Broadband

Open Access Explained, Part III: What the Local Transport Provider Does

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/25/2015 - 10:16

The local transport provider has several important roles and responsibilities in providing a high-quality experience for both providers and their customers. The LTP provides professional day-to-day management of the network, offloading that work from the service providers. Typical work activities include

Work from home: Neighborhoods are business districts, and fiber is the new road

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/19/2015 - 08:31

Dave Sobotta, our VP of Marketing, writes here about his experiences over the past thirty years. Much of that time, he has been working from home, making him one of the work from home pioneers.

Open Access Explained, Part II: The Local Transport Provider and Backhaul

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 02/13/2015 - 09:59

As we design and build Local Transport Networks for our community clients, we are frequently asked, "Where will the LTP get backhaul?"

LTPs do not need backhaul, because the LTP is not an Internet Service Provider. Put another way, the LTP is a broadband provider, not an Internet provider. Unfortunately, "Internet" and "broadband" are used interchangeably even though they are two different things. In the roads analogy, broadband is the single, high performance road network, and Internet is one of the trucks that use that road.

But that is not to say backhaul is not an issue, as the service providers using the LTP network still need backhaul. While many smaller/rural communities still lack competitive pricing on backhaul, the consolidation in the long haul business has really helped--we are seeing more and better backhaul options in rural areas of the U.S.

Introducing an LTP to a community often drives backhaul prices down and/or creates an opportunity for a long haul provider to open their fiber cable in that community. LTPs aggregate demand and help improve the business case for the long haul providers. We are working in two rural communities right now building new, modern LTP networks, and the existence of the LTP has brought about dramatic improvements in backhaul.

Open Access Explained, Part I: The Local Transport Provider, or LTP

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/12/2015 - 15:54

Open access networks unbundle the physical network from the services being carried over that network. We have become so used to having the network and service provided by the same company that it is sometimes a struggle to remember that that approach is only an artifact of very old technology. The copper twisted pair deployed for phone service was only capable of delivering that one thing: voice phone calls. And copper coaxial cable was only capable of delivering one thing: TV content. The fact that those two networks now include data services is kind of like the old joke about the talking dog--what the dog says is less interesting than the fact that it can talk at all.

With the development of fiber network technology and the concurrent development of the Internet (TCP/IP) protocols, it was no longer necessary to have a separate network for each service. Voice, Internet, and video--along with many other kinds of services--can be carried over a single high performance network. In fact, it is no longer necessary to have a separate network for each service provider. A modern fiber network can easily transport the services offered by many different providers; buyers can pick and choose what services they want, based on the cost and quality of each service.

Open access networks unbundle transport of the services from the services themselves. The network owner/operator is NOT a service provider. Instead, the network owner/operator using the open access business model is a Local Transport Provider, or LTP. LTPs deliver the data traffic of service providers from a common provider meet point on the network to the customer purchasing the service.

LTPs haul bits from point A to point B. An LTP does not have to have Internet backhaul (IP). It is a very simple business model that has network neutrality built in, as buyers of services can pick and choose from a wide variety of service providers and services, rather than being chained to the offerings of a single de facto monopoly provider.

Death of TV: Part LXX: The fat lady just sang!

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 01/07/2015 - 13:27

As the old saying goes, "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings." Dish Network just brought the fat lady out on the stage, and she is singing Sling TV. It's a new OTT (Over The Top) streaming video service that will include ESPN, Disney, CNN, TNT, and a bunch of other "channels," and I have "channels" in quotes because it is an archaic concept that dates back to the 1950s. But we know what it means.

Here is the money quote from the CEO of Sling TV:


"Millennials don't choose paid TV," said Roger Lynch, who was named CEO of Sling TV LLC. "So we designed a service based on how millennials consume content, with no contracts. You can come and go as you please."

If you are responsible for economic development in your community, ponder that statement. Or better yet, let me re-phrase it for you...."No one under 35 cares about cable TV." Or put another way, if you want young people to stay in or move to your community, you better have Internet capable of streaming multiple HD channels of "TV" over the Internet. It's a quality of life issue that you can't ignore.

Want help getting the right broadband infrastructure in your community? Give us a call (540-951-4400) and ask for Dave Sobotta. We would love to help.

Comcast must read this blog

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/09/2014 - 16:05

Comcast must be reading my stuff. I have been noting for years now that the cable HFC network is not meeting the needs of home-based workers. Via Lightwave, Comcast has announced a new service to improve connectivity. But it sure sounds like you can't get it unless your company buys corporate service from Comcast, as the article mentions "low" construction costs to get fiber to your place of business. So it will likely be of limited usefulness. I'm skeptical that very many businesses are going to switch their business Internet provider to support work from home.

Part II: Who needs a Gig?

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 11/21/2014 - 09:12

The incumbents love to ridicule Gig connections. AT&T sneered at the whole concept until Google announced they were going to do Gig fiber in Austin. About eight minutes later AT&T announced they had found a sudden need for Gig service in the Austin area (but nowhere else in the country...apparently Austin is "special" in AT&T's mind).

A colleague just sent me a screen shot that illuminates perfectly why a Gig of bandwidth might be occasionally useful. He had a hard drive crash, and being a smart guy, had everything backed up to offsite storage. The screen shot showed the time remaining to restore about 10% of his total file structure: one and a half days. If we multiply that by ten and assume that everything runs perfectly throughout the restore cycle (in my experience, a big IF), we are looking at about two weeks just to get your files back. Yea....AT&T is right...who needs a Gig?

The folly of avoiding shared broadband infrastructure

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/19/2014 - 09:22

The main four lane road near my home has been getting Yet Another Fiber Cable (YAFC). By my count, there are now five, count'em, five cables installed in the right of way on one side of the road or the other. All placed there within the past fifteen years, and includes the phone company, the cable company, and three private fiber providers. Why three private providers? The county has built three schools in a row, and they all want the school business. It is so profitable that three different companies are building private fiber and fighting for the business.

I am writing about this now because last week, the fiber contractors installing the conduit cut the electric power main cables not once but twice in two successive days, cutting off electric service to the grocery store and the bank, as well as several other businesses on the route. The grocery store was closed for two days, which has to be painful with respect to lost sales.

The tragedy here is that a single shared broadband infrastructure, built years ago, would have given the schools much more competitive pricing at much lower cost (in large part because only one set of conduit/fiber is installed instead of three). And on that shared fiber, the schools could have bid out their needs to a five or ten companies instead of just the three with enough spare cash to build completely duplicated fiber infrastructure.

But there's more. By having the schools put their business on the community-owned shared infrastructure, the whole community would benefit because the schools would have sharply expanded the total market, and the cost of telecom services would have come down for everyone. Instead, we have public right of way ruined by overbuilding (see the cut electric cables--at least in part because the right of way is crowded), schools paying too much for bandwidth and Internet, and everyone else along that route still stuck with poor service--despite hundreds of homes like mine near this route, there is no fiber to the home available.

Brain Gain: Worth a read

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/20/2014 - 14:48

I was fortunate enough to read an advance copy of Brain Gain: How Innovative cities create job growth in an age of disruption. The book does something which is too often overlooked: Making the case that broadband investments have to be thoughtfully linked to broader community and economic development goals. The book is written by the founders of the Intelligent Community Forum, Robert Bell, Louis Zacharilla, and John Jung. I have known these guys for years, and have served as a juror for the annual ICF "Intelligent Community" awards (Note: I don't get paid for that work).

In my experience, the communities that take the time to set a vision for the community are much more likely to see their broadband investments have a long term impact. If a community cannot answer the question, "What do we want the community to look like in ten or fifteen years?" then throwing some fiber in the ground is not likely to help much.

The book provides an insightful analysis of eighteen communities that have taken the time to ask the right questions about the future, have allocated the right funding and human resources to put the right infrastructure in place, and have given their efforts time to mature. There are a lot of good ideas and concepts in this book.

Why fiber? One business experience tells the whole story....

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 09/02/2014 - 12:29

If you are an elected official or an economic developer, everything you wanted to know about why high performance, affordable fiber networks are important is contained in this one story:


Brandon Schatz, CEO of SportsPhotos.com Inc., said he moved his business from Springfield, Missouri, to Kansas City, Kansas, in February 2013 to take advantage of Google Fiber.
“It was a very easy decision,” he said. “We’re trying to grow to hundreds and thousands of events. You can’t scale if your whole city isn’t fast enough.”
The service also is cheaper. In Springfield, he was paying $400 a month for 100-megabyte download speeds. Now, he pays $70 a month for Google Fiber’s 1-gigabit speeds, which are 100 times faster. He added the service is more reliable.

Here is the whole article.

G.fast: Not coming quickly to a neighborhood near you

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/25/2014 - 10:11

Here is a short article on the technical characteristics of G.fast, the "solution" that is supposedly going to allow the telephone companies to compete with the cable companies.

Don't want to click through and read it? Here is the short summary:

The article talks a lot about how great its working in Europe, but Europe is not the U.S. Cities are much denser generally in Europe, so more residences are going to be closer to the DSL switches. G.fast sounds good, but it does absolutely nothing for rural broadband, where distances from the DSL cabinet are measured in miles, not feet, and where the ancient copper cable plant can barely handle existing "little broadband" DSL, much less the very demanding G.fast. To get speeds of hundreds of megabits out of G.fast, you not only have to be close to the switch, the copper cable between your home and the switch has to be perfect, meaning brand new.

Hilariously, the article touts a test in Britain where they got 700 meg speed.....woohoo....wait for it....with a wopping 57 feet between the switch and the user. Fifty-seven feet.

That's all you have to remember about G.fast: 57 feet.

Fiber and Economic Development: Yes, there are positive impacts

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/30/2014 - 12:39

WideOpen Networks has a nice piece out about the impact of fiber on community economic development.

Slow news day in KC: Breaking!!! Eleventy! Google fiber crews mark utilities before digging!

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/23/2014 - 08:25

It must have been a really slow news day in Kansas City, where Google Fiber crews continue to install fiber in neighborhoods and install underground drops to homes. In what teeters perilously on the verge of parody, local TV station KMBC breathlessly reports on the horror of utility marking done by fiber crews prior to digging.


"....spraypaint markings--what sounds like the work of vandals...."

Oh, the horror of identifying utilities before actually, you know, digging things up. It sounds like Google crews are doing a terrific job, as the article cites more than 7,000 miles of installed fiber and a very small number of broken utilities. There were two gas lines hit, which caused some inconvenience, but if you put a shovel in the ground in public right of way for 7,000 miles, it is inevitable that occasionally something gets hit. What the news story fails to do is to really look at how well our Miss Utility really works. Like I say...it had to be a slow news day in Kansas City.

Verizon moves to symmetric service

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/22/2014 - 08:48

Back in the nineties, some crackpot (okay, me) claimed that symmetric broadband connections were going to be essential because content creation was going to occur everywhere, not just at the office or in denizens like Hollywood. And for the last twenty years, just about everyone who works at a cable or telephone company has outright scoffed at the notion and/or patted me on the head and told me to go back to the wilds of the Appalachians.

Verizon has just announced that they are rolling out symmetric FiOS connections.

....kinda brings a tear to my eye....

And I think the Washington Post, where the article appeared, is exactly right: it is community broadband efforts, where symmetric connections are readily available, that are creating pressure on the incumbents.

Try canceling your cable service

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/15/2014 - 14:04

A technology reporter got Comcast's attention after he posted a recording of his attempt to cancel his service with the cable giant. As a Comcast customer, I would say that their customer service has improved somewhat over the past fifteen years, especially if there is an outage issue, but yea, some of my interactions over pricing and billing are similar to this guy's experience.

Gigabit: The word is changing telecom

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/15/2014 - 06:39

Fred Pilot over at Eldo Telecom has made a good point: that Gigabit fiber is changing the telecom landscape. More and more communities are making investments to bring Gig fiber to downtown areas, business parks, and schools, and a wave of CLECs are also making similar private sector investments. The Google Fiber initiative's primary contribution has been to legitimize Gig fiber. Prior to the Google project in Kansas City, those of us talking about Gigabit connectivity were often just looked at as kooks. Now Gig fiber is mainstream, as it should be. The focus on Gigabit services is putting pressure on the copper-based incumbents and creating new opportunities in both the private and public sector for new modern networks. And that is a good thing.

One Soap to rule them all

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/19/2014 - 08:41

For many households, the WiFi router is probably an item regarded with a mixture of dread and fear. Once you get the thing configured properly, you generally tend to forget about it...except when the Internet stops working. Then the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) takes over the lizard part of your brain...and your first step is stare at the wretched device, hoping that somehow, the gods of the Internet will just magically get the Internet back on so you can continue sorting your Netflix DVD list and posting what you just ate to Facebook.

A new wireless home router called Soap started out as an Internet filtering device ("cleaning" the Internet for families), but as the product was developed, more features were added to provide a higher level of integration.

Unlike every other wireless router on the planet, Soap has a touchscreen interface to help simplify configuring it--no more really bad Web-based control screens that only a Unix geek could love. Soap also understands a wide variety of wireless protocols that allows it to talk to the rapidly expanding market of home automation devices. This may turn out to be its best feature if it works well.

I have been interested in the home automation market for a long time, and have always thought that the biggest challenge is integration and interface. If every device manufacturer makes buyers use a poorly designed one-off interface, homeowners will be quickly overwhelmed and frustrated at the effort involved in configuring and managing many different "smart" (or dumb) devices. If Soap delivers on the interface and configuration features, it will force massive changes in the wireless router market.

What does this have to do with fiber? Some Fiber To The Home equipment manufacturers are integrating WiFi routers into the fiber interface equipment. But the utility of a device like Soap far out-strips anything that can be built into a fiber interface.

FCC Chair Tom Wheeler argues for community-owned broadband

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/12/2014 - 08:48

The FCC has posted an article by Tom Wheeler, the FCC Chair. In it, Wheeler discusses the benefits that Chattanooga's municipal Gigabit fiber network has brought to the region, especially with respect to dramatic improvements in economic development and jobs creation. If you take the time to read it, the comments are just as interesting, as some folks local to Chattanooga argue with an ISP about the role of local government in telecom.

"U-verse stinks"

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/24/2014 - 13:08

"U-verse stinks." That's not me, that's Netflix, according an article from Lightwave. Here's the interesting quote from Netflix:


"The surprising news is that AT&T fiber-based U-verse has lower performance than many DSL ISPs, such as Frontier, CenturyLink & Windstream..."

This was in a letter from the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, to stockholders. While this little spat between AT&T and Netflix is amusing, it highlights the vast divide between incumbent attitudes about what constitutes good service and what the customers of those incumbents regard as good service. The incumbents believe that good service is whatever they decide they want to give their monopoly-captive customers, while the customers think good service is being able to use Over The Top (OTT) services like Netflix without constant stuttering, re-buffering, and stalling out.

I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I was recently in a community that told me no one wants to live there anymore because of poor Internet service from the incumbent phone and cable companies. It's created an economic development crisis, because senior business managers that are being brought by existing companies in the town are choosing to live hours south of the community. And to make things worse, those same existing businesses are saying they can't expand and add jobs because their business Internet service won't support expansion.

Communities are at a crossroads: You can let the incumbent providers decide your economic development growth potential, or you can take control of your future and make some basic investments in competitive broadband infrastructure.

Death of TV: Part LXIII: Amazon announces Amazon Fire TV

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/03/2014 - 09:27

Amazon announced yesterday their "Fire TV" product, which is a $99 Internet to TV box that follows in the footsteps of Apple TV, Roku boxes, and Google Chromecast. All of these products connect directly to a late model TV and give you easy access to a wide variety of Internet-based content. The Amazon Fire offers Netflix, Hulu, NBA, AOL, Showtime, iHeart radio, Amazon Prime shows and movies, and Pandora, among other offerings. The box also gives you access to Amazon cloud storage for your own pictures and videos.

In terms of competing boxes, the Fire TV probably comes closest to the Apple TV box, which offers direct access to the iTunes store (movies, TV, music) and Apple's iCloud personal storage service.

I remain kind of ho-hum about all these devices, because I can access all the same stuff right on my computer at home, and simply watch the content on a large screen monitor. I have a hard time getting excited about a box that duplicates what I already have. But these boxes can deliver higher quality video, and if you have a large screen TV that you want to use for entertainment, these boxes deliver a lot of value. I dumped my cable subscription years ago, but even with Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu subscriptions, I just don't watch much TV...perhaps a couple of hours a week at most.

I see two significant things with this announcement. First, Amazon continues to deliver incredible value to its customers, and this box really ties together their other services like Prime video and cloud storage. This puts pressure on Apple, Google, and Microsoft to offer more and better products--always a very good thing. Second, it is getting easier and easier to cut the cable/satellite TV subscription. Comcast seems to have finally begun to agree with me that the old cable TV model is about dead, and is more focused on delivering improved Internet access to its customers. But a monopoly is a monopoly, and even if you save money in the short term by dumping your TV subscription, expect the cable companies to keep increasing their fees for Internet...because they can.

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