Tag: "open access"

Posted September 22, 2010 by christopher

If Seattle moves forward on the Community Fiber Network it has been considering, it will be the largest such network in the nation. However, as we recently noted, progress has been slow. Reclaim the Media recently noted progress toward publicly owned fiber in Edmonds and asked why Seattle is stuck in the mud on the issue.

The City's "Seattle Jobs Plan" devotes a significant mention of a publicly owned fiber network as a smart investment:

Seattle’s economic prosperity, its ability to deploy effective public safety systems, and its determination to reduce gridlock and greenhouse gases are increasingly dependent on its communication systems. Currently, the communication systems serving Seattle businesses and residents are controlled by a few private companies, using older technology. With a lack of competition, there is little incentive to invest in more innovative technologies. Although some of Seattle’s larger institutions have migrated to their own fiber networks, these types of networks are unavailable to residents and Seattle’s small businesses. Multiple surveys indicate that 70% of Seattle households want to see more telecommunications competition. A recent study listed global cities with the fastest broadband connections; not a single U.S. city was listed in the top 20. A network of municipal fiber optic cables would instantly put Seattle at the top of the list of U.S. cities capable of supporting next-generation, data-intensive businesses, making it a potential hub for a number of fast-growing industries.

But the network requires a significant amount of planning:

The City has built and maintains a high speed, fiber optic broadband network connecting schools, government facilities, and community institutions. An interdepartmental team of staff in SCL, SPU and DoIT are currently developing a high level business plan that will guide this effort to expand broadband to businesses and homes. The business plan will be completed in early 2011. Once the plan is finalized, the City will explore funding options and next steps.

The report notes that Seattle applied for BTOP stimulus funding from NTIA, but the recent...

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Posted September 16, 2010 by christopher

Western Massachusetts' Wired West is an exciting approach to bringing next-generation broadband networks to rural areas. Thanks to Design Nine's news blog for alerting me to this decision.

For those unfamiliar with our coverage of Wired West, a two page write-up in Berkshire Trade & Commerce Monthly [pdf] offers a good background:

“You often hear that it is too expensive to bring fiber-optic lines to every home, business and institution in a rural area," said Webb, who lives in the remote southern Berkshire town of Monterey. “But that only means it’s too expensive for the business model of private-sector companies who have to show profitability in a very short period. It is not too too expensive if it is done by the communities themselves on a basis that does not have to meet those market demands."

Wired West has announced a decision on the difficult issue of governance structure. They are going to be a public co-operative, comprised of the member towns.

Now the member towns will have to approve the structure and the organization will move forward on the planning necessary to develop, finance, and build their broadband network.

Posted August 31, 2010 by christopher

Last year, when the Berkman Study (pdf) by Harvard (commissioned by the FCC) revealed the secret behind impressive broadband gains in nearly every country over the past decade, we hoped the FCC would learn something from it. Maybe it did, and maybe it didn't -- what is clear is that it did not have the courage to embrace pro-competition policies.

Canada's telecom regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has shown more courage in confronting powerful interests that want to monopolize the future of communications.

They have decided to require the big telecom carriers share their network with independent ISPs in an open access type arrangement.

Until this decision, the established telecom companies could "throttle" third-party services, by slowing them down or limiting downloads.

In Canada, these huge companies also claim that such regulations will decrease their investment in next-generation networks, likely a hollow threat. Regardless, it is a strong argument for public ownership of essential infrastructure. How many communities should be denied next-generation communications because some massively profitable global company is having a snit with the regulator?

Far better for communities to be self-determined, by building their own networks. When networks are run as infrastructure, they are open to independent service providers, just as the roads are open to shipping companies on equal terms.

Canada's regulator has made a difficult decision - but as Karl Bode reminds us, let's wait to see if they actually enforce it.

Posted July 27, 2010 by christopher

More towns in Utah are deciding whether to support UTOPIA's new plan to expand the network and recover from the significant errors of the first managers. Under the new management, UTOPIA has added new ISPs and thousands of new subscribers, a significant turn around for a network many had written off as a failure.

Unfortunately, UTOPIA has too much debt and no capital to expand the network to bring new subscribers online. As we have consistently maintained, building next-generation networks is challenging in the best of circumstances - and the circumstances around the towns in Utah are far from ideal.

Most of the information in this post comes directly or indirectly from the Free UTOPIA blog which has excellent independent coverage of the network (as well as stinging critiques of wasted opportunities like the broadband stimulus).

I strongly recommend following FreeUTOPIA, but I wanted to comment on some of the recent developments.

As UTOPIA and some member cities have formed a new agency to fund further expansion. Five cities have agreed to be part of the new Utah Infrastructure Agency with at least 2 deciding against and more still considering what they want to do. The Salt Lake Tribune has tepidly endorsed the plan (which involves some changes regarding rogue providers - something I want to follow up on).

The Utah Taxpayers Association (which is funded by Qwest and Comcast, among others) decided to mount a big protest in Orem to convince the City to abandon UTOPIA. Rather than simply waiting to see what effect the rally would have, UTOPIA responded decisively.

The Utah “Taxpayers” Association thought it would get an upper hand with a BBQ in Orem just before the city council voted on a new construction bond. Unfortunately for them, the plan backfired when UTOPIA made a surprise appearance at the event with their “mobile command center” and started actually talking directly with...

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Posted July 16, 2010 by christopher

A recent article discussing testimony from the President of the industry trade group, National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) reminded me once again that Congress and the FCC have utterly given up on true broadband competition for millions of of Americans.

As with the broadband stimulus funds being handed out by the Commerce Department, NCTA is concerned that the USF money not go to overbuild its members. "It would be a poor use of scarce government resources to subsidize a broadband competitor in communities--including many small, rural communities -where cable operators have invested risk capital to deploy broadband services," McSlarrow says.

This seems like a common sense argument. Why would we want to subsidize broadband for those who already have a single option (underserved) when others have no choice at all (unserved)? Unfortunately, building networks to solve the problem of the unserved is all but impossible without simultaneously serving some who are underserved. This is because the unserved are often in areas so remote and expensive to serve, there is no sustainable business model to serve only them.

So the idea that we could somehow only target the unserved with networks is extremely suspect. Unless we want to endlessly subsidize networks in these areas (which companies like Qwest emphatically want because they would likely collect those subsides endlessly), we need to encourage sustainable networks that reach across those already served, underserved, and unserved.

He added that it also might discourage the incumbent from continuing to risk that capital. "Government subsidies for one competitor in markets already served by broadband also might discourage the existing provider from making continued investments in its network facilities.

I certainly respect this argument up to a point. But when it comes to essential infrastructure, we know that most existing providers (particularly absentee-owned massive companies) are delaying investments in network facilities anyway because the lack of true competition allows them to delay making the investments more common in our international peers (where true competition exists, often as a result of smarter government policies than we can muster here). The principle of self-...

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Posted July 15, 2010 by christopher

The American Cable Association has profiled Tacoma's Click! network. Click! is an HFC network owned by the city, via the public power utility. Tacoma Power only offers one retail service: cable television. Voice and broadband data services are provided by independent services providers who use the network on an open access basis.

The network has been quite successful. Some 25,000 households subscribe and it has kept competitor rates (Comcast, for instance) far lower than nearby Seattle, for instance. I previously noted the economic development victories attributable to the network.

"If you're a cable TV customer or an Internet customer of any company in our footprint, you pay between 35% and 49% less than if you are not in our footprint," said Diane R. Lachel, Click! Network's Government and Community Relations Manager. "That's really significant. That's what the Telecom Act of 1996 was all about. That's the kind of competition Congress intended."

Other communities aspiring for successful networks should study the approach of Marketing and Business Operations Manager Mitch Robinson. Click! has embraced local content - something every community should do to differentiate itself from absentee-owned incumbents.

One Robinson innovation was the localization of video-on-demand (VOD). The inspiration for this product was the lack of Tacoma community news from the TV stations based in Seattle, about 30 miles northeast of Click!'s headquarters. Tacoma tends to make the local TV news mostly when the news is bad.

In response, Click! decided to build relationships with a multitude of local nonprofits to create a steady inventory of VOD segments exclusively available to Click! viewers.

One VOD service, called Safe Streets, shows how to energize a neighborhood by curbing gang activity, setting up block watches, cleaning up derelict properties, and scrubbing away unsightly graffiti.

Click! also has exclusive VOD rights with The Grand Cinema, a local independent movie theater that also sponsors local film festivals. Through the Click! partnership, local film makers expand their viewing audience to customers hungry for local content.

"We just continue to add hours and hours of that type of exclusive content," Lachel...

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Posted June 21, 2010 by christopher

Powell, a small community in Wyoming, has bought its own network from the investors who financed it [Powell Tribune], eighteen years ahead of schedule. For a short history of Powellink, see Breaking the Broadband Monopoly.

The decision, unanimously agreed to by City Council, came from the realization that the City's reserves were earning very little interest while they were paying a higher interest rates to those who financed the network. So they decided to invest in themselves.

Under the new agreement, Powellink will become a fifth enterprise for the city, joining the electric, water, waste water and sanitation enterprises. The other four enterprises will loan Powellink the $6.5 million, and payments from service providers using Powellink — such as TCT — will go back to the enterprises to pay off the loan.

City Administrator Zane Logan had previously told me that he thought Powellink was a much better approach to attracting jobs to the area than the approach frequently used by communities - tax breaks to companies in return for creating jobs. In the Powell Tribune article, he explained how this approach allows Powell to be more self-reliant.

Logan said he believes the new agreement will help Powell during a difficult economic climate. The state cut its funding of cities and towns this year, and sales tax revenues are down.

“We’re trying to help ourselves and not be dependent on the state,” he said. “The Legislature is saying cities need to take care of themselves, and I like to think that Powell is doing that.”

Local cooperative TCT had the right to another four years of exclusive operation as the sole service provider but gave that up, meaning the network will now be open access. In return, TCT does not have to guarantee revenue to the City (as it agreed to do in each year it was an exclusive service provider).

These changes come about as Cablevision bought Bresnan, the cable incumbent that had radically lowered rates to compete with Powellink. It will be interesting to see how Cablevision continues or changes company policy in Powell.

Photo courtesy of Ernie Bray...

Posted June 14, 2010 by christopher

Stop the Cap! has the authored the most recent of several articles examining a unique middle mile broadband approach in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Their title summarizes the motivation: Ontario County, NY: We Need Fiber So Badly, We Just Did It Ourselves. That story includes a video clip of a recent CNBC Power Lunch 2 minute piece about the Axcess Ontario initiative (complete with the factual error that "no provider offers 100Mbps;" in fact, several community broadband networks offer 100Mbps and Chattanooga has moved beyond with a 150Mbps offering).

Ontario County has a population of some 100,000. To stay relevant in the modern era, they determined the County had to do something to improve broadband availability, so they created a nonprofit called Axcess Ontario, an initiative sufficiently impressive for the County's CIO to receive an award - State Public Sector CIO of the Year.

In creating Axcess Ontario (originally named Finger Lakes Regional Telecommunications Development Corp), the County wanted to be locally self-reliant and did not seek funding from the federal government:

Unlike numerous similar attempts in other parts of the country, Ontario County funded its network without dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Those who created Axcess Ontario were insistent the project shouldn't rely on the availability of outside funding, according to Edward Hemminger, CIO of Ontario County.

The network's startup costs were $7.5 million, which the municipality generated through the Ontario County Office of Economic Development/Industrial Development Agency. The organization is a quasi-government agency created by the state to generate economic activity. Businesses pay the agency for various services, the revenue from which pays for initiatives like Axcess Ontario.

In order to mollify the private sector, the county...

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Posted June 11, 2010 by christopher

Danville's open services fiber-optic network has brought a new employer with some 160 jobs to town. EcomNets is investing almost $2 million to build a green data center to the area.

More jobs may be on the horizon as the White Mill renovation continues and should be finished in coming month (original coverage here and here).

Though the public power utility owns this network, it does not offer services. The network, which currently services municipal locations, schools, and some 75 businesses with Internet access, leaves independent providers to provide the actual services. They welcome major carriers like Comcast and Verizon, who have thus far refused to use open access networks to expand their customer base.

Currently, the network has a single service provider, though the utility has spoken with others and expects more service providers to join the network when it begins making residential connections.

As for when it will begin offering residential access, the City Council will discuss that on July 6 in a work session. The Utility has recommended the City start the next phase, servicing some 2,000-3,000 homes.

Posted June 10, 2010 by christopher

A grassroots effort in the broadband desert of Western Massachusetts has been organizing local communities to build a publicly owned, open access FTTH network to everyone in the partner towns (universal access). This story notes that 33 Towns had joined the effort by early May, but the current map of supporting towns show 39 supporting towns now.

Some towns voted to join unanimously; very few have opted not to join the dialogue. Towns are asked to pass this proposed warrant article at their Town Meeting (a practice common in the New England area):

Article [X]:
To see if the Town will vote to enter into immediate discussions with other Western Massachusetts municipalities with the intent of entering an inter-municipal agreement, by and through the Select Board, pursuant to Chapter 40, Section 4A of the Massachusetts General Laws, for the purpose of establishing a universal, open access, financially self-sustaining communication system for the provision of broadband service, including high-speed Internet access, telephone and cable television to the residents, businesses and institutions of these municipalities; or act in relation thereto.

The preamble to the warrant article [pdf] offers the context:

WiredWest Communications, a community broadband network representing citizens in more than 30 towns in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties, has studied how to make high-speed Internet access available to every household and business in our rural towns and has concluded that a universally-accessible, municipally-owned fiber-optic network, open to all providers, is the best solution. We believe that commercial Internet providers, such as Comcast and Verizon, will never expand significantly to reach unserved customers and will certainly never deliver universal coverage. Building it ourselves is our only alternative.

Participating towns will "be convened and pressing issues of governance and inter-municipal agreements will be addressed" in late June.

Though nothing is finalized (obviously), they explained one financing option in the...

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