For several years now, the buzz in Internet access is firmly planted around wireless technologies. From hotspots in coffee shops to WiFi built into Nintendo's latest handheld, wireless has proved its popularity through ubiquity. I have to admit, I'm always pleased to find free wireless Internet in an airport when I travel. Wireless, though, is not a long-term solution for cracking the cable and telco duolopy.
While Broadband over Power Lines (BPL) isn't a new concept, it certainly isn't widely deployed. Power companies aren't keen on making major capital investments to support high-speed connections to their customers, yet those same lines reach 47 million underserved Americans who have no other broadband choices. Some of them are turning to leasing their lines to providers as a way to cash in without all of the risk.
While I can see that another major player in the land-based broadband market could help stir up competition, I can't help but think that the power companies will do exclusive contracts with a single provider, a provider that will most likely be a name we've already heard of like Earthlink or AT&T. If that ends up being the case, it'll be just another monopolist in the market providing only token competition without much in the way of true competition. This is especially so if BPL can't deliver equivalent or superior speeds when compared to cable and DSL offerings. I fear this will be another "me too" technology that won't solve our duopoly problems.
Again, it becomes more and more clear that our best alternatives lie in municipal fiber projects like UTOPIA that provide open access to a wide range of competitors at superior speeds and competitive pricing.
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I was interviewed about UTOPIA in an article in the latest Salt Lake City Weekly. Grab a copy from one of dozens of places around town or see below for the link to the article.
Unsurprisingly, Comcast and Qwest are denying that UTOPIA has forced them to be more competitive, yet the article can cite differential pricing in areas with UTOPIA and a sudden interest by both carriers in delivering broadband to Brigham City after they signed up with UTOPIA. The article also cites how both Qwest and Comcast have been using 1-year contracts to lock people into their service just head of UTOPIA rollouts. Same old game, guys, and we're wise to it.
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California has joined a number of states in issuing statewide cable television franchises, a move that will probably leave small towns even further out in the cold. The telephone and cable companies, who both supported this bill, claim that it will increase competition and result in lower pricing.
Who do they think they're kidding? Why on earth would a company support a law that forces them to compete harder? The simple answer is that they're lying. This law removes cable television franchising from the intense scrutiny of the cities and places it far removed from them in Sacramento. Small towns may have to fight an endless battle with the state when a cabe television provider acts up as opposed to simply kicking them out of town.
Cable companies will now be able to sneakily cherry-pick neighborhoods, avoid rolling out comparable services to rural areas, and increase their monopoly powers by creating a maze of state regulations that only cash-laden companies can navigate. That's always been the intent of these bills, and leave it to crazy California to take the bait hook, line, and sinker.
These unscrupulous and monopolistic behaviors make it more and more apparent that we cannot depend on the incumbent carriers to make good on their promises of better service at lower prices. The only way left to get real competition is through municipal fiber projects like UTOPIA that bring in competitors on an even footing.
USTAR, the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative passed in the 2006 Legislature, is a piece of legislation designed to bring new research and biotechnology jobs to Utah by building new infrastructure and funding research grants into these Next Big Thing(TM) technologies. Given Utah's history of academic excellence through its many top-notch universities, it shouldn't be too hard of a sell to convince California companies fed up with the state's high taxes, a myriad of regulations, and expensive labor and land costs to relocate to Utah where the land is cheap, labor is plentiful, and our taxes are low.
These high-tech companies, though, are going to expect a top-notch infrastructure. They're going to expect office and warehouse space, open land for new development, an excellent power grid, and well-designed transportation systems. Above all else, however, they are going to require high-speed and low-cost Internet connections to coordinate research between far-flung locations.
Given the plethora of ads you'll see of DirectTV taking snipes at the cable company and vice-versa, you'd think they were being really competitive with each other. Cable always talks about its service, satellite always talks up its supposedly lower pricing. A closer look, however, reveals that satellite providers are offering second-rate service while not saving you a lot of green. As a result, they aren't able to be a real competitor to the cable stranglehold.
Satellite ads often talk up their lower pricing, quoting getting a package about the size of your standard digital cable package for around $30/mo. That sounds great if you've been shelling out about $50/mo for your low-end digital cable package. There are plenty of catches, though. After that 6 month introductory price, the costs jumps up to $45/mo. "Okay," you tell yourself, "I'm still saving $5/mo and I've got a few more channels." But wait. Don't you have your Internet service through the cable company? They usually give you a $10/mo discount for bundling services, so now you just ended up paying more for satellite.
You also have to consider the other downsides. One, you own the equipment. If something goes wrong with satellite, you're responsible for repairs, not them. Good luck getting the second dish for free. Second, weather still interferes with satellite and you have to have a clear view of the southern sky. If you're in an apartment or condo, it might be tricky or impossible to get an unobstructed view or obtain permission to install the dish. Satellite also requires a pesky contract, something cable companies often do not require.
This doesn't even get into the problems with doing Internet access over satellite. The installation costs currently run about $300 and a connection that's competitive with the slowest of DSL is over $80/mo. This might be an option for someone living in Podunk, but not for a mainstream Internet user. Satellite Internet access also has very high response times, a death knell for anyone doing Voice over IP (VoIP) such as someone using Vongage. You can also kiss gaming goodbye.
The short of it is that satellite might be a good option for someone who otherwise can't get service, but it is by no means competitive with cable TV. This spells not only problems for the satellite industry but for the phone companies who partner with them to offer a bundle of TV, Internet, and phone service, often at non-competitive prices. Since satellite can't provide competition, we now more than ever need municipal fiber systems like UTOPIA to restore competitiveness to our communications infrastructure.
There's an article in the Davis County Clipper concerning UTOPIA's rollout to rural areas. These areas have been underserved by the incumbent carriers for years. UTOPIA finally brings them the benefits of high-speed without the high price tag that cable and phone companies charge. UTOPIA could very well be the first and only broadband service that many rural Utahns will see.
The article also notes that demand in urban and suburban areas is strong with developers of new housing and apartment complexes requesting that UTOPIA be built into the property.
An editorial from Tuscon chimes in to support HR 5252 without the badly-written poison pill to banish Net Neutrality. According to the editorial, our southern neighbors in Arizona overpay for cable by over $178M per year due to lack of competition. Let's speed up UTOPIA adoption so we don't end up in the same boat!
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Fed up with poor service and high prices, dozens of cities in Colorado are actively pursuing either municipal broadband or bringing in more service providers. Unsurprisingly, Qwest tried to protect its monopoly by passing a bill that bans such competition. Thankfully, the bill was watered down so that Qwests dreams of bleeding consumers dry can't come to fruition. Hooray for Coloradans for having vision. Boo on Qwest for having none.
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A project in Minnesota to build a municipal fiber system has been based upon the model used by UTOPIA. This brings only good news about our state and shows how well thought-out the UTOPIA project is.
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