Thursday, August 28, 2014

Telecom Plan Raises Questions About Future Internet Service | Vermont Public Radio

Telecom Plan Raises Questions About Future Internet Service | Vermont Public Radio: “It’s shortsighted to make that investment in technology that can’t go the whole nine yards,” says Irv Thomae, chairman of the governing board of ECFiber, which currently serves 800 customers in six central Vermont towns.

Thomae says the draft plan doesn’t represent a commitment to the Legislature’s goal.

“If the Telecom Plan says we aren’t to take the 100 Mbps seriously, then we aren’t going to take it seriously,” he says.

Thomae says state funded "dark fiber" projects constructed by the Vermont Telecommunications Authority should be the model for reaching the 2014 goal. These projects enable service providers to lease space and compete for customers.

Thomae says the state should raise money through the sale of bonds to finance an extensive dark fiber system.

Thomae raises a key issue on U.S. telecom infrastructure planning and financing policy. The nation is at an inflection point where the service line extensions of the legacy telephone and cable companies have gone about as far as they can within their business models in terms of making landline Internet service accessible to all American homes and businesses. And possessing the capacity to deliver the bandwidth that will be needed going forward as bandwidth demand doubles every couple of years or so, consistent with Moore's Law on microprocessor development.

Vermont's situation is a metaphor for the United States as a whole and points to the need for greatly expanded public sector financing capacity for this infrastructure that's as critical to the 21st century as highways and electricity were to the 20th.

How big telecom smothers city-run broadband | Center for Public Integrity

How big telecom smothers city-run broadband | Center for Public Integrity: “We don’t quarrel with the fact that AT&T has shareholders that it has to answer to,” Bowling said with a drawl while sitting in the spacious wood-paneled den of her log-cabin-style home. “That’s fine, and I believe in capitalism and the free market. But when they won’t come in, then Tennesseans have an obligation to do it themselves.” 

Republican Tennessee State Senator Janice Bowling puts this debate over the role of the public sector in financing or building telecommunications infrastructure into the proper perspective. It's not a contest over capitalism or any other economic philosophy. It's about the hard reality that markets aren't perfect and can and do fail. When that market is for a service like telecommunications that plays such a central role in the health of the economy as a whole, public sector involvement is entirely appropriate and the interests of a single sector of the economy must take a subordinate position.

At a meeting three weeks after Bowling introduced Senate Bill 2562, the state’s three largest telecommunications companies — AT&T, Charter, and Comcast Corp. — tried to convince Republican leaders to relegate the measure to so-called “summer study,” a black hole that effectively kills a bill. Bowling, described as “feisty” by her constituents, initially beat back the effort and thought she’d get a vote.

That’s when Joelle Phillips, president of AT&T’s Tennessee operations, leaned toward her across the table in a conference room next to the House caucus leader’s office and said tersely, “Well, I’d hate for this to end up in litigation,” Bowling recalls.

Actually, no. Legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies love litigation because it fits perfectly with their strategy of buying time and years of delay since they are unable to invest sufficient funds to upgrade their monopolistic and dupolistic telecommunications markets due the limitations of their business models.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Unpacking claims of “unfair competition” when the public sector finances or builds fiber to the premise infrastructure

Incumbent telephone and cable companies often cry “unfair competition” when the public sector invests in or builds fiber to the premise (FTTP) infrastructure. Let’s unpack that assertion. From the point of view of these companies, anyone who builds infrastructure they don’t own is a competitor. They really don’t compete to gain customers in a given geographical area. That’s because telecommunications infrastructure isn’t truly a competitive market characterized by many sellers and buyers. Rather than competing for customers, the incumbents’ true interest is in protecting their monopoly or duopoly status.
True competition occurs in a market where buyers and sellers are on a level playing field and buyers have relatively equal access to market players and information on their services, benefits, prices and value offered. That doesn’t happen in telecommunications infrastructure. Incumbents have the upper hand in deciding which neighborhoods they will serve, what services will be offered and at what price. And they don’t disclose where they plan to build FTTP infrastructure.

The public sector typically gets involved in investing in or building FTTP infrastructure not to compete with the incumbents, but to remedy the market failure they create given their power to pick winners and losers among the neighborhoods they opt to serve and those they choose to redline and not offer service.

Finally, since the public sector typically invests in open access infrastructure and provides wholesale access to Internet service providers (including the incumbents), that’s also not direct market competition with incumbent telephone and cable companies. It’s an entirely different playing field and certainly not the same one used by the incumbents who won’t play ball unless they own the field. Hence, there’s no direct competition, fair or unfair.

U.S. FTTP infrastructure projects falling into 2 categories

The construction of fiber to the premise (FTTP) Internet infrastructure in the United States is falling into two main categories:
  1. Projects in large and midsize metro centers such as those started or planned by Google Fiber, AT&T and Century Link as well as some cable companies. An article in the July 2014 issue of Broadband Communities magazine lists these deployments.
  2. Community or regional projects by local governments, utility cooperatives and public-private partnerships serving less densely populated areas not containing large cities such as those tracked by the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

The bifurcation of these infrastructure projects is distinguished by the economic health of their respective markets. Those in the first category undertaken by investor-owned providers that need a rapid return on investment are targeted to markets undergoing rapid economic growth, Broadband Communities editor Masha Zager writes in her article on large metro projects, citing the FTTP deployment strategy of Cox Communications:

Cox explicitly named rapid growth as one of its criteria for selecting cities for gigabit deployments. In contrast to municipalities, which often deploy fiber in an effort to jump-start lagging economies, large players favor localities that are healthier to begin with.

For the second category of projects, FTTP is clearly an economic development strategy to a far greater extent than the first. Unlike those in the first category financed by the impatient capital of telcos and cablecos burdened with high debt loads and large shareholder dividend obligations, community or regional projects will rely on patient capital. Sources include long term public bonds and creative public-private partnerships that blend public and private funding such as the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA).

The second category is also distinguished from the first by the ownership and business models of the network infrastructure. In the first category of investor-owned projects, the network is a proprietary, closed access property. The telcos and cablecos that own the networks charge a retail monthly subscription fee to connecting premises.

By contrast, the second category is more likely to utilize an open access business model (such as UTOPIA) where fiber infrastructure is like a public works project such as a road or highway. Instead of selling individual subscriptions to customer premises, an open access model operates as a wholesaler selling network access to Internet service providers who provide services to customer premises. This model is a better option for the second category of projects because it removes the business risk of getting sufficient numbers of premises to sign up for service in order for the network deployment to be economically viable.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

AT&T falls short on California landline infrastructure upgrades

AT&T California has not met requirements for the build out of infrastructure to make Internet-based video services available to at least 50 percent of its California telephone service area as of year-end 2012. 

That’s according to the California Public Utilities Commission’s Sixth Annual DIVCA Report for the year ending December 31, 2012 (issued July 31, 2014). DIVCA – the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 – specifies a five-year build out period of 2008 through 2012. (The relevant reference is at page 9 of the report.)

AT&T California qualified for relief from the five-year infrastructure build out requirement under a DIVCA exception in cases where a provider has been unable to sell Internet video services to at least 30 percent of households in its telephone service area.

This in turn has resulted in a significant customer quality issue. Many households in AT&T California’s telephone service territory are unable to order landline-delivered Internet services since AT&T video services (branded as U-Verse and which includes bundled Internet access and voice service) are delivered over decades-old copper cable plant. Instead, these customers are offered only substandard, obsolete dialup Internet service that cannot support the delivery of video services.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Advocates of municipal broadband face resistance over high-speed access |

Advocates of municipal broadband face resistance over high-speed access | Foes, including private Internet service providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Time Warner Cable, have a different view. They say they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading infrastructure to give high-speed access to every American, and that government shouldn’t compete against private companies, which must pay taxes and make a profit.
The assertion regarding "upgrading infrastructure to give high-speed access to every American" is a false statement. These providers segment their markets and redline neighborhoods deemed less profitable and have no plans to serve them, all the while making promises they cannot stand behind. The reason they cannot is they are constrained by inpatient shareholder investment capital and short term business models inappropriate for high cost capital infrastructure that can require decades to produce a return on investment.

The claim that government is unfairly competing with private sector telecommunications providers is also false in a strict economic sense. Competitive markets are characterized by many buyers and sellers. In telecommunications infrastructure, there are many buyers and users but few sellers, making the market a natural monopoly or duopoly. When the public sector steps in to build and/or finance telecommunications infrastructure, it does so because this market environment combined with the previously mentioned business model limitations of investor-owned telephone and cable companies produces market failure on the sell side. That failure has left millions of Americans unable to order modern Internet landline-delivered services at their homes and small businesses.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Latta ascribes wrong cause to constrained investment in last mile infrastructure

Rep. Bob Latta Weighs in on STELA, Title II & E-Rate | USTelecom: On the topic of Title II, net neutrality and broadband legislation, Latta said, “First of all, I believe in an open Internet — a free Internet without government intervention. When you look at where the Internet has come and where it’s going in the future, this has all been done on the private sector. It’s not been done because of what the Federal government has done.” According to Latta, by putting broadband under Title II to make it more like telecommunications using a law from 1935, “What we will see happen then is that the innovation out there that’s spurred about a trillion dollars in private investment is all of a sudden going to be tied up like it would be with a telephone company. We don’t want that. Because once you start that up, then all of a sudden innovation is going to slow up — not only innovation — the dollars put in it and the tens of thousands of jobs being created. So we don’t want that to happen. We want to make sure that it remains free, it stays open and it stays away from government control.”

The problem with this position is regulation isn't the cause of what the Federal Communications Commission estimates as nearly 20 million Americans who are not offered landline Internet connections to their homes. In addition, much of the nation remains served by outdated twisted pair copper plant built many decades ago for analog telephone service and not fiber to the premise needed today and in the future as bandwidth demand grows dramatically.

If legacy telephone and cable companies had innovative solutions to build that necessary infrastructure, they would have pursued them over the past two decades. They haven't been able to do so not because of regulatory burdens but rather market failure on the sell side. It's because their business models are oriented to gaining a return on infrastructure capital investment over time frames far shorter than what's needed given the high costs -- mostly labor -- of deploying that infrastructure. It is this economic consideration that stifles investment in last mile Internet infrastructure in the United States, not regulation.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority, Internet providers disagree on state of broadband - Roanoke Times: Roanoke News

Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority, Internet providers disagree on state of broadband - Roanoke Times: Roanoke News

This story illustrates that local government officials are growing less inclined to rely on what incumbent legacy telephone and cable companies claim they have in place or will build when it comes to last mile Internet infrastructure.

Good for them. Other local governments should follow this example and create and fund special districts and authorities to build the infrastructure they need. Collectively, their doing so will help the United States bridge a persistent Internet infrastructure gap that leaves millions of Americans without adequate connectivity -- many of them still forced to use dialup connections that were state of the art 20 years ago.
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