SDN Technology

FCC Chairman Talks Up SDN/NFV

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler believes the impact of railroad and telegraph networks in the 19th century still outweighs that of the Internet in today's society. However, he also believes that's about to change.

"My conviction is that we are on the cusp of when our broadband networks will prove even more transformative than the networks of the 19th century," said Wheeler in a speech at the Brookings Institution. "That belief is based upon this new fact: broadband networks are new in a new way. That new way is the evolution from hardware-based networks to ones that are software-based with the result that changes the nature of networks."

The purpose of Wheeler's statement was twofold. First, he used the coming wave of network virtualization to illustrate the opportunities for innovation ahead. Virtualization, he noted, will extend network capabilities at the same time that network expansion and operating costs decrease. (See Building Momentum for the New IP and Will Investing in SDN & NFV Be Worth It?)

Second, he argued that the growing importance of the Internet only makes regulatory oversight more critical. Calling broadband "the most powerful and pervasive network on the planet," Wheeler said it would be "unthinkable" to allow it to exist without oversight.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and national broadband plan architect Blair Levin discuss broadband policy.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and national broadband plan architect Blair Levin discuss broadband policy.

Wheeler made his comments as the industry continues to do battle over the implementation of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's Open Internet Order. (See Title II Rules Take Effect.)

While opponents to the ruling say that regulating Internet providers as common carriers under Title II will inhibit network investment, Wheeler scoffs at the notion. In his recent address, Wheeler declared that the FCC won't let "imaginary concerns of investment incentives Ö cause us to let up on policies that encourage fast, fair and open broadband."

He cited statements by the CEOs of Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), T-Mobile US Inc. , Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), Charter Communications Inc. and Frontier Communications Corp. (NYSE: FTR) that Title II does not discourage investment as evidence for his argument. He also pointed out that continued broadband expansion announcements following implementation of the Open Internet Order only strengthen his case.

For more fixed broadband market coverage and insights, check out our dedicated gigabit/broadband content channel here on Light Reading.

With network economics changing thanks to SDN and NFV, and consumer demand for broadband continuing to grow, Wheeler questioned why operators would not make the "rational decision" to invest in their infrastructure. That decision would only make sense, he asserted, if competition didn't exist, or if demand were unnaturally limited. Those conditions are exactly what Wheeler believes the FCC needs to prevent.

"I think we just cannot accept a reality that there's only one provider, and we've got to do everything possible to make sure we're creating an environment for multiple carriers."

As for the FCC's role, Wheeler talked about efforts to stimulate competition and make broadband more readily available. So far these have included working to open up more licensed and unlicensed spectrum, re-evaluating the Lifeline program for inclusion of broadband service, and reforming the E-rate program, which is designed to bring connectivity to schools and libraries. Wheeler also referenced plans for later this year to give over-the-top video providers access to the same content rights as traditional pay-TV companies, and to examine privacy rules in the telecom sector.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

Joe Stanganelli 7/3/2015 | 10:37:59 AM
Regulation Ugh.  Spoken like a true Washington bureaucrat.  God forbid we allow something to go unregulated.

To speak of NFV, government regulation and bureaucracy is exactly what killed a recent SDN project in New Zealand and got the researchers to move it out of the country.  (Mitch recently wrote about this here.)
Ariella 7/3/2015 | 9:49:28 AM
Re: Well, not really What's interesting is that some people are setting up their own railroads, so to speak. I saw this today: 

22 Towns in Massachusetts Are Building Their Own Gigabit Fiber Network:

Large swaths of rural Western Massachusetts are about to get gigabit fiber internet after residents in 22 separate towns decided to join a government cooperative designed to bring high speed broadband to places where traditional cable companies refuse to offer service.

The towns have secured $34.5 million in government bonds to undertake the project, which is expected to cost a total of $79 million. The Massachusetts state government is expected to pick up 40 percent of the overall cost as part of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (the $34.5 million is not included in that total), according to the coop, called WiredWest.

brooks7 7/2/2015 | 4:04:13 PM
Re: Well, not really Dennis/Duh!

Those are the same people who think that Shannon and Nyquist don't apply to wireless networks.


DHagar 7/2/2015 | 3:53:11 PM
Re: Well, not really MitchWagner, I fully agree that the value is the connectivity.  It appears that Mr. Wheeler is looking for a problem to solve with the new "Regs" solution.  The internet has developed just fine up to now and has matured into a valuable platform.  The SDN/NFV just increases the capacity.

I wonder if he thinks the "guidance" of FCC will not accelerate the development and applications of the internet and/or make it better?  I am skeptical of both and hope they don't diminish the value by their "guidance".
mendyk 7/2/2015 | 2:14:01 PM
Re: Well, not really Duh -- I like the idea of applying "bit rate" to "speed of horse." And yes, what people say is often not the same as what they mean -- sometimes unintentionally. Unfortunately, because of a lack of clarity (purposeful or not), there are people who do think that virtualization results in some sort of network hoodoo that makes infrastructure irrelevant. I'm not saying they are particularly bright people, but they do exist in fairly substantial numbers.
Mitch Wagner 7/2/2015 | 1:48:06 PM
Re: Well, not really The difference this time around isn't speed of propagation -- it's ubiquity. Smartphones mean people have all the world's information, all the time, and can do commercial transactions anywhere at any time. 

The Apple Cinema Display I'm looking at right now is one I bought five years ago on the commuter train from New York to Westchester. I'd been thinking of buying it for some time, and I'd just finished orientation meetings for a new job that I thought went very well. So why not, I said to myself, and I did. The display cost $1,000. 

Multiply those kinds of transactions by a billion people on the Internet and you have something. 

Also consider the mobile revolution in the developing world, which is barely into or past the telegraph age. 

The impact of the Internet is already on its way to being as great as that of the railroad and telegraph. It doesn't need SDN and NFV to push it along. Just ask anybody who works in the taxi, television, newspaper, magazine, retail, or hospitality industries. 

(Seriously, that was the most expensive train ride I've ever taken. 55 minutes, $1,000.)


Duh! 7/2/2015 | 1:42:07 PM
Re: Well, not really  SDN and NFV are an incremental improvement, not a fundamental revolution.  Changing the way that functions and resources are partitioned in a network may be highly valuable for operators and IT folks, but why would end users know or care? SDN/NFV don't directly change the overwhelming majority of CAPEX, which involves trenches, poles, ducts and cables.   That makes it's hard to see how they would make a fundamentally unfeasible business case into a feasible one.

I'm sure he meant "bit rate" rather than "speed of propagation". 
mendyk 7/2/2015 | 11:29:05 AM
Well, not really Mr. Wheeler is overstating the case by more than just a little bit. Before the advent of the telegraph, information traveled at the speed of horse. With the telegraph, it started traveling at the same speed as it does today. And it's not going to travel any faster. It's also weird of him to suggest that networks are transforming from hardware to software. Yes, more of the network function will be in software. But we still need the pipes and the machines that feed the pipes.
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