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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)

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

Fiber

Verizon, Optical Communications Group Wrangle Over Unpaid Bills for Shared Conduit

The Verizon rival is claiming that the telco unfairly charged it for more space than it occupies on its infrastructure.

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WASHINGTON, January 10, 2023 – Fiber service provider Optical Communications Group has filed a petition with the New York Public Service Commission requesting that it stop Verizon from terminating its facilities rental agreement over unpaid bills.

OCG alleges that, for years, Verizon has been charging the telecom inflated prices to attach its fiber wires on Verizon’s infrastructure on Staten Island. OCG says in its complaint in late November that it only rents a small portion of the duct through which its fiber goes, yet it’s allegedly being charged as if it is using the full duct. It claims other service providers are also renting on the same conduit.

Despite “repeatedly” notifying Verizon of the “overbilling,” OCG said Verizon is allegedly refusing to modify the invoices to “reflect the correct billing rates based on the proportional share occupied” and is now threatening to boot the company from its entire network.

“Verizon has threated to terminate OCG’s occupancy license throughout all of Verizon’s network because OCG refuses to pay the improper charges as to certain conduits,” OCG said in its petition, despite claiming that it has made payment on certain of its licenses.

OCG added that Verizon has allegedly “only recently agreed” to conduct inspections, which have yet to be complete, on the conduit to confirm the complaint.

In response to the complaint filed last month, Verizon, which confirmed the inspections are still ongoing, said OCG has an alleged history of failing to pay its bills, and the two parties have been through a carousel of complaints, dispute resolution and more complaints.

“For nearly two decades OCG has engaged in a persistent course of conduct by which it fails to pay Verizon’s standard charges for conduit occupancy and other services, requiring Verizon to expend significant time, expense, and effort in collection attempts, litigation, and regulatory proceedings,” Verizon said.

“Those efforts typically lead, after a protracted period of time, to belated and sometimes partial payments,” the Verizon response adds. “And then the cycle repeats itself as OCG once again goes back to increasing its unpaid indebtedness.”

Verizon says OCG owes it roughly $400,000 in unpaid and “undisputed, past-due conduit occupancy charges,” which it says is equal to 15 months’ worth of undisputed billings. Verizon alleges there’s more unpaid money beyond the $400,000 that has been disputed by OCG and for which the parties are going through a dispute resolution process.

It adds that it estimates the monthly bill to OCG for conduit rental is roughly $27,000 per month, yet OCG allegedly only disputes about $2,000 a month on that. “In recent months only small and sporadic payments have been made against the undisputed monthly charges,” Verizon alleges.

The incumbent said OCG’s petition is ultimately a “red herring” because Verizon’s stipulations in the agreement are “based on a failure to pay undisputed charges. As a result, the issues set forth in the Petition are irrelevant to Verizon’s exercise of its right to terminate OCG’s occupancy.”

OCG filed its petition at the end of a 30-day deadline that Verizon gave it to make full payment of the undisputed amount and to make a commitment to continue making undisputed payments going forward or else it would terminate the agreement, according to Verizon’s submission.

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Municipal Networks and Incumbent Providers Will Compete for Grant Funding in 2023

The cost of remote fiber deployment can be a deterrent, necessitating creative community solutions.

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WASHINGTON, December 28, 2022 — The emerging preference for fiber over competitor technologies is likely to continue in the coming year, with municipal networks playing an important role, said panelists at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday.

“I always think of fiber going into a town as rippling,” said Sean Buckley, editor in chief at Broadband Communities. “It’s not just fiber to the home — it’s fiber to the tower, the business, the school, et cetera.”

Buckley and others were reacting to Broadband Breakfast’s 12 Days of Broadband, a monthly report that included articles about the 12 top issues for broadband in 2022. The first of the 12 days articles was about how “Fiber Finds Its Footing, Offering Future-Proof High Speeds,” by Drew Clark, editor of Broadband Breakfast and moderator of the Wednesday session. Clark said that the strength of the case for fiber was gaining momentum with the federal bipartisan infrastructure investment in broadband.

In many areas, smaller community broadband networks are challenging the monopolies held by large incumbent players.

“Lots of folks are fed up with sort of having no choice or having only one provider, and lots of communities are becoming much more aware of the community broadband model and are looking at exploring that,” said Sean Gonsalves, senior writer for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative.

Gonsalves pointed to Fairlawn, Ohio as a successful example of the community broadband model. The municipal network has been so successful that they recently upgraded all customers to a higher speed tier and simultaneously dropped prices, now offering a symmetrical gigabit connection for $55 per month.

Incumbent networks are sometimes hostile to emerging community broadband networks, Gonsalves said, citing an email where an incumbent network executive said their top challenge was preventing municipalities and nonprofits from accessing grant funding.

Some states will probably “shovel their hundreds of millions of dollars to the big incumbent providers, and then 10 years down the road, people will be scratching their head wondering why we still have the digital divide,” Gonsalves said.

Despite the significance of the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, it is unlikely to be enough to give the whole country access to high-speed connectivity, panelists agreed.

In the coming year, it will be interesting to see whether states “adhere to the letter and spirit of the BEAD law, which says that you’re not able to exclude municipalities and the like from getting access to those to those grant funds,” Gonsalves said.

In some remote areas, fiber’s cost might outweigh the benefits

Federal funding is giving fiber a boost over competitor technologies, but it isn’t necessarily a universal solution.

Deploying fiber to rural areas can be extremely expensive, said Linda Hardesty, editor in chief at Fierce Telecom. For example, a company in Alaska received a $33 million grant to run fiber to just 211 homes and five businesses — meaning that the cost per passing would be more than $200,000, according to Fierce Telecom.

“That exorbitant cost is the reason why fiber has never been run to places like that before, because private companies couldn’t make a business model out of that,” Hardesty said.

Most rural fiber deployments cost far less than the Alaska project, but several other grant winners are undertaking projects that cost tens of thousands of dollars per passing, which Hardesty noted is still exorbitant compared to the typical deployment cost of less than $3,000 per passing.

Proponents argue that the long-term economic and societal benefits of bringing fiber to rural areas outweighs the upfront costs, Hardesty said.

“It’s more expensive to build bike lanes than it is per mile than it is to lay fiber,” Gonsalves said. “Roads, water systems, schools — these are all projects that municipalities take on all the time and so in my mind it’s not really a question of the cost per se. It’s really a question of political will.”

Setting aside the issue of cost, Hardesty questioned whether or not the government is responsible for deploying fiber to remote locations in the first place.

“The government helped get electricity to places that are really remote, and broadband is practically as much of a necessity now as electricity is,” she said. “But then others would say, if you choose to live in a really remote location… you’d have to pay for getting plumbing out there. So why should the government have to pay for your broadband?”

Another challenge in fiber deployment is the broadband workforce shortage, Buckley said. Several industry organizations and community colleges are working together to design and offer training programs, but there is still a need for skilled fiber technicians.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022, 12 Noon ET – New Year Recap: Biggest Stories in Broadband

Join the Broadband Breakfast team and our guests to discuss the biggest stories in broadband in 2022. Plus, we’ll make predictions for what to expect in 2023. We’ll discuss:

  • The first year of implementing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
  • How broadband and the hybrid workforce are adapting to the post-pandemic reality.
  • The role of the national broadband map and challenges to it.
  • Key moments in the ongoing fight about online content moderation.
  • The future of broadband infrastructure development in the face of a number of workforce and supply chain challenges.
  • And more!

Make sure to tune in for this special year-in-review Live Online.

Panelists:

  • Sean Buckley, Editor in Chief, Broadband Communities
  • Linda Hardesty, Editor in Chief, Fierce Telecom
  • Sean Gonsalves, Senior Writer and Editor, Community Broadband Networks Initiative, Institute for Local Self-Reliance
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Sean Buckley is the Editor in Chief of Broadband Communities. Buckley comes to the magazine publishing and conference company after serving nine years as Senior Editor at FierceTelecom, a daily online newletter. He also oversaw FierceInstaller, a weekly publication chronicling trends in network installation. Prior to coming to FierceTelecom, Sean spent eight years at Horizon House publications, serving as senior editor and later as Editor in Chief of Telecommunications Magazine and Telecom Engine. He also had a one-year stint at Current Analysis tracking public sector IT trends.

Linda Hardesty is editor-in-chief at Fierce overseeing the telecom group comprised of FierceWireless, FierceTelecom and FierceVideo. She’s been a trade journalist since the mid-1990s covering the business and technology of telecommunications networks. Prior to Fierce, she wrote for SDxCentral, Communications Technology/CableFax and Cable World.

Sean Gonsalves is a longtime former reporter, columnist and news editor with the Cape Cod Times. He is also a former nationally syndicated columnist in 22 newspapers, including the Oakland Tribune, Kansas City Star and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, USA Today, the Washington Post and the International Herald-Tribune. In October 2020, Sean joined the Institute for Local Self-Reliance staff as a senior reporter, editor and researcher for ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative.

Drew Clark (moderator) is CEO of Breakfast Media LLC. He has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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Report Finds Fiber Expansion Driving Gigabit Access to Nearly 98% of Fiber Consumers

The FBA report shows an unprecedented rate of new fiber deployments in 2022.

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Screenshot of RVA CEO Mike Render

WASHINGTON, December 28, 2022 – Almost 98 percent of fiber consumers are offered plans with download speeds of at least 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps), and most of those gigabit plans provide symmetrical service, according to Mike Render, CEO of RVA LLC Market and Research Consulting.

Render presented the results of the Fiber Broadband Association’s 2022 Fiber Provider Report Wednesday at a web event. The report, the completion of which was announced by the FBA last week, shows an unprecedented rate of new fiber deployments in 2022, with more than 7.5 million new homes passed by fiber. The report reflects public company data, provider surveys, Form 477 data, and other sources, Render said.

Fiber now passes 63 million unique homes, the report found. Total fiber passings number 68 million, Render said, a 13 percent year-over-year spike. About 28 million homes are connected to fiber, he added.

In addition to fiber providers, large cable providers have contributed to fiber’s proliferation, Render argued. “They’re still primarily focused on DOCSIS…but there is quite a bit of fiber among [the top five multiple-service providers],” he said. Small providers – comprised of cable companies, cooperatives, municipalities, and others – account for 18 percent of the fiber market, Render said.

Fiber outperforms other technologies by many metrics, Render claimed. While second-place cable is somewhat competitive with first-place fiber’s download speeds, he said, no technology approaches fiber’s upload speeds. For latency, fiber leads second-place cable 60 milliseconds to 115 milliseconds on average, according to RVA’s research.  

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