Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Riverside County, California: A microcosm of telecom infrastructure modernization challenge facing nation

$4 billion gigabit-for-all project in California makes its case with data: As one of the nation's largest counties plans a gigabit fiber network that could cost as much as $4 billion, project organizers are publishing data-rich stories they hope will catch the attention of companies that can build it. Riverside County, California, the 10th-most-populous county in the nation, recently extended its deadline for companies to submit proposals for its RivCoConnect initiative, a plan to bring gigabit internet to all of its 2.4 million residents. Now open to responses until Sept. 28, the county published three new web pages last week to showcase its vision and illustrate the character and demographic makeup of the people whom the new connectivity would serve.

This county is a microcosm of the challenge facing the entire nation when it comes to modernizing its legacy metallic telecommunications infrastructure built for the 20th century to fiber to the premise for the 21st. Extrapolate that single digit billion dollar project cost for Riverside County to the more than 3,000 counties in the county and it's easy to see why the United States needs a major federal initiative to fiber the nation, funded to the tune of $200 billion or more.

Investor owned players like legacy telephone and cable companies as well as new entrants like Google Fiber aren't going to take on this monumental task for the foreseeable because the numbers don't pencil out for their shareholders. State and local governments don't have money to bring to the table, already strapped with other aging infrastructure obligations as well as enormous and growing costs for health services and public pensions. Only the federal government is in a position to step up and fund this vital infrastructure.

Verizon’s FiOS Deployment In Boston Is Fiber-To-The-B.S. | HuffPost

Verizon’s FiOS Deployment In Boston Is Fiber-To-The-B.S. | HuffPost

This development shows it's far easier to talk about and even promise to deploy fiber to the premise (FTTP) telecommunications infrastructure than it is to fund and construct it. It also shows even large very well capitalized companies like Verizon, AT&T and more recently Alphabet's Google Fiber unit aren't up to the task. They lack the will (investment incentive driven by strong capital returns) and the means (patient capital than can wait many years for a return on capital investment) to do the job.

As Bruce Kushnick and other observers have shown, the talk typically falls far short of real world results. It's time to face the reality that the urgency needed large scale FTTP deployment the United States should have completed a decade ago requires a well funded federal initiative to accomplish the job. As the saying goes, money talks and bullshit walks.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

FCC Chair Pai papers over market failure as regulatory failure, claims satellite-based advanced telecom is competitive

Can a free market solve the digital divide? | WUWM: Pai: There are two different aspects to the answer to that. No. 1 is that I have focused on digital redlining as an issue

Wood: We should define what digital redlining is.

Pai: Digital redlining is the notion that within a certain geographic area, a company might have a business case for building out in areas A, B and C. But in area D they simply say, "We're not going to deploy there because we don't see the return on the investment," or for whatever reason. So from a regulatory perspective, we want to make sure that there are no rules standing in the way of them doing that. 

Had regulations been obstacles to deployment of advanced telecommunications infrastructure over the past 20 years or so, they would have been well identified by now. The issue of regulatory impediments is a red herring. As Pai points out, the issue is primarily economic insofar as redlining occurs in areas where the return on investment isn't sufficiently robust to justify the capital expenditure. Market failure is not regulatory failure. 

Pai: Absolutely. I mean, we can't punish companies to the extent that they don't build out and they don't have federal obligations. But what we do try to do is encourage them as strongly as we can. If they're violating FCC rules, certainly we will go after them for doing that. And in the meantime we're going to try to keep encouraging competition as best we can. Some of these smaller providers too, they're really providing an impetus in the marketplace. A couple of months ago, we approved for the first time a satellite company's application. They want to deploy 720 satellites in low-earth orbit. And they think that would be a really substantial competitor to terrestrial.

Instead of connecting all homes and businesses with modern fiber optic infrastructure, Pai is tacitly endorsing a lower service standard provided by satellites that can't provide the carrying capacity to accommodate rapidly growing demand for bandwidth that is doubling about every three years. As many Americans who reluctantly rely upon it are painfully aware, satellite connectivity is a poor substitute and hardly competition for terrestrial landline telecom infrastructure.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

AT&T in apparent violation of FCC Open Internet rulemaking reclassifying internet as telecom service

In June of 2015, the Open Internet rulemaking adopted by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission that reclassified internet as a common carrier telecommunications service subject to the universal service and non-discrimination mandates of Title II of the Communications Act became effective. Section 201(a) of the law states that:

"It shall be the duty of every common carrier engaged in interstate or foreign communication by wire or radio to furnish such communication service upon reasonable request therefor..."

Section 254(b)(3) of the Act requires ISPs to provide access to advanced telecommunications in all regions of the nation. Section 202 of the Act contains an anti-redlining provision barring internet service providers from discriminating against localities in providing service.

But let’s take a look at what happens when at least some consumers attempt to place an online order for internet service with AT&T, the nation’s biggest telecommunications provider. After plugging in the address where service is needed on a recent service inquiry, the following screen appeared on the AT&T order page:

In other words, satellite television but ironically no telecommunications services are available for ordering. That window includes an informational link at the bottom right of the page titled “Why can’t I get these services?” Clicking on that link brought up the following:

The first and last explanations clearly do not comport with Title II’s universal service requirement for an incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC) like AT&T. Particularly the last one referencing “an area we don’t service," noting landline services are offered only in “select areas” of AT&T’s 21 state service territory. “Select areas” is clearly not universal service. It will be interesting to see how the Federal Communications Commission addresses this apparent clear violation of its Title II rules.

Those rules also bar internet service providers from blocking and throttling content. Indeed, the Open Internet rulemaking has been wholly conflated with that provision, known as "net neutrality." However, the toughest form of blocking and throttling is when one has no internet service access whatsoever because a request for service isn't honored.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Purpose of AT&T's 4G LTE fixed premise service to mollify pols, not modernize telecom infrastructure
Speedy internet delivery for rural DeSoto County | News | Flint said as part of this commitment across 18 states, AT&T plans to reach more than 400,000 locations throughout 18 states by the end of 2017, and over 1.1 million locations by 2020. AT&T plans to reach over 130,000 locations with this technology across Mississippi by 2020. Flint said delivering broadband internet service to rural underdeserved areas has been AT&T's challenge.

According to Flint, AT&T's Fixed Wireless Internet Service delivers a home internet connection with speeds of at least 10Mbps. The connection comes from a wireless tower to a fixed antenna on customers' homes or businesses. "This is an efficient way to deliver high-quality internet to customers in rural and underserved areas," Flint said. "This will be capable of delivering a fixed wireless signal at a speed of 10 megabits per second, more than enough to do web browsing with plenty of speed and to stream your favorite movie or TV show. The telecommunications infrastructure was made possible through the FCC Connect America Fund.

The primary purpose of this rollout is to mollify politicians continually barraged with complaints from constituents about poor advanced telecommunications service options. Bolting on fixed premise service to existing 4G LTE mobile wireless towers is not a long term investment in modernizing telecommunications infrastructure. It's simply another on the cheap substitute for replacing decades-old twisted pair copper cable designed to support voice telephone service with fiber optic cable to support advanced services.

AT&T is deploying this fixed wireless service in areas where its copper cable plant cannot support digital subscriber line (DSL) service, some of which never even got first generation ADSL deployed more than a decade ago. AT&T's fixed premise wireless service will offer throughput that does not conform to U.S. Federal Communication Commission standards for delivering high quality high-quality voice, data, graphics and video. That shortcoming will be amplified in peak use periods given multiple connected devices used in households and small businesses and the fact that wireless bandwidth is by definition limited and connectivity slows as more users access it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The farce of measuring "broadband speeds" and market competition

For Broadband Connections, How Fast is Fast Enough? | WIRED

Who would have thought policymakers would be engaged in a seemingly endless debate over what constitutes "broadband" and the ridiculous, pointless exercise of assessing the level of market competition in a natural monopoly marketplace that is telecom infrastructure?

The explanation: They're being punked. It's a farce and distraction to serve the "fight the future" agenda of legacy telephone and cable companies that cannot keep up with the shift to Internet protocol-based telecommunications and the ever growing demand for more bandwidth. The controversy over "broadband speeds" is becoming a technological version of the argument over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Meanwhile, the United States falls further behind in the task of modernizing its legacy metallic telecom infrastructure to fiber optic to the premise.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Aerial fiber offers lower deployment cost, superior connectivity vs. radio-based technologies

Rural America Is Building Its Own Internet Because No One Else Will - Motherboard: The board has established a "dig once" initiative, where any time roadwork or repairs are being done in the area, county workers are obliged to lay fiber at the same time. It's also looking into innovative techniques for connecting along the highway, such as micro trenching, where the fiber optic cable is embedded a few inches into the road and blacktopped over. "It cuts down your chances of animals taking your line down, or car wrecks that take it down, or storms that take it down," Brown said.
It's true that buried fiber conduit is more protected from outages caused by environmental factors. But in some areas, it's not economically cost effective. Blacktop road surfaces particularly in rural areas may not be thick and stable enough to support microtrenching, a lower cost method of installing buried conduit.

That however should not leave substandard, shared bandwidth radio-based technologies such as those discussed in this article as the only cost justifiable alternative for delivering advanced telecommunications services to premises. Aerial fiber -- hung on existing and perhaps some new poles that currently carry electrical distribution cables and legacy twisted pair copper telephone and cable TV lines -- provides a technically superior connectivity option over radio-based technologies at far lower cost than buried fiber. Consistent with "dig once" policies mentioned above, buried fiber should in some areas be a long term objective with aerial fiber plant providing the necessary rapid deployment of advanced telecom infrastructure decades late in coming to the United States.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Tax incentives unlikely to improve business case for private telecom infrastructure investment

The Dream Divide: Fighting the Classism of the Digital Age - Morning Consult: Governors would have the authority to declare participating areas of their respective states as Gigabit Opportunity Zones, and this bill would enable such zones to attract broadband providers with capital gains tax deferrals on any funds directly invested in broadband expansion. Gigabit Opportunity Zones would also offer firms an option for immediately expensing broadband equipment instead of drawing out their returns on investment over the depreciation period. When local governments have support for improving their broadband policies and the tools — tax deferrals and immediate expensing — to attract meaningful investment in high-speed internet access, their communities’ doors swing open to multiple internet providers.

Georgia Congressman Doug Collins who wrote the above in an op-ed piece overlooks the fact that the biggest expense in constructing telecommunications infrastructure isn't equipment. It's labor at about 70 percent of overall costs. As such, this proposal based on tax breaks to incentivize infrastructure investment isn't likely to significantly improve the business case for private investor-owned providers to make the necessary upfront capital investment.

Federal policymakers should instead face the fact that private investment capital is not sufficiently patient for major infrastructure due to overly long waits for investment returns and create a federal telecom agency to build fiber to every American home, business and school. The United States is already decades behind where it should be on replacing its legacy metallic telephone and cable TV 20th century infrastructure with modern fiber optic cables for the modern digital age. Continuing to pursue weak, ineffective solutions such as those proposed by Collins will only prolong the digital divide of which he complains.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

FCC has few if any options to accelerate modernization of U.S. telecom infrastructure

Maybe Americans don’t need fast home Internet service, FCC suggests | Ars Technica: Americans might not need a fast home Internet connection, the Federal Communications Commission suggests in a new document. Instead, mobile Internet via a smartphone might be all people need. The suggestion comes in the FCC's annual inquiry into broadband availability. Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act requires the FCC to determine whether broadband (or more formally, "advanced telecommunications capability") is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. If the FCC finds that broadband isn't being deployed quickly enough to everyone, it is required by law to "take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market." (Emphasis added)

The problem is the FCC has few if any effective options to accelerate the modernization of American telecommunications infrastructure. That's because the biggest barrier to private investment in infrastructure to support advanced telecommunications is economic and not a regulatory matter within the FCC's jurisdiction.

Privately owned telecommunications companies must achieve a rapid return on investment to satisfy investors. That's a tall order given infrastructure construction requires copious amounts of capital be invested up front with a long wait until that investment is recouped and generates profit. Their business model is based on selling monthly service bundles and speed tier subscriptions to individual customer premises. It frequently fails to spin off sufficient predictable revenues to earn the required return on invested capital within the investors' time horizon.

That substantially degrades the business case for investing in infrastructure and raises economic risk, in turn leading to market failure and infrastructure deficiencies and disparities. There is little if anything the FCC or any other regulator can do to address that economic reality. It's fundamental to the predominant U.S. model of private ownership and operation of telecommunications infrastructure.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

In 2017 America, there is no collective “we” or “our” when it comes to telecom infrastructure

In 2017 America, being served by landline digital telecommunications infrastructure isn’t about where we live, with nearly all homes served by water, electrical power and other utilities. There is no collective we. It’s all about where you live. Especially when landline infrastructure ends just down the road, over the hill or around the bend. You and more specifically your home are in the wrong spot and that’s too bad for you.

Case in point is a direct mail satellite Internet service provider advertisement offering “AFFORDABLE, HIGH-SPEED INTERNET + DISH that’s “AVAILABLE WHERE YOU LIVE.” That’s because the target market is premises redlined for landline by legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies.

Despite widespread agreement telecommunications is a utility that should be available to all and a network we all share and use, it is far from that in a nation where landline telecom infrastructure availability is spotty, comparable to a Swiss cheese full of holes.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

U.S. policymakers continue to engage in misguided, wishful thinking on telecom infrastructure modernization

North Georgia featured in CBS report on rural broadband [VIDEO] - Now Habersham: Millions of Americans today lack access to effective broadband service and many rural Georgians are among them. It’s an issue that’s grabbed the attention of state politicians and, now, the national media. CBS This Morning on Friday reported on the economic struggles facing Northeast Georgians and others who live in communities that lack broadband infrastructure.The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week committed over $2B in subsidies over the next decade to help telecom companies expand rural broadband.

Congress also is considering legislation that would incentivize broadband infrastructure investment and foster market competition. Georgia’s 9th District Congressman Doug Collins recently introduced the Gigabit Opportunity Act or GO Act. It would allow companies to defer certain capital gains taxes when they convert those gains to long-term investments in broadband infrastructure within state-designated “Gigabit Opportunity Zones.” Companies also would be allowed to expense the cost of expansion on the front end in ‘GO Zones’.

American policymakers continue to engage in misguided, wishful thinking when it comes to badly needed modernization of the nation's outdated telecommunications infrastructure to fast, reliable fiber to the premise (FTTP) technology for the 21st century. Two billion dollars will barely make a dent in the estimated $300 billion needed for job.

Offering tax incentives is similarly wishful, unrealistic thinking. What's needed is an aggressive federal initiative to build FTTP and treat it like a common carrier public asset. Tax incentives are the wrong approach. They are not national infrastructure initiatives; they are limited scope economic development tools.

Small cells not seen as viable replacement for retiring copper landline telecom infrastructure

Better cell phone service could come at a cost for California cities | The Sacramento Bee: Humboldt County Supervisor Rex Bohn said he doesn’t see telecom companies rushing into rural communities that have no or low connectivity, either. The small cells need to be close together to work most efficiently, and there isn’t enough demand in such areas to attract the companies.
Various observers have pointed to legacy incumbent telephone company plans to retire aging copper cable landline infrastructure in less densely populated areas and replace it with wireless service. Their business models that demand rapid return on investment do not permit its replacement with fiber to the premise (FTTP) infrastructure. However, the same business model constraints apply to wireless infrastructure as well as this Northern California county supervisor notes. Especially since those small cells will need a lot of fiber backhaul to be constructed to support them.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

"Middle mile" and America's incomplete, balkanized telecom infrastructure

On broadband internet availability | Kenbridge Victoria Dispatch: Mid-Atlantic Broadband was created with an investment by the Tobacco Commission and a matching investment from the federal government 15 years ago. It was created as a non-profit company to connect the tobacco region to the major internet centers around the world. It has been extremely successful in providing connections for the data centers in Mecklenburg (H-P Enterprises and Microsoft) as well as other companies in the region. Mid-Atlantic was not established to provide services to households, but rather to be a partner with providers who would hopefully provide the “last mile” to your house or business. Regrettably, those last-mile providers have not been as aggressive as we had hoped. (Emphasis added)

That last sentence illustrates the usually unfounded belief that building advanced telecommunications fiber trunk lines will stimulate the deployment of infrastructure to customer premises. Even though the logical purpose of so-called "middle mile" infrastructure is to feed infrastructure serving those very premises.

Sell side market failure typically results when hopes for those connections are based on a vertically integrated, investor owned business model. The return on investment for such entities is too long to make the business case for connecting premises other than so-called "anchors" such as schools, libraries and business parks. It's part and parcel of America's widespread pattern of balkanized, incomplete telecom infrastructure and disparate access.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Outdated 1998 "going online" perceptions persist, hold back progress

Technology Is Improving, So Why Is Rural Broadband Access Still a Problem? | National News | US News: It is still worth noting, however, that even if rural broadband infrastructure were exactly the same as in urban areas, there would still be a "digital divide" in adoption rates, because rural populations are older, less educated and have lower income.
Had this been asserted in 1998-2000, it would have been mostly true since Americans were "going online" via dialup modem (and DSL for some fortunate households) to access email and websites. But it's badly outdated and uninformed in 2017. Fiber optic to the premise telecommunications infrastructure can deliver not only email and web content, but also voice communications via Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), videoconferencing (older folks love to see their grandkids), online education, telemedicine and of course streaming video content.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

U.S. policy should support technological progress in telecom, not protect interests of legacy telephone and cable companies

The Town That Had Free Gigabit Internet - Motherboard: But just as Wilson was preparing to expand the program in 2011, North Carolina passed House Bill 129: the "Level Playing Field" act, which was supported by Big Telecom lobbyists. This put tight restrictions on any town hoping to start its own municipal broadband, and reined in existing systems under the thinking that it was unfair for the government to compete in the open market with private businesses. After the law was passed, Wilson was not allowed to bring high-speed internet to Pinetops. "From our perspective, municipal broadband networks do not create competition in the long run," a spokesperson for CenturyLink, one of the ISPs that provided some service in the area, told me via email. "Rather, they replace it because public investment in government-owned networks drives out private sector investment and undermines an already-challenging business case for bringing broadband to certain areas." But locals argued the current providers weren't really competing at all, with many people unable to get access or stuck with expensive, slow connections.
This needs some unpacking. First some basic microeconomics. Infrastructure tends to function as a natural monopoly due to high cost barriers that protect incumbents and deter potential sellers from entering the market. Case in point: Google Fiber. It tried to take on the incumbents in a small number of U.S. metro areas and retreated in 2016 -- due to those high costs of entry. They proved to be too much, even for a very deep pocketed, tech savvy enterprise like Google.

In functional markets, sellers and buyers are able to get together on mutually agreeable terms. That's often not the case when it comes to advanced telecommunications infrastructure since those high cost barriers creating a natural monopoly typically mean only one seller -- or two at best. And if they offer poor value service -- or none at all -- consumers are stuck.

Naturally, CenturyLink as other rent seeking legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies wish to be that one seller and want their natural monopoly franchise protected by government policy, even as they struggle with a "challenging business case" as CenturyLink concedes. But U.S. government policy should not be to protect the interests of these players who must operate on very extended, uncertain timetables for modernizing their infrastructures for the digital age due to the aforesaid business case difficulties. Instead, it should be to ensure the rapid deployment of public sector-owned fiber connections to every American doorstep like roads and highways.

Monday, July 24, 2017

AT&T's 4G LTE premise service bolt on could fall short of bandwidth demand

AT&T plans to use cell towers to bring internet access to thousands in rural South Carolina | Business | AT&T is planning to use cell towers across South Carolina to bring high-speed broadband to rural areas where internet access is slow to nonexistent. The telecom giant says it's in the process of installing antennas capable of connecting thousands of people in sparsely populated corners of the state. (Emphasis added) Roughly 12,000 homes and businesses will have access to the new service by the end of the year. The work covers some 20 counties in South Carolina under a Federal Communications Commission initiative to boost access in underserved areas. Company spokesman Daniel Hayes declined to say which areas would get service.
The problem is those thousands of people will need a lot of cells backhauled with fiber as bandwidth demand continues its inexorable march upward. Since this technology -- essentially a bolt on to existing 4G LTE mobile network -- is being deployed as a lower cost alternative to fiber to the premise, deploying lots of tower equipment and fiber backhaul would work against the CAPex cost saving objective.

The likely upshot is there will be too many household competing for too little shared bandwidth, particularly in peak evening times when video entertainment streaming and remote learning is done. For example, there have been reports within the past week that Verizon Wireless has throttled video streaming to reduce bandwidth demand.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Until America musters will to fund crash program to build modern, government owned fiber telecommunications infrastructure to every doorstep

Until America musters the national will to fund a crash program to build modern, government owned fiber optic telecommunications infrastructure to every doorstep, it will continue to experience:

  • Neighborhood infrastructure redlining and unregulated pricing by legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies exploiting the natural monopoly that is telecom infrastructure; 
  • Poor connectivity and customer service;  
  • Underfunded, incremental efforts by states and localities to build fiber to the premise telecom infrastructure.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Incumbent legacy telcos, cablecos don't fear "net neutrality." Title II monopoly regulation is the real concern.

Net Neutrality and Broadband Investment for All - Morning Consult: A wise Federal Communications Commission chairman noted that “the best decision government ever made with respect to the internet was … NOT to impose regulation on it.” Who said that? Republican Chairman Ajit Pai? Republican Chairman Kevin Martin? No, it was Bill Kennard, the Democratic chairman appointed by President Bill Clinton. Kennard’s smart, future-focused, pro-innovation and pro-consumer philosophy — followed by chairmen of both parties for two decades — established an investment-friendly regulatory climate that resulted in more than $1.5 trillion in broadband network investment, and with it, America’s world-changing internet technologies, applications and services. Kennard’s words remain as true today as they did in 1999. Pai’s plan to unwind the 2015 Open Internet Order, which regulated broadband service like an early 20th century telephone monopoly, is the right start.

The thing is telecommunications infrastructure is a natural monopoly regardless of whether it's plain old telephone service (POTS) over copper or based on Internet communications protocol delivered over fiber to the premise (FTTP). It's simple microeconomics. Infrastructure a labor intensive, high cost proposition and as such will never attract many sellers due to the high cost barriers to entry. While some degree of redundancy is beneficial to ensure network reliability, it would make no sense and be uneconomic to have many providers installing multiple infrastructures to serve communities and customer premises.

The above item by the president and CEO of the telecom industry trade group USTelecom shows the industry isn't as concerned about so-called "net neutrality" rules requiring all Internet protocol traffic be afforded equal carriage. Rather, the real fear is monopoly regulation.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Microsoft dusts off TV white spaces wireless tech with "Rural Airband Initiative"

Microsoft proposing $10B program to bring broadband internet to rural America | The Seattle Times: Microsoft is set to propose a $10 billion program to bring broadband internet to the rural U.S., an economic-development program aimed at a core constituency of the Trump administration. The plan, which calls for corporate and government cash, relies on nascent television “white-space” technology, which sends internet data over unused broadcast frequencies set aside for television channels.In an event scheduled for Tuesday in Washington, D.C., Microsoft is to propose using the technology it helped develop as a cornerstone of an effort to connect the 23.4 million Americans in rural areas who lack high-speed internet access.
Ten years ago, Microsoft along with Dell, EarthLink, Google, HP, Intel, and Philips Electronics formed the White Spaces Coalition and submitted a prototype wireless Internet protocol-based telecom device to be tested by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. The White Spaces Coalition hoped have the device approved for use when analog TV broadcasts ceased in February 2009 in favor of digital transmission, using unused portions of the television broadcast spectrum, 2MHz to 698MHz. The technology never came into widespread use in the decade that followed. According to this story in the Seattle Times, Microsoft’s Rural Airband Initiative seeks to deploy the technology with telecommunications industry partners in a dozen states by 2018.
TV white spaces technology isn't being held out as a panacea for the many neighborhoods redlined by incumbent landline telephone and cable companies that are found immediately adjacent to neighborhoods that are served by them. It's specifically targeted to areas with between two and 200 people per square mile, according to a Microsoft blog post. Fixed terrestrial wireless and "limited" fiber to the premise should be deployed in communities with a density greater than 200 people per square mile, according to the post, and satellite should be used to provide service in very sparsely populated areas with a population density of less than two people per square mile. Currently, however, satellite is found in much more populated areas that lack landline infrastructure and provides a far inferior level of service than can be provided by landline infrastructure.

Microsoft's TV white spaces plan faces a number of obstacles mentioned in this New York Times story. They include the high cost of the devices to deliver it, longstanding opposition from the TV broadcast industry concerned about possible interference and limited bandwidth inherent in any advanced telecom technology based on spectrum. There's a larger downside as well: looking to technologies that have limited and unproven track records for delivering advanced, Internet protocol-based telecommunications. It's happened before with Broadband Over Power Lines (BPL), which was first touted in the mid-2000s (around the same time as TV white spaces), G-Fast (souped up DSL) and more recently, AT&T's experimental AirGig technology. None have proven to be lower cost replacements offering the same bandwidth capacity and reliability that fiber to the premise (FTTP) technology provides.

Coming on the heels of a Deloitte white paper declaring building out fiber a U.S. national infrastructure imperative, Microsoft's proposal underscores the poor public policy and planning that brought the nation to where it is today with widespread telecommunications infrastructure deficiencies and disparities. TV white spaces might have made sense as a planned transitional technology on the road to universal FTTP. That it's being hauled back out 10 years after it debuted reflects a desperate, on the cheap strategy borne out of the landline infrastructure deficiencies and disparities rather than a transitional strategy.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Telecom infrastructure deficiencies direct consequence of leaving it in hands of vertically integrated private sector providers

Addressing the Digital Divide in California: It's a problem for foothills residents, as well as other rural communities throughout the state, due to the landscape and the distance between households. Smaller populations mean fewer cell towers and internet providers, Fletcher said, and it's a problem that needs to be addressed. "One of the biggest things has to do with safety. Between the sheriff's office, the fire department, or just for education, without the infrastructure, you are limited in what you can do in the foothills, and that's a big piece of the puzzle," Fletcher said.
Telecom infrastructure deficiencies are a direct consequence of current U.S. policy that keeps vital telecom infrastructure in the hands of vertically integrated investor owned corporations. Their business model based on selling "broadband" services fails when population density falls below an arbitrary number of occupied premises per mile, creating widespread service gaps. This cause has been well known for decades but very little has been done to address it -- and the complaints go on. And on.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

50 million US homes have only one 25Mbps Internet provider or none at all | Ars Technica

50 million US homes have only one 25Mbps Internet provider or none at all | Ars Technica: More than 10.6 million US households have no access to wired Internet service with download speeds of at least 25Mbps, and an additional 46.1 million households live in areas with just one provider offering those speeds, a new analysis has found. That adds up to more than 56 million households lacking any high-speed broadband choice over wired connections. Even when counting access to fixed wireless connections, there are still nearly 50 million households with one 25Mbps provider or none at all.

The data comes from a report by researchers who evaluated Federal Communications Commission data in order to shed more light on broadband deployment, or lack thereof. The FCC's own reports on this data show the percentage of developed census blocks that have ISPs offering broadband at various speeds. The researchers attempted to improve upon that analysis by comparing the census block information to household data from the US Census Bureau's 2015 American Community Survey in order to determine how many homes have or don't have high-speed broadband access.

This analysis continues the misguided view that telecommunications infrastructure is a competitive market and therefore something is wrong if premises don't have multiple landline services from which they can obtain Internet protocol-based services. It is not a competitive market. Due to high cost barriers to entry that discourage competition, it functions as a natural monopoly like other utilities such as electric power, water and natural gas. It's not economic to have multiple power, water and gas lines serving a given customer premise. Driving this view is the notion that IP-based telecommunications is a "broadband" service and not infrastructure.

The analysis also incorporates a speed-based definition of service. The definition derives from a dearth of fiber to the premise (FTTP) infrastructure in the United States. Internet service providers rely on metallic cable landline plant and radio spectrum that offer considerably less bandwidth capacity than FTTP. Hence, bandwidth is constrained and throughput speed rather than infrastructure tends to define what constitutes good service. FTTP infrastructure rather than throughput speed is a far better metric and avoids the constant need to redefine a speed-based standard as bandwidth demand continues its inexorable growth.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Continued reliance on legacy telephone and cable company "broadband speeds" to define American telecom infrastructure modernization policy will result in continued frustratingly slow, incremental and inadequate progress

Trump's Rural Internet Could Cost $80 Bil | The Daily Caller: One problem is how much the federal government should subsidize the initiative. Trump’s administration hasn’t released an exact amount for how much building internet infrastructure in rural areas will cost, but according to an Obama-era study released in January, providing coverage to 98 percent of rural America will cost about $80 billion. If the government invests $40 billion, it could still reach around 94 percent of the uncovered areas.

The referenced Obama administration study was round filed by the Trump administration on Feb. 3, 2017.

The administration has several initiatives to work on rural broadband. The Federal Communications Commission started the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force several months ago, which will offer “$2 billion to [internet provider] bidders to connect unserved and underserved locations over the next decade.” 

That amount is woefully inadequate as the now redacted FCC study suggests and explains why incumbent telephone companies are using this funding solely for limited buildouts of legacy 1990s DSL over copper and in the case of AT&T, adding special antenna equipment to its 4G LTE mobile service infrastructure to serve customer premises. That service will share radio spectrum bandwidth with mobile users and likely only approximate 1990s DSL service during peak evening hours, particularly as customers stream high bandwidth video. 

Lawmakers from rural states, however, are pushing for complete internet coverage. The FCC “must accurately target every area that is in need of support so that no one is left behind,” Republican Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker and West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin wrote in a letter to FCC chairman Ajit Pai in April.

Certainly well intended. But the devil is in the details. American public policy on telecom infrastructure modernization has gotten hopelessly bogged down over the use of "broadband speed" to define who is served with advanced modern telecom infrastructure and who isn't. That paradigm derives from the 1990s when throughput speed defined what differentiates "broadband" from early 1990s first generation narrowband dialup service that's still in use today. The type and quality of telecom infrastructure can vary widely over relatively small areas with some premises offered only dialup over decades-old copper while others just a mile or two away have cable DOCSIS service or fiber to the premise (FTTP). That's why this challenge cannot be accurately framed as a "rural" issue since these very disparities exist in nominally rural areas.

Continued reliance on "broadband speeds" provided by incumbent legacy telephone and cable companies to define American policy goals on telecom infrastructure modernization will result in the same frustratingly slow, incremental and inadequate progress of the past two decades. Going forward, the federal government should form and initially appropriate $200 billion to a 501(c)(1) nonprofit to build and own open access FTTP infrastructure serving every American doorstep where FTTP is not currently in place. FTTP infrastructure will provide the most bang for the buck measured in overall economic benefit and generate tax revenues to pay for it. Unlike the technologies being funded under the FCC's Connect America Fund (CAF), FTTP is far less prone to technological obsolescence. Publicly owned open access FTTP also fits well with the evolving business strategies of the legacy telecos and cablecos that are shifting to concentrate on mobile wireless and video entertainment content. It will also free telcos of the burden of maintaining obsolete copper cable networks designed for a bygone era of analog voice telephone service.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Telecom infrastructure as a public asset

Broadband Planning and How Government Creates Markets - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 260 | community broadband networks

Author and guest Alex Marshall urges a much needed reframing of advanced telecommunications infrastructure as public asset. Marshall correctly observes that when the public is not in charge, there are going to be problems with it. The United States has them spades with its continued reliance on vertically integrated, investor owned providers using subscription-based business models that lead to widespread infrastructure disparities and deficiencies. It is a short term, opportunistic business model that begets cherry picking of lower cost areas and redlining of higher cost ones.

Marshall analogizes telecom infrastructure to roads and highways that offer widespread benefit and not just to those who own and operate motor vehicles. I share Marshall's view. In my 2015 eBook Service Unavailable: America’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Crisis, I propose the formation of a federal 501(c)(1) nonprofit corporation to build and own fiber optic telecom infrastructure to reach every home, business and institution. And do so as a crash program given the nation is arguably a generation behind where it should be today.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"Broadband mapping" -- a favorite diversionary and delaying tactic of incumbents

Defining and Mapping Broadband Will Ensure Scarce Resources Are Used Effectively to Establish Universal Service, ITIF Testifies Before U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee | ITIF: To understand the current landscape of broadband offerings, the government must continue to define and map broadband service. Definitions of broadband in law or regulation should be grounded in what is actually offered, not a prospective or aspirational goal, and should avoid getting too far ahead of trends, or risk unduly shaping the services offered. The FCC generally takes the right approach in defining broadband, with some notable exceptions, said Brake. He pointed to the recent decision, as a component of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2015 Broadband Progress Report, to adjust their definition of “advanced telecommunications capability” upwards from 4 to 25 Mbps download as an unfortunate change in the “definition” of broadband. This decision was rightly controversial, as the 25 Mbps threshold seemed carefully chosen to paint a particular picture of industry, defining away competition, and unhelpfully focused on the lack of overbuilds in areas that are uneconomical to serve. We should continue to map broadband access, said Brake, and the FCC is generally on the right track with its data collection.
So-called "broadband mapping" is a favorite diversionary tactic employed legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies. Instead of a truly useful plan for modernizing the nation's metallic telecommunications infrastructure with fiber connections serving every American household, business and institution, the "broadband mapping" tactic keeps the focus on the minutia of "broadband speeds" and what "broadband speeds" are offered in a given neighborhood. The gambit also serves the needs of incumbents by creating delay as various stakeholders debate the accuracy of the maps rather than building urgently needed fiber to the premise (FTTP) telecommunications infrastructure.

Framing the issue in terms of "broadband speeds" instead of FTTP infrastructure enables incumbents and their antiquated metallic infrastructures built for telephone and cable TV service decades ago since these infrastructures must naturally constrain Internet protocol (IP) throughput given their limited carrying capacity. Public policy shouldn't enable the delaying of technological progress. Instead of managing "broadband service offerings" over the incumbents' vertically integrated infrastructures, the policy the United States needs now and for the future is to fund a crash federal initiative to bring open access FTTP networks to every American doorstep. The nation is already a generation late in building it. Policymakers should reject further delaying tactics by legacy incumbents hell bent on fighting the future.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Claiming a monopolistic market is a competitive one doesn't make it so

Former Commish Michael Copps: ‘Maybe the Worst FCC I’ve Ever Seen’: In just a few short months, the Trump wrecking ball has pounded away at rules and regulations in virtually every government agency. The men and women the president has appointed to the Cabinet and to head those agencies are so far in sycophantic lockstep, engaged in dismantling years of protections in order to make real what White House strategist Steve Bannon infamously described as “the deconstruction of the administrative state.” The Federal Communications Commission is not immune. Its new chair, Republican Ajit Pai, embraces the Trump doctrine of regulatory devastation. “It’s basic economics,” he declared in an April 26 speech at Washington’s Newseum. “The more heavily you regulate something, the less of it you’re likely to get.”

The problem with Pai's assertion is not all markets are alike. While it may be true in a competitive market -- defined as one with many sellers and buyers -- it does not apply in a natural monopoly market like telecommunications infrastructure.

The FCC's existing Open Internet rules classifying IP-based telecommunications as a common carrier utility implicitly recognize that circumstance. They are predicted on a monopolistic and not a competitive market. Moreover, regulators aren't free to determine the microeconomics of the markets they regulate. Claiming a monopolistic market is a competitive one doesn't make it so. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The incredibly misinformed "experts"

Lawmakers itching to advance high-speed Internet funding: Last month, the agency issued a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking comment on actions to remove regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment at all levels of government and to better enable broadband providers to build, maintain and upgrade their networks. "This is the kind of thing that is going to get more broadband into the hands of consumers," Joe Kane, a tech policy associate with the R Street Institute, told the Washington Examiner. "It's not a sexy political battle, but it's getting to the [question of] why is your computer really slow? A better example is people who don't currently have broadband. It's people in rural areas where it hasn't been profitable to build out there. Now that we have 5G on the horizon, it'll be more possible tor each those areas."
This except illustrates how misinformed even the experts are when it comes to modernizing  America’s telecommunications infrastructure. First of all, the U.S. Federal Communications  Commission is focusing on the wrong issue. It isn’t regulatory barriers that inhibit investment in modern fiber telecommunications infrastructure that serves all premises. The main obstacle is the continued misguided reliance on vertically integrated, investor owned legacy telephone and cable companies to build it. Their business models are incompatible since they require a rapid return on investment. Infrastructure investment by comparison requires billions in patient capital they simply don’t have or cannot raise.

Second, 5G mobile wireless service doesn’t even exist yet. When it does, the same economic constraints that prevent the telcos and cablecos from connecting customer premises with fiber will be at work because all those 5G cell sites will require a lot of fiber to be built to serve them. Doug Dawson explains at his POTS and PANS blog.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Not just a rural issue: gaps in telecom infrastructure widespread in metro areas

Despite billions of public dollars, some rural residents slog through slow internet | Madison Wisconsin Business News | Donovan Wright lives in a small subdivision in the town of Pleasant Springs near Stoughton, just 12 miles from the center of Wisconsin’s second-biggest city, but he is among more than an estimated 232,000 state residents who cannot tap a wired network to get online at any speed. It means his children access the web using unreliable and sluggish cellular service to do their homework. He can’t file his tax returns online. And streaming Netflix? Not a chance.

Michael Bridgeman, of the town of Roxbury in northwest Dane County, goes to a local library or the UW-Madison campus, a half-hour’s drive away, to do just about anything more internet-intensive than checking email. His slow connection hampers the occasional consulting work he does. Jane Leverance of the town of Oregon wants to enjoy some of the conveniences other people with internet access have enjoyed for years, including paying bills online. But even with a cellular-powered Wi-Fi hot spot to get online, the connection and speed are unreliable.

When it comes to advanced telecommunications infrastructure, what constitutes "rural" America isn't locales in sparsely populated agricultural industry counties deep in the nation's heartland. In this context, "rural" means where there are gaps in landline infrastructure, leaving premises within a mile or two of existing infrastructure with no or minimal service options or forced to get by on mobile wireless service.

As a map of service availability in the Madison, Wisconsin metro accompanying this article illustrates, those gaps appear in metro areas, forming a crazy quilt pattern of areas with service meeting minimum U.S. Federal Communications Commission standards and those without. The pattern repeats all over the United States, making the issue a national rather than local one.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The adverse socioeconomic impact of deficient telecom infrastructure

Rural America Is the New ‘Inner City’ - WSJ: Just two decades ago, the onset of new technologies, in particular the internet, promised to boost the fortunes of rural areas by allowing more people to work from anywhere and freeing companies to expand and invest outside metropolitan areas. Those gains never materialized.
The primary cause: poor public policy and planning a generation ago neglected to build universal digital telecommunications infrastructure to succeed universal voice telephone service. 

Deficient telecom infrastructure isn’t limited to deep rural areas. It also plagues outer suburban, exurban and quasi-rural areas redlined by legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies. Consequently, the adverse socioeconomic outcomes described in this article could also befall those areas.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Silicon Valley needs heartland help in net neutrality fight - Axios

Silicon Valley needs heartland help in net neutrality fight - Axios: The Bay Area has long been a bastion of support for strong net neutrality rules. Now supporters are looking somewhere else for backup: Trump country. Why it matters: With net neutrality rules under assault, proponents know they need to get the attention of policymakers with roots in the heartland to show support isn't isolated to the Silicon Valley bubble.
This is the crux of the problem defining the U.S. Federal Communications Commission 2015 Open Internet regulations as "net neutrality." It really doesn't mean much to the average telecommunications consumer. Moreover, in the heartland the real benefit of the regulations classifying Internet as a common carrier telecommunications utility service under Title II of the Communications Act is Title II's universal service and anti-redlining provisions. These are real world concerns in the heartland, where millions of Americans have been turned down for years by incumbent ISPs when they attempt to obtain landline Internet connections to their homes and small businesses.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Observations on Penn Law review of muni fiber

New Penn research assesses financial viability of municipal fiber networks •Penn Law: Using industry standard financial analysis tools on five years of official data, the study finds that 11 out of the 20 fiber networks assessed do not generate enough cash to cover their current operating costs and only two out of the 20 are on track to recover their total project costs during their 30-40 years of expected useful life. Key findings include:

  • 11 of 20 projects studied are cash-flow negative, many substantially so.
  • 5 of the 9 cash-flow positive projects are generating returns that are so small that it would take more than a century to recover project costs.
  • 2 of the 9 cash-flow positive projects would have a recovery period of 61-65 years, beyond the expected useful life of a fiber network.
  • Only 2 of the 20 projects studied earned enough to expect to cover their project costs during the useful life of the networks, one of which is an outlier that serves an industrial city with few residents.
  • The analysis also models the returns for a hypothetical project, finding it would take over 100 years to recover expected project costs.

Three observations on this study:

  1. The study's findings do not invalidate the concept of municipally operated telecommunications infrastructure per se. Rather, they suggest the financial model requires further assessment and adjusting and enhanced federal subsidization.
  2. The scope of the study does not encompass the external benefits of modernized telecommunications infrastructure, particularly in areas where investor-owned private network investment would also be NPV (Net Present Value) negative, miring these areas with substandard infrastructures and associated adverse economic implications.
  3. The executive summary states that "[a]lthough some claim that investing in fiber serves a necessary function of future-proofing a municipality’s infrastructure, evidence shows little current need for such high broadband speeds." This is the classic infrastructure planning error of estimating future infrastructure needs based on present needs and detracts greatly from the study's credibility since this point is typically made by legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies opposed to public sector telecommunications infrastructure modernization projects as an encroachment on their largely unregulated service territory monopolies.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Potential game changer: PG&E could alter California telecom landscape

Image result for pg&e

An application by Pacific Gas & Electric to the California Public Utilities Commission to become a wholesale operator of fiber optic telecommunications infrastructure could be game changer in California where many customer premises nominally in the service territory of AT&T lack landline Internet connections or are limited to slow first generation DSL service over deteriorating copper cable plant.

PG&E’s vast 70,000 square mile northern and central California electric service territory overlaps regions of the Golden State where telecom infrastructure deficiencies are most prevalent: in and around the Central Valley municipalities of Modesto and Fresno, in the Sierra Nevada foothills east and northeast of the state capital of Sacramento in Placer and El Dorado counties and up the Interstate 5 corridor in Sutter, Butte and Yuba counties to the Shasta County seat of Redding in far northern part of the state. In addition to AT&T, PG&E’s electric service territory encompasses the telecom service territories of Frontier, Consolidated Communications and Citizens Telecommunications Company of California. All of these telcos could be customers of PG&E’s planned wholesale fiber as well as mobile wireless operators seeking backhaul bandwidth.

If approved by regulators, PG&E’s application could also attract new players who would like to provide fiber-based premise telecommunications service in areas lacking robust landline connections but can’t make the numbers work due to the high cost of building new fiber infrastructure and deploying field equipment. Having PG&E build it and lease it to them as competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) would solve that problem. PG&E would also be spared considerable deployment expense and delay since it owns utility poles that would provide the backbone for aerial fiber plant, the optimal infrastructure architecture to serve such a large and geographically diverse area, much of it with rugged terrain.

PG&E’s move holds the potential promise of universal service for northern and central California, which for many years has been a crazy quilt checkerboard of served, undeserved and unserved areas, leaving many consumers to struggle with substandard, poor value dialup, legacy DSL, fixed and mobile wireless and satellite service.

For more background on PG&E’s application, Steve Blum’s Blog has more details here and here.

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