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.
This week saw the DTV transition delay get, uh, delayed (though not for long), Cox’s new traffic management plan, and a competing version of the broadband stimulus package that offers 50% more cash for 90% fewer conditions. Qwest also renewed its fight with SkyWi, Charter dropped a 60Mbps gauntlet, and Google launched tools to find out if you’re being throttled by your ISP. All that and more in this week’s Broadband Bytes!
Cox Communications is the latest large ISP to implement some kind of network management, opting for a system that’s a lot like what Comcast did. Unlike Comcast, however, they plan to throttle specific “low-priority” traffic types once the congestion gets too high including FTP file transfers, torrents and newsgroups. Predictably, there are a lotof peoplecalling bunk on the plan, but I don’t think it’s so bad. Comcast is getting ripped by the FCC since their protocol-agnostic version would degrade competitor’s VoIP traffic if you end up being one of the hogs, so it makes sense to try and only smack around the data types that generate a lot of packets and a lot of transfer. Most users are fine with network management schemes so long as they are transparent and generous; the complaining just happens to be very, vey loud.
Qwest decided to ignore an order from New Mexico’s PRC and disconnect some of SkyWi’s customers without the required 10-day warning. Qwest has likely figured that whatever the penalty is, it’s worth it to kill off a competitor and SkyWi might not be around to finish its lawsuit. The company tried to pass it off as a clerical error. Expect New Mexico’s PRC to give Qwest a serious smackdown (provided it can survive Qwest’s army of robot lawyers) and keep an eye open for possible FCC involvement. Spurned CLECs like SkyWi are prime companies to recuit onto open networks like UTOPIA.
Charter, despite its severe financial problems, stole the St. Louis speed crown from AT&T by launching a 60Mbps DOCSIS 3.0 service at a wallet-busting $140/mo. This bests Comcast and Verizon by about 10Mbps, but it far faster than anything AT&T can do with ADSL2+. Verizon took the opportunity to make fun of DOCSIS 3.0 and its limits as compared to fiber. Users on UTOPIA are likely very “ho-hum” about the announcement since 50Mbps service has been available for quite some time.
Google fired a shot at ISPs who employ any kind of throttling or traffic management by offering up free tools to test for it. Even if your ISP isn’t engaging in these kinds of practices, the presence of these tools will help keep them honest. In the debate over network management, it’s very important to be clear and upfront about any caps or network management policies you plan to employ. Comcast got a PR black eye by hiding its policies for months as angry users took to the Internet and flooded forums with complaints. They get kind of stabby when you mention it after the fact (and for good reason).
I imagine users on Comcast and AT&T will appreciate these new tools. All three ISPs have signed on with the RIAA to disconnect users who are sharing copyrighted files. It’s part of the RIAA’s broad approach to turn ISPs into their copyright cops in exchange for a cut of the action, something they have successfully pulled off in Ireland. Given the lack of an appeals process and frequent ISP mistakes, you can bet that this opens the market for competing providers to snap up those customers.In the UK, they’re debating a different approach: a £20/mo “piracy tax”. Such a tax has already been implemented in Isle of Man which allows residents there to pirate as much as they want for under $1.50/mo. The RIAA would probably do better to offer an “all you can download” music service or some kind of “piracy license” that gives you the right to download whatever you want.
Comcast is thinking about offering WiFi to subscribers, but no word yet on if they plan to charge for it or use it as a perk to lure in customers. They’re currenting testing it out in New Jersey in a partnership with Cablevision. Cox Communications really took the lead on this by snapping up a lot of regional 700MHz licenses so that they can start offering wireless services as well, including leasing tower space to cell phone carriers. Thinking beyond the triple play to include these kinds of services is a smart move for any service provider.
Smart companies also focus on customer service. Charter has taken up permanent residence on the DSLReports forum and, like Comcast, has a customer service team assigned to Twitter. And while Sprint has announced that they will layoff 8,000, they plan to avoid sacking anyone in a customer service position even as subscribers decline sharply. High customer satisfaction leads to low churn and lots of free word-of-mouth advertising. I recently got support from Sprint’s Twitter team and got my issue resolved in record time.
Guess who’s making money hand over fist? If you guessed Netflix, give yourself a red envelope. Or don’t, since most of the company’s revenue has come from users switching from mailed DVDs to streaming on their PC or TV. Even with the switch to streaming, Netflix is going to start shipping DVDs on Saturdays to help speed up processing and delivery times. (No word on how the post office’s plans to drop Tuesday service will affect this.) I wouldn’t be surprised if the secret sauce in Netflix’s bottom line is customer satisfaction. The few times I’ve had an issue, I had a short hold time to talk to a live person who was empowered to make me happy.
Holy moly has the country gone crazy about the impending DTV transition deadline. There’s also more talk about the broadband spending in the upcoming stimulus package (where the money will come from is still a mystery), Charter’s impending implosion, the new FCC Chair, and continuing tech layoffs. We also know who’s going to replace Kevin “Ma Bell is my Homeboy” Martin on January 20.
The DTV transition is getting much, much uglier as Congress prepares an Obama-backed proposal to delay the switch from analog signals until June 12. Verizon isn’t very happy about it since it would delay their planned deployment of LTE, a move that also hurts Qualcomm, the company who makes the equipment. Ars Technica unveiled that an Obama cabinet member proposing the delay may have a conflict of interest as the delay would benefit Clearwire. It’s also not surprising that AT&T is in favor of the delay since it would hurt one of their largest competitors. Public safety groups also don’t want to delay their use of the freed-up 700MHz spectrum for a new public safety radio network. House Republicans have also voiced opposition to the delay citing the increased confusion of moving the date. Dish Network is already trying to capitalizing on it with misleading sales pitches. Wilmington, NC carried out a DTV test with few problems and Hawaii has already gone all digital.Add this blogger to the list of people who thinks that delaying the inevitable is a really bad idea. It’s been in the works for 10 years, we’re been talking about it publicly for at least three and stations have been bombarding consumers with warnings for at least the last 6 months. If you aren’t ready by now, then you just don’t want to watch TV. And if you do, there’s plenty of options available, including calling up local video providers for service.
Speaking of selling additional services, you might want to reconsider coming up with an in-house solution. Telephony Online proposes you start partnering up with companies that already do a really good job at providing services outside of the triple-play such as telemedicine and home security. There’s a lot of wisdom to this embrace of wholesale models since you can focus on your core business instead of being distracted by expensive (and often faulty) products with a high liklihood of being discontinued in a few years. The report focuses on FTTH operators (and part 2 discusses some of the regulatory hurdles that prevent more FTTH systems), but there’s a lot of wisdom in this for HFC, FTTN and POTS systems as well.There’s also looking at The Dark Side to make more money. The RIAA is offering up a portion of settlements with pirates if ISPs will turn them in (most of them aren’t biting) and most of the proposals to cap users are focused on squeezing out additional revenue.
Get ready for more pricing wars. MVNO Boost Mobile dropped a bombshell with a $50 unlimited wireless plan that includes voice, text and walkie-talkie services. That goes head-to-head with offerings from all of the major cell providers (most priced at $100 per month or greater) and even takes on brands like Cricket. The New York Times reports that Sprint did this with their pre-paid value brand to try and utilize more of their Nextel network. Embarq also dropped prices on it’s top-tier DSL product by $10/mo.One area that isn’t falling, however, is pay video services. While promotional rates are very attractive, rates have been rising quickly (no doubt because of higher retransmission fees). Oddly, churn hasn’t yet been affected, but that might be because a lot of customers are trapped in contracts with early termination fees. Many customers have also wised up; they know that calling to cancel can land them the promo rate for a few more months. Despite service complaints, price is the main factor driving subscribers to seek alternatives. Verizon seems to have taken the lead on this in at least one case, something that no doubt improved customer loyalty.
Despite what AT&T and Verizon are doing, Qwest is still going to stay out of the video market. Their rationale? Consumers will end up watching all of their video on the Internet soon anyway. That’s true in a lot of cases (especially for network television content), but there is still a lot of paid content that consumers want, especially as cable networks continue to make big investments in original programming. In the end, Qwest is going to have to come up with something more compelling than upload-crippled FTTN and reselling DirecTV.
As proof that Qwest might be onto something is CastTV, a relatively new site that aggregates content from various other video portals like Hulu, YouTube and others into a clean interface. If that got paired up with an Internet-connected TV, you might be able to ditch (or complement, your pick) your paid programming package. Demand for such a set is very high, over 71%. Microsoft has spent a long time working on an IPTV product for the XBox360 and its Netflix integration is supposed to be top-notch. Blockbuster also realizes the power of streaming video and is trying to push a new streaming product even though they totally flubbed their first attempt. The moral of the story is that providing gobs of bandwidth and not much else seems to be where telecom is heading.
Is Verizon planning to kill off POTS lines in favor of VoIP? It depends on which day you ask. Initial reports said they were going to within 7 years, then they came back and said they had no timeline. On the plus side, VoIP is inexpensive and has made a lot of quality and reliability improvements. On the downside, it’s still not as reliable as a POTS line and, as we learned from the Qwest-SkyWi dust-up, it may fall outside of the purview of your state PUC.
In gadget news, the Supreme Court has asked the DoJ to give them some input on the Cablevision DVR case. Pretty much every content producer in the country has come out against the proposal which would offer up 160GB worth of DVR for an inexpensive $10 per month.
Clearwire is showing off a portable WiMax “hotspot” that acts as a WiFi-WiMax bridge. Any WiFi device could be surfing over the speedy new network (if/when it becomes available in your area) with minimum fuss. Somewhat related to this is the emergence of subsidized netbooks from Dell and Acer for a cool $99 if you pair it up with a $60/mo or greater data plan from AT&T. It’s not a bad deal, but it does inspire memories of the ISP-subsidized PCs of a decade ago that ended up flopping. AT&T is also getting ready to push an in-car satellite TV and radio service – at $1300 for equipment and $22/mo for service. I somehow don’t see that catching on anytime soon.
With all the talk about city wifi networks becoming ubiquitous there are some downsides…scalability. Networkworld has an interesting article about the the technical problems with scaling WiFi to meet today’s bandwidth hungry users. As a side note, some users ask the network engineers at my place of employment (higher ed) when wifi will become our primary means of connecting desktops to the network. The answer is always the same: never. They say: “What do you mean I can’t use this new 2.4Ghz phone I just purchased?” Some departments decide to go wireless anyway (usually to avoid the cost of wiring) but later end up having to convert to physical connections anyway.
It looks like Comcast’s new caps are around thanks to Florida consumer protection laws. It seems that prior to the 250Gig caps there was no cap. They just cut off the top 1000 users every month. Because consumers were unable to find out how to avoid this in the future the Florida AG became involved.
Along those lines I dug up these oldarticles about Utah getting a jump start on converting the state-wide network of TV translators to digital signals. One interesting tidbit from the article: “It is widely believed that Utah has the largest terrestrial-analog translator network in the world. The system provides rural viewers with over-the-air television in approximately 80 percent of the state.”
Qwest announced key leadership changes in Sales and IT. The link includes some background about each of the new executives that have been chosen. I’m hoping the new leaders will realize the importance of bringing telecommunications into the 21st century by investing in infrastructure like Verizon has been doing and understand the increasing importance of upload speeds.
Recently, it has come to light that Comcast has been throttling bandwidth for various applications with little or no disclosure. In a 67 page order, the FCC has said that “Comcast has 30 days to fess up about P2P throttling”. On Wednesday, there were also reports that Comcast would slow traffic for heavy users, but today in the NYTimes Comcast claims that no final decisions have been made about managing network traffic.
There is a looming problem on the Internet, IP addresses are running out. There is a finite number of addresses and experts keep telling us we are close to exhaustion. The solution is IPV6, but according to reports, it is failing to gain traction.
Internet traffic is on the rise and consumers are using more and more bandwidth:
“As cable and phone companies race to upgrade services or offer video for the first time, they’re doing it by installing equipment in boxes on lawns, easements and curbs all over American neighborhoods. Telecommunications rollouts have always been messy, but several towns and residents are fighting back…”
Some ISP’s have responded to increased bandwidth usage by some of their customers with announcements of new bandwidth caps.
P2P data is a big bandwidth user, apparently accounting for 40%-60% of all the traffic used on the Internet. Some researchers have a novel idea for cutting bandwidth usage. In a paper to be released next week, researchers found a way to lessen the load of P2P with an algorithm they dub “P4P”. Though the P4P article is scant on technical details, it involves finding shorter routes between users thereby making the traffic traverse fewer networks.
An analyst at a major investment firm says that broadband competition is today as good as it is going to get and that there aren’t going to be any major disruptive technologies in broadband in the future. All the more reason UTOPIA is so important: it provides an open infrastructure that fosters provider competition.
Speaking of politics, this article has an interesting look at the Internet policy in the 2008 Democratic platform. I couldn’t find any info yet about the 2008 Republican platform (it hasn’t been released yet). In 2004, the Republican platform stated: “Broadband provides Americans with high-speed Internet access connections that improve the nation’s economic productivity and offer life-enhancing applications, such as distance learning, remote medical diagnostics, and the ability to work from home more effectively…Broadband technology will enhance our nation’s economic competitiveness and will improve education and health care for all Americans.” It’s nice to see that both major parties acknowledge the importance of broadband for the future of this country.
We’ll see you at the Layton U-CAN meeting on Saturday at Noon at the Davis Library.
The fact that we will be doing a regular feature on broadband news shows that there is a lot of interest in this space. At a recent Qwest webinar, lots of business attendees mentioned slow network speeds are a major concern. Many people are supportive of UTOPIA for different reasons and come from different political persuasions, but the one cause that unites us is a desire to bring our communities into the future by supporting advancements in broadband deployments. We feel it can’t be stressed enough that networks are the railroads of the 21st century. Those cities that have it will prosper, those that don’t will be left by the wayside.
Major telecom incumbents have been slow to invest in our communities and bring us faster network speeds that will be crucial for our economy and our quality of life. In addition, these incumbents have fought and continue to fight efforts by others (like us) to improve broadband even when they themselves refuse to improve broadband speed, quality, and availability. Our goal is to share news developments and insights pertaining to broadband in the hope that with a more informed community we can make better decisions to improve the availability of fast, consumer-friendly, choice-driven, high-quality broadband. This kind of broadband is severely lacking in many parts of Utah, though fortunately, UTOPIA is changing that in more ways than one.
Without further ado, here is our first edition of Broadband Bytes:
Charter Communications says out with the old and in with the new. DOCSIS 3.0, SDV, and all digital in the works. (Goodbye analog spectrum)
Today’s meeting of U-CAN in Orem went really well with some good attendance. Residents are largely frustrated at the delays and lack of information as to when UTOPIA would be deployed in their area and are very interested in having the network succeed. We had one of the UTOPIA NOC employees on-hand today (he moved from the iProvo NOC) as well as a consultant who’s been working with some of the new prospective service providers and a lot of good information came forth.
An established triple-play provider is really close to joining the network once they negotiate transport fees and they plan to market primarily to residences. This should be announced within a few weeks. Those of you looking for an Mstar alternative, look no more!
It’s possible to order different services from different providers, but the providers don’t really know how to do it. One example of this is a subscriber who has data from XMission, voice from Nuvont and video from Mstar. If you have trouble getting the provider to offer you an unbundled service, contact your rep on the UTOPIA board to get it moving.
UTOPIA isn’t currently equipped to handle adding new pledging cities. If you’ve been trying to get your city council on board, you need to step back and wait for a bit. Most city councils want to see how things function with the new financing and leadership before committing anyway.
Paul Recanzone was kind enough to show us some footprint maps of where service can be found in Orem. Stick to central parts of the city to ensure that service is available and always do a check for it before moving.
One interesting possibility was to market UTOPIA to cell phone providers to offer backhaul for their towers. The decreased transport fees make sense for Cricket, Sprint, AT&T, etc. and UTOPIA could bag a lot of revenue in the process.
UTOPIA may look at adding wireless to the fiber backbone, either via 802.11g/n or 802.16 (WiMax). This would allow voice providers to do cellular service. In the case of WiMax, it would also allow roaming on Clearwire and allow for service outside of the Wasatch Front. That’s just in the idea stage, so don’t count on seeing anything soon.
One meeting attendee said that he was aware of Qwest and Comcast purposefully planting moles in UTOPIA providers to try and sabotage the companies from within and that this was a primary cause of Mstar’s near-collapse. I know they’re underhanded, but I’m not sure to what extent they’d try and do something quite this dirty.