Tag Archives: mdu

Google Fiber picks MDU cherries in Orange County

by Steve Blum • , ,

Google Fiber is figuring out how to play small ball and still get thousands of fiber to the home subscribers. In its latest blog post, Google tells how it’s expanding its fiber footprint – actually, making lots of tiny paw prints – in the southern California multi-dwelling unit market…

The Village is the latest apartment community in Orange County with access to our super fast Internet + TV. Additionally, we announced on Thursday that sign ups are now open for residents of The Park at Irvine Spectrum. More than 1,400 residents there will have Fiber service available to them in early 2018.

Since teaming up with Irvine Company last year, we’ve been hard at work to bring Fiber to a number of residential and commercial properties in Orange County. Today, thousands of people in Orange County can sign up for Google Fiber.

It’s not clear whether Orange County is an exception to Google’s no more television service decision. My guess is that Google lit up The Village before it announced that business decision last month.

Either way, going after apartment and condo dwellers in upscale Orange County should be a slam dunk for Google. It can work with building owners to get properties wired up, and the region has a considerable amount of fiber in the ground. It’s a standard, if not universal, construction practice to install fiber in new MDUs in southern California, and elsewhere. The cost of building a lateral connection from a nearby fiber route into a building is typically in the low tens of thousands of dollars range – $10,000 to $20,000 is common, $30,000 would be high, although not unheard of. Even if everything else combined to create a total bill of $100,000 to $200,000, in a 1,000 unit complex, Google’s out of pocket cost still comes out to something like one to two hundred dollars per home “passed”.

Don’t take those numbers to the bank – it’s completely back of the envelope guestimating – but it shows that there’s still some running room for the actual fiber version of Google Fiber (as opposed to its wireless fallbacks), while staying within the bounds of a shrinking capital budget for network expansion.

San Francisco broadband law gains independent ISP access to hundreds of buildings

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

A San Francisco municipal ordinance that gives tenants of multi-unit buildings the right to get broadband service from any qualified provider of their choosing has had a dramatic impact on the market, at least according to CALTEL, a lobbying group for independent telecoms companies in California. In comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission, CALTEL says San Francisco’s ordinance has opened doors for Sonic.net, California’s largest independent ISP…

Sonic now reports that the ordinance has been instrumental in assisting it to gain access to approximately 300 multi-tenant buildings in San Francisco. These facts also confirm San Francisco’s determination that the Commission’s “efforts…to enhance competition among providers of communications services in [multiple tenant environments] have not been successful,” and that it needed to “complement the Commission’s actions by prohibiting property owners from denying persons living or working in MTEs in San Francisco their right to choose a communications provider.

The FCC has two multiple tenant environment proceedings underway. One involves a direct challenge to the San Francisco ordinance and the other is a general enquiry into how, or even if, the FCC should regulate access to buildings and whether it should allow the sort of exclusive deals landlords make with broadband providers that the City and County of San Francisco wants to outlaw. It’s more than just apartment and office buildings. The FCC’s enquiry also includes “gated communities, mobile home parks, garden apartments, and other centrally managed residential real estate developments”, as well as home owner associations.

CALTEL argues that one-size-fits-all federal regulation is the wrong approach, because circumstances vary widely from state to state, and city to city. San Francisco’s desperately tight housing market combined with local rent control creates perverse incentives for landlords: lousy broadband service is one way to churn out existing tenants and bring in new ones who can be charged significantly higher rents.

G.fast isn’t so gee whiz compared to fiber, Verizon exec says

by Steve Blum • , , ,

G.fast technology, which in theory allows telcos to push gigabit speeds over existing copper wire, isn’t a good substitute for fiber upgrades, according to Verizon’s director of network planning. Vincent O’Byrne, quoted in an article by Sean Buckley in FierceTelecom, said that even in multi-tenant office buildings or apartments, it’s more cost effective to install fiber all the way to the customer, than it is to bring fiber in or near a building and then use G.fast to close the gap…

“It’s a bit more expensive to put the single family unit fiber connections out there, but we have the same kind of service as the rest of the network,” O’Byrne said. “We also found that the trouble report rate is less on the fiber all the way to the living unit.”

“At Verizon we were finding the trouble reports on the copper were two to three times more than when we had fiber to the living unit,” O’Byrne said. “For a long time, the copper plant in the Verizon network was not as good as it was in some locations so if we went to G.fast it would be low volume and we would have the same issues five years down the road.”

Of course, if Verizon maintained its copper plant, instead of letting it rot on the poles and then selling it off, as it did in California, some of these issues might not have come up. But it’s true that copper circuits carrying G.fast traffic need to be relatively pristine in order to work over any real distance. If a lot of work is needed, there’s not much of a cost difference between refurbishing copper and replacing it with fiber.

Rapid and constant changes in technology are also a problem. O’Byrne said that as equipment hits end-of-life, it can’t always be replaced with compatible gear, and the mix of different generations of technology can be costly to maintain and difficult to support.

FCC’s idea of open access to broadband service might not be so open

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

It’s hard to tell where the Federal Communications Commission is going with a new enquiry into open (or not) access rules for broadband, television and telephone service providers in apartments, condos, commercial buildings and other multiple tenant environments. Assuming commissioners vote to begin it – a safe bet – all they’d be doing immediately is asking for comments from anyone with an opinion on the subject. It’s not being done out of idle curiosity, though.

The draft of the notice that would open the enquiry says the grand goal is "to facilitate greater consumer choice and to enhance broadband deployment". But choice is in the eye of the chooser. It’s one thing to prohibit a cable company from signing an exclusive deal with a landlord that prevents tenants from installing satellite dishes, but quite another to say that members of a condo association can’t pool their market power and make a bulk buy of television or broadband service.

The current FCC majority is not a populist one. One of its earliest decisions was to kill an initiative begun during the Obama administration to open up the set top box market. Commissioner Michael O’Rielly has gone on rants about the evils of municipal broadband and urged congress to subsidise big incumbents rather than independent competitors. It’s a world view that’s consistent with the Orwellian message pushed by telco and cable lobbyists that anything that threatens their monopolies will doom consumer choice and end broadband deployment.

It’s also clear from the draft that the FCC doesn’t think highly of local efforts, such as in San Francisco, to require open access for Internet service providers to apartments and condos – the first bullet point in the half page "fact sheet" that accompanied the notice refers to the imposition of "overly burdensome infrastructure access requirements onto private companies" by state and local governments.

Take nothing for granted.

Google Fiber goes boringly conventional in Seattle

by Steve Blum • , ,

At first it tried to disrupt the broadband industry in the U.S. with full scale fiber to the home deployments, but the financial realities of a capital intensive business with a long term return on investment horizon has forced Google Fiber into a traditional small ISP business model. Its latest move – into a high rent Seattle high rise – is a low risk venture. According to a blog post by its Webpass subsidiary

Today, we announced that Webpass is ready to move into the Emerald City, one Ethernet-wired building at a time.

Webpass provides blazing-fast Internet (up to a gigabit per second!) to residential and business customers, starting with Fifteen Twenty-One Second Avenue, a 40-story luxury tower located above Pike Place Market. We expect to add many more buildings throughout the city, and, starting today, residents of other apartment and condo buildings can reach out to express interest in bringing Webpass to their home.

The only news here is that Google is involved – downtown Seattle already has a thriving market multi-dwelling unit (MDU) gigabit service.

Two questions that the brief announcement doesn’t answer are how is it getting enough bandwidth into the building and what is the business arrangement with the landlord?

Media reports about the Seattle initiative assume that, consistent with Webpass’ market positioning (but not its invariable practice), the building will be fed wirelessly. That seems unlikely: reliably delivering a gigabit (for $60 per month) to dozens of units in a dense urban environment via a radio link is difficult, while leasing dark fiber from the City of Seattle or other providers is easy. I don’t know how they’re doing it, but I’m not making any assumptions either.

Typically, MDU deals between Internet service providers and landlords involve some level of exclusivity, often based on access to the Ethernet or other wiring inside. It’s becoming a controversial practice. The Federal Communications Commission is about to look into it, and Webpass was on the other side of it in San Francisco. It would ironic if Google’s broadband business model goes from being the disrupter to being disrupted.

FCC begins Act II of apartment, condo broadband access drama

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The rules that govern how video, voice and Internet services are delivered to people who live in what the Federal Communications Commission calls multiple tenant environments (MTEs) are complicated. It’s a universe that includes apartments and condominiums (multiple dwelling units/MDUs), and commercial real estate, such as shopping malls or office buildings. Later this month, the FCC will consider, and likely approve, the start of a broad enquiry that could result in an update and overhaul of those regulations.

The FCC tends to prohibit exclusive deals between property owners and service providers. Tenants, including renters and those with a common ownership interest in, say, a condo or homeowners association (HOA), usually have a right to buy service from anyone, but access to a property or the wiring inside it can be restricted, or even blocked altogether. An HOA can enter into a bulk billing agreement and deliver services, at one level or another and of one kind or another, to every home, but residents are still free to buy additional service from other providers. A landlord can cut a deal with an ISP and make it difficult or impossible for a competitor to wire a building, but can’t prevent tenants from accessing wireless service.

It’s further complicated by the fact that broadband, telephone and television service have separate regulatory regimes and, consequently, different MTE access rules. Broadband, in particular, is in a grey area, since its status – common carrier or not? – is far from settled. The City and County of San Francisco stepped in and established its own open access rules for broadband service in apartments and condos, which were promptly challenged at the FCC. The initial challenge was rejected, but only because of its oddly twisted logic. The core issues of open access to services and the role of local governments in enforcing it were not addressed.

That’s about to change.

FCC denies challenge to San Francisco open ISP access law

by Steve Blum • , ,

San Francisco’s open access rule for Internet services providers in apartment and condo buildings is legal according to the Federal Communications Commission. Or at least, a federal law originally written for satellite television viewers doesn’t make it illegal.

The FCC summarily denied a challenge to the San Francisco law from a lobbying front organisation that represents companies, mostly small ones, that make a living signing exclusive broadband service deals with landlords and homeowners associations, who then force their tenants and members to use it and, usually, get a cut of the action. The San Francisco ordinance is aimed squarely at that practice. It requires landlords and HOAs to 1. allow any qualified ISP to offer service in the building and 2. allow them to use any wiring belonging to the building.

The group, which calls itself the Multifamily Broadband Council, asked the FCC to block the law, claiming it prevents them from exercising their right to exclusive building access under a 1990s law that says that landlords and HOAs can’t prevent tenants from using satellite dishes and similar receiving antennas.


Right. The FCC thought that line of reasoning was bizarre too…

Ultimately, the [Over the Air Receiving Device] Rule exists to enable consumers to use the services of their choosing free from undue restrictions imposed by property owners or governmental authorities, and not to protect the ability of any particular service provider to secure financing by excluding others. [The San Francisco ordinance] requires building owners to allow additional communications service providers to provide services requested by occupants and thus appears to support these objectives by promoting choice in the provision of communications services to consumers.

That doesn’t mean that San Francisco’s ordinance has a clear road ahead of it. It relies on the general authority that cities have under the California constitution, rather than on any broadband-specific power granted by it or state law. In fact, it might, and probably will, be argued that such matters are in the hands of state, and not local, regulators.

This abortive challenge at the FCC was just a warm up act, and not the main show. That’s still to come.

San Francisco ban on exclusive ISP deals goes to FCC

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

San Francisco’s open broadband access rule for apartments and condominiums will be tested at the Federal Communications Commission. As adopted by the San Francisco board of supervisors, the ordinance allows any resident of a multi-dwelling unit (MDU) to buy Internet service from any provider. The landlord or homeowner’s association has to allow access to both the building and the existing wiring inside of it. A lobbying front for companies that make a living providing exclusive broadband service to MDUs is asking the FCC to overturn the ruleArticle 52, for short – because, they say, it will result in less competition and fewer choices…

Though styled as a vehicle for promoting consumer “choice” among communications services, Article 52 in fact offers a de facto sweetheart deal to large, well-financed entities by overriding voluntary, contractual arrangements that are preconditions to the financing required for buildout by small, entrepreneurial start-ups. Typically, such providers must give their lenders indicators of likely success, such as an agreement granting the provider undisturbed use of inside wiring owned by the property owners, or a bulk billing arrangement under which the property owner purchases service and provides it as an amenity for all tenants at a steep discount off of regular retail pricing. Article 52 would effectively nullify such arrangements and afford an undue advantage to larger providers who do not need financing particularly Google, whose subsidiary Webpass was, not coincidentally, Article 52’s primary proponent—and consequently can afford to extend service to a building within Article 52’s constraints.

The FCC put the case on a fast track last week, giving the City and County of San Francisco – and anyone else who might be interested – a month to rebut (or support) the arguments made by the trade group, which is called the Multifamily Broadband Council. San Francisco’s initial response was to say that it’s exclusive deals that prevent new companies from competing and then to ask the FCC for an extra two weeks to respond.

Verizon threatens to end NYC FiOS service over lawsuit

by Steve Blum • , , ,

New York City is suing Verizon for failing to build out fiber to the home service to all residences as promised and Verizon might retaliate by yanking out television service citywide. And stroppy landlords are making it a three-cornered fight.

Like any legal dispute that’s measured in billions of dollars, it’s a complicated affair. But one of the central issues is Verizon’s problems with getting access to apartment buildings and condos – multi-dwelling units (MDUs).

Landlords have not been particularly cooperative. Whether it’s because they have profitable arrangements with other video service providers or they think they can get something out of Verizon or they’re simply being obstinate, they’re preventing a million households from getting FiOS service. At least as Verizon tells it.

As the city sees it, though, Verizon is playing a game. If one landlord blocks access to his property and there are apartment buildings behind it, none of them get FiOS upgrades (h/t to Ars Techica for the documents)…

Verizon’s current position, as stated in correspondence and meetings with the City, is that fulfilling the “premises passed” obligation does not, with respect to a given premises, necessarily involve running fiber immediately in front of or behind the premises. Rather, Verizon has asserted, it should be deemed to have “passed” an individual building if it has run fiber to a nearby intersection and could access the building with further deployment of fiber. In particular, with respect to MDUs, Verizon has argued that an MDU should count as “passed” as long as Verizon intends eventually to run fiber to it, not directly from the street, but rather through an adjacent MDU or a chain of such MDUs, whether or not Verizon has obtained access to any of the MDUs from the property owners.

Verizon responded by saying, in effect, we were so simpatico with New York City that we didn’t have put all that in writing, and threatening to leave the market

Verizon has the option of opening negotiations for a renewal of the Agreement in July. Unfortunately, the City’s intransigence does not create a favorable environment for such negotiations. We would urge the City not to make it impossible for Verizon to continue to provide New York City residents with a competitive alternative to cable TV.

It’s certainly true that landlords can and do block access to competitive broadband companies. San Francisco has taken a different approach and outlawed the practice. That’s yet to be tested in court, though.

Exclusive deals nixed as ISPs get access to San Francisco MDUs

by Steve Blum • , ,

It’s open season on apartment buildings and condominiums in San Francisco, at least where communications services are concerned. The San Francisco board of supervisors unanimously approved, and mayor Ed Lee signed, an ordinance that permits residents of multiple dwelling units (MDUs) to buy broadband (and telephone and video) service from any qualified provider. Landlords or homeowners associations have to allow competitive providers access to the property and to any wiring they own. ISPs have to pay “just and reasonable compensation” and give proper notice, as defined in the ordinance.

There is a hurdle that ISPs have to clear, though. The ordinance only applies to “communications services providers”, which means…

A [company] that: (a) has obtained a franchise to provide video service from the California Public Utilities Commission under [DIVCA]; (b) has obtained a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the California Public Utilities Commission…to provide telecommunications services; or (c) is a telephone corporation as that term is defined in [the] California Public Utilities Code.

Translation: the ordinance does not include just any cowboy with a pick up truck and ladder who wants to install a wireless terminal on the roof and then distribute Internet (or video or phone) service to residents. It only applies to incumbents – Comcast and AT&T in San Francisco – and ISPs that have gone to the trouble of getting certified as a competitive telephone company by the CPUC.

If a landlord has an agreement with an ISP (or cable or telephone company) for exclusive access, well, tough…

A property owner that, as of the effective date of this Article, has an agreement with a communication services provider that purports to grant the communications services provider exclusive access to a multiple occupancy building and/or the existing wiring to provide services is not exempt from the requirements of this Article.

In theory, other incumbent telcos and cable companies – Frontier and Charter, to use the next largest players in California as an example – could take advantage of the law, but that’s not going to happen. Like mafia families, monopoly dons respect each other’s territories, lest a war no one will win breaks out.

Property owners and companies that make a living selling exclusive deals to them objected, of course. No doubt, it’ll be challenged in court, but for now, it’s the law of the land in San Francisco.