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Google’s John Burchett Explains New Approach to Fiber-Building in West Des Moines

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Photo of Google' Fiber's John Burchett courtesy Broadband Communities

October 20, 2020 – There are many viable options for deploying fiber that should be explored, stressed John Burchett, head of public policy and community affairs at Google Fiber, as part of Fiber Broadband Association’s “Connecting Consumers” event series on Wednesday.

After four years of pausing on new markets and building a more sustainable business model, Google Fiber is ready to come out of the shadows, said Burchett.

Google Fiber is currently ramping up construction in their current markets, as well as exploring ways to leverage third parties for faster, more affordable fiber deployment. In the past Google Fiber has focused on organic builds—where the company would do everything from dropping the fiber to homes to marketing their services.

West Des Moines, Iowa, a suburban sister city to the state’s capital to the east, is the company’s most recent focus. The city’s preparedness and initiative made them an ideal candidate for Google Fiber, said Burchett.

Screenshot from the webinar

West Des Moines wanted to build a network composed of fiber conduits that extended to every home. They brought in Google Fiber as their anchor tenant, just as malls often secure stores like Macy’s to bring in other vendors.

However, in West Des Moines, Google is constructing the conduit drop all the way to the house. That requires permission from the homeowner.

While households will not be required to sign up for Google Fiber just because they have the infrastructure installed, it does mean that any provider they choose can build out quickly to the customer. Burchett estimated it will take two years to build out the whole of West Des Moines.

Other viable models include leasing cities’ dark fiber networks

Burchett mentioned another viable model in Alabama. There, Huntsville Utilities installed a dark fiber network and Google Fiber leased it out, helping the city finance the project.

While models like West Des Moines and Huntsville minimize the capital needed up front, operating margins are less because rent is paid all the way through, said Burchett. He urged organizations to consider this tradeoff, acknowledging that every place might have a different preference.

He said the company hopes to catalyze a movement of third network providers. They believe that to get good broadband the country will need more competition, which will require buildouts of a third network in addition to incumbent cable and telecommunications companies.

“We’re trying to show that it’s financially viable to come in as a competitor,” said Burchett.

That said, Burchett clarified that Google Fiber’s business model would not likely work in small communities because setting infrastructure, sales, maintenance, and service levels were difficult to do in isolation. However, Burchett allowed that if there were smaller communities nearby, for instance 10-15 miles outside Google Fiber’s build in Kansas City, it might make sense to build out to them.

Google Fiber also has various incentives for providers to cover as many people as possible. For instance, in West Des Moines, providers will get a reduced fee if they agree to pull fiber everywhere and not cherry pick the most profitable parts of the city. Google Fiber also incentivizes building out multiple dwelling units by paying per household passed.

Reporter Liana Sowa grew up in Simsbury, Connecticut. She studied editing and publishing as a writing fellow at Brigham Young University, where she mentored upperclassmen on neuroscience research papers. She enjoys reading and journaling, and marathon-runnning and stilt-walking.

Fiber

Verizon, Optical Communications Group Wrangle Over Unpaid Bills for Shared Conduit

The Verizon rival is claiming that the telco unfairly charged it for more space than it occupies on its infrastructure.

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WASHINGTON, January 10, 2023 – Fiber service provider Optical Communications Group has filed a petition with the New York Public Service Commission requesting that it stop Verizon from terminating its facilities rental agreement over unpaid bills.

OCG alleges that, for years, Verizon has been charging the telecom inflated prices to attach its fiber wires on Verizon’s infrastructure on Staten Island. OCG says in its complaint in late November that it only rents a small portion of the duct through which its fiber goes, yet it’s allegedly being charged as if it is using the full duct. It claims other service providers are also renting on the same conduit.

Despite “repeatedly” notifying Verizon of the “overbilling,” OCG said Verizon is allegedly refusing to modify the invoices to “reflect the correct billing rates based on the proportional share occupied” and is now threatening to boot the company from its entire network.

“Verizon has threated to terminate OCG’s occupancy license throughout all of Verizon’s network because OCG refuses to pay the improper charges as to certain conduits,” OCG said in its petition, despite claiming that it has made payment on certain of its licenses.

OCG added that Verizon has allegedly “only recently agreed” to conduct inspections, which have yet to be complete, on the conduit to confirm the complaint.

In response to the complaint filed last month, Verizon, which confirmed the inspections are still ongoing, said OCG has an alleged history of failing to pay its bills, and the two parties have been through a carousel of complaints, dispute resolution and more complaints.

“For nearly two decades OCG has engaged in a persistent course of conduct by which it fails to pay Verizon’s standard charges for conduit occupancy and other services, requiring Verizon to expend significant time, expense, and effort in collection attempts, litigation, and regulatory proceedings,” Verizon said.

“Those efforts typically lead, after a protracted period of time, to belated and sometimes partial payments,” the Verizon response adds. “And then the cycle repeats itself as OCG once again goes back to increasing its unpaid indebtedness.”

Verizon says OCG owes it roughly $400,000 in unpaid and “undisputed, past-due conduit occupancy charges,” which it says is equal to 15 months’ worth of undisputed billings. Verizon alleges there’s more unpaid money beyond the $400,000 that has been disputed by OCG and for which the parties are going through a dispute resolution process.

It adds that it estimates the monthly bill to OCG for conduit rental is roughly $27,000 per month, yet OCG allegedly only disputes about $2,000 a month on that. “In recent months only small and sporadic payments have been made against the undisputed monthly charges,” Verizon alleges.

The incumbent said OCG’s petition is ultimately a “red herring” because Verizon’s stipulations in the agreement are “based on a failure to pay undisputed charges. As a result, the issues set forth in the Petition are irrelevant to Verizon’s exercise of its right to terminate OCG’s occupancy.”

OCG filed its petition at the end of a 30-day deadline that Verizon gave it to make full payment of the undisputed amount and to make a commitment to continue making undisputed payments going forward or else it would terminate the agreement, according to Verizon’s submission.

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Municipal Networks and Incumbent Providers Will Compete for Grant Funding in 2023

The cost of remote fiber deployment can be a deterrent, necessitating creative community solutions.

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WASHINGTON, December 28, 2022 — The emerging preference for fiber over competitor technologies is likely to continue in the coming year, with municipal networks playing an important role, said panelists at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday.

“I always think of fiber going into a town as rippling,” said Sean Buckley, editor in chief at Broadband Communities. “It’s not just fiber to the home — it’s fiber to the tower, the business, the school, et cetera.”

Buckley and others were reacting to Broadband Breakfast’s 12 Days of Broadband, a monthly report that included articles about the 12 top issues for broadband in 2022. The first of the 12 days articles was about how “Fiber Finds Its Footing, Offering Future-Proof High Speeds,” by Drew Clark, editor of Broadband Breakfast and moderator of the Wednesday session. Clark said that the strength of the case for fiber was gaining momentum with the federal bipartisan infrastructure investment in broadband.

In many areas, smaller community broadband networks are challenging the monopolies held by large incumbent players.

“Lots of folks are fed up with sort of having no choice or having only one provider, and lots of communities are becoming much more aware of the community broadband model and are looking at exploring that,” said Sean Gonsalves, senior writer for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative.

Gonsalves pointed to Fairlawn, Ohio as a successful example of the community broadband model. The municipal network has been so successful that they recently upgraded all customers to a higher speed tier and simultaneously dropped prices, now offering a symmetrical gigabit connection for $55 per month.

Incumbent networks are sometimes hostile to emerging community broadband networks, Gonsalves said, citing an email where an incumbent network executive said their top challenge was preventing municipalities and nonprofits from accessing grant funding.

Some states will probably “shovel their hundreds of millions of dollars to the big incumbent providers, and then 10 years down the road, people will be scratching their head wondering why we still have the digital divide,” Gonsalves said.

Despite the significance of the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, it is unlikely to be enough to give the whole country access to high-speed connectivity, panelists agreed.

In the coming year, it will be interesting to see whether states “adhere to the letter and spirit of the BEAD law, which says that you’re not able to exclude municipalities and the like from getting access to those to those grant funds,” Gonsalves said.

In some remote areas, fiber’s cost might outweigh the benefits

Federal funding is giving fiber a boost over competitor technologies, but it isn’t necessarily a universal solution.

Deploying fiber to rural areas can be extremely expensive, said Linda Hardesty, editor in chief at Fierce Telecom. For example, a company in Alaska received a $33 million grant to run fiber to just 211 homes and five businesses — meaning that the cost per passing would be more than $200,000, according to Fierce Telecom.

“That exorbitant cost is the reason why fiber has never been run to places like that before, because private companies couldn’t make a business model out of that,” Hardesty said.

Most rural fiber deployments cost far less than the Alaska project, but several other grant winners are undertaking projects that cost tens of thousands of dollars per passing, which Hardesty noted is still exorbitant compared to the typical deployment cost of less than $3,000 per passing.

Proponents argue that the long-term economic and societal benefits of bringing fiber to rural areas outweighs the upfront costs, Hardesty said.

“It’s more expensive to build bike lanes than it is per mile than it is to lay fiber,” Gonsalves said. “Roads, water systems, schools — these are all projects that municipalities take on all the time and so in my mind it’s not really a question of the cost per se. It’s really a question of political will.”

Setting aside the issue of cost, Hardesty questioned whether or not the government is responsible for deploying fiber to remote locations in the first place.

“The government helped get electricity to places that are really remote, and broadband is practically as much of a necessity now as electricity is,” she said. “But then others would say, if you choose to live in a really remote location… you’d have to pay for getting plumbing out there. So why should the government have to pay for your broadband?”

Another challenge in fiber deployment is the broadband workforce shortage, Buckley said. Several industry organizations and community colleges are working together to design and offer training programs, but there is still a need for skilled fiber technicians.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022, 12 Noon ET – New Year Recap: Biggest Stories in Broadband

Join the Broadband Breakfast team and our guests to discuss the biggest stories in broadband in 2022. Plus, we’ll make predictions for what to expect in 2023. We’ll discuss:

  • The first year of implementing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
  • How broadband and the hybrid workforce are adapting to the post-pandemic reality.
  • The role of the national broadband map and challenges to it.
  • Key moments in the ongoing fight about online content moderation.
  • The future of broadband infrastructure development in the face of a number of workforce and supply chain challenges.
  • And more!

Make sure to tune in for this special year-in-review Live Online.

Panelists:

  • Sean Buckley, Editor in Chief, Broadband Communities
  • Linda Hardesty, Editor in Chief, Fierce Telecom
  • Sean Gonsalves, Senior Writer and Editor, Community Broadband Networks Initiative, Institute for Local Self-Reliance
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Sean Buckley is the Editor in Chief of Broadband Communities. Buckley comes to the magazine publishing and conference company after serving nine years as Senior Editor at FierceTelecom, a daily online newletter. He also oversaw FierceInstaller, a weekly publication chronicling trends in network installation. Prior to coming to FierceTelecom, Sean spent eight years at Horizon House publications, serving as senior editor and later as Editor in Chief of Telecommunications Magazine and Telecom Engine. He also had a one-year stint at Current Analysis tracking public sector IT trends.

Linda Hardesty is editor-in-chief at Fierce overseeing the telecom group comprised of FierceWireless, FierceTelecom and FierceVideo. She’s been a trade journalist since the mid-1990s covering the business and technology of telecommunications networks. Prior to Fierce, she wrote for SDxCentral, Communications Technology/CableFax and Cable World.

Sean Gonsalves is a longtime former reporter, columnist and news editor with the Cape Cod Times. He is also a former nationally syndicated columnist in 22 newspapers, including the Oakland Tribune, Kansas City Star and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, USA Today, the Washington Post and the International Herald-Tribune. In October 2020, Sean joined the Institute for Local Self-Reliance staff as a senior reporter, editor and researcher for ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative.

Drew Clark (moderator) is CEO of Breakfast Media LLC. He 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.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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Report Finds Fiber Expansion Driving Gigabit Access to Nearly 98% of Fiber Consumers

The FBA report shows an unprecedented rate of new fiber deployments in 2022.

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Screenshot of RVA CEO Mike Render

WASHINGTON, December 28, 2022 – Almost 98 percent of fiber consumers are offered plans with download speeds of at least 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps), and most of those gigabit plans provide symmetrical service, according to Mike Render, CEO of RVA LLC Market and Research Consulting.

Render presented the results of the Fiber Broadband Association’s 2022 Fiber Provider Report Wednesday at a web event. The report, the completion of which was announced by the FBA last week, shows an unprecedented rate of new fiber deployments in 2022, with more than 7.5 million new homes passed by fiber. The report reflects public company data, provider surveys, Form 477 data, and other sources, Render said.

Fiber now passes 63 million unique homes, the report found. Total fiber passings number 68 million, Render said, a 13 percent year-over-year spike. About 28 million homes are connected to fiber, he added.

In addition to fiber providers, large cable providers have contributed to fiber’s proliferation, Render argued. “They’re still primarily focused on DOCSIS…but there is quite a bit of fiber among [the top five multiple-service providers],” he said. Small providers – comprised of cable companies, cooperatives, municipalities, and others – account for 18 percent of the fiber market, Render said.

Fiber outperforms other technologies by many metrics, Render claimed. While second-place cable is somewhat competitive with first-place fiber’s download speeds, he said, no technology approaches fiber’s upload speeds. For latency, fiber leads second-place cable 60 milliseconds to 115 milliseconds on average, according to RVA’s research.  

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