Response to: Internet Money in Fiscal Plan: Wise or Waste?
NY Times, by David M. Herszenhorn, 2/2/09
Mr. Herszenhorn, you are frighteningly misguided in your article: “Internet Money in Fiscal Plan: Wise or Waste?” The U.S. broadband void is real. The country ranks somewhere between 15th and 20th in broadband deployment. Broadband and the Internet are not the same technology. The first rule of technology investment doesn’t happen to be the first rule of investing in broadband infrastructure.
Broadband networks simultaneously transport information generated by multiple technologies. Intertwining technology and infrastructure investment strategies is the same as using new auto investment rules for funding interstate highways.
Technology refers to Internet applications. Broadband is the transporting highway that carries Internet. In the U.S. the problem is that private industry owns the broadband highway needed to transport Internet. Private companies generate much more profit by tweaking a tad more capacity out of old copper networks, rather than investing in the next generation of fiber. Where's the profitability in deploying fiber everywhere when regulations require opening networks to competitors? Broadband investment pits private industry’s profitability against the U.S. economy’s immediate need for last-mile, fiber.
The Internet uses broadband to move bits of information from one point to another. Transporting information is measured in bits per second (bps). Only copper-based phone wires and copper-clad coaxial cables reach all homes and businesses. Copper wire can’t be upgraded to carry Internet at 100 Megabits (Mbps), or gigabits (G/bps) or terabits (T/bps).
Internet carried on phone and cable lines is dirt-road-slow (1.5 Mbps) when compared to fiber, which is thousands of times faster. San Francisco's Fiber Feasibility Study, states “Fiber represents the holy grail of communications networking, unlimited capacity, long life, and global reach.” http://www.internetctc.com
Wireless technology supports user mobility. It’s a complimentary, not an alternative broadband carrier, limited to 50 Mbps transport under the best of circumstances. Wireless speeds are enhanced when fiber is used for signal backhaul. In fact, if fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) networks are available, wireless companies eliminate towers and use fiber to connect low profile antenna placed on light poles. Think of FTTP/Wireless as the new national interconnected broadband grid.
There’s wonderful economic news about fiber. Unlike interstate highways which destroyed the economy of many small towns, fiber networks conquer distance. The tiny town of Ten Sleep, Wyoming with 350 people put in an FTTP network. Savvy entrepreneur, CEO Kent Holiday, used FTTP to start a new international business. Eleutian Technology teaches English to Koreans over the Internet. Koreans also have FTTP networks. No one can predict the vast impact of entrepreneurial possibilities engendered by world wide, connected access to 1 G/bps Internet.
The Japanese buy 100 Mbps bidirectional, high speed Internet carried on FTTP networks for $40 a month. Americans pay $40 a month for 1 Mbps downstream Internet. No wonder ‘industry experts’ malign rural broadband investment. It's difficult to justify investments in 1 Mbps copper-wire technology that can’t be upgraded to meet 1 G/bps Internet speeds. In the 21st Century, deploying fiber is what makes sense in both rural and urban areas. Fiber is the new cyber-bridge to everywhere.
For example, fiber’s G/bps capacity is needed for medical record transport including x-rays, MRI’s and CAT-Scans. You also need fiber for distance diagnoses via bidirectional, high-definition video. Important fact to remember: all broadband is not created equal.
As to costs, deploying fiber is affordable if installed in conduits during road construction, when the pavement is open. The America Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides a once in a century opportunity to move utilities underground into conduits. If conduits are deployed in every infrastructure project during construction, costs are minimal at $5,000 per rural mile and $15,000 per urban mile. Pulling fiber through conduits costs an additional $5,000 per rural mile and $15,000 per urban mile. Pulling wire through conduits reduces the stand-alone $100,000 project cost of fiber deployment by 70%.
Conduits should be installed as part of routine road maintenance programs until all utilities are relocated underground. Imagine the additional billions of dollars in long term savings realized when FEMA funds won’t be needed to restore outages caused by fallen utility poles.
If new conduit and fiber infrastructure is municipally owned and deployed through public/private partnership, it could be funded by loans from the Infrastructure Investment program. Local governments would pay back loans from conduit occupancy fees and fiber capacity whole sale lease fees.
Phone and cable companies could instantly offer competitive television and Internet services simply by purchasing fiber capacity from local government. Complaints about open networks and slow Internet disappear with fiber’s availability. Fiber isn’t about buying a Cadillac instead of an economy car. Fiber is the highway that transports all Cadillac’s and cars.
Telecom Companies can offer new (previously impossible to imagine or afford) electronic services, and compete in an open market without investing millions in proprietary, duplicative fiber infrastructure. Universal fiber Internet service fosters profitability for existing, as well as hundreds of new, telecom companies that finally, will be able to enter the market. Though a complicated, politically contentious undertaking, revising the national telecom ownership structure is not an insurmountable task; it must be undertaken now.
Is there a precedent for integrating a new telecom highway into the economy? Yes. From 1980-1985, under a local government franchising process and stewardship, cable operators bid on and won franchises and, in five years, wired the nation’s metropolitan areas, including Washington D.C., the largest U.S. city with underground utilities.
Thirty thousand local jurisdictions in fifty states manage four million miles of road rights-of-way that house utility infrastructure. The local regulatory infrastructure is already in place. FTTP, replaces phone and cable; it’s the last broadband mile needed to connect everyone to the world economy.
FTTP networks must be owned locally to ensure that community needs are met and every one receives service at affordable rates. We already have a local, experienced public right-of-way, regulatory structure in place to manage conduits and cable. Let’s use it.
Let’s build the 21st Century nationally interconnected FTTP Network grid. Let’s save billions by moving utilities into underground conduits. There will be naysayers. Please excuse the cliché. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And it’s way, way past time to act.
Rita Stull, President, TeleDimensions, Inc.
Response to NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/03/us/politics/03broadband.html?_r=1&hp