Internet Access And Service Archive

New ISP players working against established players to provide competitive Internet service

Article

Gigaclear and Hyperoptic Highlight Problems with UK Broadband and BT | ISPReview.co.uk

My Comments

Aylesbury Vale countryside picture courtesy of Adam Bell (FlyingDodo)

Questions are now raised regarding independent operators providing real broadband to the countryside

The article I read in ISPReview has highlighted some problems that affect the existence of competitive next-generation broadband Internet service in the UK. These same problems can also affect other countries like those in the North American, South East Asian and Australasian areas to varying degrees.

It is based on interviews with Matthew Hare from Gigaclear, Dana Tobak from Hyperoptic and Scott Coats from the Wireless Infrastructure Group, all whom are running up against an incumbent telecommunications company who effectively owns the infrastructure in most of the country and is effectively given a fair bit of blessing from a national or regional government. This can be through state aid as part of a broadband-improvement scheme or through a legal “right of way” that proscribes competitors from operating in the area of concern. In the case of the UK, it is Openreach who is a BT spin-off that manages the telecommunications infrastructure in that country and they have been dominating the state-assisted “Broadband Delivery UK” projects that provide next-generation broadband to most of rural UK.

Apartment block

.. and apartment blocks in big cities

Issues that were raised were:

  • The dominance of a particular entity when it comes to delivering infrastructure for next-generation broadband in the UK
  • The costs associated with deploying new infrastructure
  • Business-hostile local-government property rates that affect the provision of service infrastructure by a private company, especially fibre-optic cable used for next-generation telecommunications
  • The difficulty of gaining access to the “pits, poles and pipes” infrastructure that BT Openreach owns or has exclusive access to; and
  • Whether BT and Openreach be fully and legally separated such as to make Openreach an entity controlled by the national government or local governments; or have it as a separate company.

Gigaclear are providing a 5Gbps fibre-to-the-premises service in to rural areas and commmuter towns in East Anglia and some of the Home Counties while Hyperoptic are providing a 1Gbps fibre-to-the-premises service to large multi-dwelling units in most of the UK’s main cities.

Gigaclear has effectively invested GBP£1000 / property and has found that the operating costs for pure-fibre setups are less than the costs for fibre-copper because there is no need to run electricity down the line and it is a modern robust technology. But they have paid many times the projected cost for some deployments like in Kent due to shodddy workmanship.

Matthew Hare from Gigaclear was highlighting BT swallowing up most of the BDUK contracts but he has picked up a few smaller Phase 2 contracts like projects in Gloucestershire, Essex and Berkshire. He had noticed a few of the local authorities being helpful about these rollouts like in Kent where Kent county council de-scoped (provided exclusive access) for Gigaclear projects compared to Rutlant where the Rutland county council and BT overbuilt Gigaclear with FTTC service.

This comes to the big question about whether an overbuild by one or more competing operators permit real infrastructure-level service competition. Some countries, most notably France have found that an overbuild by a competing infrastructure provider can achieve this level of competition.

Dana Tobak from Hyperoptic highlighted that fibre-copper technology like fibre-to-the-cabinet is a short-lived asset. She also highlighted the issue of access to the “pits, poles and pipes” owned by Openreach being a burdensome process for competing operators. This ranged from costs to onerous procedures and restrictions sucn as not being able to provide business broadband services.

There was also the issue of business-level property rates and taxes levied on the infrastructure where the workflow associated with these costs was onerous thanks to the Valuations Office Agency. This made it difficult for an operator to factor in the property rates due on the infrastructure when they are costing a rollout. To the same extent, the property taxes levied by a local government could be seen as a bargaining chip especially where the local government is behind the rollout in order to see effective increase in their local land value and tax base.

The question associated with an independent Openreach managing the infrastructure was whether this would breed real service competition. An issue that was highlighted was that Openreach could focus on the premium pure-fibre-based service and make life hard for small-time operators like regional-focused operators or startups who want ot serve the British market. But Matthew Hare reckons that it is better for the UK, especially rural areas to see Openreach as an independent operator.

Here, ISPReview have raised the issue of competitive next-generation broadband provision with independent “own-infrastructure” operators and covered some of the main hurdles facing these operators. This includes proper management of costs including infrastructure-based property taxes and rates; the creation of sustainable competition including build-over rights; incumbent operators’ behaviour including preferential treatment by governments; and access to the same  “pits, pipes and poles” by competing operators.

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Make the next-generation broadband infrastructure beautiful

Painted street cabinet

This is how you can make those cabinets part of the street fabric

Whenever any new infrastructure is laid down, there is an increase in the number of street cabinets that will appear as the result of this infrastructure. This is more so with next-generation broadband especially if the service is based around fibre-copper technologies, implements active components or is prepared to do so.

But these cabinets attract a “not in my backyard” comments or activism from local residents or neighbourhoods because of them looking ugly and becoming a surface for the local graffiti artists and gangs to scrawl their “tags” on to. Similarly, the street cabinets can effectively become obstacles in their own right.

There can be something better done about this. One way would be to encourage or commission local artists to paint these cabinets with designs that complement the neighbourbood or a local effort. They then look beautiful in their own right rather than as ugly boxes. Such paintwork can be directly applied or painted on to a vinyl “skin” or “wrap” which is applied to the box. The latter approach can apply to seasonal efforts like Christmas decorations or advertising campaigns if the “skin” can be removed.

Another approach would be to design the street cabinets to be integrated to other street furniture. This would work well if there isn’t a need to provide maintenance access or equipment ventilation from all sides of the cabinet. Examples of this could include a cabinet that is integrated in to a street bench or litter bin. Simply an infrastructure cabinet could benefit from being equipped with a closed rail especially if it is located close to a café or bar with a street dining area. This is because it can be used as a hitching-post for a patron’s dog or bicycle.

What needs to be done to prevent the NIMBY attitude concerning next-generation broadband and similar infrastructure in urban areas is to look at ways to integrate the cabinets in to the neighbourhood area’s fabric so they effectively blend in.

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Spain sees multiple-play the path to pay-TV

Article

Bullfight

The home of the bullfight new sees the reality of single-pipe multiple-play services for pay-TV
image credit: Bullfight, Spain via free images (license)

Spain: Convergent packages boost pay-TV take-up  | Advanced Television

My Comments

Spain, the home of the bullfight, is a market where the multi-play Internet service is increasing the take-up of pay-TV service. This is something that is similarly occurring in the UK and France due to the popularity of keenly-priced multiple-play services that underscore “one-pipe” provision.

But why would I see this so? This is because these multi-play services, which include fixed-line telephony, mobile telephony, mobile broadband and pay-TV along with the fixed-line broadband Internet service, typically implement a “one-pipe” method for delivering the telephony, pay-TV and fixed-line broadband service component. This is facilitated through the use of IPTV to provision pay-TV through DSL or fibre-optic infrastructure, thus avoiding the need to deploy a satellite dish or cable-TV installation.

The statistics which are gathered by CNMC tell it all with at least 364,000 pay-TV subscribers or 65.4% of Spain’s pay-TV subscriber base heading down this path. Of course, that country has a total pay-TV subscriber base of 5.4m which yields EUR€509.4 million in revenue.

What is showing more is that pay-TV takeup can be facilitated using IPTV technologies and single-pipe multi-play services offered by the telecommunications companies and the cable-TV providers. This can be augmented with the use of VIDIPATH technology leading to “house-wide” pay-TV. But pay-TV can be worth its salt if there is good-quality content to watch.

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Competitive next-generation broadband arrives in Massachusetts

Article

Fall setting in Minute Man park - picture courtesy of Ian Britton (FreeFotos.com)

Competitive next-generation broadband arrives at Massachusetts (Photo courtesy of Ian Britton (FreeFotos.com))

 

Massachusetts Town Builds Itself 2 Gigabit Fiber for $75 a Month | Broadband News & DSL Reprots

From the horse’s mouth

LeverettNet

Project Page

My Comments

Another attempt has taken place to erode the established telcos’ and cable companies’ dominance of the US fixed-broadband landscape. Normally, this would be Google rolling out their Google Fiber service but it is a local government rolling out a municipal fibre-optic infrastructure and selling a retail broadband service to the communities under their remit.

US Flag By Dbenbenn, Zscout370, Jacobolus, Indolences, Technion. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

More it’s about access to real competitive broadband in the USA

This kind of activity has had to face legal measures in the form of statewide laws drawn up by lobbying groups representing the “Baby Bells” and large cable-TV firms that prohibit or make it difficult for local government and others to set up competing broadband service.

This time, it is Leverett, a town in Massachusetts, who have established a municipal fibre-optic network with retail service. This network snaps at the heels of Comcast and co by offering unlimited symmetrical 2Gbps downloads for US$75 a month. This is compared to Comcast offering a similar service for US$300 a month with a myriad of installation and activation fees totalling US$1000 along with the cost of poor-quality customer service.

This was an effort to deal with a black hole concerning the provision of high-speed broadband Internet to Massachusetts communities. The LeverettNet network is the first to take advantage of the new statewide broadband backbone known as MassBroadband 123 which could easily light up the state with real broadband.

There will be people who will say that this is public money wasted and it could lead to an increase in local taxes levied by the community’s local government, But it isn’t so because the townsfolk approved a ballot measure put forward by the Leverett council to borrow US$3.6 million to start this project. As well, a local ISP called Crocker Communications was contracted to provide the retail service to the neighbourhood. The council’s tax base would increase because of the property values increasing due to availability of proper next-generation fibre-optic broadband.

I always reckon that this could bring Comcast and others to attention because of a broadband service that offers more “bang for the buck” being available and this results commonly in those companies offering improved service in to those neighbourhoods. Similarly, this effort could be a chance to wake up other local communities in Massachusetts to have next generation broadband across that state.

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Gigaclear’s Epping Forest coverage is now underway

Article

Epping Forest © Copyright tim and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence tim [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Epping Forest – to get fibre-to-the-premises Internet

UK FTTP ISP Gigaclear Starts Rollout of 1Gbps Broadband in Essex | ISP Review

Previous Coverage

Gigaclear increases their Essex footprint

From the horse’s mouth

Gigaclear

Press Release

My Comments

Previously I have written an article about Gigaclear working with Superfast Essex Rural Challenge Project to put a foot in the door to provide next-generation broadband in to parts of Esssex, especially Epping Forest.

Gigaclear fibre-optic cable - picture courtesy of Gigaclear

This is what is to come for some Essex villages

Now they have stared to turn the soil on this project to cover the first tranche of communities in that area with the fibre-optic infrastructure passing at least 4,500 premises. This project is seen as a pilot project to identify whether an alternative path can exist for providing next-generation broadband in to Essex rather than relying on BT Openreach to fulfill this task using their fibre-to-the-cabinet technology. It will underscore whether infrastructure-level competition can achieve better results and value for money when it comes to covering rural areas in the UK with real broadband.

Part of the rollout will include Gigaclear and Superfast Essex running public-relations events at local community events to put the fibre-to-the-premises network  “on the map” as far as the locals are concerned. This is with the first phase of this project being complete by May 2016 and the possibility for subscribers to go live within the next couple of months.

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Gigaclear raises the maximum bandwidth to 5 Gigabits

Articles

Gigaclear fibre-optic cable - picture courtesy of Gigaclear

5Gbps comes on the scene courtesy of Gigaclear

Is 5 Giga bits a second enough broadband for you? | ThinkBroadband

Wowzers – UK ISP Gigaclear Trial 5000Mbps Fibre Optic Broadband Service | ISPReview

My Comments

Gigaclear are stepping out of the norm when it comes to providing Internet service in the UK.

Here, they are offering 5Gbps as a bandwidth option for all of their fibre-to-the-premises area as well as their regular Gigabit or lower-bandwidth options. This is due to them implementing a point-to-point fibre network as their data infrastructure which they fully own.

At the moment, a home user could sign up for this bandwidth at GBP£399 including VAT or a small business could sign up for a business-grade service for GBP£1500 excluding VAT. The bandwidth could theoretically allow 100 4K UHDTV channels to be concurrently streamed or allow a 1.5Gb file like a film to be downloaded in 5 seconds.

At the moment, most current download and cloud-computing services can’t provide the throughput necessary to allow these high-performance services to run to their advantage. Similarly, there aren’t any routers on the market affordable to most home or small-businesses that would take advantage of these high-performance services.

The cost was considered to be too rich for most residential consumers except for a few wealthy early-adopters but could appeal to some small businesses like busy food/beverage/hospitality places such as cafes and bars running well-used wireless hotspots. These places can benefit because many users can concurrently transfer data including “high-demand” data like high-grade multimedia. videocalls and large file transfers.

What Gigaclear is showing is that 5Gbps could be ne next step for a high-performing Internet that can satisfy householders’ and small business users’ needs in the future.

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Rockhampton to consider own FTTP network

Articles

Queensland council plans own optical fibre network | The Register

Council goes its own way on NBN, plans cables and telco | Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Queensland)

My Comments

Local government has been instrumental in improving broadband coverage for its citizens by encouraging the installation of the necessary infrastructure. This may be a public effort funded primarily by council taxes or rates that are levied on property owners; or it could be a public-private effort where a company also funds the same effort.

These efforts may be used as a method of providing data infrastructure between the local government’s buildings but they have been used to provide broadband infrastructure to citizens and businesses in that area in a manner that competes with established operators. It can also be about the establishment of a company or co-operative that is focused on providing telecommunications or Internet services to the local community.

But such services have raised the ire of incumbent telecommunications and cable-TV businesses and this has had the powerful incumbent operators in the USA like Comcast and AT&T lobby for state-level legislation to strangle community telecoms and Internet infrastructure projects.

Australia has taken a new stab at this effort with the local government that governs Rockhampton in Queensland putting forward the idea of high-speed fibre-to-the-premises infrastructure to cover the city’s central business district (downtown) area.

Rockhampton Regional Council’s mayor, Margaret Strelow showed dissatisfaction with the National Broadband Network heading down the fibre-copper path which would lead to substandard broadband. Instead the council established their own high-speed fibre-to-the-premises infrastructure in Quay Street alongside other council-owned road and water works. This is a “dig-once” effort to bypass the NBN in order to achieve that “smart-city” goal that Rockhampton wanted.

The council will own the infrastructure but create a local non-profit community telco who leases that infrastructure and sells telephony and Internet service to the local community. It is in a similar manner to how some other cities have provided utilities and telecommunications services to their communities.

A question that will be raised regarding these community-focused deployments will include the ability for the NBN or other next-generation-broadband infrastructure providers to build infrastructure parallel to this infrastructure; a practice that is described as “build-over”. This may allow Rockhampton or similar communities to benefit from infrastructure-level competition.

Another question that I also see raised is whether other retail-level telecommunications or Internet providers will be allowed to lease the council-supplied infrastructure in order to sell their services in to that town. This could allow consumers and businesses to benefit from retail-level communications-service and can also include mobile-telecommunications providers using this infrastructure as a backbone for their base stations.

As communities, ISPs, developers and other entities lay down their own infrastructure for their own next-generation broadband services, it could be a chance to raise the issues of “build-over” infrastructure-level competition for locations along with the ability for retail ISPs to compete with each other on the same infrastructure. If these issues are worked out properly, it could lead to increased value for money when it comes to broadband Internet service.

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Telephone Interview–Matthew Hare (Gigaclear)

Cotswolds hill and village picture courtesy of Glenluwin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Cotswolds – part of the big 10000 for Gigaclear

Previously, I did an interview with Matthew Hare from Gigaclear shortly after they rolled out fibre-to-the-cabinet next-generation broadband service to Lyddington and fibre-to-the-premises broadband to Hambledon, both small villages in Rutland, UK. This was about small rural areas being enabled for real broadband service rather than second-rate broadband service.

Fibre-optic connection pots in ground - press picture courtesy of Gigaclear

10,000 of these connection pots for the fibre-optic broadband installed

Now Gigaclear has covered 50 small villages around the Oxfordshire and other areas of the UK with their service passing 10,000 properties. From this interview, Matthew had mentioned that 4000 households and businesses had bitten the bullet and taken up the next-generation broadband service that Gigaclear offers.

Digging up a village street - press picture courtesy of Gigaclear

When this is happening in your village, the broadband service quality becomes better

There have been some benefits across the board with the arrival of these next-generation fibre-based broadband services.

For businesses and other income-generating activities, the next-generation broadband services have been valued as an enabler. One of the benefits that has been noticed was a reduction in traffic levels because of a reduced need to travel to work which has become important for the villages that exist within commuting distance of the large towns. Knowledge workers like accountants, consultants and lawyers also benefited because of their increased bandwidth that is available to them at home so they can run their practice or business more effectively.

Fibre optic cable trench in village lane - press picture courtesy of Gigaclear

Fibre-optic cable laid alongside a lane to a premises in a village

The food, beverage and accommodation industries have valued these rollouts in a few different ways. Initially they saw the increased bandwidth as a way to improve the Wi-Fi-based public Internet service they provide as an amenity and having a consistently-good experience with this service attracts customers. In the interview, Matthew highlighted Oxford Country Cottages who sell this as a significant amenity for their self-catering holiday cottages.  I sent a follow-up email to Oxford Country Cottages regarding their experience with this service and what they identified as a core benefit was the business guests who were returning to these cottages because of the guest-access Wi-Fi that was served by Gigaclear’s fibre-to-the-premises service. This was something that the business guests were finding that was “beyond the norm” for guest-access Wi-Fi networks.

This leads on to the feasibility to use cloud-based business systems which avoids the need to maintain servers on the premises and is considered an essential business tool.

The local communities have benefited from the broadband deployments due to increased cohesion. This was even evident in the initial stages of each project because of the initial curiosity surrounding the projects and that the visibility of the works taking place meant that something good is happening for their village. Some of the townsfolk in each community may want to preserve the status quo but more of them wanted an Internet service better than what the were being provided with.

There have been anecdotal reports of local property values increasing due to the arival of fibre broadband as I have covered before but Gigaclear haven’t seen this as evidence for themselves with any of their rollouts.

But where Gigaclear stands when it comes to providing Internet service is that they will exist as a pureplay broadband provider. That is where their business is about providing an Internet service alone rather than offering a voice telephony or pay-TV service.

Gigaclear are also operating this infrastructure as an infrastructure provider to serve these communities. This is to allow competing retail-level Internet service providers to include the villages in their footprint if they wish to do so.

BT are saying that they are doing the right thing when they are covering Britain’s rural areas but there needs to be a lot more work done to provide a proper level of service for these communities. A lot of these issues aren’t just about adding the necessary equipment but more about making sure that the wiring to the customer’s door is working properly.

What is showing up from the interview is that Gigaclear are putting the pedal to the metal when it comes to deploying infrastructure in to rural communities in order to provide a broadband service that would be considered the norm for big business in the city.

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Colorado defeats anti-competitive legislation at the polls

Article

Colorado Voters Shoot Down State’s Awful Broadband Law | Broadband News & DSL Reports

Voters Quiet the Drums At the Polls in Colorado | Community Broadband Networks

My Comments

This Election Day has yielded a break for community broadband infrastructure and real broadband competition in the USA.

This has occurred in Colorado which is one of many states that  enacted protectionist legislation written by incumbent telcos and cable-TV operators to prohibit local governments from setting up broadband infrastructure for community-broadband efforts. These laws are written with a veil of preventing mismanagement of public funds by local government when it comes to creating broadband infrastructure or municipal wireless broadband setups, but are really to protect the likes of Comcast in operating broadband-service cartels.

The law that was in place in Colorado required a ballot measure to be put to referendum by the local government if that government wished to set up broadband infrastructure that had any sort of public funding. 43 of these communities ran referenda about this topic on this year’s Election Day and the results turned up in the favour of the local government wanting to establish a community broadband service in these areas.

The victory was driven because CenturyLink and Comcast were suffocating the quality of broadband service that was offered in that state as is common in must of the USA. Citizens were seeing a reality that a high-quality broadband service that is value for money can only be achieved with real competition as has been noticed when competitive deployments like Google Fiber were rolled out.

Such laws were also found to be suffocating economic development and private investment because of the inability for public-private broadband infrastructure projects to go ahead. As well, it would be hard to do business in areas affected by these laws because today’s business operations are relying on information to be provided at the speed of light. This is more so with small and medium business who is after a decent broadband Internet service that doesn’t stifle them financially.

The community broadband services, which typically are maintained by the electric utility ran by the local government can also allow for a European-style shared-infrastructure model where retail broadband operators can rent bandwidth on the infrastructure to facilitate their Internet services This is in addition to the local government providing broadband to schools and libraries, covering their Internet-service needs and even being in a position to sell broadband service to the community.

As well, this competition can effectively give CenturyLink and Comcast the “kick in the pants” they need to raise their game when it comes to value for money and customer-service attitudes. Who doesn’t want all their customers churning to better service?

At least this Election Day in the US represented a step towards real competition for that country’s broadband Internet services.

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Broadband service competition arrives in more US communities

Articles

Google Fiber Hiring Employees for Portland Launch | Broadband News & DSL Reports

Google Fiber Eyes Oklahoma City, Jacksonville, and Tampa | Broadband News & DSL Reports

Google Fiber Announced for Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (Updated: Jacksonville and Tampa Too) | Droid Life

My Comments

Google Fiber have put their foot in the Portland soil by opening some local customer-service jobs in that Oregon City. This is also in addition to liaising with the city’s local government regarding the placement of fibre-optic huts. These are effectively the hubs that can provide the fibre-optic service to neighbourhoods of 40,000 households and businesses.

The Oregon state government are making this easier by working on nearly-complete legislation that provides various state-level tax breaks for Gigabit next-generation broadband deployments. I see this as a state-level proactive step to open up real competition for broadband and allied telecommunications services.

But Google are also eyeing bring real competition to Oklahoma City in Oklahoma along with  Jacksonville and Tampa in Florida. These cities have signed up because they have a strong business and technology-driven economy that will benefit from the Google Fiber service.

Google have placed some requirements on the local governments to make the path clear for deployment of the fibre infrastructure including sharing city-infrastructure details. But they also have to deal with state governments that have passed legislation that prohibits the availability of Internet service that competes with local cable TV and “Baby Bell” interests.

As I have noticed from previous accounts, the arrival of Google Fiber in a US community has caused the local “Baby Bell” or cable-TV company to raise the bar as far as pricing and customer service goes. This is because they fear that customers in their locality will churn to Google Fiber as quickly as possible because of the improved value.

Similarly, Google have also used these deployments as a way o build up computer and Internet literacy in disadvantaged communities in some of the cities they touch like what has happened in Austin, Texas. This is because most business is being transacted online and some users like older people and blue-collar workers may find themselves floundering with this new life.

Keep up the work, Google!

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