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SiFi Networks Announces Whole-City Open Access Fiber Network in Fullerton, California



SiFi Networks on Monday announced that it had obtained funding to build an open access fiber network through the whole city of Fullerton, California. SiFi will fund, build and operate the networks in partnership with Internet Service Providers, which will market services to individual households.

A mid-sized city in Southern California with a population of 135,151 in the 2010 Census, Fullerton provides a useful test case for making the open access model work in the United States.

The investment in SiFi comes from the Smart City Infrastructure Fund, a global investment fund managed by Whitehelm Capital and backed by APG, a pension delivery organization in the Netherlands.

“We are excited to deliver our first FiberCity in the U.S., an investment that sets the standard for fiber optic infrastructure as a core utility,” said Ben Bawtree-Jobson, CEO of SiFi Networks, in a press release.

Of SiFi Networks’ business model of privately-funded, open-access networks, Bawtree-Jobson said, “We believe that our business model can transform the telecoms market in the U.S.”

Although privately funded open-access networks have made significant strides in Europe, South Africa and some smaller U.S. marketplaces, America has been slow to see the rise of such networks.

In addition to enjoying a significantly upgrade of internet speeds that will accommodate the next generation of demand for data from households and businesses, these fiber networks will also facilitate government services such as traffic control, street lighting and emergency services. The network will also provide a platform for the future expansion of 5G wireless networks into the area.

“We are delighted to welcome SiFi Networks and its ISP partners Ting and GigabitNow to the city,” stated Fullerton City Manager, Ken Domer. “Having a true fiber optic network passing every part of the city is an amazing opportunity for Smart City applications, bringing competition to the city’s communication needs, and creating enhanced opportunities for economic development.”

“GigabitNow is pleased to be delivering true Gigabit Internet speeds at an affordable price to the residents and businesses of Fullerton,” said Stephen Milton, CEO of GigabitNow. “Working with SiFi over the last several years to find ways to bring fast, reliable, Internet to cities across the United States has meshed perfectly with GigabitNow’s overall goal of easy turnkey Internet solutions for communities of all sizes.”

Elliot Noss, Ting CEO, said “Fullerton will be great for our business, and Ting will support a thriving economy and quality of life there. We are pleased to embark on a California footprint, and to see alternative business models emerging in the ongoing fiberization of America.”

(Photo of the old Spanish Mission in Fullerton, Calif.)

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.


Barriers to Last-Mile Fiber Include Affordability: Connected America Conference

Industry experts agreed that reaching each individual consumer is the key to a full-fiber future.



Photo of panelists at Connected America 2023

DALLAS, March 28, 2023 — Industry experts at Connected America on Tuesday agreed that reaching each individual consumer is the key to a full-fiber future, noting that factors such as affordability and digital literacy go hand-in-hand with last mile deployment.

“Fiber to the home is truly full fiber — and that means every individual unit, whatever that might be,” said Erin Scarborough, senior vice president for broadband strategy at AT&T. “Connectivity to every single human is really what we’re talking about.”

Universal technology access can empower learning and development everywhere from college dorm rooms to prison educational programs, Scarborough added.

Bringing fiber to multi-dwelling units presents a challenge in that it requires the participation of building owners, said Bryan Rader, MDU president for Pavlov Media.

However, Rader argued that fiber installation ultimately benefits the owners as well as the inhabitants. “If you look at any of the studies in the apartment ownership industry today, the number one amenity is internet,” he said. “And if you don’t have great internet — or fiber internet — residents will actually pick a different address.”

An ideal full-fiber future would include at least two provider options for each household, said Raj Singh, CEO of Velankani Communications Technologies, Inc.

In order to encourage competition and investment, government funding programs should set flexible requirements, Scarborough said.

In addition to expanding broadband access, Scarborough emphasized the importance of actively considering affordability and adoption.

“For every human that or household that doesn’t have access to broadband today, two more don’t subscribe,” she said. “And why is that? Well, it’s likely because of affordability.”

Rader noted that digital literacy is a critical factor in adoption. “Success is connecting the customer, educating the customer, making sure they know how to utilize the fiber — that’s the missing piece,” he said.

Panelists acknowledged the role of other technologies in areas where last-mile fiber deployment would carry an extremely high cost. Achieving universal connectivity will require a “cocktail of technologies” — including 5G and fixed wireless in addition to fiber — as well as partnerships between public and private entities, Scarborough said.

But the experts largely agreed that fiber comes with unique benefits, such as long-term sustainability. Even when the initial buildout costs are high, the goal of careful fiber deployment is to create “a pathway with some foresight that allows you to upgrade, change, absorb things that you didn’t foresee,” said Scot Bohaychyk, solutions manager at Emtelle.

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Open Access

Lewis County Public Utility District Pushes Forward with Open Access Fiber Plan

‘Getting broadband out to all rural areas and all residents of Lewis County,’ Washington.



Photo of Lewis Count Manager Erik Martin from 2016 by Justyna Tomtas from the Chronicle in Centralia, Washington

Lewis County, Washington and the Lewis County Public Utility District are making progress with their plan to deploy an open access fiber network that should dramatically boost broadband competition—and lower prices—county wide by 2026.

In November 2019, Lewis County PUD received a $50,000 grant from the Community Economic Revitalization Board to study the county’s broadband shortcomings and determine whether taking direct action to address them made sense. In early 2020, the PUD formed the Lewis County Broadband Action Team to further study community needs.

Those inquiries found what most U.S. communities know too well: concentrated monopolization had left county residents overpaying for substandard, expensive, and spotty broadband access unsuitable for modern living.

In response, the Lewis County PUD announced in 2021 it would be building an 134-mile-long fiber backbone and open access fiber network for around $104 million. Around $23.5 million of that total will be paid for by a recently awarded grant by the Washington State Department of Commerce, itself made possible by the American Rescue Plan Act.

Lewis County PUD fiber map

In December of 2021, Lewis County PUD public affairs manager Willie Painter was a guest on our Community Broadband Bits podcast in which he discussed the PUD’s vision of deploying fiber across the county’s 2,450 square miles, which is home to about 75,000 Washingtonians, or about 30,000 households. Painter noted then how the PUD’s “shovel ready designs and estimates” is what “empowered our utility to be very competitive in going after state and federal grant dollars to help fund these construction deployments.”

The latest development to have emerged since we last reported on Lewis County PUD, is who the PUD selected as a partner to build the network. The network will be built as part of a 25-year public-private partnership with ToledoTel. While ToledoTel will install, supply and maintain a new fiber optic network connecting more than 2,300 homes and businesses in the Winlock area, Lewis County will ultimately own the final build.

ToledoTel is currently in the engineering and design phase of the project, and has stated it will provide an additional $2.35 million in matching funds for the project, which is slated to be finished before 2026.

Details of the arrangement were finalized in January, and county leaders state that ToledoTel will have exclusive access to the infrastructure for up to three years. After that, ToledoTel will be required to open the network to competitors at a wholesale rate, boosting competition and driving down costs in a residential broadband market largely dominated by Comcast.

Lewis County PUD building

Photo of Lewis County PUD building courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“There’s the convenience, there’s business purposes; all those are really vital and becoming more and more a part of everyday life, and we want to provide those services to everyone in Lewis County that we can,” Lewis County Manager Erik Martin told The Chronicle. “This project is really the beginning, in terms of getting service out to folks, and we want to focus on getting broadband out to all rural areas and all residents of Lewis County.”

2021 survey by the WA Department of Commerce found that 64 percent of state households reported download speeds slower than the base FCC definition of broadband, currently a paltry 25 megabit per second (Mbps) downstream, 3 Mbps upstream. The state is currently considering raising the base definition of broadband to 100 Mbps downstream, 20 Mbps upstream.

A local survey by Lewis County PUD found that more than 77 percent of survey respondents had broadband speeds well below the acceptable federal definition of broadband, despite nearly 98 percent of county survey participants considering broadband access an essential utility.

Lewis County is one of many PUDs in Washington State taking full advantage of a flood of new grants — and recently-eliminated Washington State restrictions on community broadband — to belatedly expand access to affordable fiber across the state.

This article by Karl Bode originally appeared on the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks project on March 13, 2023, and is reprinted with permission.

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‘Not a Great Product’: AT&T Not Looking to Invest Heavily in Fixed Wireless

The company’s CFO compared fixed wireless to ‘empty calories.’



Photo of Pascal Desroches, AT&T's chief financial officer from the company

February 27, 2023 – The chief financial officer of AT&T said Monday that the company doesn’t see fixed wireless as a great long-term solution as the company focuses on plowing fiber at a record pace.

“Fixed wireless in certain cases is kind of nice, it’s a nice catch product where we have a copper customer that we’re going to get to in the next 12 to 24 months,” said Pascal Desroches during Deutsche Bank’s annual media, internet and telecom conference.

“But long term, it’s not a solution we want to put a lot of resources behind. Why? It’s because it’s not a great product and the customer ultimately is going to reject it,” he said. “That is our belief. When you look at the amount of bandwidth that is consumed in the home, over time the customer’s experience is going to degrade and we don’t think it’s a product that we want to spend a lot of resources on.”

AT&T CEO John Stankey said early last year that fixed wireless still plays an important role for rural Americans.

Fixed wireless products use cellular airwaves to deliver internet to the home. It is a product that AT&T delivers to customers in rural and remote areas, which are regions that are otherwise financially difficult to connect with fiber.

It also has been the subject of reports and at the center of heated debates over whether governments should plow federal funds into such builds in an effort to connect the entire nation to high-speed internet. When the Federal Communications Commission, for example, announced its initial awards from its $9.2 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, critics panned its decision to award large amounts to fixed wireless technologies because of alleged unproven high-speed promises.

On review, the commission even revoked the RDOF money initially awarded to LTD Broadband – one of the largest initial recipients of the fund – because it didn’t think it was “reasonably capable of deploying a network of the scope, scale, and size” required by its bids.

Last week, fixed wireless service provider Starry filed for bankruptcy.

Fiber favored by federal government’s broadband build

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is the administrator of the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, has already said that it favors fiber builds, but state recipients of the funds must consider all types of builds. The NTIA is expected to deliver the funds to the states by June 30.

“Candidly, we’d much rather take our resources, focus on deploying more fiber,” Desroches said, adding the company is exploring using spectrum to experiment and deliver new services.

“Let’s not get distracted by chasing empty calories in the near term,” he said.

On that front, Desroches said the company has exceeded its own expectations on how far it can drive fiber in its own footprint, saying that it is penetrating at twice the level compared to the first year of its plan. The company said it expects to bring 30 million or more households inside its footprint fiber over the “next several years.”

“This is a product that is durable, the maintenance associated with it is much more attractive than our copper footprint,” Desroches said.

Desroches also said the company’s joint venture with investment firm BlackRock to build fiber outside of its footprint could be expanded if things prove out as the company expects. The two companies are splitting the equity investment equally.

And the plan to plow fiber inside and outside of its footprint is expected to be accelerated, he said, with the money coming from the NTIA’s BEAD program.

“We are going to be able to capitalize on that money coming to the marketplace over the next several years at an accelerated pace versus if we had just done it ourselves,” he said.

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