Wednesday, August 22, 2012

FCC report finds broadband deployments still too slow | Politics and Law - CNET News

Roughly 19 million Americans still don't have broadband Internet, according to a report released Tuesday by the Federal Communications Commission.

This is the eighth year that the FCC has issued the report, which is a requirement of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. And for the third year in a row, the agency has found that broadband service is not being rolled out in a "reasonable and timely fashion." Still, the report sees an improvement over the year before, when the FCC found that 26 million Americans lacked broadband.

About 14.5 million of the 19 million Americans without broadband live in rural areas, according to the report. The FCC has been working to remedy the issue. Earlier this year, the FCC converted a $4.5 billion fund for rural telephone service into a fund that will subsidize expansion of broadband access.

And this doesn't just apply to rural areas.  There are plenty of people living in metro areas of the U.S. and exurbs lacking fast, dependable wireline Internet connectivity.

After eight years of these reports that basically say the same thing, one might conclude that rural Americans are getting the message that the incumbents aren't going to serve their needs and they'll have to form telecom cooperatives just as their predecessors did several decades ago.  As Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self Reliance so aptly put it, "Help is NOT on the way."  Not unless you and your neighbors help themselves.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Phone cos. lose broadband subscribers for 1st time - Yahoo! News

Phone cos. lose broadband subscribers for 1st time - Yahoo! News

And the telcos won't be able to catch up to the cablecos either.  Not when replacement of obsolete telco copper cable plant with fiber to the premise doesn't reach ROI fast enough and needed revenues to pay fat dividends are growing on the mobile wireless side of the house.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Big Bandwidth Can Unlock a New Competitive Advantage - Blair Levin - Voices - AllThingsD

Big Bandwidth Can Unlock a New Competitive Advantage - Blair Levin - Voices - AllThingsD

I haven't always seen eye to eye with Blair Levin, lead author of the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan issued in 2010 shortly before he joined the Aspen Institute think tank that year.  However, the above linked opinion article by Levin recently published in All Things D includes a number of statements with which I heartily agree.

First, Levin seems to be abandoning his prior stance that the private sector alone must invest in the massive, multi-billion dollar build of the necessary telecommunications infrastructure America needs to be competitive in an information based economy.  Levin now shares my view that incumbent, investor owned incumbent providers aren't in a position to do so because of their need to pay large dividends in the case of telcos and service high debt loads in the case of cable companies. "When it comes to wireline access to the Internet, instead of discussing upgrades, we are discussing bandwidth caps, tiers and rising prices. Instead of witnessing investment for growth, we are witnessing harvesting for dividends," Levin observes.
Levin also appears to have had an epiphany on what premises telecommunications service should be capable of delivering. Two years ago, Levin advocated for the subsidization of infrastructure than could deliver the FCC's minimum throughput standard of 4 Mbs down and 1 Mbs up to nearly all premises by 2020.  Levin now advocates what Andrew Cohill and others have dubbed "big broadband" (I prefer Levin's term, "big bandwidth"), perhaps not surprisingly since Levin also recently founded Gig U, an organization that Levin writes will build "gigabit hubs in nearly a dozen communities across the country, as well as a project to bring a 25X+ upgrade to hundreds of communities in rural America."  As to the latter project, this is the first I've heard of it and will be watching closely since it is these communities and not the university towns prioritized by Gig U that have the greatest need, being effectively disconnected from the Internet and relegated to substandard dialup and satellite connections.

I also found myself in strong agreement with Levin's call for a massive attitudinal shift away from the current mindset of bandwidth poverty fostered by incumbent providers who want to create the impression that more bandwidth cannot be created and therefore must be rationed and assessed a price premium.  Levin instead calls for a  “psychology of bandwidth abundance:” 
This psychology is what has fueled the uniquely American spirit of experimentation and innovation — from the first wave of European immigrants to the post-World War II America that helped rebuild Europe and Asia and created our modern economy and unleashed huge new industries from transportation to telecommunications. Unfortunately, however, the current environment suggests that we aren’t building that foundation. International studies on wireline bandwidth use differ, but all suggest we are mid-tier at best, and declining. 
Lest anyone doubt that the United States stands at a policy crossroads when it comes to upgrading its outdated telecommunications infrastructure, Levin notes that "[f]or the first time since American ingenuity birthed the commercial Internet, we do not have a single national wireline provider with plans to deploy a better network. For most Americans, five years from now, the best network available to them will be the same network they have today."  Levin's absolutely right on this point.

Finally, Levin notes this dismal state of affairs where accessing the Internet in 2017 will for many Americans be much like it was three decades before is not inevitable.  Levin is correct when he suggests that we must find ways to lower the cost of building needed infrastructure rather than shrugging and claiming it is simply out of reach:
We can regain leadership by improving the math for wireline investment through policy choices that have the effect of lowering capital or operating expenses or by raising the potential revenues or competitive threat to incumbents or new entrants. We have done this before. In fact, every new communications network deployment or upgrade has been preceded by a policy change that had one or more of these impacts. 

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Large WISP bites the dust; Satellites swarm for former customers

Main Street Broadband shuts down | JCFLORIDAN

According its LinkedIn profile, Atlanta-based Main Street Broadband, LLC is a privately held wireless broadband service provider "committed to bringing affordable high speed internet access and digital phone service to the un-served and underserved markets in the southeast" using "the latest in wireless broadband technology for both residential and business services."

The reason for the shutdown of the WISP according to the linked newspaper story is loan funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service was terminated.

Fixed wireless premise service like Main Street's plays an important interim role until communities and alternative business models emerge to construct fiber to the premises infrastructure needed for today and tomorrow's Internet protocol-based services.

Now satellite Internet providers are swarming to scoop up the defunct WISP's former customers.  Unfortunately for them, they now like all too many Americans face the lousy choice of sucking a satellite and its punitive bandwidth caps and poor connection quality or turning back the calendar to 1992 and dialugging over obsolete legacy telco copper cable.  But it doesn't have to be that way.  Communities can and should invest the necessary time, money and energy to build their own fiber infrastructure and operate it prudently and sustainably as a community and economic development asset.
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