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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.

Former Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband. She is now Associate Broadband Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Network Initiative.

Infrastructure

Federal Communications Commission Dispenses $544 Million in Rural Broadband Funds

Funds targeted towards internet providers in areas with poor digital access across 19 states.

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FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, October 20, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that it would authorize another $554 million for expansion of broadband service through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The funding announcement represented the finalization of a relatively small portion of the funding awarded as part of $9.3 billion granted in the first phase of the RDOF reverse auction in October and November 2020.

Together with other recent press announcements dribbling out details of RDOF awards, Wednesday’s news puts the FCC’s awards at just more than $1 billion of the $9.3 billion originally awarded at auction.

The FCC, which says that it aims to place broadband infrastructure in areas where it is not currently available, denied LTD Broadband’s petition seeking waiver of the deadline to be designated as an Eligible Telecommunication Carrier in Iowa, Nebraska and North Dakota. Becoming an ETC was a necessary prerequisite to receiving RDOF funds.

The agency also denied NW Fiber’s petition seeking waiver of the deadline for submission of a post-auction “long form” application.

With the latest wave of funding, 11 internet providers will be able to bring fiber-to-home gigabit broadband service to more than 180,000 locations across 19 states.

Michigan and Georgia were the states that received the most funding in this wave with $188 and $149 million, respectively. The FCC has cited broadband expansion as an even more necessary priority since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Broadband is an essential service and during the pandemic we’ve seen just how critical it is for families, schools, hospitals and businesses to have affordable internet access,” said Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

The FCC also said that they were working to “clean up” the program and address some of the controversial aspects of RDOF funding decisions.

These decisions included:

  • Sending letters to 197 applicants concerning areas where there was evidence of existing service or questions of waste. Bidders have already chosen not to pursue support in 5,094 census blocks in response to the Commission’s letters.
  • Denying waivers for winning bidders that have not made appropriate efforts to secure state approvals or prosecute their applications.  These bidders would have otherwise received more than $344 million.
  • Pulishing a list of areas where providers had defaulted, thereby making those places available for other broadband funding opportunities.
  • Conducting an exhaustive technical, financial, and legal review of all winning bidders.

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Infrastructure

Google, Municipal Groups Oppose Mediacom Request to Block Google-City Infrastructure Deal

Mediacom petitioned the FCC to stop a Google-West Des Moines deal, but Google said it’s not exclusive.

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Mediacom CEO Rocco Commisso

WASHINGTON, October 20, 2021 – A number of associations and Google have filed opposition arguments to a Mediacom request that the Federal Communications Commission intervene to stop a city in Iowa from allowing Google an alleged exclusive access to the city’s infrastructure.

MCC Iowa LLC, also known as Mediacom, filed a petition in May that asked the FCC to stop the construction of the West Des Moines network after alleging an exclusivity agreement between Google and the city was signed in July 2020 that it said negatively harms it. Mediacom, which said this is a first of its kind petition, also asked that the commission intervene to “remove the preferential design, access, financial and permitting rights” afforded to the network.

Mediacom brought the complaint based on Section 253 of the Telecommunications Act, which stipulates that cities must foster competition and restrict efforts to protect monopolies.

But in an October 7 submission, Google said its deal with the city to use its network is not exclusive.

“The Conduit Network is, by contract and by design, a multi-user network intended to accommodate the fiber network of Google Fiber as well as the facilities of other licensees,” Google said in its submission. “The agreement between Google Fiber and the City for Google Fiber’s use of a portion of the Conduit Network…expressly contemplates that there will be users other than Google Fiber, following an initial six-month period during which Google Fiber can test that the network is functioning properly as it begins to serve customers.

Google added that the agreement between the two does not stop the city from allowing other providers to ride on the network on the same economic terms.

The Mountain View-based company also claims Mediacom is misapplying Section 253 in this case and seeks to expand its scope because it targets the city’s effort to promote competition and not, as it would rightfully be applied, to target the city’s effort to restrict competition. In other words, Google said the city isn’t trying to restrict competition because it is encouraging service providers to use the network.

In fact, Google argues the deal with the city is advancing the goals of Section 253. “By building its own conduit network…and encouraging private industry to bring high-speed broadband service to its residents, the City is advancing the goal of Section 253,” Google said.

“Granting the Petition would undermine the actual purpose of Section 253 and turn it, instead, into ‘a blunt tool’ that historical incumbents can use to beat down market competition,” Google added.

Municipal organizations also oppose petition

In a separate submission dated October 7, a coalition of municipal organizations argued similarly that Mediacom’s petition is “aimed at thwarting the very competition Section 253 is intended to ensure, and potentially undermines a range of local efforts to bridge the digital divide.”

The joint submission was signed by the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, the United States Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, the National Associations of Counties, and the National Association of Towns and Townships.

The group argued further that Mediacom was expanding the scope of the law because the FCC cannot force a municipality to change the design of a project, but is rather limited to enforce, and address violations to, it.

CORRECTIONA previous version of this story said Google was based in Menlo Park. In fact, it is based in Mountain View, California. 

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5G

Google, Reliant On Success of 5G, Says It Wants Government-Funded Test Beds for Open RAN

Company says that the next generation of its products depend on 5G progress.

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Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai

WASHINGTON, October 20, 2021 — Google made its case for regulators to make room for greater public-private collaboration in the wake of 5G and more research into open radio access network technologies.

Speaking at the FCBA’s “What’s New and Next in Wireless” session on Tuesday, Michael Purdy from Google’s product and policy team emphasized Google’s interest in the emerging 5G landscape, but wants a “collaborative environment” for innovation.

“5G is exciting because of Google’s products depend on 5G,” he said. “[Our] products can’t come to market without it.” Google’s recent product launches include smart-home technologies. Purdy says their products’ benefits are enhanced as 5G is deployed.

Google, like the technology sector at large, is building on the innovation that the “app economy” produced using existing 4G technology and plans to expand their software capabilities with 5G. “The app economy benefited consumers,” Purdy says. “Our lifestyles are going to depend on 5G.” For telehealth, “real time medical advice needs low latency [and] high speeds.”

However, Google hopes for better regulatory conditions during 5G deployment. “We haven’t been as focused on the FCC [for guidance] . . . we want stability to determine spectrum policy.”

Purdy said the company hopes to work collaboratively with government to find solutions for wider 5G deployment. “[We] want to know what position the government takes in creating an open RAN environment.”

The company said it wants government funded-test beds for open RAN, research into development to ensure that “the downside costs are defrayed.” In overcoming these challenges to 5G deployment, Purdy said Google wants the government to foster a “collaborative environment” to develop open RAN. “We don’t want government picking winners and losers in the innovation process” he said.

Purdy added that spectrum sharing between licensed and unlicensed users “can be good for consumers and for industry.”

The Federal Communications Commission has pushed for ways to develop open RAN to minimize network security risk, as the movement has gained significant momentum. FCC Acting Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has described open RAN as having “extraordinary potential for our economy and national security.”

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