Light Reading

If Not Muni Networks, Then What?

Carol Wilson
7/28/2014
50%
50%

The latest round of municipal network battles has quickly escalated to the federal level, with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler promising to challenge state laws prohibiting muni networks and Republicans in Congress trying to prevent his agency from interfering with state laws. (See Muni Utilities Take Gigabit Fight to FCC.)

This looks for the world like the latest chapter in what has been a decade-long battle between incumbent carriers and the cities, towns and rural areas they serve. But it's not.

A few things have changed since the first few rounds of the muni network wars.

First, many of these areas have seen what gigabit broadband services can do, courtesy of the broadband stimulus-funded buildouts, state projects, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's own gigabit challenge, Google Fiber Inc. and more. They've seen what EPB Fiber Optics of Chattanooga, Tenn., accomplished and they've also seen commercial service providers, led by AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), make gigabit promises as well. (See Chattanooga Rocks 1-Gig FTTH Service, Power Companies Promise Gigabit Broadband, Google Fiber Shifts Into High Gear).


For ongoing updates on Gigabit Cities and the municipal network debate, visit Light Reading's Broadband/FTTx content channel.


But for under-served communities, watching gigabit speeds reach places such as Austin, Tex. -- an area already flowing over with tech business -- is a little like watching the circus train pass through town but never stop.

The second significant change has been in the US economy, which continues to flounder somewhat, due largely to major long-term job trends that haven't yet been addressed. Communities that once counted on manufacturing, for instance, are still seeking similar well-paying jobs for those who aren't college educated. The pervasive availability of goods and services online, layered on top of the rise of massive chain stores, has made it hard to impossible for local retail to survive. Other industries –- publishing/printing, for example –- have been dramatically impacted by the rise of the Internet as well.

At the same time, the rise of cloud computing and data storage/analytics has prompted competition for data centers and other similar facilities. Financial services, healthcare, education, retail, and many more industries are dependent on the availability not just of high-speed data, but of gigabit speeds.

And finally, the technology itself and some of the painful experiences of the past have led to a smarter approach to building fiber-optic networks to support these gigabit speeds. The common argument a decade ago was that cities didn't know how to run networks, but the experiences in Chattanooga and Bristol, Va., among others, has laid that thinking to rest.

When Rep. Martha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) launched the amendment to a House bill to keep the FCC from challenging state laws against muni networks, she waged the expected argument that states' rights shouldn't be violated, but she also mentioned the "vibrant communications marketplace" that didn't need interference from the feds. (See The Municipal Menace?.)

I'm wondering if the communities seeking help from EPB or Wilson Energy's Greenlight in North Carolina consider themselves to be part of a "vibrant communications marketplace." If incumbents are going to continue working to handicap those that would build gigabit networks where they don't yet exist, they need to think about what their answers to those under-served communities will be.

The need for gigabit networks is only going to increase. Simply trying to stalemate municipal efforts isn't going to change that. I personally think that's why Wheeler sees the need to engage the FCC in this process. Whether that's the right approach –- or even if the Commission has that authority –- I don't know.

But waiting for incumbents to get around to upgrading ageing copper networks in many areas seems a strategy already doomed to failure. These companies exist to make money, and if they could have done that building gigabit networks in smaller cities and towns, it would have happened by now. So if not a muni-backed network, then what?

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

(14)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
mhhf1ve
50%
50%
mhhf1ve,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/6/2014 | 6:53:37 PM
Wireless balloons will save us...
Muni builds haven't had a great track record so far, but that's not a prediction of how they might perform in the future. Still, it may be up to Google and Facebook to try to disrupt the telcom monopolies. Perhaps wireless broadband delivered by drones will actually become practical (if the FAA allows commercial use of drones..).
Mitch Wagner
50%
50%
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
7/31/2014 | 3:31:50 PM
Blackburn
Great blog post, Carol. 

Marsha Blackburn has done the voters of her state a favor by announcing that she's a conservative in name only, and in fact she's bought and paid for by lobbyists. 
briandnewby
50%
50%
briandnewby,
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/30/2014 | 3:01:56 PM
Re: The Muni Trap
It's complicated, further, but the fact that pure wireless spectrum is an FCC thing.  I was on a city council 10 years ago looking at muni wi-fi, and cellular data service is much more affordable and common now.  Cutting the cord was a bit of a pipe dream then and now, from a phone perspective, it's very common.

There are taxation issues and city revenue impacts related to these changes as well.  Plus, on the cable side, constant disruption to citizens with road construction (even if paid by the vendor) takes an initial toll on citizen satisfaction and, quite likely, another toll on needed road repairs down the road.

All told, as nutty as it sounds, it's almost an area, really, municipal governments should exit.
kq4ym
50%
50%
kq4ym,
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/29/2014 | 1:26:56 PM
Re: The Muni Trap
Yep, it's going to be hard going to get both sides of the issue pulling for the best of both world's. State's right advocates don't want Federal involvement, but there's going to have to be some compromise made to get the ball rolling smoother than it has in past years. It's not going to be easy to do battle with the companies with well paid lobbyists on their sides.
mendyk
50%
50%
mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/29/2014 | 9:36:23 AM
Re: Digital divide revisited
That's only because we focus on the really important issues, like telling people whom they can marry and how they manage their reproductive systems. Snide comment aside, it is hard to imagine telecom or broadband regulations being a deciding factor in any election. Still, when rules and regs are decrepit and corrupt, it usually doesn't take much collective effort to get them changed. But it does take effort.
brookseven
50%
50%
brookseven,
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/28/2014 | 8:06:03 PM
Re: Digital divide revisited
I wonder if the cities that it got into a mulit-city, multi-state JV that it would trigger the FCC.

seven

PS - Kbode...I think what we have seen so far is the first to fiber wins.  And you are right, once the fiber is in it is software to upgrade a lot of bandwidth.
fgoldstein
100%
0%
fgoldstein,
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/28/2014 | 6:49:45 PM
Re: The Muni Trap
Amen to Karl on multiple points.  The "gigabit" part is sizzle, not steak.  But if you have FTTH, the higher burst speed costs next to nothing.  On cable, DOCSIS 3.1 might give more downstream speed, but you can't get more than bupkis upstream (same as today) unless US sysems move to a higher split frequency.  This will never happen; the MSOs will move to fiber first (and they're in no hurry).

The muni question is tricky.  Some systems work; a well-planned and well-managed system can do okay if the incumbent competition isn't strong.  And that's where munis do best.  Overbuilds are hard to make work whether muni or not.  State laws to ban muni networks are utterly corrupt and terrible policy.  On the other hand I am not sure if the FCC or the feds in general have the authority to change it; wasn't there a previous case noting that a municipality is a creation of the state and thus its powers are only what the state gives it?

The real trouble with Tom's proposal is that it perpetates the fallacy that overbuiders are a substittue for common carriage at the physical layer.  The wire on the poles was pulled as a utility and should stay that way, available to any information service provider, not vertically integrated.  Powell's excuse was that "facilities-based competition" would do the job.  Except for a handful of munis and Google, that didn't happen, nor did the new technology he pretended would help (BPL, the equally plausible Roddenberry subspace communications, etc.) do the job. So rather than do his job, Tom's offering the false hope of muni overbuilds as the competitor to keep the incumbents in check. And he knows it won't.  I call his bluff.
KBode
100%
0%
KBode,
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/28/2014 | 6:18:03 PM
Re: The Muni Trap
I agree that the obsession over 1 Gbps is a little silly, but it's more an ideal -- and the discussion isn't really whether YOU (or anybody else) thinks city builds are a good idea, and it's more about letting states decide that for themselves. The other issue at play is the problem with letting entrenched duopolies write the nation's telecom laws. That can't just be run over and past while telling towns and cities what they should or shouldn't do.

Also keep in mind, when citing how many failures there are, that most of these efforts face lawsuits and endless public relations assaults immediately out of the gate by deep-pocketed companies. Not exactly the best way to launch oneself into a new initiative...
KC-Kiwi
50%
50%
KC-Kiwi,
User Rank: Light Beer
7/28/2014 | 6:16:47 PM
Re: The Muni Trap
Your statement regarding Google Fiber availability, "where "1Gig" systems are available (in a few select areas of Kansas City...", implies that there is tokenism or cherry picking in Google's offering. If you consult the information at fiber.google.com you will see that there are significant areas of Kansas City, MO (pop 464,310) and Kansas City KS (pop 147,268) that can get Google Fiber now. Deployment is ongoing in many other Kansas City metro areas, as detailed by the interactive map at the previously mentioned Google Fiber site.

 

I find that facts are compelling when presented in a.... well, factual way. Wouldn't you agree?
Carol Wilson
100%
0%
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
7/28/2014 | 6:08:06 PM
Re: Digital divide revisited
Dennis,

Unfortunately, most of the state laws were passed with little fanfare and little voter awareness. 
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
More Blogs from Rewired
Alliance with Deloitte creates one-stop shop of cyberattack mitigation by adding governance, risk management and compliance consulting.
Rutberg's Rejeev Chand gets FCC's Clbyburn plus Google Fiber and DISH execs to play the true-false game, with interesting results.
New open source group provides substantial industry insight at MWC -- here's hoping they keep up the effort to keep non-members informed.
In the wake of major breaches, enterprises are working harder to get compliance, but not hard enough to stay that way.
Even the best specialized routers can't keep pace with the 100,000-plus % increase in mobile data traffic, Donovan tells MWC.
Flash Poll
From The Founder
The Swedish vendor has undergone a significant transformation during the past few years, adjusting to the demands of next-generation communications companies.
LRTV Documentaries
The 3GPP's Road to 5G Standardization

4|17|15   |   4:43   |   (0) comments


Satoshi Nagata, chairman of the 3GPP's TSG-RAN group and a manager at NTT Docomo, explains the standardization process for 5G, as well as the biggest challenges and opportunities.
LRTV Documentaries
AlcaLu CTO Makes the Case for a New 5G Air Interface

4|16|15   |   3:54   |   (0) comments


Michael Peeters, CTO of wireless at Alcatel-Lucent, explains why 5G will require a new air interface to meet its diverse performance targets.
LRTV Documentaries
AlcaLu + Nokia: The New Uber-Vendor

4|15|15   |   2:42   |   (4) comments


Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Gabriel Brown discusses the technological and competitive opportunities and challenges if a merger between Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia comes to pass.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei's Data Center Power Play

4|15|15   |   6:22   |   (0) comments


Huawei has developed industry-leading energy efficiency capabilities for its indoor and outdoor data center solutions, explains Dr. Fang Liangzhou, vice president of Huawei's Network Energy product Line.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei’s Routers, Switches Get the Green Mark

4|15|15   |   2:02   |   (0) comments


TUV Rheinland's Frank Dudley explains how Huawei's routers and switches have been successfully tested by energy efficiency experts and have gained Green Mark Certification.
LRTV Documentaries
A Finn, a Frenchman & a Guy From New Jersey Walk Into a Merger...

4|15|15   |   3:17   |   (0) comments


Stop us if you've heard this one before... Light Reading CEO Founder & CEO Steve Saunders weighs in on the technical and cultural implications of a Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent merger.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Accounting for Better Solutions

4|10|15   |   02:31   |   (1) comment


Murad Yousuf, CTO at Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Finance (Dept. of Zakat & Income Tax), talks about the benefits of deploying router technology from Huawei.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
What's in Store for Huawei & DataCore?

4|10|15   |   05:44   |   (0) comments


At the CeBIT trade show in Hannover, Germany, George Teixeira, CEO of software-defined storage (SDS) specialist DataCore Software, explains why he has just signed a partnership agreement with Huawei Technologies.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Du Puts Its Faith in Huawei's Routers

4|9|15   |   3:42   |   (0) comments


Adnan Masood, director of Enterprise MS Solutions Marketing at du, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) operator also known as Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company, explains why his company chose to use Huawei's multifunctional AR routers as part of its managed enterprise services.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei Gets Active in the Data Center

4|9|15   |   3:17   |   (0) comments


With enterprise users looking to maximize the use of their data center assets, Huawei’s Chief Architect & Technical Director of IT Data Center Solutions, Bruce Su, explains how the company's six-layer active-active data center solution is eradicating the need to deploy passive, redundant data center assets.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Blue Consult & Huawei for a Better Solution

4|8|15   |   4:01   |   (0) comments


Martin Rott, CEO, and Marc Metzler, head of sales virtualization, from Germany's Blue Consult discuss their collaboration with Huawei and TrendMicro to develop a secure, scalable IT platform that can meet the needs of the most demanding enterprise users.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Beach Petroleum on eLTE & Mining

4|8|15   |   3:09   |   (0) comments


Network systems integrator Jeremy Hamlyn explains how Huawei's secure packet-based trunking communications system, eLTE, can help remote communities and companies in the mining, oil and gas sectors, deploy efficient communications networks that are perfect for video and data as well as voice.
Upcoming Live Events
May 5, 2015, Hyatt McCormick Place, Chicago, IL
May 6, 2015, Georgia World Congress, Atlanta, GA
May 12, 2015, Grand Hyatt, Denver, CO
May 13-14, 2015, The Westin Peachtree, Atlanta, GA
June 8, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 9, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 10, 2015, Chicago, IL
September 29-30, 2015, The Westin Grand Müchen, Munich, Germany
November 11-12, 2015, The Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, GA
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
Network Instruments, a JDSU division, shares results from its 2015 State of the Network, a global survey on security.
Hot Topics
Verizon Scores New OTT Content Deals
Mari Silbey, Independent Technology Editor, 4/16/2015
Can WiFi Calling Find Its Voice?
Iain Morris, News Editor, 4/13/2015
Senator Proposes New 'Title X' for Net Neutrality
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 4/13/2015
Nokia, Alcatel-Lucent in Merger Talks
Iain Morris, News Editor, 4/14/2015
Nokia & Alcatel-Lucent: What's Going On?
Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-chief, 4/15/2015
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Webinar Archive
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Data Center Interconnect, or DCI, is one of the hottest sectors in telecom currently. Since coming back to Light Reading last year, prodigal-son style, I've ...
LR CEO and Founder Steve Saunders sits down with the head of Qosmos to talk about the changing state of the art in deep packet inspection technology, including its role in SDN and NFV architectures.