Wednesday, March 19, 2008

On Fiber in Europe (& Here)

Europe is pulling out in the race to fiber up and Holland and the Scandinavian countries are leading the way. A report from the European FTTH Council is stuffed with qoutables. Let's indulge:
The battle over the future of broadband will be fought in the streets and houses...
Fiber Rules:

There is also evidence that operators that are first with fibre find it easy to attract and retain customers. John Quist of the Dutch incumbent KPN described how 85 per cent of households covered by one municipal FTTH network in the Netherlands converted to paying customers.

"The cable companies and KPN and the other telcos were just wiped out," he said. Another Dutch municipal network, Neunen, claims 90 per cent take-up, while Sweden's ViaEuropa claims 78 per cent. One municipal operator said that its FTTH services were so appealing that it did not need to market them to the younger population, hence the coffee mornings for the older generation...

First little piggy to market wins...
The problem for conventional telecoms operators is that there is more at stake than just subscriber numbers. If one operator beats others to wiring a house or apartment block, it will have a monopoly on that infrastructure that will likely last decades. In order to serve these customers, other operators will have to rent capacity at least on their competitor's in-building wiring, even if they take the risk of laying their own fibre to those properties.
Municipal networks are scarfing the incumbent's lunch:

Municipal networks in particular pose a challenge to conventional operators. Driven largely by social rather than commercial motives, these publicly funded projects are spreading from Europe's northern states to its larger markets, having been sanctioned in France and Spain.

Reggefiber, the owner of the network Quist referred to, already has FTTH infrastructure covering 200,000, or nearly 3 per cent, of the Netherlands' 7.2 million homes and is expanding. One of its projects, Citynet, plans to eventually cover 450,000 homes in the capital, Amsterdam. Municipal networks in Sweden, meanwhile, pass more than 6 per cent of homes and counting...

Municipal networks in particular pose a challenge to conventional operators. Driven largely by social rather than commercial motives, these publicly funded projects are spreading from Europe's northern states to its larger markets, having been sanctioned in France and Spain...

Another advantage the municipal networks have over incumbents are their close links with communities. Organising town meetings, door-to-door sales and recruiting well-known local figures as ambassadors for their wares is not much of a stretch for them.

Who'd a thunk it?

Today's New York Times waxes worrisome about the lead the Scandinavians and the Dutch have amassed:

“We have four countries that are world leaders — Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland,” said Viviane Reding, the European telecommunications commissioner. “We have eight countries which have higher penetration rates than the U.S. and Japan. We are not doing badly at all.”

Now in bone-wearying fashion the good gray lady of the New York Times doesn't ask HOW those countries pulled ahead. Even though it's apparent that the municipalities of the the Northern countries have been the engine. But the NYT in a fine fit of presumptive understanding knows it must be some new competitive scheme that the European regulators are cooking up. (The European Regulators are happy to tout that as the explanation.) But contemplated competitive regulation does NOT explain how the leading European countries got out front. The real explanation for the burst of energy from Europe is that the municipalities of the north were free to compete. And their stunning success has scared the rest of the European Union into action.

It'd be nice if Lafayette and few of its brethren could do the same for the United States.

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