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An Open Letter to Gwynne Shotwell, Elon Musk and Starlink Leadership: Three Reasons to Make Starlink Open Access for America’s Local ISPs

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For starters, you’ll make more money.


Figure contrasts 1. incumbent cable oligopoly territory divisions, 2. 2,700 local ISPs (map by Zhuangyuan Fan), 3. StarLink

 

Greetings Gwynne, Elon and Team Starlink

Thank you for working to connect folks. You’re launching the greatest leap forward in the internet’s 50-year history, and will recast the incumbent structure of U.S. telecom over the next few years. Today’s widespread denial of this fact is a protective slathering of fear, uncertainty and doubt. Disruption can be unpleasant business for oligopolies.

Please make the most of your shot. Don’t become the world’s largest ISP by going direct-to-consumer. For the sake of Starlink’s shareholders, for Americans, and for our nation’s thousands of local ISPs:

Please offer Starlink as open access, wholesale backhaul for America’s local ISPs

The Swedes are approaching 95 percent fiber-to-the-premises, even though it is half the population density of the U.S. They have shown us the best model: Open access last kilometer, offered wholesale via neutral operator (WNO). ISPs compete to serve subscribers over shared infrastructure, all the way into the homes.

That model can and should become the default in the United States, available to local ISPs, where today the outmoded vertically-integrated operator model reigns supreme, shackling subscribers to outdated copper that pretends to be more capable than it really is.

Our copper oligopoly does what any rational cartel does to protect profits. They write state and local rules preventing threats like open access from spreading. They hoover up billions of public dollars each year, funneling proceeds into a combination of self-congratulating dividends and marketing campaigns designed to thoroughly suppress honest local ISPs. But they do not waste perfectly good cartel cashflow upgrading our nation’s information infrastructure.

They are too strong now for local ISPs to do anything about. They fight dirty against local ISPs, and in so doing keep tens of millions of us shackled to shoddy copper, inadvertently preventing our nation from joining the digital services era.

They are at the time of this writing too big to fail.

You – Gwynne, Elon, Starlink Leadership – could be the deciding factor between whether we in America remain stuck in the dark era, or if we, too, can enjoy the benefits of the coming Cambrian explosion of digital service innovations.

How? Bring open access to America. Offer Starlink wholesale, open access, delivered to subscribers through competitive local ISPs.

Even though it looks different from the direct-to-consumer model that works so well over at Tesla, you’re almost certainly already leaning this direction. You have some of the world’s top talent on team, no doubt you’ve already modeled all possible approaches. So, you likely saw that wholesale neutral open access offers the path to global maximum ROI for you, the infrastructure owner. The accretive economics of multiple service providers competing to deliver price-discriminated digital services over your infrastructure, minus the outsourced cost structure of service delivery, maximizes the value of your asset.

But, just in case: here are three reasons to please be an open access, wholesale neutral operator in the U.S.

Number 1: It’s best for Starlink

You’ll generate more profit. It might take slightly longer than the near-instant retail gratification of turning on the one ISP to rule them all, but wholesale neutral open access offers the path to achieving global maximum ROI.

Just as important as maximizing profit is your culture and legacy. Like all Elon Musk companies, Starlink exemplifies definite optimism. You incite imaginations, and summon the full brilliance of smart people working hard within a culture of innovation. If you join the U.S. telecom oligopoly, or – more likely, given the devastating potency of Starlink’s tech and team – become their dank meme overlord, you’ll lose your innovative edge.

With Tesla, Boring Co, Hyperloop and every prior endeavor, you’ve shown that it’s possible to do exceedingly well financially by doing good in the world. As the world’s largest ISP, you’re just the new asshat to blame when Why the F^&K won’t this f^&king website load – f^&k you, Starlink!

At least in the context of U.S. broadband, direct-to-consumer is both financially sub-optimal, and at odds with the ethos of all other Elon Musk endeavors.

Number 2: It’s best for American subscribers

Open access, wholesale Starlink offered via local ISPs helps all Americans.

Once you’re fully launched – by 2022? – high speed broadband will be everywhere in America. With game-changing latency and speed, Starlink holds great potential to accelerate America’s entry into the digital services era. In Sweden, where they are already advancing into digital distributed healthcare, in which many forms of care are administered in-home, now that the information infrastructure is in place.

Digital services will save America hundreds of billions of dollars per year in healthcare and transportation costs, and profoundly enhance the quality of life for millions of Americans. Such digital services that cannot properly flow through copper, nor many of today’s fixed wireless networks. Most such services can easily flow through your global infrastructure.

As wholesale backhaul for local ISPs, local ISPs can upsell and cross-sell such digital services to subscribers. And you don’t put folks in the awkward place where they need to leave their local ISP – especially in remote America, often someone they hold long ties with, bonded by the ocean of uninhabited terrain separating their community from the rest of the world. Subscribers have someone local to talk to when things go wrong.

Number 3: It’s best for America’s Local ISPs, and the communities they serve

The potential reality just ahead is sobering for those who dare to look. The fate of the local ISP remains to be seen in the Starlink era of internet access. The amount of challenges local ISPs take on every day means most are unaware of the profound change you’re about to unleash. Of those aware, most I’ve spoken with at Ready.net seem in denial. A small but growing number are understandably worried that the end is near.

There are nearly 3,000 ISPs in the U.S. When they realize the eminent threat, when your shadow passes overhead, when adrenaline sharpens their eyes and their minds and they pause the hard work of keeping their community connected long enough to react, which question would you rather they ask?

  1. “Is Starlink the end of my business?” Sure, you could wipe most of them off the face of the earth, after they’ve worked for years or decades to get folks connected.
  2. “How can I grow my business through Starlink to serve more subscribers?” Or, you could give them a potent tool with which to compete against the cable incumbents.

By empowering local ISPs, you’ll help human-scale ISPs win their constant battle against the copper oligopoly. Local ISPs are the ones fighting mediocrity in telecom infrastructure. They’re the ones working to solve difficult problems, with limited resources. They’re the ones physically, socially, economically tied to their community. If you’re wholesale open access, you help them win. In turn, they’re your built-in salesforce and customer service, capable of thoroughly ensuring access for all.

You could empower thousands of small businesses, cooperatives, municipalities, and nonprofits who’ve worked for years to get folks ready for the digital services. Here are just a few examples among the nation’s thousands of local ISPs:

  1. Aroostook Technologies, the fixed-wireless ISP in far northern Maine, a locally-owned IT business operating since before the internet was born. They’ve connected thousands of Mainers, but routinely turn away prospective customers due to physics constraints of their slice of spectrum within Maine’s heavily forested, hilly terrain. What if they could activate thousands more of their neighbors with always-on, any-line-of-sight via Starlink backhaul?
  1. Innovators like Althea, working to bring new P2P models of access to life on the ground for community-owned networks. What if the creative problem-solvers of the WISP and mesh network communities could serve over your infrastructure, consuming it as a resource, as software startups today utilize AWS? You might enable the Cambrian explosion of all-new distributed digital services.
  1. Our nation’s more than 800 Rural Electric Cooperatives. They are the same unsung heroes who’ve worked to ensure continuous access to electricity for millions of rural Americans since the early 20th century. Now, many RECs offer broadband to their members, like United Electric (where my Ol’ Man worked for decades!), which now serves United Fiber to 11,000 subscribers and growing. They’re the reason you can get superior internet in my rural hometown Maryville, Missouri, than anything I can get living in San Francisco. There are over 100 RECs today with active fiber services, and many more in the works. RECs make exceptional ISPs, and offering internet service helps them serve their members. Some RECs who were looking to implement internet service are reluctant to proceed with their plans to deploy fiber, awaiting whether Starlink will potentially strand tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of their assets.

Conclusion

You’re about to massively upgrade the internet. Americans want to work with their local ISPs. Local ISPs can help you connect more folks and deliver more digital services. Please offer Starlink as wholesale backhaul to our nation’s thousands of local ISPs.

You’ll unleash the full potential of the internet in America, once and for all. Since we now live in the connected economy, at the dawn of the digital services era, that means open access Starlink unleashes the full potential of America.

By way of background, Ready.net helps local ISPs grow. There is extremely high demand for Starlink backhaul. We’d love to work with you to make that a reality.

With or without us. Please use your superpowers for good. No matter what, thank you again for connecting folks.

Jase Wilson
Founder, Ready.net
Twitter: @Jase

Jase Wilson is the founder of Ready.net, the San Francisco-based technology company helping local ISPs grow their business.

He’d like to thank Mike Faloon, Drew Clark, Darren Farnan, Zhuangyuan Fan, Deborah Simpier, Jess Masse, his parents Steve and Traci, his girlfriend Xueying, and his cats Jackson and Franklin for contributing to this letter, as well as America’s thousands of local ISPs for keeping folks connected. #ThankYourLocalISP @Jase

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

Expert Opinion

Sen. Michael Bennet: Broadband Infrastructure Legislation Follows Colorado Model

Senate-passed legislation for broadband investment inspired by Colorado’s experience, says senator.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator from Colorado

Washington may soon make the biggest broadband investment in U.S. history, and the first draft was written in Colorado.

Last month, the Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill that includes a historic $65 billion for broadband. This section draws directly from the BRIDGE Act, the bill I wrote with Coloradans to reflect our state’s struggles and successes against the digital divide.

Long before the pandemic, broadband was a consistent source of frustration for people across our state. Parents on the Front Range, farmers on the Eastern Plains, and nurses on the Western Slope all told me the same thing: broadband was too slow or expensive to be of any practical use.

Too often, Washington’s answer was to shower the biggest telecom companies with billions in subsidies to build networks, usually in rural areas, that were outdated almost as soon as they were finished. At the same time, Washington had no good answer for working families, many in cities, who couldn’t afford existing broadband options.

As usual, Colorado didn’t wait on Washington to act. Cities created their own municipal networks, like Longmont’s NextLight, which PC Magazine named one of the fastest broadband providers in America. Electric coops like the Delta-Montrose and Yampa Valley Electric Associations deployed fiber-optic networks in rural communities at world-class speeds and prices. Through it all, the Colorado government demonstrated that it could get money out the door for broadband faster and more effectively than Washington.

With these lessons in mind, I wrote the BRIDGE Act with Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman from Ohio and Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King from Maine. Our bill became the model for the broadband provisions in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which is now on the cusp of becoming law.

Based on the BRIDGE Act, the infrastructure bill gives the lion’s share of the broadband funding to states, not Washington. This is a sea change in policy, because it puts states and local leaders — not federal bureaucrats — in the driver’s seat. After all, they have the best understanding of needs on the ground and the greatest incentive to spend limited funds wisely.

Second, the bill more than quadruples the minimum speeds for new broadband networks, while prioritizing even faster networks. For a typical family, this means kids could download homework (or stream Netflix) even as parents work remotely — all without their connection slowing to a crawl.

Third, the bill includes $2 billion for broadband on tribal lands, including the Southern Ute and the Ute Mountain Ute here in Colorado. According to the FCC, one in three homes on tribal lands lack access to high-speed broadband — a significantly higher rate than the rest of the country. Closing this gap is an economic and moral imperative.

Finally, the infrastructure bill prioritizes affordability by requiring new broadband networks to provide at least one low-cost option. Inexplicably, Washington has never insisted on this before. And it can’t come soon enough.

All of these ideas came directly from the BRIDGE Act and what I’ve learned from Colorado. Now we have to pass them into law.

If we do, it would represent the biggest broadband investment in our history, but also one of the most transformative investments in our future. It will mean every worker in our mountain communities can connect remotely for their jobs. It will mean every farmer and rancher can deploy the latest technologies for precision agriculture. It will mean every family can connect with their doctors online, instead of traveling hours to the local clinic. And it will mean no student will be left without broadband, which today is no different than leaving them without textbooks.

We are on the verge of connecting every American to affordable, high-speed broadband. And if we succeed, we can take satisfaction in knowing that Colorado led the way.

Michael Bennet is U.S. Senator from Colorado. This piece was originally published in the Grand Junction (Colo.) Daily Sentinel, and is reprinted with permission.

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

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Shrihari Pandit: States Can Enable Broadband Infrastructure Through Open Access Conduits

By creating open infrastructure systems, states can reduce the barriers to entry and foster increased broadband competition.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Shrihari Pandit, CEO of Stealth Communications

Now that the infrastructure bill has passed the Senate, we see key provisions included for broadband in America. In fact, a whopping $65B will go toward broadband funding — provided it passes the House this month. But, will throwing more money at broadband help to solve key issues like closing the digital divide and making broadband access more affordable for millions?

The short answer is: not necessarily. For years the federal government has provided subsidies to incumbent ISPs hoping they will solve key issues with broadband in America and still access to the internet continues to be a challenge. What we need is a radical broadband overhaul where we can level the playing field for smaller ISPs to compete in the marketplace and fill the gaps incumbent ISPs have neglected for years.

As the broadband infrastructure funding provisions emerge, it appears that states will have a major role in determining how to allocate these resources. And, they must make careful considerations to help connect the unconnected and meet the needs of their residents. As access to a robust digital communications network is so critical now – in an ongoing pandemic era – states also have to look ahead and ensure they are creating sustainable and long-term infrastructure in the public interest.

Creating open-access conduit systems

State governments should focus on enabling key infrastructure, namely conduits, rights of way and utility poles – as these are the biggest hurdles for ISPs looking to extend fiber. Sometimes referred to among pros as “layer zero”, the telecom market can be transformed with open-access conduit systems running across the country and extended locally. A conduit highway would be akin to the interstate in which fiber could be easily run between cities and towns across multiple states.

An open-access conduit system can help create a more approachable marketplace for new ISPs to enter and help to fill coverage gaps left un-served by incumbent ISPs. Easier and cheaper access to neutral utility poles would help to reduce the cost of broadband access and allow providers to easily pull their fiber optic infrastructure to homes, businesses, and wireless towers, especially vital for longer-distances in rural areas. In NYC, for example, there is a robust competitive marketplace enabled by a shared conduit system managed by Empire City Subway.

Although currently limited to boroughs of Manhattan and The Bronx, this carrier-neutral system allows multiple ISPs to run cables up and down streets with ease and provides a pathway to extend fiber access to additional NYC neighborhoods. Across the country, open-access models are proliferating, including Ammon, Idaho, as summarized in a recent report by Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.

Leveling the ISP marketplace

By creating open infrastructure systems, more providers can enter the marketplace and create increased competition as the barriers to entry are reduced. Previously, incumbent ISPs have received billions of dollars to close the digital divide, – the divide, as well as their market power, persist.

By creating infrastructure that brings additional private ISPs into the marketplace, states can give residents and businesses  more choices to meet their internet needs which is in the best interest of everyone. More competition also means that incumbent ISPs need to step up their game and offer the services they boast about – or they risk losing market share to private competition. In other words, a long-term, sustainable solution.

Embracing the public infrastructure/private service model

When considering a new infrastructure project, oftentimes, the burden of proof lies with the state. However, with the public infrastructure/private service model, the risk is shared between the state and the ISP. This model enables cities and counties to finance and maintain infrastructure while also managing rights-of-way. And, private or incumbent ISPs can ensure broadband access including cable, fiber optic, or wireless. This is a scalable option for communities that are unaware of how to operate communications networks but want to own and control core communications assets.

States have a major undertaking ahead as they consider how to utilize their infrastructure funding to boost public works projects. As broadband infrastructure development has been so crucial in the last year, creating an improved marketplace for ISPs through open-access infrastructure should be their priority in their long-term public interest.  And with a public infrastructure/private service model, the risk will be shared with providers.

Shrihari Pandit is CEO and co-founder of the New York City-area fiber provider Stealth Communications. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

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

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Ben Bawtree-Jobson: Internet Service Providers Benefit From a Shared Fiber Network Infrastructure

Both emerging and established internet service providers will stand to gain from SiFi Networks’ shared broadband model.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Ben Bawtree-Jobson, CEO of fiber infrastructure developer SiFi Networks

“Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism, it’s exploitation.” These were words spoken by President Joe Biden in July 2021, minutes before he signed an executive order to promote competition in the U.S. economy. This is poignantly relevant to telecom companies in the United States. In the U.S., an industry that limits consumer choice makes it hard for small Internet Service Providers to break through.

As the CEO of fiber infrastructure developer SiFi Networks, I can attest that both emerging and established ISPs stand to gain from a shared broadband model.

Indeed, without healthy competition in the economy, big players could potentially change and charge whatever they want for services that don’t suit the needs of the consumer. For many Americans, this means limited options in terms of providers and services. So, how have we got here?

Monopolies: A competitive advantage?

ISPs have always seen it as a competitive advantage to own and operate their own broadband infrastructure. This makes it difficult for smaller companies to break through, stifling competition and maximizing profits for established corporations. However, heavy investments in network infrastructure can be a double-edged sword — companies have so far disregarded the costs of tying themselves up in long-term infrastructure projects and are now struggling to divest and adapt to a rapidly changing market.

This is why many U.S. towns are still served by slow, outdated cable and the national fiber coverage sits at a meager 32 per cent. But, in an age where the internet is critical for education, healthcare and business growth, consumer demands for high-speed connectivity make fiber optic the only viable option.

As it stands, only the big telecoms players can feasibly upgrade their cable networks. However, this is costly, disruptive, and takes years to complete, meaning ISPs cannot expect a quick return on investment.

A new broadband ecosystem is needed to give ISPs of all sizes the chance to respond to consumer demands without necessarily overhauling their existing network infrastructure, a costly and time-consuming option. It is here that embracing open access broadband models may prove effective and helpful.

Don’t miss Broadband Breakfast’s annual Digital Infrastructure Investment mini-conference, which is sponsored by entities including SiFi Networks. The event unites infrastructure investment fund managers, institutional investors, private equity and venture capitalists with senior broadband leaders and brings clarity to the next business model for advanced digital infrastructure. 

Fostering competition with open access

Open access infrastructure essentially means sharing a fiber optic network. Many companies are reluctant to use this model because they believe that increased competition could negatively affect their profits. In reality, there are many benefits to be gained from using a shared network infrastructure. The first is that open access broadband gives ISPs access to a larger pool of potential customers. Giving consumers more choice over their broadband packages and providers will attract a more diverse demographic of customers and thus, promote overall revenue.

At a time when customer demand dictates the need to upgrade services and improve connectivity speed and quality, open access can also help ISPs of all sizes minimize costs. Construction and maintenance of a network is carried out by the infrastructure developer, freeing up budget for ISPs, who can redirect it into areas of the business that need extra attention, such as boosting customer relationships. Larger ISPs, who spend millions of dollars per year maintaining their network infrastructure, could pull their savings into improving and diversifying their product offerings.

Sharing an infrastructure will mean more ISPs can operate in the market, fostering competition, lowering prices and offering better consumer choice. Citizens who previously felt cut-off from basic educational and healthcare services because they couldn’t afford their only broadband option, should then be able to pursue more affordable packages. This will naturally encourage more residents and businesses to subscribe, creating a larger pool of potential customers and ultimately improving economic growth and social mobility.

Open access is attractive to larger ISPs too. As it stands, the telecoms sector ranks at the bottom of 46 industries for customer satisfaction according to the American Consumer Satisfaction Index. Therefore, if they didn’t need to budget for the operation and maintenance of their fiber, and to upgrade outdated copper-based networks that no longer satisfy consumers’ demands, more money could be invested in bettering customer communication and service. If customers are happy with their ISP, and a good brand reputation can be established, this will be a huge competitive advantage.

“Fair competition is what made America the wealthiest, most innovative nation in history,” said Biden during his White House press conference. If smaller ISPs had a fair chance to enter the market, the well-established big players could stay competitive by improving their customer experience and tailoring their services to satisfy the needs of their customers. Ownership of the network infrastructure is no longer the only or even the best way to compete in the high-speed internet space. An open-access model will diversify the market and allow a variety of ISPs to thrive.

Ben Bawtree-Jobson is CEO of SiFi Networks, which funds, builds and owns FiberCity networks. Internet Service Providers, 4G/5G carriers and other service providers wishing to deliver ubiquitous high-speed broadband services to business and residential properties in cities make use of FiberCity networks, which also offer connectivity for city-wide Internet of Things applications. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

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

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