Broadband

New Hampshire plans for technology

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 01/19/2005 - 21:04

The northern region of New Hamphsire is taking control of it's economic future by developing a technology master plan for the region, as reported by the AP.

One of the drivers of the project is the need to be competitive from an economic development perspective. Design Nine is providing the coordination and guidance for the effort.

St. Paul to look for the common good

Submitted by acohill on Sat, 01/15/2005 - 07:57

The City Council of St. Paul, Minnesota has approved a study to consider the feasibility of citywide wireless broadband.

The three month study will look for "the common good" that might be gained from community-managed telecom infrastructure. This is, as far as I know, the first time the common good has been explicity acknowledged in this kind of study. It has been implicitly part of many other community telecom projects, but it's about time we started this particular conversation in more earnest.

What has dominated the discussion so far has been the "unfairness" of community telecom projects, all viewed through the lens of monopoly telecom providers. Using that yardstick, community water systems are "unfair" because someone might want to build their own, private water system. Public sanitation would be "unfair" because someone might want to get into the sewer business. Our legislators and government officials need to start thinking more clearly about these issues.

Lafayette, Louisiana beaten by BellSouth

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/11/2005 - 20:51

USA Today has an article about Lafayette, Louisiana, which has been trying to put together a community fiber project for the past year. The southern Louisiana community has apparently been beaten down by BellSouth, which has vigorously opposed the deal.

BellSouth has claimed it is "unfair" for communities to offer a service the company could offer, even though it provides only DSL in the community, a pale shadow of the robust fiber network the city was planning.

At the risk of boring my regular readers, there are two ways to approach community telecom projects. One is to regard telecom infrastructure just like roads. Communities build the roads, but private companies (like BellSouth) deliver services (like dialtone or TV programming) to customers. The other approach is to regard telecom infrastructure like the municipal water or electric system, in which the city itself provides the customer services.

The latter is certainly more efficient, but given that many of our elected leaders still don't take any of this very seriously and given that we have a ridiculously complex regulatory environment, I think the former approach (a public/private partnership) is the only alternative.

Rightly or wrongly, communities that are trying to create public monopolies in this area are losing. The telecoms are outspending them and are buying whatever laws are needed to prevent community investments. But communities must invest to stay viable in the global economy, and Lafayette knows that. From the article:

"The future of Lafayette shouldn't be left to the whim of the big telecommunications companies, insists City Parish President Joey Durel. Installing fiber-optic cable, he credibly argues, is no different from laying down sidewalks or sewer lines.

In fact, the "triple play" plan mirrors the action Lafayette's city fathers took a century ago when they realized the private power companies were passing them by in favor of larger, more lucrative markets in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. To survive, they built their own municipal power system.

Rio Rancho, NM provides a model for citywide wireless

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/04/2005 - 11:27

Here is an excellent article full of details about the citywide wireless project in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Rio Rancho is a fast-growing suburb of Albequerque. Here is the quote that shows that Rio Rancho leaders "get it."

"We see it as an economic development tool—today's business needs good quality access, Palenick said [the city administrator].

That's exactly right. It's an economic development tool, just as water and sewer were (and still are) economic development tools in the Manufacturing Economy of 40 years ago. It's not some esoteric luxury for a few privileged residents, WiFi is part of a package of services that can both bring businesses to a community and/or help existing businesses lower costs and expand services and markets. It can also help fuel the growth of home-based entreprenueurial businesses and startups.

Indian state builds fiber to every town

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/04/2005 - 10:53

Yet another former third world country has broadband projects underway that leave U.S. efforts in the dust. Andra Pradesh, a state of India, has embarked on an ambitious but entirely doable project to build a statewide network consisting of a 10 gigabit per second backbone, 1 gigabit Ethernet trunks to a thousand locations, and 100 megabit fiber connections to every town in the state. More than 40,000 government offices will get fiber connections, and will be able to deliver government services via town kiosks and other public Internet locations.

Even more interesting, the official tourism site offers 24 hour chat service to online visitors and potential tourists. What about your community? Unfortunately, in the United States, we have the telcos busily trying to usurp the right of communities to develop community infrastructure, with the legislation in Pennsylvania as a perfect example--PA towns now have to ask Verizon's permission to chart their own destiny.

WiFi and cellphones: Dueling technologies?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/22/2004 - 11:03

Esme Vos at MuniWireless thinks that the real reason behind Verizon's fevered opposition of community wireless in Philadelphia is that Verizon is terrified of cheap VoIP over WiFi.

I'm inclined to agree. I've been saying for a while that the whole cellular marketplace is in deep trouble. The cellular companies are frantically trying to lash overpriced and relatively low bandwidth (a few hundred kilobits) data services onto a system never designed to deliver data (just like they are frantically trying to squeeze more data onto legacy copper systems). Meanwhile, WiFi already delivers megabit data services effortlessly, and VoIP works pretty well in a well-designed WiFi network.

Why would you settle for inadequate and expensive cellular if cheap WiFi services are available throughout your area?

Like the problem that the cable and phone companies face with their outdated copper systems, the cellular companies face the same discontinuity with cellular--how do make the jump (i.e. copper to fiber, cellular to WiFi) without losing your customer base and your investments in the old system?

A company that understands competition and has a corporate culture of competition would figure that problem out and be determined to compete. But the phone companies have decided that rather than reform their own outdated corporate culture, they'll simply make it illegal for communities to chart their own future.

What's the root problem here? It's lawmakers who are not adequately informed about the community and economic development issues at stake. Which is why I've always said broadband is not a technology issue, it's an education issue. Communities and regions need to make sure their elected leaders are educated on these issues.

Want to get started? It's easy. Organize a local "Take a lawmaker to lunch" program and have a rotating group of folks who are well-versed with the issues take lawmakers to lunch once a month. In a year, I guarantee you will have had a significant impact.

'96 Telecom Act a "nuclear winter"

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/15/2004 - 12:51

Holman Jenkins, an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal, has an article (p. A21) about DSL and the future of that technology. Jenkins calls the '96 Telecom Deregulation Act a "DSL nuclear winter." That's probably a bit strong, but hardly anyone on either side of the linesharing issues of the telephone companies would say the law was crafted properly.

The original law forced the phone companies to share their copper lines with competitors, and it was only this fall that the FCC relaxed those rules. Again, no matter what side of the issue you are on (phone company or community), the outcome of the original ruling was to stall broadband investments by the incumbent phone companies.

As so many Federal initiatives ("We're from the government and we're here to help you..."), unintended consequences kicked in, big time. While the phone companies dithered, moaned, and complained, the cable companies upgraded their systems and captured 75% of the current broadband market, leaving DSL (the phone companies) with a paltry 15%.

Since the FCC changed the rules to free the phone companies from line sharing at wholesale prices, DSL costs have fallen dramatically--by as much as 50% in a lot of markets, and the service is generally priced below cable modem service.

But from a community perspective, the news has been bad and still looks bad. The marketplace, because of all this, has been effectively re-monopolized, but instead of a regulated public monopoly (pre 1996), communities are stuck with marketplace monopolies by the phone and cable companies.

To make things worse, in places like Pennsylvania, Verizon says it must be consulted before communities start their own broadband services. Even worse, lawmakers like Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell (D) thinks it is just fine to give a private company control over the future of rural communities.

The solution is for communities to stay away from the service end of the business. Treat broadband infrastructure just the way communities manage roads--build digital roads, but let private companies deliver the services while paying a use fee.

BellSouth eyes video

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 12/06/2004 - 13:14

According to a CNet article, BellSouth plans to provide higher capacity broadband to most of its customer base in the next five years.

Video is driving the plans. The cable companies have not only captured about 75% of the broadband market, compared to the phone companies' paltry 15%, but the cable companies can offer the fabled triple play--voice, data, and video.

The phone companies are terrified. VoIP is sapping traditional landline customers all over the country, and most of those VoIP users are getting that service over cable broadband, not DSL broadband. So the telephone companies want to offer the same thing--voice, data, and video--but their weak point is the 100 year old design of the telephone infrastructure. Most phone users in this country are still getting their dial tone the way Alexander Graham Bell designed it, but those copper cables won't haul video all the way from phone company video head ends. So BellSouth has decided to go with fiber to the node (i.e. fiber to the neighborhood), and deliver the first mile (last mile) connection over copper.

This may sound like great news, but most communities are still stuck with the same two monopoly service providers they had twenty years ago; that's not choice, and two oligarchies aren't likely to drive prices down. Continuing to overbuild private networks does not level the playing field and will not attract real competition.

Iowa says it will be first in broadband

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 11/22/2004 - 09:57

Iowa has what many other communities won't take the time to get--a clear, concise vision for the future. A consortium of Iowa communities and businesspeople have decided on a very simple goal--to have the best broadband infrastructure in the country.

Even better, based on the news article, they are doing it exactly the right way--with community investments in the transport layer (e.g. dark fiber) and leasing it to access and service providers who will deliver the services.

This approach is a win-win-win. Governments win because their investments are modest and manageable, and access fees provide a stable source of revenue to support the system. Private sector broadband providers win because they get access to more markets at lower cost, because the local governments are bearing part of the cost of infrastructure. Consumers win because the community investments expand the marketplace, create more competition, and lower the cost of broadband.

Don't forget that local government, schools, libraries, and health care providers are all users of broadband. Community investments lower costs for all users, public and private--don't discount the value of secondary savings from those initial public investments.

Philadelphia to fight ban on municipal wireless

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 11/22/2004 - 09:32

The City of Philadelphia has been much in the technology news lately because of its ambitious plans to offer wireless broadband throughout much of the city. It's now back in the news with its announcement that it will fight a statewide ban on municipalities offering Internet access and related services.

On the one hand, these legislative attempts to throttle community projects are almost always the handiwork of the incumbent phone companies, who typically are nonpartisan in their strategy--they give money to all legislators, who then too often pass bills favoring these companies. A cynic might view this as selling out the electorate.

On the other hand, I don't believe local governments ought to be in the service business for broadband. It's not the same as water or electricity, and the fact that the community has municipal water and/or electric service does not, in my opinion, necessarily justify going into the broadband business.

As I have said repeatedly, I view more it like roads. Communities build and maintain roads, but they don't own the cars and trucks (or the businesses) that use those roads.

I'm very much in favor of municipal and local government investments in broadband, ESPECIALLY in underserved communities, but I think the way to do it is to keep the delivery of access and services in the private sector, where jobs are created and taxes are paid. It's a little more work and effort at the outset to make sure you have the right business and administrative model, but over the long term, making the private sector a partner is going to have a much better outcome.

Historic meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 11/11/2004 - 10:13

I had the privilege of attending what I think was a historic and potentially revolutionary meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Tuesday. The provincial government had convened an all day conversation about the broadband needs of rural communities, and how to best get affordable broadband connections to those communities.

It was Garth Graham, one of the real pioneers of the community technology movement, who grabbed me after lunch and pointed out that as far as he knew, it was the first time ever that four different groups of people met in the same room to talk about rural broadband problems. Represented at the meeting were:

It was a remarkable meeting, with open, frank, and stimulating dialogue from all four groups. The fact that it happened, that so many people attended (over 50 people), and that there was such honest speaking, listening, and understanding, suggests that we have truly turned a corner in beginning to identify and actually implement community telecom solutions that have a chance of meeting both public needs (the common good) and private needs (increasing shareholder value).

The group agreed that more meetings were needed to hash out details, but there was remarkable consensus that the problem is largely one of policy, administration, and management, and that this is not a technology problem, in the sense that it is NOT a matter of just picking wireless, or fiber, or Gigabit Ethernet, or so on. All parties agreed that communities and regions need some new and yet to be determined entity to help with telecommunications issues (infrastructure, access, services, policy, regulation).

ADSL2+ increases the digital divide

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 11/01/2004 - 09:09

A flurry of articles like this are talking about ADSL2+, a new standard for DSL service over old copper phone lines. ADSL2+ is not only too long as an acronym, it offers too little, and ironically increases the digital divide, in my opinion.

In short, the new service will provide increased bandwidth over copper phone lines, but only if you are about one and a half miles from the telephone switch, as opposed to the three miles of the current DSL offering. ADSL2+ also will go further than the old three mile limitation, but only at low data rates--about four times dial up speeds.

So a few subscribers may get DSL service where they could not before, but only at much slower than "normal" DSL. And a few subscribers may get much faster service, but only if they are very close to the telephone central office. And it's important to remember that the distance rule of thumb is not line of sight, but cable feet; not only that, the ability to deliver DSL is highly dependent on the quality of the copper cable. In many rural areas, DSL just does not work on older cable plant, even inside the distance limits.

It's hard to see how this benefits anyone, even the phone company. It further segments their own customer base and prevents them from offering the same set of services to all customers. For example, some ADSL2+ customers might be able to get a single channel of high quality high defintion TV (HDTV), but others will not. How you market that is a mystery to me--"HDTV--it might work in your area, but maybe not!"

The phone companies are still very fixated on market share, rather than on offering good services in a competitive marketplace. So in their minds, anything that continues to allow them to lock customers up over copper is good, even if it's bad. Does that make sense to you? It doesn't to me either, but that's their strategy until they can figure out a way to justify running fiber to neighborhood.

County Administrator: Broadband is necessary

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 10/31/2004 - 09:27

In the Northern Neck of Virginia, broadband is being viewed (appropriately) as a critical economic development issue.

One of the most interesting items in the article is near the end, where an independent ISP that has been reselling DSL via Verizon infrastructure for some time is now in trouble. For a long time, Verizon said there was not enough business in the Northern Neck to justify the investment. So this independent firm sold DSL. Now that the market has been opened by its competitors, Verizon has stepped in and begun selling DSL for less that it charges for wholesale circuits to its competitors.

Verizon has every right to do that, and I don't think communities ought to waste time and effort trying to "get" telcos and cable companies to behave differently. They have to answer to shareholders, not the community.

But the article highlights clearly what communities are facing: a marketplace monopoly (rather than a regulated monopoly) in which the community has only one or two large broadband providers that are able to act in cartel-like behavior, setting prices and services options because of lack of competition. If affordable broadband is an economic development issue (and I think it is), then the community places its economic future in the hands of the big telecom providers unless the community itself makes some investments to level the playing field.

In the last paragraphk, the article quotes the county administrator of Westmoreland County, who worries about investing in the wrong technology. It's a valid concern, but it's not an excuse for doing nothing. And that issue is managed in two ways: communities need to plan for telecommunciations, just like they plan for everything else. Secondly, communities should invest in things that don't become obsolete quickly--telecom duct, fiber, tower sites, antnennas, and colocation facilities. Fear of the unknown (otherwise called ignorance) is putting the economic future of communities at risk. But ignorance is easily correctable--as I've said for nearly a decade--this is an education problem, not a technology problem.

New group forms around fiber to the home

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 10/27/2004 - 07:57

from a mailing list....

GROUP FORMS TO EDUCATE CONSUMERS AS FIBER-LINKED COMMUNITIES PROLIFERATE

With the number of communities linked with fiber-to-the-home rapidly growing, a new coalition has been formed to educate consumers about the benefits of optical access networks. Max R. Kipfer, founder and president of Fiber Optic Communities of the United States (FOCUS), said the group would "unite fiber-optic communities from urban, rural, and suburban settings with the aim of propelling America into the next generation of communication."

During a press briefing in Washington, FOCUS General Counsel Lawrence Freedman said one of the group's missions would be to promote the sharing of information and dissemination of strategies among communities seeking to connect homes and businesses with fiber-optic networks. "All of the best technology will be of no use if there's not the transactional structure and operative environment" that's needed, he said.

The press briefing featured presentations on fiber-optic deployments from representatives of the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA), a government effort to build a fiber-optic network covering 14 towns in Utah; Jackson (Tenn.) Energy Authority, which has built a fiber-optic network; and Brambleton Group LLC, which is installing fiber optics in its development in Loudoun County, Va.

Link Hoewing, assistant vice president at Verizon Communications, Inc., highlighted his company's plans to install fiber to the home in 100 central offices in nine states, passing 1 million homes, by year-end, and to pass 3 million by the end of 2005. Verizon has been expediting its deployment after receiving favorable regulatory decisions on fiber-related issues, he added.

Mike Render, president of Render Vanderslice and Associates, said fiber-to-the-home deployments had "taken off in the last six months," in large part due to Verizon but also due to several new "wired communities." There are now 217 communities in the U.S.

We've found the killer app

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/25/2004 - 07:58

All through the nineties, and especially during the dot-com silliness, hundreds if not thousands of companies talked about the "killer app." Usually those who claimed they had it were making some thinly veiled sales pitch for some proprietary piece of software that they believed would make them kings of the world.

I argued, at the time, that the killer app was email, and I still think I was right. Email is one of two things that virtually everyone does online. The other is search, and of course, the founders of Google, if not kings of the world, are now insanely rich.

But Google was never designed to be the killer app; no one was sure where search tools were going to go; they just happened. Alta Vista, the first search tool that tried to index the Web, was really started in large part to show off the power of DEC's processors, which weren't doing well in the marketplace. Alta Vista's early lead was squandered and DEC was bought out by Compaq, which killed the once powerful company, and Compaq was bought by HP. Ho hum.

Broadband connectivity has largely escaped the killer app disease, but in an odd kind of way. The broadband giants (i.e. telcos and cable companies) have pretty much failed to recognize that broadband is not that interesting unless you can do something with it. The big connectivity companies of the dot-com era (e.g. Global Crossing, UUNet, etc.) all collapsed because they utterly ignored the very sensible question, "What will people do with the bandwidth?" Consolidation in the cable business has been driven in large part by the enormous debt wracked up by cable companies trying to get broadband marketshare in advance of having even the slightest idea what people would do with it.

The killer app for broadband is going to be Voice over IP, or in simpler terms, telephone calls. We're already at a point where you can pretty much buy WORLDWIDE flat rate calling for under $40/month. Free point to point telephony software drives that cost down to zero.

We ought to stop calling the phone companies, well, phone companies. They aren't anymore, whether they like it or not. They have no choice but to become broadband companies, and just one of numerous services they offer happens to be dialtone.

In his remarks to the Voice on the Net conference in Boston on October 19th, FCC Chairman Michael Powell has called VoIP a "revolution." Powell went on to call for "bare DSL" access, meaning you can buy DSL service without being forced to buy bundled telephone service.

He went on to say something even more remarkable by outlining what he calls the Internet Consumer Freedoms:

  1. Freedom to Access Content: Consumers should have access to their choice of legal content;
  2. Freedom to Use Applications: Consumers should be able to run applications of their choice;
  3. Freedom to Attach Personal Devices: Consumers should be permitted to attach any devices they choose to the connection in their homes; and
  4. Freedom to Obtain Service Plan Information: Consumers should receive meaningful information regarding their service plans.

The Consumer Freedoms that Powell outlines are breathtakingly simple yet incredibly important. They underscore the need for communities and organizations to have a competitive marketplace for broadband services--monopoly providers have no incentive to meet Powell's requirements.

It is exciting that Powell has laid this out so plainly. What's going on? Well, another part of his remarks calls for exclusive Federal regulation of Voice over IP. If the alternative is a mish mash of fifty different sets of state rules that are likely heavily influenced by corporate contributions, that may be the right direction, as long as Federal regulation is as light as possible. It appears Powell understands this.

download Michael Powell VoIP remarks).
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BPL: Electric company says no to being ISP

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 10/22/2004 - 13:04

Here is an interesting article in the New York Times (registration required) about an experiment by Con Ed, the big New York City area electric provider, with Broadband Over Powerlines (BPL).

The BPL trial is not particularly noteworthy. I'll bet most of the electric utilities in the country have bought some equipment and are playing around with it. No, what's worth mentioning is that Con Ed has said, "Our aim is definitely not to become an Internet service provider."

Yes! That's exactly right. Con Ed has partnered with EarthLink, which will be the ISP. Con Ed is simply going to provide the transport layer, and the electric company is going to do what it does best, which is to go around and bury cable. They are doing what they know how to do, and will make a buck leasing their transport system (the electric lines) to someone else, who knows the Internet access business. Even better, Earthlink has not been trying to capture the content side of the broadband business, which the cable and telephone companies would like to do. Aside from a modest portal site, EarthLink is also sticking to the knitting.

If BPL becomes a force in the marketplace (and the jury is still out on the economics of that because of the amount of equipment needed to retrofit an electric service area), it will most likely succeed if the electric utilities do what Con Ed is doing--provide the transport layer and partner with others on access and service.

And thre is a lesson there for communities that want to jumpstart broadband--provide the transport layer and let the private sector deliver the access and services. Pay for the community investment by being the "carrier's carrier" and have just a few bulk customers (the access and service providers). It's a nice, clean business model that does not compete with the private sector and does not re-monopolize the marketplace (by creating a new public monopoly for broadband).

Broadband Over Powerlines (BPL) gets the green light

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/19/2004 - 12:56

BPL has the green light from the FCC. The NewsFactor has an article that goes into more detail. I have to agree with the conclusions the author makes--BPL is not likely to be a major factor for rural communities. Like DSL and cable modems, you have to have a critical mass of customers to justify the expense of the equipment. And it is not significantly less expensive to install than DSL or cable, so it won't have a big price advantage.

It may make a difference in some communities, but communities will have to continue to do the hard work of market creation through content and service offerings via a community network project, and ongoing training and education programs.

Like DSL and cable, BPL is another technology that potentially lets a single public or private company capture the entire broadband marketplace (unless the community makes some transport layer infrastructure investments to level the playing field). Once a single company has captured the marketplace, the community's economic future is now at the mercy of that company. Is that what you want?

RTC Conference wrap up

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 10/15/2004 - 08:51

I'm back from the Rural Telecommunications Congress Annual Conference in Spokane. It's the oldest and one of the only conferences focused on rural issues related to telecommunications and broadband.

There was a definite shift in energy, conversations, and presentations at the meeting. In past years, much of the discussions have focused on the "why" and the "if" of rural community investments in technology. This year, the conversation has shifted to "how." And it was not just me. Everyone I talked to agreed that the time of talking about doing something "in the future" is past. It's clear that limited funds are going to be available from state and Federal sources, so communities have to dig in, roll up their sleeves, and get going.

Vendor booths were crowded, and the vendors I talked to were pleased with the response they were getting to their products. One of the most exciting product lines I've seen in years is from PacketFront, a network equipment vendor that is designing their equipment specifically for use in open access networks. Network leader Cisco, by comparison, does not have an equivalent set of products.

Presentations were information-rich, with communities coming online and now being able to report their experiences in detail, rather than having to talk about future plans. All in all, it was a terrific meeting, and I can't wait for next year. As it has been for the past several years, this is my number one, must attend conference.

RTC Conference: What states can do about broadband deployment

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/12/2004 - 18:10

Bob Rowe, from the Montana Public Service Commission, is the first speaker in this session.

Rowe says that states have a role in assisting regional deployment of infrastructure and to coordinate facilities permitting.

Local governments have much potential, and can do training, form buying pools, encourage local government investments in infrastructure, and promote egovernment.

The FCC Section 706 Report from September, 2004 notes that the FCC defines broadband as 200 kilobits/second or faster, that the US still lags the rest of the world in broadband deployment, and that the FCC has a mission to encourage "reasonable and timely deployment."

Bill Gillis, from the Center to Bridge the Digital Divide, is the next speaker. Gillis says that we can learn from "innovation businesses."

He says that an innovation business is knowledge intensive, makes extensive use of technology, is creative and flexible with respect o workforce functions, has a global business perspective, and has entrepreneurial management.

Gillis says that states can facilitate exchange of ideas, help the last 30% of residents that do not have broadband service, can help prepare the workforce for the innovation economy, and provide flexible gap capital. Innovation businesses are driving demand for broadband in rural areas.

The final speaker is Al Hammond, from the Santa Clara School of Law and the Alliance for Public Technology.

Hammond says that large parts of rural America lack adequate broadband services, with smaller towns at a real disavantage--only 5% of towns of 10,000 population or less have broadband.

BPL (Broadband over Power Lines) is getting a lot of interest. There are more electric lines to homes and businesses than phone lines, so BPL potentially can be widely deployed. At least 5 companies are manufacturing BPL equipment.

25 million homes have no cable modem or DSL service, and satellite broadband is becoming more affordable, with Wild Blue, a new statellite company, will be offering Internet access for about $50/month. TV programming will also be available, unlike some other satellite broadband systems.

RTC Conference: Building Last (First) Mile Infrastructure

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/11/2004 - 19:23

The second speaker is James Baker, from central Pennsylvania, with the Council of Governments--an 11 county area with 300 local government entities of one kind or another. Most communities are under 2500 population, and many are under 1000. Generally a very low density area--20-40 households per square mile as an average.

Broadband services are expanding in the area. However, 98% of Pennsylvania urban areas have some form of broadband, but only 25% of rural areas have some kind of service. Providers view rural areas as not good markets.

The state of Pennsylvania has funded a GIS system that provides service maps for various kinds of services available (i.e. DSL, cable modem, etc). Good tool, but data quality varies, some limitations in granularity of data.

Wireless services were considered for expansion in one county by swapping tower space on an EMS tower with space on a commercially-owned tower in another part of the county. EMS would get better radio coverage, and residents and businesses would get more access and choice in broadband.

Murphy's Law kicked in...the six inch square antenna which was to be put on the county tower would require a $5000 engineering study to make sure it would not add significant wind loading to the 200' tower. No one would pay for the study, so the project got slowed down while a variety of funding sources were pursued. The ARC came to the rescue, but the $5000 grant application required almost the same amount of paperwork as a $150,000 grant.

After the engineering studies were done, it was discovered that the county did have legal control of the tower, and that has required additional effort. Testing by the service provider has shown that nearly the entire anticipated service area will be covered.

In the meantime, the government fiber project is using wireless to expand coverage beyond the ends of the fiber. Some nonprofits are getting service.

Issues include legal problems--one person, the county lawyer, has the power to stop these projects dead in their tracks. If the cable company expands service, the wireless provider may feel it is not worth it to continue expansion--it becomes very important for government to be able to move quickly to help private businesses.

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