Palmdale, California is considering a proposal from SiFi Networks to become a FiberCity. The project would see $600 million from the private infrastructure builder to construct 800 miles of fiber and lease it on an open access basis, as well as provide the infrastructure necessary for smart city applications and 5g.
On Episode 3 of Connect This!, Christopher is joined by Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Deb Socia, President of The Enterprise Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Travis Carter, CEO of US Internet.
Tune is to hear them talk about solving the broadband gap and all of the obstacles it presents, from digital literacy training, to redlining, to funding programs. Along the way they also talk about how the federal government has failed to connect people over the last nine months and whether they're optimistic about a Biden administration and the future of broadband.
Mentioned during the course of the episode: An episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast with Deb Socia and Geoff Millener about digital inclusion in Chattanooga during the early months of the pandemic, and a white paper about tier flattening by Verizon and AT&T which forces users to pay high costs for decaying broadband infrastructure.
Watch the episode below.
In the city of Fullerton, California (pop. 140,000), privately owned infrastructure builder and operator SiFi Networks has turned on the first section of what will be a city-wide, open access Fiber-to-the-Home network. The project makes Fullerton SiFi’s first FiberCity — a privately built, financed, and operated open access network it plans to duplicate in more cities across the country in the future. When complete next fall, the Fullerton FiberCity network will pass every home and business in the city, with the company's subsidiary, SiFi Networks Operations, selling wholesaling capacity to as many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as want to enter the market.
A Different Approach
SiFi’s FiberCity model remains somewhat unique in the United States, and is much more common in Europe and Asia. CEO Ben Bawtree-Johnson attributes their success to cracking the economic code for private investment in open access information infrastructure, which has seen more attention in recent years as investors and fund managers have seen opportunities. “[O]ur vision really is to create as many last-mile fiber optic networks as we can across the USA in a long term sustainable fashion,” Bawtree-Jobson remarked on an episode of the podcast last fall. “[W]e're all about long term, dry, low yielding, risk mitigated investments, so everything we do is based around 30-year plus type investments.”
Fullerton, according to SiFi, was an ideal candidate for its first FiberCity because it applied to be one of the original candidates (though not chosen) for a Google’s fiber program, begun in 2010. The company sees it as sitting in the Goldilocks’ zone in terms of size and population. Construction started last November, and currently consists of around 600 miles of fiber all underground via microtrenching. Nokia serves as the main equipment partner on the project.
Turning on the Lights
The first residential customers...Read more
Since 2017, AT&T has been called out for digital redlining in Cleveland and Detroit. Now, Dr. Brian Whitacre from Oklahoma State University has compared 477 data from the company to poverty levels in Dallas County, Texas, and discovered similar findings. He entered into the project under the request of Attorney Darryl Parks, who filed the complaint against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against AT&T relating to digital redlining in Cleveland.
Dr. Whitacre provided a statement of his findings to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) to be published in full. Read his findings here.
In his POTs and PANs blog, Doug Dawson of CCG Consulting analyzed Whitacre’s findings. AT&T offers Fiber-to-the Home (FTTH), VDSL, and ADSL2 or ADSL2+, which all provide dramatically different speeds. As Dawson summed up:
It’s worth noting before going further that the… speed differences, while dramatic, [don’t] tell the whole story. The older ADSL technology has a dramatic drop in customer speeds with distances and speeds are also influenced by the quality of the copper wires. Dr. Whitaker noted that he had anecdotal evidence that some of the homes that were listed as having 3 Megabits per second (Mbps) of 6 Mbps might have speeds under 1 Mbps.
Dr. Whitaker then overlaid the broadband availability against poverty levels in the county. His analysis started by looking at Census blocks have at least 35% of households below the poverty level. In Dallas County, 6,777 census blocks have poverty rates of 35% or higher.
The findings were as follows:
- Areas with high poverty were twice as likely to be served by ADSL – 56% of high-poverty areas versus 24% of other parts of the city.
- VDSL coverage was also roughly 2:1 with 25% of areas with high poverty served by VDSL while 48% of the rest of the city had VDSL.
- Surprisingly, 19% of census blocks with high poverty were served with fiber. I’m going to conjecture that this might include large apartment complexes where AT&T delivers one...
In recent years AT&T and Verizon, the nation’s two largest telco Internet providers, have eliminated their cheaper rate tiers for low and mid-speed Internet access, except at the very slowest levels. Each company now charges essentially identical monthly prices – $63-$65 a month after first year discounts have ended – for home wireline broadband connections at almost any speed up to 100/100 Mbps fiber service.
This policy of upward “tier flattening” raises the cost of Internet access for urban and rural AT&T and Verizon customers who only have access to the oldest, slowest legacy infrastructure.
Affordability is the greatest barrier to increased home broadband subscriptions. In the United States, broadband is becoming faster for some households and more expensive for others.
This report from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) takes a detailed look at tier flattening from AT&T and Verizon, digging into monthly rates that users pay and the types of services they obtain from each company. The authors put the numbers side by side and show that those purchasing what used to be the most economical Internet access service are now simply paying higher rates for slow service.
Download the report to see the comparisons and the authors' analysis.
Early last year, Connect Your Community and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance released a well-researched and compelling case that AT&T had engaged in digital redlining of Cleveland, refusing to upgrade Internet access to neighborhoods with high poverty rates. In episode 290 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we check in to learn more and discuss key lessons.
Angela Siefer, executive director of NDIA, and Bill Callahan, President and Director of Connect Your Community in Cleveland, explore what is happening both in Cleveland and other metro centers where low-income residents are often over-paying for services far slower than are available in higher-income neighborhoods.
This discussion covers important ground, not just describing the problem but discussing how the easiest solution (forcing AT&T to upgrade areas it has neglected) is not sufficient. Also, there is sports talk at the beginning but then the host gets himself under control and focuses on what is important in this conversation.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.