Friday, October 30, 2015

Blair Levin's "broadband competition" fantasy

Achieving Bandwidth Abundance: The Three Policy Levers for Intensifying Broadband Competition | ISOC-DC: The trial and many errors of my own work have led me to believe in the following bottom line: that the highest priority for government broadband competition policy ought to be to lower input costs for adjacent market competition and network upgrades. Today I will make the case for that bottom line and illustrate where I think the greatest opportunity is; to create a virtuous cycle of upgraded mobile stimulating low-end broadband to upgrade, which in turn causes an upgrade of high-end broadband which, by using its assets to enter mobile, accelerates the need for mobile to accelerate its upgrade further.

Blair Levin, a Brookings Institution fellow who drafted the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan issued
in 2010, somehow believes boosting mobile wireless "competition" to offer greater bandwidth will generate synergistic "competition" among landline premise Internet service providers and result in "bandwidth abundance." 

It's utter hogwash for the simple fact that telecommunications infrastructure -- regardless of whether it supports mobile or premise service -- is not a competitive market. Never has been and never will be due to high cost barriers to entry and uncertain return on investment as a mathematical expression in Levin's presentation illustrates. 

Levin's fantasy scenario would have us believe that if Verizon deploys next generation 5G mobile service, that would somehow spur Comcast or AT&T, for example, to upgrade and build out fiber to the premise (FTTP) infrastructure in areas where Verizon has rolled out 5G mobile. It's wishful economic sophistry. Levin offers no explanation as to how or why that would occur.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Market forces cannot address U.S. telecom infrastructure needs -- because infrastructure is not a market

Lawmakers eye broadband deployment issues | TheHill: When asked about that contention, witness Deb Socia, Executive Director of NextCentury Cities, argued that broadband was essential enough that government should step in to improve access.

She said that she believe “we’re coming to the place where we need to think of it in the same way, that it is essential infrastructure and that we need all hands on deck.

“And if the market can’t solve the problem then we need to figure out how to solve the problem.”

Socia's point goes to the nub of America's telecommunications infrastructure problem. Telecom infrastructure is not a competitive market and never will be. Market forces therefore cannot offer a solution. Indeed, as I posit in my eBook Service Unavailable: America's Telecommunications Infrastructure Crisis, the nation's excess reliance on market forces has in fact brought about the issue of inadequate infrastructure wherein large numbers of Americans lack sufficient infrastructure to reliably deliver modern Internet-based telecommunications services to their homes and small businesses.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tennessee cooperative official compares 1930s electrification to today's telecom infrastructure challenge

Officials Urged To Let Local Utilities Cooperate On Providing Broadband - Mike Knotts, director of government affairs, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, brought a somewhat different perspective to the conversation when he said, “Advanced telecommunications will be as important to the next 100 years of electric system operation as steam power was to the first 100 years.”

He said the number one barrier to providing adequate Internet access is “purely customer density” and suggested looking at the model of rural electrification in the 1930s. “What cured the problem of rural electrification was the ability to create nonprofit entities that were able to amortize those expenses over much, much longer periods (than private companies). That was the very simple magic that took, in 10 years, less than 10 percent of American farms being electrified to 100 percent — not much more in the secret sauce other than that.”

Actually, Mr. Knotts, there is a another ingredient that's missing today: capital. Unlike today, in the 1930s the federal government stepped up with significant funding and not just talk, window dressing and "funding leads."

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Time to stop whining about lack of competition and build national telecom infrastructure

No 'Bundle' of Joy: Cost of TV, Internet and Phone Service Rising - NBC News: "What we're finding is that consumers in the U.S. pay more for less … than their peers around the world," said Sarah J. Morris, senior policy counsel at think tank New America's Open Technology Institute.

In a 2014 study, the institute found that home broadband connectivity at every speed was more expensive on average in the U.S. than in Europe. It also found that major American cities lag in both speed and pricing compared to overseas counterparts like Seoul, Hong Kong, Paris and even Bucharest, Romania.

"A lot of this breaks down to competition … even though the ISPs like to claim the market for broadband Internet access is competitive, when you really break it down, it's not," Morris said. "This exacerbates low speed for high cost."

Morris is correct. Telecommunications infrastructure and its vertically integrated, bundled service offerings by telephone and cable companies is a naturally monopolistic market. But complaining that a monopolistic microeconomy lacks competition isn't going to make it competitive. It's about as productive as complaining about the weather.

An example of a highly monopolistic form of infrastructure is roads and highways. They cost so much to build and maintain that with the exception of some privately operated toll roads, most are owned and operated by the government. Having a private competitive market with many road builders and operators would be uneconomic and wasteful. For drivers, it would make no sense to have a choice to take Road A, Road B or Road C from a given point to a given destination. One well maintained road with sufficient capacity would do just fine. Same thing with Internet service. One fiber highway and many fiber trunks and lines reaching all American homes, schools and businesses -- a national telecommunications infrastructure -- is what America needs, as I argue in my recently published book Service Unavailable: America's Telecommunications Infrastructure Crisis.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Obama flat wrong, at odds with FCC in framing telecom infrastructure as competitive market

Municipal Broadband Battles | Al Jazeera America: Amid concerns in some markets that big telecoms and cable companies are providing service that is too slow and too expensive, some cities are starting their own Internet services, spending millions of dollars to bring super-high-speed, or gigabit, Internet service to their communities through a new fiber-optic infrastructure. Proponents call it the single most important piece of infrastructure of the 21st century, attracting businesses, bolstering education and raising property values.

President Barack Obama has declared community broadband, as it’s called, a key to economic prosperity. “Today I’m making my administration’s position clear on community broadband. I’m saying I’m on the side of competition,” he said. (Emphasis added)
The problem with the president's framing telecom infrastructure as a competitive market is he's just flat out wrong. It can never be a truly competitive market with many sellers and choices for consumers due to the high cost of deploying fiber to the premise infrastructure. Those high costs have kept telcos and cablecos from upgrading their legacy infrastructures and building out fiber to all customer premises in their service territories to replace the outdated metallic cables designed for voice telephone and cable TV service of decades past. Instead, they've built limited fiber to the premise in selected high density "footprints" and redlined countless American neighborhoods, leaving many still on dialup that was state of the art technology when Bill Clinton was serving his first term as president.

Moreover, by furthering the notion that telecom infrastructure is a competitive market offering, Obama is at odds with the Federal Communications Commission that -- at Obama's urging -- adopted a common carrier regulatory framework early this year predicated on telecom infrastructure as a monopolistic market. Consequently, the FCC's Open Internet rulemaking requires Internet service to be offered to all customer premises requesting it -- as telephone service before it -- under the universal service and nondiscrimination provisions of Title II the federal Communications Act.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Title II universal service obligation could bolster cities' case in Verizon FiOS buildouts

Like NYC, Pittsburgh Claims Verizon Didn't Meet FiOS Promises | DSLReports, ISP Information: While Verizon long-ago froze further FiOS deployments, the company did strike sweetheart deals with numerous east coast cities that gave the city a citywide franchise and numerous tax benefits, in exchange for the promise of full city FiOS coverage. But as we noted at the time, most of those agreements came with fine print that allowed Verizon lawyers to wiggle over, under, and around any uniform fiber deployment obligations. Shockingly, cities like New York City are now thinking about suing the telco for missing deployment promises.

You can add Pittsburgh to the list of cities who believe they were swindled by Verizon. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has, several years later, started noting huge coverage gaps in the city's FiOS coverage. Peduto was one of 14 Mayors that recently wrote a letter to Verizon begging the company to upgrade its lagging DSL networks.

The U.S Federal Communication's Commission recently promulgated regulations classifying Internet as a common carrier telecommunications service and subject to universal service obligations under Title II of the Communications Act could strengthen the cities' case against Verizon. Local governments have successfully asked the FCC to intervene on their behalf when legacy incumbent providers used state laws to bar municipalities from building their own fiber telecom infrastructure. They could do so in this instance as well in a major test of the FCC's willingness to hold big incumbents accountable under its new rules.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Local governments seek federal preemption of Internet regulation

In the early 2000s as legacy cable companies contemplated offering Internet-protocol (IP) based services including Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), they feared local governments that franchised their decades-old cable television services would demand they offer IP services to all neighborhoods within their jurisdiction. That prospect was very real possibility given their residents had other options for television service including over the air broadcast and satellite, but would need landline infrastructure built out in order to provide universal Internet access as demand for Internet service jumped. Also, by offering voice service via VOIP, cablecos began emulating telephone companies that are required to offer universal service to any premise requesting it.

To head off what to them appeared to be a costly prospect, cablecos heavily lobbied state governments to preempt the locals by giving state public utility commissions franchise authority over IPTV. While nominally limited to video services, for both cablecos and phone companies the move forestalled for many years any local requirements they upgrade and build out their Internet infrastructure since their video services are typically bundled as part of landline premise Internet service.

Now more than a decade later, local governments are getting in on the preemption game. Since their oxen were gored by their states at the behest of the legacy incumbent cablecos and telcos, they are looking to the federal government for relief. An example is the Federal Communications Commission’s order earlier this year to preempt statutes in two states barring local governments from building their own infrastructure. Doing so would allow local governments to get around the state sanction of the incumbents’ redlining practices.

In Arizona, local governments appear to be looking to the feds to resolve a dispute involving the city, a legacy cableco and Google Fiber over the city’s regulation of video services. “The City believes these questions will more likely be resolved more definitively in the future by the Federal Communications Commission or a similar authority,” said Scottsdale Chief Information Officer Brad Hartig in a statement. (H/T to DSLReports).

In California, two legacy telcos are making an argument that would place Internet services in a regulatory non man’s land, subject to neither state nor federal jurisdiction. Frontier and Verizon contend regulation of Internet service falls under federal jurisdiction per the FCC’s order classifying Internet as a common carrier telecommunications service under Title II of the federal Communications Act. But at the same time, they argue that order does not preempt California law giving the California Public Utilities Commission jurisdiction over legacy (non IP-enabled) telephone service but not Internet services. (Item here at Steve Blum’s Blog)
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