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WISPA Responds To Claims Wireless Providers Have Not Demonstrated Gigabit Capabilities

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Photocollage of Larry Thompson of VantagePoint and Fred Goldstein of WISPA by Broadband Breakfast

March 3, 2021—Vantage Point Solutions is questioning whether wireless providers can deliver on their contractual obligations following the announcement of $9 billion in federal award for the first phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The concerns, outlined by CEO Larry Thompson in a white paper, relate to the winners’ ability to meet the build requirements.

Since the winners were announced in December, some have claimed that the reverse auction process – which rewards those who can build with the least amount of federal money — has allowed unqualified bidders to win projects they can’t complete in the first place.

The allegation has spawned an array of contretemps in the broadband community. In response, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association has publicly lobbied  the FCC on behalf of WISPA members.

Fred Goldstein, who serves as a technical consultant to WISPA and penned the technical statement that was attached to the document, argued that many of Thompson’s technical assertions were inaccurate.

Hear both sides of the debate at “Broadband Breakfast Live Online on Wednesday, March 3, 2021 — Design, Product and Execution: 3 Essential Steps for Every RDOF Award Winner.” You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

As part of the RDOF process, the FCC divided prospective bidders into performance tiers, ranging from the “minimum” tier of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload speed, up to the “gigabit” tier delivering speeds at 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) download and 500 Mbps upload. The 1000 Mbps download speeds of the gigabit tier should theoretically be 40 times faster than the 25/3 minimum tier.

Vantage Point says wireless providers cannot maintain claimed speeds

Thompson’s primary contention is that consumers should be able to simultaneously utilize 1 Gbps download and 500 Mbps upload—a feat he asserts many wireless providers have not demonstrated can be reliably achieved. This is due to the ever-increasing number of connected devices consumers use on a daily basis.

“You’re not going to be able to sit and coordinate which [devices] are downloading and which ones are uploading at any given time—those things happen simultaneously,” Thompson stated. “I believe the FCC’s intention was that when they say that we have a broadband pipe of one [Gbps] down and 500 [Mbps] up—that means you should be able to do those simultaneously.”

Thompson insisted that he is not shifting the goal posts. As he understood the FCC’s requirements, simultaneous 1 Gbps/500 Mbps was always the goal. “It seems to me to be common sense,” Thompson said.

If he were ordering symmetrical service from a broadband provider, the expectation would not be that he would have to wait for a download to complete before he could begin uploading.

Another new group also complaining about wireless entrants

A new organization known as Ensuring RDOF Integrity Coalition, or ERIC, has now appeared and claims to share Vantage Point’s concerns.

Out the top 10 RDOF contract recipients, four are believed to have plans to use fixed wireless technology to deliver their services to consumers; LTD Broadband, Nextlink, Resound Networks, and Starry represent the first, sixth, eighth, and ninth largest recipients, respectively.

Additionally, SpaceX was the fourth largest recipient, and plans to deliver its services via a constellation of low Earth orbit satellites. Even though the technology is in its infancy, SpaceX received more than $885 million out of the total $9.2 billion allocated for RDOF.

As reported by Telecompetitor, ERIC would see that “interested stakeholders” have an opportunity to go over sensitive and proprietary data collected regarding RDOF recipients and the status of the services they provide.

WISPA claims fiber zealots are ‘sowing fear, uncertainty, and doubt’

In an interview with Broadband Breakfast, Fred Goldstein dismissed the concerns raised by Vantage Point and others. He said they were sowing fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

“They did this by making some incorrect technical assumptions and incorrect assumptions about the way people use the internet traffic levels and a lot of other details,” he added. “They basically put together something that if you really don’t know all that much, it sounds credible.”

Goldstein said wireless providers must live up to their promised broadband speeds. “If they’re offering gigabit service,” he said, “they are committed to it and there are penalties and clawbacks if they do not deliver.”

Goldstein said wireless providers were required to thoroughly explain exactly how they intended to deliver the speeds advertised. If Vantage Point has an issue with the explanations of the FCC or any particular wireless provider, they should have raised these concerns prior to the conclusion of the first phase.

WISPA says gigabit speeds may be overvalued

While Goldstein disagreed with many of the technical evaluations made by Vantage Point, his primary issue rests in the interpretation of RDOF guidelines.

For example, where Thompson believed that 1 Gbps/500 Mbps speeds must be achievable simultaneously, Goldstein states that while gigabit download speeds are the goal, it is not necessary for every consumer to be able to access gigabit speeds all the time.

“In reality, the average subscriber is running about 3 Mbps,” Goldstein said. He explained that there are diminishing returns once a consumer starts to reach speeds above 25 megabits per second. “It’s nice to have 100 megabits—it’s nicer to have 500 megabits or a gigabit—but it’s very rare you actually get to use it.”

“So nice, but I think people overemphasize the value of the gigabit, even as we are prepared to deliver it,” Goldstein stated. “We know how much we need—we can burst it at a gigabit, but the average is the average—it applies to their fiber, and it applies to our wireless—and everybody does it that way when you buy the backbone.”

But Thompson said that while WISPA is very focused on the backbone component of the service, Vantage Point is more concerned with the user experience and the wireless service on the customers’ end.

Reporter Ben Kahn is a graduate of University of Baltimore and the National Journalism Center. His work has appeared in Washington Jewish Week and The Center Square, among other publications. He he covered almost every beat at Broadband Breakfast.

12 Days of Broadband

How Long Will it Take Congress to Revamp the Universal Service Fund?

Critics urged the FCC to expand the fund’s contribution sources, but the agency chose to punt the decision to Congress.

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Graphic courtesy of Dmitry Kovalchuk / Adobe Stock

From the 12 Days of Broadband:

The Federal Communications Commission this summer waived away the issue of revamping the Universal Service Fund, pointing to the need for Congress to give it the authority to make changes to the multi-billion-dollar fund that goes to support basic telecommunications services to low-income Americans and rural communities. 

Up to this point, the agency had a virtual megaphone to its ear with critics saying that it needs to make the changes necessitated by the fact that the nearly $9-billion fund this quarter is supported only by dwindling legacy voice service revenues as more Americans move over to broadband-driven communications services. 

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Expert Opinion

Bjorn Capens: Strong Appetite for Rural Broadband Calls for Next Generation Fiber Technology

The first operator to bring fiber to a community creates a significant barrier to entry for competitors.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Björn Capens, Nokia Fixed Networks European Vice President

In July, the Biden-Harris administration announced another $401 million in funding for high-speed Internet access in rural America. This was just the latest in a string of government initiatives aimed at helping close the US digital divide.

These initiatives have been essential for encouraging traditional broadband providers, communities and utility companies to deploy fiber to rural communities, with governments cognizant of the vital role broadband connectivity has in sustaining communities and improving socio-economic opportunities for citizens. 

Yet there is still work to do, even in countries with the most advanced connectivity options. For example, fixed broadband is missing from almost 30 percent of rural American homes, according to Pew Research. It’s similar in Europe where a recent European Commission’s Digital Divide report found that roughly 18 percent of rural citizens can only get broadband speeds of a maximum 30 Mb, a speed which struggles to cope with modern digital behaviors. 

Appetite for high-speed broadband in rural areas is strong

There’s no denying the appetite for high-speed broadband in rural areas. The permanent increase in working from home and the rise of modern agricultural and Industry 4.0 applications mean that there’s an increasingly attractive business case for rural fiber deployments – as the first operator to bring fiber to a community creates a significant barrier to entry for competitors. 

The first consideration, then, for a new rural fiber deployment is which passive optical network technology to use. Gigabit PON seems like an obvious first choice, being a mature and widely deployed technology. 

However, GPON services are a standard offering for nearly every fiber broadband operator. As PON is a shared medium with usually up to 30 users each taking a slice, it’s easy to see how a few Gigabit customers can quickly max out the network, and with the ever-increasing need for speed, it’s widely held that GPON will not be sufficient by about 2025. 

XGS-PON is an already mature technology

The alternative is to use XGS-PON, a more recent, but already mature, flavor of PON with a capacity of 10 Gigabits per second. With the greater capacity, broadband operators can generate higher revenues with more premium-tier residential services as well as lucrative business services. There’s even room for additional services to run alongside business and residential broadband. For example, the same network can carry traffic from four G and five G cells, known as mobile backhaul. That’s either a new revenue opportunity or a cost saving if the operator also runs a mobile network. 

This convergence of different services onto a single PON fiber network is starting to take off, with fiber-to-the-home networks evolving into fiber for everything, where homes, businesses, industries, smart cities, mobile cells and more are all running on the same infrastructure. This makes the business case even stronger. 

Whether choosing GPON or XGS-PON, the biggest cost contributor is the same for both: deploying fiber outside the plant. Therefore, the increased cost of XGS-PON over GPON is far outweighed by the capacity increase it brings, making XGS-PON the clear choice for a brand-new fiber deployment. XGS-PON protects this investment for longer as its higher capacity makes it harder for new entrants to offer a superior service. 

It also doesn’t need to be upgraded for many years, and when it comes to the business case for fiber, it pays to take a long-term view. Fiber optic cable has a shelf-life of 75 or more years, and even as one increases the speeds running on fiber, that cable can remain the same.  

Notwithstanding these arguments, fiber still comes at a cost, and operators need to carefully manage those costs in order to maximize returns. 

Recent advances in fiber technology allow operators to take a pragmatic approach to their rollouts. In the past, each port on a PON server blade could only deliver one technology. But Multi-PON has multiple modes: only GPON, only XGS-PON or both together. It even has a forward-looking 25G PON mode. 

This allows an operator to easily boost speeds as needed with minimal effort and additional investment. GPON could be the starting point for fiber-to-the-home services, XGS-PON could be added for business services, or even a move to 25G PON for a cluster of rural power users, like factories and modern warehouses – creating a seamless, future-proof upgrade path for operators. 

The decision not to invest in fiber presents a substantial business risk

Alternatively, there’s always the option for a broadband operator to stick with basic broadband in rural areas and not invest in fiber. But that actually presents a business risk, as any competitor that decides to deploy fiber will inevitably carve out a chunk of the customer base for themselves. 

Besides, most operators are not purely profit-driven; they too recognize that prolonging the current situation in underserved communities is not great. High-speed broadband makes areas more attractive for businesses, creating more jobs and stemming population flows from rural to urban centers. 

But rural broadband not only improves lives, but it also decreases the world’s carbon emissions both directly, compared to alternative broadband technologies, and indirectly by enabling online and remote activities that would otherwise involve transportation. These social and economic benefits of fiber are highly regarded by investors and stockholders who have corporate social responsibility high on their agendas. 

With the uber-connected urban world able to adopt every new wave of bandwidth-hungry application – think virtual reality headsets and the metaverse – rural communities are actually going backwards in comparison. The way forward is fiber and XGS-PON. 

Björn Capens is Nokia Fixed Networks European Vice President. Since 2017, Capens has been leading Nokia’s fixed networks business, headquartered in Antwerp, Belgium. He has more than 20 years of experience in the fixed broadband access industry and holds a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering, Telecommunications, from KU Leuven. 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

Johnny Kampis: Federal Bureaucracy an Impediment to Broadband on Tribal Lands

18% of people living on Tribal lands lack broadband access, compared to 4% of residents in non-tribal areas.

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The author of this expert Opinion is Johnny Kampis, director of telecom policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance

A new study from the Phoenix Center finds that as the federal government pours tens of billions of dollars into shrinking the digital divide in tribal areas, much of that gap has already been eliminated.

The report, and a second from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, are more indications that regulations and economic factors that include income levels continue to hamper efforts to get broadband to all Americans.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 allocated $45 billion toward tribal lands. This was done as part of a massive effort by the federal government to extend broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved areas of the United States.

George Ford, chief economist at the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies, wrote in the recent policy bulletin that while there is still plenty of work needed to be done in terms of connectivity, efforts in recent years have largely eliminated the broadband gap between tribal and non-tribal areas.

Ford examined broadband deployment around the U.S. between 2014 and 2020 using Form 477 data from the Federal Communications Commission, comparing tribal and non-tribal census tracts.

Ford points out in the bulletin that the FCC has observed several challenges for broadband deployment in tribal areas, including rugged terrain, complex permitting processes, jurisdictional issues, a higher ratio of residences to business customers, higher poverty rates, and cultural and language barriers.

Ford controlled for some of these differences in his study comparing tribal and non-tribal areas. He reports in the bulletin that the statistics suggest nearly equal treatment in high-speed internet development.

Encouraging results about availability of broadband in Tribal areas

“These results are encouraging, suggesting that broadband availability in Tribal areas is becoming closer or equal to non-Tribal areas over time, and that any broadband gap is largely the result of economic characteristics and not the disparate treatment of Tribal areas,” Ford wrote.

But he also notes that unconditioned differences show a 10-percentage point spread in availability in tribal areas, which indicates how much poverty, low population density, and red tape is harming the efforts to close the digital divide there.

“These results do not imply that broadband is ubiquitous in either Tribal or non-Tribal areas; instead, these results simply demonstrate that the difference in availability between Tribal and non-Tribal areas is shrinking and that this difference is mostly explained by a few demographic characteristics,” Ford wrote.

In a recent report, the GAO suggests that part of the problem lies with the federal bureaucracy – that “tribes have struggled to identify which federal program meets their needs and have had difficulty navigating complex application processes.”

GAO states that 18 percent of people living on tribal lands lack broadband access, compared to 4 percent of residents in non-tribal areas.

The GAO recommended that the Executive Office of the President specifically address tribal needs within a national broadband strategy and that the Department of Commerce create a framework within the American Broadband Initiative for addressing tribal issues.

“The Executive Office of the President did not agree or disagree with our recommendation but highlighted the importance of tribal engagement in developing a strategy,” the report notes.

That goes together with the GAO’s dig at the overall lack of a national broadband strategy by the Biden Administration in a June report. As the Taxpayers Protection Alliance reported, the federal auditor noted that 15 federal agencies administer more than 100 different broadband funding programs, and that despite a taxpayer investment of $44 billion from 2015 through 2020, “millions of Americans still lack broadband, and communities with limited resources may be most affected by fragmentation.”

President Biden has set a goal for universal broadband access in the U.S. by 2030. These recent reports show that the federal bureaucracy under his watch needs to do a better job of getting out of its own way.

Johnny Kampis is the director of telecom policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. 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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