Tag: "open access"

Posted June 26, 2009 by christopher

Anyone who tells you that UTOPIA is a "success" or that it is a "failure" is probably minimizing important problems or victories for the network. The Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, like so many other things in life, is a mixed bag.

For those new to UTOPIA, it is a large multi-community full fiber network that operates by only selling wholesale access to service providers. Due to a law designed to protect incumbent service providers under the guise of protecting taxpayers, UTOPIA cannot offer any services itself and is strictly open access.

For a variety of reasons - that have not and likely will not be repeated by other communities - the network has not yet met expectations. The costs have been greater than expected and the network does not yet cover its entire intended territory (some 16 communities and 140,000 people).

However, where it does operate, it is blazing fast. The service providers offer the fastest speeds at the lowest prices (see a service comparison). It has offered a tremendous competitive advantage to the businesses and communities in which it operates.

Last year, Lawrence Kingsley wrote "The Rebirth of UTOPIA" that explored where the network went wrong and how it has also succeeded. Perhaps most notably, he notes that the churn rate (people switching to other networks) is ridiculously low at .5% - a common trait to community owned networks.

Last month, Geoff Daily reported on how UTOPIA is "Transforming Failure Into Success." They have greatly improved their marketing practices - which has historically been a large barrier to success. This is an important lesson for all - even though there are very few competitors in the broadband market, they do fight fiercely for subscribers. Broadband is competitive like boxing, not like a marathon.

But the news coming out of Utah is not all cheery. Jesse, the resident UTOPIA expert, has recently explained some of the current financial problems and their origin.

Perhaps the most important lesson to take away from UTOPIA is that plans always go awry. I have yet to find a community that did not have unexpected problems along the way to building their networks. Communities that take...

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Posted June 26, 2009 by christopher

Geoff Daily visits UTOPIA and discusses their strategies to get back on track. He notes what they have done to make up for past problems and what they are now doing. They've got a new team and still offer a vastly superior connection than their competitors.

A snippet from Geoff's take:

Whenever anyone tries making an argument against municipal broadband and/or open networks, more often than not it starts by citing UTOPIA as the poster child for failure, the example given for why other cities shouldn't pursue plans to wire themselves.

And in many ways, UTOPIA--the audaciously named, multi-city municipal wholesale-only full-fiber build in Utah--has been a cautionary tale. Started in 2002, the network still doesn't cover any of its pledging cities in total, it's not yet financially self-sustaining, it's already over $150 million in the hole, and it has struggled to attract service providers, especially any big names.

As Paul Larsen, Economic Development Director for Brigham City and member of UTOPIA's Executive Board, put it during my whirlwind trip to Utah last week, twelve months ago they were discussing what color UTOPIA's casket was going to be.

Posted June 24, 2009 by christopher

NATOA, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, comprises many people who are in, and work on, community broadband networks. Whether they are dealing with cable-company owned I-Nets or citizen owned networks, one of their jobs is to make sure the community has the network it needs.

Starting this year, NATOA has made its publication, the NATOA Journal, available to everyone, not just members. This will be a great resource for community broadband information.

This issue has important articles - from an in-depth comparison of the physical properties of copper and fiber to less technical arguments by Tim Nulty and myself. Tim Nulty wrote "Fiber to the User as a Public Utility."

He advances a number of important arguments:

  • Universal - everyone should have access at affordable rates
  • Open Access - it must encourage competition, not stifle it
  • Future Proof - the technology must be built to last and meet needs currently unforeseen
  • Financial self sufficiency - this can be done and the political culture suggests it must be done

He then delves into the problems Burlington Telecom faced, how it resolved those problems, and some of the strengths of their approach. He also offers some details on his new project - East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network.

My "Community Owned Networks Benefit Everyone" makes the case that only publicly owned networks can offer true competition in the broadband market because private network owners will not open their networks to other providers. Facilities-based competition is a policy that encourages monopoly or duopoly throughout most of America.

However, I also argue that public ownership, and the accountability that comes with it, may be more important than competition in cases where the community chooses that model. As always, we stand up for the right of communities to choose their future and to take responsibility for their choices.

Other important articles in this issue discuss the...

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Posted June 22, 2009 by christopher

Benoît Felton of Fiber Evolution says that Open Access makes Economic Sense - in four parts:

Posted June 16, 2009 by christopher

Though Danville, Virginia, was hit hard by the simultaneously decline of tobacco and textile industries, the community has responded: Danville Utilities has been building a state of the art all fiber network. Like many communities, they built a backbone and connected the schools and government buildings first. They then started to connect businesses. This summer they will be rolling out a pilot project to connect a few thousand homes to their open services network. As they add more potential subscribers to the network, they will be more attractive to service providers. This should spur competition, increase innovation, reduce prices, and otherwise make the network more desirable to subscribers. Though the open access idea has been somewhat maligned following the troubles of UTOPIA (many of which had nothing to do with the wholesale model), the consulting firm Design Nine has helped both nDanville and The Wired Road move forward with a revised wholesale-only model. This approach may be gaining traction nationally depending on how the rules for the stimulus grants are written: Stimulating Broadband suggests broadband stimulus funding from USDA will favor "projects that will deliver end users a choice of more than one service provider." Back in Danville, the schools have much faster Internet access while shaving their telecom budgets. Other key features are listed on the network's site, including:

The nDanville Medical Network project has begun to connect a majority of doctor’s offices and medical clinics around the city. The network is already being used by the Danville Regional Medical Center to provide super high speed connectivity to satellite clinics and offices in Danville.

Last year, Last Mile featured an article on the network that includes some numbers, goals, and history of the project. Below is a video that discusses some of the benefits of the network.

Posted June 11, 2009 by christopher

Tim Nulty offers a great vision and hope for the future of rural broadband networks. He discusses the long history of large telcos viciously attacking publicly owned networks and notes that FTTH is possible in nearly all rural areas in the U.S.

Among the advantages of public ownership, he notes the high quality of service, universal coverage, and the potential for common carriage or open access networks.

Our economy and society have evolved over the last 20 years to the point where universal availability of the most modern broadband communications is essential to fully participate in every aspect of our nation’s life. Without it, the promise of an equal chance to succeed is hollow. Our nation came to that conclusion two centuries ago when it created the national postal system, and in subsequent years with respect to roads, water, power and voice telephone. Now, it is coming to the same conclusion about the next level of communications: broadband connectivity. ...

[T]he main entrenched incumbents (both telephone and cable) are strongly reluctant to bring the latest technology to rural areas....focusing, instead, on cheaper but inferior “retrofits” to their legacy copper plant. The claimed reason is that it is not economically feasible to extend the latest technology to less “juicy” areas. In fact, this is not true. Based on the experience of a number of “non-incumbent” FTTH projects, it is clear that it is economic to bring universal FTTH to virtually any rural area that has a density of 12/13 homes per linear mile and all or most of whose plant is aerial. These characteristics cover the overwhelming majority of rural Americans.

Note: Nulty's piece appears on page 23 of the article linked to below. Preceding his piece is a poorly written piece riddled with the very sort of inaccuracies we started this site to correct. The article cites few examples and relies on worst-case, very low probability scenarios to scare the reader. Their discussion of the Utah networks suggests they are unaware of the most basic history of the project, and finally, their comparison of Burlington Telecom to Verizon is laughably simplistic and worthless.

Posted June 10, 2009 by christopher

In hindsight, KPN [a Dutch telephone company] made a mistake back in 1996. We were not too enthusiastic to be forced to allow competitors on our old wireline network. That turned out not to be very wise. If you allow all your competitors on your network, all services will run on your network, and that results in the lowest cost possible per service. Which in turn attracts more customers for those services, so your network grows much faster. An open network is not charity from us, in the long run it simply works best for everybody.

Posted June 10, 2009 by christopher

Larry Press takes a rather quantitative approach to demonstrating that the deregulatory telecommunications policies of the past few decades have failed to produce the desired outcomes. We are currently at a key turning point in history: the policies we enact today will have repercussions throughout the entire decade. Fiber is replacing copper, the question is who will own it because owners make rules.

During the last 25 years, telecommunication has moved away from government–owned or regulated monopolies toward privatization with competition and oversight by independent regulatory agencies — PCR policies. We present data indicating that PCR has had little impact on the Internet during the last ten years in developed or developing nations, and discuss the reasons for this. We then describe several ways government can go beyond PCR, while balancing needs for next generation technology, decentralized infrastructure ownership, and immediate economic stimulus. We conclude that there is a need for alternatives to the expedient action of subsidizing the current Internet service providers with their demonstrated anti–competitive bent. The decisions we make today will shape telecommunication infrastructure and the industry for decades.

Posted June 9, 2009 by christopher

Lawrence Kingsley produced a short overview of the UTOPIA (Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency) network from late 2008. Though UTOPIA is often cited as a failure, few have taken the time to understand where the network went wrong, why others will not duplicate the problems, and why locals still want to see UTOPIA continue.

Despite its problems, the churn rate from UTOPIA was .5%. This is a tremendous vote of confidence - people who take service from UTOPIA don't unsubscribe. Like so many community networks, the biggest problem UTOPIA faces may be the dirty tricks of incumbents who have used the legislature to attack UTOPIA.

Posted June 9, 2009 by christopher

The May 2008 issue of Broadband Properties offers an overview of municipally-owned fiber-to-the-home networks across the United States. The article discusses why public power utilities are heavily represented, open vs. closed, the geographical distribution, and most importantly, the many differences between the models used by all these different communities.

In fact, what we have found is that there is no “municipal model.” Municipalities and other public entities build FTTP systems for many reasons and in many situations. They face a variety of legal and competitive landscapes, employ different financing methods, operate their systems in diverse ways, deliver different sets of services to different types of customers, and bring a diversity of resources and competencies to the task. While there are certain recurrent themes, there is no single distinguishing feature. Local differences appear to far outweigh the simple fact of public ownership.

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