Could Cable, Telco Unite on Gig Services?

I've heard a lot and written a fair amount about the problems faced by small cities and towns and the carriers that serve them in bringing broadband to the masses in an affordable way.

Just yesterday, I shared Mediacom Communications Corp. Business VP Dan Templin's thinking that municipalities wanting broadband should be turning first to their local cable operator, and that cable operators serving these smaller munis and more rural areas need to be working together on bringing gigabit services to businesses, schools, governments, and, eventually, residences. (See Forget Google Fiber, Think Cable Fiber.)

But even Templin was taken aback a bit when I asked him if he would consider working with a small telco that served a nearby rural community or town. After all, telcos are also trying to boost the bandwidth they deliver in less populated areas for the same reasons cable companies and municipalities are: economic development, better quality of life via education and healthcare and, in some cases, the very survival of a rural community. And public-private partnerships could embrace network operators of all types.

Templin's response was candid: He admitted he hadn't thought about cable-telco cooperation and that no one had ever asked him about it before I did.

Certainly there would be challenges to linking cable and telco networks -- even as both offer Ethernet services and deliver wavelengths over fiber, they do it in different ways, usually employing fundamentally different access technologies. Is it impossible then to consider a gigabit consortium that links willing players on both sides of the cable-telco divide?

Public-private partnerships make sense in this arena. You can even argue that this is essentially what Google has in Kansas City, where it gets free access to rights-of-way, central office space, and power. But could those partnerships include multiple types of operators?

I continue to believe that, despite the US devotion to competition in all markets, the notion of competing fiber-to-the-home or even fiber-to-the-business networks in smaller cities and towns and certainly in rural areas is far-fetched. Many of these areas are home to the 15 million Americans who can't get any broadband at all, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) .

But we may be too far down the balkanization path to retrace our steps back to a point where it's rational to talk public-private cooperation a level that includes both cable and telco operators. It may be enough to just figure out how one or the other would work with local government officials to solve the gigabit challenge, possibly in an open access way that ultimately benefits everyone.

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

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