Monday, November 15, 2004

Uh, Mister Oliver. SBC says Fiber IS The Future

I'm almost to the point of pitying Bill Oliver and the gang at BellSouth Louisiana these days.

Here's a very condensed listing of the problems their erstwhile partner in opposition to the LUS fiber to the premises plan (Cox) is causing them:

For starters, Cox is rolling out new services that, frankly, just run circles around anything BellSouth can offer over its current infrastructure. The new Cox telephone service is targeted for a direct hit on BellSouth's marketshare.

Then, there is the fact that Cox (along with other major cable companies) is also considering a cell phone venture that could give it yet another service to bundle at BellSouth's expense (this, after BellSouth borrowed a couple of billion dollars more to finance its part of the Cingular buyout of AT&T Wireless just before the first public hearing on the LUS plan last week).

The extent to which all of this appears to be rattling BellSouth cages was hinted at during Oliver's speech to the Parish Council in opposition to the LUS plan. His voice dripping with sarcasm and contempt, Oliver said that the BellSouth VP who extolled the virtues of fiber was no longer with the company. Apparently, at BellSouth (as in some certain other venues), you're either with 'em or against 'em. With the VP now consigned to the "ex" file, Oliver indicated the argument in favor of fiber went out the company with him.

Ah, if life was but so simply controlled. Unfortunately for BellSouth and Oliver, there are trends that all the spinning by the company's formidable lobbying machine (which works so magically on Louisiana's Legislature and the Public Service Commission) can't alter.

One of those stubborn facts is the emergence of fiber as the infrastructure of choice for modern telecommunications. Oh, don't take our word for it. Don't take LUS's word for it.

Take the word of BellSouth's senior partner in the Cingular Wireless venture, SBC.

The Houston Business Journal had a story on its website on Monday which dealt with an announcement by SBC regarding its intent to begin offering Internet Protocol-based television services over its new network by the fourth quarter of 2005.

Did I mention that this new network will be all fiber? Here's what the SBC folks had to say:

SBC expects total build-out will be complete in 2007, as previously projected, and the company should be able to market its full-range of Internet protocol-based voice, Internet and high-definition television services to 18 million households by the end of 2007.

The move allows SBC to challenge its cable television competitors, which have been making in-roads in the Bell territories by offering local telephone service and high-speed Internet access.

"Project Lightspeed provides a number of important advantages - including superior speed to market with exciting, market-changing services, and it allows us to leap-frog today's U.S. telephone and cable TV networks," says Lea Ann Champion, senior executive vice president of SBC IP operations and services.

"Over the past several months, SBC teams have put intense study and careful analysis into this project," she adds. "Our deployment schedule is achievable. Our approach is capital-efficient and financially disciplined, capable of delivering positive returns on investment with conservative penetration assumptions. We are very confident in our ability to execute and make solid progress in the months ahead."

SBC will build out this network using two technologies - fiber to the premises (FTTP) and fiber to the node (FTTN).
OK, so the SBC network won't be quite as advanced as the LUS network in all places (like Cox, they'll do fiber to the neighborhood node in existing neighborhoods), but it will be based on fiber — and, in new developments, will actually be about equal to the LUS fiber to the premises project.

The point here is that SBC is validating the LUS approach of fiber-based infrastructure with its own investment of $4 Billion. And, they're in a hurry! They want to roll the whole thing out by the end of 2007.

Despite the fact that BellSouth and Cox lawyers and lobbyists are plotting to delay the LUS plan by whatever means possible in the courts and at the PSC, it's likely that the LUS fiber roll out could actually be well underway by that SBC gets it's infrastructure project rolling.

At the end of the day, if the Consolidated Government Council gives its approval to the LUS plan, the municipally-owned utility will deliver fiber to every home and business in Lafayette. At that time it would be interesting to know just how much money BellSouth and Cox will have wasted in their efforts to stop this project and how that money might have been put to better use — perhaps by upgrading their infrastructure and services? — instead of paying lawyers.

1 comment:

John said...

In the "for what it is worth department:"

Its not only SBC that disagrees with poor Bill Oliver, it is unfortunately for his deceptive position, also BellSouth.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article BellSouth Chief Financial Officer Ron Dykes says: "While there is a lot of excitement and buzz around video, we're a long way away from making a decision on whether we'll go ahead with it."

Oliver knows he is out on a limb here. He knows that the triple play that he is promising cannot be delivered here in Lafayette until a major upgrade to the electronics and a major extension of the fiber is complete. Pretending this is all eminent is deceptive and the fact that he hopes to bolster his profit margin and preserve his market share by deceiving the public about this does not, in my book, make it right.

The bottom line is that BellSouth is still trialing the idea. The technical and engineering difficulties of actually making a triple play happen with the limited infrastructure they are willing to commit to are formidable. But that is not the half of it: the are deeply, deeply in debt to fund a major wireless push that will cannibalize their own landline phone base in some measure. Real fiber would be even more expensive and the real bandwidth that would go with it would further eat their core business by enabling VOIP.

It's not only Oliver that is in a hard place. Its the whole company. I could pity him a bit more if I thought he was capable of being a little less self-serving and a little more honest in what he tells the public. He's got far and away the best rhetorical skills of anyone involved. He just has precious little substance to fund his speeches and that is not entirely his fault.