Tag: "open access"

Posted February 26, 2010 by christopher

Folks in New Hampshire are fed up with the private carriers ignoring them and have started an initiative to build their own fiber-optic open access network. Looks like the site is pretty new, so check back for details.

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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Posted February 16, 2010 by christopher

Andrew Cohill of Design Nine has released a report about Open Access networks: "Broadband for America: The Third Way." I wanted to highlight this report because open access is an important idea that should be promoted and discussed. I believe open access is the most promising way to create the world most people want to live in - fast and affordable networks offering many choices in services and service providers to all Americans. However, though I hold Andrew in high regard, I have some disagreements with the paper that are noted below. This paper comes at an important time. For more than a decade, we have ended each year with less broadband competition than we started with. Politicians and regulators have abandoned policies aimed at promoting competition despite their continued lip service in favor of it. Incumbents have more and more power over both subscribers and entire communities. If we want competition in broadband and cable (and I certainly do!), open access is the only feasible approach. The cost of building the networks is fantastically high whereas the cost of offering services to an additional user are tiny. The result is a network with strong natural monopoly characteristics. Without a network that shares infrastructure (wires, poles, CPE, etc.), the market will trend toward monopoly or duopoly. Wireless complements wired broadband but cannot provide the high speeds and reliability of fiber-optic networks. Even if some metro areas can support multiple networks, most rural areas can barely support one network. Without open access, significant parts of the country cannot have a choice in service providers. Further, when the infrastructure is publicly owned and encourages competition, difficult problems like network neutrality quickly fade. Network neutrality legislation is needed because of profit-maximizing companies who are emboldened by too little competition. Publicly owned infrastructure requires less federal regulation because its incentives are to be responsive to community needs, not to maximize profits. I recommend reading his paper before reading the issues I raise below. Though I am agreement with the majority of his points, I want to note that we will continue opposing state laws that require communities to build wholesale-only networks (where the community does not provide retail services) because communities must...

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Posted February 15, 2010 by christopher

Carol Wilson speaks with Jackson's Michael Johnston about JEA's triple-play network in Tennessee. As far as I can tell, this interview took place in September, 2009. Johnston reports that the publicly owned network passes 30,000 residences and about 5,000 businesses. Of those taking cable services locally, 60% subscribe to JEA and half of them are taking multiple services. Jackson started as a purely open access network but has transitioned to offering retail services. At that point, they were starting to use the network to create a smart-grid for the electrical side of the utility.

Posted February 12, 2010 by christopher

The Wired Road, a community-owned open access network in rural Virginia, has added an additional wired service provider and announced expansion plans. This is a network in Grayson and Carroll counties as well as the city of Galax. Services on the Wired Road are provided exclusively by independent service providers, not the network owners. The network currently offers services in limited areas but plans to serve most of the region by 2012 with both fiber-optic and wireless options.

NationsLine now offers a variety of services, including VOIP and broadband to those on the network. The network will expand this spring:

Bolen also announced The Wired Road plans to add fiber and wireless services to Grant in western Grayson County, with groundbreaking tentatively set for spring. Funding this expansion is an $837,453 Community Connect grant received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service. This latest project includes a public computer center that will be housed at the Grant Grange Hall.

Posted February 10, 2010 by christopher

The Design Nine blog alerted me to a bill in New Hampshire that would modify state law to allow communities to build publicly owned networks. It appears they may currently invest in a network in unserved areas -- though few places are entirely unserved. Most places have pitifully slow and overpriced DSL available to at least some residents. This bill would expand their authority to build networks.

Unfortunately, I have no sense of how likely this is to pass. The story in the Concord Monitor suggests it is seeing intense opposition from the usual sources - the private companies that want to decide alone who gets access to the Internet at what speed and at what price.

Unfortunately, the proponents of the change appear poised to limit themselves to a purely open access model - a limitation that could greatly hurt them as they build a network. Communities must be free to choose a business model that works, not have it imposed by a "compromise" at the legislature.

Requiring open access actually compromises the vitality of the network. Open access is an incredibly powerful idea - introducing real competition where people have long had no choices. But no community has yet made it work financially from the start. The early years are brutal for a network where the owner cannot provide services -- there are difficulties in aligning the incentives for those involved and generally insufficient revenue to make debt payments in the early years.

Communities must fight for the right to offer services, even if they would prefer not to. Offering services generates more revenue when it is most needed - the early years. Allowing Comcast and FairPoint to define the business models of communities is poor policy. The New Hampshire legislation - HB 1242 - is available here.

We wish communities like nDanville and the Wired Road luck as they expand to citywide networks on an entirely open access basis. However, existing experience suggests that communities should focus first on getting the numbers to work and then opening the network to greater competition down the road.

Posted January 17, 2010 by christopher

Last month, the Daily Yonder offered a short history of Universal Service in telecommunications in the U.S. Due to the high costs of providing services in many areas of the country, private network owners have never demonstrated an interest in providing universal service, leading to various government initiatives to expand access to telecom networks.

One of the reasons we support publicly owned networks is because we strongly believe in universal service. Universal access to fast and affordable broadband is an important goal for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is its potential to democratize and enhance educational opportunities.

Readers of this site undoubtedly recognize why fast and affordable access to broadband is important to people in rural areas. What is often forgotten is why people who already have access to such broadband should care about extending access to those who don't yet have it -- aside from simply caring about fellow Americans.

There are actually self-interested reasons why everyone should support extending networks into rural areas. Perhaps the best reason is something called the "network effect" which refers to the principle that the value of a network increases as more users join. One example of this is the telephone, where a telephone network becomes more valuable as more people are on it - allowing subscribers greater access to each other.

Another benefit rooted in self-interest is analogous to benefits of rural electrification. When publicly owned electrical networks electrified the country-side, new markets were created as people with electricity began buying appliances, creating a demand for more products and services. Though the effect may not be as strong with broadband, the new technologies will create new markets, creating more opportunities for everyone.

I do not suggest these self-interested motivations are the sole or best reasons for universal service, but I also want to make sure they are part of the discussion because we all benefit by ensuring everyone has access to these essential infrastructures.

To return to the Daily Yonder piece, it notes the beginning of universal service (and also the importance of "interconnection"):

The concept a universal service originated in the...

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Posted December 23, 2009 by christopher

Listen to this 1 hour podcast from Free UTOPIA that discusses recent progress in Brigham City, notes that Orem City is saving some $50,000/month from telecom expenses thanks to UTOPIA, and recaps some of the early history of the UTOPIA project. Most of the discussion is an interview with triple-play UTOPIA provider Prime Time Communications.

Posted October 26, 2009 by christopher

Alcatel-Lucent has created a terrific video (I saw it at Fiberevolution.com) for Australia regarding their proposed National Broadband Network. Australia is the latest of many countries poised to surpass the U.S. while we decide whether to take control of our future or let Comcast and AT&T control it. I recommend the video, and not just for the accent. Most of the video applies equally to the U.S. in terms of what pressures we face and a possible future. For those unfamiliar, the NBN will be a massive collaborative project between the public and private sector in Australia, resulting in an impressive open access broadband network. We need more videos like this in order to explain to everyday Americans why this infrastructure is so important and we cannot leave it to a few monopolistic companies to build.

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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