Monday, September 22, 2014

A Digital Desert: The Internet Debate Pits Local Communities Against Broadband Giants

A Digital Desert: The Internet Debate Pits Local Communities Against Broadband Giants: Bradley County and other rural communities outside Chattanooga have requested that EPB expand its world-class fiber connection to their area, because companies like Charter have failed to do so. EPB wants to expand its service to rural customers where economically feasible, but a state law passed in 1999 - before most American homes had internet access - is keeping the utility from doing so.

The economics for EPB (Chattanooga's local nonprofit electric utility) to construct fiber to the premise (FTTP) telecommunications infrastructure for Bradley County, Tennessee could well pencil out more easily than for the incumbent legacy phone and cable providers -- where it thus far hasn't.

It's time for state policymakers to repeal laws (or the federal government to preempt them) that restrict expansion by nonprofit telecommunications providers like EPB. It makes no sense from a public policy perspective to preserve a for-profit duopoly as an exclusive franchise without a broad socio-economic justification when lower cost community providers may be economically more able to bring FTTP connections to most all American homes and small businesses.

CWA's support of AT&T/DIRECTV merger based on fallacious logic

CWA says AT&T-DIRECTV merger will advance broadband buildout, help consumers, Workers | Speed Matters - Internet Speed Test: The AT&T/DIRECTV merger will improve the economics for AT&T’s investment in high-speed broadband, the critical infrastructure for the 21st century, CWA said. Video is the major driver of broadband expansion, producing the revenue stream to support investment in high-speed networks. As a stronger video competitor, a merged AT&T/DIRECTV will have the economic incentives to increase investment in the high-capacity networks that are so essential to drive economic growth, jobs, and the social benefits enabled by high-speed digital technology.

So asserts the Communications Workers of America in comments filed with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in support of AT&T's acquisition of DIRECTV.

The problem is the logic does not hold up. AT&T's deriving additional revenues from DIRECTV video services does not necessarily mean those additional funds will be invested in landline Internet infrastructure.

And why should that be the case, AT&T will likely ask itself once the deal goes through, when satellite does the job of delivering video content to residential premises? Instead, any video revenue bump from the deal will likely be plowed into earnings and dividends, not CAPex.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

LTE Reinvigorates the Broadband Wireless Access Marketplace, According to ABI Research - Yahoo Finance

LTE Reinvigorates the Broadband Wireless Access Marketplace, According to ABI Research - Yahoo Finance: LTE has turbocharged the mobile Internet experience for end-users, which has reflected in rapid adoption of LTE-capable smartphones along with other mobile devices, but it has also reinvigorated the broadband wireless marketplace. According to ABI Research, 1.26 billion households do not have DSL, cable, or fiber-optic broadband. Fixed and mobile telcos are looking to LTE to make the connection.
This is more an aspirational than realistic scenario. Radio spectrum lacks the bandwidth necessary to serve premise demand where there are typically multiple devices and heavy use of video streaming. In addition, the business and pricing models of the mobile space players like Verizon and AT&T are not designed to serve premises with "bandwidth by the bucket" pricing tiers and consumption caps.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Consumers Need Greater Internet Access and Faster Broadband Speeds

Consumers Need Greater Internet Access and Faster Broadband Speeds: Washington, D.C. – The Internet Association submitted comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today calling on the agency to implement pro-consumer policies to bring faster and better broadband service to all Americans, promote competition and choice in the broadband market, and protect an open Internet.

“The Internet is an indispensable tool that is necessary to stay competitive globally, and the Commission has a mandate to ensure the deployment of advanced broadband services nationwide,” said Michael Beckerman, President and CEO of The Internet Association. “Access to high speed Internet service is not a luxury in today’s economy. It is a necessity. Policymakers must encourage broadband abundance and ensure high speed Internet service is deployed everywhere.”

Of course there is little competition at the network edge controlled by incumbent legacy telephone and cable companies because the microeconomics make it a natural monopoly or duopoly with little incentive to invest in upgrades and expansions.

If the Internet Association wants to see the edge upgraded and expanded to fiber to the premise (FTTP) infrastructure needed to create the abundance it wants, it will have to build that infrastructure as its member company Google is doing with its Google Fiber unit.

But as an open access network. The incumbent telephone and cable companies would be hard pressed to respond. But they too could win in the end with open access FTTP since they could offer services to customers over it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Don't call it broadband

It's time to relegate the term "broadband" to the history books. Along with "high speed Internet." The reason is these terms are no longer appropriate in the 21st century when fiber optic cables can deliver 1 gigabit and greater bandwidth to customers.

Exhibit A in the case against "broadband" is none other than the legacy incumbent telephone companies that coined the term in the 1990s to differentiate what was then called "advanced services" from dialup narrowband service. They want to dictate to consumers what constitutes "broadband" and "high speed" and what they consider good enough using technologically obsolete and rapidly outdated standards. Their other motivation is to preserve pricing schemes based on contrived scarcity that treat Internet service like a consumption-based utility where consumers pay more for higher speeds and bandwidth tiers similar to those used in water and electricity service.
Using the terms "broadband" and "high speed Internet" allows the legacy telephone and cable companies to control the conversation by defining what constitutes "broadband" and "high speed Internet."

It also misdirects resources. If the United States had uselessly wasted time and effort in the 1920s and 1930s debating the definition of electric power service (the number of volts, amps, etc.), electrification of much of the nation would have been significantly delayed.

It's time for consumers to take control and define for themselves what constitutes high quality Internet telecommunications services that meet their needs and provide good value and service for their money.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The biggest telecom infrastructure challenge facing the U.S.

The United States faces major challenges in addressing its telecommunications infrastructure needs going into the 21st century.

But the biggest by far is its ability to have an informed and honest discussion of the challenges and how they can best be overcome. And weighing the associated tradeoffs involved with the various policy options that always come with major infrastructure initiatives.

Unless the nation can meet this basic standard, it isn't likely to successfully address its telecommunications infrastructure needs. That will consequently condemn large parts of the country to substandard and outdated 20th century infrastructure for another 20-40 years. That should not be acceptable.

Here's one example of how policymakers are struggling to obtain a complete and factual picture of their telecom infrastructure needs. It's a scenario that's playing out all over the United States.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Great Wall of incumbent telecommunications infrastructure

Every divided territory has a boundary, border or wall mark its limits. Throughout much of the United States, it's that place where despite having plenty of existing infrastructure, incumbent telephone and cable companies draw an arbitrary boundary where the "footprint" of their landline telecommunications infrastructure capable of providing modern Internet service ends and the digital divide begins.

On the other side of the border, digital subscriber line (DSL) signals peter out and can't reliably provide service over twisted pair copper designed for a time when the Internet hadn't yet been conceived. There are also pockets of homes and small businesses in sufficiently close proximity of each other to qualify for cable Internet service, but do not because there are aren't enough along short spans of roadway between them and the wall's edge. Like border signs, the boundaries of these areas are often demarcated with utility pole advertisements offering those in the digitally deprived zone "New Super Fast Internet" that's actually substandard satellite service that should only be offered in the most remote and isolated areas of the U.S.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission could tear down the wall by enforcing the universal service provision of Title II, Section 254(b) of the Communications Act of 1934 (as amended in 1996) that provides that access to advanced telecommunications and information services be available in all regions of the nation. Section 202 of the law also contains an anti-redlining provision barring providers from discriminating against localities in providing service.

Friday, September 05, 2014

FCC chair signals end of “broadband” era and rise of FTTP

Sooner or later – more likely sooner – the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will recognize the irrelevance and futility of defining and subsidizing landline premise telecommunications infrastructure based on specified “broadband” download and upload speeds as Internet bandwidth demand growth tracks Moore’s Law for microprocessor processing power, doubling every 18-24 months.
Consequently, it will likely repurpose the mission of the FCC’s Connect America Fund (CAF) program created to subsidize infrastructure construction in high cost areas to instead help defray the cost of deploying fiber to the premise (FTTP) infrastructure in these areas. At the same time, the FCC could also realize that significantly greater funding will be needed to do the job than the $9 billion the CAF has budgeted for its second phase covering the period 2014-2019.

The FCC this year recognized that its current eligibility criterion for CAF subsidies is potentially outdated. It’s targeted to high cost areas where premises are not served by landline connections providing at least 4 Mbs down and 1 Mbs up. The FCC issued a notice of inquiry in August to take testimony as to whether that standard should be increased and modified to include latency as well as speed.

In prepared remarks delivered this week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler suggested 25 Mbs should be considered the new minimum. He went on to observe that might also be too low and only a quarter of the throughput that Americans presently expect given their growing appetites for high definition streaming video and multiple connected devices in their homes and small businesses.

“Today, a majority of American homes have access to 100 Mbs,” Wheeler continued. “It is that kind of bandwidth that we should be pointing to as we move further into the 21st century. And while it’s good that a majority of American homes have access to 100 Mbs, it is not acceptable that more than 40 percent do not.”

Relative to high cost areas, Wheeler noted the FCC “will continue to establish requirements for our universal service programs, but beyond that, consumers are establishing their own expectations.” That recognition of end user needs represents a significant departure from existing policy where telecommunications providers and governments tell consumers in these areas what they should expect instead of the reverse. It’s also an implicit recognition that there should be a single standard and not a separate and lesser standard for high cost areas of the nation. Which makes sense given that core content providers and other services are tailored for a single standard of quality at the network edge.

Noting FTTP deployments in several metro areas of the U.S., Wheeler impliedly recognized FTTP infrastructure is replacing the speed-based “broadband” metal wire paradigm of the legacy telephone and cable companies. That model utilizes “bandwidth by the bucket,” speed-based pricing tiers based on the assumption that metal wire infrastructure has limited carrying capacity and that service must accordingly be rationed and priced based on demand.

Wheeler recognized with FTTP, that pricing model that irks many consumers faces obsolescence. “Once fiber is in place, its beauty is that throughput increases are largely a matter of upgrading the electronics at both ends, something that costs much less than laying new connections,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler also acknowledged that mobile wireless services cannot substitute for FTTP. “While LTE and LTE-A offer new potential, consumers have yet to see how these technologies will be used to offer fixed wireless service,” he said.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

FCC's Wheeler: US needs more high-speed broadband competition | PCWorld

FCC's Wheeler: US needs more high-speed broadband competition | PCWorld: U.S. residents lack meaningful choices for broadband providers that offer 25Mbps or faster download speeds, and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission will push for more competition, the agency’s chairman said Thursday.

While more than 93 percent of U.S. residents have access to a broadband provider, fewer than 15 percent can buy service from more than two wired providers that offer “yesterday’s broadband” with 4Mbps download speeds, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said during a speech at Washington, D.C., startup incubator 1776.

“At the low end of throughput ... the majority of Americans have a choice of only two providers,” Wheeler said. “That is what economists call a duopoly, a marketplace that is typically characterized by less than vibrant competition.

As long as Internet service providers own the infrastructure that connects customer premises, there will never be any meaningful degree of competition, owing to the fact that telecommunications infrastructure due to high costs and barriers to entry functions in a natural monopoly market. As Andrew Cohill wrote in his 2010 white paper, that's about as inefficient and senseless as having FedEx or UPS operate proprietary roads to serve neighborhoods that are closed to competing shipping services.

The policy of the United States has been to preserve this very market structure of which the Federal Communications Commission chair laments. What's needed to achieve any level of real competition is to encourage and fund the construction of publicly owned open access fiber to the premise networks where ISPs compete to sell services to customer premises. Call it the public option for telecommunications in the Internet age.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Broadband and the future of learning | Computerworld

Broadband and the future of learning | Computerworld: Since learning may take place anywhere and anytime, connected learners also need broadband access outside of school. Although 70% of U.S. households now have broadband, millions of households still do not. Private-sector initiatives are helping to expand access. For example, Comcast’s Internet Essentials program offers low-income families broadband service for $9.95 a month, along with the option to purchase an Internet-ready computer for under $150 and free digital literacy training. In its first three years of operation, the program has provided affordable broadband service to more than 350,000 households.

It should be noted that Comcast and other incumbent legacy providers redline many neighborhoods, leaving them without access to modern landline Internet connectivity at any price.

There are also promising public-private partnerships to increase access. In Forsyth County, Georgia, the local school district worked with the Chamber of Commerce to create a directory of free Wi-Fi locations in the community and to provide participating businesses with signs indicating where free Wi-Fi is available. And a middle school in Manchester, Tenn., that has equipped all sixth-graders with iPads had convinced local businesses to open their Wi-Fi hotspots to students to maximize the benefits of their technology tools.

Public-private partnerships need to go far beyond Wi-Fi and help construct fiber to the premise infrastructure to make blended learning possible since it heavily relies on students having adequate access in their homes. A good example is in Utah, where an investment firm, MacQuarie Capital, is partnering with the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA) to finance and complete the construction of open access fiber to the premise infrastructure.
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