September 30, 2020 – Municipalities are well suited to investment in broadband networks, particularly those in rural areas, said Ben Fineman, president and co-founder of Michigan Broadband Cooperative, at the Broadband Communities Virtual Summit on Thursday.
He said that many for-profit broadband providers shy away from investing rural areas because of the lengthy return on investment.
Fineman recounted how his organization was able to finance a $7 million fiber project in a rural Michigan town just outside of Ann Arbor. Leading up to the project, the town held frequent meetings and decided to move forward on the project after two-thirds of the citizens voted in its favor of proceeding.
Leslie Nulty, chief financial officer of Mansfield Community Fiber, Inc., used this strategy to pay for a broadband project in Vermont, with a few tweaks.
In Vermont, the law does not permit the tax base to be encumbered to create a broadband network, said Nulty. So Mansfield created a series of subordinated bonds with a minimum unit of $2,500, encouraged neighbors to pool funds as long as there was only one name on the bond.
In subsequent projects, Nulty advocated for the use of loans instead of grants, because she said Vermont has a history of supplying grants to projects that fail to deliver on their promises.
Nulty said that she reached out to the Vermont Economic Development Authority, which declined to fund the broadband project. Nevertheless, in 2019 Vermont created a broadband program funded through VEDA.
Nulty believes it’s economical to build fiber to the home using loan programs even though they often require payment holidays for the first few years: Her own project had holidays for the first two years, and interest-only for the third.
Chris Townsend, CEO of DTC Communications, a member-owned telephone cooperative established in 1951, also took about two years to get his broadband program running.
He employed a different strategy.
Townsend created Trilight, a non-profit telecom company, and partnered with electric co-ops in Tennessee to create a business model for broadband that worked for both parties. Trilight owns the back office and the tech support and the co-ops build and finance all the fiber themselves.
“They take it all the way to the house and we take it from there,” said Townsend.
Townsend advised newcomers to the business to look at the specific towns in an area instead of looking at the blanket rates because it’s the only way to see everything.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that the fiber project was valued at $7 billion: It is in fact a $7 million project. Further, that version reported that it was in a town outside of Ann Harbor: The town is outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan.
British Telecoms Are Aligning with Emerging U.S. Position on Open RAN Adoption
Open RAN adoption is said to save telecoms money and boost security, as providers are forced to move off Huawei.
October 18, 2021 – Howard Watson, chief technology officer of telecommunications company BT Group, spoke on Wednesday at the Broadband World Forum about the future of the UK’s network infrastructure, including removing Huawei’s equipment from their networks and developing open radio access networks for wider use.
Speaking at the opening session titled “Building an innovative converged network infrastructure for the UK,” Watson discussed the challenges and possibilities for offering fast, secure broadband and offered O-RAN as a solution for wider connectivity.
Watson discussed utilizing open RAN to facilitate greater interoperability between vendors’ equipment, as it opens the market to more technologies due to its open configuration. The concept advocates for a more open radio access network than provided today, which is held by fewer vendors.
The Federal Communications Commission has pushed for ways to develop open RAN to minimize network security risk, as the movement has gained significant momentum since Huawei was banned over the past 18 months. FCC Acting Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has described open RAN as having “extraordinary potential for our economy and national security.”
“When customers go back into the office, the infrastructure they left behind must have key growth” Watson said, referencing the shift in office culture toward remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Expectations of customers change,” Watson said, adding that “they expect broadband to be always on, they expect high bandwidth.” Above all, “they expect investment no matter the cost.”
BT is seeking to deploy to 90 percent coverage in the UK by 2028.
On the sidelines of his keynote address, Watson noted BT’s progress in limiting Huawei products to 35 percent of an operator’s fiber access footprint by 2023. The UK government requires that Huawei’s equipment must be removed entirely by the end of 2027. The UK considers Huawei a “high risk” vendor for its network infrastructure.
However, BT is waiting for Huawei’s equipment to grow old before replacing it, Watson said. “Our intention is to ensure that we get the full economic life out of the Huawei [products] that we have deployed,” he said. He said BT believes the products can be used until 2031 or later.
“We’re in talks with government about that timeline” Watson said.
Panel discussion about European fiber investment
Watson said that “densification” happens in areas that are fiber rich, so “providing fiber to smaller cell sites is naturally an evolution.”
He said that BT is looking at a range of alternatives including Wi-Fi solutions to getting 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) capability to household through open architecture-based solutions.
In addition to Watson, a panel focused on the investment parameters for fiber investment featuring officials from Macquarie Group and Eurofiber.
The panel focused on investment challenges and strategies for broadband infrastructure investment and discussed an opportunistic vision for broadband deployment. Speaking of more mature market with a history of broadband adoption, Macquarie Managing Director Oliver Bradley asked how providers could transition to more efficiency and maximizing the value of an existing network.
Among the principal drivers for investment include co-investing and deregulation, he said.
UTOPIA Fiber Goes to Court in Utah Over American Fork’s Build Permit Refusals
Fiber builder says it has been denied permits that have harmed it and its customers, despite an existing city agreement.
October 13, 2021 – UTOPIA Fiber filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city of American Fork in Utah for breach of contract after the city allegedly denied build permits to the fiber builder despite there being an existing contract between the two parties.
The fiber provider, which runs an open network on which private telecoms rent space on to provide services, alleges the city had approved some permits that only allowed it to construct backbone transport lines through the city connecting other cities, but denied it key permits that would have allowed it to extend services to UTOPIA Fiber customers inside the city. Those services include connections to American Fork’s public schools.
In July 2020, the city allegedly terminated the 2018 rights-of-way agreement with no explanation, the lawsuit claims. It also alleges that the city specifically discriminated against UTOPIA Fiber by adding additional scrutiny to its permit requests when it believed no such scrutiny existed for other providers.
Broadband Breakfast attempted to make contact with the city, but a phone call was not answered and a voicemail message was not returned by the time of publication.
“American Fork’s refusal to approve permit requests by or for UTOPIA for service laterals for customers within American Fork has harmed UTOPIA, its customers, and the private ISPs who wish to offer services within American Fork using UTOPIA’s Network,” the lawsuit said. “In some cases, UTOPIA has been forced to buy capacity from other network providers that are allowed to install infrastructure in American Fork, so that UTOPIA can fulfill existing contracts with its customers.
“In other cases, UTOPIA has been forced to cancel existing customer orders for connections within American Fork and has lost significant revenues as a result,” the suit added. “UTOPIA has also recently been forced to cancel or reject over a dozen additional customer orders because UTOPIA is unable, due to American Fork’s conduct, to obtain the permits needed to fulfill those orders, and again lost significant revenues as a result.”
In a press release, UTOPIA’s executive director Roger Timmerman said the lawsuit was a “last resort and not an easy decision to make.
“It is our hope that with judicial review, American Fork City will reverse its policies, work within the boundaries of the law, and ultimately, act in the best interest of the people and businesses in American Fork City by allowing them access to the increased options UTOPIA Fiber provides,” Timmerman added.
UTOPIA Fiber is asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah to force the city to pay the company damages sustained as a result of the alleged actions, to find the city violated the law with respect to its actions, and to force the city to cease the alleged “discriminatory and preferential actions” against the company.
UTOPIA Fiber, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, has designed, built, and operated more than $330 million worth of fiber projects in the state since 2009.
Comcast Business Says It’s Expanding Into Fiber Builds in Greater Washington Area
The company is putting millions more into fiber infrastructure in the Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia areas.
WASHINGTON, October 6, 2021 – Comcast’s business division announced a two-year, $28-million investment to expand fiber through the beltway region of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Washington D.C., and West Virginia.
The company said in a press release Wednesday that $13 million of that was invested last year and $15 million have gone into projects that are underway or planned for this year. It is expected to connect nearly 7,000 additional businesses to speeds of up to 100 Gigabits per second for large businesses, it said, adding it’s all part of the $110 million Comcast Business has spent in the area since 2015.
The expansion is part of a larger effort by telecommunications companies in this country to drive fiber to the premises, and to get ahead of the next generation 5G networks. As this is happening, more federal and state dollars are being plowed into broadband infrastructure as President Joe Biden sets his sights on providing access to high-speed internet to 100 percent of the country by the end of the decade.
“The ability to offer both diversity of network and carrier is becoming increasingly important to help drive economic development and transformation,” Ed Rowan, senior director of Comcast Business sales operations in the region, said in the release.
“Connectivity is at the core of this and, more than ever, is an integral factor as businesses expand and prepare for what’s next. Our network expansions across Comcast’s Beltway Region are the latest example of the significant technology investments we’ve made to increase the availability of our multi-Gigabit Ethernet services,” he added. “These investments will help foster economic development, transform our local communities, and better meet next-generation capacity needs across the region.”
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