Broadband

The fight in North Carolina (and other states)

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 06/07/2010 - 08:21

The New America Foundation has an excellent summary of what has been going on in North Carolina. It should be of interest to anyone who thinks communities and regions have a right to determine their own economic future. The industry-financed fight in North Carolina may show up in any number of other states in the next couple of years as community broadband efforts not only mature but excel. The bad news for the last century incumbents is that more and more community broadband efforts are delivering world class broadband services at prices far below the monopoly providers, and worse, those networks are really starting to deliver on the economic benefits of increased business attraction and jobs creation.

AT&T iPhone, iPad service contract changes

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 06/02/2010 - 08:35

AT&T has announced changes to its U.S. data plans for iPhones and iPads. Most current iPhone users pay $30/month for an unlimited data plan. A bit pricey, but you know what you are paying every month, and you don't have to worry about surprise charges on your next month's bill (I've had an iPhone for two years).

Under the two new plans, there is no unlimited option for the iPhone. Instead, there are two plans that provide 200 Meg ($15/month) and 2 Gig ($25/month) of data. Overage charges are actually fairly priced, in my opinion, rather than some of the punitive charges we have seen from some cellular providers in the past.

iPad users have a choice of two similar plans, one that provides 250 Meg ($15/month) and an unlimited plan ($30/month). The big news is that AT&T will finally allow tethering, meaning you can use your iPhone as a cellular modem for your laptop while traveling. AT&T is going to charge an additional $20/month for this service. iPhone users have been waiting a long time for this, and I think the additional charge is fair. Tethering your laptop is going to use a lot more bandwidth than equivalent Web browsing and data on an iPhone. And the $20/month charge competes very favorably with the cost of buying a dedicated cellular modem service (these plans tend to run about $30/month).

I am ready to sign up for the tethering plan. Free WiFi services while traveling are often hard to find and if you do find one, performance is typically abysmal--slow when working, and often not working, especially in airports, where I most often want to try to get some work done.

AT&T is also promising easy to use tools to keep track of how much data you have used over the course of a month so that you can avoid overage charges. This is essential to keep from annoying customers. Mobile data access is increasing rapidly as more people have smartphones and pad computers, and the cellular providers have to do something to manage bandwidth. The big weakness of wireless broadband is that there is only so much spectrum to go around, and when demand uses up the bandwidth available from an access point, the wireless provider has only one option--a costly upgrade to the access point and/or adding more access points and more backhaul--all expensive.

Palm Coast FiberNET opens for business

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 05/14/2010 - 10:14

The City of Palm Coast, Florida formally opened its high performance fiber network on Tuesday. Design Nine provided the early phase planning, financial and business modeling, network architecture design, vendor evaluation, and equipment and contractor procurement. The open access network opened with two service providers and several business customers on day one.

Entire country of Australia goes open access

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 05/07/2010 - 13:19

Design Nine has been an advocate for open access for many years--long before it became fashionable. So it is nice to see that some places are finally figuring out that open access is the right way to do telecom. Via Ars Technica, the Australian government has announced a $38 billion (in U.S. dollars) plan to take fiber to most Australian homes and businesses. The government intends to operate it as a open access network, with private sector providers offering all the services. The article notes that the country has decided it will not impede economic development by allowing a single incumbent to make long term decision about how much broadband is enough.

Greenlight: Fastest, cheapest Internet access in North Carolina

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/23/2010 - 07:34

The City of Wilson, North Carolina has a city-owned fiber network called Greenlight that is offering 20 megabit symmetrical Internet access for $54.95 a month. I think this qualifies as the fastest and cheapest services in North Carolina. If you tried to buy that level of service via DSL or cable, you would pay several times that, if you could even get it.

But wait, there's more! They have symmetric service tiers all the way up to 100 megabits. Very few people would need that much, but as I have noted previously, Design Nine continues to talk to businesses who want their home-based workers to have symmetric connections of 20-50 megabits, primarily to support HD videoconferencing. So the City of Wilson has something very few other communities can offer in terms of business relocation--the ability to work from home or to run a business from home, with very affordable, high performance connections.

BPL pioneer Manassas throws in the towel

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/19/2010 - 08:39

One of the earliest deployments of broadband over power lines (BPL) was the City of Manassas, Virginia. But last week, the city voted to turn off the system. Manassas is an electric city, with its own electric utility department, which made it relatively easy for the city to try out the new technology several years ago. But the BPL service reached only a handful of households and businesses (a little over 500, or less than 4%) and was not able to compete with DSL and cable modem options.

The fundamental problem with BPL is that it is relatively expensive, and when you are finished with a BPL deployment, what you have is broadband over copper, with limited bandwidth and no easy way to upgrade. Kind of like DSL and cable modem services. Fiber becomes more compelling by the day, as the demand for capacity increases as video in all its forms becomes a more common application and as the cost of fiber networks continues to fall. Why spend a substantial portion of the cost of a fiber network on a very limited copper-based system?

The fundamental problem with BPL, from a community perspective, is that it does not enable economic development and jobs growth the same way that fiber does. If your economic development strategy is, "Come to our community, because we have anemic BPL," you are in trouble, because there are plenty of other communities competing with you that have already decided to go straight to fiber.

Interesting comment on community broadband

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 03/29/2010 - 15:34

Here is an interesting comment on the Lafayette, Louisiana fiber network.

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more to come, and much of those are things that I don't even envision myself. If we go back to the early days of electricity in the 1890s, I'm convinced that Thomas Edison never envisioned the microwave oven or the TV-- much less the computer. This fiber capability, this infrastructure, is in its infancy and that's why Lafayette is going to be on the front edge of that development.

$400 per month for telecom services

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 03/08/2010 - 14:37

This discusses the rising cost of telecom services in households. The article demonstrates that there is plenty of money for broadband out there, but it is hidden because it is not aggregated in a way that benefits residents and businesses. Lack of competition is one of the main issues that keeps costs high.
A single shared network that is designed to allow service providers to inexpensively deliver a wide variety of services offers more choice and lowers the cost of services.

"The biggest fight since electrification..."

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/05/2010 - 10:28

GovPro quotes me in a short article about the challenges faced by communities who want to take control of their economic future.

U.S. Broadband: Almost as good as Latvia!

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/25/2010 - 09:39

There's a slogan for you: U.S. Broadband--We're almost as good as Latvia! Kind of rolls right off the tongue. Here is a link to a list of the "top 10" broadband countries, and the U.S. is nowhere to be found. Grim news indeed for the country.

Wired Road adds service provider, extends fiber to the home

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/24/2010 - 09:23

The Wired Road community broadband network in southwest Virginia has added Nationsline as a service provider, and is starting a rural fiber to the home expansion project this spring. Grant, Virginia residents will get 100 megabit fiber connections and a community computing center in the historic Grange Hall in the small town.

The Wired Road is an open access, open services, Layer 3 network with three retail service providers and two wholesale providers with a mountainous service area of more than 1,000 square miles. The Wired Road is part of The Crooked Road country music territory, and Galax, in the heart of the network, is home to the world famous Fiddler's Convention. Downtown Galax has fiber connections to more than sixty buildings. Design Nine designed and built The Wired Road network.

What is Google up to?

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 02/12/2010 - 09:34

The Intertubes have been buzzing for the past couple of days with what is actually a very modest announcement from Google that the company wants to play around with community fiber. Google wants to find out what people do when they have a fast connection, and what kinds of services they might be able to give away or sell if everyone has those kinds of connections.

Based on the RFP application Google has released, I am guessing that they will do this in only two or three communities, meaning the odds of being selected are very long. What seems a bit odd is that there are plenty of community fiber projects in the country Google could partner with to do the very same thing at much less expense. But Google probably wants to be able to track activity at a finer level of granularity than they would be able to do on a public network. One benefit I already see is that just the announcement by Google has created some healthy interest in open access networks.

Want to read more about why open access works? Download my paper.

Portland City WiFi Being Dismantled

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 02/09/2010 - 14:40

The City of Portland, Oregon's municipal WiFi experiment is coming to an end. It was a public/private partnership between the City and a firm called MetroFi, which reportedly spent between $2 million and $3 million to build the network. But it never worked well, and residents reported it did not work well indoors. MetroFi went into bankruptcy in 2008, and the hundreds of antennas that were mounted on City property are now being removed.

It is yet another reminder that fiber always beats wireless. Wireless is expensive and has limited capacity, and in as Philadelphia found out in a similar project a few years back, wireless vendors always oversell the technical capacity of their products. In cities with lots of tall buildings filled with steel reinforcing bars, wireless signals don't travel very far.

Wireless has a role to play for mobile access and in rural areas where it will take a while to get fiber to every premise, but eventually, we will all have a fiber connection. As Portland has found out, wireless has a hard time competing with a wired connection.

New Hampshire towns demand right to control their economic future

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/04/2010 - 09:36

A coalition of New Hampshire towns and other interested parties are encouraging state legislators to give New Hampshire towns and cities the right to bond for telecommunications infrastructure. Unsurprisingly, the incumbent providers are not excited about the notion, even though largely rural New Hampshire has tens of thousands of residents still on dial-up and one of the providers is having severe financial difficulties. The towns see it as an issue of economic survival. Who wants to live in a rural community, no matter how great the quality of life, if there is no broadband or only "little" broadband?

The towns have correctly distinguished between "little" broadband (DSL, cable, wireless) and "big" broadband. They want big broadband, because that represents the future of economic development and the ability of these towns to retain existing businesses and to attract new ones. Here is an exquisite irony: a fiber cable manufacturer in rural New Hampshire can't get the bandwidth they need to do what they want to do to manage the plant properly.

In exchange for bonding authority, the towns have wisely agreed to only build open access community broadband networks, in which all services for businesses and residents would be sold by private sector providers. So in rural parts of the state where the incumbents are saying it is too expensive to build a private network, the towns are saying, "Okay, we get it. We will build a shared network and let you, Mr. Incumbent, use it to reach customers you can't afford to build to on your own."

Why would the incumbents be opposed to that? It opens them up to competition.

The third way: Why open access networks work

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 01/27/2010 - 16:35

I receive a lot of inquiries asking for help understanding open access. The broadband stimulus funding has raised awareness of this business model, and I have written a short paper explaining how it works and why. The PDF is attached to this article, or you can visit the Design Nine Web site to download it.

Are broadband investments peaking?

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/21/2010 - 10:19

A story in the Financial Times (registration may be required) suggests investments in broadband are peaking. The article is a little misleading, because it suggests that this is a sign of "maturation." Maybe. Maybe not.

Broadband investments are peaking because cable and telephone companies have spent a lot over the past decade upgrading their antiquated copper-based infrastructure, and in their view, there is not a lot left to do. Yes, fiber to the home deployments continue to grow, but large parts of the U.S. have been redlined by the incumbents as "too expensive" for fiber. So most of this investment has been focused on what the FCC calls "little broadband," not "big broadband." Big broadband requires fiber.

Small and medium-sized businesses stuck on DSL are already calling it "tomorrow's dial up" (an exact quote from an angry business person in West Virginia). To attract jobs and businesses, communities will have to make basic broadband infrastructure investments in "big broadband."

Benton Foundation Municipal Broadband News

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/15/2010 - 08:25

I have added the Benton Foundation to the blogroll on the right. Benton has been posting some very useful items on community broadband and municipal broadband projects.

How about 100 meg symmetric connections for $13/month?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/12/2010 - 07:40

Hong Kong Broadband Network Ltd. is offering 100 megabit symmetric connections to its customers for $13/month. Costs are going to be lower for them because most of the customer base is living in high rise apartment buildings, which are less expensive to cable. I don't know about Hong Kong, but in Japan, the building codes require telecom duct to every apartment from the ground floor, meaning it takes under an hour to run fiber to a new customer in a Tokyo apartment. Meanwhile, in the United States, many of us are still getting our broadband via copper cable technology invented in the late 1800s.

Community fiber should be locally controlled

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/07/2010 - 10:06

Chris Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has an excellent article on municipal and community broadband at Ars Technica. Mitchell discusses some of the positive outcomes from the Lafayette, Louisiana municipal network, where you can get a 50 megabit symmetrical Internet access connection for just $58/month--which would qualify it for the lowest prices in the country. A ten megabit symmetric connection is just $29/month, which is also probably the lowest price in the country for that level of service.

It is the symmetric service that is so important. Many incumbent providers will tout services "up to 50 megabits" without noting that the service is asymmetric, meaning you may have 50 megabits downstream but as little as 2-5 megabits upstream, and that both the upstream and downstream bandwidth gets shared with a bunch of your neighbors (often 25 to 50 of your neighbors).

Why is symmetric bandwidth important? It enables work from home job opportunities and enables running a business from home. The availability of symmetric bandwidth is an economic development and jobs issue. A community that does not have symmetric broadband services is cutting off jobs and business growth.

Finally, while the article highlights the positive impact in Lafayette from the municipal network, it is important to note that there are other business models for muni networks that do not involve getting local government to sell services in direct competition with private providers. The open access, open services model being pursued by local governments in Virginia and Utah are doing extremely well, although you don't hear much about them because there is tremendous pressure from incumbents and lobbyists to not talk about them--they don't want to have to tell legislators there is a "third way" that provides an appropriate role for government but keeps local governments out of direct competition. nDanville, The Wired Road, and Utopia are all doing extremely well.

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Orem City saves $50,000 per month with community broadband

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 01/04/2010 - 10:03

Via MuniNetworks, a link to a podcast that describes how Orem City, Utah is benefiting from the open access, open services, community-owned Utopia network. Local governments in Virginia that have invested in open access, open services networks are also benefiting in the same way. A community broadband network, with infrastructure owned by the community but services offered by the private sector, aggregates demand across the entire community, which leads to increased competition among private sector providers, does not compete with incumbents, and when done right, creates sharp drops in the cost of telecom services. The Wired Road network, in rural and mountainous southwest Virginia, is seeing price drops of 40% to 70% on the cost of Internet access for government and institutional customers.

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