Wiring the Sierras

Inyo County, the second largest county in California, is ready to jumpstart the process of delivering a true broad band infrastructure to business and residences within the Owens Valley.  The plan, called the 21st Century Obsidian Project, envisions delivering a fiber infrastructure to all residents of Inyo County and other surrounding areas along the Eastern Sierras and parts of Death Valley.

Owens Valley Eastern Sierras According to the project RFP, the project goal is “an operating, economically sustainable,
Open Access, Fiber-to-the-Premise, gigabit network serving the Owens Valley and select
neighboring communities. The project is driven by the expectation that Inyo County’s
economy will improve as a result of successfully attaining the goal.”

Many cities are finding ways to bypass the nonsense surrounding discussion on “Net Neutrality.”  Rather than worry about what Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, or other carriers and ISPs feuding over the rights and responsibilities of delivering Internet content to the premise,  many governments understand the need for high speed broadband as a critical economic, social, and academic tool, and are developing alternatives to traditional carriers.

Whether it is the Inyo County project, Burbank One (a product of Burbank Water and Power), Glendale Fiber Optic Solutions (Glendale Water and Power), Pasadena’s City Fiber Services, or Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s (LADWP) Fiber Optic Enterprise, the fiber utility is becoming available in spite of carrier reluctance to develop fiber infrastructure.

Much of the infrastructure is being built to support intelligent grids (power metering and control), and city schools or emergency services – with the awareness fiber optics are fiber optics, and the incremental cost of adding additional fiber cores to each distribution route is low.  So why not build it out for the citizens and businesses?

The important aspect of municipal or city infrastructure development is the acknowledgement this is a utility.  While some government agencies will provide “lit” services, in general the product is “dark” fiber, available for lease or use by commercial service providers.  Many city networks are interconnected (such as in Los Angeles County utility fiber from Glendale, Burbank, and LADWP), as well as having a presence at major network interconnection points.  This allows fiber networks to carry signal to locations such as One Wilshire’s meet-me-room, with additional access to major Internet Exchange Points and direct interconnections allowing further bypass and peering to other national and global service providers.

In the case of Inyo County, planners fully understand they do not have the expertise necessary to become a telecommunications carrier, and plan to outsource maintenance and some operations of the 21st century Obsidian Project to a third party commercial operator – of course within the guidelines established by the RFP.  The intent is to make it easy and cost effective for all businesses, public facilities, schools, and residences to take advantage and exploit broadband infrastructure.

However the fiber will be considered a utility, with no prejudice or limitations given to commercial service providers desiring to take advantage of the infrastructure and deliver services to the county.

We hope more communities will look at innovative visions such as being published by Inyo County, and consider investing in fiber optics as a utility, diluting the potential impact of carrier sanctions against both internet access, content, or applications (including cloud computing Software as a Service <SaaS> subscriptions.  e.g., MS 365, Adobe Creative Cloud, Google Apps, etc.)..

Congratulations to Inyo County for your vision, and best of luck.

Hunter Newby on Communications in America – Net Neutrality

This is Part 3 in a series of interviews with Hunter Newby, Founder and CEO of Allied Fiber

Hunter Newby, Founder and CEO of Allied Fiber believes most people do not fully understand the meaning of “Net Neutrality.”  There is a perception that “Net Neutrality is about the Internet,” says Newby.  “It is not, it is about physical access to the Internet.”

HunterNewbyAnd this is a combination of controlling the end points (users, computers, and applications), controlling what data or content the end points can access, and what other distant end point destinations are available.  Internet gatekeepers, including Internet Service Providers, telecom carriers, and governments, control “who can connect, what they can connect to, and how they connect” claims Newby.

“They are (the gatekeepers) going to have the ability to determine what we can or cannot see” Newby adds, “and that is what scares me the most.”

Newby is quick to point out the government states they will protect the rights of people to connect to “legal” content.  But who makes the decision what legal content is?  He uses the example of WikiLeaks.  While some may find the information scary, embarrassing, inappropriate, or unethical, the question is whether or not the data contained within a WikiLeaks website should be blocked from end points (users), and who is in a position to make that content-access decision?

If the gatekeeper is given that authority, and there no other access options available to end points, then the concept of Net Neutrality becomes a tool for the gatekeepers to control access to global Internet-enabled information resources.

For Newby, that presents a challenge and opportunity

The Neutral Connectivity Buss

Newby is an American, a patriot, and wants to ensure America’s economy and society remains strong, and stays in a global leadership role.  However he still acknowledges America has shortfalls in delivering broadband to all end points within the country.  His own company, Allied Fiber, “is created to address America’s need for more broadband access, wireless backhaul, data center distribution and lower latency communications services.”

And here is the problem.  Long haul fiber optic cables represent the physical means of not only connecting cities and regions to the global Internet (as one network among many levels of communications and connectivity), but also provide a means for end points to connect with other end points around the world.  In the United States nearly all telecom carriers operating long haul or long distance fiber also directly support end points.

This means that each long haul fiber operator has a direct interest in containing as many end points within their network as possible.  This includes moving up the OSI Stack to provide end points with additional value-added services to end points, in addition to physical access.  The carrier then may include everything from applications to content distribution within their own suite of services, either limiting access to competitive sources of similar services – or Newby points out in a worst case outright blocking those services making end points “hostages behind the gatekeeper.”  telecom-tower-at-sunrise

Newby promotes the concept of building neutral connectivity busses on the long haul networks, connecting competitive regional, metro, and local networks to the buss without concern of needing a traditional long haul carrier to provide that service – a carrier which may wish to restrict the local companies to those services or content available through the carrier’s own content or value-added services.

The closer a neutral long haul connectivity buss can get to local access providers, the easier it will become for new access providers to emerge, as they will have more options for global interconnection, free from the legacy of a single long haul provider with a monopoly on access and transit connectivity.

Newby’s idea of a neutral connectivity buss is not limited to copper or fiber to the end point.  In rural areas it is clear wireless technologies may provide better and faster connectivity options than physical cable.  Thus, in Allied’s case, Newby promotes the idea of building neutral towers at each in-line amplifier or signal regeneration site.

“We can promote this due to our multi-duct design by using the short haul duct/cable for splicing in towers, etc. It is not limited to just the amp sites” continues Newby.

This would further allow multiple wireless providers to emerge, serve, and compete in areas where only large carriers had the means to operate in the past.

Interconnection, Bypass, and Competition

Carrying a pedigree which includes the legacy of building one of the world’s largest carrier interconnection facilities (60 Hudson’s Telx Meet-Me-Room), Newby is one of the few people around the industry with a core understanding of carrier bypass and interconnections.  The “carrier hotel” industry was born to address the need of competitive communications companies to bypass traditional incumbent, or monopoly carriers to directly interconnect without the burden of buying transit connections.

In the United States, this may have been a requirement (in the old days) for Sprint to connect with MCI, without requiring a transit connection through AT&T to make the link.  As we added international carriers, such as British Telecom or France Telecom, and they were given the opportunity to own end-to-end circuit capacity on submarine fiber cables or satellites, they were also given the ability to directly connect with Sprint, MCI, or other emerging carriers at a neutral carrier hotel without the need for transit connections.

The concept of neutral Internet Exchange Points, Carrier Ethernet Exchanges, and neutral tandem telephony switches are all a continuation of the need for bypassing individual or monopoly carriers.

Newby now wants to take that several steps further.  “At Allied Fiber we want to be able to provide (any service provider or carrier) multiple paths of connectivity.  If they (the service provider) can connect to us, then they are free to do (or connect to) what they wish.”

A strong advocate of distributed interconnect and peering, Newby also sees Allied Fiber’s infrastructure as a giant, neutral carrier interconnection point.  As each in line amplifier or regeneration site requires a physical support facility, and as noted will also support antenna towers, it is also reasonable to extend the site to include neutral carrier colocation and neutral interconnection both within the site, as well as along the Allied Fiber route to other similar interconnection points.

As Allied Fiber also intends to extend their fiber to existing major and second tier carrier hotels (such as 60 Hudson, etc), this will give connecting service providers the ability to interconnect with other service providers throughout the United States and international locations through a neutral connectivity system – further relieving themselves of monopoly pricing and service restriction potentially imposed by incumbent or transit carriers.

And the product of this exercise is greater competition.  Newby is in the business of providing the “connectivity buss,”  and openly states Allied Fiber’s policy is “come one, come all.”  Regional and local networks/service providers can then take the transit carrier factor out of their list of business risk, with an outcome of better broadband and Internet access to end points throughout America.  A more competitive America.

Read other posts in this series, including:

Managing Disasters with Internet Utilities

Fire season is here. Southern California fire departments and forestry services are urging residents to cut back brush on their properties and create “defensible space” Burbank is in a High Risk Period for Wildfirebetween the dry chaparral and their homes. Local news stations have spooled their resources to bring fire-related journalism to the population. And, we have already seen extreme technology such as DC-10s and 747s dumping insane amounts of Foscheck and water to quickly knock down fires which have popped up early in the season.

Southern California has fires, just as Kansas has tornadoes and Florida has hurricanes. Disasters are a natural part of nature and life. How we deal with natural disasters, our ability to survive and overcome challenges, and how we restore our communities defines our society.

Technology tools in place or being developed are having a major impact on our ability to react, respond, and recover from disaster. In the early stages of any disaster, communication is key to both survival and response. As nearly every person in the world is now tethered to a wireless device, the communication part isDefensible space to avoid brush fires becoming much easier, as even the most simple handset will support basic features such as text messaging and voice communications.

Getting the Message Out

Over the past 25 years the world has adopted Internet-enabled communications in a wide variety of formats for everything from email to citizen journalism. It is hard to find an event occurring anyplace in the world that is not recorded by a phone camera, YouTube video, blog, or real time broadcast.

In the 2008 Santa Barbara Tea Fire students from UC Santa Barbara used Twitter to warn fellow students and local residents to get out of the fire’s path as it raced through 2000 acres and more than 210 houses within the city limits. While it is not possible to put a statistic on the value of Twitter on evacuations and emergency notification, interviews following the fire with students revealed many had their initial notification through Twitter lists, and indicated they were able to get out of areas consumed in the fire (while screaming the heads off to others in the neighborhood to get out) before public safety officials were able to respond to the fire.

NOTE: I was driving through Santa Barbara (along the ‘101) during the initial phase of the fire, and can personally verify the fire moved really, really fast through the city. It looked like lava streaming out of a volcano, and you could see houses literally exploding as the fire hit them and moved through… I wasted no time myself getting through the city and on the way to LA.

Houses in Burbank's Verdugu MoutnainsThis article will not review all the potential technologies or software becoming available for emergency notifications, however we will look at the basic utility enabling all the great stuff happening to keep our citizens safe. The Internet.

Internet’s Utility is Now Bigger than Individuals and Companies

We all remember the infamous interview with Ed Whitcare, former CEO at AT&T.

Q: How concerned are you about Internet upstarts like Google, MSN, Vonage, and others?

A: How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The Internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!

This statement, clearly indicates many in the internet network and service provider business do not yet get the big picture of what this “4th Utility” represents. The internet is not funny cat videos, porn, corporate web sites, or Flickr. Those features and applications exist on the Internet, but they are not the Internet.

Internet, broadband, and applications are a basic right of every person on the planet. The idea that two network administrators might have an argument at a bar, and subsequently consider the possibility of “de-peering” a network based on personalities or manageable financial considerations borders on being as irresponsible as a fire department going on strike during a California wildfire.

From http://www.wired.com/autopia/2009/09/evergreen-supertanker/As a utility, the Internet has value. Just as electricity, water, or roads. The utility must be paid for either before or after use, however the utility cannot be denied to those who need the service. When a city grows, and attracts more traffic, residents, and commerce, the intent is normally not to restrict or control the process, you build better roads, better infrastructure, and the people will eventually pay the price of that growth through taxes and utility bills. The 4th Utility is no different. When it gets oversubscribed, it is the carrier’s responsibility to build better infrastructure.

Disputes between network administrators, CFOs, or colocation landlords should never present a risk that SMS, Twitter, email, or other citizen journalism could be blocked, resulting is potential loss of life, property, and quality of life.

Communicating in the Dangerous Season

Fire season is upon us. As well as riots, traffic congestion, government crackdowns, take downs, and other bad things people need to know so they can react and respond. The Internet delivers CalTrans traffic information to smart phones, SMS, and web browsers to help us avoid gridlock and improve our quality of life. Twitter and YouTube help us understand the realities of a Tehran government crackdown, and Google Maps helps guide us through the maze of city streets while traveling to a new location.

We have definitely gone well past the “gee whiz” phase of the Internet, and must be ready to deal with the future of the Internet as a basic right, a basic utility, and essential component of our lives.

Net neutrality is an important topic – learn more about network neutrality, and weigh in on how you believe this utility should be envisioned.

Shrouding the Net Neutrality Debate in a Cloud of Politics

The FCC finally moved the network neutrality debate forward Thursday, voting to begin developing open Internet regulations. The topic has become quite interesting over the past week, as strong-willed proponents and opponents of Internet Network Neutralitynet neutrality turn up campaigns to influence law makers prior to voting on any net neutrality principles that may become law.

The debate is actually quite simple – should the government regulate, or not regulate the Internet? That discussion revolves around the six principles of network neutrality proposed by the FCC:

Under the draft proposed rules, subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service:

  • would not be allowed to prevent any of its users from sending or receiving the lawful content of the user’s choice over the Internet;
  • would not be allowed to prevent any of its users from running the lawful applications or using the lawful services of the user’s choice;
  • would not be allowed to prevent any of its users from connecting to and using on its network the user’s choice of lawful devices that do not harm the network;
  • would not be allowed to deprive any of its users of the user’s entitlement to competition among network providers, application providers, service providers, and content providers;
  • would be required to treat lawful content, applications, and services in a nondiscriminatory manner; and
  • would be required to disclose such information concerning network management and other practices as is reasonably required for users and content, application, and service providers to enjoy the protections specified in this rulemaking.

The Pro Argument of Network Neutrality

Oddly, former adversaries Google and Verizon issued a joint statement regarding their position on net neutrality. Both companies have significantly changed their positions since the debate originally hit the headlines in 2005, with a highlight of the joint statement:

“For starters we both think it’s essential that the Internet remains an unrestricted and open platform — where people can access any content (so long as it’s legal), as well as the services and applications of their choice.
Transformative is an over-used word, especially in the tech sector. But the Internet has genuinely changed the world. Consumers of all stripes can decide which services they want to use and the companies they trust to provide them…

…This kind of “innovation without permission” has changed the way we do business forever, fueling unprecedented collaboration, creativity and opportunity. And because America has been at the forefront of most of these changes, we have disproportionately benefited in terms of economic growth and job creation.”

This oddly puts Verizon in opposition to the other main anti-net neutrality supporters such as AT&T, Cox Communications, and Comcast.

Certainly companies like Google have come a very long way from 2005 when the debate was clearly one of who pays whom, for what kind of service, and who has the right to determine the quality of services over basic Internet infrastructure. In the early days content providers wanted a level of government regulation to ensure the Internet transmission and network providers did not have control over the end user experience, and objected to statements by AT&T’s then CEO Ed Whitacre who stated in an interview with Business Week:

“How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The Internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!

This set off both a furor among Internet users, as well as a new movement to ensure the “telcos” did not ever again have an opportunity to restrict or limit free access to their networks. Arguments ranged from identifying the US taxpayer and AT&T customers paying for basic infrastructure our of Universal Services Fund/USF (meaning the US taxpayer is actually the owner of much of AT&T’s USF-funded infrastructure), to AT&T subscribers being forced to use AT&T preferred content providers based on their control of the network.

There are many organizations representing both users and Internet industry companies supporting the idea of network neutrality. The current law in the house is sponsored by Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) who introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009 (H.R. 3458) in July 2009.

The Con Argument

Not surprisingly, the Con argument is dominated by conservatives in both the government and corporate communities.

John McCain (who is also accused by the Huffington Post as having received more than $800,000 in campaign funding by AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast) rejected the FCC’s vote, and offered a new proposal called the “Internet Freedom Act.”

“Today I’m pleased to introduce the Internet Freedom Act of 2009 that will keep the Internet free from government control and regulation,” McCain said in a statement. “It will allow for continued innovation that will in turn create more high-paying jobs for the millions of Americans who are out of work or seeking new employment. Keeping businesses free from oppressive regulations is the best stimulus for the current economy.” (CNN)

The only thing missing in the above cliché-filled statement is a series of pictures of crying babies, unemployment lines, and California wildfires. The bottom line here is that politicians, bending to pressure or contributions from opposition parties, will use any words available to tug at either emotions or heart strings, regardless of the presence of factual data to support the position.

AT&T allegedly sent notice to all their employees, including union members and families, to write their representatives in favor of knocking down network neutrality. Perhaps that is a natural activity in the political process, however bandwagon appeals without supporting fact will not give the American people the broadband environment needed to compete in the global market placed.

Let’s look at both arguments in detail. Do a Google, Bing, Yahoo, or other web search on the topic of Net/Network Neutrality. You will find a lot of web references, news stories, blogs, and opinions on the topic. Much of it anarchistic noise, much of it very valuable information.

Hunter Newby, CEO of Allied Fiber, asks the question “What if the United States falls further behind Europe in deployment of broadband networks? What if we lose track of the need to wire each and every community? What if the United States falls so far behind Europe and the rest of the world due to politics preventing innovation that we can never economically recover?”

There are those who still believe the carriers, such as Verizon, AT&T, broadband wireless providers (such as Clearwire), and the cable companies should concentrate their efforts on delivering connectivity to each and every addressable community in the United States. Facility-based carriers (those who own the physical cable) should concentrate on providing bundles of “big, fat, dumb, communications pipes.”

Comments on Net Neutrality are Now Open with the FCC

The great thing about the US system is that no national law is ever a unilateral decision. We have a wonderful system of due-diligence through the congress and senate, with support from the executive and judicial branches of government.

The Federal Communications Commission under the leadership of Chairman Genachowski has opened discussion and the period of comment on the FCC guidelines. The period for comments is open until 14 Jan 2010. Some links for those interested in the topic include:

FCC Seeks Public Input on Draft Rules to Preserve the Free and Open Internet
NPRM: Word | Acrobat
News Release: Word | Acrobat
Genachowski Statement: Word | Acrobat
Copps Statement: Word | Acrobat
McDowell Statement: Word | Acrobat
Clyburn Statement: Word | Acrobat
Baker Statement: Word | Acrobat
Staff Presentation: Acrobat

The question arises, “what if we, as Americans interested in the future of the Internet, American innovation, the American economy, and our future generations actually took the time to read through the issue of Network Neutrality? What if we used our research as a basis for making our own decision on which side of the debate we fall, or if there is yet another strong argument to consider?”

It is a difficult topic, with a lot of noise and clouds shrouding the core issues. Weigh-in, let us know your opinion.

John Savageau, Long Beach

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