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Open Access Network Builders Discuss Ownership Models for Next Generation Broadband Infrastructure

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June 4, 2020 — In a Broadband Breakfast Live Online webinar on Wednesday, digital infrastructure experts considered the role of open access networks in shaking up the landscape of internet infrastructure in America.

In particular, questions about who will construct, finance own and operate digital infrastructure needs of the future were thoroughly discussed

Moderator Drew Clark, editor and publisher of Broadband Breakfast, prefaced the discussion by explaining that unlike a vertically integrated model in which one company owns, operates and provides internet service, the open access model disrupts broadband companies’ ability to monopolize the supply chain.

Open access networks allow one entity to own the utility-like infrastructure component, another entity to operate the network, and still other parties to provide a range of advanced broadband internet services.

Several panelists backed the open access model as the answer to funding last-mile connections. Open access networks can have the impact of effectively  lowering the cost of a capital-intensive network infrastructure building process.

Roger Timmerman, CEO of UTOPIA Fiber, detailed how the open access model offers the unique possibility to work directly with cities on what they want and need. Communicating with municipalities to find ways to comfortably finance open access infrastructure has led to the expansion of the open access network, he said.

Each city has a different customer types, landscapes, existing infrastructure and needs, Timmerman added. For example, when UTOPIA Fiber deployed in three different cities, the company decided to use three different business models to provide access. In Idaho Falls, Idaho, UTOPIA Fiber helped support a municipal electrical utility. In Woodland Hills, Utah, the network operator built and operates a network owed by the municipality. In Morgan, Utah, UTOPIA Fiber financed construction, but with a city guarantee of subscribers.

Monica Webb, director of market development and government affairs at Ting Internet, said that there exist a diverse array of ways to finance last-mile infrastructure. Ting expanded to offer fiber service in 2014 and now offers service in over 10 markets.

In some markets, such as Charlottesville, Virginia, Ting owns and operates the networks end-to-end. In other cities, like Raleigh, North Carolina and Centennial, Colorado, Ting leases core infrastructure from municipalities to build onto it, deeper into rural areas.

In other cases, private entities build the infrastructure and Ting offers services on their networks.

A different financing model was introduced by Darrell Gentry, CEO of Next Level Networks. Next Level Networks empowers actual homeowners to own their own networks, paying construction and operation costs.

The company developed a crowd sourcing app to empower residents to band together to build necessary infrastructure where it is most demanded. By utilizing this model, infrastructure builders know there will be a net gain from the beginning of a project.

Panelists agreed in order to fund fiber to the last mile, it is necessary to build into cities first, where network adaption will be high. This will generate the necessary revenue to build into sparser neighborhoods.

Isak Finér, chief marketing officer of COS Systems, emphasized the importance of prioritizing concentrated neighborhoods where demand is greater. He recounted seeing a number of projects stagnate due to being built in the wrong neighborhood.

“When going into an area, we ensure the investment we make will be offset by the revenues we expect,” Webb echoed.

After initially turning a profit, the revenues generated could be cross-subsidized to invest in infrastructure in low threshold communities, Timmerman said.

Other panelists agreed that government funding must play a roll as developing infrastructure will not always result in a financial net positive.

Some panelists said that the private sector fails to fund digital infrastructure in areas where they predict there is little return on investment. Municipalities can play a crucial role in aggregating demand for future-proof open access networks.

In order for cities to take control of their own economic future, now is the time to consider different infrastructure funding options, panelists said.

The Broadband Breakfast Live Online discussion was a preview of Digital Infrastructure Investment, a Physical/Virtual Event taking place on Monday, August 10.

Broadband Mapping & Data

State Broadband Maps Show Significantly Fewer Served Locations than Does FCC’s Map

There is a ‘massive difference’ between federal Form 477 data and state maps in Georgia and North Carolina

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Screenshot of Eric McRae of the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia, at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event earlier this year

WASHINGTON, September 30, 2022 – State broadband maps from North Carolina and Georgia show significantly fewer served locations than do the Federal Communications Commission’s existing data, said a panel at a Fiber Broadband Association web event Wednesday.

For us there is “a massive difference” between Form 477 data and Georgia’s data, said Eric McRae associate director of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. McRae said the number of Georgians the FCC identifies as unserved is “miniscule,” while the state’s estimate is between 1 and 1.2 million unserved.

North Carolina also found the federal data lacking: “There are thousands of people that are technically in FCC considered served blocks that typed in their address and said they had no access or came in with 1 megabit or horrible speeds,” said Ray Zeisz, senior director of the Technology Infrastructure Lab at North Carolina State University’s Friday Institute. “We verified, certainly, that the data was overstated.”

With the two state-mapping leaders, J. Randolph Luening, founder and CEO of Signals Analytics, presented the findings of his recent report, which compares data from Georgia and North Carolina’s maps to the FCC’s Form 477 data.

Luening’s report outlines the contrasting methods employed by North Carolina and Georgia. North Carolina collected – and published – the results of 109,000 speed tests, measuring download and upload speeds, latency, and jitter. The Tar Heel State also gathered information on technology type, service provider, and other relevant factors.

Georgia’s process is more like the FCC’s current map-making process: It created a fabric dataset and solicited coverage data from providers on an iterative basis. The Peach State published its data in block-by-block form.

Unlike the maps generated from Form 477 data, Georgia’s maps show the percentage of served locations in each census block. “We’ve been able to get a very accurate count of the number of unserved locations that we have in the state of Georgia,” McRae said.

Imprecisions and inaccuracies in Form 477 data were largely responsible for the inception of the FCC’s current location-by-location mapping project. The Commission is still constructing this map and will accept challenges to the accuracy of its fabric dataset on a rolling basis. The map will be used to apportion among the states $42.45 billion from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program.

McRae and Zeisz agreed a state must launch its own mapping initiative to check the accuracy of federal maps and ensure receipt of its fair share of BEAD funding.

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Satellite

As LEO Industry Grows, FCC Adopts Rule to Limit Space Debris

The vote on space debris comes as an increasing number of LEO satellites are gearing up for launch.

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Illustration of simulation of communications from Globalstar LEO network used with permission

WASHINGTON, September 29, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday unanimously adopted an order that requires operators of low-Earth orbit satellites to dispose of their spacecraft within five years of mission completion.

The new “five-year rule” applies to all low-Earth orbit satellites that are planned to be disposed of via uncontrolled reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. It replaces a non–legally binding recommendation that LEO satellites be removed within 25 years. The adopted order follows the commission’s 2020 further notice of proposed rulemaking that sought comment on the 25-year benchmark.

The commission said it hopes the five-year rule will limit the amount of debris in space. “We recognize the merits of shortening the 25-year period and agree with commenters who argue that a shorter benchmark would promote a safer orbital debris environment,” the order said.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel argued the order would remove an impediment to innovation. “Right now there are thousands of metric tons of orbital debris in the air above—and it is going to grow,” her statement read. “We need to address it. Because if we don’t, this space junk could constrain new opportunities.”

“Our space economy is moving fast,” she added. “The second space age is here. For it to continue to grow, we need to do more to clean up after ourselves so space innovation can continue to respond.”

An FCC press release following the order’s adoption on Thursday noted, “There are more than 4,800 satellites operating in orbit as of the end of last year, and the vast majority of those are commercial low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.” According to that release: “The satellite and launch industry is now an estimated $279 billion-a-year sector.”

LEO satellites are a relatively new source of broadband connectivity. Amazon’s Project Kuiper plans to launch a “constellation” of 3,236 low-Earth orbit satellites the company says will bring broadband service to unserved and underserved areas. Last Spring, Amazon announced it agreements with Arianespace, Blue Origin, and United Launch Alliance for 83 launches.

The FCC approved Kuiper’s constellation application in 2020. Last year, the commission approved Boeing’s proposed constellation of LEO satellites for connectivity. Other companies such as OneWeb and ATS SpaceMobile have also been active in the LEO space.

SpaceX’s Starlink program, the most high-profile satellite player, recently lost a $885.5 million grant from the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in August – a decision panned by Commissioner Brendan Carr. Starlink appealed the setback earlier this month.

Other measures adopted at Thursday’s meeting

At Thursday’s meeting, the FCC also unanimously approved three other measures. The commission adopted an order to improve access to communication services for incarcerated individuals with disabilities, an order that will improve the clarity of emergency alerts, and a notice of proposed rulemaking to modernize regulations for television broadcast stations.

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Fiber

Public–Private Partnership Model ‘Most Effective Way’ to Address Digital Divide: AT&T Rep

The company’s president of broadband access and adoption initiatives lauded AT&T’s public-private partnerships.

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Screenshot of Jeff Luong, president of AT&T’s broadband access and adoption initiatives

September 28, 2022 – Touting its fiber build in an Indiana county, an AT&T representative said Wednesday that public–private partnership models for broadband expansion are the “most effective way” to bridge the digital divide.

Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Las Vegas, Jeff Luong, president of the telecoms giant’s broadband access and adoption initiatives, said broadband builds should incorporate multiple revenue streams and allow local communities to adapt to their own unique circumstances.  

Luong said his preferred model blends public funds with private funds and the localized expertise of community leaders with the technical expertise of companies like AT&T. He said that AT&T has contracted to build fiber networks using the public–private partnership model in several states, including Indiana, Louisiana, and Texas.

Luong highlighted his company’s partnership with Vanderburgh County, Indiana, where AT&T is building a fiber network. The deal was struck last year and is scheduled to be completed in 2023. AT&T will own and operate the network, investing $29.7 million to the county’s $9.9 million. The county’s contribution comes from the American Rescue Plan Act.

And while he acknowledged the importance of federal investments, Luong emphasized the role of private investments in expanding broadband.

“The bulk of network investment comes from the private sector,” he said. “The upcoming federal [Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment] program has $42 billion to spend on broadband over four plus years. Let’s not forget the top three mobile carriers have [a] combined capital expenditure of more than $50 billion in just this past year,” he said.

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