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Verizon’s Broken Promise to Wire All of NYC With FiOS Results in Lawsuit

Two years after Verizon promised its FiOS fiber to the home service would be available to every resident of New York City, the city sued Verizon Communications on Monday, alleging Verizon failed to meet its commitment.

The 19-page lawsuit, filed in New York’s Supreme Court, contrasts the city’s interpretation of Verizon’s commitments laid out in a 2008 franchise agreement against Verizon’s claim it has met its obligations. Central to the case is the city’s claim tens of thousands of New Yorkers cannot get FiOS service from Verizon, even though Verizon’s fiber network may be running down the street.

“Verizon must face the consequences for breaking the trust of 8.5 million New Yorkers,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. He added that, “It’s 2017 and we’re done waiting. No corporation — no matter how large or powerful — can break a promise to New Yorkers and get away with it.”

A 2015 audit conducted by the city and testimony given in public hearings confirmed Verizon had failed to wire every building for service, despite what the city believed was Verizon’s promise to do so.

Verizon defended its actions, claiming it had met its obligations to New York City by providing FiOS fiber-to-the-home infrastructure throughout the five boroughs. The problem, according to Verizon, is intransigent building owners that have obstructed Verizon’s entry to get service to tenants. Verizon’s defense does come with some evidence. The company has filed numerous complaints with New York’s Public Service Commission to gain entry to properties in the city that have either ignored Verizon’s efforts to wire their buildings or actively opposed it.

Some landlords claimed no tenants in their building wanted Verizon FiOS and the telephone company wasn’t welcome. Others accused Verizon installers of damaging buildings or performing shoddy work and sought assurances Verizon will meet the building owner’s installation standards. Some live-in building managers have even demanded kickbacks or free service in return for entry. New York State law gives Verizon a right of entry and the company has followed legal channels to eventually gain admittance.

Difficulties with landlords alone cannot account for many other instances where willing customers were told service was not available. In some cases, even city officials seeking FiOS were themselves told repeatedly it was unavailable.

Verizon’s defense is likely to come down to a single industry phrase — “homes passed.”

The former Bloomberg Administration signed an agreement with Verizon that committed Verizon to wire its fiber network citywide. Verizon interpreted the contract to mean installing fiber infrastructure that passes every major property in New York, but not wiring every property for the service. The current de Blasio administration argues the contract means Verizon should be able to reach every customer that wants FiOS service within 7-14 days of receiving an order.

Verizon’s lawyer indirectly conceded Verizon has not made the service available to every household that might want the service.

In a letter sent last week to Anne M. Roest, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, Craig Silliman, Verizon’s general counsel, wrote:

“[…]We now pass all households in the city and can provide service to over 2.2 million households within seven to 14 days of receiving a service request.”

According to data from Baruch College, New York City had 3,129,147 households as of 2015, leaving at least 900,000 households unaccounted for.

Verizon’s fiber network may run down the street of each of those homes, but the lawsuit contends Verizon has been unwilling or unable to wire them for service.

“Although Verizon claims it ‘passed’ all residential premises, Verizon still does not accept orders from all city residents,” the city audit concluded. “In fact, it still informs residents that service is ‘unavailable’ at an address if their network has not been created on the block.”

The city and several consumer and civic groups have implored Verizon to ‘speed it up’ for the last two years but contend Verizon’s response has been inadequate, which led to the lawsuit.

McConville

Common Cause New York has been pushing for more FiOS service for years and reports consumers are frustrated with Verizon’s inability to deliver service. They now suspect Verizon’s unwillingness to expand FiOS comes from a lack of investment to complete its fiber network.

“People continue to be very frustrated because it appears that Verizon is motivated by what will be most profitable for them — what buildings to wire and what buildings to ignore,” Common Cause New York’s executive director Susan Lerner told the New York Times. “This really is about undertaking an ambitious obligation and then deciding halfway through that it’s not worth it. We are very happy to see the city holding the vendor’s feet to the fire. This is absolutely what should be done.”

Verizon appeared frustrated for another reason, shared by company spokesman Raymond McConville.

“On a day where the city is preparing for the biggest blizzard of the season, it’s sad that the mayor’s focus is on pursuing a frivolous lawsuit,” McConville wrote in an email to the Times. “The de Blasio administration is disingenuously attempting to rewrite the terms of an agreement made with its predecessor and is acting in its own political self-interests that are completely at odds with what’s best for New Yorkers. We plan to vigorously fight the city’s allegations.”

And if that doesn’t work, McConville threatened Verizon may not seek a franchise renewal when the current one ends in three years.

British Company Solves High Cost of Last Mile Fiber Installation: Use Existing Water Pipes

The Atlantis T-Series is designed to bring a bundle of fiber optic cables to small hamlets or villages through a central water supply system.

One of the biggest barriers to making fiber-to-the-home broadband service available in suburban and rural areas is the cost to dig a trench or string a cable across a property to reach the customer. A British company has patented a clever solution to this last-mile problem by inserting a tiny conduit into pre-existing water supply lines that contains enough optical fiber to power tens of gigabits of internet speed into even the most difficult to reach homes and businesses.

The Craley Group’s Atlantis Hydrotec solution places two temporary holes in the water supply line at the street connection and inside the home through which the non-toxic, environmentally friendly conduit containing the optical fibers passes with no effect on the water supply. The impact on the homeowner is limited to a quick visit to install a connection from the home’s incoming water pipe to an internet router. No trenching or digging is required, and the cost savings from not having to bring in heavy digging equipment, obtain permits to manage traffic-disrupting digs, or tear up lawns and gardens are as high as 70%, making fiber installation cheap and fast for providers.

Craley’s inexpensive solution can make the difference between getting rural fiber broadband or not. In suburban and rural areas, the company’s “T-Series” conduit can be installed in a pre-existing neighborhood or village water system, with individual connections possible for each neighborhood, apartment, home and/or business along a route up to two kilometers long. Up to 288 individual optical fibers are available for use by the provider in each segment. Multiple segments can be used to further extend the network as needed.

Repurposing existing utility infrastructure is not a new idea. Using sewer pipes to accommodate fiber optic cables has been around for several years, and some communities have used them for delivering broadband. But not every project has been successful, and using water pipes for broadband may run into similar problems.

The two primary reasons repurposing infrastructure projects like these fail are money and politics, and it is often for both reasons. If the water authority in an area objects to its infrastructure being tampered with, it is unlikely a provider will win permission to use Craley’s solution. Some water managers may fear the physical connections to existing water pipes could weaken or damage them, although Craley insists this is not the case. In communities where the water supply is a publicly owned resource, there may be political objections to allowing private companies to use public infrastructure — problems that might be resolved through contracts that include provider payments. But if those amounts are too high, licensing Craley’s method may no longer deliver the promised potential savings. In other cases, it may simply come down to a managerial “control” issue.

Consumer confusion can also pose a problem, especially among those that believe any exposure to electronic signals of any kind will impact their health. Fiber optics, of course, transports light signals, but that fact may not be understood by everyone.

There are also examples of communities that had to abandon sewer pipe conduits in favor of traditional trenching because of difficult to overcome objections from local authorities that manage the sewer system, fearing sewer cables will create blockages or other obstructions. Craley hopes the fact its system does not place optical fibers in contact with the water supply and is very unlikely to be an obstacle to the delivery of safe drinking water will overcome traditional skepticism. The technology has proven effective in a small community near Barcelona, Spain, where fiber to the home service was installed using Craley’s system.

It didn’t hurt that the company installing the fiber optic system was the same one that maintains and operates the local water system, which cut through any potential red tape or concerns.

“We have been most impressed with this system and during the installation we gained great insight into the product, installation techniques, and our engineering staff got on-the-job training,” said Jose Maria, the general manager of ATCA, the local water company. “We can really see the advantages of this solution.”

Additional field trials are also underway in New Zealand.

This Craley Group-produced video talks about the benefits of using existing utility infrastructure instead of trenching to supply fiber optic broadband to homes. (3:21)

This company produced video explores the problems faced by rural homeowners with no or inadequate broadband, and how using innovative methods of bringing fiber to the home need not be too expensive. (3:12)

Community Broadband Battle in Savannah Media Pits Local GOP Against Broadband Choice

Savannah, Ga.

The very idea that a city would get involved in selling better broadband service to its residents has sparked a coordinated campaign to sully municipally owned providers and color the results of an ongoing study to determine if Savannah, Ga. is getting the kind of internet access it needs.

While the city and county continue their Broadband Fiber-Optic Feasibility Study and survey residents about incumbent providers including AT&T, Comcast, and Hargray Communications, an organized pressure campaign coordinated by the Chatham County GOP is well underway to undermine any idea the city should compete against the three dominant local internet providers.

“The purpose of this study is to examine how we are currently served with broadband infrastructure, particularly focused on the services available to our community residents, anchor institutions, businesses, and key services like public safety, health and education,” a Savannah city spokesperson told Stop the Cap!

The city’s goal is to: “confirm that residents, anchor institutions and businesses have access to the services they need and that those services are competitively priced.” Incumbent providers are betting the answer to that question will likely be no and have started early opposition to discourage the city from attempting to build its own broadband network. Comcast and AT&T have apparently teamed up with the local Chatham County GOP to defend current providers in suspiciously similar-sounding letters to the editor.

Consider two examples.

About a month ago, Stephen Plunk, executive secretary of the Chatham County Republican Party, liberally sprinkled talking points provided by outside think tanks in an editorial published by the Savannah Morning News:

The Savannah Morning News published this ominous illustration adjacent to a guest editorial from a Chatham County GOP official opposing public broadband.

Only 6,000 residents in Chatham County, out of about 280,000, do not have access to wired internet of any sort. About 90 percent of Savannah residents can choose from two or more wired internet service providers . The city’s current residential providers offer speeds up to 105 mbps, and its 12 business providers offer speeds that are generally between 100 mbps and one gigabit.

Private providers also are making big new investments here. Last year, Hargray Communications announced a plan to offer one gigabit speeds to Lowcountry customers. In March, Comcast announced its intention to offer 10-gigabit speeds to city businesses. Last month, AT&T said it also will begin offering superfast capacity.

Next, let’s look at whether a city should provide service directly to customers. Or, is it wise? To determine that, the city council must ask itself whether it wants to go down the path of Marietta, which ran its own internet company several years ago but was forced to sell that network at a loss when it failed to turn a profit year after year. Marietta’s mayor eventually admitted the city never should have become an ISP. There are government ISPs that do make a profit every year, but they are rare. Chattanooga’s government-run system is often touted as a model, but the city received more than $100 million from the federal government to get its system started.

This morning, Mary Flanders, chairwoman of the Chatham County GOP wrote essentially the same things in an “opposing views” piece published by the Connect Savannah weekly newspaper (and at least cited some of her sources):

They should proceed carefully. Cautionary tales about municipal broadband networks abound.

Consider the situation in Marietta, the sprawling suburb northwest of Atlanta. Marietta started its own municipal network that stretched along a 210-mile long route. After spending $35 million to build out the network, Marietta earned a grand total of 180 customers.

The then-Mayor said the city couldn’t keep pace with the expenses associated with the constant flood of technology upgrades required to manage a broadband network. The city ultimately sold the network in 2004 for a $20 million loss.

Pacific Research Institute, in a report on municipal broadband, found that “Mariettans had decided that they would rather take a $20.33 million loss than continue to subsidize a municipal telecom venture that was sucking their city dry.”

Marietta may be relatively close to home, but it’s not the only example. Provo, Utah spent $40 million to build its network, only to sell it to Google Fiber for the princely sum of $1. In Groton, Connecticut, taxpayers lost $38 million.

City leaders need to consider the downside risk to municipal services if and when the broadband network fails to attract customers and generate case. The shortfall has to be made up somewhere. Where will the money come from? Tax hikes?

Budget cuts to basic services or to the police or fire department? Try explaining that to voters come election time, especially if the crime rate is on the rise.

According to Kelly McCutcheon, President of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, typically the consultants are the only ones who come out good on these deals. It would be a bitter pill to swallow by Savannah citizens and city leaders alike.

Let’s dig into some of the specifics on Internet needs in Savannah. Of the 280,000 residents in Chatham County, only 6,000 residents do not have access to wired Internet of any kind. About 90% of Savannah residents can choose from two or more wired Internet service providers (ISPs).

The city’s current residential providers offer speeds up to 105 mbps, and its twelve business providers offer speeds that are generally between 100 mbps and one gigabit, which is considered to be very speedy in the Internet world.

Private providers also are making big new investments in the area. Last year, Hargray Communications announced a plan to offer one gigabit speeds to Lowcountry customers. In March, Comcast announced its intention to offer 10-gigabit speeds to city businesses. Last month, AT&T said it also would begin offering incredibly fast capacity to Savannah entrepreneurs.

On track to be profitable by 2006, local politics forced an early sale of the community fiber network that was succeeding.

Most of these talking points have been debunked by Stop the Cap! over our nine-year history. The examples of municipal broadband failures are so few and far between, we’ve come to recognize them, and many of the shop worn examples provided by the Chatham County Republicans are more than five years old.

In Groton, Conn., the emergence of a municipal provider inspired network upgrades and more competition from Comcast while the phone company Southern New England Telephone (later AT&T and today Frontier Communications) did everything possible to keep the publicly owned provider from offering phone services to customers. In the end, Comcast undercut the municipal provider and AT&T’s deployment of U-verse created problems for the then-rosy revenue projections the municipal provider was depending on to recoup its original construction costs. The network was sold five years ago to a private provider and customers still appreciate the quality of the original network today run by Thames Valley Communications, which rates four out of five stars while its competitors Frontier and Comcast rate two. It would be wrong to assume today’s municipal broadband providers have not learned important lessons and now account for incumbents responding to competition with heavily discounted rate retention plans for customers threatening to leave, as well as network upgrades. Revenue projections have become more conservative, both to deal with unexpected construction costs and the revenue likely to be earned in light of cut-rate plans from the competition. But many customers make the switch anyway, persuaded by the quality and reliability of superior fiber networks, rate stability, and a more responsive level of customer service.

The networks in Provo, Utah and Marietta, Ga., are examples of what happens when politicians opposed to the concept of municipal broadband intentionally meddle with them in an effort to prove an ideological argument or to help move along a pre-conceived sale of publicly owned infrastructure to private companies.

In Provo, the fiber to the home network was built and quickly hamstrung by a Utah state law that forbade the city from selling broadband service to the public. Instead, it had to sell wholesale access to private companies it had to attract, who in turn would provide service to the public. Imagine a marketing campaign for a new provider that required customers to deal with two unfamiliar providers just to sign up.

Christopher Mitchell, who studies municipal networks and advocates for community involvement in broadband, wrote a year ago iProvo was facing serious challenges primarily because politicians and industry lobbyists got in the way:

“Industry lobbyists convinced Utah legislators to restrict local authority over municipal networks to ‘protect’ taxpayers and that argument is still frequently used today by groups opposing local internet choice. The law does not actually revoke local authority to invest in networks, it monkeys around with how local governments can finance the networks and requires that municipalities use the wholesale-only model rather than offering services directly.

“However, the debt-financed citywide wholesale-only model has proven to be the riskiest approach of municipal networks. Building a municipal fiber network where the city can ensure a high level of service is hard and can be a challenge to make work financially. Trying to do that while having less control over quality of service and splitting revenues with 3rd parties is much harder.”

Marietta’s experience with municipal broadband failed only because a new mayor unilaterally declared it an ideological failure and sold the network at a loss for political reasons. We covered that debacle ourselves back in 2012:

In Marietta, the public broadband “collapse” was one-part political intrigue and two-parts media myth.

Marietta FiberNet was never built as a fiber-to-the-home service for residential customers.  Instead, it was created as an institutional and business-only fiber network, primarily for the benefit of large companies in northern Cobb County and parts of Atlanta.  The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported on July 29, 2004 that Marietta FiberNet “lost” $24 million and then sold out at a loss to avoid any further losses.  But in fact, the sloppy journalist simply calculated the “loss” by subtracting the construction costs from the sale price, completely ignoring the revenue the network was generating for several years to pay off the costs to build the network.

In reality, Marietta FiberNet had been generating positive earnings every year since 2001 and was fully on track to be in the black by the first quarter of 2006.

So why did Marietta sell the network?  Politics.

Marietta’s then-candidate for mayor, Bill Dunway, did not want the city competing with private telecommunications companies.  If elected, he promised he would sell the fiber network to the highest bidder.

He won and he did, with telecommunications companies underbidding for a network worth considerably more, knowing full well the mayor treated the asset as “must go at any price.”  The ultimate winner, American Fiber Systems, got the whole network for a song.  Contrary to claims from that the network was a “failure,” AFS retained the entire management of the municipal system and continued following the city’s marketing plan.  So much for the meme government doesn’t know how to operate a broadband business.

While members of the Chatham County GOP took potshots at outside consultants hired to consider whether Savannah should explore offering community broadband, Ms. Flanders was far more sanguine about her sources: the Pacific Research Institute (PRI) and the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

In fact, the Pacific “Research Institute” doesn’t do independent research and it’s not an institute. It’s a right-wing, dark money-funded think tank with ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch Brothers. The Georgia Public Policy Foundation, like PRI, prides itself on not revealing the sources of its funding, but SourceWatch uncovered their financial ties to the Donors Capital Fund, a corporate-“murky money maze” specifically designed to hide corporate contributions and the motives those companies have to send the money. So it isn’t a stretch to assume that when a think tank suddenly takes an interest in municipal broadband, checks from AT&T, Comcast, and others have proven to be helpful motivators.

Altice’s Cablevision Scrapping Hybrid Fiber-Coax for New Fiber to the Home Service

Altice, the new owner of Cablevision, is not following the rest of the U.S. cable industry by rolling out the next generation of cable broadband — DOCSIS 3.1 — and will instead scrap coaxial cable entirely in favor of a new, all-fiber network.

The cable industry has depended on some form of coaxial cable to offer its service since about 1950, when the first mom and pop operators set up shop offering community antenna television service in areas that could not easily receive over the air TV stations. Most American cable systems today still use the coaxial cable installed in millions of homes starting in the 1970s, supplemented by outdoor coaxial cable that is often 10-20 years old, supported by a more recent fiber backbone network that improves system reliability and maintenance.

Cable systems were originally designed to deliver analog cable television signals, but over the years bandwidth has been set aside to offer ancillary services like video game products, home security and alarm monitoring, digital radio/music, telephone, and broadband. Because of the billions of dollars invested in existing cable networks, the idea of scrapping existing wiring in favor of fiber optics has been largely rejected by the industry as too costly. As broadband service increasingly becomes cable’s most important service, network engineers have instead worked to realign bandwidth to support faster internet speeds, most commonly by upgrading to more efficient cable broadband transmission standards and by removing space hogs like analog television channels from the lineup.

Regardless of what the cable industry does to increase the efficiency of its hybrid coaxial-fiber networks (known as ‘HFC’), they will never achieve the capacity and robustness of all-fiber networks, which may be why Altice is seeking to stop investing in old technology in favor of something new and better.

Altice’s management is legendary in its zeal to cut costs, so an expensive deployment of fiber to the home service to 8.3 million Cablevision/Optimum and Suddenlink customers would seem contrary to the company’s promise to wring out about $900 million in cost savings for the benefit of shareholders after acquiring Cablevision. DOCSIS 3.1 is clearly a cheaper alternative than rewiring millions of homes for all-fiber service. Last summer, Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries estimated that Liberty Global’s costs to deploy the cheaper DOCSIS 3.1 option in Europe would bring gigabit speeds to customers for about $21 per home — a fraction of the cost of tearing out coaxial cable and replacing it with fiber, estimated to cost about $500 a customer.

But Altice wants to future-proof its network with fiber technology that can support profitable next-generation services that may need speed in excess of a gigabit. Dexter Goei, Altice USA’s chairman and CEO, told Multichannel News Altice was not interested in undertaking incremental upgrades every few years trying to keep up with the internet speed demands of its customers:

Goei

Going with a DOCSIS 3.1 game plan “felt to us as one step forward but not a step forward enough relative to what we see as the future of continued connectivity and higher bandwidth usage,” Dexter Goei, Altice USA’s chairman and CEO, said in an interview, noting that the operator has reached an “inflection point” as it sees a disproportionate number of gross broadband subscriber additions taking higher and higher Internet speed tiers.

“We’re big believers in this trend continuing, and we really are moving toward a 10-gig world,” Goei said. “And to sit around and do this in multiple steps doesn’t make any sense [so we decided] to skip over DOCSIS 3.1 and get straight to the point.”

The cable industry may also be exaggerating the cost of fiber upgrades, especially when they cite the financial challenges experienced by Verizon (FiOS) and AT&T (U-verse) as both built out their respective fiber and fiber-copper networks from the ground up. Cablevision and Suddenlink will not have to build fiber networks from end to end because a significant part of their networks already include a substantial amount of fiber optics. Altice would simply extend the amount of fiber in its network to reach each customer.

Fiber to the home upgrades for Cablevision and Suddenlink customers.

Wall Street remains concerned about where the money to build the project, dubbed “Generation Gigaspeed,” is coming from. The Communications Workers of America is also afraid the money will come, in part, from significant downsizing and salary cuts.

Earlier this week, Altice announced it was spinning off its engineering and technical workers to a new independent entity — Altice Technical Services (ATS). When the spinoff is complete, it will employ as many as 4,500 of Altice’s current workforce of 17,000 employees nationwide, and will eventually manage Cablevision and Suddenlink service calls, outdoor network plant design, construction and maintenance, and house all of Altice’s employees servicing commercial accounts.

Although details remain murky, the union is concerned Altice could be engineering an end run around the New York Public Service Commission’s order approving the buyout of Cablevision if Altice did not lay off any New York workers for the next four years.

“We’re very concerned,” CWA District 1 assistant to the vice president Robert Master said. “But we haven’t fully unpacked it yet. We don’t know what they have in mind.”

CWA District 1 organizer Tim Dubnau was more blunt, telling Multichannel News: “We definitely smell a rat.”

Assuming ATS is configured as an independent entity, it will not be required to adhere to the NY PSC order prohibiting reductions of Cablevision’s customer-facing workforce in New York State, which theoretically could allow Altice to dramatically downsize.

Outside of New York, Altice’s cost cutting has followed a long established pattern company executives have followed in Europe for years, where Altice also offers service. In France, battles over toiletries and office supplies resulted in workers bringing their own toilet tissue to work. Downsizing, despite regulatory orders prohibiting layoffs, went ahead in France as company officials thumbed their noses at regulators. In the United States, a familiar pattern is emerging, charges Altice’s critics. Almost 600 call center workers were terminated in November in Connecticut, and other cutbacks have taken place in North Carolina and other states.

Late last week, the NY Post reported Cablevision employees are now complaining about an increasingly miserable office life as they endure penny-penching from their bosses. In New York, top management reportedly ordered the removal of many office printers to reduce the expense of replacement ink cartridges. Office cleaning expenses have also been reportedly slashed by increasing the length of time between cleanings. Even the cost of an ice machine for a break room has come under intense scrutiny, as cost management specialists demand better deals and less costly equipment. Much of the removed equipment provides one last service to Altice – a tax write-off after being removed from service and donated to charities.

Employees report unprecedented intensity of cost cutting and lengthy scrutiny of almost every expense. Some claim to have resorted to buying certain equipment and supplies out of pocket just to avoid drawing management scrutiny. Employee morale is reportedly low — especially at Cablevision, where reduced pay packages predominate under Altice ownership. Management has told employees to hold out for a planned IPO, which could allow them to reap some of the benefits of a Wall Street-fueled cash-raising exercise likely to be put to work buying up other cable operators in 2017.

The pain of cost-cutting isn’t exactly reaching the top level executive suites, however. Despite a very public dispensing of Cablevision’s lush Dolan family corporate jet immediately after Altice took ownership of Cablevision, a replacement nearly identical to the original was quietly been put into service for the benefit of Altice’s management, according to the newspaper.

Assuming Altice can raise the money to pay for its fiber upgrade, it is expected to be completed within five years for all Cablevision and most, but not all Suddenlink customers.

Google Fiber’s CEO Out of a Job; Fiber Expansion on Hold Indefinitely in Many Cities

Down the rabbit hole

Down the rabbit hole

Google has quietly announced an indefinite suspension of further fiber expansion as it prepares to downsize fiber division employees and re-evaluate its fiber business model.

In a blog post tonight from Craig Barratt, senior vice president of Alphabet and CEO of Google’s Access division, it becomes clear Google is rethinking its entire fiber strategy and is likely moving towards fixed wireless technology going forward:

Now, just as any competitive business must, we have to continue not only to grow, but also stay ahead of the curve — pushing the boundaries of technology, business, and policy — to remain a leader in delivering superfast Internet. We have refined our plan going forward to achieve these objectives. It entails us making changes to focus our business and product strategy. Importantly, the plan enhances our focus on new technology and deployment methods to make superfast Internet more abundant than it is today.

Barratt outlines the immediate implications of Google’s dramatic shift:

  • In the cities where we’ve launched or are under construction, our work will continue;
  • For most of our “potential Fiber cities” — those where we’ve been in exploratory discussions — we’re going to pause our operations and offices while we refine our approaches. In this handful of cities that are still in an exploratory stage, and in certain related areas of our supporting operations, we’ll be reducing our employee base.
Barratt

Barratt

Barratt himself is jumping ship (or was pushed). He announced in his blog entry he is “stepping away” from his CEO role, but will remain as an “adviser.”

Observing Google’s recent fiber efforts and acquisitions, it seems clear Google no longer thinks fiber-to-the-home service is an economically viable solution in light of competitors like AT&T rolling out increasing amounts of fiber and the cable industry is on the cusp of launching DOCSIS 3.1, which will dramatically boost internet speeds without a substantial capital investment.

Google’s investors have been lukewarm about the company’s economic commitments relating to its fiber broadband networks. Often built from the ground up, Google’s fiber construction complexities also include trying to navigate costly roadblocks established by their competitors (notably Comcast and AT&T), dealing with bureaucracies and red tape even in states where near-total-deregulation was supposed to make competition easy. Google Fiber has also not proved to be a runaway economic success, and now faces more challenges in light of upgrades from their competitors. Cable companies have slashed prices for customers threatening to cancel and have added free services or upgrades to persuade customers to stay, and Google’s proposition of selling consumers $70 gigabit access has proved tougher than expected.

It is highly likely the future of Google’s Access business will be deploying wireless broadband solutions powered by Webpass, a company Google acquired earlier this year. Webpass uses a high-speed point to point wireless transmission system the company claims can deliver gigabit broadband access to customers in multi-dwelling buildings and other urban areas. Webpass sells access for $60 a month (discounted to $550/yr if paid in advance) for 100Mbps-1,000Mbps speed depending on network density and capacity in the customer’s building. So far, Webpass has not been able to guarantee speed levels, and some customers report significant variability depending on their location and network demand.

Webpass’ wireless infrastructure costs a fraction of what Google has coped with building fiber to the home networks, and the installation of point-to-point wireless antennas on participating buildings has been less of a regulatory nightmare than digging up streets and yards to lay optical fiber.

webpassBut despite Webpass’ claim its performance is comparable to fiber, its inability to guarantee customers a certain speed level and its tremendous performance variability from 100 to 1,000Mbps exposes one of the weaknesses of fixed wireless networks. At a time when capacity is king, only fiber optic networks have shown a consistent ability to deliver synchronous broadband speeds that do not suffer the variability of shared networks, poor antenna placement/signal levels, or harmful interference.

There is room for wireless technology to grow and develop, as evidenced by the wireless industry’s excitement surrounding future 5G networks and their ability to offer a home broadband replacement. The emergence of 5G competition is almost certainly also a factor in Google’s decision. But even AT&T and Verizon acknowledge a robust 5G network will require a robust fiber backhaul network to support both speed and user demand. The more users sharing a network, the slower the speed for all users. No doubt Webpass has made the same assumption that cable operators did in the early days of DOCSIS 1 — current internet applications won’t tax a network enough to create a traffic logjam that would be noticed by most customers. The phone companies also learned a similar lesson trying to serve too many DSL customers from inadequate middle mile networks or traffic concentration points. (Some phone companies are still learning.)

Whether it was yesterday’s peer-to-peer file sharing or today’s online video, capacity matters. That is why fiber broadband remains the gold standard of broadband technology. Fiber is infinitely upgradable, reliable, and robust. Wireless is not, at least not yet. But technology arguments rarely matter at publicly-traded corporations that answer to Wall Street and investors, and it appears Google’s backers have had enough of Google Fiber.

Stop the Cap!’s View

tollAt Stop the Cap!, we believe these developments further the argument broadband is an essential utility best administered for the public good and not solely as a profit-motivated venture. The path to fiber to the home service in rural, suburban, and urban communities has and will continue to come from a mix of private and public utilities, just as local public and private gas and electric companies have served this country for the last century. Where there is a business model for fiber to the home service that investors support, there is a for-profit fiber provider. Where there isn’t, now there is often no service at all. So far, the FCC in conjunction with Congress has seen fit to solve broadband availability problems by bribing private providers into offering service (usually low-speed DSL that does not even meet the FCC’s definition of broadband) with cash subsidies, tax write-offs, or occasional tax abatement schemes. Imagine if we followed that model with the nation’s public roads and highways. We would today be paying tolls or a subscription to travel down roads built and owned by a private company often financed by tax dollars.

Not every product or service needs to earn Wall Street-sized profits. Nobody needs to get rich selling water, gas, and electricity… or broadband. Public broadband networks can and should be established wherever they are needed, and they should be priced to recover their costs as well as expenses that come from support, billing, and ongoing upgrades. Naysayers like to claim municipal broadband is socialism run wild or an instant economic failure, yet the same model has provided Americans with reliable and affordable gas, electricity, and clean water for over 100 years.

Maine was made for municipal broadband.

Maine was made for municipal broadband.

In New York, publicly owned/municipal utilities often charge a fraction of the price charged by investor-owned utilities. In Rochester, where Stop the Cap! is headquartered, one need only ask a utility customer if they would prefer to pay the prices charged by for-profit Rochester Gas & Electric or live in a suburb where a municipal provider like Fairport Electric or Spencerport Electric offers service. RG&E has charged customers well over 10¢ a kilowatt-hour when demand peaks (along with a minimum connection charge of over $21/mo and a “bill issuance charge” of 72¢/mo). Spencerport Electric charges 2.9¢ a kilowatt-hour and a connection charge of $2.66 a month, and they issue their bills for free. There is a reason real estate listings entice potential buyers by promoting the availability of municipal utility service. The same has proven true with fiber-to-the-home broadband service.

The economic arguments predicting doom and gloom are far more wrong than right. Municipal utilities are often best positioned to offer broadband because they already have experience providing reliable service and billing and answer to the needs of their local communities. Incompetence is not an option when providing reliable clean water or electricity to millions of homes and customers have rated their public utilities far superior to private phone or cable companies.

Google’s wireless future may prove a success, but probably only in densely populated urban areas where a point-to-point wireless network can run efficiently and profitably. It offers no solution to suburban, exurban, or rural Americans still waiting for passable internet access. Clearly, Google is not the “free market” solution to America’s pervasive rural broadband problem. It’s time to redouble our efforts for public broadband solutions that don’t need a seal of approval from J.P. Morgan or Goldman Sachs.

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