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SiFi Networks Brings Infrastructure Financing to California With $75 Million Open-Access Fiber in Fullerton



SiFi Networks’ recent announcement of a more-than $75 million open-access network in Fullerton, Calif., represents a departure from the public-private model that the company had been pursuing in the U.S. over the past four years.

SiFi is continuing its focus on an open-access network, or a network in which more than one service provider offers broadband over the same common fiber infrastructure.

However, SiFi is pivoting from a model of public-private partnerships that included some city financing and ownership. Now, it is using a fully-private investment model led by Dutch pension fund APG and Whitehelm Capital. The city is not an asset-owning stakeholder.

Fullerton is the inaugural deployment of the Smart City Investment Fund, a 250 million Euro ($281 million) infrastructure fund that will own the infrastructure asset. The fiber build will connect to about 50,000 homes in a city of 135,000. It promises to be the largest privately-funded open access network in the United States.

Although not involved financially, the city is supportive: “Having a true fiber optic network passing every part of the city is an amazing opportunity,” said Fullerton City Manager Ken Domer.

In an interview at the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, SiFi CEO Ben Bawtree-Jobson discussed the project and the company’s next steps, as did the CEO of GigabitNow, one of the two internet service providers that will be operating on the network.

Building a high-capacity broadband network through a public-private partnership has involved a delicate balance between technical expertise and political support. Yet SiFi, which has been a mainstay at the Broadband Communities Summit over the past several years, had been left standing at the alter on more than one occasion.

Bawtree-Jobson spoke about SiFi’s new development in Fullerton, and how it differs from other prior potential projects that didn’t quite make it across the finish line.

“In [those] public-private partnerships, the city had to put a lot of skin in the game,” said Bawtree-Jobson. “What we found is that despite best efforts and fantastic opportunities, there wasn’t enough political weight behind those efforts to get them over the line.”

Recent developments in the capital markets, including the acquisition of the British-based CityFibre in by a Goldman Sachs-based consortium in April 2018, and a partnership between CityFibre and Vodafone in November 2017, caused SiFi to readjust its strategy.

“We always had a vision of 100 percent private market-funded” broadband project, he said.

However, investors had to adjust their expectations. Prior to 18 to 24 months ago, private investors “didn’t really see the inherent value in having that long-term fiber asset in the ground.”

The Vodafone and Goldman Sachs deals, and other developments, “woke up a lot of the capital markets,” said Bawtree-Jobson. That led to the creation of Whitehelm’s Smart City Infrastructure Fund in November 2018.

The fund aims to develop independent and open access infrastructure projects. In addition to fiber to the home, these project will also promote Smart City solutions, including smart lighting, parking, waste collection and pollution control.

The Smart City Infrastructure Fund would provide “much-needed physical infrastructure that underpins Smart City developments and the use of digital intelligence for the delivery of existing urban services, while significantly improving the accessibility of high-speed broadband connectivity to all citizens of the city of Fullerton,” said Graham Matthews, CEO of Whitehelm Capital, in a press release.

“When we first signed Fullerton, we were trying to work through a public-private partnership. Although that is different from the model that we see today, Fullerton is the beneficiary of their patient determination,” said Bawtree-Jobson.

“We were determined to make [a broadband project] happen there,” he said.

Under some of the various public-private models previously under consideration, SiFi Networks and its corporate partners would still have invested the funds necessary to construct fiber. But the city would have entered into a long-term lease with SiFi, with the city having the option to buy the asset over time.

“We knew the fundamentals were there” for an open-access infrastructure marketplace, he said. “We were just there too soon. The market had to come to us.”

That market of institutional investors — who have a different risk-reward profile than other investors — is “starting to have the appetite” for infrastructure investment. Still, he said that “you have to have a highly risk-mitigated strategy to deploy infrastructure.”

Bawtree-Jobson added that the Fullerton project will be financially successful even if it only splits the market with the city’s two principal incumbents, telecom provider AT&T and cable operator Spectrum. In addition to symmetrical gigabit service, the SiFi network will be “among the most reliable networks in the world” because of “redundancy and resilience.”

One provider offering internet services on the network is GigabitNow, which plans to sell symmetrical gigabit service for $79 a month, and 100 megabit symmetrical service for $60 a month. About half of that monthly revenue will go to SiFi Networks, according to CEO Stephen Milton of GigabitNow.

GigabitNow creates and operates gigabit networks for communities and homeowner associations, including the Sea Ranch project along the Pacific coast in Sonoma County, California. There, GigabitNow designed, constructed and operated the network, which was purchased by the homeowner’s association.

But in Fullerton, GigabitNow is willing to only offer internet services on the network, even though it will be in competition with Ting Networks, because of a range of new opportunities it sees through SiFi, particularly along the west coast, said Milton.

For now, only two ISPs will operate on the network. Their tenure there will be determined by performance, including reliability, customer service and take rate, said Bawtree-Jobson.

Whether or not SiFi will add others “depends on what value-add the other ISPs will provide to the network,” he said. “You don’t want to create an unsustainable environment for ISPs on the network.”

(Photo of Ben Bawtree-Jobson by Drew Clark at Broadband Communities Summit.)

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.


Helge Tiainen: Fiber Access Extension Eases Connectivity Worries for Operators, Landlords and Tenants

A new law presents an opportunity to reuse existing infrastructure for fiber broadband deployment.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Helge Tiainen, head of product management, marketing and sales at InCoax.

Previously, tenants living in the United Kingdom’s estimated 480,000 blocks of flats and apartments had to wait for a landlord’s permission to have a broadband operator enter their building to install faster connectivity. But that is no longer the case.

At the beginning of the year, a new UK law change meant that millions of UK tenants are no longer prevented from receiving a broadband upgrade due to the silence of their landlords. The Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act allows internet service providers to access a block of flats 35 days after the ISP’s request to the landlord. It is estimated that an extra 2,100 residential buildings a year will be connected as a result.

Broadband companies have advised that currently around 40 percent of their requests for access to install connections in multi-dwelling units are delayed or blocked, due to no landlord response. Undoubtedly, tenants residing in these flats and apartment blocks are those most effected by a lack of accessibility to ultra-fast connectivity. So, how can ISPs grasp this newfound opportunity?

Harnessing the existing infrastructure

For many ISPs, MDUs pose a market that is largely untapped in the UK. Why is this? Well, for starters, typically these types of properties present logistical challenges, and are lower down in the pecking order in terms of the low hanging fruits readily available when it comes to installing fiber to the premises. The more attractive prospects are buildings in densely populated areas that can be covered easily with gigabit broadband.

Whereas, MDUs have typically been those underserved. Signing a broadband contract with a customer in a single-family unit is easier than an MDU as it involves securing permissions from building and apartment owners for construction works, as well as numerous tenants. For those ISPs tasked with upgrading tenants’ existing broadband connections, there are other challenges prevalent such as rising costs, wiring infrastructure changes and contract requirements, including minimum take-up rates.

So, there has been no better time to use the existing infrastructure readily available within the property. A fiber-only strategy can be supplemented if fiber to the extension point is employed where necessary. A multi-gigabit broadband service can be delivered at a lower cost and reach more customers over existing infrastructure for a short section of wire leading to the customer premises and inside the premises.

Bringing gigabit connectivity floor to floor

The UK government hopes that 85% of the UK will be able to access gigabit fixed broadband by 2025. However, installing fiber to every flat can be a challenge that is expensive, labor-intensive and disruptive to customers. Landlords may be hesitant to grant permissions due to the aforementioned reasons and potential cosmetic damage caused. Historically, fiber deployments in MDUs can be as much as 40% of fiber to the building deployment costs.

MDU buildings have existing coaxial networks, and reusing this infrastructure is a tangible possibility and time-saving alternative for ISPs instead of installing fiber direct to the premises. Which can be costly if the take-up rate is low for new services. The coaxial networks in MDUs can be used in an innovative way as in-building TV networks are upgraded to support higher frequency spectrums thanks to the analogue switchover to digital TV services.

ISPs can potentially opt to use fiber access extension technology for a cost-effective and less complex upgrade of broadband as it utilizes the existing in-house coax cable infrastructure. The technology provides multi-gigabit broadband services, positioning it as a clear frontrunner when optical fiber cannot be deployed due to construction limitations, a lack of ducts, building accessibility, and technical or historical preservation reasons.

Time for change

Not only does this landmark new law allow ISPs to seek rights to access a flat or an apartment if the landlord required to grant access is unresponsive, but it also prevents any situations where a tenant is unable to receive a service simply due to the silence of a landlord.

This is a crucial opportunity to reuse existing infrastructure for broadband access as TILPA enables subscribers and service providers to circumvent landlords who fail to provide access permission.

As many ISPs look to seamlessly execute their fiber deployment strategies, using cost-effective solutions can accelerate the addressable number of subscribers and allow for a major return on investment.

As head of product management, marketing and sales at InCoax, Helge Tiainen is responsible for developing sales and marketing of existing products and new business opportunities among cable, telecom and mobile operators by developing use cases and technologies within standard organizations as Broadband Forum, MoCA, Small Cell Forum and other working groups. He also manages partnerships of key technology partners suited with InCoax initiatives. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Big Tech

Big Tech Must Unite Against Russian Invasion of Ukraine, Just as America and EU

The head of the Center for European Policy Analysis said America and EU need to agree on Big Tech.



Photo of Alina Polyakova by Theadora Soter

WASHINGTON, March 4, 2022 — In the wake of Russia’s invasion on Ukraine on February 24, big tech companies are grappling with how to respond. And on Monday, many leading thinkers on the role of internet in society urged them to do more.

Technology companies in the Western world need to agree on an approach to handling misinformation regarding the invasion, said Alina Polyakova, CEO  of the Center for European Politics Analysis, speaking at the State of the Net conference here on Monday.

Polyakova’s plea came during a panel regarding the U.S. and EU relations at the annual Washington policy event that takes place during the week of the State of the Union address. She said that international tech giants were being forced to grapple with what role the might be able to play in response to the Russian invasion.

Platforms including Facebook, Google and Twitter have all significantly reduced Russian-backed ads. Meanwhile, YouTube, Meta’s Facebook and TikTok are blocking Russian media organizations, like RT and Sputnik, from using their platforms within the European Union.

But Polyakova said that tech giants shouldn’t be making these decisions without government help.

“If the United States and Europe are divided on the tech agenda front, then we’ll be divided on the values front. I think we need to start really pushing our governments to not leave companies fighting the large authoritarian states on their own,” she said.

Collective action by U.S. and EU, collective action by big tech

The implementation of aggressive sanctions, including banning many Russian banks from using the international payments system SWIFT on Saturday, demonstrated a united front, at least as Ukrainians began mounting their strong defense of their capital city Kyiv as Russian forces began attacks on the city on February 25 and Saturday.

Speaking on Monday, Polyakova said she was optimistic about the cooperation between the American and Europe, stating, “Hopefully the unity we’re seeing right now between Europe and the United States in response to Russia will be channeled into greater cooperation on this agenda as well.”

Still, the lack of a united front  by the big tech companies does create a disconnect, she said.

Twitter may flag a propaganda post from the Russian government, yet Facebook may not. That adds fuel to the fire of misinformation, Polyakova said: It hinders “our ability to counter disinformation across narratives on the online space.”

She urged general regulations of big tech. “We still don’t have just a basic, regulatory framework that will give companies some guidance on what they should or should not be doing,” she said.

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Openreach Partners With STL For Fiber Build

Openreach aims to get 20 million fiber-to-the-premise connections by later this decade.



Screenshot of STL's Ankit Agarwal via YouTube

April 14, 2021 – STL, or Sterlite Technologies Limited, announced Wednesday a partnership with Openreach, the United Kingdom’s largest digital network business to expand its “Full Fiber” broadband network across the UK.

STL, a global network designer from India, will provide millions of kilometers of fiber to develop Openreach’s goal of 20 million fiber-to-the-premise connections by late 2020s.

“This collaboration with Openreach strengthens a 14-year-old technology and supply relationship between the two companies and further reinforces STL’s commitment to the UK market,” the company said in a statement.

Openreach will use STL’s Opticonn solution, a fiber and cable build that the company claims offers better performance and faster installation, according to the release statement. The company will also utilize STL’s new celesta ribbon cable that boasts a capacity of up to 6,912 fibers, the statement added.

“Our Full Fiber network build is going faster than ever. We need partners like STL on board to not only help sustain that momentum, but also to provide the skills and innovation to help us go even further,” Openreach’s Kevin Murphy said in a statement. “We know the network we’re building can deliver a host of social and economic benefits – from boosting UK productivity to enabling more home working and fewer commuting trips – but we’re also trying to make this one of the greenest network builds in the world.”

Ankit Agarwal, CEO of connectivity solutions business at STL, said, “our customized, 5G-ready optical solutions are ideally suited for Openreach’s future-proof network requirements and we believe they will enable next-gen digital experiences for homes and businesses across UK. This partnership will be a major step towards our mission of transforming billions of lives through digital networks,” he said in a statement.

Openreach’s network now reaches 4.5 million premises, offering gigabit-capable connection through a range of competing providers on the network, and the company is building at a rate of about 42 thousand new homes and businesses a week, according to the release.

The UK parliament has set a goal to get 85 percent of UK homes and businesses access to gigabit-speed broadband by 2025. They reported that as of September 2020, 27 percent of UK premises received that connection speed, and 95 percent have access to “superfast broadband” which the government defines as at least 30 megabits per second download speed.

Parliament acknowledged that although “superfast broadband is sufficient for most household needs today, the demand for data-intensive services such as online video streaming is increasing and can push the limits of a superfast broadband connection. The coronavirus pandemic has further highlighted the need for widely available and reliable digital connectivity.”

STL is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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