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Neighborly Launches its Broadband Accelerator with 35 Cities, Stoking Momentum for Open Access Fiber

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November 16, 2018 – With the launch of a group of communities in a “broadband accelerator” launched by the municipal finance portal Neighborly, the momentum behind open access broadband networks is continuing to build.

On Thursday, Neighborly announced that it had selected 35 cities, including sizable communities of Cleveland, New Orleans and Richmond, as its first class to participate in this broadband accelerator. These communities will receive instruction from industry experts and service providers, as well as being able to access “Neighborly financing at a competitive, below industry rate cost.”

According to Thursday’s press release from Neighborly, “more than 100 communities, through local broadband advocates and government officials (CIOs, CTOs, CFOs, Mayor’s, City Council members) applied to supercharge their local broadband ambitions; we had such an overwhelming response, we expanded the class size to accept 35 communities in this cohort.”

Communities that participate in the program will be guided through the process of establishing community broadband networks.

Neighborly identifies, as its “key principles for open access community broadband”:

  • Communities own their broadband infrastructure
  • ISPs compete to serve the community
  • Access is universal and affordable
  • Network revenues means no new taxes.

Neighborly’s role in the broadband space

Neighborly, a fintech startup based in San Francisco and supported by Emerson Collective, 8VC and Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures, has recently begun ramping up its efforts in the broadband space.

“We are the first impact broker-dealer, and we focus on future-proofing broadband, solar, and anything that has impacts for smart cities of the future,” said Lindsey Brannon, head of public finance at Neighborly, speaking at an October Broadband Communities conference in Ontario, California.

“We see connectivity as a fundamental right,” added Garrett Brinker, product manager of Neighborly, speaking at a Next Century City conference in Hartford on November 8.

He said that Neighborly was focusing on uniting cities that are seeking to build open access networks with the financing necessary to build such networks.

What is open access?

Open access networks are becoming more real for gigabit connectivity in the United States. One open access network is the so-called “three-tiered” model: One entity owns the fiber infrastructure, a second entity operates the gigabit network, and a third entity sells retail internet access to customers.

Why split up ownership, network operations, and internet services?

Each of these three activities are fundamentally different. They are best served by different skill sets and different business models.

For example, financing fiber infrastructure can be realized more readily when it is understood as a long-term capital or real estate investment.

And network operations are utility-like. They are best served by government entities or by private-sector providers separate from actual internet service providers.

On such open access networks, there are generally multiple service providers offering a variety of packages of broadband services for business and retail customers.

Yet this concept of a three-tiered broadband network is still, panelists said, a bit of a novelty in the United States. Unlike other places around the world, the vertically integrated giant can seem like the norm in the United States. Incumbent communications companies generally own their own fiber, wireless and other assets. They operate their respective core network in their own proprietary fashion. And they try to provide customer service — internet connectivity, or the so-called “triple play,” or services like home security — to end users.

Recent marketplace developments have seen players like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon Communications seeking to integrate even further. However, it will be from fiber-optic communication, that a multitude of services and application uses will be unleashed. But this flourishing can only happen if innovators fix the business model problems that limit ownership of and access to fiber utilities.

The first class of broadband accelerator communities 

And here’s the list of communities that have been accepted into the program:

• Fresno, CA
• Nevada City, CA
• Oakland, CA
• Palo Alto, CA
• Santa Rosa, CA
• Salinas, CA
• Lyons, CO
• Madison, CT
• Jacksonville, FL
• New Orleans, LA
• Brockton, MA
• Cambridge, MA
• Millinocket, East Millinocket & Medway, ME (on behalf of Katahdin Broadband Utility)
• Windham, ME (on behalf of Lakes Region Broadband Partnership)
• Blue Hill, Brooksville, Deer Isle, Penobscot & Sedgwick, ME (on behalf of Peninsula Utility for Broadband)
• Metuchen, NJ
• Cleveland, OH
• Portland, OR
• Harrisburg, PA
• Block Island, RI
• Sweetwater, TN
• Baird, TX
• Ashland, VA
• Manquin, VA
• Richmond, VA
• Virginia Beach, VA
• Enosburgh, VT
• Sauk County, WI
• Laramie, WY

And these are among the guest lecturers who will be addressing the class of cities participating in the accelerator:

• Blair Levin, Senior Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institute
• Deb Socia, Executive Director, Next Century Cities
• Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, Institute for Local Self Reliance
• Matt Dunne, Founder and Executive Director, Center on Rural Innovation
• Anne Schwieger, Broadband and Digital Equity Advocate, City of Boston

See also https://broadbandbreakfast.com/2017/05/spotlight-on-advantages-of-open-access-networks-at-broadband-communities-summit

(Photo of Blair Levin via www.lohud.com)

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.

Open Access

British Telecoms Are Aligning with Emerging U.S. Position on Open RAN Adoption

Open RAN adoption is said to save telecoms money and boost security, as providers are forced to move off Huawei.

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Howard Watson, chief technology officer of BT Group

October 18, 2021 – Howard Watson, chief technology officer of telecommunications company BT Group, spoke on Wednesday at the Broadband World Forum about the future of the UK’s network infrastructure, including removing Huawei’s equipment from their networks and developing open radio access networks for wider use.

Speaking at the opening session titled “Building an innovative converged network infrastructure for the UK,” Watson discussed the challenges and possibilities for offering fast, secure broadband and offered O-RAN as a solution for wider connectivity.

Watson discussed utilizing open RAN to facilitate greater interoperability between vendors’ equipment, as it opens the market to more technologies due to its open configuration. The concept advocates for a more open radio access network than provided today, which is held by fewer vendors.

The Federal Communications Commission has pushed for ways to develop open RAN to minimize network security risk, as the movement has gained significant momentum since Huawei was banned over the past 18 months. FCC Acting Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has described open RAN as having “extraordinary potential for our economy and national security.”

“When customers go back into the office, the infrastructure they left behind must have key growth” Watson said, referencing the shift in office culture toward remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Expectations of customers change,” Watson said, adding that “they expect broadband to be always on, they expect high bandwidth.” Above all, “they expect investment no matter the cost.”

BT is seeking to deploy to 90 percent coverage in the UK by 2028.

On the sidelines of his keynote address, Watson noted BT’s progress in limiting Huawei products to 35 percent of an operator’s fiber access footprint by 2023. The UK government requires that Huawei’s equipment must be removed entirely by the end of 2027. The UK considers Huawei a “high risk” vendor for its network infrastructure.

However, BT is waiting for Huawei’s equipment to grow old before replacing it, Watson said. “Our intention is to ensure that we get the full economic life out of the Huawei [products] that we have deployed,” he said. He said BT believes the products can be used until 2031 or later.

“We’re in talks with government about that timeline” Watson said.

Panel discussion about European fiber investment

Watson said that “densification” happens in areas that are fiber rich, so “providing fiber to smaller cell sites is naturally an evolution.”

He said that BT is looking at a range of alternatives including Wi-Fi solutions to getting 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) capability to household through open architecture-based solutions.

In addition to Watson, a panel focused on the investment parameters for fiber investment featuring officials from Macquarie Group and Eurofiber.

The panel focused on investment challenges and strategies for broadband infrastructure investment and  discussed an opportunistic vision for broadband deployment. Speaking of more mature market with a history of broadband adoption, Macquarie Managing Director Oliver Bradley asked how providers could transition to more efficiency and maximizing the value of an existing network.

Among the principal drivers for investment include co-investing and deregulation, he said.

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Open Access

UTOPIA Fiber Goes to Court in Utah Over American Fork’s Build Permit Refusals

Fiber builder says it has been denied permits that have harmed it and its customers, despite an existing city agreement.

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Photo of Twin Peaks in American Fork, Utah, by Bryant Olsen used with permission

October 13, 2021 – UTOPIA Fiber filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city of American Fork in Utah for breach of contract after the city allegedly denied build permits to the fiber builder despite there being an existing contract between the two parties.

The fiber provider, which runs an open network on which private telecoms rent space on to provide services, alleges the city had approved some permits that only allowed it to construct backbone transport lines through the city connecting other cities, but denied it key permits that would have allowed it to extend services to UTOPIA Fiber customers inside the city. Those services include connections to American Fork’s public schools.

In July 2020, the city allegedly terminated the 2018 rights-of-way agreement with no explanation, the lawsuit claims. It also alleges that the city specifically discriminated against UTOPIA Fiber by adding additional scrutiny to its permit requests when it believed no such scrutiny existed for other providers.

Broadband Breakfast attempted to make contact with the city, but a phone call was not answered and a voicemail message was not returned by the time of publication.

“American Fork’s refusal to approve permit requests by or for UTOPIA for service laterals for customers within American Fork has harmed UTOPIA, its customers, and the private ISPs who wish to offer services within American Fork using UTOPIA’s Network,” the lawsuit said. “In some cases, UTOPIA has been forced to buy capacity from other network providers that are allowed to install infrastructure in American Fork, so that UTOPIA can fulfill existing contracts with its customers.

“In other cases, UTOPIA has been forced to cancel existing customer orders for connections within American Fork and has lost significant revenues as a result,” the suit added. “UTOPIA has also recently been forced to cancel or reject over a dozen additional customer orders because UTOPIA is unable, due to American Fork’s conduct, to obtain the permits needed to fulfill those orders, and again lost significant revenues as a result.”

In a press release, UTOPIA’s executive director Roger Timmerman said the lawsuit was a “last resort and not an easy decision to make.

“It is our hope that with judicial review, American Fork City will reverse its policies, work within the boundaries of the law, and ultimately, act in the best interest of the people and businesses in American Fork City by allowing them access to the increased options UTOPIA Fiber provides,” Timmerman added.

UTOPIA Fiber is asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah to force the city to pay the company damages sustained as a result of the alleged actions, to find the city violated the law with respect to its actions, and to force the city to cease the alleged “discriminatory and preferential actions” against the company.

UTOPIA Fiber, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, has designed, built, and operated more than $330 million worth of fiber projects in the state since 2009.

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Fiber

Comcast Business Says It’s Expanding Into Fiber Builds in Greater Washington Area

The company is putting millions more into fiber infrastructure in the Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia areas.

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William Stemper, president of Comcast Business

WASHINGTON, October 6, 2021 – Comcast’s business division announced a two-year, $28-million investment to expand fiber through the beltway region of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Washington D.C., and West Virginia.

The company said in a press release Wednesday that $13 million of that was invested last year and $15 million have gone into projects that are underway or planned for this year. It is expected to connect nearly 7,000 additional businesses to speeds of up to 100 Gigabits per second for large businesses, it said, adding it’s all part of the $110 million Comcast Business has spent in the area since 2015.

The expansion is part of a larger effort by telecommunications companies in this country to drive fiber to the premises, and to get ahead of the next generation 5G networks. As this is happening, more federal and state dollars are being plowed into broadband infrastructure as President Joe Biden sets his sights on providing access to high-speed internet to 100 percent of the country by the end of the decade.

“The ability to offer both diversity of network and carrier is becoming increasingly important to help drive economic development and transformation,” Ed Rowan, senior director of Comcast Business sales operations in the region, said in the release.

“Connectivity is at the core of this and, more than ever, is an integral factor as businesses expand and prepare for what’s next. Our network expansions across Comcast’s Beltway Region are the latest example of the significant technology investments we’ve made to increase the availability of our multi-Gigabit Ethernet services,” he added. “These investments will help foster economic development, transform our local communities, and better meet next-generation capacity needs across the region.”

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