Tag: "technical"

Posted January 6, 2014 by Christopher Mitchell

A few weeks ago, a Geekwire interview with outgoing Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced that the Gigabit Squared project there was in jeopardy. Gigabit Squared has had difficulty raising all the necessary capital for its project, building Fiber-to-the-Home to several neighborhoods in part by using City owned fiber to reduce the cost of building its trunk lines.

There are a number of important lessons, none of them new, that we should take away from this disappointing news. This is the first of a series of posts on the subject.

But first, some facts. Gigabit Squared is continuing to work on projects in Chicago and Gainsville, Florida. There has been a shake-up at the company among founders and it is not clear what it will do next. Gigabit Squared was not the only vendor responding to Seattle's RFP, just the highest profile one.

Gigabit Squared hoped to raise some $20 million for its Seattle project (for which the website is still live). The original announcement suggested twelve neighborhoods with at least 50,000 households and businesses would be connected. The project is not officially dead, but few have high hopes for it given the change in mayor and many challenges thus far.

The first lesson to draw from this is what we say repeatedly: the broadband market is seriously broken and there is no panacea to fix it. The big cable firms, while beating up on DSL, refuse to compete with each other. They are protected by a moat made up of advantages over potential competitors that includes vast economies of scale allowing them to pay less for advertising, content, and equipment; large existing networks already amortized; vast capacity for predatory pricing by cross-subsidizing from non-competitive areas; and much more.

So if you are an investor with $20 million in cash lying around, why would you ever want to bet against Comcast - especially by investing in an unknown entity that cannot withstand a multi-year price war? You wouldn't and they generally don't. The private sector invests for a return and overbuilding Comcast with fiber almost...

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Posted December 24, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

If you have been trying to find a book that offers an engaging explanation of how the Internet physically works and the various networks interconnect, search no more. Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum has done it.

The author was featured on Fresh Air way back in May, but not much has changed with Internet infrastructure since then.

In Tubes, journalist Andrew Blum goes on a journey inside the Internet's physical infrastructure to uncover the buildings and compounds where our data is stored and transmitted. Along the way, he documents the spaces where the Internet first started, and the people who've been working to make the Web what it is today.

He was also just on C-Span's "The Communicators."

I enjoyed the read and learned a few things along the way. Those looking for a dry, just-the-facts-ma'am approach may not enjoy the frequent musings of Blum on his experiences. But I did.

One of his trips took him to a community in Oregon called The Dalles, where a municipal network allowed Google to build its very first "built-from-scratch data center." More on that in a post to come soon...

Those who are doing their reading on tablets now will be interested to know that the eBook is temporarily priced at $1.99. The deal lasts until New Years according to the author.

Posted December 1, 2012 by Lisa Gonzalez

Why can Wi-Fi be so great in some places but so awful in others? (Ahem... Hotels.) Time to stop imagining Wi-Fi as magic and instead think of it just as a means of taking one connection and sharing it among many people without wires.

If you take a ho-hum connection and share it with 10 people, it becomes a bad connection. On the other hand, if you take a great connection and share it with those same 10 people, they will be very happy surfers. As Benoit Felten recently told us, the best wireless networks have been built in cities with the best wired infrastructure.

Wi-Fi still has hiccups but they are well worth it for convenience, mobility, and ubiquity. In a recent GigaOm article, Stacey Higgenbotham detailed additional reasons that not all Wi-fi is created equal.

Higgenbotham lays out the limitations of Wi-fi and breaks down the technology's touchiness into four main factors. She addresses the issue specifically for travelers. From the article:

Backhaul: For most Wi-Fi is their access to the internet, but it’s actually just a radio technology that moves information over the air.

Density:…the more people you add to a network — even if those people are just checking their Facebook page — the worse the network will perform.

Movement: Wi-Fi connectivity is designed for fixed access, meaning the radios stay put...when you try to jump from hot spot to hot spot problems occur.
...
Device: Newer phones and tablets are supporting a dual-mode Wi-Fi radio, which means they can hop from the 2.4 Ghz band to the 5 GHz band….now with phones like the latest iPhone that have dual-band support, you may hop to another band only to find a bunch of other users.

Higgenbotham doesn't have the answers on how to improve service, but she offers practical advice:

Given these constraints, it hopefully makes a little more sense when you can’t download a movie while on Amtrak or your Facebook video keeps buffering as you surf on the jetway. Unfortunately, with so many variables, there’s not a lot that the Wi-Fi Alliance or even the hot spot provider can always do. If there’s a business case for faster...

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Posted April 9, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

We are thrilled to finally unveil our latest white paper: Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks. This report was a joint effort of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the Benton Foundation.

We have chronicled how Bristol's BVU Authority, Chattanooga's EPB, and Lafayette's LUS built some of the most impressive broadband networks in the nation. The paper presents three case studies and then draws lessons from their common experiences to offer advice to other communities.

Here is the press release:

The fastest networks in the nation are built by local governments, a new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Benton Foundation reveals

Chattanooga, Tennessee, is well known for being the first community with citywide access to a “gig,” or the fastest residential connections to the Internet available nationally. Less known are Bristol, Virginia, and Lafayette, Louisiana – both of which now also offer a gigabit throughout the community.

A new report just released by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) and the Benton Foundation explains how these communities have built some of the best broadband networks in the nation. Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks is available here.

“It may surprise people that these cities in Virginia, Tennessee, and Louisiana have faster and lower cost access to the Internet than anyone in San Francisco, Seattle, or any other major city,” says Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative. “These publicly owned networks have each created hundreds of jobs and saved millions of dollars.”

“Communities need 21st century telecommunications infrastructure to compete in the global economy,” said Charles Benton, Chairman & CEO of the Benton Foundation. “Hopefully, this report will resonate with local government officials across the country.”

Mitchell is a national expert on community broadband networks and was recently named a “Top 25 Doer, Dreamer, and Driver” by Government Technology. He also regularly authors articles at MuniNetworks.org.

The new report offers in-depth case studies of BVU Authority’s OptiNet in Bristol, Virginia; EPB Fiber in Chattanooga, Tennessee; and LUS Fiber in Lafayette, Louisiana. Each network was...

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Posted October 15, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Thanks to the Fibre Evolution Blog for alerting us to a slick, short video that explains why FTTH is superior to alternatives when it comes to accessing the Internet. The video was produced the FTTH Council of Europe and is meant for a very general audience.  Enjoy.

Posted February 18, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

An unfortunately common argument used against community fiber networks is that everything will be wireless in the future. This was used frequently last year in North Carolina by defenders of the pro-TWC legislation to create new barriers against community fiber networks.

The technical among us may want to get into the math theory with the Shannon-Hartley theorem to explain why wired is more reliable than wireless and therefore capable of much higher capacity.

Others might point that wireless will have less capacity because a wireless connection is really a wired connection to a tower somewhere that is then shared among hundreds or thousands of other users. Empirically, there is no wireless connection that beats fiber-optics.

But if you are looking for an entity that is intimately familiar with both wired and wireless, you might ask Verizon. Verizon is rolling out its LTE wireless network (arguably the best large scale wireless network in the country) and has millions of customers on its fiber-optic FiOS wired network. Verizon says the future needs fiber-optics to the home and wireless in the air:

"If you get underneath what's driving the fiber in the metropolitan markets it has been the need for increased video, increased reliability and security for customers," Seidenberg said. "The way we think about it is even though we have this great 4G mobile network, you still need to have fiber to the premises because we think your home will utilize a Gigabit of bandwidth."

...

"The way we look at it is we want to get fiber to as many business premises and cover as much as the footprint as we can and we believe everyone else going to do the same thing in other parts of the country," Seidenberg said. "If the incumbents or the MSOs don't do it then these little companies will do it and be the entrance facilities to homes and businesses."

As folks in North Carolina consider this year's proposal to limit competition with last-generation cable and DSL networks, they should think seriously about the communities around them served by FiOS -- with much faster...

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Posted December 15, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Michael Crowell, Fibrant's Director of Broadband Services, discusses the motivation behind their community fiber network (Fibrant), as well as some of the technology behind their GPON network. This is one of several similar interviews from TelecomTV.

In this interview, Crowell makes an important point: each community should not be building its own head end and should cooperate with each other to use the existing resources built by Wilson and Salisbury.

This video is no longer available.

Posted December 1, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Barbara Van Schewick, author of Internet Architecture and Innovation, describes the important role of openness on the Internet, what that means, and how to preserve it. Thanks to the New York Chapter of Internet Society for hosting her.

Posted November 30, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

So Comcast and Level 3 are in a peering dispute following the Netflix partnership with Level 3 to distribute their streaming movie service. Studies suggest Netflix movie streaming has become a significant chunk of Internet traffic, particularly at peak times.

A quick primer on peering: the Internet is comprised of a bunch of networks that exchange traffic. Sometimes one has to pay another network for transit and sometimes (commonly with big carriers like Comcast and Level 3) networks have an agreement to exchange traffic without charging (one reason: the costs of monitoring the amount of traffic can be greater than the prices that would be charged). (Update: Read the Ars Technica story for a longer explanation of peering and this conflict.)

Comcast claims that Level 3 is sending Comcast 5x as much traffic as Comcast sends to Level 3 and therefore wants to charge Level 3 for access to Comcast customers. Of course, as Comcast only offers radically asymmetrical services to subscribers, one wonders how Level 3 could be 1:1 with Comcast…

At Public Knowledge, Harold Feld ties the dispute to network neutrality:

On its face, this is the sort of toll booth between residential subscribers and the content of their choice that a Net Neutrality rule is supposed to prohibit.  In addition, this is exactly the sort of anticompetitive harm that opponents of Comcast’s merger with NBC-Universal have warned would happen — that Comcast would leverage its network to harm distribution of competitive video services, while raising prices on its own customers.

Susan Crawford

Susan Crawford wrote a lengthier piece about Comcast, Netflix, network neutrality, set-top boxes and NBC that is well worth reading (as is just about anything she writes).

However, for the purposes of this post, we will assume the 5x traffic imbalance is true (and unique and...

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Posted November 29, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Vermonters are asking some hard questions about the federal broadband stimulus decision to throw money at a wireless network for Vermont rather than loaning money to an organization dedicated to delivering real broadband.

Senator Bernie Sanders convened a meeting to discuss the awards toward the end of October.

Senator Bernie Sanders led off his “broadband town meeting” Saturday morning at Vermont Technical College with a ringing affirmation of the need for better broadband coverage in Vermont and the nation.

However, nobody in the crowd of nearly 300 people needed to be convinced of that. What they wanted to know was whether a huge new federal grant to a private company was the right way to do it.

VTel, a small private telephone company, received a $116 million grant to build a FTTH network to serve their existing 18,000 footprint as well as a wireless network that is intended to serve the entire state.

In contrast, the East Central Vermont Fiber Network (which we have covered previously), applied for a loan to build a FTTH network to everyone in the 24 communities that have joined together to form the network. The ECFiber network would be run by a nonprofit and would repay the loan from revenue generated by selling triple-play services on the network.

Vermonters have a strong fiscal conservatism streak, which has shown up strongly in the discussions around this situation, something noted in a story leading up to the Sanders meeting:

He will get plenty of both from representatives of ECFiber, the consortium of 23 towns that has been planning a network of fiber-optic broadband to virtually every home in the White River Valley and beyond.

The organization was stung recently when its own request for a loan was not funded by RUS, which instead awarded a much larger outright grant to VTel, which is located in Springfield.

Our position at MuniNetworks, is quite similar to that of the these Vermonters: loans would be better policy than grants for broadband infrastructure.

Supporters of the wireless network, including VTel's CEO, Michel Guite, have suggested the $116 million...

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