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Squeezing Capacity From Copper Networks While Undertaking a Transition to Fiber Broadband

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Photo of Chip Spann of Connected Nation Michigan

November 24, 2020 — In a virtual conversation sponsored by Connected Nation Michigan, Wes Kerr, director of community solutions at Connected Nation, was joined by Chip Spann, director of engineering and technical services at Connected Nation, to discuss the predominant technologies providing broadband service today and detail what kinds of technologies can be expected in the future.

According to Spann, there has been much effort focused on revitalizing the broadband technologies of the past to meet the bandwidth demands of the present moment.

“Vectored DSL technology is keeping many companies in the game,” said Spann, explaining that “vectoring” is a method of increasing the speeds possible over existing digital subscriber lines, so that they can deliver higher bandwidth speeds than they previously would be able to achieve.

The technology is allowing companies like AT&T, CenturyLink, and Frontier to maintain relevancy across their rural DSL networks, rather than retiring the aging copper systems.

VDSL is claimed to be capable of delivering speeds of 80 Megabits per second (Mbps) within the first 500 feet from the DSL Access Multiplexer, and speeds of 10 Mbps at distances up to three to four miles away from the DSLAM, or the DSL Access Multiplexer.

“Many rural Americans currently have no choice besides DSL,” said Spann. “I’m glad to see these companies are stepping up to provide better through-put speeds to those customers.”

Spann detailed the fiber technologies being employed to power futureproof networks across the country and the differences between fiber-to-the-home technologies being utilized.

“The key difference between active optical fiber networks and passive optical fiber networks is how the signal is split between the multiple fibers going to each customer and the resulting speeds,” said Spann.

Active optical fiber networks are considered point-to-point networks, as each customer gets its own individual fiber strand. On the other hand, passive optical fiber networks use optical splitters to divide bandwidth. PON customers share bandwidth, while active ethernet subscribers do not, resulting in a difference in speeds.

While PONs typically offer symmetrical speeds of 1 Gigabit per second, active ethernet can exceed this, commonly offering symmetrical speeds of up to 10 Gbps.

“PONs are advantageous in rural marketplaces because they are more cost effective to deploy,” said Spann, adding that AONs are more beneficial in urban markets.

“XGS-PON, a higher bandwidth symmetrical version of PON, is something you’re going to start hearing about,” said Spann, detailing more future forward technology. XGS-PON is a way of introducing higher bandwidth to PON networks, offering symmetrical speeds of 10 Gbps.

“AT&T has advanced its fiber-to-the-home ‘last mile’ U-Verse network by deploying XGS-PON and has targeted 40 markets across the U.S.,” said Spann.

Looking forward, Spann said 5G and low earth orbit satellites hold the potential to offer new possibilities.

“LEOs claim they can solve the connectivity and latency issues associated with traditional geostationary satellites,” he said. LEO satellites “offer a new opportunity for areas unserved by other broadband technologies, if they work out the way Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos say they will.”

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.

Fiber

New Public Broadband Association Criticizes NTIA Rules, Boasts Strong Start for New Group

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Photo of (left to right) TK, Bob Knight, Kim McKinley, Angela Imming at Broadband Communities Summit by Drew Clark

KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 24, 2022 – The America Association of Public Broadband on Tuesday praised many aspects of the U.S. Commerce Department’s rules for spending the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, but criticized some aspects of the regulations that will make it hard for cities to build broadband projects.

In a statement and press briefing at the Mountain Connect conference here, officials representing the association said that the $42.5 billion in spending under the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program will “go a long way to address the high-speed broadband access and equity gaps plaguing American communities.”

The group is chaired by Angela Imming, who is responsible for a municipal broadband project in Highland, Illinois. The other four offiers of the organization represent cities of Kitsap, Washington, Traverse City, Michigan, UTOPIA Fiber in Utah, and the town of Ridgfield, Connecticut.

The statement and press conference were conducted by Kim McKinley, UTOPIA Fiber’s chief marketing officer and secretary of AAPB, and Bob Knight, who runs the public relations company Harrison Edwards but is also the commissioner of economic and community development in Ridgfield and a member of the AAPB board.

But AAPB, a new lobbying group that aims to represent the interest of municipalities seeking to build high-capacity broadband, also highlighted many problems.

“But we can’t take a victory lap quite yet,” said McKinley and Knight on behalf of the group. In particular, “these challenges include a cumbersome application process with a letter-of-credit requirement which serve as steep barriers to entry for local government, nonprofits, and small ISPs.”

“Additionally, the multi-year rollout of BEAD funds leaves many high-speed broadband projects out in the cold, limiting the options for those deploying prior to 2024.”

Referring to comments that Alan Davidson, administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said earlier on Tuesday, the group said, “We were pleased to hear Assistant Secretary Davidson say at Mountain Connect today that more refinement will be necessary and that the NTIA team is on the case. We look forward to working with NTIA to ensure that the interests of local, regional, and state entities are heard and acted upon.”

The association was first announced on May 4 at the Broadband Communities Summit, and the group provided updates on its progress on Tuesday.

In the three weeks since the association’s announcement, the organization said that $200,000 had been raised from the equipment vendor and non-profit community.

The group now has an advocacy and policy group that is working with federal and state leaders to advance the interests of municipal broadband, an education group, and a membership group.

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Open Access

UTOPIA’s Projects Proceeding in California and Montana, CEO Says

Both the GSCA and Yellowstone Fiber are using UTOPIA’s techniques to provide open access broadband over fiber.

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Barbara Hayes (left) and Roger Timmerman (right) speaking at Broadband Communities Summit 2022 on May 4

HOUSTON, May 4, 2022 — UTOPIA Fiber’s open access model has found success in California, Montana, and Idaho as it continues to deploy across Utah, the company’s CEO said Wednesday.

“Right now, we are working with [Golden State Connect Authority] to identify various pilot areas for the project and have started preliminary engineering work to determine the initial project area,” Roger Timmerman said at the Broadband Communities Summit 2022.

During the press conference, Timmerman also pointed to UTOPIA’s expansion into Santa Clara, Utah, and its completion of its original 11 Utah cities by the end of 2022.

Timmerman was joined by partners Barbara Hayes of the Golden State Authority and Yellowstone Fiber CEO Greg Metzger as they delivered remarks on their joint ventures. The partnership will create the largest publicly owned fiber network in the US, and as it stands now, would span 38 of California’s 58 counties.

“California may be the world’s fifth-largest economy, but our state’s connectivity is decades behind,” Hayes said. “Investing in open access fiber will be transformative for California.”

Both Metzger and Hayes emphasized that their decision to partner with UTOPIA was largely informed by the company’s track record.

“We needed to have a partner who was successful and had done it before,” Metzger said. “For Montana, this is going to be a breath of fresh air.”

Yellowstone Fiber, formerly known as Bozeman Fiber, is a not-for-profit that will replicate UTOPIA’s open access model to provide broadband to the greater Bozeman region; it will own and operate the fiber but will rely on UTOPIA for assistance on the backend.

UTOPIA’s model of open access has long been a point of interest in the telecom industry. While some claim it will be a solution to the digital divide, other assert that it has merely created a “race to the bottom” where internet service providers are constantly pushed to undercut their completion. Timmerman and others have pushed back against the “race to the bottom” assertion, claiming that providers can find ways other than price to distinguish themselves from their competition, such as superior customer service. Additionally, they point to their recent track record as evidence that critics’ concerns that they can maintain a positive cash flow are unfounded.

Though UTOPIA, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, now has positive revenue and has served as a model for open access projects around the country, critics still point toward its more than $300 million in outstanding debt it accrued in its early days, before Timmerman was at the helm.

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Fiber

Municipalities Generally Prefer Not to Own Broadband Builds, Conference Hears

Broadband leaders note cities prefer to partner than to own networks.

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Kenrick Gordon speaking remotely, with Deb Socia, Joshua Williams and Christopher Mitchell in person at Broadband Communities Summit

HOUSTON, May 3, 2022 – During a panel discussion Monday, broadband implementation leaders said local governments are often much more willing to help a partner organization establish a broadband network than they are to oversee construction themselves.

Speaking at Broadband Communities Magazine’s 2022 summit in Houston, Kenrick Gordon, director of the Maryland Office of Statewide Broadband, said “most local governments don’t really want to own a broadband network” and prefer to partner up and support the build.

Gordon spoke alongside Deb Socia, the CEO of the Enterprise Center, a non-profit infrastructure partner based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which is known as the “gig city” for its city-owned gigabit fiber network.

When asked about what makes a bad partner organization for local governments in infrastructure projects, Socia, who formerly led internet-expansion organization Next Century Cities, said those who are not trusted by members of the community will not make effective broadband providers.

Many organizations have the potential to overpromise to community members, for example giving earlier timelines for broadband builds than is required, Socia said. Gordon added it is common that the expectation among some community members is that broadband projects can be built faster than other infrastructure.

Screenshot of Kenrick Gordon, Catharine Rice, Will Aycock, Deb Socia, Joshua Williams and Christopher Mitchell

Socia said trust can be garnered from the public by using a consistent script between all involved organizations, such as utilities and city government offices, so that questions can be answered in the same manner with accurate information.

She also outlined how Chattanooga was able to promote its broadband network on trusted and popular local radio stations, increasing familiarity with it in the community through on-air discussions.

Both Socia and Gordon, as well Catharine Rice, project director for the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, stated the importance of maintaining relationships and partnerships, with Rice emphasizing the need to frequently speak to state broadband offices as they generally are quite interested in working to be helpful and improve how they do their job.

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