Iceland, Greenland, and redundancy

This short Register article highlights the urgency of dealing with the cable redundancy issue. Communities that do not have a plan to ensure at least two separate broaband cable paths (also referred to as backhaul or Internet feeds) in and out of a community are at risk of losing local businesses to places that do provide cable redundancy.

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Amsterdam gets it on community fiber

EuroTelcoBlog has a story on Amsterdam's community fiber initiative.

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Funding fiber: A simple solution

There is much handwringing by local and state governments and the Feds about the "lack of money" to spend on broadband infrastructure. But it is pretty hard to take all that seriously. When politicians say, "There is no money for that," what they are really saying is that there are other things they would rather spend it on, and often for no good reason.

This report on the ever expanding oil well style gusher of gas taxes is a perfect example.

Why fiber is a safe investment

The Kansai Electric company in Japan has deployed new equipment that enables them to transmit 1 terabit of data per second over their company fiber lines.

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Rural Telecon: Fiber should be free

The Rural Telecommunications Congress 9th Annual Meeting is over, but I'm still catching up on presentations. Matt Wenger of PacketFront, a company that specializes in the network hardware and software needed to manage communitywide networks, presented an interesting model for promoting innovation and paying for the network.

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Rural Telecon: Luncheon keynote (Monday)

Pete Johnson, the Federal co-chair of the Delta Regional Authority (the Mississipi delta of several states and 10 million people) spoke at lunch abou the importance of infrastructure to the health and vitality of communities. He made several points in the early part of his talk:

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MSAPs are still needed

I was told recently that the MSAP (Multimedia Services Access Point) was outdated and no longer needed. The MSAP is a public peering point that we pioneered in Blacksburg in 1999. It is still in operation today, and vastly improves network performance within the community.

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Satellites, Mother Nature, and Technology

Buried in several different news stories are brief mentions that the only communications working in the storm-ravaged areas of Louisiana and Mississippi are satellite phones. In New Orleans, apparently the only working telecom facility is the phone company central office (colocation facility), which was designed specifically to withstand storms and flooding. But it does not help much since all landlines to and from the facility are out.

It is a sober reminder of the power of nature and the need to have disaster recovery plans in place. FEMA and other agencies have been designing "instant communications" trucks for these kinds of disasters, but there probably not nearly enough. Picture one of the mobile TV station trucks with one of those extendable booms that rise up out of the truck, but instead of TV broadcasting equipment, the truck can provide cellular phone service, can connect to a working landline to act as a local phone switch, and can provide an instant WiFi hotspot so that data can be exchanged between laptops, as well as use other wireless to try to connect to the Internet via other trucks or working wireless access points.

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New Zealand builds MSAPs

The city of Wellington, New Zealand has created an MSAP service they call CityLink. It is exactly the MSAP concept, and like Blacksburg, which began offering MSAP service in 1999, ISPs have flocked to it because it lowers costs and enables them to provide better services.

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British Columbia builds MSAPs

BC.NET, a project of the British Columbia provincial government, is deploying what they call Transit Exchange Hubs in communities throughout the province.

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Why cellphones won't replace landlines

One of the common arguments against running fiber to every home and business goes like this: "Once we all have a cellphone with data service, we won't even need a landline."

From a certain squinty distance, it sounds very reasonable, and some invalid data to support it usually goes like this: "And I know several people that don't even have a landline phone anymore."

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BPL is no cure all

If your community is looking at Broadband Over Powerlines (BPL) as a cheap way to get broadband out to neighborhoods or rural areas, you should read this article over at NewsForge, which says BPL still has some issues that have to be worked out.

Among the problems this article raises are relatively high costs, the need to deploy a fiber backbone to support neighborhood level BPL, and radio interference in frequencies used by public safety (fire, police, rescue).

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Loma Linda, California requires broadband infrastructure

Loma Linda, California, a community of 20,000 people, may be the first town in the country to require broadband infrastructure in new housing.

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Microduct and blown fiber movie

I'm a big fan of microduct and blown fiber, and Emtelle is one of the world leaders in the technology. I think it is an ideal solution for community and neighborhood fiber projects, as it works with both passive and active optical network equipment, it's easy to install, and easy to repair--essential qualities for community-managed systems. But it's always been hard to explain without actually seeing it. This movie on the Emtelle site is short and illustrates how it works end to end (you need a Flash player plug-in for your browser).

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Digital Cities: Open Service Provider Networks

The Monday afternoon keynote was by Keith Wilson, the CEO of Dynamic City, which has the contract to design, build, and operate the Utah UTOPIA project (an 18 community fiber project serving 300,000 homes).

The U.S. has the most expensive broadband in the world; the per megabit cost of broadband in Japan is ninety cents. In Korea, it's $2.50. In the U.S., it averages $25-$30 per megabit, or thirty times higher than the lowest. Clearly, the current reliance on incumbents to provide broadband is not working.

Wilson identified four characteristics of a viable communitywide network:

  • Open and interoperable
  • Wholesale access available to multiple service providers
  • High quality carrier class equivalent to commercial networks
  • Highly scalable bandwidth to meet any kind of service need

A wholesale business model that allows for many service providers (as opposed to just one voice provider, one video on demand provider, etc.) reduces the risk for the network owner--if a service vendor fails or pulls out, the financial health of the network is less at risk.

Networks are like airports--a shared facility built by the community and used by multiple service providers (airlines) to offer a variety of services. Airports are good for communities because no airline would come to a community and build their own airport.

Communities need a "communications utility," and no less than the future of the community is at stake. A successful network must have widespread availability, must be affordable, and must offer customers choice. A closed network cannot offer all three, because the incumbent providers don't want competition. Private buildouts (the current situation with incumbents) capture the future of a community because no other provider will come, so the community becomes hostage to a single company.

If regulated monopolies have not worked in the past in terms of affordability and choice, why do we think unregulated monopolies (what we have now, in effect) will work better? What is best for a single company is not necessarily best for the businesses and residents of a community.

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Railroads vs. canals: We've all been here before

James Carlini has a must-read article that has some solid data on the value of municipal investments in broadband, as well as some fascinating historical data that shows community investments in "new" infrastructure pay off.

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Sun rents out supercomputer

Back on October 31, 2003, I wrote about supercomputers as the economic development infrastructure. I suggested that regions that wanted to have a real marketing edge invest in a modest supercomputer cluster and rent it out to businesses that wanted occasional access to such equipment but could not justify the cost of owning it.

Open access fiber project signs up everybody in town

Take rate is an industry term for the number of customers that agree to buy a service. Take rates are notoriously hard to predict, and historically, take rates for services like telephone and cable service have been very low (e.g. 10%, 15%), meaning it takes years to get most households connected to a new service.

The town of Nuenen, Holland recently installed a blown fiber to the home, open access network, and had a remarkable 96% take rate. This means that essentially, every household that is likely to be a customer became one as soon as the service became available.

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Indian state builds fiber to every town

Yet another former third world country has broadband projects underway that leave U.S. efforts in the dust. Andra Pradesh, a state of India, has embarked on an ambitious but entirely doable project to build a statewide network consisting of a 10 gigabit per second backbone, 1 gigabit Ethernet trunks to a thousand locations, and 100 megabit fiber connections to every town in the state.

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RTC Conference: Building Last (First) Mile Infrastructure

The second speaker is James Baker, from central Pennsylvania, with the Council of Governments--an 11 county area with 300 local government entities of one kind or another. Most communities are under 2500 population, and many are under 1000. Generally a very low density area--20-40 households per square mile as an average.

Broadband services are expanding in the area. However, 98% of Pennsylvania urban areas have some form of broadband, but only 25% of rural areas have some kind of service. Providers view rural areas as not good markets.

The state of Pennsylvania has funded a GIS system that provides service maps for various kinds of services available (i.e. DSL, cable modem, etc). Good tool, but data quality varies, some limitations in granularity of data.

Wireless services were considered for expansion in one county by swapping tower space on an EMS tower with space on a commercially-owned tower in another part of the county. EMS would get better radio coverage, and residents and businesses would get more access and choice in broadband.

Murphy's Law kicked in...the six inch square antenna which was to be put on the county tower would require a $5000 engineering study to make sure it would not add significant wind loading to the 200' tower. No one would pay for the study, so the project got slowed down while a variety of funding sources were pursued. The ARC came to the rescue, but the $5000 grant application required almost the same amount of paperwork as a $150,000 grant.

After the engineering studies were done, it was discovered that the county did have legal control of the tower, and that has required additional effort. Testing by the service provider has shown that nearly the entire anticipated service area will be covered.

In the meantime, the government fiber project is using wireless to expand coverage beyond the ends of the fiber. Some nonprofits are getting service.

Issues include legal problems--one person, the county lawyer, has the power to stop these projects dead in their tracks. If the cable company expands service, the wireless provider may feel it is not worth it to continue expansion--it becomes very important for government to be able to move quickly to help private businesses.

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