Tag Archives: broadband

Broadband won’t be slower, mobile isn’t the same as wired FCC says

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The republican-led Federal Communications Commission will endorse two essential and, to some, controversial policy positions taken by the previous democratic majority commission: the minimum speed for broadband service to be considered “advanced” is 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up, and mobile service is not a “full substitute” for wireline broadband – there are “salient differences” between the two.

It’s a victory for common sense and market freedom over the intense, self interested lobbying by big telephone, cable and mobile companies at the local, state and federal level. AT&T, in particular, wants policy makers to believe that its mobile service, including the fixed variant it calls wireless local loop, is good enough for communities that don’t have the household income levels that would make wireline upgrades sufficiently profitable. Cable companies don’t want 25/3 to be the official floor because they are usually the only broadband providers that can offer that service level – they fear being tagged as a monopoly by antitrust enforcers and other broadband regulators.

Commissioners are reviewing a draft decision reaffirming these findings. So far, the FCC has only released a “fact sheet” summarising the draft. It says…

  • The 25/3 speed benchmark is maintained. The draft report finds that the current speed benchmark of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps remains an appropriate measure by which to assess whether a fixed service provides advanced telecommunications capability.
  • Mobile services are not full substitutes for fixed services—there are salient differences between the two technologies. Both fixed and mobile services can enable access to information, entertainment, and employment options, but there are salient differences between the two. Beyond the most obvious distinction that mobile services permit user mobility, there are clear variations in consumer preferences and demands for fixed and mobile services.
  • Because fixed services and mobile services are not full substitutes, it is important to evaluate progress in deploying fixed broadband service as well as progress in deploying mobile broadband service. Any analysis that only looked at the progress in deploying fixed broadband service or only looked at the progress in deploying mobile broadband service would be incomplete. Therefore, the draft report takes a holistic view of the market and examines whether we are both making progress in deploying fixed broadband service and making progress in deploying mobile broadband service.

The FCC got this one right.

FCC “fact sheet” on draft 2018 broadband deployment report 18 January 2018
Pai statement on draft 2018 broadband deployment report 18 January 2018
Clyburn statement on draft 2018 broadband deployment report 18 January 2018

Four ISPs claim California right of first refusal for broadband subsidies, but big telcos sit it out

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Four Internet service providers exercised their jus primae noctis right of first refusal for California broadband subsidy priority by Tuesday’s deadline. That’s assuming all four got it right, which is doubtful.

When the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) program was turned into a piggy bank for AT&T and Frontier rewritten last year, one of the benefits lawmakers slipped into the bill was an annual opportunity for incumbent providers to claim unserved areas, in exchange for a promise to upgrade broadband service within six months. They could apply for CASF money in those areas, but no one else could.

It was one of many giveaways to big incumbents, but only one of the four falls into that category. Of the major Californian ISPs, only Charter Communications filed, and it didn’t exactly claim a right of first refusal. Rather than explicitly promising any upgrades, Charter simply pointed out that it’s under CPUC orders to convert its remaining analog cable systems in California to full digital capability, and then asked to CPUC to deny any subsidy requests in its territory “in the spirit of the [right of first refusal] process”.

Charter got one thing wrong, though. It said it had until May 2019 to finish those upgrades. That’s only true in Monterey County, where a separate agreement governs. For the other communities in Tulare, Kings and Modoc counties where it has build out obligations the deadline is November 2018, per the CPUC resolution that granted Charter permission to buy Time Warner and Bright House cable systems in California (page 71, item g if anyone is curious).

The other three include Anza Electric Cooperative, which has one CASF grant in the bag and another pending for a fiber to the home build in its Riverside County electric service area and Conifer Communications, a wireless ISP that’s claiming territory that’s arguably in, or at least in the general neighborhood of, its existing service area in Amador, Calaveras, Mariposa, Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties.

The fourth is Geolinks, also a wireless ISP, with plans to apply for a CASF grant and expand into the same Monterey County communities that Charter is claiming. The new CASF law limits right of first refusal eligibility to “existing facility-based broadband provider[s]”, which is a term the CPUC has defined as providers that intend to “upgrade service in their existing underserved territories”. Geolinks has no facilities in Monterey County, although it does offer service further south on the central coast. Whether they’re close enough is something for the lawyers to argue over. As is the competing “notice” from Charter.

Anza Electric Cooperative, Inc., “CASF Right of First Refusal Annual Demonstration Letter”, 15 January 2018.

Charter Communications, “Notice of Planned Deployment of Broadband Passings”, 16 January 2018.

Conifer Communications, “Right of First Refusal Letter”, 16 January 2018.

Geolinks, “Right of First Refusal Letter”, 15 January 2018.

FCC swings a policy sledgehammer at local governments in 2018

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They might have ducked substantive statements about network neutrality, but two members of the Federal Communications Commission had a lot to say yesterday about local governments. Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Mignon Clyburn clashed during an FCC panel discussion at CES, which also included their colleague, Brendan Carr. O’Rielly and Carr are two-thirds of the republican majority on the commission; Clyburn is a democrat.

When asked about what plans he has for 2018, particularly regarding removing barriers to broadband deployment, O’Rielly pointed directly at local governments. While some cities are doing a good job managing permit processes and access to infrastructure, “there are many bad actors out there that see it as an opportunity for revenue gathering or power struggle”, he said. “I’m willing to use my authority to push those bad actors out of the way”.

That’s the wrong approach, Clyburn argued. “Not all communities are created equal”, she said. The FCC should “not take a sledgehammer when only a scalpel is needed”.

“We’ve tried the scalpels, we’ve tried the different approaches”, O’Rielly replied. “Now we have communities that are trying to extract dollars that they don’t deserve”.

O’Rielly said he’s waiting for the FCC’s lobbyist-laden broadband deployment advisory committee (BDAC) to come back with final policy recommendations later this month. He’s sure to be happy. BDAC’s draft proposals, released in November, are exactly the kind of sledgehammer O’Rielly seems to want: federal preemption of state and local permit processes for wireless sites and other broadband infrastructure, preemption of local ownership and oversight of poles and other wireless assets, statewide cable franchising and, for good measure, a de facto ban on muni broadband systems.

The panel session, moderated by Julie Kearney, a top lobbyist with the Consumer Technology Association, opened with an obligatory question about net neutrality and the commission’s decision to scrap common carrier status for broadband service. Aside from a couple of zingers – Clyburn called it “the destroying Internet freedom order”, while Carr blasted those who “are flaming the false flames of fear” – the conversation was about the process ahead and the occasionally collegial and occasionally not relationships between commissioners.

$351 billion U.S. consumer tech 2018 forecast built on broadband

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Source: Consumer Technology Association, 7 January 2018. Click for the full presentation.

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) predicts that connectivity, particularly via mobile networks, will fuel industry growth, with total U.S. retail sales hitting $351 billion in 2018, up 3.9% from last year. .

Traditional consumer hardware categories are flat or declining, while connected devices and services are booming – for example “smart speakers”, which are tied to artificially intelligent, voice recognition services such as Amazon’s Alexa, are predicted to hit $3.8 billion in 2018, a 93% increase.

This forecast was released yesterday at CES, which used to be the Consumer Electronics Show and which is produced by CTA, which used to be the Consumer Electronics Association. Increasingly, the industry is defined by software, content and networks, and not by gadgets and gizmos. Hence the rebranding from electronics to technology. That shift is also showing up in revenue figures.

The $351 billion predicted U.S. industry total includes $20 billion in music and video streaming services, a 35% jump from 2017. If you back out that revenue, the predicted growth in retail revenue in 2018 will only be 2.5%. Hardware growth is probably even lower. Only a few, top line category forecasts were released, and some – arguably all – are a mix of digital bits and physical products.

All eleven of the categories that were broken out rely on broadband connections. Without connectivity, speakers and homes aren’t smart and virtual reality is virtually nothing. So it’s no surprise that CTA analysts spent more time talking about 5G mobile networks than televisions, or even smartphones.

“We’re in the connected era”, said Steve Koenig, senior director of research for CTA. “We understand the importance of connectivity, not just to to the industry but to the global economy”.

Many of the really cool things to come that Koenig talked about will depend on the fast, low latency bandwidth that 5G networks will deliver in urban areas. Without it, the promise of technologies like self driving cars, augmented reality or robotics won’t be fully realised. But it’s important to remember that residential wireline networks will continue to do the unglamorous heavy lifting in a connected, consumer technology-enabled world.

Koenig predicts that five years from now, nearly 800 million “consumer tech connected devices” will be sold annually in the U.S. For that to happen, we need modern networks. Of every kind.

Final version of FCC’s net neutrality and common carrier repeal posted

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Click here for the final version of what the Federal Communications Commission calls In the Matter of Restoring Internet Freedom; Declaratory Ruling, Report and Order, and Order.

I’m still slogging through the text, trying to figure out if there’s anything significantly different from November’s draft version. Absent changes, the real significance is that the clock is now ticking for some of the administrative and legislative actions that might be taken. Others, particularly court challenges, will have to wait until it’s formally published in the Federal Register.

Frontier exceeds federal expectations but understates Californian obligations

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Frontier Communications put out a puzzling press release yesterday. What should have been a celebration of good news, was instead a mish-mash of misdirection and lawyerly evasions that raised more questions than it answered.

The good news is that Frontier has upgraded broadband availability for 39,000 of the 90,000 rural Californian homes it promised the Federal Communications Commission it would serve with a minimum of 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds, in exchange for $228 million in subsidies. That means it reached 43% of the total by the end of 2017, which is better than the 40% benchmark it’s required to hit.

Well done.

But the press release’s headline says that Frontier expanded broadband service to more than 275,000 homes. Which sounds like a lot. It also kinda sounds like those customers didn’t have any Frontier broadband service to begin with. But it doesn’t actually say that.

What it does say is that “100,000 additional households” should have been reached by the end of last year, but since federal securities law requires this sort of public statement be truthful – otherwise, executives could end up in prison – the press release doesn’t quite say it happened. The release says Frontier “is expanding” rather than “has expanded” broadband service. The tense of the verb is a get out of jail free card.

A good explanation for the press release’s weirdness can be found in the hundreds of pages of testimony, settlement contracts and, ultimately, the California Public Utilities Commission decision that allowed Frontier to buy Verizon’s wireline phone systems in 2015. That decision requires Frontier to either upgrade or extend new service to 827,000 Californian locations by 2022. Those are mostly residences, but some businesses are included too. The total breaks down further, into medium speed (25 Mbps down and 2 Mbps down), low speed (10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up), and abysmal speed (6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up) upgrades and extensions. Yesterday’s press release kinda skipped those details.

It also neglected to mention that six counties it’s required to specifically address – Modoc, Shasta, Lassen, Plumas, Siskiyou, and Tehama – haven’t been touched. Or at least that’s the way it reads – none are on its list of 15 counties where upgrades and extensions have been completed. Or rather, are being completed.

So what Frontier is really saying is that it’s hit 33% of its ultimate mandate in California and it hasn’t accomplished anything yet in the most remote corners of its service area, where the hard work will be.

Frontier beat its first hurdle of 40% completion of federally subsidised broadband builds by the end of 2017. It has to hit 60% this year, 80% next year and 100% by the end of 2020, when it also has to have reached an additional 100,000 previously unserved households. With comparable speeds. Of the rest, 400,000 upgrades/extensions need to be done by the end of 2022 and 250,000 have a less well defined deadline.

All Frontier says about that is “details will be reported to state regulators in coming months”. We can only hope those details will be shared with the public, too.

Download:
CPUC decision granting [Frontier Communications] application [to buy Verizon systems] subject to conditions and approving related settlements, 3 December 2015

AT&T’s FirstNet deal means more but slower broadband in rural California

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Governor Brown’s decision to join the federal FirstNet public safety radio system has pluses and minuses for rural broadband development in California. The system is intended to provide data connectivity and interoperable communications for police, fire and other first responder agencies across the U.S. The federal government awarded a $6.5 billion contract to AT&T to build and operate it.

As a part of the deal, AT&T is getting 20 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band. It’s allowed to use it for consumer broadband service so long as public safety communications have priority. The company plans to combine the FirstNet build out with deployment of its rural fixed wireless broadband service, which runs on a similar slice of spectrum in the 2.3 GHz band and promises 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds.

Both FirstNet and AT&T’s wireless local loop service are based on 4G LTE technology, and not the next generation 5G standard that’ll be the basis for urban mobile broadband service upgrades.

On the plus side, it means that AT&T has to extend its wireless broadband reach to pretty much every remote corner of California. AT&T will likely lease existing facilities or contract out operations in some cases, but it will be doing a lot of construction work too. Since the core technology it’s deploying supports both public safety and consumer users, any place it plants a FirstNet tower should also get at least a minimum level of wireless broadband service. Should.

On the minus side, the deal will turbocharge AT&T’s campaign to rip out rural copper networks and replace them with low speed wireless broadband systems. The federal government is already subsidising that effort with its Connect America Fund program. The combination of FirstNet’s extra dollars and spectrum, and the regulatory grease that comes with public safety projects makes it even cheaper and easier for AT&T to fence off rural communities from competition while offering substandard service at monopoly prices.

Cash for 2018 campaigns drives broadband decisions in Sacramento

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California lawmakers will tackle broadband issues in the coming year, but not ones that directly address the needs of businesses and consumers, or economic development goals of unserved communities. The hottest items will be reboots of two failed bills near and dear to the hearts of big telecoms companies.

Senate bill 649 was vetoed by governor Jerry Brown last October. It would have given mobile carriers, as well as telephone and cable companies, unlimited access to city and county-owned light poles, traffic signals and other vertical infrastructure at a token rental rate, far below market value. Brown said he liked the idea, but SB 649 went a bit too far. Talks are already underway between mobile interests and local agency representatives to see if there’s any common ground. If there isn’t, expect to see a nearly identical bill that’s trimmed just enough to pass muster with Brown.

Assembly bill 2395 was AT&T’s unsuccessful 2016 attempt to get permission to rip out rural copper networks and replace them with low cost and, often, federally subsidised wireless systems. AT&T’s wireless local loop technology can’t match the service provided by even mid-grade DSL, let alone the upgraded copper and fiber systems it installs in affluent neighborhoods, but that’s less of a problem now. Telco and cable lobbyists convinced lawmakers to pass AB 1665 and lower California’s minimum broadband speed standard last year, paving the way for rural broadband downgrades in 2018. AB 2395 will be back.

Don’t expect California to fill the regulatory chasm created by the Federal Communications Commission when it killed network neutrality rules last year. Any kind of broadband-specific consumer protection bill has little chance of making it through the California legislature next year. An Internet privacy bill – assembly bill 375 – died in a leadership committee this year, despite widespread and oh-so-sincere expressions of support from lawmakers.

Cable and telephone lobbyists killed AB 375, while moving SB 649 and AB 1665 through the California assembly and senate in 2017. This year, legislators will listen to them even more attentively: 2018 will be an expensive election year for candidates, and party leaders will be even less willing to upset big money donors.

5G now a matter of national security, Trump administration decides

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Telecommunications is one of the sorts of infrastructure that the Trump administration wants to improve, but its interest seems limited to upgrading wireless infrastructure for eventual 5G service. That support might only include regulatory reform, particularly federal preemption of state and local laws and property rights, rather than money.

It’s hard to tell exactly what the Trump administration means when it puts out statements about spending plans, telecommunications or otherwise. And it’s impossible to know what congress will ultimately do. That said, the National Security Strategy paper released last week links telecommunications infrastructure upgrades with security policy, although the intended funding source could be telecoms companies and state and local governments, and not necessarily the feds…

Federal, state, and local governments will work together with private industry to improve our airports, seaports and waterways, roads and railways, transit systems, and telecommunications. The United States will use our strategic advantage as a leading natural gas producer to transform transportation and manufacturing. We will improve America’s digital infrastructure by deploying a secure 5G Internet capability nationwide. These improvements will increase national competitiveness, benefit the environment, and improve our quality of life.

It’s possible to read this as evidence that the Trump administration is swallowing the nonsense that mobile carriers are peddling about 5G being the ultimate replacement for all things broadband. That’s a stretch, but shouldn’t be completely dismissed, either. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

The big impact is that tying wireless infrastructure to national security gives a political boost to the Federal Communications Commission as it speeds toward even greater preemption of state and local control over wireless site permits and, perhaps, municipal property such as light poles. It also puts a veneer of respectability on even more radical recommendations made by industry-centric committees that are advising the FCC, including a de facto ban on municipal broadband systems() and confiscation of city-owned dark fiber.

The FCC will have bulletproof cover to hide behind, and a strong argument to make during the inevitable court challenges to any new wireless policy it makes. National security is, if you’ll pardon the expression, a trump card in domestic policy debates.