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.
Web Analytics