12 Feb Blueprint for big broadband not quite big enough
After speaking about broadband connectivity at OneGigabit or more at several conferences in January, one of the other speakers sent me an EDUCAUSE white paper entitled “A Blueprint for Big Broadband,” written by John Windhausen.
The EDUCAUSE group is made up of about 2,200 colleges and universities. Their White Paper goes into detail as to where the United States has failed to keep up with other parts of the world. It is a good attempt at providing a warning, but their solution does not get us close to where we need to be.
Setting up a blueprint
One of the highlights of the report deals with issues that United States policymakers should be addressing (from the white paper):
• Leadership and Goals: The executives of almost every successful government initiative began by announcing a broadband plan and setting specific broadband goals. While the details of these plans often differ, the common “success factor” is that they each put together a broadband plan with support from the highest levels of the government.
• Public Funding: Almost every successful government program has included significant government funding. Other governments have recognized that broadband is not a communications issue; it is an infrastructure issue that generates public benefits to economic growth, health care, education, and so forth. These governments recognize that broadband should not be left for the market because the profit maximizing incentives of private industry do not reflect the overall public welfare.
• Open Broadband Networks: One of the most popular models has been to require that big broadband network providers provide service on a wholesale basis to multiple retailers. Most municipal broadband networks, such as UTOPIA and the Alberta SuperNet, operate on a wholesale basis and allow competitors to resell the network to consumers.
• Public/Private Partnerships: Another consistently successful theme is government/private sector cooperation in building broadband networks. Very few, if any, state governments express interest in building a government/owned broadband network. The plans of almost every state governor involve providing funding or incentives for the private sector to expand their broadband networks. California, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Virginia are among the states that have adopted programs to stimulate greater private sector investment by establishing a government/industry task force, nonprofit entity, or other organization.
• Unbundling: The policy of unbundling local copper networks has been used successfully to stimulate broadband, although the application of unbundling to fiber facilities is still under consideration. France and the U.K. have had great success in unbundling the local loop as a means to jump-start their broadband adoption, allowing them to jump to the top of the G7 in broadband adoption in just a few years. The European Union has taken an active role in enforcing unbundling regimes on some countries that were initially reluctant. European countries are now debating whether the unbundling regime should be applied to fiber facilities as well.
• Fiber: Except for Japan and South Korea, which are well ahead of the rest of the world in deploying fiber, municipalities are taking the lead on fiber deployment. Sweden has had a municipal fiber deployment strategy from the beginning. Many U.S. cities have built or are building fiber networks, often funding the build-out by selling municipal bonds. Several studies document the economic benefits to those cities that have deployed their own fiber networks.
• States Focus on Low-Speed Broadband: Most of the state government initiatives have focused on expanding low-speed broadband services to unserved areas, not big broadband. Almost every state has some amount of rural and high-cost areas that have not been served by the private sector. The states’ governors express understandable concern that rural Americans should not be left behind and should have access to basic broadband connectivity.
State programs are lacking
Unfortunately, the majority of state programs do not address the need to promote big broadband capability that will be necessary in the next few years. While these state initiatives are certainly well-intentioned, the question is whether the low-speed services used to fill the gaps today will become the dial-up of the future. Most states’ programs are largely designed to expand the reach of DSL and cellular broadband access more widely available. There remains a need for the federal government to address the need for big broadband.
The white paper goes on to make a summary of Building a Blueprint for Big Broadband Connectivity and ends with:
U.S. broadband policy should focus on the future. Cable modem, DSL, and wireless technologies are unlikely to meet our future needs. The United States needs to set its sights toward the 100 Mbps speeds that are commonplace in Japan and increasingly the focus of European countries.
They discount wireless and DSL as not a solution, which has been discussed in this column for several years, so no earth-shattering discovery there. The 100Mbps speed is not the right goal and it appears as though they have set the bar too low.
100 megabits already is obsolete
EDUCAUSE focuses on getting U.S. broadband to a higher speed which in a way is stating the obvious. The author says 100Mbps is a good goal. In reality, they are still aiming too low.
If you have ever planned a large-scale network, you have to have a very high objective because going from planning to implementation takes a good several years. Ask the engineers at the phone companies. They do not plan for the next two to five years; they look at 20 to 30 years. At least they used to. Also, if you are trying to plan for the future, you cannot assume the network traffic that is here today.
Adopting the recommendations in this EDUCAUSE white paper will still put the United States behind other countries. Some would still argue that 100Mbps is too much bandwidth for users. Those people do not have a clue as to new applications flooding the Internet including social networks as well as video-heavy applications like YouTube and its imitators. What is on the horizon?
The paper started to focus on the importance of going beyond servicing the Digital Divide, but they do not discuss it enough. Rural areas are not the only areas of interest for broadband and keeping up with a global market means setting metropolitan areas into multiple gigabit network infrastructures. Gigabit speeds are already a must-have if you want to attract corporate facilities in Intelligent Business Campuses. 100Mbps? You will be passed over to the next municipality.
Incumbent phone companies don’t have the answers
The worn arguments by incumbent network carriers’ government affairs people that we don’t need that much bandwidth reminds me of the same government affairs people saying that we didn’t need fiber running to the Chicago 911 Center back in 1995. Now those same entities take credit for what they tried to block 16 years ago when the planning was taking place (1992).
If you leave it up to network carrier government affairs people, we will be further behind than we are now. I always thought the incumbents would be encouraging new services and “blinding speed” network offerings. Instead, they are playing a protection game and choose to promote antiquated services and try to ring out the last buck out of old copper-based technology instead of upgrading to new infrastructure.
If that is their choice, fine but they also want to stifle any entity that wants to build new network infrastructure. This is incongruent with the way the market is headed. Either you lead, follow or get out of the way. The incumbents don’t want to lead, but they also want to get in the way because they do not want to follow competition and lose marketshare.
As to their rhetoric and arguments, any network carrier’s government affairs person that does not know the difference between gigabit and gigabytes when he is talking should not be listened to.
In all marketing classes that discussed buying technology and network services from vendors, my general rule-of-thumb was if they don’t have the basic definitions right in their own industry, how can they be trusted with complex infrastructure issues and endeavors?
It would be like a general manager from GM not knowing the difference of a Chevy Cobalt from a Cadillac Escalade. You expect the person from the industry to know the industry’s basic terms and definitions.
As for the “Blueprint for Big Broadband” white paper, some good points but the speed is already obsolete on paper. Potential corporate sites have to offer multiple gigabit speeds today. Back to the drawing board.
CARLINI-ISM: Broadband should be viewed as one gigabit or more today, if planning a network for tomorrow.
Recent articles by James Carlini
• James Carlini: Not up to speed: What real broadband is all about
• James Carlini: Sluggish economic predictions and lessons from Michigan
• Jim Carlini: Readers get a charge out of presidential critique
• James Carlini: Network infrastructure and holiday cocktail parties
• James Carlini: Broadband and other blowback from frustrated voters
See James Carlini interviewed by the STRASSMAN REPORT out of California. The 30-minute video discusses the need for planning Gigabit network infrastructure today in order to be globally competitive tomorrow.
This article previously appeared in MidwestBusiness.com, and was reprinted with its permission.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC.