Wednesday, October 28, 2009

White paper highlights role of muni fiber as U.S. develops national broadband plan

Here's an excellent white paper on the status of U.S. municipal fiber to the premises systems issued this month by the Fiber to the Home Council.

The report lists 57 muni fiber networks that serve both homes and businesses operating as of October 2009 (it adds at least 15 more serve businesses only), noting that "a growing number of municipal governments are taking it upon themselves to build FTTH networks – much in the way that they have previously built roads, sewers and/or electrical systems – as a means of ensuring that local residents have access to necessary services, in this case, Internet connectivity for the 21st Century."

These muni fiber systems typically spring up after private service providers have declined to upgrade their networks or build such systems, the report notes. As such, the white paper concludes, these networks are an important component of the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure and should be encouraged.

That conclusion should be given due consideration by the Federal Communications Communications Commission as it develops a recommendation due to Congress in February 2010 on a national broadband deployment plan.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Broadband stimulus funds insufficient -- but agreement ends there

It seems everyone agrees that the $7.2 billion in subsidies set aside in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for broadband infrastructure construction aren't anywhere close to what's needed to overhaul the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure to allow it to support ubiquitous next generation, Internet-Protocol-based telecommunications.

Blair Levin, the Federal Communications Commission's broadband czar, described the stimulus subsidies just days before President Barack Obama took office in January as a down payment, representing only a portion of the new administration's planned efforts.

This week, the Boston-based Yankee Group concurred, issuing a summary of a study concluding the $7.2 billion figure is woefully inadequate, representing less than a third of the needed investment.
The Yankee Group study also reinforces the FCC's own findings. In a Sept. 29 news release, the FCC declared $7.2 billion in grants and loan subsidies contained in the economic stimulus package "are insufficient to achieve national purposes." The FCC said $20 billion would be the price of a minimum "basic" broadband that would be quickly outmoded.

The Yankee Group put the minimum figure close to the FCC's: $24 billion. Either of these figures would represent a wasteful investment in technology that would soon be obsolete. The FCC's $20 billion would achieve connectivity ranging between 768 Kbs -- already outmoded -- and 3 Mbs, which is on the verge of obsolescence given the growing amount of high bandwidth video content. To bring the U.S. where it needs to be for the future -- fiber to the premises providing throughput of 100 Mbs or better -- the FCC puts the number at $350 billion.

Behind the consensus that more money is needed beyond the $7.2 in the stimulus package is disagreement over where it will come from and under what terms. Splits exist even within the Obama administration. Earlier this month Levin was quoted in Multichannel News telling an FCC meeting that private investment -- and not by implication federal subsidies -- would foot the bill. But just four months earlier, Jim Kohlenberger, chief of staff for the White House’s Office of Science and Technology, said private market failure has hamstrung telecom infrastructure investment.

The private sector -- largely represented by the legacy telco/cable duopoly and their astroturf groups -- is firing warning shots across the bow of the FCC as it readies a major regulatory policy recommendation due to Congress in February. They are sending the message that unless they can invest in infrastructure on their own terms and retain control over it, further investment will be jeopardized. That will lead to a reverse stimulus, eliminating rather than creating jobs, the Internet Innovation Alliance warned Oct. 20.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

FCC likely to favor open access networks in forthcoming policy recommendation

The Federal Communications Commission is approaching a critical juncture in its congressionally mandated task of devising national policy to further advanced (broadband) telecommunications infrastructure build out. The issue facing the FCC is to what extent the nation emulate the open access network regulatory model used by other countries that have leaped past and made the U.S. and its proprietary, closed networks an also ran rather than a leader in deploying advanced, Internet protocol-based telecommunications.

The FCC commissioned a report suggesting that regulatory policy in the form of the 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act requiring telcos to unbundle their networks and allow providers of voice and Internet services to lease space on them had it right and that model needs to be embraced again. Here's a good summary of the study by

Look for the FCC will lean strongly toward open access in developing its plan due to Congress next February. The Obama administration stipulated that subsidies set aside for broadband infrastructure construction in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 be for open access networks. That sends a strong signal to the FCC where it stands on open access.

The incumbent duopoly telco and cable companies will protest open access will discourage them from investing in building out their proprietary networks. It's a non sequitur. They're already discouraged from doing so by the economics of their business models. Those models simply don't allow them to make the big investments in their network infrastructure necessary to allow the United States to catch up and bring its outdated telecommunications networks -- particularly over the last mile -- to where they need to be.

This isn't economic rocket science. The average consumer who has asked his or her local telco or cable company for years why the folks a couple miles away -- and often closer -- have broadband and they don't already knows this. They've been repeatedly told by customer service and field personnel -- when these personnel are being frank and direct -- that their neighborhoods simply cost too much to serve and they're SOL for the foreseeable.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Prince Charles warns of UK "broadband deserts"

The UK's broadband "not spots" are getting royal attention from the Prince of Wales. The BBC today reported Prince Charles wrote the Daily Telegraph to point out that "Too many rural households are currently unable to access the internet at satisfactory speeds."

As the Brits would say, Charles used rather extraordinary language to condemn the situation, calling the lack of investment in modern telecommunications infrastructure "vandalism on a grand scale" of rural economies.

From my perspective from across the Big Pond and on the other side of the North American continent, it seems a big contributor is inside the box thinking among our British friends. They appear stuck in the publicly switched voice telephone over copper network paradigm that can only deliver DSL -- and only so far. Instead, they and the rest of us need to be thinking in terms of advanced, second generation telecommunications over fiber to the premises delivering multiple digital services that copper was never designed to accommodate.

Monday, October 05, 2009

FCC's Levin: Private sector must foot bill for broadband build out

A Multichannel News item today quotes Blair Levin, the Federal Communications Commission's broadband czar, as telling an FCC meeting last week on the broadband deployment plan mandated by Congress that it will largely fall to the private sector to fund the build out America's broadband infrastructure.

Whatever the cost, FCC broadband consultant Blair Levin conceded that private industry will foot most of the bill.

“We have to recognize that most of this [broadband] ecosystem is funded by the private sector, and we expect that to continue,” said Levin. "But government has a role to move whichever levers are necessary to improve the health of that ecosystem, he said.

I respectfully submit Levin's analysis is too limited in scope. The ecosystem will also require substantial public sector involvement and that of non governmental organizations (NGOs) like nonprofit telecom consumer cooperatives that bridged the gap at the beginning of the 20th century when investor owned telephone companies shunned their communities because they couldn't afford to both serve them and earn a return for their investors.

Reconstructing America's outdated single purpose, copper-based analog telecom infrastucture and replacing it with the open access, next generation fiber to the premises Internet Protocol-based system it needs now and in the future is an enormously costly endeavor that cannot be borne solely by investor-owned telcos and cable companies.

In developing its forthcoming national broadband plan, the FCC has estimated it would cost $350 billion to build this kind of infrastructure. So costly in fact that just days after the FCC issued that estimate, the
James L. Knight Foundation issued a report equating the task of building adequate infrastructure ensuring all Americans have access to the modern digital telecommunications necessary for a 21st century democracy to the Eisenhower administration's 1950s project to build the interstate highway system.

Had the private sector been relied upon to foot the cost of the massive highway project, Route 66 might have been in use as the nation's main cross county highway until only recently instead of serving as a reminiscent film setting of post WWII America.

Levin's suggestion the private sector primarily bear the cost of updating the nation's telecom infrastructure is also at odds with remarks by another Obama administration official at the
Broadband Stimulus National Town Hall held in Washington in early June. Market failure has constrained the ability of America's privately owned telecom infrastructure to deliver universally accessible broadband-based services, requiring government to fill the gap, Jim Kohlenberger, chief of staff for the White House’s Office of Science and Technology told gathering, according to a report.
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