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Paul LaManes and Tom McLaughlin: Lessons Learned from a Successful Municipal Broadband Project Partnership

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The authors of this Expert Opinion are Paul LaManes (left) and Tom McLaughlin

When it comes to a decision that will affect the lives of everyone in your community for years to come, the only place to start is with the truism, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

What we did know is that with all the technological options we knew a collaborative expertise was going to be required to obtain the outcome we desired. That was the starting point for Wyandotte Municipal Services, which serves the community of Wyandotte, Michigan., located about 11 miles south of Detroit, when it came time to upgrade our municipal broadband infrastructure.

In 1983, Wyandotte introduced basic cable television service over a coaxial network. By 1999, that network had been rebuilt into a hybrid fiber coaxial infrastructure operating at 750 MegaHertz (MHz) and providing broadband cable TV, internet and phone service to 7,544 residential and business subscribers.

However, as the network continued to grow, subscribers began experiencing congestion in the network, which led us to start planning a network upgrade.

Our first step to address this issue was to use node splits and that resolved the issue for a few years but was a stop gap measure to the inevitable, how to future-proof the system for years or decades to come. After comparing the cost of additional node splits, fiber deeper and possibly a remote physical solution to the cost of bringing fiber to the home, we found that FTTH would not only more effectively eliminate network congestion, but also lay the foundation for future smart city and smart home programs.

Our experience with this project provides a textbook case for how to tackle a broadband network upgrade and the benefit from having an experienced partner at CommScope.

Rely on independent, third-party expertise

To find out “what you don’t know,” it’s vital to turn to a true expert. The consequence of failure is just too great, and relying on internal staff to “get up to speed” or bringing on a consultant with limited field experience is a recipe for failure.

To ensure we made our decision based on knowledge, not assumptions, we decided to partner with an expert in connectivity solutions for communications networks.

Here are just some of the vital answers and services our partner was able to provide to Wyandotte:

  • Resourcing – Our partner quickly recognized that we were a small operation with very qualified but limited staff and faced a critical resource gap. The partner’s Professional Services team then provided us with analysis, guidance and design support as we worked through determining the best network solution. As a result, the City of Wyandotte was able to maximize our network investment and potential.
  • Planning – Thanks to our partner’s breadth of experience, Wyandotte was assured of being presented with every possible option for our upgrade and formulating a cutting-edge plan for delivering superfast download and upload speeds combined with unparalleled performance.
  • An advocate – As a client of the city’s municipal services, our partner’s goal was to help us select the best possible option for our needs – and not be pressured into taking an approach that benefited a particular consultant or network provider.
  • Follow-through – Once the design was finished, our expert partner would be able to seamlessly handle the implementation of whatever plan we decided on, including management of multiple contractors, network component integration, and the relocation and expansion of WMS’ headend.

Make the right decision for your future

2020 demonstrated how important internet connectivity has become to keeping our society functioning in the face of rapid and unpredictable change. This makes choosing the right broadband strategy of vital importance. Our partner was critical in helping Wyandotte sort through the issues of hybrid fiber-coaxial and FTTH systems.

The analysis started with defining and quantifying the cost and benefits of upgrading the existing HFC network versus building an FTTH network. While an initial high-level evaluation of architecture, technologies, business resources and future service goals suggested that an FTTH build made the most sense, we had our partner perform a more in-depth analysis that addressed challenges such as headend relocation, fiber overlay requirements, an FCC repack, IP-delivery requirements, and budget and municipal funding. For this deeper evaluation, our partner had the knowledge and experience to:

  • Analyze various FTTx architectures and IPTV solutions
  • Develop a five-year broadband technology roadmap
  • Develop/create potential future service offerings
  • Design a plan and layout for the headend move
  • Perform detailed outside plant fiber design services
  • Conduct off-air antenna and satellite signal surveys

Only after this deeper analysis was Wyandotte ready to make its decision. Further, network service providers know that over the long term they must bring more bandwidth to more endpoints in their networks to support expanded broadband access and new 5G services.

Over the short term, however, they can resist digging new trenches and stringing new overhead fiber. Our partner’s fiber expertise and innovations will enable WMS to remain a quality service provider for not only years but decades to come.

Our partnership will enable Wyandotte to deliver high-capacity, low-latency connectivity to nearly 25,000 residents. By providing both the fiber technology and expertise, our partner will enable nearly 13,000 homes and more than 700 commercial buildings to have access to a new network with up to 10 Gigabits per seconds of internet, IP video and smart home services.

Further, the city’s municipal services will be able to offer a variety of new services while generating significant opex savings, and the new IPTV solution will use a pay-as-you-grow model, enabling WMS to launch new services without risking capex. A passive outside plant design will also reduce truck rolls and increase system reliability.

As a result, our partnership-driven broadband upgrade project will have a positive economic impact on the community, significantly enhance services for residents and businesses, and future-proof Wyandotte’s technology infrastructure for years to come.

Paul LaManes is General Manager, City of Wyandotte Department of Municipal Services. Tom McLaughlin is Senior Vice President, Service Providers at CommScope. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

Broadband Breakfast is a decade-old news organization based in Washington that is building a community of interest around broadband policy and internet technology, with a particular focus on better broadband infrastructure, the politics of privacy and the regulation of social media. Learn more about Broadband Breakfast.

Expert Opinion

David Strauss: How State Broadband Offices Will Score BEAD Applications

Fiber, coax and fixed wireless network plans dependent on BEAD funding demand scrutiny.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is David Strauss, Principal and Co-Founder of Broadband Success Partners.

Given the vital ways in which access to broadband enables America, adequate Internet for all is a necessary and overdue undertaking.  To help close the digital divide, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $42.5 billion in Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment funding for the last mile. Add to this the estimated level of subgrantee matching funds and the total last mile figure rises to $64 billon, according to the BEAD Funding Allocation and Project Award Framework from ACA Connects and Cartesian.

The federal funds will be disbursed by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to the State Broadband Offices who will then award subgrants to service providers. On June 30, each state will find out their allocation amount. By 2024, the states will establish a competitive subgrantee process to start selecting applicants and distributing funds.

A critical element of the selection process is the methodology for scoring the technical merits of each subgrantee and their proposal. Specific assessment criteria to be used by each state are not yet set. However, the subgrantee’s network must be built to meet these key performance and technical requirements:

  • Speeds of at least 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mbps upload
  • Latency low enough for “reasonably foreseeable, real-time interactive applications”
  • No more than 48 hours of outage a year
  • Regular conduit access points for fiber projects
  • Begin providing service within four years of subgrant date

What level of scrutiny will each state apply in evaluating the technical merits of the applicants and their plans?

Based on our conversations with a number of state broadband leaders, the answers could be as varied as the number of states. For example, some states intend to rigorously judge each applicant’s technical capability, network design and project readiness. In contrast, another state believes that a deep upfront assessment is not needed because the service provider will not receive funds until certain operational milestones are met. Upon completion, an audit of the network’s performance could be implemented.

We, at Broadband Success Partners, are a bit biased about the level of technical scrutiny we think the states should apply. Having assessed over 50 operating and planned networks for private sector clients, we appreciate the importance of a thorough technical assessment. Our network analyses, management interviews and physical inspections have yielded a valuable number of dos and don’ts. By category, below are some of the critical issues we’ve identified.

Network Planning & Design

  • Inadequate architecture, lacking needed redundancy
  • Insufficient network as-built diagrams and documentation
  • Limited available fiber with many segments lacking spares

Network Construction

  • Unprotected, single leased circuit connecting cities to network backbone
  • Limited daisy-chained bandwidth paths on backhaul network
  • Lack of aerial slack storage, increasing repair time and complexity

Network Management & Performance

  • Significant optical ground wire plant, increasing potential maintenance cost
  • Internet circuit nearing capacity
  • Insufficient IPv4 address inventory for planned growth

Equipment

  • Obsolete passive optical network equipment
  • Risky use of indoor optical network terminals in outdoor enclosures
  • Sloppy, untraceable wiring

Technical Service / Network Operations Center

  • Technical staff too lean
  • High labor rate for fiber placement
  • Insufficient NOC functionality

While the problems we uncover do not always raise to the level of a red flag, it happens often enough to justify this exercise. Our clients who invest their own capital in these networks certainly think so. The same should hold true for networks funded with taxpayer money. Fiber, coax and fixed wireless network plans dependent on BEAD funding demand serious scrutiny.

David Strauss is a Principal and Co-founder of Broadband Success Partners, the leading broadband consulting firm focused exclusively on network evaluation and technical due diligence. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Expert Opinion

Raul Katz: Can Investments in Robust Broadband Help States Limit the Downside of Recession?

If managed effectively, the BEAD program could play a key role in allowing our economy to weather the storms ahead.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Raul Katz, President at Telecom Advisory Services LLC.

The United States economy is still undergoing persistent inflation rates, high interest rates, and stock market volatility. According to a Wall Street Journal survey conducted in January, economists put the probability of a recession at 61 percent.

Simultaneously, we are also on the eve of the largest federal broadband funding distribution in American history. All 50 U.S. states have begun formulating plans to help connect their communities through the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program, and its funds are expected to be distributed within months. That, coupled with the Affordable Connectivity Program  and other initiatives designed to subsidize broadband access, will play a critical role in connecting every American to the internet. This once-in-a-generation investment in building more robust and resilient broadband networks can help states weather the coming economic storm. To learn how, we simply need to look back to March 2020.

When the COVID-19 pandemic initially cratered the economy, states that had a higher rate of fixed broadband penetration were more insulated from its disruptive effects. Simply put, better-connected states had more resilient economies according to a study I authored for Network:On. In a separate study, by using an economic growth model that accounts for the role fixed broadband plays in mitigating the societal losses resulting from the pandemic, I also found that more connected societies exhibit higher economic resiliency during a pandemic-induced disruption.

In the study conducted for Network:On, we documented that U.S. states with higher broadband adoption rates were able to counteract a larger portion of the economic losses caused by the pandemic than states with lower broadband adoption rates. The states most adversely affected by the pandemic, such as Arkansas and Mississippi, were those exhibiting lower broadband penetration rates. Conversely, states with higher broadband penetration, such as Delaware and New Jersey, were able to mitigate a large portion of losses, as connectivity levels allowed for important parts of the economy to continue functioning during lockdowns.

Nationally, if the entire U.S. had penetration figures equal to those of the more connected states during the pandemic, the GDP would have contracted only one percent— a much softer recession than the actual 2.2 percent. These findings show that investments in closing the digital divide and ensuring everyone can access a high-speed Internet connection are critical to building economic resilience.

Today, wide penetration rate disparities exist between states — such as Delaware’s rate of 91.4 percent compared to Arkansas’ rate of 39.7 percent. Because of this, public authorities should focus on creating policy frameworks that allow operators to spur infrastructure deployments and find the optimal technological mixes to deliver the highest performance to users.

Broadband access matters. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum and is crucial to an area’s economic health. As state broadband offices around the country prepare to deploy BEAD funding, they must remember that broadband access and adoption are imperative to building economic resiliency.

Beyond my own study, a review of the research examining the economic impact of digital technologies over the past two decades confirms that telecommunications and broadband positively impact economic growth, employment, and productivity. This reinforces how consequential these government investments in broadband infrastructure and adoption are to protecting America’s economic health.

The BEAD program still has its challenges, but if managed effectively, it could play a key role in allowing our economy to weather the storms ahead.

Dr. Raul Katz is the president at Telecom Advisory Services LLC and author of the study: The Role of Robust Broadband Infrastructure in Building Economic Resiliency During the COVID-19 Pandemic. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Expert Opinion

Kate Forscey: For the FTC to Rein in Big Tech, Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Going after Big Tech with marquee cases may make headlines, but those failures make big headlines too.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Kate Forscey, contributing fellow for the Digital Progress Institute

Recognizing the outsize power Big Tech has in the tech marketplace and throughout our daily lives, the Biden Federal Trade Commission, helmed by Chair Lina Khan, has made big headlines for pursuing cases and regulatory changes in an attempt to restore competitive balance to the tech ecosystem.

Khan started off with a bang. She, along with the Department of Justice’s Antitrust division, sought to modernize the merger guidelines that would provide better guidance for courts and scholars to challenge Big Tech’s rampant consolidation of the tech sector. Moreover, she has initiated a proceeding that will evaluate the anticompetitive effects of overly broad non-competes; some of which have the effect of entrapping valued coders and engineers into these large tech firms indefinitely, preventing smaller competitors from availing themselves to their expertise.

But rather than complete these efforts in an incremental, potentially bipartisan manner, the agency has continued to set its sights higher and higher. Let’s just say the FTC has had a tough go at implementing this strategy.

For example, as part of Facebook’s pivot to the metaverse, it planned to merge with Within Unlimited—a virtual reality fitness start-up.  Fearing a loss of “potential future competition,” the FTC just expended an enormous amount of its resources to enjoin the merger, not only going to court but starting a concurrent proceeding with one of the agency’s administrative judges. The result? A federal district court outright denied the requested injunction, and now the FTC has abandoned its administrative case too.

And it looks like the FTC is going for a repeat with its challenge to Microsoft’s merger with Activision, the maker of World of Warcraft and Candy Crush. Strangely enough, the fear here is creation of future potential competition, specifically Microsoft and Xbox gaining a foothold against its larger gaming competitors like Sony and Tencent, a Chinese multinational conglomerate.

Even more bizarrely, the agency appears to ignore that the merger would open up more competition in the mobile gaming market—largely controlled by the Apple and Google app stores—by bringing Activision titles, like Call of Duty, to every mobile device. In short, it’s looking like the FTC will be 0-for-2 by the end of the year.

Agency should take incremental steps, not tackle unwinnable battles

Look, reining in Big Tech is a laudable goal. However, it may be time for Khan to turn to tried-and-true ways to accomplish that goal with incremental, ideally bipartisan steps, instead of focusing the agency’s limited resources on unwinnable epic battles.

The first thing Khan should do is finish what’s already on the agency’s plate.

For one, Khan should complete modernizing the merger guidelines. The current guidelines were written before Big Tech was even a thing and without an understanding of today’s technology and modern markets. New guidelines would provide a stable framework for courts, academia, and the antitrust agencies to analyze anticompetitive practices in a more productive manner as cases crop up going forward.

For another, the FTC should conclude its privacy investigation of prominent social media and video streaming companies.  More than two years ago, the Commission launched an investigation into the privacy practices of nine social media and video streaming companies — including TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Amazon.  And we have yet to see any results, even though all the tech companies mandated submissions are presumably in.

For yet another, the FTC should reexamine pending proceedings to take a more targeted approach that has a better shot of passing legal muster. Take the FTC’s proceeding to ban non-compete clauses. Whatever the general merits, it’s politically divisive, and legally questionable, to think the FTC could really ban even executives being held to a non-compete clause.

In contrast, a really bright idea would be to address Big Tech dominance by going after noncompete clauses for mid-level engineers and workers. It used to be that a talented mid-level engineer could go cut her teeth working a few years at a place like Google, getting experience there and then moving on to a start-up to help them build their company up.

This allows smaller companies to potentially compete with the big guys and ultimately create a more competitive marketplace in a given space, whether that’s search or social or whatever. But the goliath groupers don’t like that idea – Big Tech likes its dominance – so nowadays they lock employees into noncompete clauses that prevent them from any sort of outward mobility. The FTC could change that with a targeted and incremental rule—one that could be bipartisan and legally sustainable.

Going after Big Tech with marquee cases may make headlines, but those failures make big headlines too.  To do this and do this right – in a way that doesn’t create legal conundrums down the road – the Commission might want to recognize that incremental, bipartisan victories have the greatest staying power.  If you want to have a lasting impact, take it from Aesop: slow and steady wins the race.

Kate Forscey is a contributing fellow for the Digital Progress Institute and principal and founder of KRF Strategies LLC. She has served as senior technology policy advisor for Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo and policy counsel at Public Knowledge. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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