Friday, May 30, 2008

California's "surprisingly low" ranking for broadband connectivity speed

California may be widely considered the U.S. information technology leader as the home of the famed Silicon Valley. But when it comes to broadband Internet connectivity, it doesn't even make the top 10 among states, according to's report on a recent study by mammoth Web server farmer Akamai.

David Belson, Akamai's director of market intelligence, told that California ranks 17th, with just 21 percent of its connections coming in at 5 Mbps or higher over Akamai's network. "It was surprising that California didn't rank higher on the high broadband list," Belson said.

The top states are Delaware with 60 percent of its connections to Akamai measured at 5 Mbps, Rhode Island (42 percent) New York (36 percent), Nevada (34 percent), Oklahoma (33 percent), Connecticut (32 percent), New Hampshire (30 percent), Massachusetts (29 percent), Maryland (27 percent) and the District of Columbia (27 percent).

A possible contributing factor is the mediocre, incomplete state of the Golden State's broadband infrastructure. In January, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Broadband Task Force reported California's broadband infrastructure is unevenly deployed with nearly 2,000 towns and communities lacking broadband access -- many in Northern California -- while other parts of the state, mostly in metro areas of Southern California, enjoy state of the art connections.

What's truly surprising isn't so much Akamai's findings but AT&T's dubious assertion in a recent California Public Utilities filing that it provides broadband to its entire service area in the state.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Offline outside of Olympia

According to the Everett, Washington HeraldNet, much of Washington state outside of its urban centers is still offline when it comes to broadband Internet access. The newspaper reports the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission is expected to release a study next month of the disparities in broadband use and availability in Columbia, Ferry, Grays Harbor, Lewis and Stevens counties in response to a legislative mandate to fill in the black spots.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

WSJ: About 60 municipal fiber projects deployed in last decade

According to The Wall Street Journal, about 60 U.S. towns and small cities including Bristol, Va.; Barnsville, Minn.; and Sallisaw, Okla., have built state-of-the-art fiber networks and an additional two dozen municipalities, including Chattanooga and Clarksville, Tenn., have launched or are considering similar initiatives.
The newspaper notes the projects have revived policy debates similar to those of more than seven decades ago when local governments opted to build out their own electrical distribution infrastructures to serve areas large private sector providers neglected.

The Nashville Tennessean, which carried and supplemented the WSJ story, reports Clarksville's Department of Electricity is building some 860 miles of fiber cable to offer TV service, broadband Internet and phone, and will start to sign up customers this year. Meanwhile, Columbia Power & Water Systems offers from 1Mbs to 7Mbs of broadband Internet speeds for residential customers at prices ranging from $29.95 to $52.95 per month.

The public providers complain the private providers are moving too slowly. They're willing to take on more risk than the private sector, and that risk is real for poorly planned and executed government run fiber systems as recent events with Utah's UTOPIA and IProvo systems illustrate. IProvo's financial problems have prompted the Provo City Council to consider selling off that city's system; a vote on the transaction is set for this week.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Cynical spin campaign shifts broadband build out burden to consumers

Telecommunications companies are engaged in a subtle PR campaign that attempts to shift the burden to consumers to prove they want broadband before they build out their infrastructures in order to make it available. Their position -- made clear in this PC World item via Yahoo News -- is unless demand can be shown, we aren't building it.

It's really nothing more than a cynical, self serving delaying tactic, part of the paper chase diversion of drawing maps and aggregating demand that allows the telcos and cable companies to sit back and do nothing, content to depreciate their aging and increasingly obsolete infrastructures instead of investing in upgrading them for the modern Internet era of telecommunications. They're essentially saying, if consumers can't prove to our satisfaction they really want broadband, then they can get by with circa 1992 dialup connections or go suck a satellite and put up with high cost and sluggish, often unreliable connections. The problem is consumers won't ever be able to do so since the true intent is to buy time, not prove market demand.

Consultant Jeff Kagan tells PC World most consumers don't need more than a 3Mbps connection even as broadband providers are rolling out connections up to 20Mbps. For now and for those mired in broadband black holes for years, Kagan's right. But just because most consumers don't need a 20Mbps connection doesn't mean they don't need -- or want as some industry apologists suggest -- a 3Mbps connection. Providers should be providing broadband throughout their entire service areas at that minimum level of service right now and planning for 20Mbps connections in the near future.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

AT&T audaciously claims "broadband access to all of its California service area"

One of the physical principles of cosmic black holes is no information can be known about what's inside of them because no information can escape the powerful gravity of the singularity at their centers.

Clearly, that same principle also applies to the numerous broadband telecommunications black holes in California based on a recent AT&T filing with the California Public Utilities Commission. In the introduction to the April 16, 2008 filing, AT&T asserts it "now offers broadband access to all of its California service area."

Apparently the unfortunate residences and small businesses who cannot order wireline-based broadband service from AT&T such as DSL or the telco's next generation U-Verse bundled service offering higher speeds than AT&T's legacy DSL service haven't gotten the message. Of course not. In AT&T's universe, they simply don't exist and nothing can be known about them. Out of sight, out of mind.

Perhaps AT&T is fudging by counting the limited areas where it offers its EDGE wireless network service that provides throughput not much better than the antiquated 1994 Federal Communications Commission "broadband" standard of 200Kbs. No dice. By today's standards, that's not broadband. Ditto satellite, which the telco deployed throughout much of the U.S. -- as if the entire nation was situated in the remote regions of the Arctic Circle -- in 2006 via a reseller agreement with WildBlue.

The AT&T filing objects to proposed CPUC rules designed to reduce California's digital divide and speed broadband infrastructure build out by requiring telcos and cable providers to report by census tract where they provide broadband and delineated by various speed tiers, i.e. less than 1 mbps; 1-5 mbps; and 5-10 mbps. The AT&T filing asserts CPUC has no authority to regulate broadband services because they are information services preempted by Federal Communications Commission jurisdiction.

Report: Comcast considers selling off infrastruture in Maine

The Times Record of Maine reports today that Comcast is mulling selling off its holdings in the state as part of a plan to dispose of 46 properties nationwide. (Separately, an industry source discloses one of the Comcast plants to be divested serves Coalinga in California's Central Valley.)

According to the newspaper, municipal officials in several Maine towns said they were contacted by Comcast and informed of the possible sale. A Comcast spokesman declined to comment on the report.

Following this report, the Associated Press May 23 reported Comcast plans to sell off its plant in eight states serving between 400,000 and 500,000 subscribers. The states reportedly include Maine, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, Virginia, Georgia, West Virginia and California. Comcast is staying mum on the specific locations where it will sell off its assets.

Robert Serrano, an analyst at SNL Kagan in Monterey, Calif., told the AP Comcast is "pruning some of the more outlying areas in order to make a more efficient cluster."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

AT&T: Aerial copper cable theft at "almost epidemic levels"

A little more than a year ago, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens told the Senate Commerce Committee that America's legacy copper telecommunications cable designed for an era of analog voice communications poses a major obstacle to the wider deployment of fiber optic-based digital broadband infrastructure that the nation needs now and in the future.

Legacy copper cable is also creating a choke point for emerging wireless broadband providers who can't get sufficient backhaul over 1970s era copper T-1 lines that provide a narrow pipe of only 1.5Mbs.

While certainly not by design, the recent rapid run up of the price of scrap copper could help expedite the needed transition from copper to fiber and speed the deployment of fiber. The reason: high copper prices have spawned a wave of theft of aerial copper telecommunications cable that an AT&T official told American Public Media's Marketplace program today is "almost at epidemic levels" and getting worse.

Comcast gets well deserved poor customer satisfaction ranking

Not surprisingly, Comcast's customer satisfaction ranking in the Q1 2008 American Customer Satisfaction Index is in the cellar at 54. Dealing with this company is like talking to a wall. While Comcast's Web site informs me that I qualify for various services when I enter my address in ZIP Code 95709, when an attempt is made to order service, it initiates an endless loop with on line customer service personnel who simply shrug and repeat, "You're not in our system."

Truly surprising given AT&T's dismal track record of over promising -- "Your World Delivered" -- and under delivering is the telco 's score of 75 out of 100. AT&T informs me I'll be able to order its U-Verse bundled service in the next 1-2 months. With the absence of newly installed U-Verse VRADs in my area, I'll withhold judgment as to whether I'd vote to raise the telco's score.

The index is produced by the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business in partnership with the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and CFI Group, and is supported in part by ForeSee Results, corporate sponsor for the e-commerce and e-business measurements.

Qwest petitions FCC for $4.2B in USF funds to defray broadband infrastructure costs

The Denver Business Journal reports Denver-based telco Qwest has filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission seeking $4.2 billion from the Universal Service Fund to defray the cost of deploying broadband infrastructure in its 14-state service area located in the western United States.

According to the newspaper, current FCC rules make the funds inaccessbile to Qwest.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Big WiMAX deal could have sufficient backhaul due to cableco involvement

Less than a week after an Unstrung analysis noted the launch of Sprint's Xohm WiMAX was delayed due to insufficient backhaul over 1970's era copper-based T-1 lines that also threatens future 4G rollouts, The Wall Street Journal reports Sprint, WiMAX player Clearwire, Web portal Google, and chip maker Intel and big cable companies Comcast and Time Warner Cable have joined forces to create a WiMAX protocol-based wireless voice and broadband network.

The offering, which could provide downloads of 5Mbs on a par with current cable Internet service, isn't likely to encounter backhaul problems since it involves both wireless and wireline players -- the latter being Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Both companies are likely to be able to provide adequate backhaul. But some observers aren't so sure. One notes there are doubts that the cableco partners can provide adequate backhaul capacity without upgrading their infrastructures. Additionally, Google told Unstrung it won't be making available its proprietary fiber to serve as backhaul for the new Clearwire venture. According to Unstrung, for now Clearwire intends to rely primarily on its proprietary microwave network for backhaul.

If the WiMAX technology works as expected and this service is rolled out quickly, in addition to mobile customers it could sign on fixed residential and small business customers located in areas not served by the cable companies or those stuck in the many telco broadband black holes where DSL wasn't deployed in the past several years and where infrastructure for Internet Protocol-based advanced bundled services has yet to be built.

A report released May 7 by the UK-based Juniper Research supports this analysis. Report author Howard Wilcox predicts WiMAX "will be an attractive offer" in areas where there are no wired networks, and in areas where the existing DSL speed is suboptimal, (i.e. 1.5Mbs or less). "WiMAX will solve the broadband access problem for users located at the fringes of DSL coverage," Wilcox wrote.

Friday, May 02, 2008

DirecTV's "premiere" of BPL dies at the box office

Last August, DirecTV it announced the "premiere" of broadband over power line (BPL) service in the Dallas metro market in alliance with BPL player Current.

The Denton, Texas Record Chronicle reports today the deal is dead and Current has sold its infrastructure to a power company that will use it monitor meters, transformers and other devices on the grid.

Verizon introduces 3Mbs DSL in Western Masschusetts digital ghetto

Western Massachusetts, which the Boston Globe last July described as a "new kind of ghetto" confined to dial up and satellite Internet access, is finally entering the modern age of telecommunications.

Nearly two dozen communities are set to get by summer what's increasingly being viewed as basic broadband service: 3Mbs downloads delivered by Verizon DSL, the telco announced May 1.

Verizon said the DSL deployment would reach two-thirds of the 31 western Massachusetts communities identified by the state as having no broadband services. (What about the other one third, the residents of those areas must surely be asking) Verizon added the rollout is in line with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's initiative to bring more broadband to unserved and underserved communities in Massachusetts.

"The governor and western Massachusetts legislative delegation have put the proper focus on the real need for broadband expansion in the region, and we want to do everything we can to address that need," said Donna Cupelo, Verizon region president for Massachusetts and Rhode Island. We look forward to working with our government leaders to explore ways to bring broadband to other areas that are in need in Massachusetts."

This blogger will be watching closely to see if the Verizon's bigger counterpart, AT&T, will make similar efforts to shrink its own sprawling broadband back holes in its 22 state service area.

Another think tank report calls for U.S. broadband policy leadership

America has an incomplete telecommunications infrastructure that frequently fails to provide broadband over much of its "last mile" and places the U.S. behind many other industrialized nations measured on broadband access and cost. The problem persists because of private market failure, lack of government leadership and proactive policies and ideological gridlock, concludes a report released this week.

Like other think tanks that warn the U.S. is at a crisis point for broadband, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation calls for a strong, effective national broadband policy, arguing that broadband is too critical to the economic well being of the nation to be left solely to market forces. Both public policymakers and private sector providers play a key leadership role, the report asserts, as occurs in other nations with greater broadband access at lower cost:

We should be able to agree that the United States can do better on broadband. The most important step the United States can take as a nation to improve our broadband performance may be to move beyond the divisive and unproductive debate over broadband policy that revolves around arguments about whether we are behind or ahead; whether our relative position is due to policy or other factors; whether unbundling is a magic bullet or an investment killer; and of course, whether net neutrality is the greatest threat to the Internet since its inception or something that is an anachronistic concept.

It’s time to reject the view that somehow this is a zero-sum game between corporate America and government. Both must clearly play a leadership role if we are to make headway on broadband performance. This means shifting the debate to focus on the key issues: how to enact public policies that emphasize the primary goal— getting as many American households as possible using high-speed broadband networks to engage in all sorts of online activities, including education, health care, work, commerce, and interacting with their government.

To give broadband providers the economic incentives to invest in broadband infrastructure, the report offers these specific recommendations:

1. More favorable tax policies to encourage investment in broadband networks, such as accelerated depreciation and exempting broadband services from federal, state, and local taxation.

2. Continue to make more spectrum, including “white spaces,” available for next-generation wireless data networks.

3. Expand the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service Broadband Program and target the program to places that currently do not have non-satellite broadband available.

4. Reform the federal Universal Service Fund program to extend support for rural broadband to all carriers, and consider providing the funding through a reverse auction mechanism.

5. Fund a national program to co-fund state-level broadband support programs, such as Connect Kentucky or North Carolina e-NC Authority.

6. Promote the widespread use of a national, user-generated, Internet-based broadband mapping system that would track location, speed, and price of broadband.

7. State and local governments should take action to make it easier for providers to deploy broadband services, including making it easier to access rights-of-way.

8. Support initiatives around the nation to encourage broadband usage and digital literacy.

9. Fund a revitalized Technology Opportunities Program, with a particular focus on the development of nationally scalable Web-based projects that address particular social needs, including law enforcement, health care, education, and access for persons with disabilities.

10. Exempt broadband Internet access from federal, state, and local taxes.

11. Support new applications, including putting more public content online, improving e-government, and supporting telework, telemedicine, and online learning programs.

Dying on the copper vine: Emerging wireless players face potential backhaul starvation on obsolete T-1s

Wireless broadband, which many see as the solution to fill in the gaps in America's incomplete "hodge podge" wireline telecommunications infrastructure, is itself vulnerable to these same wireline shortcomings, an analysis in Unstrung points out.

The reason, the analysis notes, is wireless broadband remains too dependent on 1970s era T-1 copper data lines for backhaul. T-1's provide far too little bandwidth to support the next generation wireless cell and broadband service known as 4G or Fourth Generation.

The Unstrung analysis also suggests the top tier telcos such as AT&T and Verizon will take advantage of the situation to allow wireless competitors such as Spint, Clearwire and others to literally die on the obsolete copper T-1 vine due to lack of backhaul bandwidth until the big guys get around to updating it with fiber to support their own 4G rollouts.
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