Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Why Bandwidth Is the Oil of the Information Economy"

Tim Wu, one of the country's most prominent copyright and net neutrality warriors, has a worthwhile op-ed piece in the New York Times today. Some of the nifty bits:
AMERICANS today spend almost as much on bandwidth — the capacity to move information — as we do on energy. A family of four likely spends several hundred dollars a month on cellphones, cable television and Internet connections, which is about what we spend on gas and heating oil.

Just as the industrial revolution depended on oil and other energy sources, the information revolution is fueled by bandwidth. If we aren’t careful, we’re going to repeat the history of the oil industry by creating a bandwidth cartel.

Like energy, bandwidth is an essential economic input. You can’t run an engine without gas, or a cellphone without bandwidth. Both are also resources controlled by a tight group of producers, whether oil companies and Middle Eastern nations or communications companies like AT&T, Comcast and Vodafone. That’s why, as with energy, we need to develop alternative sources of bandwidth...
Ok, that's enough of a teaser. Go read the essay. I will only say that Lafayette should have been mentioned when he brought up Utah and Amsterdam. Suffice it to say that Mr. Wu thinks Lafayette's solution to the bandwidth monopoly is a good one.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Reaching into the Home

Saturday I spun out an extended bit on AT&T wanting to get into home networking—and had some ideas about what home networking might mean for LUS and Lafayette. AT&T is not alone in trying to extend its reach. According to LightReading a lot of companies are trying to figure out a way to smooth out the home networking experience. The purpose, of course, is to make networking fast enough and easy enough to implement to create a larger market for their product.

LUS supplier Alcatel-Lucent is among that number. The relevant paragraph:
And Cisco isn't the only company with the living room built into its strategy -- Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU - message board) recently announced the acquisition of remote broadband management player Motive Inc. (Nasdaq: MOTV - message board), which, according to AlcaLu, has developed "solutions allowing better visibility into home networks." (See AlcaLu Gets Motivated and AlcaLu to Buy Motive.)
Interesting.

Don't suppose LUS could be interested?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Home Networking, Verizon, and Lafayette

Food For Thought Department
[What follows is lengthy and starts out with arcana but I think the implications are significant—perhaps especially for Lafayette. I ask that you stay with me...]


According to TelephonyOnline Verizon is radically upgrading the gateways it installs in homes served by the fiber-to-the home-based FIOS service. —FIOS customers can buy a triple play internet/cable/phone package from Verizon based on technology that is very similar to that being constructed in Lafayette by the community's Lafayette Utility System.

The new in-home devices have a number of interesting characteristics; they will:
  1. bump "speeds over coaxial cable in the home from 75 Mb/s to 175 Mb/s"
  2. "have double the processing power" compared to the current gateways
  3. allow "users to create up to four separate wireless networks, each with different security settings"
  4. allow "remote Verizon technician management"
Understand that an upgrade like this is costly. Customer Premise Equipment (CPE) is costly. Putting a piece of relatively pricey equipment in every home (on top of the set-top boxes you've installed for video and any VOIP equipment) really adds up. CPE is where every company tries to pinch pennies and extend the life of its equipment. So upgrades are rare. And they are never done without a damn good reason.

So why would Verizon invest in new hardware with the hopes of using the new capacities in “the next three to four years?”

My best guess: to ride the wave of big bandwidth in the home...Big bandwidth inside the home has recently emerged as an issue. (I've just recently caught on. See my recent post, FTTD (Fiber To The Desk, for some background musing on how really big in-home transfer might be accomplished. What Verizon is doing validates the idea but is pretty small potatoes compared to what is coming. Don't miss the comments--good stuff there.) Verizon clearly thinks that its current model which provides 75 mb/s will prove inadequate for in home use in the next 3-4 years. Pause to let that soak in please: the next 3-4 years. Tomorrow.

That is a near-future time frame. Nobody spends the amount of money that Verizon will spend even gradually moving over to new equipment without a very compelling plan to make back their investment. And Verizon knew what it wanted in these boxes. These are not off-the-shelf pieces; they've been designed to Verizon's specs and the company has contracted two independent providers that meet those specs in order to assure itself of supply.

So the difference between the previous standard and the new equipment should strongly hint at what Verizon thinks folks will do that makes the upgrade pay out. Let's unwrap those specs looking for clues:

The Analysis
—Faster speed, from 75 to 175 mb/s, means that Verizon is expecting a lot of internal traffic on home networks. That is lot-—especially since Verizon won't offer you more than 50 megs of connectivity to the internet itself so it's not video downloads they're trying to accommodate (of course not ;-) ).

So for what do you need massive amounts of in-home networking speed? Take a gander at the processing power for a partial answer.

—"Doubling the processing power"--if you dig around a bit (1,2) you'll see that that phrase refers to moving from a 32 bit chip architecture to a dual core 64 bit chip. That's the way my fancy laptop is built. That's real processing power even if the clock speed turns out be a bit lower. It allows the onboard computer to coordinate more in-home devices. Most obviously multiple set-top boxes for the cable video service are in the mix; it takes a lot of bandwidth to push HDTV around especially if one or more set top boxes is acting like a DVR/video server and pushing video out to secondary screens. In fact the "doubling" phrase clearly understates the added computational capacity. On top of chip architecture the gateways can serve out eight (8!) Quality of Service (QOS) controlled channels. At a minimum that means that Verizon can push 8 separate protected streams to multiple TVs. But eight seems like more than homes really need. Of course there are Xboxes, and Wiis, and Apple TVs and the like in addition to a raft of reasons that users or companies selling to users might want a protected stream...So eight makes sense. . . If (and only if) you are planning to do something beyond video.

Ok, its faster and more powerful...

—What's with that feature: allow "users to create up to four separate wireless networks, each with different security settings?" Well, that allows you to set up a buncha different networks, some with QOS, some without, some that are slow, some that are public.....hmmn, whats with that? Again, it seems like overkill for current services. Wireless is hard to maintain for the QOS that video requries. They are probably wisely sticking with wires (coax) for that function given the eight protected streams on the wired side. By any measure the capacity for 12 separated streams is pretty astonishing.

Faster, more powerful, many separate streams, eh?...

—Finally: allow "remote Verizon technician management." That means that Verizon can modify the thing from their headquarters. That alone isn't too new—most "modems" can be upgraded by the company or at least reset to clear glitches and given the clearences it needs to access the ISP's network. But in this context "remote management" surely means the ability for Verizon to enable and assign all those streams and to install some management software or special access codes on unit. And, sell that capacity to third parties who would like to use the in-home network that Verizon's fancy new gateway creates.

Faster, more powerful, many separate streams, that can be controlled by the network owner...extending its control of the last mile into your rooms.

Chew on that for awhile. I did.

The Conclusion
Some folks might think all these bells and whistles are just over engineering. I can't believe that a traditional telco like Verizon, one that is already straining its financial capacity to pay for a fiber build, is investing that kind of cash unless they really think this amount of capacity will be valuable to them within 4 years and pay for itself rapidly at that point.

My guess is that Verizon wants to control your home network and all the things that you are shortly going to want to run on it. Things which you might want today if only it weren't so hard and costly to get the service up and running.

What Verizon wants to sell you directly is only the base. Video and video serving is likely only the beginning from Verizon's point of view. The corporation has two profit centers currently: data and wireless. (Video shows promise but isn't there today. Old style telephone lines are shrinking.) Convincing you to buy more data capacity and their wireless service is a proven cash cow. Wireless's Achilles heel remains coverage and the most persistant irritation. In-house and in-building coverage is a big problem and one that is hard and expensive to solve by popping up more cell towers. The emerging solution is to use "femtocells" —to set up a small base station inside the building that is hooked up to a wired network and provides a mini "tower" that dramatically improves service. An in-home gateway like the ones described could help service and manage the bandwidth and protocols necessary to easily deploy this service to those that need it. And potentially radically reduce expensive customer turn over.

But, as popular as video and wireless retention has to be with the accountants who like old services and guaranteed returns, the real goal is likely broader: providing a platform for other, secure, protected services. Services which people can be sold but for which each provider currently has to figure out how to provison. A truly capable gateway like the ones that are described would let a lot of service providers play without installing their own in-home network and/or controller device.

All Verizon would want is, say, 20% off the top.

And providers would probably find that cheap compared to installing their own network.

Here's an unordered list of things which would be much more commercially viable if the infrastructure/platform were already installed in the home and could be activated and managed remotely:
  • Gaming can eat local bandwidth too.
  • Virtual Private Networks (VPN).
  • Video telephony and intercomms.
  • A local high school sports "network's" video stream and pay per view.
  • National professional and college sports "channel" versions of streaming video and downloads direct to your DVR.
  • Sophisticated security networks and security cameras.
  • "Telepresence" and other video conferencing/telephony.
  • Allowing all your electrical devices AC, refrigerator, hot water, etc to communicate and lower energy costs.
  • "Smart home" sensor and activity networks.
  • "Satellite radio" channels.
  • A myriad of music rental services could play directly through your connected sound system.
  • And many more.....add your own in the comments
Many of these "long-tail" sorts of uses will be "gotta have it" for some subset of users. The 2 dollar USL sports network will lock in users who will spend the next 200 monthly dollars on Verizon. Suppose only 1% of users has gotta have each of the above functions. That's 11% of the market right there. Locked into your company from the start. I think Verizon could make a pretty penny by controlling the gateway device that made such home functions easy to buy, install and provide.

I think any network could.

The Take Home
Understand that the current incumbents know very well that the only thing that keeps them from becoming cheap, commodified transporters of other people's expensive bits is their monopoly-based control of the last mile architecture. If we had six connections to the outside world all networks would be running cheaply and competing on how fast and reliably they could provide us with bits. (But that ain't in the cards...which is why wise communities will follow Lafayette's lead.) The incumbent's stranglehold on the last mile is crucial to their profit profile. With it they are Gods of the network age. Without it they are the guys who sweep the roads and fill in potholes—and will be paid appropriately. They'd rather be Gods. That last mile control is the key to being invited in to control the network in your home too and the key that will give them huge new sources of revenue by controlling the toolbooth that they hope that new gateway will become.

It's a pretty damn good plan.

Lafayette
No Lafayette Pro Fiber blog post would be complete with a comment on the local implications. IMHO this is another place where Lafayette could lead the way.

Verizon is poised to extend its fiber-based advantage into the home by controlling access to big bandwidth inside the home and by easing the entry of services that critically depend upon accessing a robust home network. In some places the cable company has already partnered with security firms to provide robust networking that rides on the coax installed for cable. Other incumbents surely will see the writing on the wall; they'll have to follow suite or watch companies like Verizon generate the revenues that will enable them to become more and more dominant. Verizon has the big bandwidth advantage in fiber. But that advantage is purely theoretical until the public can see that the more capable network can provide not only "more of the same" but actually "different and better" services. The gateway can be the key that unlocks that potential.

A gateway or something similar can do the same for Lafayette's network.

I've been hearing a lot of background buzz lately about trying to encourage tech development in and for Lafayette. Meetings in various places, varying level gurus flown in from various places to attend the meetings. Dinners in posh private homes. Talk about establishing an "x-prize" for Lafayette. An attempt to organize a meeting for developers. Desultory attempts at secrecy. (My list is surely incomplete.) The usual influentials' names are bandied about. You know, the works. No one knows whether any of it will come to fruition. But the point is that Lafayette is beginning to wake up to the fact that it will be well served to actually do something to encourage development. A "build it and they will come" attitude only works in the movies. In the real world if you want something to happen you've got to do something special to encourage it. Building LITE and LUSFiber and ramping up LCG's example are great starts but they won't, alone, be enough to make Lafayette the mecca many of us would like to see it become.

So far most of the Lafayette discussion on this topic has been couched in terms of somehow convincing (or bribing) developers to make us something special. As much as I like the idea—and hope it succeeds—I think we'd have better chance at success if we instead tried to do something special ourselves.

Like Verizon is evidently doing.

The heart of Verizon's apparent plan is to make it possible, even easy, for developers to do something great and different. They are poised to eliminate the barriers to "getting things done" by providing the platform over which these things can be accomplished. Verizon lays out all the tools on the table (albeit tools that lock you into their network) and will surely even handle billing for you. But they won't pay you. Instead they'll charge you...and your customers. Frankly, that's a better way. Opening the door is always a better plan than subsidizing the battering ram!

The right box in the house could do for Lafayette what Verizon's gateway is poised to do in the homes of it FIOS users. But Lafayette's could be based on ethernet and open IP standards instead of the clunky cable-oriented and proprietary network hardware and protocols that serve Verizon but are unfamiliar to most developers. Lafayette could do a better job of facilitating access to the Local Area Network (LAN) that is the home than any of the competitors is willing to do.

But Lafayette could go further. It could do the same for its MAN (Metropolitan Area Network) by building in the resources that make access easy. Make available storage. Make available the kind of computational power represented by LITE and Abacus. Embed modern protocols. Pack up some servers to enable within network serving of various kinds of data (streaming video, for instance).

In short Lafayette could make its networks, both inside the home and inside the city, playgrounds for the easy, fluid kind of development that developers love.

And we might, eventually even make a few pennies off it. But quickly and surely we could make Lafayette a tech mecca, give LITE a clear purpose in the community, and make LUSFiber a roaring success.

You want to be that shining city on the hill? The path is open.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Amen Brother! (Again)

Vint Cerf, a father of the internet and Google net evangelist speaks his mind and displays his frustration with the incumbent telecomm companies. It's nice to hear someone say it out loud. His distress is over the ways that the current network incumbents are trying to game the regulatory system to con the nation into granting them effective monopolies in return for doing the obviously necessary: building a real fiber network. It's well worth listening to the video.

One of the nicer things about the networked, always-on world we are emerging into is that unedited experiences can be much more widely distributed than was possible only a few years ago.

If you've ever attended a good conference you know that 80% of the value is in the conversations in the halls or at various socials...that's where people talk frankly about what really matters. But you had to attend the conference and, usually, present to get in on the good conversations.

That's what is happening in this video. Vint Cerf is at some cocktail party where he's been asked about Verizon. And with a glass of wine or two under his belt he speaks the unvarnished truth. "In Vino Veritas."

It's hard for me to listen to this without just saying "Yes, Yes!" Yes, Verizon is hardly to be praised for doing the obvious. Yes, Verizon hasn't been aparticularly "good guy" and doing what is necessary is only mildly praiseworthy. Yes, all the incumbents' behavior has been flatly irresponsible. Yes, they are trying to play a game with the country that involves their getting a free hand to control the future in return for doing what is plainly their responsibility.

I'd have to say, however, that Cerf doesn't propose a viable alternative. And he doesn't, here anyway confront the implications of monopoly power that is at stake here. The only responsible path forward is to build the network as a public good. The incumbents are only doing what comes naturally and railing against that is refreshing but not likely to be effective. Replacing them with differently motivated players--as Lafayette intends to do--is the only way forward that is likely to actually serve the public.

Watch the video, it's oddly shot and washed out but definitely worth it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Amen Brother!

Every so often you run across a public official whose focus is actually on serving the public. Even in the Federal bureaucracy. Even at the FCC. Where the usual focus has been on serving the corporations that the bureau was created to regulate. At a recent public hearing in Pittsburg FCC commissioner Copps had this to say (link to word doc):
We still have much to do in making the technology tools of the 21st century work for every American. And I always underline those two words: “every American.” Because no matter who you are, where you live, how much money you make, whether you are young or old, rural or inner city, healthy or dealing with a disability, you will need—and you are entitled—to have these tools and services available to you. I think it’s a civil right; I really do...

Sitting at the FCC in Washington DC, it’s all too easy to be lulled into believing that technology and broadband are issues that matter primarily to a handful of big companies—a few network operators, a few big trade associations, a few multi-billion dollar equipment manufacturers. Because these are the folks we hear from so often—often every day—and they are also the folks who can afford to hire fancy K Street lawyers and deploy small armies of lobbyists at the FCC and on Capitol Hill. But the truth is that these issues are about each of us and all of us. We are all stakeholders, with a right to be heard, when it comes to charting our communications future. This is, after all, the stuff that is shaping how you and I are going to live our lives. Broadband matters to us as individuals, as human beings, as consumers, as small business owners, entrepreneurs, computer science professors and elementary school students, newspaper reporters and broadcast journalists, archeologists and astrophysicists, musicians and bloggers, coffee shop owners, producers, actors, and directors—the list is as long and broad as America. Broadband is reshaping how all of us communicate with each other and learn about the world around us. So we better get it right.
Gee, that's actually both smart and public-spirited. Who'da thunk?

Monday, July 21, 2008

"World's Cheapest Laptop "

A key issue for any community network is the hardware users have to have to connect to the network. Certainly that was a, perhaps the, big issue during the fiber fight here in Lafayette. LCG and LUS promised to work hard to get appropriate hardware into poorer households. (We've been keeping our eyes open here. —1,2, among others.)

That's getting cheaper. Amazingly cheaper. We've reported on cheap alternatives before but today's winner in the cheap Network Attached Device (NAD) sweepstakes is a little laptop that cost 130 dollars apiece in batches of 50... Well, wow......You can get 50 for 6500 dollars.

The device is one of the new category christened "netbooks." (Remember "ultraportables?" Like that. Only less.)

The price of these guys continues to fall....without visible limit. At 130 dollars a pop this would make a very interesting—and pretty damned affordable—digital divide device.

Not a perfect one, mind you. The specs are kinda puny, in line with the price: A 7 inch screen, a slow (by this year's standards) processor, no wifi, no hard drive (well a, 1 gig solid state drive, aka flash memory).

The lack of wifi or even a real network connection makes this thing a poor digital divide for Lafayette. A laptop whose only connectivity if via a dongle? Hunh? Sometimes you really do need to talk to the marketing guys. But if it had wifi then a network like Lafayette's could easily make up for the meager specs in things like storage space and processor power. That can all be located on the network. All you need to have in your mobile device is a fast way to get online and the capacity to run a decent browser. In lafayette the 100 meg intranet will allow anyone to run programs and store data online without much penalty. (Imagine an on-network server with all of Google's apps -- or a homegrown equivalent-- serving out services over a 100 meg connection. Who needs to pay endlessly to keep up Microsoft Office?)

This may not be quite the thing. But the day is coming when a iPhone type device is crossed with a tiny laptop like this and becomes the tote-around thing to keep you connected and on top of your work. ...

And when it comes it will cost less than 130 dollars. And places like Lafayette will be where it will be most valuable. Keep you eyes open.

Friday, July 11, 2008

FTTD (Fiber To The Desk)

I've long thought that FTTH (Fiber To The Home) was the last step in high-speed networking. We've already got easy access to 1 gig ethernet for in-home use. After all when we get a 100 meg symmetrical intranet here in Lafayette we'll be far, far ahead of any connection available to large numbers of people in the US. Most folks dream of a 2o meg connection—and even more dream of being able to afford it. So the 1 gig ethernet network in my home seem, by an order of magnitude, far more than adequate to handle my practical needs. Fretting about an in-house fiber network seemed plain silly.

But maybe FTTD (Fiber To The Desk) won't seem silly for much longer. According to a recent NetworkWorld article Verizon is actively marketing and has already installed a few FTTD setups in larger commercial and institutional settings. According to the article FTTD has real, solid advantages right now:
  • cheaper materials (copper is costy),
  • cheaper to install,
  • faster installation,
  • fewer electronics,
  • cheaper to maintain,
  • space-saving (fewer maintenaince closets),
  • energy-saving.
  • and oh yeah: far faster now and future speed upgrades will be dead easy
Now that's a pretty compelling list. The article is very straightforward, however, in saying that FTTD isn't currently for everyone. You need to have a fairly large population of users and retrofitting a smaller building probably wouldn't be cost-effective. And my own caveat: in reading between the lines of the story it is pretty clear that the cost savings are based, in part, on eliminating the need for a separate phone network. The user is assumed to be on a VOIP phone. Now that seems like a sensible long-term evolution but it may mean that you'd come up with different numbers if you did a straight ethernet to fiber comparison. Still...even being in the same ballpark is very surprising and since phone wiring is going the way of the dodo anyway it may make sense to disregard its cost.

So FTTD is not for everyone...Yet.

I (cough, cough) remember when ethernet was viewed as similarly impractical for home use. It was an enterprise or institutional networking infrastructure. Nobody would have troubled themselves to install it in a household or small business. —I, back in the dark ages, installed AppleTalk networks in a graphics firm and in the building where I did graduate study. Ethernet was thought to be overkill--useful in the backbone but too much and too technical for mere mortals or small groups.

As to those who can't imagine that we'll need that sort of bandwidth the same ethernet history applies: There was a time when a powerful local network seemed pointless. After all what household could afford more than one computer and if you had two, why would they talk to each other? But as of this morning I've got a total of 6 or 7 computers pulling power in my two person household: 2 main laptops, 2 TiVos (each of which is a linux computer) and 2 "extra" computers--one serving as a "kids or visitors" laptop with appropriate programs installed and one running as a server/workstation. If you wanted to count the Cox set top box that would make 7. And hey, I don't have an AppleTV, iphone, videophone, xbox, PS2, or a Wii. (Poor pitiful me!) I do have a network storage device backing up the main computers regularly, so that eats some bandwidth when it kicks in. A household with a lot of gamers or heavy video watchers could generate a lot more internal traffic than I do.

So when the claim is made that a networking infrastructure is more capable and cheaper for larger installations—and with local network demand for are visibly growing—I strongly suspect that it will, in short order, be feasible and valuable for home use. My guess is that somewhere shortly after we see 10 gigs being pushed to the wall of our homes we'll think our 1 gig of in-house ethernet is puny. We'll then think it makes sense to disconnect our ethernet, lash fiber to the ethernet wire and pull the copper ethernet out as we run the fiber in behind it.

Digging Deeper....
For those who might be interested in a bit more technical background (as far as I understand it): FTTD as discussed above is really a form PON (Passive Optical Networking). Verizon who is featured in the story uses this form of networking in its FTTH network FIOS—LUS will use the same framework here in Lafayette. PON systems take a single fiber feed and split the bandwidth it carries between a number of users; in most metropolitan-level networks it is split between 32 users and it appears that the Verizon commercial product discussed is based on this model. So there would be one "cabinet" in a large building that would replace the central IT hub and various closets with electronics like routers that are typically found on every floor or every large segment of an ethernet network. Part of the savings is found there. From the hub fiber would run to every desktop and that would necessitate an ONT (Optical Network Terminal) at every desk to translate the fiber's light to electrical signals for use in the computer, TV, phone, or other device (like a wireless node, network storage, or network printer). The cost of this ONT would be a major issue, I would think. I would expect that some day the ONT would be integrated into the device itself as has happened with ethernet and other networking technologies.

So there really does appear to be a path to FTTD @ home in the foreseeable future. All we need is enough bandwidth to our houses to make deploying the in-house sensible.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

"Telecoms Sue Over High-Speed Links"

It's the same all over dept.

The National Law Journal carries a summary article focusing on the propensity of the incumbent telecoms to sue when a local community decides to build its own high-speed fiber network. One of our own kicks off the story:
"It's a national playbook. The longer they [telecom companies] delay things, the better for them," said Patrick Ottinger, general counsel for Lafayette, La.
That's precisely right and could stand as a summary for the entire article. But reporters, being reporters it goes on for quite a bit longer. And I have to admit that it is interesting to catch up on Lafayette's friends in other places. Even if you do have to listen to the same old groaners from those who are trying to justify their delaying tactics. Does this sound familiar:
Attorneys for telecommunications companies say the litigation is needed because municipalities with the ability to borrow money cheaply -- and not hobbled by the need to return a profit -- have unfair competitive advantages.

"Our position has never been that it is unlawful for cities to do this, but you can't use your powers as a city to create an uneven playing field," said David Goodnight in Stoel Rives' Seattle office, who has represented Qwest Communications International Inc...
The idea that a companies like Qwest, AT&T, or Cox could ever, under the most extreme imaginable situation, ever, ever operate at a unfair competitive disadvantage to some local utility is laughable. It is not an "unfair" competitive advantage to not desire to stick it to your community...it is the way that little local phone and cable companies used to think all the time. The enormous political and economic power that vertically integrated mulitnational corporations with effective monopolies in their core products wield makes their occasional local competitors look like flies... If a community utility wins customer loyality it's because they're offering a better, more desireable product despite the power difference that is stacked against them.

Also covered are legal entanglements in Utah, and Monticello, Minnesota--our comrades-in-arms at the other end of the Missississippi are facing a delaying lawsuit that is reminiscent of those Lafayette had to push through.

(Tip o' the hat to my local legal informant.)

It's still working in rural Pennsylvania

Long-time readers will recall our happy fascination with Kutztown, the small town in Pennsylvania that built one of the nation's first municipal fiber-optic networks and later added its own wi-fi network. (See earlier LPF entries on the town: 1, 2, 3)

It is still working in Pennsylvania; quotes from the Carroll County Times:
It’s not sunny every day and money doesn’t sprout from trees in Kutztown, Pa., but for cable and Internet fiends, it may be considered paradise...

Caruso said the FTTH system doesn’t just help the customers using it. He said once the system went online, the competition’s cable TV prices split in half. People out of the service area pay about $53 for cable, but residents who have the choice of Hometown Utilicom or Service Electric Cable TV and Communications pay $25 for cable.

He said upfront cost is an issue for towns looking into a FTTH system, but since Kutztown’s system was activated in 2002, the town has estimated its residents have saved $1.5 million in cable, phone and Internet billing...

Compared to Verizon’s FiOS, which stands for fiber-optic service, Caruso said, “We’re not similar to them; they’re similar to us.”

He said the backbone of their system could have a gigabit of broadband for upload and downloads, which could be a real possibility in the future.
The nice thing about the Kutztown example is that its very existence quietly explodes the myths that opponents of municipal fiber networks would have you believe. To wit:
  1. You don't need fiber; you don't really want it. (Kutztown, it turns out, knew what it was doing.)
  2. Fiber is too hard for the dim locals (Little Kutztown's tech guy does fine, thanks)
  3. The municipality will never get a good product. (Kutztown's population, which has put the local cable and internet product in every other house in the city, apparently thinks otherwise.)
  4. It's not feasible in all those little rural places (Kutztown's pop: 5,000)
  5. They'll never keep up with the tech. (Kutztown launched in '96 and is still ahead of the private competition...by a lightyear. And they launched wifi when it came along. Take that, Verizon.)
  6. The government version will cost more. (Kutztown still offers basic cable for 18 dollars a month.)
  7. It'll cost the citizen's money. (Kutztown has used zero tax dollars and estimates are that the citizens of the little town have saved 1.5 million in cable and phone fees since the launch.)
  8. Incumbent FUD; they say: Fiber isn't really future proof, who knows what new tech will come along next year? (Kutztown has kept up with the demand for the last decade without rearchitecting its network—which is more than you can say for its private competition—and, as the article notes, it will be able to scale up to gigabit speeds without changing a lick of the fiber itself.)
Me, I'm looking forward to January...

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Alexandria to Sue re New Cable Franchise Law

According to the Town Talk Alexandria city officials are intending to challenge the constitutionality of the state-wide video franchise law. Apparently Lafayette and the Louisiana Municipal Association are also planning to go to court.

The gist:

The City Council approved a resolution authorizing City Attorney Charles "Chuck" Johnson to move forward in challenging the constitutionality of the new law.

Johnson said the city is looking into where and how to file the suit. He said the state constitution gives municipalities like Alexandria, with a Home Rule Charter, the right to organize themselves and allocate different functions as they see fit....

Johnson said other municipalities, including Lafayette, and the Louisiana Municipal Association have raised the same questions and have said they will also pursue their own litigation.

It seems that Alexandria is taking the lead because their cable provider was the first to start treating the city like an powerless owner and maintenance provider for "their" rights of way. (Had the state ripped away the rights for an private owner to manage their own property we'd never hear the end of it. Consistency isn't a big virtue of our lege.) SuddenLink, the cable provider Cox sold it's Alex operation to a while back, had pledged to start a customer service center in Alexandria. But, the story says: "Since the law became enacted, such negotiations have stopped."

That's the way these laws work and are intended to work. The incumbent providers didn't want and now don't have any responsibilities to the communities they serve. Blanco was right to have vetoed it last time around. Jindal (who signed off on June 21st) can add signing this to his list of recent blunders.

I have no idea how successful a legal challenge will be, but even the thinnest chance of success is worth the investment for the communities effected; the state handing over control of local community property to out-of-state monopolists is just about as bad an idea as there is. Alexandria's run in with SuddenLink is only the beginning.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

World Shifting to Fiber

Milepost passed; fiber outpaces cable:

Broadband Reports notes that Fiber To The Premises providers gained more broadband subscribers worldwide than Cable for the first time, 4.2 to 2.5 million. Though the press release from Point Topic that the story is based on is not specific, one has to assume that moves Fiber into a growth position behind DSL. Unlike the US, in most of the world the incumbent telcos are dominant players and they are still extending service. In most countries the movement to fiber will be driven by the incumbent telco replacing DSL. The next milestone will come when DSL adds are outpaced by fiber ones...

According to Point Topic consumer acceptence of fiber is driven by the cheapness of the bandwidth that it is possible to provide over fiber:

There have been doubts expressed that consumers will find additional
speed necessary or attractive but the evidence is that users value
bandwidth. A significant factor in their choice of technology is price.

"If you look at the cost per megabit then DSL comes in at around $20
per megabit per month taking global averages. Cable does better at
roughly $12 but they are both completely eclipsed by fibre where costs
can get as low as 50 cents per megabit per month," continues Johnson.


There are sizeable variations from country to country, region to region and operator to operator but a rule of thumb is that DSL can cost the consumer 15 times as much as fibre to get a megabit of bandwidth and cable is 7 times as expensive.

The cost per megabit is significantly cheaper. That is a message we've tried to drive home here at Lafayette Profiber. Sure, new infrastructure is expensive. It always is. But fiber is cheaper to maintain and because the new network is so much more powerful than the old hybrid networks the cost of the basic fiber product, bandwidth itself, is a fraction of the total that a less capable network needs to charge. Underneath all the bluster, from both sides, that is the basic competitive advantage of fiber to the home.

The incumbent providers in the West have claimed that consumers really don't need or want the sort of bandwidth that only Fiber To The Home provides. They certainly said exactly that to us here in Lafayette. But in the east where fiber is being made widely available the consumer begs to differ: they prefer to get more bandwidth for less. (Shock! Surprise!) The press release goes on to note:

The growth in fibre numbers is being driven by China, Japan and South
Korea where cable and DSL are losing subscribers to the fibre
technologies. While in the US, UK, France and Germany low availability
means low adoption.
The worldwide shift to fiber is underway. Lafayette is one of the few places in the United States positioned to actually occupy the leading edge in the shift toward big broadband.