ORLANDO -- ComptelPlus Spring 2015 -- Google's Milo Medin today challenged service providers that back net neutrality to channel that passion into a bigger push for government policies that encourage local access competition. Medin pointed out many specific ways that current policies make building new local nets harder, and said changes to smooth construction should be a cause that both Republicans and Democrats can rally behind.
The former head of @home networks and now VP of access services for Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Medin said his former colleagues in the cable industry and their big telco competitors have no incentive to invest in better networks and customer service, or to lower prices, because consumers have no real choices in broadband access. The only way to bring consumers the massive bandwidth they need at reasonable prices is to introduce more local competition.
That would be much easier if a variety of federal, state and local government rules were recalibrated to make network construction easier and less costly, he added. And unlike his fellow keynoter, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, Medin provided tons of specifics. (See Senator Proposes New 'Title X' for Net Neutrality.)
He also chided the crowd a bit for their enthusiasm around net neutrality -- which Google supports -- noting that its passage didn't really change things much for consumers.
"No consumers are seeing higher speeds than before the order was passed, no consumers are paying less for Internet service, or seeing higher volume caps and no consumers have additional choices of providers," Medin said. "The openness of the Internet may have been preserved but the choices haven't changed. It doesn’t address the underlying core problem that drives scarcity of bandwidth which is lack of competition."
In the admittedly small set of markets that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) addresses, there is already a sign of what could happen: packages such as the Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) offer in Provo, Utah, where consumers can get high-speed Internet, cable TV with DVR and phone service for $120.
Medin outlined specific changes to help advance competition, which would be a boon to consumers:
- Better rules for pole attachments: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made pole attachments -- the use of existing utility poles to attach fiber optic cable for networks -- more available to broadband ISPs in the Net Neutrality order, which helps, Medin says. But the final rules aren't yet known. Google would like to see streamlined processes for making poles ready to include, letting competitors do their own pole audits and even their own "make ready" processes using third-party approved companies instead of having to wait on incumbents.
- Faster removal of unused wiring from poles and efforts to upgrade the communications wiring space when poles are upgraded.
- State-level rules regarding pole attachments can be helpful. Medin pointed to Connecticut, where there is an independent statewide pole administrator that sets and enforces standards and pricing as well as pole replacements and upgrades.
- Standardized pricing for pole attachments that is fair for everyone.
- Federal requirements that new highways and roads include placement of conduit to make it easier to pull fiber.
- Elimination of Environmental Protection Agency rules that currently prohibit cities from installing conduit when they have to dig up streets to put in better storm drains and sewers. The current EPA rules require cities to dig up the streets twice, which makes no sense, Medin noted, but the agency is suing 700 cities to enforce its rules.
- At the local level, faster and better coordinated permitting processes including elimination of rights of individual neighborhoods to block construction or installation of necessary hardware. Automating the permit submission and approval process would be ideal, he said.
- Eliminating the marketing deals that pay-TV providers make with owners of multi-dwelling units. The FCC no longer allows exclusive deals but the marketing arrangements can have the same effect, Medin said.
- More accurate underground mapping information. Too often inaccurate details leads to utility line cuts or other problems that could be avoided.
Medin saved one of the bigger challenges for last: Programming costs. Like rural telcos -- many of whom have gotten out of the IPTV business because programming was so expensive -- Google is facing higher programming costs than the bigger pay-TV distributors and thinks the FCC should be able to force programmers to charge everyone the same price for their content, rather than negotiate deals individually. The differential between what a smaller fiber-to-the-home player pays and what the big MSOs and telcos pay could make building new competing fiber networks cost prohibitive.
If players such as Google have to pay significantly more -- two or three times in some cases -- the cost of what bigger players pay for content, they may be unable to continue to afford to build out fiber, he said. Google's experience has shown that consumers want to buy cable and Internet together so the cost of cable content has the potential to scuttle the whole thing.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading