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Broadband's Impact

Google Shakes Up Broadband Landscape With Fiber Build Initiative

WASHINGTON, February 10, 2010 – Google shook up the broadband world on Wednesday with the announcement, on its blog, that it plans to offer super-fast broadband, at speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second, to up to 500,000 homes.

Google framed its entrance into the marketplace to deploy fiber-optic services as a “testbed” to understand more about the way that consumers and businesses use internet applications when truly high-speed services are available.

“We’ll deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections,” said Minnie Ingersoll and James Kelly, project managers at Google. “We plan to offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people.”

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WASHINGTON, February 10, 2010 – Google shook up the broadband world on Wednesday with the announcement, on its blog, that it plans to offer super-fast broadband, at speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second, to up to 500,000 homes.

Google framed its entrance into the marketplace to deploy fiber-optic services as a “testbed” to understand more about the way that consumers and businesses use internet applications when truly high-speed services are available.

“We’ll deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections,” said Minnie Ingersoll and James Kelly, project managers at Google. “We plan to offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people.”

“Imagine sitting in a rural health clinic, streaming three-dimensional medical imaging over the web and discussing a unique condition with a specialist in New York,” the post continued. “Or downloading a high-definition, full-length feature film in less than five minutes. Or collaborating with classmates around the world while watching live 3-D video of a university lecture.”

Additionally, Google said wanted to understand and share lessons about the deployment of fiber-to-the-home networks, and that Google’s fiber networks will be “open access” network.

That last point puts Google’s approach to broadband on a collision course with the major network providers, including AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications, who oppose Google’s efforts to impose “network neutrality” rules upon broadband providers.

Reactions from Carriers and the FCC

Major broadband providers, including Verizon and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, downplayed the significance of the announcement.

“The internet ecosystem is dynamic and competitive, and it’s delivering great benefits to consumers,” said Verizon spokesman David Fish. “Google’s expansion of its networks to enter the access market is another new paragraph in this exciting story.”

“We look forward to learning more about Google’s broadband experiment in the handful of trial locations they are planning,” said Brian Dietz, vice president of communications for NCTA.

“The cable industry has invested $161 billion over the past 13 years to build a nationwide broadband infrastructure that is available to 92 percent of U.S. homes, and we will continue to invest billions more to continually improve the speed and performance of our networks and provide tens of millions of consumers with the best possible broadband experience,” he said.

Other officials, including Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, were more effusive: “Big broadband creates big opportunities,” Genachowski said in a statement.

“This significant trial will provide an American testbed for the next generation of innovative, high-speed Internet apps, devices, and services,” Genachowski continued. “The FCC’s National Broadband Plan will build upon such private-sector initiatives and will include recommendations for facilitating and accelerating greater investment in broadband, creating jobs and increasing America’s global competitiveness.”

Google’s entrance into the fiber access market comes at time that the Obama administration is in the midst of handing out checks, as part of its $7.2 billion broadband stimulus, to help build broadband into unserved and underserved communities. Fiber-optic services are among the major beneficiaries, among the projects announced thus far.

Additionally, the FCC’s broadband plan is being finalized, and is due to Congress on March 17.

In a separate post, Google Washington Telecom and Media Council Rick Whitt said that the announcement built its recommendation, as part of the FCC’s national broadband plan, that the agency “should build ultra high-speed broadband networks as testbeds in several communities across the country, to help learn how to bring faster and better broadband access to more people.”

Whitt said, “We thought it was important to back up our policy recommendation with concrete action, so now we’ve decided to build an experimental network of our own.”

Whitt also compared the project to Google’s advocacy for free Wi-Fi networks – including its own, public, Mountain View, Calif.-based network – as well as seeking “open access” within the 700 Megahertz band of radio frequencies, and seeking to pipe broadband over the vacant television channels currently allocated to television broadcasters.

“We plan to incorporate the policies we’ve been advocating for in areas like network neutrality and privacy protection,” said Whitt. “Even on a small scale, building an experimental network will also raise other important legal and policy issues, from local environmental law to rights-of-way, so we’ll be working closely with communities, public officials, and other stakeholders to make sure we get this right.”

Many non-profit groups also praised the announcement.

“Google’s proposed experiment with building ultra-fast, open broadband pipelines in a handful of communities follows a trail already blazed by Verizon’s FiOS network, which has fiber optic cables capable of speeds comparable to what Google proposes,” said Ben Scott, policy director for Free Press.

“The FCC should use these examples to set forward-looking goals for the future of broadband throughout the United States. In the coming years, all Americans should have access to a world-class broadband network,” said Scott.

Markham Erickson, Executive Director of the Open Internet Coalition, stated: “An ultrafast and open broadband will not only provide a new and exciting platform for the next generation of Internet services and apps, but will hopefully inject new life into the extinct third party ISP marketplace.” Google is also a member of the coalition.

“Google’s fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network sets a new standard for speed and transparency,” said Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Initiative of the New America Foundation.

“The network should have open, symmetrical architecture that facilitates high-speed communication for users within the network, including schools, hospitals and the local government and data collection to spur Internet research,” said Meinrath. “The benefits of one Gigabit-per-second connectivity are not maximized simply by getting data in and out of the community, but by creating vibrant digital commons that supports applications, resources, and communication within the local network.”

There are strong operational ties between Google and the New America Foundation. Eric Schmidt, the Chairman and CEO of Google, is also Chairman of the New America Foundation, and has given more than $1 million to the non-profit group.

Additionally, the foundation is one of the key players in the Measurement Lab consortium, founded by Google, New America and PlanetLab at Princeton University.

Measurement Lab was launched in 2009. Like the BroadbandCensus.com speed test and user-generated survey, Measurement Lab allows individuals to diagnose their internet connections using Internet2’s open-source Network Diagnostic Tool.

Independent observers also praised the Google fiber initiative.

“One of the really tremendous impacts of Google’s announcement is that it hopefully transforms our national conversation,” said Joanne Hovis, president of Columbia Telecommunications Corp. “When a company of this stature, that understands technology the way Google does, establishes a symmetrical Gigabit as the standard for broadband all the way to the home and business, it hopefully enables a broader conversation about the need for big bandwidth.”

Hovis continued: “Other than the open municipal fiber-to-the-home networks, this is the first significant foray into open access over fiber, and will serve as an incredibly important demonstration of the technical and financial feasibility of enabling competition through openness.” CTC is an engineering company that has supported a number of fiber-optic developments.

Said Danielle Coffey, vice president of government affairs for the Telecommunications Industry Association: “TIA members, and the public, will surely benefit from Google’s initiative. As the manufacturers and suppliers of broadband platforms and broadband-enabled products and services, we are pleased to see added competition and increased investment in our nation’s next-generation infrastructure.”

Tonya Rideout, acting executive director of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, also praised the initiative: “NATOA and its members are pleased to see Google’s significant commitment to working with localities to take steps toward solving the nation’s broadband deficit.”

“Having provided high quality, high speed Internet service to Rural America for the past five years, IBEC applauds Google’s recognition that rural America needs and wants optimum, high speed broadband service,” said Alyssa Clemsen Roberts, government affairs coordinator for the International Broadband Electronic Communications, Inc., which provides broadband over power lines.

“IBEC continues to strive to provide more access at higher speeds and we look forward to working with Google and other technology leaders in serving rural America,” she said.

As part of its announcement, Google issued a formal Request for Information from local communities, and from individual residents. The internet giant seeks to enlist local officials and individuals in selecting the communities that will be the recipients of the Google Gigabit networks.

Responses may be offered to Google until March 26, 2010, and the communities that Google selects will be announced later this year, said Google.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

Digital Inclusion

Lack of Public Broadband Pricing Information a Cause of Digital Divide, Say Advocates

Panelists argued that lack of equitable digital access is deadly and driven by lack of competition.

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September 24, 2021- Affordability, language and lack of competition are among the factors that continue to perpetuate the digital divide and related inequities, according to panelists at a Thursday event on race and broadband.

One of the panelists faulted the lack of public broadband pricing information as a root cause.

In poorer communities there’s “fewer ISPs. There’s less competition. There’s less investment in fiber,” said Herman Galperin, associate professor at the University of Southern California. “It is about income. It is about race, but what really matters is the combination of poverty and communities of color. That’s where we find the largest deficits of broadband infrastructure.”

While acknowledging that “there is an ongoing effort at the [Federal Communications Commission] to significantly improve the type of data and the granularity of the data that the ISPs will be required to report,” Galperin said that the lack of a push to make ISP pricing public will doom that effort to fail.

He also questioned why ISPs do not or are not required to report their maps of service coverage revealing areas of no or low service. “Affordability is perhaps the biggest factor in preventing low-income folks from connecting,” Galperin said.

“It’s plain bang for their buck,” said Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University, referring to broadband providers reluctance to serve rural and remote areas. “It costs more money to go to [tribal lands].”

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made that digital divide clearer and more deadly. “There was no access to information for telehealth,” said Morris. “No access to information on how the virus spread.”

Galperin also raised the impact of digital gaps in access upon homeless and low-income populations. As people come in and out of homelessness, they have trouble connecting to the internet at crucial times, because – for example – a library might be closed.

Low-income populations also have “systemic” digital access issues struggling at times with paying their bills having to shut their internet off for months at a time.

Another issue facing the digital divide is linguistic. Rebecca Kauma, economic and digital inclusion program manager for the city of Long Beach, California, said that residents often speak a language other than English. But ISPs may not offer interpretation services for them to be able to communicate in their language.

Funding, though not a quick fix-all, often brings about positive change in the right hands. Long Beach received more than $1 million from the U.S. CARES Act, passed in the wake of the early pandemic last year. “One of the programs that we designed was to administer free hotspots and computing devices to those that qualify,” she said.

Some “band-aid solutions” to “systemic problems” exist but aren’t receiving the attention or initiative they deserve, said Galperin. “What advocacy organizations are doing but we need a lot more effort is helping people sign up for existing low-cost offers.” The problem, he says, is that “ISPs are not particularly eager to promote” low-cost offers.

The event “Race and Digital Inequity: The Impact on Poor Communities of Color,” was hosted by the Michelson 20MM Foundation and its partners the California Community Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Southern California Grantmakers.

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Broadband's Impact

USC, CETF Collaborate on Research for Broadband Affordability

Advisory panel includes leaders in broadband and a chief economist at the FCC.

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Hernan Galperin of USC's Annenberg School

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2021 – Researchers from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School and the California Emerging Technology Fund is partnering to recommend strategies for bringing affordable broadband to all Americans.

In a press release on Tuesday, the university’s school of communications and journalism and the CETF will be guided by an expert advisory panel, “whose members include highly respected leaders in government, academia, foundations and non-profit and consumer-focused organizations.”

Members of the advisory panel include a chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission, digital inclusion experts, broadband advisors to governors, professors and deans, and other public interest organizations.

“With the federal government and states committing billions to broadband in the near term, there is a unique window of opportunity to connect millions of low-income Americans to the infrastructure they need to thrive in the 21st century,” Hernan Galperin, a professor at the school, said in the release.

“However, we need to make sure public funds are used effectively, and that subsidies are distributed in an equitable and sustainable manner,” he added. “This research program will contribute to achieve these goals by providing evidence-based recommendations about the most cost-effective ways to make these historic investments in broadband work for all.”

The CETF and USC have collaborated before on surveys about broadband adoption. In a series of said surveys recently, the organizations found disparities along income levels, as lower-income families reported lower levels of technology adoption, despite improvement over the course of the pandemic.

The surveys also showed that access to connected devices was growing, but racial minorities are still disproportionately impacted by the digital divide.

The collaboration comes before the House is expected to vote on a massive infrastructure package that includes $65 billion for broadband. Observers and experts have noted the package’s vision for flexibility, but some are concerned about the details of how that money will be spent going forward.

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Broadband's Impact

Technology Policy Institute Introduces Data Index to Help Identify Connectivity-Deprived Areas

The Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple datasets to try to get a better understanding of well- and under-connected areas in the U.S.

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Scott Wallsten is president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute

WASHINGTON, September 16, 2021 – The Technology Policy Institute introduced Thursday a broadband data index that it said could help policymakers study areas across the country with inadequate connectivity.

The TPI said the Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple broadband datasets to compare overall connectivity “objectively and consistently across any geographic areas.” It said it will be adding it soon into its TPI Broadband Map.

The BCI uses a “machine learning principal components analysis” to take into account the share of households that can access fixed speeds the federal standard of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload and 100/25 – which is calculated based on the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 data with the American Community Survey – while also using download speed data from Ookla, Microsoft data for share of households with 25/3, and the share of households with a broadband subscription, which comes from the American Community Survey.

The BCI has a range of zero to 10, where zero is the worst connected and 10 is the best. It found that Falls Church, Virginia was the county with the highest score with the following characteristic: 99 percent of households have access to at least 100/25, 100 percent of households connect to Microsoft services at 25/3, the average fixed download speed is 243 Mbps in Ookla in the second quarter of this year, and 94 percent of households have a fixed internet connection.

Meanwhile, the worst-connected county is Echols County in Georgia. None of the population has access to a fixed connection of 25/3, which doesn’t include satellite connectivity, three percent connect to Microsoft’s servers at 25/3, the average download speed is 7 Mbps, and only 47 percent of households have an internet connection. It notes that service providers won $3.6 million out of the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to provide service in this county.

“Policymakers could use this index to identify areas that require a closer look. Perhaps any county below, say, the fifth percentile, for example, would be places to spend effort trying to understand,” the TPI said.

“We don’t claim that this index is the perfect indicator of connectivity, or even the best one we can create,” TPI added. “In some cases, it might magnify errors, particularly if multiple datasets include errors in the same area.

“We’re still fine-tuning it to reduce error to the extent possible and ensure the index truly captures useful information. Still, this preliminary exercise shows that it is possible to obtain new information on connectivity with existing datasets rather than relying only on future, extremely expensive data.”

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