Sunday, December 24, 2017

To Save the Internet We Must Own the Networks | By David Morris | Common Dreams

To Save the Internet We Must Own the Networks | By David Morris | Common Dreams:

The tools to build locally owned networks may well be there as the author of this article concludes. But adequate funding is another question. Constructing telecommunications infrastructure is very costly and labor intensive. It’s far easier to do in places where local municipal and cooperatively owned electric distribution and telecommunications networks already exist and have supporting infrastructure and funding mechanisms in place. Many of these entities got their start in the early in the 20th century with robust federal funding.

Nearly a century later, there is no meaningful federal funding to support the formation of new local entities to construct and operate advanced fiber telecommunications networks. State and local budgets are strained with obligations to repair and replace other aging infrastructure and honor pension obligations to their workers. They can’t be expected to provide billions to finance locally owned telecom networks.

Without government funding in the form of technical assistance grants and loans, expecting property owners and consumers to come up with the money is highly uncertain outside of highly affluent communities. As price takers rather than the price makers they would be the owners of local infrastructure, they are accustomed to purchasing “broadband” as a commodity monthly service and grudgingly tolerating exorbitant monthly costs and annual rate increases from incumbent telephone and cable companies. They’re unlikely to be motivated to put up the money to build an alternative -- albeit better -- network infrastructure than currently available to them unless they live in a neighborhood redlined by the incumbents.

Local ownership of telecom infrastructure is in concept a meritorious idea. But without a coordinated and well-funded federal program for it that recognizes that local infrastructure is essential to a vital interstate telecommunications network and not a local amenity like a park or playground, it remains only that.

Monday, December 18, 2017

FCC's repeal of Open Internet regulation sets stage for mega versions of 1990s era AOL, CompuServe walled gardens

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has restored the regulatory framework that treats Internet protocol-based communications as an information service. The move reverses the commission’s 2015 Open Internet rulemaking classifying IP as a common carrier telecommunications utility under Title II of the Communications Act. So instead of an open Internet, the United States is turning back the clock to the closed, proprietary walled gardens that existed prior to the advent of the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s.

It’s even a greater back to the future policy move than appears at first glance. It sets the stage for media producers to consolidate with the companies that own the “pipes” – cable and telephone companies that serve more than three quarters of American homes, businesses and schools. After all, if those pipes are to be regulated as information services rather than telecommunications, companies that create information take on an integral role in this vertically integrated business model.

Consequently, the future could bring more combinations like Comcast’s acquisition of NBC or Verizon’s takeover of AOL and its pending deal for Yahoo! Under the new regulatory policy, it’s not inconceivable a big cable company or a telco could similarly make a play for Netflix.

Even Amazon, clearly in the information service business with its original offer of books and now its own production video content, could be a potential merger partner for one of the big pipe players. An Amazon-Verizon walled garden, for example, would provide this information content along with socks, towels and any other imaginable consumer commodity with both companies taking a nick of the revenues. Prime members might be eligible for a discounted monthly rate for Verizon connectivity.

The result would be a supersized version of the original big online information services: CompuServe and AOL. Both provided electronic mail along with content prior to the debut of the Netscape World Wide Web browser in the mid-1990s that swung open the garden gates to a vast digital universe. CompuServe even charged its subscribers by the minute to read “premium” content -- not unlike telephone long distance service. Such a billing scheme might well make a return under the FCC’s latest regulatory framework.

Last year Google abandoned its vision of building proprietary fiber to the home infrastructure to make its content more widely available. It could follow the adage, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em," and concede its effort to outshine legacy incumbent telcos and cablecos and their outdated metallic telephone and cable TV networks by merging with one of them to create a colossal proprietary information service.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Norman Macrae on telecommunications: Third of three great transport revolutions of past 200 years

Norman Macrae Surveys - help microeducate and microfranchise 3 billion jobs: "Telecommunications are now recognised as the third of the three great transport revolutions that have, in swift succession, transformed society in the past two hundred years. First, were the railways; second the automobile; and third, telecommunications-attached-to-the-computer, which was bound to be the most far-reaching because in telecommunications, once the infrastructure is installed, the cost of use does not depend greatly on distance."

Sens Heinrich, Heller Introduce Bipartisan Legislation To Increase High-Speed Internet Access In Indian Country | Benton Foundation

Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ranking Member of the Joint Economic Committee, and Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced the Tribal Connect Act of 2017 to improve broadband connectivity in Indian Country. The bill would increase access to the Federal Communications Commission's schools and libraries universal service support program, known as E-rate, that provides discounts to assist public schools and libraries obtain high-speed internet access and telecommunications at affordable rates.
Sens Heinrich, Heller Introduce Bipartisan Legislation To Increase High-Speed Internet Access In Indian Country | Benton Foundation

This is misguided policy that emulates the market segmentation strategy employed by incumbent telephone and cable companies that produced the very access disparities prompting this bill. Instead of targeting certain areas, buildings or ethnic groups, American telecommunications policy should be to construct fiber to the premise telecom infrastructure serving all -- and not just some -- premises.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

As feds reclassify Internet as information service, will state and local governments finance fiber telecom infrastructure to deliver it?

With Net Neutrality Vote Looming, Cities Look to Publicly Owned Internet Options: (TNS) — It's going to cost somewhere between $70 million and $140 million, officials estimate, to build out the underground fiber-to-the-premises network that Boulder needs to make communitywide broadband a reality. The question for the City Council has never been whether this pursuit is worthwhile, as voters and elected leaders clearly agree on the value of open-access, affordable, high-speed Internet — the introduction of which would put pressure on the incumbent Comcast-CenturyLink duopoly to lower their prices and offer higher speeds. Rather, the question is: Who is going to pay for this buildout? And, for much of the past year, based on advice of a consultant, Boulder has paid $186,000 to date, the most likely answer seemed to be that the city would partner with an outside provider willing to pay for the buildout.

The economic question here is will households and businesses be willing to pay what they now pay for landline Internet access in the form of a tax or utility fee? This question now takes on greater significance as the federal government prepares to reclassify Internet service as an information rather than telecommunications service. That would leave building the fiber telecom infrastructure to deliver those information services to states and localities.

A related question is whether this hands off federal regulatory policy will prompt states to repeal existing statutes restricting the construction of telecommunications infrastructure owned by local governments? It would be difficult for states to justify maintaining these restrictions if the federal government doesn't consider Internet service as a telecommunications utility.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Legacy incumbent telcos, cablecos not entitled to state sanctioned monopoly without FCC enforcement of Title II universal service requirement

Colorado Localities Vote for Broadband, but Must Get Creative to Actually Deploy It: “Cities don’t do this because they want to compete with the incumbent — they do it because the incumbent refuses to,” said Tom Roiniotis, general manager of Longmont Power & Communications, which runs the network.
Why the refusal? One big incumbent legacy telco explains: 

Mark Soltes, CenturyLink’s assistant vice president in Colorado for public policy and government affairs, said the gaps in service across the state are due to rugged landscapes and far-flung population centers. “You’re looking at deployment in some places where there’s no payback,” he said.
That's the economic reality and there's nothing unreasonable in CenturyLink's justification. It owes its investors a profitable return. But if a public sector entity steps into the gap where the numbers don't pencil for CenturyLink or other legacy incumbent, that's hardly market competition. In an open market, competitors compete for market share and profitable business. That's not the case when a public sector entity provides an essential telecommunications utility that's not being provided a private sector player because there's not a sufficient business case to do so. It's simply serving the need where the private sector cannot.

Nor do incumbent telcos and cablecos have a right to a state sanctioned monopoly. Particularly when the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is not enforcing the universal service and anti-redlining requirements of its current Open Internet regulations based on Title II of the Communications Act and is poised to repeal those rules later this month. If the FCC did enforce the rule, then the incumbents would have a far stronger and reasonable position. At present, they do not.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

FCC Chair Pai's distorted take on America's telecommunications infrastructure challenges

Why deregulating internet service makes sense - Chicago Tribune: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says CEOs, investors and entrepreneurs are in the best position to invent and give consumers what they want, so they should be allowed to compete. “The No. 1 issue that I hear about is that people want better, faster, cheaper internet access,” Pai told The Wall Street Journal earlier this year. “They want access, period. To me at least, that’s the question the FCC should be squarely focused on: What is the regulatory framework that will maximize the incentives of every company to deploy the next generation of networks?”

This brings to mind the adage that to a carpenter, problems generally appear as protruding nails needing to be hammered down. So it's no surprise that to a regulator, America's telecommunications infrastructure deficiencies are a regulatory problem calling for a sharp whack of the regulatory hammer. Or in Pai's words, an overgrown regulatory thicket of weeds calling for the application of a weed whacker.

The problem is Pai has incorrectly framed both the problem and the solution. America's disparate and costly telecommunications services and particularly those serving buildings where people live, work and attend school are not caused by excessive regulation. In fact, the reverse could be plausibly argued. The Federal Communications Commission current Open Internet rules classifying Internet service providers as telecommunications common carrier utilities under Title II of the Communications Act require them to fulfill reasonable requests for service and not discriminate based on a customer's address. That operates so as to force them to upgrade and build out their networks to honor those requests.

Rather, they are primarily due to overreliance on legacy telephone and cable companies to make the necessary capital expenditures to transition their metallic cable plants to fiber. And to do so at a rapid pace in order to meet the burgeoning demand for connectivity of which Pai speaks. Their business models that require quick profits can't do that because it can take many years to achieve profitability on telecommunications infrastructure that costs many billions of dollars.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Kafkaesque consequences of America's piecemeal approach to telecom infrastructure

City of Orr: Not enough fiber? | The Timberjay: The problem at this point really isn’t lack of fiber. There are multiple fiber conduits already in the ground, notes Long, but it’s getting the service out to customers that’s been the hurdle. He notes that Bois Forte tribal offices have exceptional broadband capacity, thanks to the middle-mile fiber project initiated by the Northeast Service Cooperative. But the private partners on that project, who were supposed to utilize that backbone to extend faster connections to residential and commercial customers, have been slow to deliver. “We have more capacity here at the government center than we know what to do with,” said Long. “But no one else can jump on board.”

This is the sad consequence of adopting a piecemeal, segmented view of telecommunications infrastructure: building part of it thinking someone else will come along to construct the rest to connect the end users. Of course, it doesn't always work out that way in America's Keystone Cops method of planning and deploying telecom infrastructure that produces Kafkaesque outcomes such as this suffered by the good folks of Orr, Minnesota.

Uwe Reinhardt on U.S. health care -- he might have said the same about telecom infrastructure

So if you ask me, "Are we ever succumbing to some notions of solidarity as a nation? I would say, "Not at all." I would describe us as a group of people who share a geography. That's a better description of Americans than that we're a real nation with a sense of solidarity.

Uwe Reinhardt, the German born Princeton University economics professor who died earlier this week at age 80, made that comment in the context of the American system of providing and paying for medical care. Americans, he observed, view medical care as a consumer commodity rather than a social service available to all citizens and hence tend to resist policies that would recast health and medical care as a common good. As a commodity, access to its purchase depends on one's income and financial assets. The result is very uneven access to care based on socio-economic status.

If Reinhardt had studied the U.S. telecommunications system as well as health care economics that was his area of expertise, he might have reached a similar assessment. When it comes to access to advanced telecommunications infrastructure, there is no sense of commonweal despite a common national geography. There is a sense that the telecommunications infrastructure one is served by is driven by individual choices on vocation and housing. If you choose to live in a neighborhood that has robust landline infrastructure rather than another that might only be a mile or two away or you earn too little to pay increasing and unregulated rates for commodity "broadband" service, that's your problem.

Rather than implement a federal policy that views telecommunications infrastructure as an interstate asset that benefits all Americans no matter where they live, we leave it to underfunded localities to try to cobble together their own disparate infrastructures with "wildly uneven" prospects, according to a recent compilation. Consequently rather than a coordinated national effort to modernize yesterday's metallic infrastructure designed for voice telephone and cable TV to modern fiber optic infrastructure capable of serving the advanced telecommunications of today and years to come, the United States is attempting to do so on the cheap in a piecemeal and highly incremental manner.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Google Fiber enters building by building urban battle for MDU connectivity

Google Fiber picks MDU cherries in Orange County: Google Fiber is figuring out how to play small ball and still get thousands of fiber to the home subscribers. In its latest blog post, Google tells how it’s expanding its fiber footprint – actually, making lots of tiny paw prints – in the southern California multi-dwelling unit market…
The subscription-based business model employed by incumbent telcos like AT&T as well as newer entrants like Google Fiber clearly favors density because it generates decent ROI on fiber to the premise (FTTP) capital investment. The higher the density the better as these players engage in a form of business urban warfare, fighting for market share building by building.

The problem is not everyone lives in or prefers to live in multi dwelling unit (MDU) properties. In MDUs, the vertically integrated model in which the providers own both the fiber infrastructure as well as proprietary telecommunications services delivered over it works well enough to make a strong business case. But when the density drops, it becomes iffy.

Ironically, that can leave even relatively affluent, low density neighborhoods of single family detached homes without fiber connections as the large investor-owned providers chase after dwelling density. Alternative business models are urgently needed. Without them, these higher value properties could end up becoming devalued due to their lack of fiber connectivity.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Fiber telecom infrastructure key, not "broadband speed"

Beyond Speed: FCC Should Focus on Broadband Experience: The market has evolved to where all-fiber connectivity is everyone’s goal, and it is time that the FCC got on board as well. In our comments to the FCC, the Fiber Broadband Association encourages the FCC to use an “all-fiber” metric — examining whether customers have access to all-fiber networks — to assess our country’s advanced telecommunications. “Robust fiber networks aren’t just capable of meeting community and enterprise needs throughout the United States; they’re essential to doing so,” says FBA President and CEO Heather Burnett Gold. “Fiber broadband has what it takes to take our country’s digital potential to the next level, and access to fiber is the critical first step.” If we want to accurately measure Americans’ access to sufficient broadband technology, looking just at speed won’t do. We must be looking at the technology that can actually provide high-performance, future-proof broadband service: fiber.

This organization is right on the money. As readers of this blog as well as my eBook Service Unavailable: America's Telecommunications Infrastructure Crisis know, I've emphasized the same point. The United States should focus like a laser (pun intended) on rapidly bringing fiber connections to every home, business and public institution. It's all about modernizing the nation's vital telecommunications infrastructure to fiber, not "broadband speed."

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Fearing state imposed universal service obligations and rate regulation, legacy incumbent telcos, cablecos seek federal cover

A decade ago as Internet-based telecommunications grew and began transporting video content, telephone and cable companies feared local governments would using their video franchising authority established in the cable TV era require them to build out their infrastructures to ensure all residents had connections. The pre-Internet cable television franchise had evolved. It was no longer just about entertainment. In the Internet era, it was now the full panoply of advanced telecommunications services: voice and data as well as video. That in turn would stoke demand for better infrastructure that could reliably deliver them.

However, the legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies didn’t want to be forced to upgrade and build out their cable plants to serve all customer premises in order to do business in numerous localities. Their business models are based on serving selected neighborhoods within arbitrary “footprints” of “serviceable” premises and not entire local government jurisdictions.

They initially sought relief in Washington from Congress and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to preempt state – and by extension local -- video franchise regulation. That would take care of a multiplicity of potentially troublesome local governments imposing universal service conditions under their video franchising authority. But the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures pushed back, wanting to keep video franchising within state jurisdiction.

Incumbents were able to easily pivot from that objection to their Plan B to kill local government video franchising authority: lobby state governments to take it over from local governments. That effort was quite successful, with state video franchising laws put on the books in state after state in the mid-2000s. Those laws such as California’s Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 did not mandate video franchisees provide universal service by some future date in areas where they were awarded state franchises, thus sanctioning neighborhood redlining. Consequently, local governments that often receive complaints from constituents denied landline connections to advanced telecommunications service by the big incumbents are powerless to do anything about it since those connections fall under state video franchising authority. Calling one’s state representative isn’t helpful either since the incumbents have captured legislatures and state telecommunications regulatory agencies by buying political influence with campaign contributions.

The fight over universal service has now shifted from video franchising to a new regulatory front. But this time around, the incumbents ironically want protection from the states. They’re concerned that if the federal government continues avoid enforcement of universal service policy expressed in the Communications Act as amended in 1996 or the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet rulemaking -- or scraps the Open Internet rulemaking altogether -- the states might opt impose their own universal service obligations.

The big legacy incumbents are also worried over the prospect of states regulating service rates as authorized in the federal Open Internet rulemaking. In the two years the Open Internet rulemaking has been the law of the land, the FCC hasn’t enforced that provision either.

Given widespread complaints voiced by state and local elected officials over both spotty access to service due to neighborhood redlining and affordability challenges for low income households, the incumbents have reason for concern. Two of the nation’s largest telephone and cable companies, Verizon and Comcast, respectfully, are urging the FCC to enact a “clear, affirmative” rule preempting states, declaring federal primacy over state regulatory jurisdiction. However, such a rulemaking could fail to hold up in court against a statute enacted by a state legislature given a 2016 decision by the United States Court of Appeal Sixth District in State of Tennessee et al. v FCC & USA finding the FCC could not preempt state law without express federal statutory authority to do so. That could set up a grueling battle in Congress between the big telcos and cablecos and the states over the regulation of advanced telecommunications services.

With the level of dissatisfaction in the states over access and affordability to landline delivered advanced telecommunications services, it’s not a fight the incumbents would automatically win despite the massive lobbying and campaign cash they can bring to bear in Washington. Many if not most candidates for state and local offices have made access to and affordability of advanced telecommunications services a campaign issue, terming it infrastructure vital to commerce, education and telehealth services. In addition, the level of need and public interest is much higher now than it was a decade ago when the incumbents were lobbying state governments to enact statewide video franchise laws.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Why legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies want FCC re-reclassification as information service providers. Hint: It’s not “net neutrality.”

If the U.S. Federal Communications Commission revokes its 2015 Open Internet rulemaking classifying Internet as a telecommunications common carrier utility under Title II of the Communications Act and restores the previous rule classifying it as information service under Title I of the law as expected before year end, it will set the stage for another round of litigation just as that which followed after the 2015 rule was adopted. This time however it will be public and consumer interests that will be challenging the FCC rather than legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies. And the governing statute, the Communications Act, might well be on their side. Section 3(a)(1)(41) of the Act as amended in 1996 defines an information service as follows:

INFORMATION SERVICE- The term `information service' means the offering of a capability for generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information via telecommunications, and includes electronic publishing, but does not include any use of any such capability for the management, control, or operation of a telecommunications system or the management of a telecommunications service.

The legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies want the FCC to define their Internet protocol delivered services using that definition, essentially equating them with services like LexisNexis or Intelius. Their problem however is these companies market Internet protocol-based telecommunications services such as data, voice and video delivered over their connections to customer premises. If they were merely information services like LexisNexis or Intelius, they wouldn’t market physical premise connections sold in throughput speed tiers for a monthly recurring fee. In so doing, they are arguably offering telecommunications service, which the statute defines as “the offering of telecommunications for a fee directly to the public, or to such classes of users as to be effectively available directly to the public, regardless of the facilities used.”

So what is the incumbents’ main motive in not wanting to be classified as telecommunications providers under Title II of the Act? Hint: It’s not “net neutrality” – the requirement they treat the bits and bytes of Internet protocol moving over their networks equally regardless of origin. The primary reason to avoid being classified as telecommunications providers is to escape the requirement in the Communications Act as amended in 1996 that they provide advanced telecommunications capability to all areas of the nation consistent with the public interest, convenience and necessity. It must enable users to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications using any technology per Section 706(c)(1) of the statute. Elected policymakers at all levels of government generally agree advanced telecommunications capability is even more in the public interest and vital to the constituents they represent than it was when the 1996 Act was enacted two decades ago.

Incumbents also chafe at the prospect of price regulation as advanced telecommunications providers as authorized at Section 706(a) of the Act. Bottom line, if they are regulated solely as providing an information service and not as telecommunications common carriers, then they would be able to continue to redline neighborhoods they don’t wish to serve and charge customers in those they do whatever they wish – just as they have since the statute was enacted without meaningful regulatory enforcement. That might serve the interests of their shareholders, but clearly doesn’t comport with the public interest specified in the statute.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Legacy metallic telcos, cablecos fight rear guard actions against local FTTP initiatives

Municipal broadband advocates cry foul amid Seattle mayoral race: An ongoing debate over making broadband internet a public utility in Seattle is surfacing in the city's mayoral election, and advocates for the cause are crying foul over contributions large telecommunications companies have made in the race. Comcast and CenturyLink, two internet service providers in Seattle, collectively donated about $50,000 to a political action committee supporting Jenny Durkan, a candidate who opposes municipal broadband. Municipal broadband advocates say that the telecom companies’ donations represent efforts to maintain the duopoly they have in the region. The PAC is the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), which is sponsored by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. “If I was running one of the most powerful monopolies of the modern era, I’d be donating as much as I could to take over local politics also,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Mitchell is correct. Due to high cost barriers to competitor entry, telecommunications infrastructure functions as a natural monopoly, a fact recognized in the previous regulatory regime governing analog voice telephone service. Title II of the U.S. Communications Act requires telephone companies to provide service to anyone requesting it and authorized state public utility commissions to regulate their rates since market forces cannot in a monopoly market. 

In its 2015 Open Internet rulemaking, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission made it clear Title II also applies to digital telecommunications delivered using Internet protocol technology. But the United States hasn’t found the regulatory fortitude to enforce that requirement, allowing landline advanced telecommunications providers to redline neighborhoods they don’t want to serve and charge whatever they want. Most pundits expect the FCC to repeal that rulemaking later this month and turn the clock back to the start of the new century when Internet was still a relatively novel “information” service where people “went online” with “broadband” (versus narrowband dialup) connections.

Meanwhile, telephone and cable companies find themselves fighting rear guard actions by localities all over the nation that like Seattle prefer fiber optic infrastructure over metallic cable that isn’t bundled with proprietary services -- known as an open access network. They're tired of waiting and understandably have lost confidence after years of incumbent promises of fiber upgrades that never materialized because their business models can't absorb the needed capital expenditures.

Had the nation engaged in sound public policymaking and prudent planning a generation ago when it became apparent telecommunications was transitioning from analog to digital Internet protocol, the legacy incumbents wouldn’t find themselves fighting these battles. But since they themselves heavily influenced public policy on telecommunications over the past few decades, they hoisted themselves on their own petard and became among the most hated companies in America.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Both legacy incumbents and consumers are wrong about competition in landline delivered advanced telecom service

Legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies and consumer and public interest advocates describe advanced telecommunications landline infrastructure as a competitive market. The former argue that it’s robustly competitive, affording consumers plenty of choices particularly in dense, urban areas. The latter complain there’s little or no competition in most areas where it’s a market duopoly at best. The choice is between either a legacy telephone company or a cable company. Oftentimes there is no choice at all, with only one of the two -- or neither -- offering service.

They’re both off base. Telecommunications infrastructure like that of other utilities delivering electric power, natural gas, water and sewer service to homes and businesses is a natural monopoly. Its inherent microeconomics don’t allow for a competitive market, one that by definition has many sellers and buyers.

Telecommunications service is like other utilities because it provides essential, necessary services for modern life. Thus it will always have many buyers but not a lot of sellers. That’s because the costs of installing and maintaining its delivery infrastructure are so high they deter other providers from entering the space. Would be providers are also deterred because it's inherently difficult to lure away customers from a well established incumbent since consumers don’t frequently go shopping for a new utility provider like they might for furniture, clothing or personal electronics. Hence, for most utilities there is only one provider or as noted earlier, perhaps two for advanced landline telecommunications service.

Both sides nevertheless continue to delude themselves and attempt to convince others they are right. The legacy incumbent phone and cable companies do so because they want to keep policymakers and regulators off their backs. They contend landline delivered advanced telecommunications is a competitive industry and thus requires only “light touch” regulation to protect consumers since market forces will adequately do the job.

Consumers believe the legacy providers have them over a barrel. They redline their neighborhoods and refuse to offer service on a par with that sold to nearby neighbors. Or they offer service, but with poor quality and reliability and exorbitantly priced. As they do with other services, the first inclination of consumers is to call for more competition. If telecommunications were a competitive retail market, they believe, then they could choose among a variety of providers clamoring for their business. The reality of course is far from that and complaints of shoddy customer service are rampant.

Both sides also mischaracterize public sector initiatives to build fiber optic infrastructure as market competition. Public sector entities aren’t out to compete for market share with incumbent legacy telephone and cable companies with the hope of driving them out of business as is the case with true market competition. They build advanced telecom infrastructure to facilitate economic development and achieve community goals.
Consumers want a competitive market for advanced telecommunications infrastructure, viewing it as a tonic for better quality service and value. It cannot and never will be a competitive market. The incumbent providers argue it's already a competitive market. It isn’t.  It’s time to end the nonsense from both camps and their delusions of market competition in advanced landline telecommunications infrastructure and put ownership of it firmly in the public sector since it cannot function as a truly competitive market.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

California like rest of nation suffers from poor advanced telecom service

The Social Cost of Weak Broadband Competition in California: Over the last 8 years, California has spent more than $200M funding projects and subsidizing service to close the broadband digital divide. While the intent is good, the results are limited given that home broadband subscriptions are unchanged today from 2010. It is clear that California cannot subsidize its way out of the digital divide. Despite the claims of Sosa and the Big 5, California’s uncompetitive fixed broadband service hurts everyone. The answer is to either promote retail competition or regulate the Big 5’s monopolies like we do in the energy sector.

California like the rest of the nation has the worst of all worlds: a naturally monopolistic advanced telecommunications market but no monopoly regulation as is done for electric power and natural gas utilities. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission nominally recognized advanced telecommunications as a natural monopoly utility in 2015, placing it under Title II of the Communications Act that regulated basic telephone service before it with rate regulation and a universal service requirement. "Nominally" because this regulatory scheme was put in place on paper only and not enforced.

The author is correct in noting we cannot extricate ourselves from this unfortunate circumstance with subsidies because they don't fundamentally alter it.

Why Title II regulation is anathema to legacy telephone and cable companies

POTs and PANs | Pretty Advanced New Stuff from CCG Consulting: Until recently I always wondered why the ISPs are fighting so hard against Title II regulation. All of the big companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon have told stockholders that their initial concerns about Title II regulation did not materialize. And it’s obvious that Title II hasn’t changed the way they invest in their own companies.

That's because the Federal Communications Commission's Open Internet rulemaking is not being enforced since it took effect in June 2015. No enforcement = no material impact.

But recently I saw an article and wrote a blog about an analyst who thinks that the ISPs are going to drastically increases broadband prices once Title II regulation is gone. Title II is the only tool that the government can use to investigate and possibly act against the ISP for rate increases and for other practices like data caps. If true, and his arguments for this are good ones, then there is a huge motivation for the big ISPs to shed the only existing regulation of broadband.

That's exactly the issue -- and NOT "net neutrality" as the Open Internet rulemaking has been unfortunately dubbed as if the rulemaking only prohibits telecom providers from blocking and throttling content. The main reason the legacy telephone and cable companies dislike Title II regulation is that it is predicated on a natural monopoly market. That requires prices to be regulated because market forces won't act to control them as well as universal service obligations. Both are anathema to these entities because they naturally prefer an unregulated monopoly market that affords them full freedom to cherry pick and redline and charge whatever they choose, placing end users at a distinct advantage to their shareholders.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

U.S. at crisis point on telecom infrastructure modernization – and the path forward

The United States is facing a crisis when it comes to modernizing its legacy metallic telecommunications infrastructure originally constructed in the previous century for analog telephone and cable TV services. In order to deliver digital advanced telecommunications service based on Internet protocol in the present and with capacity for future services as bandwidth demand grows exponentially, that legacy infrastructure needs replacement with fiber optic connections to customer premises.

However, that’s unlikely to happen for the foreseeable future under current federal policy. Customer premise fiber connections are likely to continue to at a glacial place, putting the nation ever further behind where it should be. Had the correct policy and planning choices been made in the late 1980s and early 1990s when it became apparent video, data and voice telecommunications would go from analog to digital and be transported using Internet technology, fiber connections should have been available to every American home, business and institution by 2010 at the latest. Consequently, the United States is facing telecommunications infrastructure crisis in the 21st century at a time when it’s urgently needed to support a transition from the Industrial Age economy to the information and knowledge economy of the 20th.

Given that telecommunications infrastructure functions as a natural monopoly, market forces cannot provide sufficient incentive to speed deployment of fiber. Legacy telephone and cable companies will only construct fiber where they can earn a relatively rapid return on that high dollar capital investment. New investor owned providers will be reluctant to enter a market already dominated by the incumbent providers given they too face the same high capital investment costs and uncertain investment returns.

The leaves the vast majority of the country with substandard and often obsolete infrastructure with little prospect of meaningful progress. Federal and state subsidy programs are grossly underfunded relative to the estimated $200 billion minimum needed to bring fiber connections to every American doorstep. Leaving telecommunications infrastructure in the hands of the private sector will prolong the dismal situation.

Only the federal government has the economic resources to do the job and the freedom to do so without the need to produce a quick return for investors. That’s not to say spending federal tax dollars on this vital infrastructure isn’t an investment. It most certainly is an investment in the nation’s future that will pay multiplier effect dividends by boosting jobs and economic activity, in turn generating tax revenues to repay the initial investment.

A federal telecommunications infrastructure modernization initiative must not just be sufficiently funded. It must also include a clearly defined role for current and newcomer private sector players to construct and operate – but not own due to its monopolistic nature that disadvantages end users -- the new fiber networks. Like the roads and highways the connect metro areas to states and states to other states, the new federally owned fiber infrastructure should be operated on an open access basis, enabling various telecommunications services to be delivered over them by private sector firms. This avoids the tyranny of the monthly subscription take rate that deters infrastructure investment under legacy business models in which the owners of network assets also provide proprietary services over them.

Owners of existing fiber to the premise networks should be offered the opportunity to continue to operate them as privately held assets or to sell them to the federal government with favorable tax incentives.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Misconceptualizing advanced landline telecommunications: not a competitive local market

America’s advanced telecommunications infrastructure gaps are not an inherently local problem. They occur all over the United States – in urban, suburban, exurban and rural areas. It is a nationwide issue requiring a national solution. A major impediment to addressing this issue from a national or regional perspective is telecommunications is typically conceived of as a local service offering rather than infrastructure that links localities to other localities, regions and states and nations – the way long distance telephone service did for decades. The root of this conceptualization has both old and new origins.

The older one is cable TV service. It got its start in the 1950s as definitively local service, serving localities that for reasons of distance and terrain could not reliably receive over the air television signals. Cable providers erected large community antennae to pick up and amplify the signals, delivering them over cables to customer premises. Hence its designation as CATV service -- Community Antenna Television. Local governments saw CATV – later fed with satellite delivered TV programming – as a local service and issued franchises to cable operators. Cable thus became to be thought of as a local service that varied from locality to locality.

The newer conceptualization of telecommunications as a local service comes courtesy of legacy telephone companies that delivered voice phone service over twisted pair copper for many decades starting early in the last century. Around 2000, telephone companies began providing Internet connections via Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service. This technology is hyper local because of its limited range, able to serve customer premises only within about two and a half miles of phone company central office facilities. Consequently, localities ended up with some neighborhoods able to get DSL service while others too far from the central offices could not. That further reinforced the conception of advanced telecommunications as a highly localized service.

Then around 2005, cable providers began offering Internet protocol-based voice and data services. They realized local governments could require them to upgrade and build out their infrastructures to offer these advanced telecommunications services to all customer premises in a given local jurisdiction. Wanting to avoid the capital expenditures entailed with that, the cable companies championed legislation that took franchising authority away from the locals and transferred it to state public utility commissions. Consequently as with phone company DSL service, some neighborhoods are served while others not in cable companies’ desired service area “footprint” remain unserved.

Viewing advanced telecommunications as a local service offering – priced, advertised and sold in service bundles – naturally leads to an unrealistic expectation that it should be a competitive market like other widely advertised services. If Company X won’t serve my neighborhood, then I should be able to go to Company Y or Company Z. If Provider A doesn’t offer the service bundle at the price I can afford, then I should be able to shop Providers B, C and D for an alternative offer.

Problem is these service offers aren’t available because the other providers aren’t necessarily in the market, their advertising notwithstanding. The fine print in the ads from the legacy telephone and cable providers notes that service “may not be available in all areas.” That’s because in much of their nominal service areas, it costs too much and is too economically risky to support those other options under the dominant business model where the provider owns the infrastructure connecting customer premises that pay using recurring monthly subscriptions. The risk is not enough premises will subscribe or too many that do will close their accounts to justify the investment in high cost infrastructure. Any new providers who might compete with the incumbent providers face that risk and more since they would have to woo away customers from the incumbents as well as get their own.

That business case risk is unlikely to change if advanced landline telecommunications remains largely unregulated on a de facto basis and left to large, investor-owned legacy telephone and cable companies. They’re not promoting their ability to connect more and more customer premises and there is no enforced national regulatory policy that compels them to do so. Lately, their ads promote sports and entertainment content -- for the premises they choose to serve with landline infrastructure -- and mobile devices.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Where's the case Title II regulation of ISPs deters telecom infrastructure investment?

Improved broadband access is one of the most important benefits of reversing Title II overreach. The internet brought us what seems like endless opportunities. The corollary to this, however, is that Americans without access to the internet are left behind. Internet access and computer skills are key to being connected, well-informed and competitive — not only in today’s job market, but ultimately in today’s digital era. By returning to commonsense regulation that incentivizes broadband investment and expansion, we can build out more robust networks that keep the American dream alive for those striving to succeed in today’s technology-driven world. At least ten percent of Americans (35 million people) lack adequate broadband access, according to the FCC’s 2016 Broadband Progress Report. This includes 23 million Americans in rural communities. Faced with these troubling statistics, priority should be heightened to champion the urgency of broadband deployment.

Source: Rolling back 'net neutrality' is essential to the free internet's future.

Problem with this argument is it fails to state a clear case as to why subjecting Internet service providers offering Internet protocol-based telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act will deter deployment of telecommunications infrastructure. In fact, the Title II regulatory scheme mandates universal service to all Americans who reasonably request service. Many if not most of those millions of Americans the author points to as lacking adequate Internet access have repeatedly requested service and been denied service in violation of this requirement and its bar on neighborhood redlining. That's because providers have not adequately invested in their infrastructure to make service available to them. Those provisions of Title II were put in force in 2015 by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's Open Internet rulemaking. (Click here for more background.)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

U.S. should avoid "broadband speed" standard, set infrastructure-based telecom modernization goal

On a conference call with reporters, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to immediately reverse course and reject any proposal to downgrade the minimum benchmark definition of internet service, which would create the mirage of more widespread broadband service without actually improving quality or accessibility for high-speed home internet. Schumer emphasized that pushing this standard would undermine access to genuine high-speed broadband for Upstate New Yorkers, which should be the FCC’s focus, according to Schumer.  Schumer called on the FCC to end all attempts to “define access down. ”

*  *  *

Schumer said that each year the FCC evaluates national broadband deployment standards to ensure internet service providers (ISPs) are equally distributing quality broadband. In 2015, the FCC established a new definition of broadband, increasing the access requirement from 4Mbps minimum download speed, 1Mbps upload speed, to 25Mbps/3Mbps in order to serve the 55 million Americans without high-speed internet at those speeds. This decision was an attempt to raise the bar for the quality of internet being deployed and set goals aimed at increasing reliable broadband access for millions of Americans.
Press release from Schumer's office here.

This is well intended on Schumer’s part given that Upstate New York like much of America suffers from deficient advanced telecom infrastructure. But the fundamental problem isn’t the U.S. Federal Communications Commission potentially setting the bar too low. Rather, the wrong metric is being utilized.

Instead of throughput speed, the United States should establish an infrastructure-based goal of bringing modern fiber optic telecommunications connections to every home, business and institution. And do so as a crash program given the critical role of telecommunications in today’s digital information economy and the widespread infrastructure deficiencies. In setting this goal, the nation must also create a plan to achieve it since it’s meaningless without one.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Wildfires pose potential crisis -- and opportunity -- for PG&E

Wildfires create worst crisis for PG&E since San Bruno gas disaster | The Sacramento Bee: California’s wildfires have left Pacific Gas and Electric Co. confronting its most serious financial crisis since the 2010 San Bruno gas explosion, a disaster that threatened the company with bankruptcy and ultimately cost the utility $1.6 billion in fines and other costs. Two state agencies, Cal Fire and the California Public Utilities Commission, have launched investigations into whether Northern California’s largest utility could be at least partly responsible for the fires that ignited Oct. 8, killing at least 41 people and destroying roughly 5,700 homes and businesses. So far, neither Cal Fire nor the CPUC has cited evidence that PG&E contributed to any the ignitions. But the stock price of parent company PG&E Corp. has plunged over the last week amid investor jitters that the utility could be held responsible. PG&E shares closed Monday at $53.43, a drop of $4.34. Since Friday the company’s stock market value has fallen by more than $5 billion.

The threat of wildfires sparked by electric power transmission lines in PG&E's Northern California service territory will continue into the future after the recent deadly wildfires that ravaged California’s wine country, killing more than 40 people and destroying several thousand homes and businesses. Some predict the hazard will worsen due to climate change and continued residential development near fire prone wildland areas.

Out of crisis, goes the adage, opportunity often follows. For PG&E, that opportunity is to vastly reduce the chance of its power lines starting destructive wildfires and subjecting the company and its shareholders to significant legal liability. How so? By placing its last mile distribution lines serving customer premises in buried underground conduit instead of suspended overhead on wooden poles close to combustible flora and other materials. 

There’s an additional bonus on top of the reduced maintenance and storm outage costs associated with above ground transmission poles and infrastructure. PG&E recently filed an application with California utility regulators to serve as a wholesale telecommunications provider using its fiber optic infrastructure. Conduit for underground electrical power cables could also house fiber for telecommunications and bring it close to residential, business and institutional PG&E customers. PG&E could lease that fiber to internet service providers, providing an additional revenue stream to help offset the cost of undergrounding its premise electrical service lines.

And that's not all. In placing electric power lines in underground conduit, electric utilities can apply shielding to protect the grid from damaging electromagnetic flux from X-class solar flares or EMP weapons detonating at high altitude. 

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Stop the Cap! The End of Google Fiber Expansion: Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Stop the Cap! The End of Google Fiber Expansion: Where Did It All Go Wrong? : The bean counters also arrived at Google Access — the division responsible for Google Fiber — and by October 2016, Google simultaneously announced it was putting a hold on further expansion of Google Fiber and its CEO, Craig Barratt, was leaving the company. About 10% of employees in the division involuntarily left with him. Insufficiently satisfied with those cutbacks, additional measures were announced in April 2017 including the departure of Milo Medin, a vice president at Google Access and Dennis Kish, a wireless infrastructure veteran who was president of Google Fiber. Nearly 600 Google Access employees were also reassigned to other divisions. Medin was a Google Fiber evangelist in Washington, and often spoke about the impact Google’s fiber project would have on broadband competition and the digital economy. Porat’s philosophy had a sweeping impact on Alphabet and its various divisions. The most visionary/experimental projects that were originally green-lit with no expectation of making money for a decade or more now required a plan to prove profitability in five years or less. (Emphasis added).

In adopting that five year ROI cutoff, Google Fiber effectively placed itself under the same financial constraints governing slow moving legacy telephone and cable companies it hoped to overbuild with fiber to the premise (FTTP). Having ventured into FTTP nearly a decade ago with no overwhelming technological or marketing advantage and using the same recurring monthly subscription business model -- including TV programming -- as the incumbents, it should surprise no one it's retreating.

As a former advisor to Google co-founder Larry Page was quoted as saying in Phil Dampier's post mortem excerpted above, "There’s no flying-saucer shit in laying fiber." Indeed. So unless Google Fiber figures out how to teleport fiber conduit into the ground or develops fiber cables that hang in mid air defying gravity -- thus avoiding the need for pole access -- it's pointless for Google Fiber to remain in FTTP.

Google Fiber's parent company, Alphabet, has a unit simply dubbed "X" to develop "moonshot" inventions profiled in the November 2017 issue of The Atlantic. Perhaps X will be able to obsolete FTTP and the Internet itself by coming up with a way to store quantum bits of information in the substrate of space time and encrypted by a form of blockchain technology to ensure data integrity.
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