Thursday, November 15, 2012

Club 20 Building Toward Broadband for Colorado Conference – Federal Communications Commission

November 15th and I am spending the day at the Club 20 “Building Toward Broadband for Colorado” conference.  I will provide posts about much of the content.
Patrick Halley, Deputy Director Office of Legislative Affairs for the FCC and former advisor to the Wireline Bureau Chief joined via tele-conference.
Mr. Halley spent some time talking about the structure of the Universal Service Fund.  The USF comprises four programs: 1) the high cost fund, 2) low income subsidies, 3) E-Rate, and 4) rural health care.  The presentation then focused on the high cost fund.  The high cost fund was designed to ensure all Americans could have access to dial tone.  Now the FCC is working to extend broadband access to all of America.  Simultaneously, the Commission is working to correct structural concerns with their disbursement mechanisms.
The resolution to the USF high cost fund is through the Connect America Fund (or CAF).  CAF is intended to: 1) provide universal service, 2) to do so in a fiscally responsible manner, and 3) to accommodate business realities – that is to accommodate the status quo as much as possible.  The CAF will have access to about $4.58 billion per year to address: 1) fixed locations, 2) mobility, and 3) very remote or very high cost areas (probably going to be served by satellite).
Some facts from the presentation:
·        220,000 people in Colorado without access to fixed broadband (4 Mbps down/1 Mbps up) of which 178,000 are in rural areas.
High cost funds are not available to state open access builds.  There does not seem to be any current reasonable hope USF will be made available to state sponsored builds - especially those that are overbuilds.
When we had the OIT presentation, they indicated the National Broadband Map was the correct place to ask for corrections.  Mr. Halley pointed out that the National Broadband Map is a compilation of state maps.  As a population, the State should challenge OIT to offer a state challenge and map data updating process.

Club 20 Building Toward Broadband for Colorado Conference - Colorado Telecom: Challenges and Opportunities Provider Panel

November 15th and I am spending the day at the Club 20 “Building Toward Broadband for Colorado” conference.  I will provide posts about much of the content.
The panel included:
  • Tim Kunkleman – Colorado regulatory director for CenturyLink.
  • Pete Kirchhof – Colorado Telecommunications Association.
  • Russ Elliot – Brainstorm.
  • Dan Reno – Hughes Net.
  • Melissa Shannon – Optimum Government and Public Affairs.
  • Aaron Bailey – Xiocom Wireless/CityNet.
During the panel, Pat Swonger stood to speak briefly on behalf of EAGLE-Net.
Unfortunately, many of the opinions expressed by some of the panelists got my dander up and my notes are less than effective.  To summarize, the general opinion in the room seems to be one that favors changing the regulation or the subsidization models for the status quo model of private ownership of the natural monopoly element.  The status quo model – with various regulatory regimes and subsidization schemes – will not serve to resolve the broadband problem that pervades the United States and has left rural Colorado isolated from the 21st Century economy.  Colorado does not need new regulatory schemes to force those networks that are subsidized with tax dollars to provide service.  Colorado, as well as states and municipalities across the nation, needs to recognize that telecommunications infrastructure is a natural monopoly and should be treated as such.  We should build open access infrastructure as a public utility and allow multiple service providers to offer service.  Doing so significantly reduces the need for regulation or subsidization of private companies with public money.
Interestingly, the provider panel does not include state network owners.
Mr. Kunkleman argued that municipal entry is simply overbuilding and wasting money.  He argues that we should pay CenturyLink to close the cost gap.  Unfortunately, this method has been unsatisfactorily tried with both MNT and Colorado Tele-Health network. 

Club 20 Building Toward Broadband for Colorado Conference - Broadband Service & Provider Availability

November 15th and I am spending the day at the Club 20 “Building Toward Broadband for Colorado” conference.  I will provide posts about much of the content.

The second session was presented by Brian Shepherd and Megan Chadwick of OIT.

The map was started through the ARRA grant process.  The map is compiled from data provided by the various service providers in the state.  Most of the offices efforts are put into collecting and validating data.  The office does collect speed test data and other performance measures.  These performance measures are used, in part, to validate service provider provided data.
Mr. Shepherd answered a question about what value this map data has by talking about the fact that broadband is an unregulated service.  The overall question of today is, “What is the role of government?”  Most of the conversation revolved around government regulating or subsidizing incumbent network owners.  Some of the conversation touched on state provided infrastructure (in particular, dig once policies and the Arizona digital highway law).

For planning, the reported data has a number of deficiencies:
  • It focuses on census blocks – these geographic blocks do not reflect real service availability.
  • It does not survey backbone or middle mile infrastructure.
  • There is no mechanism on the state’s site for reporting unserved areas.

Club 20 Building Toward Broadband for Colorado Conference - Telecommunications Fundamentals

November 15th and I am spending the day at the Club 20 “Building Toward Broadband for Colorado” conference.  I will provide posts about much of the content.

The first session is “Telecommunications Fundamentals” by John Sluder of Western Colorado Community College.

Mr. Sluder provided a quick overview of the history and technology of voice and data.  A critical point he made in his presentation is that the twisted pair infrastructure in place in Western Colorado (and throughout much of the nation) is based on a 4 Kbps sampled analog voice signal (64 Kbps sampled digital voice).  One constraint suggested by our telecommunications history is that our telecommunications is, in some ways, constrained by design decisions made in the 19th Century.  Unfortunately, our imagination is also constrained by historic business models.

Moving into a wireless discussion, Mr. Sluder suggests 4G and LTE are powerful technologies with significant bandwidth potential.  However, they are 1st shared and 2nd constrained by the fact that they must connect to the rest of the world through wired networks.  Wireless is critical for mobility. 
After an introduction to the history and technology of the telecommunications, Mr. Sluder turned to some of the business decisions associated with deploying broadband.  He suggested broadband business decisions revolve around cost, distance, and density.  As part of the presentation, Mr. Sluder turned to a discussion format.  The discussion emphasized the fact that rural Colorado depends on subsidies.

Mr. Sluder suggested Telecom 101 as a good introdction to telecommunications book.

Mr. Sluder suggests that DS3 (about 45 Mbps) is the best we can do on copper – but fiber is virtually unlimited.  As we talk about new construction – especially state sponsored construction – we should be talking about fiber construction.
Mr. Sluder said, "Competition is a relative term because if there is not a revenue stream the competitors are not going to build out a system.”  Open access networks help resolve this situation.  One of the faults in our current model of delivering competitive broadband to rural Colorado is the insistence that the service provider and the network owner are the same person.  This creates an environment where funds are spent inefficiently.  Couldn't the state provide the infrastructure as a public utility and allow multiple service providers to compete?

Broadband News From FremontConnect

The news from FremontConnect, the Local Broadband Planning Team for Fremont County, CO

FremontConnect held their regular meeting this past week in Canon City.
Updates include:

1. Secom will be offering middle mile services via fiber in Fremont
County in the next few months (middle mile provider #2)
2. Optimum (Cablevision) will be offering middle mile services via
fiber in the next few months (middle mile provider #3
3. EagleNet will be offering middle mile services via microwave some
time in the next year (middle mile provider #4)
4. Last mile providers, vendors from the local telecom value network
and community anchor institutions are eagerly awaiting middle mile
services that are: "redundant, abundant and affordable"

FremontConnect has been meeting for less than one year (first meeting FEB 2012) and it appears they are well on their way to solving their middle mile problems. Rather than wait for someone in Washington, Wall Street ofr Denver to solve the issue (good luck with that!), the citizens of Fremont County formed a Local Broadband Planning Team, applied the "5 A's", and are now well on their way to fixing the broadband deficit. For more info, see

Sunday, November 11, 2012

We could learn a lot from Kansas

In its 2011 session, the Kansas legislature passed HB 2309 which called for an audit of the state's research and education network, Kan-Ed. Like many such networks administered by state governments (in Colorado, its the Colorado State Network, in Oklahoma its OneNet, etc, etc), it consists largely of T1s (1.54 Mbps up and down) from the telephone company. The upshot of the audit is to determine if the network in its current configuration, offerings, speeds, etc is adequate to meet the needs of the state's public schools and institutions of higher learning in a 21st century global economy.

I have no idea what the audit might turn up, but I salute the Kansas legislature for asking the right questions.

We could learn a lot from Arizona

We Could Learn a Lot From Arizona: Aggregating Highway Rights of Way for Middle Mile Fiber Optic Cable
Arizona provides a shining example of how Colorado could aggregate existing resources to improve the broadband environment for rural and remote communities across the state. As the demand for digital Internet speed increases exponentially, many of Arizona’s rural residents and businesses found they either did not have high capacity digital services available at all, or the available services did not provide sufficient capacity to support new video intensive Internet services such as eLearning, Tele-Health, Telework and IPTV, etc.  These shortcomings have been limiting factors in the availability of jobs, educational opportunities, public safety and healthcare services in such areas.  The passing of Senate Bill 1402 in 2012 allows for the spread of significantly higher-speed broadband access to citizens statewide, accelerating economic growth, education, public safety, healthcare, and digital government in Arizona.
Specifically, the bill expands existing rules governing Arizona Department of Transportation’s (ADOT) management of state rights of way (ROW) to include transportation-of–information as well as vehicles. When funding is provided to ADOT, from a fund to be managed by the Digital Arizona Project, ADOT will be requested to bury multiple empty fiber-optic conduits along specified state highways-using existing ROW wherever possible. These multiple separate conduits will be leased to broadband providers by the Project on a cost recovery basis. Providers must contract to install fiber before conduits are constructed.  The outcome of the Project will be streamlined access to the ROW at significantly lower costs to providers for constructing long distance digital capacity to reach rural communities. These lowered costs are expected to encourage new investments by provider’s thereby accelerating and improving availability of high-capacity digital services in poorly served areas of Arizona. It is expected to take a number of years to fully implement this program throughout the rural areas of the state.

Municipal Wireless in Eagle county, CO

I spent most of this past Friday in Vail getting the cook’s tour of the reinvigorated municipal wireless network. I was most impressed!

Lets go back a few years when municipal Wi-Fi appeared to be the wave of the future in terms of ubiquitous internet access. Since then, no fewer than 19 state legislatures (including Colorado) have banned municipal internet anything much less Wi-Fi or broadband.  Fast forward to 2012 and Town of Vail in partnership with the ski corporation, Aspen Wireless and Crown Castle International has reconstructed a form of municipal wireless that underlines the “Vail experience”. That is, not only does the visitor’s Netflix work, so do all the apps on the iPhone. Contrast that with some other ski towns where the telecommunications infrastructure fails to meet the demands of a seasonal influx of urbanites who expect a digital experience on a par with their home cities (think Lower Manhattan or the Bay area). Fail to meet those expectations and the high margin clientele will not return.

Before being spun off to CenturyLink, the Vail Wi-Fi network had 18 nodes of which only 1 survives. The new network not only offers ubiquitous, free Wi-Fi, it also has a cellular distributed antenna system (DAS) to ensure cell coverage everywhere in the Vail Village. This DAS is somewhat akin to an open access network where any cellular provider that wishes to participate, makes a small contribution in hardware to ensure their subscribers are cared for.   

So how does this project line up with the “5 A’s” of Colorado Community Broadband (see ):

1.     Aggregate experience: partners include Crown Castle (one of top 3 tower companies in the world); Town of Vail (they’ve been here before and have more sales tax revenue than you know who, not to mention a real smart IT manager, also the savings in moving the town telecom off wireline and onto wireless) Aspen Wireless (they’ve been in the business for over a decade), Vail Resorts (the “Vail experience”) and the Big 5 cellular providers.
2.     Assess the broadband (wireless) environment: would big names like this be doing this if there wasn’t a clear need?
3.     Assess and aggregate demand: would big names like this be making this investment if there wasn’t a clear business case?
4.     Adopt existing resources and technologies: there are no “unsightly” cell towers, generators, etc; the devices fit neatly into the architecture. Speaking of resources, a ski corporation and high end lodging vendors can come together for the common good in building a muni wireless network that benefits their tourism-based economy, “its for the visitors (economy), stupid!”
5.     Adapt for sustainability: given the deep-pocketed partners and the fact that these players came back to the muni wireless models years after CenturyLink took it over and killed off the network, its plain to see the community commitment (yes, a publicly traded company like Vail Resorts is a member of our rural Rocky Mountain community!) to the network points to long term sustainability. I expect the other ski towns to read, weep and make plans for their muni wireless networks soon.