Tag: "Wireless"

Posted September 30, 2009 by christopher

On the Daily Yonder - offering coverage of rural issues - Craig Settles offers advice to community networks on the need to attract institution and business customers because networks rarely generate enough revenue to make debt payments by focusing solely on residential subscribers.

When communities compare the costs of different technologies, they often get too caught up in the upfront costs and ignore the ongoing costs (operating costs, or opex). He offers an example of a modest wireless network:

It’s important to understand that while it costs a lot of money to create a broadband network, over a five-to-ten-year period, it costs even more to operate that network than to build it. Say it costs $1 million to build a wireless network. During the municipal wireless heyday, it was estimated to cost 20% of buildout expense to operate the network annually – to pay for customer service, maintenance, upgrades, etc. That’s $200,000 a year.

This is a great intro article for those who may not be used to thinking about the economics or business plans networks need.

For the rest of us, it is a strong reminder of how many networks start (and a good path for those who want to create a network):

Santa Monica, California, had a legacy PBX phone system and slow connection circuits from incumbents. The city pooled money it was already paying for voice and data services, using this capital to build a fiber network and implement new communication technology.

City CIO Jory Wolf states, “By switching to fiber we realized a $500,000 savings in data circuits and $250,000 savings in voice circuits, all of which stayed in our fund. Ongoing savings enabled us to provide our police with video streaming in their vehicles. We have excess bandwidth, so we provide (a) large number of sites with free wireless access.” Wolf said that the city is also selling companies fiber lines that haven't yet been turned on. “Our network budget is self-sustaining,” he said, “and I have $2.5 million in capital.”

I remember Tim Nulty saying that Burlington Telecom started the same way. They figured out how much they were paying each month for telecom as a city. They used that number to compute how much they could spend...

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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 8, 2009 by christopher

The second line of Rachel Carter's story at TimesCall.com captures the reason we care about community broadband networks:

But others argued that it’s not about whether the city will jump into the cable or Internet business; it’s about giving the city options and giving voters a choice.

Longmont, Colorado, will have a question on its November ballot asking whether the city should have the right to offer retail broadband services. This referendum is a requirement of Colorado state law (passed in June 2005 -- more details about that law from Baller.com [pdf]) for communities that want to offer such services to their community.

A number of people spoke at the city council meeting before they unanimously voted to put the question on the ballot. Responding to some who opposed giving citizens a chance to choose, one Council Member came up with quite the apt phrase:

Councilman Sean McCoy said the Comcast representatives and Denver attorneys who spoke against the ballot question tried to “put a shadow of a doubt” on it by using “red herring” issues. “I believe the concerns are more of an issue of ’not in my monopoly’ more than anything else,” he said.

Longmont has given the private sector plenty of chances to offer the broadband that citizens want - but they have failed to meet community needs. A number of private companies have tried to use the city's assets to build a wireless network: As detailed here, Kite Networks contracted with the city in 2006 to build a wireless network but ran out of money. In 2007, Gobility gave it a shot but also ran out of money. In stepped DHB, who completed the network.

It is not clear what has happened to DHB, but this suggests that many remain dissatisfied:

All council members supported the ballot question, although Mayor Roger Lange and Councilwoman Mary Blue questioned what the city may choose to do in the future. Lange said there are some telecommunications services that the city doesn’t need to jump into, but others — such as wireless...

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Posted August 21, 2009 by christopher

Opponents of publicly owned broadband networks often hold up examples of wireless networks that did not turn out as planned -- more often than not, they ignorantly use examples of privately owned networks like Earthlink networks in Philly, Houston, or proposed privately owned networks in San Fran and Chicago.

It is true that many wireless networks (especially those using Wi-Fi) came in above projected costs and late. It is also true that this happened across all manner of network ownership types. GoMoorhead, a publicly owned Wi-Fi network in Minnesota, was recently sold to a private company - and I am working on a report about that. However, there was also a recent announcement that the privately owned wireless network being built in Burnsville, Minnesota, is behind schedule.

Frontier Communications expects to extend its Wi-Fi hot spot service to Burnsville's performing arts center this fall, but a company official admitted Friday that knitting together complete citywide coverage has gone more slowly than expected.

The phone provider for the southern part of Burnsville as well as Apple Valley, Farmington and Lakeville, Frontier had expected to have 90 percent of the city covered with a network of broadband Internet Wi-Fi hot spots by now.

But Frontier is still moving its wireless service from the south, where it kicked off service in October 2007, into the northern parts of the city.

Additionally, the public-private partnership in Minneapolis remains behind schedule (privately owned but built with substantial amounts of public money).

The problem is the technology - not the ownership. We continue to believe that the future should feature wireless as a complement to the more reliable and faster wired connections that should be available to everyone. But the more we talk to communities, the more we learn that wireless is more difficult to work with and often more expensive than expected.

Posted August 20, 2009 by christopher

There are so many interesting articles recently (some are actually a bit older than recent, I guess).

  • How did Sweden get so connected? BuddeBlog took a look at how Sweden has invested so greatly into advanced fiber networks. This short post looks at factors from geography to government policy that have helped.

  • Andrew Cohill, an advocate of both fiber and wireless networks, offers a simple explanation for why wireless can only be part of the solution to the problem of universal broadband. Wireless just cannot provide the same high reliability and speeds of wired connections.

  • Following up on yesterday's call on the FCC to stop ignoring muni broadband, Karl Bode observes:

    Interestingly, of the 51 "constituents" brought in for the 8 most recent workshops, just five don't work for a corporation -- and zero of them act as witnesses for consumer interests (so clearly, you've got your work cut out for you).

  • And finally, Timothy Karr at Free Press has been unmasking astroturf groups funded by major carriers. Learn more with this fun widget (available here).

  • Posted June 11, 2009 by christopher

    Another real-world example of why communities cannot depend on the private sector to build the infrastructure needed by the community, Scottsburg Indiana suffered from telecommunications underinvestment and was about to lose jobs because the companies could not get the connections they needed.

    This article reports that the cost of T1 lines was $1600/month but other sources suggested they were as low as a mere $1300/month. Nonetheless, the costs were prohibitive and benefits from building a publicly owned system were immense:

    The total cost to build the city-wide network was only $385,000, a figure that includes all systems and software. The result is broadband everywhere at affordable prices, meaning that businesses that need broadband can get it, and sometimes even save money, too. For example, school officials estimate that they are saving approximately $16,000 per month.

    Posted May 18, 2009 by christopher

    F.A.Q.

    1. What exactly is a Community Fiber Network?
    2. Who offers services?
    3. What does public ownership mean?
    4. Why publicly owned? Aren't private companies more efficient?
    5. I heard there is tons of dark fiber available - why do we need more fiber?
    6. What if a better technology comes along in a few years?
    7. Doesn't fiber break easily?
    8. Don't existing companies already have fiber networks?
    9. DOCSIS 3, isn't that as good as fiber?
    10. Should government compete with the private sector?
    11. Do we really need faster connections?
    12. Symmetric? Asymmetric? Huh?
    13. Why not wireless?
    14. What happened to the whole muni-wireless thing?
    15. What about WiMAX?
    16. What about broadband over powerlines?


    Answers

    1. What exactly is a Community Fiber Network?

      A Community Fiber Network is a community-owned broadband network that uses fiber-optic cables to connect all subscribers. It can offer phone, television, and Internet access. The capacity on the network is so great that it could offer tens of thousands of television channels while allowing thousands of people to talk on the phone while still offering Internet access at faster speeds than a cable modem system or DSL currently offer.

    2. Return to top

    3. Who offers services?

      In some communities, the local government (Monticello) or public power utility (Chattanooga) has a department that provides video, phone, and Internet services. In others, the network is only open to private service providers who compete for customers on equal terms (this would be an open network, Report: Open Access:...

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    Posted May 13, 2009 by christopher

    Municipal and industrial organizations that want to take advan­tage of the significant benefits of large-scale broadband infra­structure face the option of whether to build, own and operate their own infrastructure or “rent” services from incumbent cellular providers. In this paper we lay out the substantial business and technical benefits that are associated with organizations opting to own the latest generation of outdoor wireless networks.

    This paper is targeted primarily at municipalities and discusses how a wireless infrastructure can benefit public safety, fire and EMS, and city departments such as water and building inspec­tions. Other wireless utility applications such as Advanced Meter­ing Infrastructure (AMI) or Automated Meter Reading (AMR) are also presented. This paper also examines wireless applications for mobile workforces engaged in industrial applications, such as port operations, construction and mining.

    Registration required for downloading.

    Posted April 30, 2009 by christopher

    San Francisco has launched an initiative to provide wireless access everywhere in the city. A number of Supervisors and residents have raised the possibility of the City following in the footsteps of over 200 other U.S. cities that already own information networks. To date, the City has not addressed that question, or at least no such study has been forthcoming.

    Media Alliance invited the Institute for Local Self-Reliance to investigate the economics of a publicly owned information infrastructure. This report contains a preliminary financial analysis. Without complete information from the City, the numbers are not precise. But we think this analysis could serve as the basis for an informed discussion. We urge the City to undertake its own more detailed examination and make it public.

    Posted April 2, 2009 by christopher

    The United States, creator of the Internet, increasingly lags in access to it. In the absence of a national broadband strategy, many communities have invested in broadband infrastructure, especially wireless broadband, to offer broadband choices to their residents.

    Newspaper headlines trumpeting the death of municipal wireless networks ignore the increasing investments by cities in Wi-Fi systems. At the same time, the wireless focus by others diverts resources and action away from building the necessary long term foundation for high speed information: fiber optic networks.

    DSL and cable networks cannot offer the speeds required by a city wishing to compete in the digital economy. Business, government, and citizens all need affordable and fast access to information networks.

    Today's decisions will lay the foundation of telecommunications infrastructure for decades. Fortunately, we already know the solution: wireless solves the mobility problem; fiber solves the speed and capacity problems; and public ownership offers a network built to benefit the community.

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