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.

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