Tag: "FTTH"

Posted December 15, 2009 by christopher

The Jackson Energy Authority (JEA) network now has over 16,000 subscribers and offers speeds up to 100 Mbps for local businesses and 25 Mbps for standard residential users.

Jackson is considered one of the most technologically advanced cities in the U.S. We have four competitors in the market with AT&T, Bell South, Charter and JEA. We computed that over $8 million to $9 million has been saved by residents in this city when compared to other cities of its size because of the competition.

These are the kind of hard-to-quantify savings that too often go unnoticed in discussions about the value of publicly owned broadband projects. What is the value of competition? How much economic development has occurred directly from the JEA network and indirectly from the lower prices and greater investments that result from competition?

Posted December 11, 2009 by christopher

As someone who has long researched and followed developments in Burlington Telecom (BT), the city-owned triple-play full fiber-to-the-home network in Vermont, recent developments between BT and the Mayor's office have been deeply disappointing. For those who haven't heard, BT is in the middle of a major controversy -- and it is hard to tell just what is going on (for background prior to current problems, read my Burlington Telecom Case Study and Fact Sheet).

I have wanted to comment on the situation for many weeks but have been waiting as each day seems offer another piece of the BT puzzle. I'll be offering more commentary about it in the future. However, I do not want to the let the current problems lend any credence to the idea that BT has failed. BT is caught in the middle of a political controversy around the Mayor but should continue providing the best telecom services available in the community.

BT has two main problems currently:

  1. It has not passed the entire city within the timeline to which it agreed in receiving its Certificate of Public Good (CPG)
  2. BT has, apparently, borrowed $17 million from the city's pool (used generally for short-term financing of projects) in contravention of its CPG which states that any money borrowed from the City must be paid back within 60 days.

    This CPG condition makes running a network more difficult for BT than it would for a company like Comcast - who can readily self-finance short-term borrowing. Across the U.S., communities have to deal with laws and regulations that benefit private companies over public networks.

    When the economy fell apart, BT was unable to refinance its debt to continue its expansion and chose to borrow from the City to continue connecting new customers. This was the right decision - the CPG did not anticipate such conditions and the terms for outside financing in late 2008 were wretched.

I say "apparently" borrowed above because it is far from clear if all of those funds actually went to BT. As Steve Ross explains here, it is not even clear if BT really required all that it borrowed from the City. Until the Mayor can produce a thorough explanation, I think it prudent to...

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Posted November 13, 2009 by christopher

Highland, a city in Illinois, has been recommended by the governor to receive a grant from the broadband stimulus program. Highland plans to build a full fiber-to-the-home network after first connecting the schools and public buildings (a phased approach that has worked well elsewhere). Stimulus funds would expedite the buildout that has already demonstrated strong community support.

Highland city voters passed — with 75 percent voting in favor — three referendums April 7 concerning the idea to bring fiber-optic cable connections to every home and business within the city. It will offer high-speed Internet service, telephone and cable TV.

Shortly after, the council had authorized construction and operation of a telecommunications and cable television system, while emphasizing the need for careful planning. The council also voted to set up a three-member Telecommunications Advisory Board to oversee the process.

Posted October 30, 2009 by christopher

Many publicly owned community fiber networks offer symmetrical connections - allowing subscribers to both upload and download content at the same speeds. This approach treats the subscriber as both a producer and consumer of content (one of the reasons I generally avoid calling a subscriber a "customer" or "user").

Nearly all private network offerings are asymmetrical - DSL and cable are more less subject to constraints that encourage asymmetry, but in the case of fiber, one might assume that private companies are generally more interested in selling content to subscribers rather than encouraging them to create their own.

These companies have generally argued that symmetrical connections are just not necessary because most people are inherently more interested in downloading content than uploading - and note that on existing networks, people tend to download more than they upload.

However, the aggregate data of some 7,000 users on a fast, symmetrical network in Europe suggests that when subscribers have the opportunity, their upload usage balances the downstream usage.

We should continue pushing for increased upstream capacity from providers - especially providers that have to listen to their community. As for absentee-owned companies only interested in profits, well, good luck.

Which brings me to the flu. One would rationally expect that when a profit-maximizing company builds a telecommunications network, it will make different trade-offs when it comes to redundancy and spare capacity. Planning for high-impact, low probability events is not as high on the priority list of a company looking out first for shareholder interests. On the other hand, communities are more likely to be concerned.

Suburban community Lakeville in Minnesota, has been significantly motivated in its attempts to improve fast broadband access by a recognition that an epidemic or pandemic would leave the community paralyzed and its networks unable to cope with a many telecommuters. DSL and cable networks cannot handle a sudden surge in usage.

To some, this appears to be a surprise though the recent GAO Report rightly notes that full fiber networks are less susceptible to falling apart when they are...

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Posted October 22, 2009 by christopher

For another real-world example of how companies respond to public entry into the telecom market (as opposed to theoretical arguments about crowding out investment), let's look back down to Lafayette and how cable incumbent Cox responded:

“Cox froze the cable rates in Lafayette, and they didn’t freeze the rates in other areas,” said Terry Huval, director of LUS, a municipally owned utility company which fought major incumbent opposition before building an FTTH network in Lafayette and starting to offer service earlier this year. “We figured our citizens saved over $3 million in cable rates even before we could offer them service.”

I have yet to see a cable company leave a market or reduce investment following the introduction of a public competitor. The opposite tends to happen - they increase investment and often drop prices or leave them lower than in surrounding, non-competitive areas. Often, the rates are not really advertised but if you call from the competitive area, they will offer a better deal:

Trae Russell, communications manager for EATEL, the local telephone franchise in Ascension, La., and some surrounding communities, had seen the same thing happen in his area, when EATEL started offering FTTH-based services in 2006. In fact, EATEL went so far as to take out an ad in the Lafayette newspaper, alerting cable customers there to the discounts that Ascension customers were getting and forecasting similar lower rates in Lafayette once the LUS network was in the works.

“It was an incredibly bold move on our part,” Russell said. “Cox came in with an incredibly aggressive promotion for TV service with every bell and whistle you could imagine. We couldn’t figure out how they could even make money on it. So we took out an ad in the Lafayette newspaper that basically said, ‘Hey Lafayette, look at the great prices you are going to get from Cox.’ Cox was not amused.”

This is also a lesson for those who want to build a public network. Don't expect to win just because you have a better service and you offer lower prices from what was available before a competing network is built. The incumbent has often already paid off its network. Additionally, incumbents are often larger companies that pay less for their television contracts, so they can lower prices farther than one might...

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Posted October 12, 2009 by christopher

Vermont's proposed East Central Fiber Network is moving forward, confident that the strength of their application for federal broadband stimulus funding will get them an award. Atlantic Engineering has been surveying pole and prepping so they can get started as soon as possible.

They are also offering network-branded apparel - it reads: ECFiber.Net Community owned Fiber-Optic network. I think this is pretty fricking cool - it shows the enthusiasm these folks have.

Geoff Daily has given EC Fiber his stamp of approval:

First off, compared to the VTel project, I'm immediately inclined to favor ECF's by the simple fact that they're a public project, which the original stimulus language suggested should get priority, and they're looking for a loan rather than a grant, and I think so long as a project will be self-sustaining, it's always better to loan money that you'll get back some day than to just give handouts of free money. I also prefer ECF's project because they're going to be bringing fiber to every home in their service area. They're not going to leave anyone behind, creating second-class digital citizens. Finally, I think that ECF's project has a greater chance of establishing a model that the rest of the country can learn from, proving both that fiber can be economical in rural areas and that open multi-service networks can be financially viable.

Vermont was also one of the four states to receive the first awards for mapping broadband. Vermont is doing the work in-house:

The new federal funds will be managed by the Vermont Center for Geographic Information (VCGI) to implement the Vermont Broadband Mapping Initiative, a collaborative broadband data collection and verification effort involving partners from the public, private and academic sectors.  This team -- VCGI, the Vermont Telecommunications Authority, the Vermont Department of Public Service, the University of Vermont’s Center for Rural Studies, and Vermont’s Enhanced 9-1-1 Board -- will use the latest technology to create a comprehensive and verified broadband availability map. 

...
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Posted October 9, 2009 by christopher

We finally have a realistic estimate of the cost of bringing 100Mbps to every home in America... and Light Reading labeled the cost "jaw-dropping."

Want to provide 100-Mbit/s broadband service to every U.S. household? No problem: Just be ready to write a $350 billion check.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officials shared that jaw-dropping figure today during an update on their National Broadband Plan for bringing affordable, high-speed Internet access to all Americans. The Commission is schedule to present the plan to Congress in 141 days, on Feb. 17.

Don't get me wrong, I agree that $350 billion is a lot of money. On the other hand, we spent nearly $300 billion on surface transportation over 4 years from 2005-2009. $350 billion buys a fiber-optic network that will last considerably longer. Additionally, such a network will generate considerably more revenue than a highway. In fact, these networks will pay for themselves in most areas if they can access to low-interest loans.

Consider the comments of Deputy Administrator Zufolo (of the Rural Utilities Service) from my recent panel at NATOA:

Zufolo explained the RUS decision to use its $2.5 billion in funds primarily to subsidize loans and not provide grants, as the agency's best opportunity to make the more efficient use of the federal money and have maximum impact. Because the default rate on RUS loans is less than 1% and the subsidy rate is also low, only about 7%, it costs the government only $72,000 to loan $1 million for rural network development, she said.

Let's say that RUS decides to embark on getting 100 Mbps to everyone in a rural area - some of the projects will be riskier than the standard portfolio, so let's assume it costs the federal government $100,000 to loan $1 million (makes it easier math too). In order to spur the $350 billion investment for these networks, the government would have to put up $35 billion.

But it would probably be more than that because some areas - Montana, Alaska, Wyoming, and other beautiful places will need...

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Posted September 28, 2009 by christopher

On Tuesday, September 15, EPB, the public power utility serving Chattanooga and nearby communities in Tennessee, rolled out fully fiber-powered triple-play services to 17,000, a number expected to grow by July 2010, when services will be available to some 100,000 people and businesses. It will take three years before all 160,000 potential subscribers are passed.

Chattanooga has had a relatively rough time creating the network due to the litigious nature of its incumbents, who have filed 4 lawsuits to stop the project only to have each of them dismissed by the courts. (This is a predictable outcome, many of these companies file frivolous lawsuits to intimidate communities with lost time and legal fees - leading to a no-lose situation for companies that invest more in lawyers than in the networks communities need in the modern economy.)

Prices and Options

All broadband speeds are symmetrical; prices by month

Option Price
15 Mbps $57.99
20 Mbps $69.99
50 Mbps $174.99
15 Mbps and basic phone $68.83
15 Mbps / basic phone / basic cable $92.97
15 Mbps/ phone & 120 min long distance / 77 Channels $117.24

Caveats: an extra $5.99 a month for HD Capability on the TV, but even the basic phone package comes with caller ID and 3-way calling

The Tennessee Cable and Telecommunications Association kicked off the lawsuits in 2007 and Comcast chimed in a year later. As has been done in other communities, the private companies alleged the power utility was cross-subsidizing its triple-play telecom offering with revenues from the electric side. Aside from this just being a poor business practice, the companies say such cross-subsidization would be unfair to them even as major carriers routinely cross-subsidize from community to community - overcharging in non-competitive markets to make up for keeping prices low in competitive markets.

Nonetheless, public power companies and other public agencies have learned to keep meticulous books to show they are not cross-subsidizing, something courts recognize each time their time is wasted by lawsuit-happy incumbent providers.

EPB has long offered some telecom...

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Posted September 17, 2009 by christopher

Muniwireless.com recently noted "Eastern and Northern Europe driving broadband and FTTH growth." Of particular interest to us is the crucial role of public investments in creating that growth:

Roland Montagne also says that competition has been driving new FTTH/FTTB projects. He mentioned that more that 56% of the FTTH/B projects were conducted by public entities such as municipalities and utilities. Incumbents originated only 10.8% of the projects.

If we want to see competition in telecommunications, we need public ownership of networks. Private networks tend toward monopoly markets, communities should build a network to ensure competition, especially the robust competition that can only come with open access full fiber-optic networks.

Posted September 4, 2009 by christopher

Johnson City, Tennessee, is considering the pros and cons of expanding the fiber network its public electrical utility is installing to connect substations in order to improve grid reliability. They may follow the example of many other Tennessee public utilities that have offered broadband services to residents, creating competition in a sector sorely needing it.

They will need to speed the process along if they are going to get any stimulus money - many communities have been considering these options for longer and are ready with plans.

When Johnson City first considered connecting the substations, providers opposed it, afraid they would ultimately offer broadband services to residents. These providers said they already had fiber and would be happy to connect the substations at a "fraction of what JCPB [Johnson City Power Board] is about to spend."

Undoubtedly, they were comparing the costs of building a public network against the costs of leasing services for one year. Johnson City was smart to rebuff them and pursue owning the fiber - companies like Charter and Comcast don't make a profit by offering fair prices on connectivity (in fact, Charter is still bankrupt despite overcharging for its slow broadband speeds). Communities that own their fiber (regardless of whether they offer retail services to businesses and residents) find that they get better services at lower costs than when leasing connectivity.

These cable companies in Tennessee are brutal - they abuse the courts with frivolous lawsuits (that are frequently thrown out at the first opportunity) and invent data to suggest public ownership is a poor choice. Ultimately, Johnson City Power Board will have to choose what makes sense based on the numbers, not on fearmongering from companies that are just trying to protect high profits protected by a lack of competition.

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