Taking Aim at the US Broadband Deficit

During his October 6th speech on Universal Service Fund (USF) and InterCarrier Compensation (ICC) reform, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski admitted the United States has not adequately fulfilled our obligation to deliver broadband Internet and communications services to all areas of the country.   Genachowski noted “harm from not having (access to) broadband – the costs of digital exclusion – already high, are growing every day.” He continued “The broadband divide means economic opportunities denied for ordinary consumers who lack broadband access; educational opportunities diminished; health care access reduced; and public safety
compromised.”

The deficiencies in broadband deployment within the United States are well known, and widely discussed on media and blogs.  The Organization of Economic  Co-operation and Development (OECD) dropped the US to 14th place on the global broadband penetration list, with Western European countries and South Korea leading the world in delivering high speed Internet and broadband services to their citizens.

In a global economy moving ahead at Internet speed, can the United States afford to allow ourselves to continue sliding our ability to deliver the basic tool of communications, this “Fourth Utility” of broadband communications to our citizens?  our young people and students?  our businesses and entrepreneurs?

The FCC of course publically claims they have “harnessing the power of broadband Internet to benefit every American” at the core of their mission, however Genachowski also admits there are cities, with the example of Liberty, Nebraska, as examples of small towns which as of summer 2011 still had no access to broadband internet services.

Let’s consider a model that bypasses the political hype of projects such as the FCC’s Connect America Fund, and turn the responsibility back to private companies, entrepreneurs, and other Americans who given the opportunity may be able to use creativity, energy, and a desire to bring the US back in front of the world’s broadband penetration ratings.

Its All About Fiber and Wireless

In a 2010 article on wireless Internet access in Moldova, Pacific-Tier Communications wrote an article describing wireless access in Chisinau.  In that article we reported wireless internet access in Moldova, up to 50Mbps, was available for about $45 USD.  Testing between Chisinau and Burbank (CA) indicated throughput of more than 10Mbps.

Subject: End of the world/Fin del Mundo – Telefonica performs excellently!

Hi guys,

I’m in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. On vacation – not work. Except … I had to work for an hour, or at least have a Skype video call from my iPad yesterday. I was at a hotel with Telefonica Argentina xDSL.

It worked perfectly into northern Europe. No problems! Now the point is not the wonders of Skype; but the quality of the network down here at “Fin del Mundo”. Quite excellent! (Email from Martin Levy, Hurricane Electric)

Subsequent testing from hotels and hotspots within the United States showed a fraction of that performance, putting the US in a category somewhat less than Moldova.  The problem in many cases is the local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) simply cannot provide, or afford the broadband “bandwidth” needed to connect users to other locations throughout the global Internet-connected community, resulting in restricted services for many local users – even in large cities such as Los Angeles.

“Just as there is a need for new roads, sewers and power infrastructure, there is a need for new communications infrastructure” explains Hunter Newby, CEO of Allied Fiber.  “Can anyone imagine driving a 10 year old car, or using a 10 year old cell phone with no ability to upgrade. This is the sad state of our National fiber infrastructure. New investment is critically necessary in order for the USA to be competitive.”

It is, all about, fiber.  While smaller countries like Moldova or South Korea may find construction and delivery of fiber optic and wireless infrastructure manageable, North America is a huge land mass, and interconnecting major population areas requires hundreds, if not thousands of miles of infrastructure to deliver broadband communications services to each population center and rural area.

While wireless technologies such as 4G, LTE, and WiMAX are becoming very effective at delivering broadband to mobile users and even local loops (end users and consumers), the issue is more how to get content and real-time communications interconnecting the wireless towers and local loops located throughout the 50 states.  A tremendous amount of capital is required to “sew” all the end distribution points together, and that thread is fiber.

While Allied Fiber is focusing on building new infrastructure on the long distance routes, other independent and neutral fiber optic infrastructure companies are now scrambling to build “metro” fiber infrastructure needed to deliver high capacity infrastructure to distribution points closer to end users.

“The independents (fiber carriers) are the only way our country will remain competitive, innovative, and offer value” advises Glenn Russo, President of Zayo Networks, an independent provider of fiber optic network services.  “The incumbent ILECs and CLECs cannot offer the agility and innovation required to move ahead.”

Speaking of Zayo’s contribution to the US market, Russo continues “our infrastructure helps promote innovation within a variety of industries and enterprises.   We (Americans) are impatient, we hear of things technologically possible, of things being done in other countries, and we want it (those services) delivered now.  The other companies (ILECs and CLECs) cannot respond to a rapidly developing and changing market.”

John Schmitt, VP of Business development at Fiberlight would agree.  “That’s when the business gets enjoyable, when you are forging ahead and opening new territories” says Schmitt.  “Fiberlight is completely neutral in delivering a high capacity product to (telecom) carriers, networks, and even private enterprise. “

Fiberlight, a metro fiber optic infrastructure provider,  is committed to delivering “super high fiber counts” within their metro networks, providing high capacity fiber to buildings, towers, and carriers.  That infrastructure can serve not only any building within their own metro infrastructure, but also “building up to interconnection points, carrier hotels, data centers, as well as serving the needs of private networks within the metro” informs Schmitt.

“While we are in the metro space, and can deliver to end points within the metro not possible for long distance and backbone companies, we are a good match for companies like Allied Fiber who need to provide their customers access to the local loop, as well as allowing our customers access other markets throughout the US with other metro providers connected to the long haul guys.”

What is Means to Americans and Global Competitiveness

The World Bank has published reports that indicate “Broadband networks can support long-term innovation-led economic growth. Recent research by the World Bank finds that for every 10 percentage-point increase in the penetration of broadband services, developing countries can see an increase in economic growth of 1.3 percentage points.”

There is a clear correlation between giving citizens access to broadband communications and Internet access with economic growth.  The United States, falling further behind the world each year in broadband penetration and access, is not providing sufficient resources to Americans to allow the country to remain competitive in an aggressive global Internet-enabled market.

Russo is optimistic.  “We need to keep a sharp eye on the stimulus networks.  Many of the new networks are middle mile (connecting metro areas), and offer many synergies to our (Zayo’s) business model.  If all the networks proposed are actually built, I have to believe we will catch up to the rest of the world pretty fast.”

And while the Broadband.Gov website (FCC’s official website) has not been updated much in the past year, aside from a few blog entries and event videos, the materials published outlining the US Government’s broadband vision and plan are sound.

A Call to Broadband Action

For Americans the main task is to ensure broadband infrastructure is built.  No more excuses from ILEC/CLECs finding excuses to throttle down broadband, rather than enable hyper-growth of broadband.  No more franchises given to telecom providers who lacking competition have little or no incentive to rapidly expand broadband access throughout the country.

High capacity fiber backbones and metro networks, high capacity tower and wireless infrastructure, regulation to support construction, rather than over regulate or establish restrictive licensing requirements.

It does not make any difference if the network will deliver social media, movies, voice, video, support for enterprise information and communications technology, education, intelligent grids, research, or processing “Seti at Home” processing packets.  The fourth utility is essential to our economic survival and national security.

Companies such as Allied Fiber, Zayo, Fiberlight, and dozens of other startup and independent telecom providers must be given our support as a nation and government to build and deliver the tools needed for current and future generations of Americans to retain and extend our leadership in the global network-connected community.

The Need for Speed – and Big, Fat, Dumb Pipes

The Europeans mock us. The Koreans boast a claim they are the world’s most wired country. Finland is bringing broadband to reindeer. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published in their 2009 statistics the U.S. now ranks 15th among the group’s 30 member countries for broadband subscriptions. This is down from 12th in their previous study. No way!

Is the United States actually that far behind the world in broadband deployment? Should the home of Cisco Systems, Brocade, IBM, and HP hang our heads in shame at our inability to deliver a world class communications infrastructure?

Geography and Statistics

Well, we shouldn’t hang our heads in shame, however there is ample opportunity to further develop our national broadband infrastructure.

Looking at the following table you can easily see the US has a huge landmass, with much lower than Euro-Asian average population density. Kudos to Canada and the Nordic countries, although let’s be honest – 90% of Canada’s population is within 100km of the US border, and most of that is in cities. Same for the Nordics, and Iceland is not what you would normally refer to as a large landmass.

The US is big, and other countries with a similar landmass such as Russia and China did not even qualify for the top 35 countries in the study

Broadband Access in OECD Countries(From OECD Study dated June 2009)

Taking Inventory of the US Telecom Toolkit

Now let’s brush off the “feel good” paragraph and get back to the real issue. Making broadband accessible to every person in the United States who wants or needs access to network-enabled applications and resources.

We have a fairly robust toolkit of telecom resources available to deliver our bits:

  • ILECs (Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers)
  • CLECs (Competitive Local Exchange Carriers)
  • Long Distance Carriers
  • Cable Television Service Providers
  • Cable (fiber optic) wholesale infrastructure providers (may also provide other services)
  • Wireless Broadband providers (including mobile telephone operators)
  • Utility operators (such as power companies and water companies)

In a country as large as the US, the long distance carriers and wholesale cable providers deliver infrastructure that connects New York to Los Angeles, and all others in between with high performance cable infrastructure. All other service providers deliver either a specific service to regional markets or end users. Some may contribute to “overlay” networks which provide a higher level of product or service to users throughout the market, such as Internet services, telephone services, television and “triple-play” (video, voice, Internet).

Sounds Easy? Just connect all this stuff together and the USA will be back on top of the broadband podium with a gold medal.

But…. The US is an open, competitive market. As all the US carriers (with the exception of some utilities) are privately (not government) owned, the objective is to make money for shareholders. This means cooperation with other companies is a mere short-term convenience, with no incentive for investing in any infrastructure that does not meet a business plan for satisfying the demands of investors. Altruism or working for the common good is reduced to marketing hype – and has very little basis in the reality of America’s communications infrastructure.

Maybe stimulus money or additional tax credits for companies to cooperate and meet national objectives? Unlikely, as most states are already suffering a great deal from the loss of telephone tax revenues (you’ve got to love VoIP), and to get into the stimulus business you will need to means to hire a legion of lawyers, lobbyists, and prepare for a long time horizon to see any support. That narrows it down to the ILECs, long distance carriers, and wholesalers. Same applies for money available through the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) and the NTIA Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).

Thus, my favorite little town of Baudette(Minnesota) is not likely to be a really high priority for any serious infrastructure development. Yes, companies like Time Warner have delivered cable TV and cable modems to the market, however if you do not have access to the cable (which pretty much follows the state highways, and does not venture too far off the asphalt), chances are you will not be receiving multiple streams of HD video any time soon.

There are many people in Northern Minnesota who don’t spend any more time online than they have to. They would rather be in a boat with their line in the water. If broadband could help them catch fish, they would be all for it. (from Minnesota Brown)

This also begs the question – if people really want to be wired, maybe they will migrate closer to cities which offer much more robust urban Map of Baudette Minnesotainfrastructure, and those who want to spend their life fishing can do so in peace?

Good, as long as they do not choose to reproduce, in which case the children deserve to have the same access to global information ands communications technology needed to ensure they are competitive with children in Korea and Amsterdam.

Hunter Newby, CEO of Allied Fiber reminds us that “We here in the USA are destined for a major change in our communications infrastructure.  An entirely new physical layer design needs to be rolled out in the USA if we are ever to reach broadband speeds and penetration like that of the other civilized and advanced countries in the world.”

Allied Fiber was created to “address America’s need to eliminate obstacles for broadband access, wireless backhaul and lower latency through new, next generation long haul dark fiber construction with sound principles and an open access philosophy.”

Newby continues “The USA is much larger than South Korea, or Japan, yet we are always stacked against those “countries” and others that are equally as small in geography. We will never reach the speeds, services, applications, or processing power of the people if we do not match their National physical layer network designs – designs that have incorporated wireless and fiber for backhaul for many years.”

Big, Fat, Dumb Pipes

In the 1990s companies such as Level 3 Communications used marketing taglines with the theme “bandwidth is like water,” and fiber infrastructure should be considered “big, fat, dumb pipes.” If the philosophy had survived investors, Wall Street analysts, and the desire to increase cash flow by adding higher level value added services (such as voice, Internet, TV, etc), the US might have a very high performance Allied Fiber's Network Philosophyphysical infrastructure in place that served as a neutral conduit for regional and local carriers and service providers to deliver broadband closer to the edge – or end users.

Companies such as Allied Fiber hope to bring that idea back to reality, providing the United States and Canada a very high performance, cost-effective trans-continental backbone allowing regional and local service providers and easy way to bring their edge resources to the North American “cloud.” Wireless companies can focus on delivering transmission to end users from the tower, and Allied Fiber will connect towers, regional networks, access networks, and value-added service networks (such as Internet providers) on a national scale.

A Happy Broadband Ending

One bright spot in the discussion is broadband wireless. The US carriers are pushing deployment of LTE and 4G, further incorporating broadband support via emerging technologies such as MIMO (Multiple In – Multiple Out) antennas which bring wireless up to the Gigabit/second level on individual end-user devices. This will reduce the need for fiber optic or high speed cable infrastructure deployment into both rural and urban areas with obsolete or decrepit building/street infrastructure.

“(This) isn’t about technology, (this) is about preserving small town communities by using technology to allow them to survive in a world that is changing. It’s about allowing kids to build careers in their local community, not just find a job. (Ross Williams – Minnesota Brown)

All new communications technologies being delivered by Verizon use Internet Protocols, including wireless telephone service, and incorporating IPv6 into the basic network. A combination of their FiOS (fiber optic to the home) product and high performance LTE=>4G wireless deployments will make up a lot of ground in the US.

Add a national high performance backbone network connecting the whole North American mess via Allied Fiber, and the US has a pretty good chance at jumping into the top 5 in OECDs broadband deployment listing. And Baudette’s culture and global presence is preserved.

%d bloggers like this: