Friday, February 6, 2009

Hooey Broadband

Response to: Does Broadband need a Stimulus? Saul Hansell

Hooey Broadband—what a great descriptor for industry sponsored broadband solutions offered to the U.S. In the past fifteen years, the rest of the world put in fiber to the premise networks while the U.S. telecom industry tweaked more capacity out of copper based wire. Today the U.S. ranks between 15th and 21st place in deploying broadband. Is the country really being asked to TRUST that 19 out of 20 homes will have broadband SOON because Comcast came up with Docsis 3 technology? What successful economy relies on ‘soon’ as a time line for delivering essential services? And what telecom engineer who isn’t being paid by the industry will tell you that the U.S. doesn’t need fiber because we have Docsis 3?

Let’s look at the real numbers. Most of us pay $40 a month for high speed 1.5-3 Mbps Internet, downstream only. Businesses pay $550 a month for a T-1 line that guarantees bidirectional 1.5 Mbps Internet. In Japan, homes and businesses pay $40 a month for bidirectional 100 Mbps Internet.

In October, 2008, Japan began upgrading universal fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) networks to 1 G/bps for $51.40 per month. It’s no surprise to the telecom industry that fiber has unlimited capacity, long life and global reach. Fiber has a capacity of terabits per second. The industry deployed fiber backbone to curbs, nodes and neighborhoods. What’s missing is the last mile of fiber to the premises.

Why would taxpayers want to invest billions in upgrading copper based wire technology that’s rapidly approaching obsolescence? Large portions of the world already have FTTP networks. With the exception of Verizon’s FIOS (which isn’t available to competitors), the entire U.S. falls into the category of being under-served or un-served. It’s difficult to be impressed with 16 Mbps or more Internet on Docsis 3 when the rest of world is moving to 1 G/bps Internet.

When the U.S. funds any upgrading, it must be for fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) networks. Wireless is restricted to the same upgrade levels as copper wire—with the big exception that it supports mobility. So it’s not a question of wireless instead of fiber, we need fiber AND wireless. Wireless uses fiber for signal backhaul—so it’s a complimentary, not a competitive service. It’s a good interim solution, but in the end every home and business needs access to fiber.

Yes we need broadband – but REAL broadband on fiber-to-the-premise networks owned by local government, built and operated by public/private partnerships, to guarantee universal deployment, affordability and competition. Phone, cable and competitive carriers can lease last-mile capacity from government and offer services everywhere—in urban and rural areas without investing billions in duplicative, proprietary infrastructure.

Only competition will decrease Internet costs. Only government can guarantee that businesses can buy fiber capacity at wholesale rates and everyone has access to 100 Mbps or 1 G/bps Internet or whatever greater capacity becomes the future norm. Deploying fiber universally is an expensive proposition that cannot be justified with typical business models.

The San Francisco Fiber Feasibility Study states, “The business case for FTTP. . . is not limited to such easily-quantified matters as cash flow and capital investment—rather, , , , it includes the less quantifiable financial factors, . . . economic development, small business empowerment, job creation, livability, environment protection, education, increased sales and real estate tax revenues, increased property values and other factors that measure the overall benefit of a next generation communications infrastructure such as FTTP.”

Fiber has so much capacity that it doesn’t make sense for the private sector to invest in infrastructure that must be shared with competitors. But the U.S. desperately needs affordable universally deployed FTTP networks now. Eighty percent of new jobs are created by small businesses and entrepreneurs—entities that work from home and small towns and store fronts and farms and poor urban communities.

The density for rural areas averages 25 homes and businesses per mile—in urban areas, the average is 100 per mile. Private entities can’t be expected to cast aside profitability to upgrade to universal fiber service and the public can’t be expected to neglect its need for competitive, affordable Internet on fiber that’s upgradeable to terabits speed.

Fiber eliminates distance barriers. You can do business in Japan and China from your farm if you have Internet that matches the capacity of your client. But if your client sends you an 80 Mb document via Internet and you can’t receive it—can you really do business?

Copper-wire technology cannot be upgraded to handle current high-speed Internet, much less support the growth of electronic broadband applications. In the Obama spirit of cooperation, let’s encourage government and the telecom industry to negotiate a new public/private partnership model. Let's institute a 21st Century telecom ownership model that respects the public need for universal, affordable FTTP networks and the industry’s need to make a profit. It’s time.

Rita R. Stull, President, TeleDimensions Inc.

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