Tag Archives: fttp

AT&T paints false fiber picture with official service reports


Fiber claims but copper service levels.

There’s something odd about the broadband availability data that AT&T submits to the California Public Utilities Commission. While doing research for the Broadband Infrastructure Assessment and Action Plan I recently completed for the City of West Sacramento (and from which this blog post liberally borrows), I noticed that AT&T claims to provide fiber-to-the-premise service (FTTP), and only FTTP service, in 31 West Sacramento census blocks, which represents 6% of AT&T’s service area.

These census blocks generally correspond to recently developed areas or areas that are targeted for future development. The kind of greenfield construction work where AT&T and other telecoms companies routinely use fiber. But it seems that FTTP coverage in these blocks is partial at best, and many, if not most, homes still receive service via copper wires.

In effect, AT&T is inaccurately reporting that all 31 of these census blocks are completely served by fiber infrastructure, and is not reporting the other types of technologies present. By contrast, in census blocks where only copper-based service is available, AT&T will report multiple technologies, for example VDSL and legacy DSL, if both are present.

A couple of things might be going on. It’s possible that AT&T is just being lazy and only reporting its marquee service levels in any given census block. But it’s also possible that it reflects the new and misleading “Fiber” brand it’s slapping on copper-based service. Or rather foreshadows it, since the reports predated the rebranding. The rationale appears to be that the service is delivered via fiber to central locations within neighborhoods – often referred to as nodes – with the final link accomplished using copper wires. But that’s fiber-to-the-node – FTTN – and not FTTP.

It’s probably a lost cause to try to get AT&T and other telecoms companies from playing these kinds of word games, but that doesn’t mean everyone else has to play them too. Insist on the truth.

Gigabit fiber in San Bernardino County heads for CPUC vote

A fiber to the premise project for San Bernardino County – largest yet – is scheduled to go in front of the California Public Utilities Commission in May. A draft resolution was published on Friday, which proposes to award $29 million to Race Telecommunications from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to build an FTTP system in and around the San Bernardino County communities of Phelan, Piñon Hills, Oak Hills and Hesperia.

As designed, it would pass 8,400 homes, which is “the most households ever given access by a CASF-subsidized last-mile project”, according to the draft. Race is projecting a 68% take rate, which amounts to 5,700 subscribers. Another 85 potential business and institutional customers will also be reachable via the system. The subsidy comes out to $3,400 per premise, which is in line with past CASF-funded FTTP projects. In the past two years, the CPUC has approved $48 million for eleven FTTP proposals totalling 12,400 homes, a $3,900 average all up. On a project basis, the median subsidy $7,000.

As with its past CASF-subsidised projects – Race has received eight CASF grants and completed work on four – its plan calls for offering symmetrical gigabit service for $60 a month to residences. Businesses would pay $200 for 100 Mbps service. There’s no mention of data caps for either.

The Phelan project also marked another first for the CASF project. After Race submitted its initial application for a $48 million subsidy, Ultimate Internet Access – another ISP with a CASF track record – submitted a competing proposal, which would have cost less than half that. During the ensuing months of back and forth discussions, the project area was adjusted and costs were trimmed. Race came back initially with a $23 million subsidy request, but after further changes to project plans and service area the final tab ended up at $29 million.

Muni broadband endorsed by Comcast, again


Comcast jumps on board.

Are you wondering whether or not you live in a place where Comcast will soon upgrade at least some of its broadband infrastructure and technology to the high speed, DOCSIS 3.1 standard? All you have to do is check to see whether there’s a municipal broadband project underway nearby. That’s a very reliable way to gauge the esteem that Comcast bestows upon your town.

According to a story by Daniel Frankel in FierceCable, Chattanooga, Tennessee is the next stop on Comcast’s DOCSIS 3.1 road trip, where it will begin offer much cheaper 1 gigabit service to homes and businesses…

Comcast had been delivering its pricey 10-gig fiber service to local Chattanooga businesses, and 2-gig fiber service to local residences. The DOCSIS 3.1 products are much cheaper, starting out at around $140 a month without contract.

Chattanooga’s publicly owned electric utility built a fiber to the premise system and began offering gigabit speeds in 2010, with faster service following in later years. The project, which was initially funded by a $100 million federal stimulus grant, has been credited with amping up Chattanooga’s economic mojo, with neighboring communities begging for the network to be extended.

Comcast’s Chattanooga announcement comes a week after it promised a DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade in Huntsville, Alabama, which also has a municipal electric utility in the process of building an FTTP system, which will be operated by Google Fiber. Huntsville and Chattanooga join a very short and select list of Comcast DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade targets, which includes two other Google Fiber cities, Nashville and Atlanta.

It’ll be interesting to see what Comcast does with its pricing. The Chattanooga muni system offers a gigabit to residential customers for $70 a month, half of Comcast’s standard rate. On the other hand, Comcast can spread costs and generate profits from a wide range of video and other services, over a nationwide footprint. There would seem to be little point for it to go head to head with a muni system if it wasn’t planning to use that market power to the max.

The copper GigaWeasel lurks under AT&T’s fiber umbrella


You can see the fiber from here.

AT&T is casting a new shadow on its faster-than-average tiers of service. Instead of calling 300 Mbps copper service Gigapower, it’ll now lounge under the AT&T Fiber umbrella. At least that’s how an AT&T press release reads, when you connect all the dots.

The release says

Under the AT&T Fiber umbrella brand we will use a variety of network technologies to connect more homes, apartments and business customer locations to ultra-fast and low-latency internet speeds. This new brand includes, but is not limited to, the former AT&T GigaPower network. We will announce additional network technologies and products in our AT&T Fiber umbrella brand in the near future.

When AT&T starts talking about “a variety of network technologies” under an “umbrella brand”, whatever that is, you can bet the ranch that the roads won’t be clogged with AT&T fiber trucks. Particularly if you live on a ranch.

The GigaWeasel, sorry, GigaPower brand was introduced in Austin, as AT&T scrambled to respond to Google Fiber’s imminent arrival. There probably are some places where you can get fiber-to-the-premise gigabit service in Austin and the several dozen metro areas where AT&T subsequently claimed to be offering it. Probably. But if you live or work on one of the lucky streets where GigaPower service is available, there’s an excellent chance you’d be told the best you can get is 300 Mbps via copper lines.

There’s glass in the network somewhere, so that’s apparently enough for AT&T’s flacks to claim that last mile copper comes under the fiber umbrella.

There’s no mystery about what AT&T is doing. It’s made it clear that high potential areas like dense central business districts and wealthy neighborhoods will get the loving attention of its capital investments – fiber, in other words – while merely affluent customers will get to keep their copper-based service, with or without a fiber umbrella. Rural and inner city communities don’t even have that much to look forward to: as wireless towers go up, copper lines will come down.

Fiber gets you more than copper, and copper gets you more than wireless. That’s basic physics and word games won’t change it.

Muni fiber build RFP issued by Union City, California

A lot of long haul fiber criss-crosses through Union City, a town of about 70,000 people tucked in between Hayward and Fremont in the East Bay area, just north of Silicon Valley. The City of Union City has issued a request for proposals from companies interested in bidding to “design and install a high-speed dark fiber network in City-owned conduit” to take advantage of that wealth, and to spur development of a new business and residential area…

The Union City Station District is a high-density development area located around the Union City BART Station. At buildout, the Station District will have 1.2 million square feet of office and 850+ residential units and live-work space along 11th Street.

An adjacent 80-acre in the greater Station District area is undeveloped and underdeveloped with some public streets. This area is zoned for new office, research and development, and flex-industrial businesses. Conduit and fiber will need to be installed in this area as new streets and additional points of access are built to accommodate the growth in a second phase of design and installation of a City-owned high-speed fiber network.

That high speed network will be built from a base that includes several more miles of city-owned conduit, and adjacent and intersecting middle mile fiber, including routes owned or operated by BART, PG&E, Level 3, Zayo, OpticAccess, AT&T, Verizon and XO Communications.

To answer the first question that always gets asked, yes, the City has a budget for it.

The deadline for questions is 11 October 2016 and proposals must be submitted by 18 October 2016. The RFP documents include the required elements for responses, as well as maps and plans of the area.

The official documents can be downloaded here, and that’s where any updates will be posted. If you’re just curious, here are direct download links that are current, as of today:

RFP for high speed fiber in the Union City Station District
Exhibit A
Exhibit B
Exhibit C

Tellus Venture Associates assisted the City of Union City in identifying the market opportunity and in developing the RFP. I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Fiber gems stand out on California’s central coast

The industrial/commercial broadband Star Rating system developed by Tellus Venture Associates for the Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast shows a wide variation in high grade broadband infrastructure across San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

In the BCPC region, most commercial and industrial census blocks rated 1 Star or less, however there were ample instances of 2 Star, 3 Star and even some 4 Star Ratings. The highest aggregate rating for a city was found in San Luis Obispo, which rated 2 Stars overall. Otherwise, aggregate ratings in incorporated cities in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties were at a half-Star or less. Ventura County cities rated higher, up to one and a half Stars.

On an aggregate basis, the City of San Luis Obispo’s 2 Star the result of averaging many 3 Star and No-Star areas. The 3 Star areas are served by a gigabit-class FTTP network operated by Digital West. We were able to include it in the assessment because the company provided a sufficiently detailed map of its system.

With two exceptions, aggregate ratings for communities in Santa Barbara County and the rest of SLO County were all No Stars. The Cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta earned Half Star ratings, and probably would have ranked higher if better fiber network map data was available. The information we had about long distance and metropolitan fiber routes in those two cities indicated that if better information about the availability of service on those networks is provided by the companies involved, particularly Crown Castle, then the ratings would go up.

The low average for the remainder of Santa Barbara County disguises several areas of excellence, including 3 Star locations in Carpenteria, Lompoc and Santa Maria, and a significant number of locations in Santa Maria that rated 1 Star or 2 Stars.

In Ventura County, aggregate ratings for cities ranged from No Stars in the City of Ventura to half Stars in Moorpark, Ojai and Simi Valley, to one Star in Oxnard and Port Hueneme, to one and a half Stars in Camarillo and Thousand Oaks. Higher aggregate ratings correlate to the widespread presence of Verizon’s FiOS fiber to the premise infrastructure. Areas served by AT&T did not tend to do as well.

There were several focused areas of excellence, including 3 Star and 4 Star locations in Camarillo, Moorpark, Oxnard, City of Ventura, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks. The unincorporated Casa Conejo community was rated 2 Star, in aggregate.

Some of the city and county-scale maps showing Star Ratings for the three counties are available in the report and subsequent update we produced for BCPC, and all of them can be downloaded via the links below. An interactive version is in the works, and I’ll have a post here about it as soon as it’s up.

Broadband Analysis and Planning, Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast, Final Report, 11 April 2016
Broadband Analysis and Planning Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast Update, 30 June 2016
Star Rating maps – San Luis Obispo County
Star Rating maps – Santa Barbara County
Star Rating maps – Ventura County

Star Ratings show where to find high tech, industrial class broadband

The best place on California’s south central coast – on the whole – to look for commercial or industrial real estate with access to fast, fiber optic broadband service is San Luis Obispo. But there are plenty of other cities in the SLO – Santa Barbara – Ventura county region with pockets of fiber availability that are as good or, in many cases, better.

In the course of a doing a regional broadband assessment for the Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast (BCPC), we developed a method for rating the availability of commercial and industrial-class broadband infrastructure. We’ve been using our broadband report card methodology – originally developed for the East Bay Broadband Consortium – to evaluate the primary broadband infrastructure that’s generally available in a city or county. While it’s proven to be an excellent way to gauge the broadband infrastructure that residents and the vast majority of businesses use and the overall condition of incumbent telephone and cable company networks, more detail is needed to assess whether a business district is equipped to attract high tech, bandwidth-intensive companies.

The commercial/industrial Star Rating system looks specifically at areas of a community that are zoned for commercial or industrial purposes, and then uses a point system to rate the broadband infrastructure that’s available, on a census block level.

If an industrial or commercial area has no fiber to the premise available at all and the primary infrastructure fails to get at least an average – “C” – grade, then it’s a No Star location. If the primary infrastructure gets at least a “C” grade or if it meets bare minimum standards – a “D” grade – and some kind of FTTP is available, it’s a 1 Star area. Additional Stars are awarded for faster, gigabit-class service and open access dark fiber, all the way up to 5 Stars.

In the future, we’ll look at including advanced copper technologies in the rating – G.Fast and DOCSIS 3.1 are candidates – but only where the underlying network has been engineered to support it. It’s a given that bolting custom electronics onto available copper lines – even failing, “F” grade facilities – or bonding lines together can produce fast circuits. But the need to resort to such heroic measures is confirmation of poor infrastructure, and not a reason to celebrate.

We did two runs of the analysis, with more city zoning data and a refined methodology the second time around. Results from both runs were consistent and did a good job of highlighting where the kind of broadband infrastructure high tech companies look for is available in the three counties. More on that tomorrow.

Broadband Analysis and Planning, Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast, Final Report, 11 April 2016
Broadband Analysis and Planning Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast Update, 30 June 2016
Star Rating maps – San Luis Obispo County
Star Rating maps – Santa Barbara County
Star Rating maps – Ventura County

Google Fiber finds a balancing point between home and business FTTP

Google Fiber is rolling out service plans for small businesses, with prices ranging from $70 a month for symmetrical 100 Mbps service to $250 a month for a symmetrical gigabit, all with no data caps. The price for a gig is considerably more than Google’s standard $70 a month residential rate, but it also allows for more bandwidth-intensive uses. Up to a point.

For example, the acceptable use policy for Google’s residential service clearly prohibits running an online business via the connection…

You agree not to use or allow third parties to use the Services provided to you for any of the following purposes…

To operate servers for commercial purposes. However, personal, non-commercial use of servers that comply with this AUP is acceptable, including using virtual private networks (VPN) to access services in your home and using hardware or applications that include server capabilities for uses like multi-player gaming, video-conferencing, and home security.

On the other hand, the small business acceptable use policy says nothing about operating a server for commercial purposes, except you’re not allowed…

To create substitute or related services through the use of or access to the Services (for example, to use the Services to provide web hosting services to third parties).

Nor can you resell Internet service, including offering it to tenants or hotel guests, except in common areas of your business. Google clearly intends to stay on the retail side of the business and maintain a direct relationship – include a direct, monthly bill – with end users.

A business that supports a couple dozen employees will consume more bandwidth than a typical household that can occasionally burst at higher speeds. Running a public facing server will cost a little more – the benchmark price for the necessary static IP address is $20 a month for one, $30 for five. But assuming Google has enough backhaul bandwidth to reliably deliver symmetrical 100 Mbps speeds to a business, the trade off between the low end small business package and gigabit residential service – both priced at $70 – is a fair one.

San Francisco FTTP analysis embraces economic reality

The fiber-to-the-premise analysis run by the City and County of San Francisco nailed it: providing gigabit capability to every home and business in the City means either treating it like a normal municipal utility and taxing everyone to pay for it – $43 a month, they figure – or taxing everyone less – $26 a month – and making up the rest with subscription fees from people that want to use it.

The everyone pays, everyone gets model means a big initial buildout for something close to a gigabuck, with the $43 monthly fees split between paying that off and running the system as a municipal utility. The everyone pays, users pay more model brings in a private sector partner to build and run it, with the $26 everyone pays covering construction and some core operating costs, and the monthly subscriber fee – $70 for residences, $100 for businesses – paying the bulk of operating expense.

The report also looks at a couple of different market-based models, where network buildout is driven by demand, and estimates that it would pay for itself with somewhere between a 30% and 40% share of the market, depending on how it’s structured. Until the system gets over the sub count hurdle, the gap will have to be filled by taxpayer dollars, one way or another. San Francisco’s analysis did not include a demand study, but it does factor in market share as a significant risk factor.

San Francisco’s report is a high level analysis, and good reading if you like that sort of thing. It’s not an action item, so it just has to ask all the questions. It doesn’t need to answer them. Yet.

Google adopts Santa Cruz muni fiber model in Huntsville

The City of Huntsville, Alabama is following Santa Cruz’s fiber lead: building a fiber to the home (and business) network and leasing it out to a private operator. In Huntsville’s case the private operator is Google Fiber, while in Santa Cruz the partner is a local independent Internet service provider, Cruzio.

The lead consultants on the Huntsville project – CTC Technology and Energy – applied the lessons they learned working for the City of Santa Cruz

The partnership model announcement today between Huntsville and Google Fiber is on the model of that pioneered by Westminster, Maryland in 2014 and by Santa Cruz, California last year…

This innovative, shared-risk partnership model puts the locality in the business of building infrastructure, a business it knows well after a century of building roads, bridges, and utilities. The model leaves to the private sector (in this case, Google Fiber and any other provider that chooses to lease Huntsville fiber) all aspects of network operations, equipment provisioning, service delivery, and customer service.

The Huntsville Board of Utilities approved the project on Tuesday, committing to backfill any revenue shortfalls, up to a point.

Tellus Venture Associates is assisting the City of Santa Cruz with its fiber project. I’m not a disinterested commentator, take it for what it’s worth.