Wednesday, October 19, 2016

AT&T official rejects comparison between today's telecom infrastructure gaps and electric power disparties of 1930s

Arkansas Cooperatives Apply Rural Electrification Model to Internet Access | Arkansas Business News | Cooperatives around the country, he said, are comparing providing broadband to bringing electricity to rural residents in the 1930s, calling it the next necessity for rural America. For-profit providers disagree with the rural electrification analogy. Ed Drilling, president of AT&T’s Arkansas Division, said internet is different because there was a guarantee in the 1930s that every resident would buy electricity and pay a usage-based price for it, while only 30 percent might buy broadband access and pay a fixed-rate price for it.

There is a clear parallel here to another failed market: individual health insurance. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act employs a similar guarantee -- the individual shared responsibility mandate that everyone have some form of health coverage -- in exchange for health plan issuers agreeing to provide coverage to whomever applies for it without medical underwriting. That is intended to remedy market failure on both the sell and buy sides by effectively forcing sellers and buyers together.

The AT&T official stops short of suggesting a requirement that every premise take service in exchange for halting current market practice by AT&T and other investor-owned telecom providers that cherry picks some areas while redlining others within their nominal service territories -- market conduct that's now illegal under the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's 2015 Open Internet rulemaking.

AT&T is correct that the electrical distribution infrastructure deficits of the early 20th century differ from the telecommunications infrastructure gaps of 2016. Back then, electrical distribution infrastructure was largely concentrated in urban areas, leaving entire rural regions unserved and in the dark. A major difference is today's Internet-based telecommunications infrastructure is deployed in rural areas but in a very granular and arbitrary manner that leaves one neighborhood or even part of a road or street unserved or poorly served while an adjacent one has decent access.

Doug Dawson's policy Rx for telecom infrastructure

A couple of telecom policy prescriptions from fellow blogger Doug Dawson that make a lot of sense:

A New Telecom Act? | POTs and PANs: Fund Fiber Everywhere. There was recently a bill introduced in Congress to add $50M to the RUS for rural broadband grants. That makes such a tiny dent in the problem as to be embarrassing. If we believe as a country that broadband is essential for our economic future, then let’s do what other countries have done and start a federal program to build fiber everywhere, from rural America to inner cities. I could write a week’s worth of blogs about how this could be done, but it needs to be done. 
Dawson's spot on here. Under current public policy (the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's 2015 Open Internet regulations), Internet telecommunications is considered a common carrier public utility with a universal access mandate like Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) for decades beforehand. But de facto policy is to grant an effective franchise to dominant legacy telephone and cable companies to operate in limited "footprints," negating universal service. Dawson's also right on in criticizing pathetically underfunded and largely symbolic efforts to create a "public option" for telecommunications infrastructure. The United States can't do the job by setting aside millions for infrastructure that costs billions to construct and operate.

Stop Subsidizing Non-Broadband. It should be impossible for the FCC to provide any funding or subsidies to broadband connections that don’t meet their own definition of what constitutes broadband speeds.
Again, Dawson hits on a huge disconnect between de jure and de facto public policy on telecom infrastructure. It makes no sense to waste money on technology that's obsolete the day it's deployed such as the FCC's 2015 high cost area subsidy program rules allowing funding of technology that was state of the art in 2005. I would go even further than Dawson's proposal in suggesting abandoning the fixation with "broadband speed" altogether and instead defining all premise telecom infrastructure as fiber optic technology.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Incumbent "fight the future" propaganda agenda: Keep calendar fixed at year 2000, lower expectations

Understanding the Broadband Adoption Gap | USTelecom: Some 26 million households (21 percent) are never online. To bring these remaining 33 million non-internet households online, price and affordability have been the more common levers that advocates and government have used. However, less than a quarter (24 percent) of the 33 million non-internet homes cite price as the main reason they don’t have access at home.

More than half (55 percent) of these non-internet households say they don’t need the internet or have no interest in Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, Pandora and the myriad other apps and services available online. That’s more than twice the number of households that say they can’t afford internet services.

These digital “don’t cares” are a much tougher segment to address through industry and government programs focused on price and affordability. Instead, programs must also focus on demonstrating that internet is relevant and useful to these consumers. USTelecom supports programs aimed at closing the digital divide and bringing more Americans online. In recent comments to the Commerce Department, USTelecom suggested more research needs to be done on why consumers aren’t going online. Digital literacy is significantly under-studied and federal researchers should focus on those issues, ideally in partnership with experts who work with the unconnected.

This is more of the same tired incumbent propaganda aimed at keeping the calendar fixed circa 2000 when the Internet meant "going online" to visit websites and get email. Legacy incumbent telephone companies know that Internet protocol-based technology supports not only these services but also voice and video residential premise services. That however requires modernizing their infrastructures from metal wires to fiber optic lines to reliably deliver them -- something their CAPex averse business models won't allow.

That reality motivates their "fight the future" strategy designed to lower expectations and attempt to shift blame to tepid consumer demand when in fact America's telecommunications infrastructure deficiencies and disparities are due to market failure on the sell side. Closely related to keeping the focus on "broadband adoption" is the fixation on "broadband speeds." That supports a retro oriented mindset since having adequate bandwidth was necessary to access online services in the early days of the Internet as well as the unit-based, consumption billing models employed in the days of Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS).

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

AT&T’s bifurcated, speculative strategy on residential telecom service

AT&T has adopted a bifurcated and highly speculative future strategy for its residential premise telecommunications market segment that treats a small portion of it like a specialized business market for its fiber to the premise (FTTP) service while serving other residential customers with a mix of wireless technologies.

AT&T Fiber is primarily aimed at business premises and multi-family buildings and not single family homes. The company is phasing out its legacy U-Verse service that blends fiber to neighborhood distribution equipment with copper from the era of Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) – metallic infrastructure it is anxious to retire as quickly as possible to avoid the cost of maintaining it. In its place AT&T is relying on proven and unproven radio-based technologies.

In some high cost areas of its U.S. service territory, AT&T recently announced it would construct infrastructure designed to deliver fixed residential premise service as part of upgrading its mobile wireless service to 4G LTE technology. However, that infrastructure will be obsolete the day it’s installed, not even close to approaching what the U.S. Federal Communications Commission considers service capable of supporting high-quality voice, data, graphics and video. It’s essentially a bolt on afterthought to a 4G LTE mobile wireless service upgrade that will likely bog down during peak periods as its shared bandwidth becomes saturated with heavy, multi-premise demand.

As for the unproven radio-based technology that’s still in the development phase, AT&T recently announced its experimental “Project AirGig” technology. It will utilize antennas mounted atop utility poles to transmit millimeter wave signals from pole to pole. It taps into those signals to feed premise service based on 4G (or more optimally, AT&T’s still under development 5G wireless technology.) The service will apparently be similar to electrical power distribution architecture where current from high voltage transmission lines on the tops of poles is stepped down by a transformer before it flows into a home. This service in theory would be capable of meeting the FCC’s minimum service standard. But at this point, it’s largely speculative and leaves much of AT&T’s residential market segment with no clear and certain future path as its legacy copper cable POTS plant rots on the poles.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Incumbent bellyaching over "unfair competition" from public sector fails straight face test

Rural areas in Marion County could still get broadband access | Times Free Press: JASPER, Tenn. — Like many local governments across Tennessee, Marion County leaders have been pushing for a couple of years to change state laws that restrict municipal utilities like EPB's gigabit internet, TV, and phone services from expanding beyond current borders. EPB has petitioned the state and the Federal Communications Commission, too, and Mike Partin, president and CEO of the Sequatchee Valley Electric Cooperative, said broadband access has been "widely debated across the state."

"So far in the [state] Legislature, that has been defeated," he said. "AT&T has a pretty extensive lockdown, it seems like, in the Legislature. That's one of the holdups." Telecommunications companies such as AT&T and Comcast argue that it's unfair to allow government to compete the market with private industry. (Emphasis added)
That argument would hold water but for a single fatal flaw: telecommunications infrastructure is not by nature a competitive market but rather a natural monopoly/duopoly. Shouting "unfair competition" in a noncompetitive market doesn't pass the straight face test.
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