Tag Archives: ftth

San Francisco muni FTTP project hits the rocks

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

San Francisco’s $1.9 billion plan to build a citywide fiber to the premise system is dead. At least for now. According to a story by Joshua Sabatini in the San Francisco Examiner, temporary mayor Mark Ferrell didn’t intend to file the paperwork needed to put a tax measure on the November ballot by yesterday’s deadline (h/t to everyone who sent me the link – much appreciated). There’s no indication he changed his mind and, according to the Examiner, would-be private sector partners were told to stand down…

The Office of Contract Administration sent a June 13 letter to the three bid teams informing them of the delay. “The City and County of San Francisco has decided to further consider factors essential to the success of the project prior to issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP),” the letter said. “Given the groundbreaking nature, complexity, and cost of this project, it is important that we reduce uncertainties to the extent possible prior to issuing an RFP.”

The letter continued, “In the coming months, the City intends to research a number of factors, including how market conditions and the construction environment would affect the project.”

Ferrell iced the project because a poll showed that voter approval of a tax increase “was just short of the two-thirds needed to pass”, according to the Examiner. Perhaps. It’s also relevant that Ferrell will soon hand over the mayor’s job to London Breed, who won the job in a special election earlier this month. She hasn’t said yet what she plans to do and all Ferrell can say is that he’s leaving behind a “briefing binder”. Translation: they’re not besties.

Three teams were in the running to manage, operate and, perhaps, partly fund the project. At least two were led by local Internet service providers, Monkey Brains (with the assistance of Black and Veatch, Nokia and Zayo) and Sonic.net. The third contender is list only as “FiberGateway”. There’s no obvious broadband company that goes by that, but for what it’s worth, Altice, a mid sized cable operator with a relative handful of systems in California, uses it as a product name.

California rural electric co-op gets $1.8 million to extend FTTH service

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Another 413 homes in small, desert communities in Riverside County are getting high speed, fiber to the home service, via the Anza Electric Cooperative and a grant from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). The California Public Utilities Communities approved a $1.8 million subsidy – $4,300 per home, amounting to 70% of the total cost – extending an earlier CASF-funded FTTH project that reached 3,750 customers in the co-op’s core service area in the Anza Valley.

The new build covers the Pinyon community and the Santa Rosa Reservation, but it skips over Mountain Center and Garner Valley, because Frontier Communications upgraded its service in the area. It’s receiving federal money to deliver broadband service at 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds, and was able to demonstrate that its VDSL upgrade was delivering around 20 Mbps down/2 Mbps up, at least to some homes. That’s on the low end of what VDSL technology is capable of delivering, but it’s more than enough to make Mountain Center and Garner Valley ineligible for California subsidies.

In the communities that are eligible, Frontier relies on 1990s style DSL technology which generally runs at about 2 Mbps down and less than 1 Mbps up, where it’s available at all. It told the CPUC it wouldn’t make any more service without CASF subsidies of its own. Which it won’t get because Anza Electric Co-op moved faster.

People in communities to the east and west, though, are – or soon will be – getting access to symmetrical speeds of up to 1 Gbps. The co-op’s flagship consumer package is symmetrical 50 Mbps speeds for $49 per month, with a $25 per month, 10 Mbps down and up offer to low income households. There’s no commitment or bundling required for either package (although an unlimited domestic phone line can be had for another $20 per month).

Santa Cruz gets more fiber, more gigabit service

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

AT&T’s recent fiber to the home (FTTH) upgrades in Santa Cruz mean that Cruzio isn’t the only Internet service provider bringing gigabit class infrastructure into town (unless you have a sneaking suspicion that it’s a competitive response – in that case you can thank Cruzio for it too). U.C. Santa Cruz’s Jim Warner tracked it down…

AT&T has been working on an FTTH deployment in parts of west Santa Cruz. The work has progressed to the point where some addresses are showing availability of gigabit service in AT&T’s on-line service availability tool. When you enter a “good” address – one where gigabit service is already available – you see, among other things, a web offer for “fiber” service at 100 Mbps and 1,000 Mbps download and upload speeds (subject to the usual disclaimer: “actual customer speeds may vary and are not guaranteed”).

The 100 Mbps packages is capped at 1 terabyte a month; the gigabit package offers “unlimited data”.

An example of what FTTH looks like “on the pole” is in the picture above. The thin curved lines that appear to loop back into the new tap are not fibers. They are simply plastic retainers to keep the protective caps from falling to the ground. To be ready to serve any address, one of the taps needs to be placed on almost every pole.

It is harder to see what’s going on underground. We need to wait for details about the project to know if areas where utilities are underground (rather than on poles) will be included.

The quality of AT&T’s craftsmanship is highly variable and not all of it looks as clean as in the picture presented. So far, I’ve seen FTTH work in the area bounded by Walnut Ave., California St., Almar Ave. and King St. This is a poor way to gauge the scope of their project, though. I visited the AT&T retail store but discovered staff get no special advance information about what the company is working on.

Wireline carriers, such as AT&T and Comcast, each get one foot of vertical space on each pole for their service. AT&T has attached their new fiber network to their legacy copper network to avoid needing to completely rearrange the pole or pay for another foot of pole space.

CPUC considers FTTH upgrade subsidy for Marin County town

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Bolinas, a coastal community of about 700 homes in Marin County, is up for a $1.9 million broadband infrastructure subsidy from the California Public Utilities Commission next week. It’s the first grant proposal submitted to, and considered by, the CPUC since assembly bill 1665 was signed into law last year by governor Jerry Brown.

AB 1665 imposed severe restrictions on how money from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) can be spent. It lowered California’s minimum broadband standard to 6 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speeds – if service is available at that level, then the legislature reckons no upgrade is needed. It also fenced off areas where incumbents, mainly AT&T and Frontier Communications, are getting federal subsidies, and allowed them to block grants in other parts of their service territories at will, unless they’re getting the money themselves.

The Bolinas Gigabit Network cleared all those hurdles, at least according to the draft resolution posted by the CPUC: there’s no broadband service available at 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up, AT&T isn’t getting federal subsidies to serve the 600 homes (out of 700) that will benefit, nor did it exercise its jus primae noctis right of first refusal and preempt the project.

It’s also an exceptional project. According to the Bolinas Community Public Utility District, it’s “one of the largest…and densest communities which remains under- and un-served for broadband in rural California”. Its population is relatively well off – $74,000 annual median household income, versus $64,000 statewide – and exurban.

The character of the community led the company behind the project – Inyo Networks – to project that 80% of homes will subscribe to fiber to the home service, costing $90 per month for a symmetrical gigabit (a household with a child in a low income school lunch program can get 25 Mbps up/down for $30 per month). Whether that take rate is plausible is a fair question, but it does underline the rare, if not unique, circumstances of the project.

(The post AB 1665 CASF rules are still being written. It’s possible that higher income areas won’t be eligible or will have a lower priority in the future. But for now, a community’s wealth, or lack thereof, is not an established criterion).

In rural areas of California, the federally subsidised carveouts that Frontier and AT&T received are scattered about in checkerboard fashion. Finding a CASF-eligible area with a population that’s sufficiently dense and affluent to support an independent upgrade, and a local company with the resources and track record to implement it is a needle-in-a-haystack job.

Needle or not, Bolinas deserves due consideration, under current standards and rules. Delivering equal service to the haystack, despite AB 1665, is the CPUC’s true challenge.

San Francisco muni FTTP short list is down to three choices

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The City and County of San Francisco is still tight-lipped regarding details of its $2 billion fiber-to-the-premise project, but its latest cryptic update indicates that the scheduled one-on-one interviews with potential bidders are complete and the first cut was made.

Thanks to a tip from a kind reader, I checked the City’s purchasing website and found this notice, dated yesterday, 19 April 2018…

Notice of Pre-Qualified Bidders for Citywide Fiber to the Premises Network, Lit Fiber and Wi-Fi Services RFQ

The City has completed its evaluation of Citywide Fiber to the Premises Network, Lit Fiber and Wi-Fi Services RFQ. Respondent Teams that are selected and placed on the pre-qualified bidders list are not guaranteed a contract. The following Respondent Teams have been selected:

Bay City Broadband Partners
FiberGateway
Sonic Plenary SF Fiber

Protests of the Pre-Qualified Bidders for this RFQ must be received…no later than 12:00 P.M. (PST) on April 26, 2018.

Before the interviews, the City acknowledged that four groups were in the hunt. This latest list is missing Golden Gate Broadband Partners, of which no public information or even basis for speculation exists. Same story with FiberGateway, unless you count the fact that a cable operator, Altice, uses it as a brand name.

Bay City Broadband Partners is claimed by a local wireless Internet service provider, Monkey Brains, and is said to include Nokia, Zayo and Black and Veatch. As far as I know, Sonic.net hasn’t said anything publicly but it isn’t a stretch to suspect they’re leading Sonic Plenary SF Fiber.

The three remaining contenders are still a long way from getting any kind of a contract. Later this year, the City will issue a formal request for proposals, and only the three blessed “respondent teams” will be eligible to bid. Although the City indicated it would be contributing money to the project, it hasn’t said how much.

A little more light shed on San Francisco muni FTTP contenders

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The City and County of San Francisco has released a little bit of information about the companies that are vying for a $2 billion municipal fiber to the premise (FTTP) project. (Okay, they say it’s $1.9 billion, but at this early stage in the game, the rounder and higher $2 billion figure probably describes it better).

A cryptic post buried on the City’s purchasing website says…

Notice of Shortlist of Respondent Teams selected for Oral Interviews for the Citywide Fiber to Premises Network, Lit Fiber & Wi-fi Services RFQ

The written proposal evaluation for the Citywide Fiber to Premises Network, Lit Fiber & Wi-fi Services RFQ is now complete. The following firms will be invited to the Oral Interviews: Bay City Broadband Partners, FiberGateway, Golden Gate Broadband Partners, and Sonic Plenary SF Fiber.

And that’s it. So in the absence of hard information, we can try to read the tea leaves. The only statements about the written responses to the City’s request for qualifications submitted on or before 26 March 2017 have come from Monkey Brains, a San Francisco wireless Internet service provider. In a tweet and a subsequent newspaper interview, Monkey Brains owner Rudy Rucker said that five groups submitted proposals. One of those groups – Bay City Broadband Partners – includes Monkey Brains and, according to Rucker, Black and Veatch, Zayo and Nokia.

It’s a fair guess – but only a guess – that Sonic Plenary SF Fiber is led by Sonic.net, which is already in the business of building out its own FTTP system in San Francisco. No word yet from Sonic.net, though.

I don’t have any idea at all who’s behind Golden Gate Broadband Partners. A google search didn’t turn up any company that operates under that name, and it’s generic enough that it could be anybody. Same with FiberGateway – no company by that name – but tantalisingly, Altice, a mid-sized U.S. (and huge-sized European) cable company uses that brand name for its router and associated management app. At this point, though, it would be an egregious stretch to infer a connection.

Presumably, one of the written proposals was rejected out of hand. So only four groups are moving on to the oral interview round of the competition, which is scheduled to happen next week. After that, the City will finalise a list of qualified bidders who will be allowed to submit firm responses to a request for proposals that’ll be released later this year.

Handful of hopefuls chase contract to light San Francisco FTTP

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Five groups are in the hunt for San Francisco’s citywide fiber to the premise (FTTP) project, at least according to one of the bidders. Monkeybrains, a San Francisco-based wireless Internet service provider, tweeted that they’re on one of the five teams that submitted proposals.

The deadline for filing responses to the City and County of San Francisco’s request for qualifications (RFQ) was last week. According to the San Francisco Examiner, Monkeybrains is talking, but no one else is saying much of anything about it…

Rudy Rucker, who founded Monkeybrains in 1998 with Alex Menendez…that they are part of one team of companies that submitted by last week’s deadline…

“Monkeybrains has teamed up with Black and Veatch, Zayo and Nokia,” Rucker said in an email. “I don’t know all the other teams … but I think we have a very strong team"…

“The City received several bids and we are impressed by the seriousness of the bid teams and their submissions,” [San Francisco mayor Mark Farrell] told the Examiner last week. “We look forward to reviewing the bids in detail and moving full-steam ahead with our procurement process.”

San Francisco voters will have the final say as to whether the City backs an FTTP project financially. The nominal business model calls for a private company to build and operate an open access, citywide FTTP system that would be run according to policies and practices laid down by the City. The total $1.9 billion cost works out to $51 per residence per month and $73 per business, and the City says it – or rather, taxpayers – will pick up some of the tab. It’s not saying how much, but it won’t be chump change and some kind of new, voter-approved tax is the only clear path to paying it.

At this stage, everything is still theoretical. The RFQ is only aimed at developing a short list of qualified bidders who will, presumably, submit hard proposals later this year. We might get a clue as to who’s in the running on Monday, when the City is scheduled to notify bid teams that they’re moving on to the next step of the process, which is one on one interviews.

Muni broadband gets Colorado voter love, but projects slow to follow

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

But you never know what you’re gonna get.

I guess this is my week for Colorado stories. Tuesday, voters in six more cities voted to opt out of Colorado’s general ban on municipal broadband initiatives, as state law allows them to do. According to numbers collected by the Denver Post, at least 92 Colorado communities have decided to go their own way. Or at least served notice that they wouldn’t mind doing do. As the article points out, a landslide victory at the ballot box doesn’t necessarily – or even often – lead to shovels in the ground…

Voters in Severance, Lake City, Lyons, Frisco, Firestone and Limon voted overwhelmingly in favor of allowing municipal broadband Tuesday, with margins of 347–92 in Limon and 222–18 in Lake City, for example…

Several communities have teamed up with local telephone companies or internet service providers to bring broadband service to residents and businesses, while Longmont, as well as Montrose and Delta counties, have taken on the task of providing internet service through their electric utilities.

Another Post article details an arrangement between Wray, a city on the western edge of the state, and a rural telecoms cooperative.

Longmont voted to leverage the credit rating of its municipal electric utility and go ahead with a fiber to the home (FTTH) in 2013. The most recent results published by the city – from 2016 – show that the enterprise has a 26% market share, although it claims a take rate approaching 60% – the difference being take rate only factors in homes and businesses where FTTH service is available. Presumably, market share is rising as the buildout is completed.

Gigabit-class muni systems were not on the minds of the Colorado legislature, though, when it passed – and governor John Hickenlooper signed – three bills establishing a broadband infrastructure subsidy program, not unlike the California Advanced Services Fund. The resemblance includes explicit and largely exclusive privileges for incumbent telephone and cable companies, and 1990s grade rural broadband service minimums – 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds (although that’s still better than California’s 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up standard).

Open access fiber drives down consumer broadband prices in New Zealand

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

A national project to build fiber-to-the-premise infrastructure and offer it to any Internet service provider on a wholesale basis began in New Zealand in 2011, with an initial goal of reaching 75% of Kiwi homes and businesses. According to a study done by International Data Corporation, a research firm, and sponsored by Spark, the biggest NZ reseller of FTTP service, the build out has reached about 65% of NZ premises, and the goal is now to reach 87% by 2022.

A total of 92 resellers are using the wholesale network to offer retail service. The resulting competition resulted in a drastic drop in retail prices, according to the report

New Zealand telecommunication’s structural separation and national broadband plan have created new constructs and market dynamics. The [Ultra Fast Broadband] initiative has commoditised fibre in New Zealand. Consumer fibre plan prices have plummeted from averaging over NZ$200 per month in 2013 to around NZ$85 per month as at February 2018.

In U.S. dollars, that’s a drop from $144 (or more) per month in 2013 to $61 per month now.

The report questions whether the current level of competition can be sustained. But it also shows that there’s a big gap between the a long tail of small competitors and the handful of market leaders who, presumably, have staying power. Five companies own 91% of subscribers, and all have complementary businesses that share much of the operating costs, including marketing and subscriber management. One is Spark, which is the legacy telephone company in New Zealand, two are mobile carriers – Vodafone and 2degrees – and two are energy companies.

Even if there’s a huge cull amongst the remaining 86 providers, the level of competition will remain high. Five companies competing to offer gigabit class Internet service for $60 or so a month is a robust market, far more competitive than the monopoly/duopoly conditions in nearly all of the U.S..

Fiber can compete, but no competition, no fiber

by Steve Blum • , ,

Fiber-to-the-home broadband service can effectively compete against cable company offerings, but copper-based DSL service can’t. That’s a lesson that’s coming into sharp focus as telcos report 2017 financial results.

Verizon backed away from legacy telephone service, selling its California systems to Frontier among other things, but hung on to its FiOS business, which is concentrated in the northeastern U.S. As a result, Frontier is bleeding DSL subscribers (although it’s doing better where it offers FTTH service), while Verizon’s share of broadband subscribers in its FiOS territory is climbing.

Speaking at a Morgan Stanley conference, Matt Ellis, Verizon’s chief financial officer, said gains from its fiber-based broadband service even offsets declines in its video business…

We’re above 40% penetration on broadband where we have FiOS deployed…So if a customer decides to cut the cord on the video piece, I’m not getting the video revenue anymore, but I also have a significant cost component that goes away too and when those customers decide to cut the cord and rely on [the Internet] for their video entertainment, the quality of their broadband connection becomes even more important.

Verizon and AT&T posted overall broadband subscriber gains in the first nine months of 2017 – the only two major telcos to do so – despite losing a combined 172,000 DSL subs. Fiber to the home service was the reason.

As subscribers continue to dump DSL in favor of DOCSIS-based service from cable companies, telcos will invest in upgrading copper plant and/or replacing it with fiber. But only where there’s 1. competitive pressure to do so and 2. a sufficiently affluent target market. The absence of both is why AT&T and Frontier are heading rapidly in the opposite direction in rural California. Where there’s no cable service and effective competition is lacking, they are shutting down their DSL business and installing low capacity fixed wireless systems.

Where there’s no competition, there’s no need to invest in competitive service.