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 | host.madison.com: 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.
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