This morning, I went to the Utah Broadband Provider Summit at the Salt Lake City Public Library to see what the state will be doing in regards to broadband mapping in Utah. There was a lot of good discussion, but I left feeling like as smart as the people in charge may be, they’re not entirely equipped for the enormous task ahead of them.
The Obama Administration announced today a new round of broadband stimulus funding that includes $16.2M for UTOPIA. That money can go a really long way towards deploying more of the network in UTOPIA’s footprint and can, at the average install cost, cover around 5400 additional homes. UTOPIA plans to hold an event at the state capitol tomorrow at 10AM to explain the details.
I usually spend a lot of time checking my non-broadband opinions at the door. If anyone cares about my political leanings outside of telecommunications, they can find my other blog with great ease. In this case though, I’ve got more than a few choice words for the broadband stimulus and how it has failed to improve anything at all. In fact, I believe it has only made things worse.
Peter Pratt at StimulatingBroadband.com tipped me off that Gov. Herbert has made his recommendations to NTIA and that all three of UTOPIA’s proposals are on the list. This could pump over $57M into the network at a time when capital for expansion is rather difficult to come by. The money could be ready to use as early as February. While this isn’t the final word on which projects will be approved, the NTIA is very likely to go along with the recommendations from the states. The feds didn’t give independent reviewers a lot of time to screen applications before sending them to the states.
The money will be set aside for rural and underserved areas of member cities, so expect to see the money flow into Lindon, Centerville, Payson, Brigham City, Perry, and any leftover portions of Tremonton first. Residents in these cities are very likely to see a sharply reduced cost for an SAA (most likely) or the return of the free install (quite unlikely). Overall, this will mean a big expansion of UTOPIA availability which can only help the bottom line. UTOPIA’s new management will likely have a targeted build plan meant to maximize new subscribers; previously, the building had been willy-nilly.
UTOPIA isn’t the only winner in Herbert’s recommendations. UEN and the UTA picked up endorsements as did several projects from the Navajo Nation. Emery Telecom also got the nod for its three proposals to bring FTTP to its service areas in rural Utah, no doubt to unify its separate CATV and phone systems as part of the upgrade. (Seriously, guys, kudos on being one of the few rural ILECs doing something so ambitious.) There’s also an application to build a community WiFi cloud in Washington County.
Geoff Daily recently took BTOP out to the woodshed over its glacial pace, poor oversight, and severe underfunding. Today, I got some personal confirmation that BTOP is likely entirely broken and won’t accomplish much, at least not on this first round.
Way back on September 17, I sent the following e-mail:
I’m curious to know what state entity will be responsible for reviewing BTOP
applicants and applications, specifically in the state of Utah. Please
Just today, I get the following response:
Thank you for your interest in Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP). The BTOP application process encourages collaboration with the states in order to identify and fund the best possible broadband projects in America. A representative from a state may contact an applicant to request additional information contained in the application because of the state’s interest in making a recommendation to NTIA. Promptly replying to a state’s request allows the representative to carefully consider applications before commenting to NTIA. As a reminder, all Round 1 grant awardees will be determined by the end of the year.
Again, we appreciate your interest in the BTOP program to help bridge the technological divide and create jobs by expanding access to broadband throughout the nation.
There’s a few very glaring problems with what just happened here.
The response is a canned form letter with no relevance whatsoever to the question asked.
The response came 5 weeks after the original e-mail was sent.
There is no longer an opportunity to communicate with the relevant persons at the state level because the deadline for their review has now passed.
Is this really the best that the NTIA can do? If so, I doubt we’re going to see any kind of meaningful federal effort to improve telecommunications infrastructure in this country.
From reviewing the list of stimulus applicants, you’d think Qwest decided not to partake in the feeding frenzy. Think again. Instead of applying directly, Qwest chose to allow an intermediary to make the application, an intermediary that would then spend the money on Qwest infrastructure and services. I’m referring to the applications from the University of Utah.
You may think hey, what does the U plan to do with Qwest? The reality is that the application from the university was on behalf of UEN. UEN contracts with several companies to build and operate 10GbE and 1GbE links to educational facilities, but the lion’s share of the money goes to Qwest. Should the application get approval, it is nothing more than a hand-out to Qwest to build a network with taxpayer dollars and charge their normal exorbitant rates for service with no real strings attached.
I hope that whoever is reviewing NTIA applications at the state level sees right through this ruse.
As of a couple of days ago, applicants for broadband stimulus funds are now listed on the NTIA’s website. Utah has a number of applicants including the University of Utah, The Utah Transit Authority, and, not surprisingly, UTOPIA.
Several rural ILECs have also gotten into the game including Emery Telecom and Manti Tele Communications. Emery is apparently looking to deploy FTTP to beef up their triple-play offerings and replace their existing HFC CATV network. The finished product would be active Ethernet like iProvo and UTOPIA with up to 1Gbps at each address served. A separate request would use FTTN and wireless to reach more remote areas. Manti, meanwhile, is looking to use WiMax to reach more remote areas that currently do not have broadband service. Both of these projects are good news for Utahns.
Ogden City has also made an application to provide broadband access to government services and underserved residents. There is also an application for what appears to be a city-wide WiFi network. Given their reluctance to join UTOPIA, it’s rather surprising that they have done an about-face on city-provided services. My best guess is that they were holding out for someone else to pay for it.
So what about UTOPIA? They made three separate applications totaling around $54M. The only thing available is a general overview, but the requests appear to be targeted at Orem, Murray, Midvale, West Valley City, Layton, and Centerville. One of them hints at using a special assessment area (SAA) to triple the impact of at least $10.5M of the money applied for. Depending on how fast NTIA can review and approve applications, we may soon know if there will be more money for UTOPIA construction in the near term.
With applicants asking for 7 times what’s available in the first round, it will be interesting to see who makes the cut.
A new study shows that broadband growth is starting to level off while a separate study claims we’re paying as much as $3 per minute for our cell phones. We’re also getting more details of the broadband stimulus package (sparse as they may be), Comcast claims to have more phone customers than Qwest (seriously!), and Google finally takes the wraps off of Grandcentral to rebrand it as Google Voice (phone operators, go ahead and wet yourselves). All that and more in this week’s Broadband Bytes!
Broadband is still growing, just not like it used to. With 59% of American households now on better-than-dial-up connections and a sagging economy, the broadband market is looking a lot like the cellphone market in that almost everyone who wants it has it. And how do you get the last little bits of the market? I’ll give you a hint: follow the wireless industry’s lead. They swooped in with cheap plans, pre-paid phones, and multi-line service to make sure that everyone became their customer. ISPs can do wild things like, say, offer WiFi service with fixed broadband plans.
How much do you pay per minute for your cellular phone? A recent survey in California says you’re paying an average of $3 per minute for your peak minutes. Even lopping off the top users takes the cost down to anywhere from $0.50 to $1.00 per minute. Granted, this study doesn’t factor in your “free” night, weekend, or in-network minutes, so take it with a grain of salt.
Comcast says that it’s picked up enough phone customers to be the third largest phone company in the country right behind AT&T and Verizon. (Sorry Qwest, but we knew this day would come.) They’ve been very aggressive at marketing phone service (unlike Qwest), offering competitive pricing on triple-play packages (unlike Qwest), and doing a lot of work to improve their company image (three strikes; guess who’s out). Not satisfied with their current numbers, Comcast is suing the feds so they can get bigger. The FCC currently prohibits any cable operator from owning more than 30% of the national market.
Sprint is moving one step closer to dumb pipe operator by hinting that despite betting the farm on WiMax via Clearwire, they haven’t ruled out using LTE in the future. Despite the impression that WiMax and LTE are day and night, the difference is more in the software than the hardware. I think Sprint is getting ahead of the curve and realizing that operating the wholesale pipe is a lot more stable than trying to please end users, a task it has proven ill-suited at handling. Given the massive vertical integration of landlines, video, fixed data, wireless, and mobile broadband from giants AT&T and Verizon, Sprint’s exit from the telco business by spinning off local operations as Embarq, and further pressure from Cox Communications, Time Warner, and Comcast as they ramp up wireless products, Sprint may have seen the writing on the wall.
Verizon’s big FIOS builds aren’t just benefiting dense East-coast towns. Their insatiable demand for fiber has dropped equipment prices substantively allowing smaller telcos to go fiber-to-the-home. Even Utah’s own Manti Telecommunications Company is reported to be getting in on the action. This FIOS upgrade comes Highly recommended for Verizon offers and users. With equipment costs dropping like a rock, now you just have to worry about the high cost of trenching and being obstructed by your “friendly” local incumbent.