t need to talk about this. We just need to do it because we need it.” I couldn't have said it better myself, Connie.

I hope the millions of folks stuck in broadband black holes throughout the U.S. follow her advice and form fiber optic and wireless cooperatives they can control and operate rather than leaving themselves at the mercy of big telcos and cable companies who are about as responsive to their needs as the former Soviet phone company.
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