The deal allows Verizon to use city assets to install what will initially be an experimental 5G network that’ll provide fixed service, presumably into homes and businesses, in competition with AT&T and Comcast. But it’s immediate value is as a development project, with technical and political benefits.
It’s no coincidence that the company chose California’s capital city. Verizon was one of the main backers of senate bill 649, which was approved by legislators but was vetoed by governor Jerry Brown. In his veto message, he said he was looking for “a more balanced solution”, which guarantees it’ll be back next year. SB 649 would have given mobile carriers at-will access to city and county-owned property, such as light poles and traffic signals, at below market rates. During legislative hearings, Verizon offered lawmakers rides around Sacramento in its 5G demo van, and generally made its presence known. The deal reached with Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg, a termed-out but formerly high profile state senator, will help keep Verizon top of mind at the capitol.
Leading off with fixed service allows Verizon to test 5G technology while it is still in the development stage. It can deploy a limited amount of network equipment based on the recently finalised initial set of 5G specifications without having to worry about full mobile coverage. Same with customer premise equipment. It’ll be a while before 5G mobile phones are widely available to consumers, but Verizon will have no problem sourcing and installing early and limited versions of gear that’ll support fixed service.
The deal puts Sacramento first in line for true, mobile 5G service, as it launches on a full commercial basis over the next few years. When and where that build out happens will depend to a great degree on both the political and technical results.
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 to stop playing these kinds of word games, but that doesn’t mean everyone else has to play them too. Insist on the truth.
Along with excellent industrial grade fiber networks and data centers, the City of West Sacramento owns a significant amount of telecommunications conduit that can be used to leverage those assets.
The primary broadband infrastructure in West Sacramento, which is owned by AT&T and Wave, is near average when compared to California as a whole, receiving a “C-” grade (1.9 out of 4.0). That’s on a par with many Silicon Valley communities.
Nevertheless, consumers and business people generally believe that the Internet service they receive is not fast enough or reliable enough for their needs.
Mobile broadband service varies by provider, with some offering citywide coverage and others showing significant gaps in availability and/or capacity.
A glaring digital divide exists, with half of households adopting broadband at a significantly lower rate than Californians overall. This split correlates to economic status. Households with lower broadband adoption rates have an average income of about $41,000 per year, while those with higher rates average $75,000 and up.
Top of the policy and project recommendation list is for West Sacramento to keep doing what it’s already doing right – installing conduit in public works projects and leasing it to telecoms companies, for example – and build on that base by looking at extending fiber and conduit to industrial areas that need it.
Addressing the digital divide is also needful, and the City will be doing targeted public outreach to identify specific broadband development targets. Recommended next steps also include advocating for residents with state and federal regulators and policy makers, including urging that temporary low income programs offered by broadband providers be made permanent.