Los Angeles ranks 12th, compared against forty other cities worldwide, in its blend of broadband infrastructure and usage and social and economic benchmarks, as measured by Ericsson, a major provider of equipment and services to the telecoms industry. The latest edition of Ericsson’s Networked City Index has LA slipping one notch from the last time the index was run in 2014.
LA was on of three U.S. cities in the study. New York finished ahead at 7th, same as 2014, and Miami slipped two places further behind to 17th place. The index looks at the state of telecoms infrastructure, as well as its cost and the extent to which people are using it, and cross-compares it with several social and economic indicators that Ericsson thinks are particularly important – health, innovation, resources and economic competitiveness.
When you graph the rankings out on two axes – information and communications technology on one side and social markers, the so-called triple bottom line, on the other – LA’s peer group turns out to be Seoul and Taipei. There’s no narrative in the Index about LA, but there’s a short profile of Seoul, described as one of the “striving cities” – near enough to the top tier of world cities to be competitive, but with ample latitude to continuing growing in the direction that best suits it. That’s not a bad way to describe Los Angeles, either.
A community-based WiFi access initiative that I wrote about three years ago has hit some rough waters, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times. Manchester Community Technologies embarked on a project to get local businesses in economically depressed areas to share Internet connections and power a WiFi network managed by Manchester. Initially, they were serving 1,500 people a month, and running on a grant from the California Public Utilities Commission. But initial burst of volunteer enthusiasm faded along with the funding.
But today, most of those networks and hot spots don’t link to the Internet.
In an initial survey late last year, The Times checked seven parks and 11 network locations, finding no Wi-Fi at any of them. A follow-up survey in March found network signals at three of the eight parks and 16 community locations but could not obtain a connection on any of them. The best results were on a section of Crenshaw Boulevard in Leimert Park where several businesses were broadcasting free Wi-Fi on a community network.
The money – about $500,000 according to the Times – came from the California Advanced Services Fund, via a regional broadband consortia grant. Pushing free WiFi out into low income communities is a nice idea, but without permanent subsidies from someone, it’s not going to last.
It’s easy to call Manchester’s project a failure – because, evidently, it did fail – but if lessons were learned, documented and published, then it would also be a successful experiment. The freedom to fail is what gives Silicon Valley its entrepreneurial energy. It’s not the failures who suffer in the long run, it’s those who do not learn from the experience.
As we kick off our usual checklist process, we’ll work closely with city leaders to collect detailed information about each metro area. From Venice Beach to Wrigley Field, we’ll study the different factors that would affect construction—like city infrastructure and topography—and use that information to help us prepare to build a local fiber network.
While we can’t guarantee that we’ll be able to bring Fiber to Chicago and L.A., this is a big step for these cities and their leaders. Planning for a project of this size is a huge undertaking, but we’ll be sure to keep residents updated along the way.
The city wants a gigabit-capable network that reaches pretty much every home and business in Los Angeles, plus WiFi coverage. As part of the deal, the winners would have to give away service for free to at least some households and to WiFi users.
That’s not Google’s business model, though. Google Fiber primarily targets cherry-picked neighborhoods that show a sufficient amount of interest, although it has at least paid lip service to offering service to less affluent areas in some cases. And free doesn’t factor into its plans at all.
For its part, the City of Los Angeles has been unwilling to put its crown jewel – the extensive system of poles and conduit that support its municipal electric utility – on the table. Pole access is a key item on Google’s checklist, so it might turn out that there won’t be much to talk about with the city. But at least the conversation can begin.
The Gizmodo article leans heavily on the City of Los Angeles’s spin that the poles include more energy efficient, LED-based streetlights – true enough – and that it’ll be a vital communications link when the Big One hits, which might or might not be true. It doesn’t look like the design includes back up generators or any other kind of emergency power, so it won’t function independently after a major earthquake. The more you install, though, the greater the odds that some will be functioning, so it probably does improve disaster readiness to some degree.
But touting something in ecological purity and earthquake preparedness terms is the Californian equivalent of wrapping it in the flag. That’s the first clue that there’s something else going on. Digging into the press release put out by Ericsson, a mobile infrastructure manufacturer and partner in the LA SmartPole project, you’ll find the real purpose…
To meet the demand for coverage and capacity, mobile operators need to improve, densify and add many more radio cell sites in dense areas. The new connected street light pole, designed to house Ericsson’s cutting edge suite of small cell products, offers network operators new possibilities to find the right site location. It will also help to scale the deployment of mobile broadband technology beyond traditional sites – a key enabler for evolving heterogeneous networks.
The one thing we do know about 5G networks is that they will involve deployment of lots and lots of small cells, particularly in urban areas with dense mobile broadband traffic. Getting past the objections of cranky Nimbys and the tin foil hat brigade will involve a combination of good design and easily communicated benefits. Los Angeles is getting a head start on both.
The City of Los Angeles took the next step toward creating a city-wide, gigabit capable broadband system by issuing a request for proposal, aimed at attracting bids from companies or, presumably, other types of organisations that want to build and operate it.
Earlier this year, Steve Reneker, the city’s general manager of information technology, asked “are we creating a unicorn here?” The answer is unequivocally yes.
The RFP can be summed up aspay us for permission to build a city-wide gigabit network and then give service away for free. The city wants a gigabit-capable network that reaches pretty much every home and business in Los Angeles, plus WiFi coverage. As part of the deal, the winners would have to give away service for free to at least some households and to WiFi users.
What is the city offering in return? Not much. It’s offering to streamline permit processes, although applicants would have to pay for this “concierge” service, and make city assets available either at market rates or, in some cases, reduced initial rates that will ramp up over time.
The City of Los Angeles has two assets that might make this dream feasible: utility poles and ducts and a dark fiber back bone network, both owned by the department of water and power. Both are on the table, but with only minor concessions. For example, the city says it “is willing to consider reallocating space on [utility poles] to expedite access to [utility poles] by winning Proposers”. Otherwise, space on those poles is available on standard terms and conditions. In other words, except for maybe a more cooperative attitude from the city, there’s nothing that winning bidders would get that they can’t get any day of the week.
Dark fiber would be available in relatively generous quantities at a rate of $100 per strand per mile per month, ramping up to $250. However, the city is only willing to lease fiber in bundles of 12 strands, which means it’s really $1,200 per mile per month at the start and climbing to $3,000 per mile per month by year 8. And after year 10, all bets are off.
The deal Los Angeles is offering is less attractive than the minimum terms that Google Fiber wanted in its quest for compliant cities. It’s hard to imagine a credible bidder making an proposal that comes anywhere near what the city wants, unless incumbents like AT&T or Time Warner can see a way to use the city’s meager offer to enhance their existing business model.
“Are we creating a unicorn here?” asked Steve Reneker, general manager of information technology for the City of Los Angeles. He was relating his experience looking for companies interested in building a citywide fiber to the home system to participants in a local government broadband conference put on by the California Emerging Technology Fund in Riverside last week. The answer he got back from the industry was “yes”.
LA [floated a request for information last year](), looking for ideas and partners to aid its FTTH quest. It certainly resulted in information, but little that would lead to direct action. Reneker said responders cited two primary problems: the “laborious” permitting process they would have to go through – a common problem in Californian communities – and the lack of information about the assets the city was willing to put into the mix.
He said LA is trying to fix both problems, and is getting ready to formally ask for proposals later this month, with responses due back in September and, he hopes, a winner picked early next year.
Essentially, LA is looking for a Google Fiber deal, but without any cherry picking: a gigabit for around $70 a month, with 5 Mbps service given away for free. Citywide WiFi and commercial-grade broadband service would also be part of the deal. That’s the unicorn.
The city has a better idea of what it can offer – space for fiber huts, for example – but still can’t commit its crown jewel. The City of Los Angeles operates a municipal electric utility, which has access to, and in some cases ownership of, a citywide network of pole routes and conduit. But that’s not on the table yet. It’s complicated, Reneker said. “We’re trying to figure it out and make it happen”.
Due to the Microsoft end-of-support for its Windows XP Operating System on April 8, 2014, a mass computer replacement effort has been underway across the City. As a result, thousands of old computers will be salvaged through the City’s e-waste recycling. Under the guidance of the Offices of the Mayor, Council President and Innovation Technology and General Services Committee Chair, the City is working on the design and implementation of a digital inclusion pilot program to take advantage of these salvaged computers.
It’s an odd juxtaposition: asking for a city-wide fiber network on the one hand, and giving out thousands of computers that probably lack the horsepower to do very much with it. There’s a plan to work with non-profit outfits to refurbish the computers, though. It raises an interesting question: which operating system will be loaded in to replace Windows XP?
Some flavor of Linux is one potentially disruptive possibility. As libraries and schools have learned, the usability gap between open source software and shrink wrapped commercial packages has narrowed to the point that there’s little practical difference when it comes to basics like word processing, graphics and spreadsheets. It’s also an option for other public sector IT departments that lack the budget to upgrade immediately.
When Microsoft made the decision to pull the plug on XP, someone must have looked at the risk-benefit trade-off of creating a mass OS switching opportunity away from Windows. We’ll know if they didn’t, or if they miscalculated, if the next bold move out of Redmond is Office for Linux.
The City of Los Angeles has taken the next step in its quest to have gigabit class fiber optic service available to every home and business. An official request for information (RFI) has been released for the Los Angeles Community Broadband Network (LACBN), with a 30 June 2014 deadline for responses. It’s only a preliminary step towards formally requesting proposals for the project. It’s also optional – not responding won’t keep anyone out of the running when the time comes.
At some level, the city wants Internet access available to all residents for free. The RFI points to free service and hardware offered elsewhere (without giving examples) and states that the network should ensure that “minimum levels of services and equipment are available to all”.
Otherwise, the objectives are…
To the extent possible, every residence and business in Los Angeles should be passed by a fiber network that is willing and able to provide services to those homes and residences at competitive prices. Ideally, the network should offer Internet access to residences at 1 Gbps up and downstream, and similar or higher capacity services to businesses. It is the City’s preference that the network bring fiber to the premises, but given developments in wireless technology, the City is also open to allowing applicants to provide services to the home through a combination of wireless and fiber technologies — provided the network performance is similar. Existing 4G systems, however, would not be considered an adequate substitute for the LACBN.
No money is on the table. And critically, neither is there any particular access offered to the extensive electric infrastructure – 540,000 city utility poles, 295,000 joint poles, conduits and 525 miles of fiber – that’s owned by the city’s municipal electric utility. Instead, the RFI advises that “there are processes available through which entities should be able to obtain access to space on [utility poles]” and “should an entity be interested in using [city-owned] fiber, an agreement with the [Los Angeles Department of Power and Water] would be required”.
As I’ve written before, the LADPW infrastructure is the city’s crown jewel: with it, the city would have a compelling offer and leverage to demand the benefits it wants. But without it, the RFI is merely aspirational. Of course, the city could change tack after the responses come in. It would be politically and bureaucratically messy to include LADPW infrastructure, but it would demonstrate a serious intent to produce something other than a photo opportunity.
The specs also include requirements for network and consumer equipment neutrality. The preference is for an open network “that allows for multiple service providers and equal access to fiber infrastructure at reasonable wholesale cost”.
The city is offering to streamline permits, make some city property available and buy service from the network. The city does include a lot of good information in the RFI itself, and in the attachments – that alone is a sign of good faith. It’s all available on the city’s website, of course, but I’ve posted the documents on my server too and links are below.
Last week the LA city council endorsed a plan, written by the city’s IT chief, Steve Reneker, and sponsored by freshman councilman Bob Blumenfield to entice private investors into providing ubiquitous broadband coverage to 3.8 million people over nearly 500 square miles.
The city isn’t offering much, though. A ten year deal to handle some of the city’s internal IT and telecoms business is a possibility. So is access to relatively minor city assets – light poles and buildings were mentioned – and maybe a break on permit and approval fees. Chump change.
LA’s truly valuable broadband asset is off limits. In the course of explaining the plan, Reneker made it clear that the city’s electric infrastructure won’t be part of the deal…
Some of those services are things like managing our fiber network that is non-LA DWP, some of those might be our cell expenditures, some of those might some managed services for other things that we do.
DWP knows about fat pipes.
LA DWP is the department of power and water, the city’s municipal electric utility which has thousands of miles of plant that would be golden to anyone stringing fiber cables or hanging WiFi or cellular access points. It’s a semi-autonomous operation that the city classifies as proprietary, charged with providing a service to the public and generating cash for the city’s general fund.
Involving DWP in a muni broadband project would be complicated and risky, but it would demonstrate that the city is serious about pursuing a broadband project. Building a citywide fiber and wireless system in LA is a huge job. The relatively few companies qualified to tackle it won’t be interested in fronting all the cash and taking all the risk. But the prospect of gaining access to DWP’s utility poles, conduits, right of ways, easements and customer accounts would get their attention. It would be the difference between a slim chance of success and none.