Hunter Newby on Communications in America – Are We Competitive?
June 25, 2011 5 Comments
This is Part 1 in a series highlighting Hunter Newby’s thoughts and visions of communications in America. Part 1 will highlight Newby’s impressions of America’s competitiveness in the global telecom-enabled community. Additional articles will touch on net neutrality, the “ying and yang” of the telecom industry, as well as the dilemma of supporting telecom “end points.”
Members and guests of the Internet Society gathered at Sentry Center in New York on 14 June for the regional INET Conference. The topic, “It’s your call, What kind of Internet do you want?” attracted Internet legends including Vint Cerf and Sir Timothy John “Tim” Berners-Lee, as well as a number of distinguished speakers and panelists representing a wide range of industry sectors.
Hunter Newby, Founder and CEO of Allied Fiber, joined the panel “Pushing Technology Boundaries” to discuss the future of Internet-enabled innovation. The panel had robust discussions on many topics including net neutrality, infrastructure, telecom law, regulation, and the role of service providers.
Pacific-Tier Communications caught up with Newby on 22 June to learn more about his views on communications in America.
Are We Competitive?
Newby believes America lags behind other nations in developing the infrastructure needed to compete in a rapidly developing global community. Much of the shortfall is related to physical telecommunications infrastructure needed to connect networks, people, content, and machines at the same level as other countries in Asia and Europe.
“The US lacks an appreciation for the need to understand physical (telecom) infrastructure” said Newby. He went on to describe the lack of standard terms in the US, such as “Broadband Communications.” Newby continued “In some locations, such as North Carolina, broadband communications are considered anything over 128Kbps (Kilobits per second).”
Newby note there is considerable disinformation in the media related to the US communications infrastructure. Although the US does have a national broadband plan, in reality the infrastructure is being built by companies with a priority to meet the needs of shareholders. Those priorities do not necessarily reflect the overall needs the American people.
While some companies have made great progress bringing high performance telecom and Internet access to individual cities and towns, Newby is quick to remind us that “we cannot solve telecom problems in a single city or location, and (use that success) to declare victory as a country.” Without having a national high performance broadband and network infrastructure, the US will find it difficult to continue attracting the best talent to our research labs and companies, eroding our competitiveness not only in communications, but also as a country and economy.
Newby returns to a recurring theme in his discussions on communications. There are no connectivity “clouds” as commonly shown in presentations and documents related to the space between end points in the Internet (an end point being users, servers, applications, etc.). The connectivity between end points happens on physical “patch panels,” telecom switches, and routers. This happens in the street, at the data center, carrier hotel, central office, or exchange point.
Bringing it All Down to Layer 1 – Optical Fiber
Newby believes the basis of all discussions related to communications infrastructure starts at the right of way. When access to a ground or aerial right of way (or easement) is secured, then install fiber optic cable. Lots of fiber optic cable. Long haul fiber, metro fiber, and transoceanic submarine fiber. Fiber optic cable allows tremendous amounts of information to travel from end points to other end points, whether in a local area, or across wide geographies.
Long distance and submarine fiber optic cable are essential in providing the infrastructure needed to move massive amounts of information and data throughout the US and the world. While there is still a large amount of communications provided via satellite and microwave, only fiber optic cable has the resources and capacity needed to move data supporting communications within the network or Internet-enabled community.
Newby makes a point that in the US, very few companies operate long haul fiber networks, and those companies control access to their communications infrastructure with tariffs based on location, distance, traffic volumes (bandwidth/ports), and types of traffic. Much of the existing fiber optic infrastructure crossing the US is old, and cannot support emerging communication transmission rates and technologies, limiting choices and competitiveness to a handful of companies – none of which provide fiber as a utility or as a neutral tariffed product.
As the cost of long distance or long haul fiber is extremely high, most carriers do not want to carry the expense of building their own new fiber optic infrastructure, and prefer to lease capacity from other carriers. However, the carriers owning long haul fiber do not want to lease or sell their capacity to potentially competitive communications carriers.
Most US communications carriers operating their own long haul fiber optic networks also provide additional value-added services to their markets. This might include voice services, cable or IP television, virtual private networks, and Internet access. Thus the carrier is reluctant to lease their capacity to other competitive or virtual carriers who may compete with them in individual or global markets.
Thus a dilemma – how do we build the American fiber backbone infrastructure to a level needed to provide a competitive, high capacity national infrastructure without aggressive investment in new fiber routes?
Newby has responded to the dilemma and challenge with his company Allied Fiber, and advises “the only way to properly build the physical infrastructure required to support all of this (infrastructure need) is to have a unique model at the fiber layer similar to what Allied (Allied Fiber) has, but not solely look at fiber as the only source of revenue.”
For example, Newby advises revenue can be supplemented by offering interconnecting carriers and other network or content providers space in facilities adjacent to the backbone fiber traditionally used for only in-line-amplifiers (ILAs) and fiber optic signal regeneration. The ILA facility itself “could be an additional source of recurring revenue,” while allowing the fiber provider to remain a neutral utility.
Or in short, Newby explains “we need to put a 60 Hudson or One Wilshire every 60 miles” to allow unrestricted interconnection between carriers, networks, and content providers at a location closest to the infrastructure supporting end points.
America can compete, and break the long distance dilemma. Newby is certain this is possible, and has a plan to bring the US infrastructure up to his highest standards. The idea is really pretty simple.
- Build a high capacity fiber optic backbone passing through all major markets within the US.
- Connect the backbone to local metro fiber networks (reference the Dark Fiber Community)
- Connect the backbone to wireless networks and towers (and provide the access location)
- Connect the backbone to all major physical interconnection points, carrier hotels, and Internet Exchange Points (IXPs)
- Make access to the backbone available to all as a neutral, infrastructure utility
Newby strongly advises “If you do not understand the root of the issue, you are not solving the real problems.”
And the root of the issue is to ensure everybody in America has unrestricted access to unrestricted communications resources.
Hunter Newby, a 15-year veteran of the telecom networking industry, is the Founder and CEO of Allied Fiber.
Read other articles in this series, including: