Tag: "rural"

Posted September 22, 2009 by christopher

In a recent post the NY Times Bits Blog, Saul Hansell reports "Verizon Boss Hangs Up on Landline Phone Business" - something we have long known. Nonetheless, this makes it even more official: private companies have no interest in bringing true broadband to everyone in the United States.

Verizon is happy to invest in next-generation networks in wealthy suburbs and large metro regions but people in rural areas - who have long dealt with decaying telephone infrastructure - will be lucky to get slow DSL speeds that leave them unable to participate in the digital age. These people will be spun off to other companies so Verizon can focus on the most profitable areas.

For instance, Verizon found it profitable to spin off its customers in Hawaii to another company that quickly ran into trouble before unloading most of its New England customer on FairPoint, moves that enhanced Verizon's bottom line while harming many communities (see the bottom of this post and other posts about FairPoint).

Isen has been writing about it recently - picking up on FairPoint immediately breaking its promises to expand broadband access in the newly acquired territories. No surprise there.

Isen also delved deeper into Verizon's actions, with "Verizon throws 18 states under the progress train." He is right to push this as a national story - the national media focused intently on the absence of major carriers in the broadband stimulus package but they seem utterly uninterested in major carriers running away from broadband investments in rural areas.

Though Frontier likes to position itself as a company focused on bringing broadband to rural areas, it offers slow DSL broadband and poor customer service to people who have no other choices - more of a parasite than angel. As long as we view broadband as a vehicle for moving profits from communities to absentee-owned corporations rather than the infrastructure it truly is, we will farther and farther behind our international peers in the modern...

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Posted September 2, 2009 by christopher

This report was written by Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Esq. and Marjorie Heins, Esq. of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law to inform a Nebraska Task Force tasked with evaluating a ban on municipally owned broadband networks throughout the state of Nebraska. Unfortunately, the Task Force was stacked with proponents for privately owned networks and seemed unable to consider any other viewpoints (more details here). From the Executive Summary:

While the provision of broadband service by public entities is a contentious topic, there have been no comprehensive studies of municipal broadband service providers that would provide easy answers to policy makers. Instead researchers have considered single cities or one type of provider. There are several reasons for the dearth of comprehensive studies. One is that the technologies involved are so new. Another is that indispensable data sets are often proprietary, confidential or nonexistent. To aid the Task Force in its duties, we have gathered information from the publicly available sources. To supplement these data sets, the Brennan Center distributed a questionnaire (the “Brennan Center Questionnaire”) to the Nebraskan members of the Center for Rural Affairs and Common Cause to gather information about the challenges experienced by Nebraskan Internet users.

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In Part I of this white paper, we will explore the status of broadband deployment both nationally and in Nebraska. We have found that some Nebraskans lack access to broadband providers and others live in areas where there is unaffordable broadband service. A significant minority (43% living outside of towns in 20054 and 7.4% of Nebraskan towns in 2006 according to the Nebraska Telecommunications Association) lacked access to broadband service. These numbers most likely understate the magnitude of the problem because of the reporting methodologies used. Around half of Nebraska’s towns are only served by a monopoly wired broadband provider who can charge high prices for broadband service.

The data also demonstrate that rural Nebraskans in particular are more frequently priced out of the broadband market than their urban counterparts. Those living in small Nebraskan towns and in the countryside, and even many living just outside larger Nebraskan cities are faced with unaffordable broadband service. The advent of satellite Internet service...

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Posted August 18, 2009 by christopher

Cecilia Kang, telecom writer for the Washington Post, recently looked into why major carriers are not applying to the broadband stimulus program.

The implication of the title - "Major Carriers Shun Broadband Stimulus: Funds would come with tighter rules" is because of the rules. I'm sure she didn't write the title or sub, that usually goes to the editor. But it would appear whoever wrote the title did not read the piece because she shows that the rules are a minor factor at best.

Unfortunately, Kang also makes a significant error in not appearing to have read the stimulus legislation because she seems surprised that major carriers are not interested in the stimulus. The stimulus was emphatically not targeted at those carriers. As I detailed here previously, Congress intended the stimulus to boost public and nonprofit investments though private carriers could apply if they met a public interest requirement - an intention that NTIA ignored when making the rules. Reading the legislation, it was never aimed at the large carriers so their lack of interest is no surprise -- unless you are Robert Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation...

"If you want to get broadband out, you have to do it with [those] who brought you to the dance in the first place, and in this case it is the incumbent cable and telephone carriers who have 85 percent of lines in the country," said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington tech policy think tank.

Mr. Atkinson appears to educate himself solely with the press releases and reports of incumbent-financed think tanks. He has systematically ignored the potential for publicly owned networks - as we have shown, these networks are some of the fastest and most affordable networks in the country. Instead, he opines about the need for incumbents to build more of their super slow DSL networks - as though that is what the country needs to remain competitive in the 21st century.

The real reason the major carriers are staying away from the stimulus funds is because they do not want to invest in low density areas that do not offer fast, high returns for their shareholders.

"It's not cost-effective for the big network operators to...

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Posted July 29, 2009 by christopher

Many people in rural areas get their phone services from a cooperative telephone company. When it comes to fiber in rural areas, some of these cooperatives are on the cutting edge. The July Issue of FTTH Prism [pdf] from Chaffee Fiber Optics has a feature on Paul Bunyan Telephone in Minnesota. They are an aggressive broadband network deployer in rural areas, often saving residents from Qwest or another company unable (sometimes just unwilling) to build these necessary networks.

Cooperative telephone companies fall into our understanding of publicly owned because they focus on their communities first and do not seek to maximize profits at the expense of social benefits.

Paul Bunyan Telephone is nearly 60 years old and now covers over 4,500 square miles. They have used RUS loans to finance significant portions of the network.

Currently, over 4,000 locations are served with our fiber-to-the-home network, which represents about 30 percent of our entire network. For these customers, thanks to the benefits of fiber optics, we can deliver high-speed Internet services up to 40 Mb (both upload and download) and a host of advanced television services including multiple streams of high-definition television, digital video recording, and on-demand services.

For those who claim that people in rural areas just don't understand broadband or don't want it, this company has an answer:

One specific example the fiber optic network capacity can have on a business is Northwood DNA, Inc. This is a business operating in a very rural area, Becida, MN, that provides DNA sequencing and genotyping services globally. The services they provide require receiving and sending large data files electronically. Prior to the deployment of the fiber optic network, their business was only able to report two to three test results per day. Today, with the benefits of the all fiber optic network, they report over 50 test results per day.

The full story starts on page 9 of the 2009 July FTTH Prism.

Posted July 7, 2009 by christopher

Windom, a small community of only 5,000 people in southwestern Minnesota, upgraded its city-owned cable network to a fiber-to-the-home system. They issued $9.4 million in revenue bonds (of which $800,000 were just for the first two years of interest, when no revenue is generated from the system being built) to pass 2,000 homes and 300 businesses.

But, as with so many other aspects of life, the story was more interesting than that.

Before Windom could formally dedicate resources to address its communications challenge, however, the city was required by state law to obtain a two-thirds majority vote of approval from its citizens. Largely due to the incumbent [Qwest] telecommunications operator's announcement that it would upgrade its infrastructure and roll out digital subscriber line (DSL) services in Windom's area, the initial vote in 1999 on a new city-owned network failed. But after the incumbent cancelled its plans for DSL [while building DSL in other nearby communities], a citizens group petitioned Windom's city council to put the telecommunications project back on the ballot. In spring 2000, Windom received approval by the voters to begin work on a next-generation broadband communications infrastructure project.

This is a two-page article covering some of the history of WindomNet.

Posted June 30, 2009 by christopher

This article highlights three publicly owned networks that are expanding or building in the midst of a difficult economy - the Dumont Telephone Company in Iowa (a cooperative); Auburn, Indiana; and Greenlight in Wilson, North Carolina.

Dumont is facing the most difficult path:

Deploying rural and small-town fiber is always tough. Doing it without much hope of funding from outside is even tougher. But visionaries in these communities took the long view, planning to stretch out their builds over as much as seven years – longer if they have to. One community – Dumont, Iowa – is profiting from a world-class GPON build with fewer than two households passed per mile and precisely zero businesses to help foot the bill.

Auburn began building a municipal fiber network to keep some local employers in town - called Auburn Essential Services. As happens all over the United States, small towns lose businesses because the private sector is not able to provide the necessary networks. Built at first just to connect some local sites, the city later began to expand it:

In mid-2006 the city adopted a phased rollout plan for FTTP, where each phase would generate revenues that could be used to fund the next phase. The first phase, which includes the neighborhoods where most businesses are located, rolled out between April and December of this year.

The city’s marketing plan includes mailers, door hangers, advertising and even site visits to businesses. Existing technology was leveraged for back-office operations, and customers were given the option of receiving consolidated utility bills or separate bills for electricity and telecommunications.

Wilson, North Carolina, was also dealing with poor local networks that hampered economic development. Time Warner not only refused to build the necessary networks, it then refused to use a network the city offered to let them ride, and finally tried to prevent them by passing what was often called the "Incumbent Protection Act" in the state legislature. Fortunately, Time Warner was not able to prevent local competition and Wilson's network is currently being built. They used a rather unique financing plan:

Rather than issue general obligation bonds, Wilson obtained $31 million in private funding...

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Posted June 17, 2009 by christopher

The US's broadband infrastructure would make a former Soviet bloc country blush. Rural areas are often stuck with slow dial-up or expensive satellite Internet service. Even urban centers lack better high-speed service options, as the increasing deregulation of the telecommunications industry has helped prop up monopolies - which then have no incentive to improve broadband speed or lower costs.

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 1, 2009 by christopher

A recurring feature in Broadband Properties is the Municipal FTTH Deployment Snapshot. The Aug/Sept 2008 issue featured one of oldest municipal citywide FTTH deployments in the United States - Bristol Virgina Utilities' Optinet.

The article featured a wealth of technical data from the network as a well as a short history of their legal fights and their "Biggest Success."

Posted April 26, 2009 by christopher

InternetforEveryone.org is working to shed light on the millions of Americans who live without regular Internet access or lack the training or equipment to get online. A small reporting team is traveling to communities across the country to tell people's stories. Free Press' Megan Tady interviewed residents of Los Angeles, Calif., and Washington, D.C. On this site, you can follow our trek and get an up-close view of America’s urban digital divide. InternetforEveryone.org is working to shed light on the millions of Americans who live without regular Internet access or lack the training or equipment to get online. A small reporting team is traveling to communities across the country to tell people's stories.

Free Press' Megan Tady interviewed residents of Los Angeles, Calif., and Washington, D.C. On this site, you can follow our trek and get an up-close view of America’s urban digital divide.

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