Tag: "FTTH"

Posted April 19, 2010 by christopher

Herman Wagter has published an informative article about the last-mile economics of fiber networks on Ars Technica.

A Utility Infrastructure Law commonly quoted by engineers says, "The closer you get to the home, the more investment is needed, averaged per home connected." This law applies to all parts of the physical network, like water pipes, sewage pipes, and electricity cables. What are the applicable numbers for telecom cables?

The large expense of building fiber networks has little to do with the technology:

In dense cities, the bill of materials is as low as 20 percent. The cost of labor per meter exceeds by far the cost of a fiber cable or a coaxial cable per meter. Deploying fiber or coax or copper wires would not make much of a difference. The phrase “it’s the backhoe, stupid” even applies in areas like Uganda.

This is why incumbents have such tremendous advantages and why policies predicated on encouraging facilities-based (as in, everyone builds their own network) have failed (and will continue to).

Given the fact that almost all costs in the access network are sunk, it is hard to envision two or more new fiber access networks being deployed in parallel to each home, leading to a stable competitive environment over time. (Unless the ISP’s or network's owners are allowed to divide the market and raise prices to compensate for the underutilization of the networks). If the medium is no longer limited and the access network is the expensive part of the investment, why duplicate the cables? We not do duplicate cables for electricity or other utilities either, for the same reasons.

As we tend toward a single fiber line (wireless is a complement for wired, not a substitute), who owns that line is tremendously important. Private companies want to monopolize the line to maximize their profits -- that is their job. Public ownership offers democratic accountability and a much greater potential for open access, creating robust competition in a sector almost entirely lacking it.

The second page of the article offers more in-depth analysis of various FTTH technologies that communities would be wise to understand before picking what model they want for their community.

Posted April 9, 2010 by christopher

The folks in Salisbury, North Carolina, have picked a name for their new FTTH network, Fibrant. An article in the Salisbury Post notes that even though the network is not yet offering services, they are seeing some economic development opportunities.

"We've already had a couple of people who have moved to town because they knew it was coming," said Clark, who noted that a medical concierge company (virtual check-ups) has shown a lot of interest in Salisbury's fiber.

The article also goes into the many advantages of fiber-optics over last generation technologies.

Posted April 5, 2010 by christopher

Recent letters in the Chattanoogan reflect frustration with the cable incumbent, Comcast, and the ease of switching to the publicly owned EPB Fiber network. This is one of them:

My Comcast exit was very easy. Step one: Make appointment to have EPB Fiber service installed. Step two: Put all Comcast receivers and remotes in a box and hand it through the "teller" window at the Comcast office. Step 3: Ask for a receipt from the nice lady to whom I handed the box. Step 4: Receive my Comcast credit balance check in the mail and open it while watching TV on the EPBFI system. I never even had to speak to a Comcast phone rep in India.

A previous round of letters discussed several of the ways the publicly owned network is superior to Comcast, though one customer complained that EPB Fiber was too expensive, compared to Comcast's introductory and temporary rates (incumbents like Comcast typically negotiate rates in response to competition without advertising the reduced rate - so customers who are willing to haggle over the phone may find cheaper prices from a private company willing to lose money to deny customers to competition).

One reader noted how fast the local, publicly owned network installed the network.

I left shortly after that call [ordering service] and returned a couple of hours later from grocery shopping. EPB contractors had already been to my home and installed the boxes on the side of the house. Yes, super fast service.

The day the installers came to complete the inside installation, they were on time, courteous and knew just what needed to be done to complete the install. One of the men even told me of a problem with my A/C heating unit duct work underneath my home which needed to be looked about soon. The men cleaned all the areas they worked in, made sure all my services worked correctly and asked if I had any questions they could answer before they left. Both men did a fantastic job and worked quickly to complete the work.

Posted March 22, 2010 by christopher

Seattle, which was recently getting some tips from Tacoma, has now turned to Lafayette for more advice on building a publicly owned FTTH network.

Lafayette's Mayor/City-Parish President, Joey Durel, was in town and spoke with both Mayor McGinn and the excellent broadband reporter Glenn Fleishman who wrote about Durel's visit.

Durel, who is not one to back down from a challenge, argues that the public fight with incumbent providers helped educate the public:

A public fight over fiber meant the public knew more about fiber. Durel said the cable and telecom incumbents “were their own worst enemy. The more controversy they made out of this, the more they educated people.” The local newspaper covered the legal battle fairly, Durel said, and most people understood what they’d get from the new network by the time it launched.

I think this is a good insight - communities should not shrink from incumbent attacks but use them as an opportunity to educate. In the case of Lafayette, a few people formed a group that strategized on how to respond to incumbent attacks. This is one of the reasons these projects need champions - people who are willing to put lots of time and energy into the effort as a major priority.

We have frequently noted the benefits of competition -- incumbents lower prices and often invest more in their networks following a community network. Durel notes additional community benefits:

Incumbents step up. After the network started being built, incumbents have kept rate increases low, while donating more to the local community. “I can tell you: some of the providers here are doing more for the community than they have ever ever done for this community: not a little bit, but millions of dollars, for our university, for various nonprofits and things like that,” Durel said.

In an unrelated post, Central District News discusses the City's plans for an open access network, putting them in context with Seattle's history:

This wouldn't be the first time that Seattle had decided that the city could step in and provide what private industry was failing...

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Posted March 21, 2010 by christopher

In Mankato, the local Fox station covered the stimulus grants that will allow WindomNet to expand and offer services to nearby rural communities. This is an excellent example of how publicly owned broadband networks can partner with others nearby to expand access:

Jackson Mayor Mitch Jasper says, "Windom took the lead and brought a bunch of communities together saying hey, we can put together a program that applies for stimulus as a group rather than individuals and all of us jumped onboard and the end results is a 12 million dollar broadband project."

Posted March 12, 2010 by christopher
Though I did not spend a lot of time following stimulus proposals, two excellent proposals did catch my eye from Idaho and I hoped that at least one of them would be funded. Alas, neither was funded by NTIA or RUS. These are exactly the networks we need throughout the country, and Idaho is exactly the state that could benefit greatly from federal assistance. I hope these projects have better luck in the second round or in securing future funding from RUS outside the stimulus project. (This is not to suggest I disapprove of the Coeur d'Alene Reservation Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Project that received funding - I am not as familiar with it and therefore have no comment on it.) The town of Ammon, some 13,000 people near Idaho Falls in eastern Idaho, developed a proposal for an a type of next-generation open access network in that it would offer greater flexibility to subscribers and service providers than many current open access networks. The other project, to serve the Northern Panhandle area, was designed with Ernie Bray, who previously consulted on the Powellink network in Wyoming. The Boise Weekly briefly discussed these projects a few weeks ago, noting their open access approach that would serve residents, businesses, and key institutional anchors with fiber-optics:
"Every entity we need to work with is already a stakeholder; we're ready to go," he said. "And we will use revenues for expansion and build out. We're trying to expand the concept of a service provider and services beyond just the triple play, voice-video-data," he said. "Telemedicine is a service, hospitals are service providers. We want to take fiber to every home and every business, then connect them to libraries, schools and job services so they can take advantage of programs to help lift them up."
Local jobs are at stake and incumbent providers are doing little to help:
Quest [Aircraft], who builds the Kodiak airplane, they've gotta exchange large engineering files in real time; 250 jobs are at stake.
Verizon is busy trying to offload all of its rural territories on Frontier (a company famous for slow and poor service) so it isn't about to upgrade facilities in Idaho. More recently, Boise Weekly... Read more
Posted March 12, 2010 by christopher

Pulaski's public power provider is building a FTTH network and already seeing efficiency gains on the electrical side of their operations. Pulaski has 15,000 electric customers and 5,000 have been passed by fiber, with 1600 taking telecom services. Like Chattanooga, they are using a combination of wireless and fiber for smart-grid applications. Those who take telecom services are used to aggregate the wireless signals from neighbors who do not have a fiber line to their home. This is a great article to read for those curious about the benefits of smart-grids and how wireless can be successfully combined with fiber backhaul (as well as why wireless alone is insufficient).

Posted March 11, 2010 by christopher

The good folks at Broadband Properties Magazine recently ran an article I wrote about Brigham City's use of a new financing model for FTTH networks. You can read it there in the nice layout and formatting, or here:

The UTOPIA project, an ambitious fiber-to-the-home network developed by a consortium of 16 Utah cities, has encountered difficulties that delayed its original buildout schedule. However, it is now building out fiber in Brigham City, one of the original cities in the consortium. Brigham City found a local solution to UTOPIA’s slow deployment schedule and created a model to speed buildout in willing communities.

Brigham City, a city of 18,000 in northern Utah, decided to form a voluntary assessment area – sometimes called a special assessment area – to finance the network buildout that will pass all homes and connect residents looking to subscribe. As with all wired networks, upfront costs are steep and typically require a heavy debt load. Brigham City’s unique approach may catch the interest of deployers unwilling or unable to shoulder that debt.

For several months, a group of canvassers organized by UTOPIA went door to door in Brigham City to talk to residents about UTOPIA and ask if they were interested in subscribing to the network. Supporters organized some 30 block parties and invited UTOPIA to attend with a mobile home to demonstrate the superiority of full fiber optic networks. Residents who wanted service were requested to ask the city to create a voluntary assessment area. Creating this special district would allow participants to finance their connections themselves.

Residents who wanted to subscribe could either pay the connection cost up front or agree to pay up to $25 per month (the exact amount would depend on how many joined the program) over the course of 20 years. This amount does not include the cost of services; rather, it is the cost of connecting to the network and having the option of subscribing to UTOPIA-based services (see sidebar for current services). Those uninterested are not levied.

In other UTOPIA cities, when residents subscribe to services on the UTOPIA network the connection costs are included in the service fees. Those connection costs will be deducted for Brigham City residents who have paid the full cost of their connections, meaning that the...

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Posted March 5, 2010 by christopher

Joe Abraham, from the University of Louisiana, recently addressed the LUS Fiber network in Lafayette. This is possibly the fastest and most affordable network in the entire country. Apparently, Joe has been asked by friends if they should switch to the new municipally owned network. His answer is an unequivocal yes - backed up by several points like it is a faster, cheaper service that strengthens the whole community. But really, I like this point:

Inherent in democracy, in the First Amendment, and in free markets, is a central concept: we have no idea what these things will produce. We only know that they are the means-- they are the how-- to produce an endless supply of very important & valuable things. The Internet has proven to be the same, it produces a continuous stream of innovative, valuable things. It should be obvious that building the most advanced community Intranet will attract a lot of innovative people to our city, and encourage our own people to be innovative, as well.

To the extent we require these networks to produce profits, they will not be the "how" of the new economy. Infrastructure rarely pays for itself directly, but pays for itself many times over indirectly.

He also has a response to those who fear the public should not compete with the private:

But what if, instead of public vs. private fiberoptic lines early in the 21st century, you find yourself in the early 18th century, and the question is building state-owned roads and bridges that will decrease the profitability of privately-held services?

What if you live in the early 19th century, and the question is building public libraries that will compete with for-profit bookstores?

What if it is the early 20th century, and the question is creating public schools that will pull students from private institutions?

Well done, Joe!

Another article from the same paper interviews Director of Utilities for Lafayette, Terry Huval. This is a guy that understands the value of publicly owned fiber networks:

In addition, we will launch a digital divide product that will provide Internet accessibility in homes where there are no computers, and no Internet services today.

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more to come, and much of those are...

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Posted February 24, 2010 by christopher

Readers undoubtedly know that Google has proposed a limited fiber-to-the-home open access network rollout that will offer gigabit speeds. Communities are applying to be considered -- all we know at this point is that Google envisions ultimately serving some 50,000 - 500,000 subscribers.

Parts of this announcement are very exciting for those of us working to create better networks that serve community interests. I think the long term impact of it being open access may well dwarf the impact of having gigabit speeds available to some at "competitive" rates (though one wonders how rates can be competitive when the service is unlike any other?).

The idea of open access -- where the network is an infrastructure that supports independent service providers, creating a true market for broadband services -- is a game changer. Unfortunately, the number of people served by open access networks in the U.S. has been too small to prove the model (as I discussed here). If Google connects half a million people with an open access network, it could change the landscape of broadband networks, pushing us toward a non monopolistic world... but probably not in the first year or two. These changes take time.

Beyond that, the gigabit test bed will be very interesting. Lafayette's LUS Fiber has been experimenting with the 100Mbps network and now Google will be upping the ante. Given the number of people who are excited and the number of communities announcing their application, it is clear that the telecom carriers are not meeting community needs.

Though I think the experiment interesting, I hope it is limited. My fear, which I do believe is premature but has poked its head up nonetheless, is that Google may launch another round of Earthlink Wi-Fi free-lunch hopes from local governments. Those who once pinned their hopes on an outside company building the network they wanted have now recognized the folly. Even though Heinlein's TANSTAAFL warning came half a century ago, few seem to have internalized the lesson. There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

10 years ago, Google was a different company. In 10 years, we have no idea what Google's interest will be but we can be sure that communities will need connectivity that puts local citizens and businesses before profits. Will Google's network serve...

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