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E-Paper: RLECS and Muni Broadband

This New Edge “E-Paper” explores opportunities for rural communications providers in municipal broadband network initiatives. This article intended to be an open source document to which readers are encouraged to comment and contribute. The author thanks Dave Brodin of Smithville Fiber for his contributions. A list of selected bibliographic references and source materials can be found at the bottom of this page.

CONTENTS

Installment 1

→           Overview

→           Value proposition and broadband growth

→           Fiber

→           Wireless

Installment 2

→           Discussion framework

Local advantage

               What will this community do with broadband?

How does the municipality view its role?

               What drives costs in this community?

→           Potential Benefits

               Municipality – permitting, easements

               Rural Broadband Provider – technical expertise and transactional experience

               Joint participation

OVERVIEW

Broadband is a growing force for economic development, education, health care, agriculture, public utilities and other vital community functions. Rural areas face special challenges in the prospects of enjoying access to state-of-the-art broadband networks. In most areas, small populations, coupled with low population densities, undermine the typical business model necessary to support capital-intensive infrastructure deployment.

In many rural areas served by large communications providers, municipalities are investigating the prospect of a municipally-owned network. Intense debate surrounds such projects, which have generated both successful and non-successful outcomes. Last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stepped into the fray, issuing landmark rulings sto strike down state laws that limited some municipal broadband networks; those decisions are now being appealed in court.

The path toward municipal broadband is neither always easy nor clear. This e-paper is intended to assist Rural Local Exchange Carriers (RLECs) and other small, locally-operated facilities-based rural service providers explore the feasibility of working with municipalities to deploy and operate voice networks capable of offering quality voice and broadband services. Typically, this would most likely occur in areas in which incumbent communications firms are not today providing broadband service that meets the community’s demand. This paper provides an analytical framework that rural providers can use to inform best practices and case-by-case decisions. Read more

Data Caps, Dead Miles and Finding Value in Zero

I attended a boarding school for high school. There is a legend that at some point, a well-heeled patron offered to underwrite construction of a swimming pool, which would have saved students from weekly bus rides to a rented facility. The school declined, citing worries about potential liabilities. The donor persisted, suggesting the pool could be locked securely during off hours, to which the president replied, “You don’t understand – with these boys, there is no such thing as a ‘lock.’”

In similar vein, the FCC recently seems to have exhibited some concerns about its open Internet pool, so to speak. Last month, the FCC asked the nation’s largest wireless carriers to visit. The call was less social than it was business, though the FCC emphasized that no investigation or enforcement action was pending. The Commission simply wanted additional information from providers that have identified practices that could be viewed as either (a) creative or (b) crafty (certain public interest organizations have indicated their concerns are closer to choice (b)).

Open Internet rules generally proscribe preferential treatment of some content providers over others. “Zero rating,” which exempts certain usage from subscriber data caps, has raised questions because it seemingly shifts certain (but not other) content into a “no fee” zone. T-Mobile, by way of example, offers Binge On, which permits users to download certain video at lower speeds outside of the data cap. Only certain content is eligible for this free offering, and customers have the option to opt-out of the program. Some observers note the opt-out clause, combined with the fact the T-Mobile is not affiliated with any of the content providers, steers T-Mobile  clear of regulatory foul territory. At a Washington event last week, T-Mobile defended its practices and urged the FCC to consider differences between wireline and wireless services when addressing zero rating practices.

Others, however, take a different view. Stanford Law professor Barbara van Schewick recently published a 51-page paper explaining why T-Mobile violates net neutrality principles. Motley Fool acknowledges the regulatory balance, but calls it a win-win program for consumers (free data) and T-Mobile (preserves network capacity). The Fool also notes the conundrum of YouTube: the Google subsidiary is not included the free content library offered by T-Mobile, but viewership has increased since Binge On was introduced.

The use of so-called “negative legal spaces” is also being raised in regard to Uber, which is using tracking devices to study driver behavior between payable rides. Several drivers have complained, and legal analysts have suggested that Uber’s use of “downtime data,” or “dead miles” as the drivers call them, without specifically compensating the drivers could contradict Uber’s claims that drivers are merely contractors and not employees.

And, zero is making news elsewhere, too: the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is set to decide the question of whether Coca Cola can claim trademark protection for the word “zero.” As in, “Coke Zero.” Canada and the U.K. have disallowed Coca Cola’s similar efforts in those countries.

 

 

The Virtual Secret of a Firm’s Focus

There was a time when the word “virtual” had little to do with reality, except, perhaps, the relative absence of reality. My high school rarely amended its schedule to account for weather, but one day the threat of a winter storm convinced the administration to cancel afternoon classes. Observing some weak flurries out the window, I wisecracked something about a “virtual snowstorm” to the principal, who strode into his office and emerged with a dictionary exclaiming, “By golly, he’s right!” Maybe he was pleased because one of students exhibited proper use of the English language.

This morning, news.com reports that Apple is said to have a secret virtual reality team. In reality, the secret is more virtual than actual, since on Saturday the Wall Street Journal reported Apple’s purchase of an image recognition start-up.

According to the WSJ, Apple declined to comment on the purchase, which would tend to support the firm’s work in augmented and virtual reality. Augmented reality adds digital images to the “real world;” the WSJ invoked the “yellow first down line” on TV football broadcasts as an example. Virtual reality, by contrast, refers to images that are viewed when using goggles or helmets, and which immerse the user in a virtual alternative environment.

In the past 30 days, Apple stock has fallen approximately 8.5 percent. Some observers have pegged the loss to a saturated tablet market and a softening Chinese market for phones. One analyst, however, cautioned investors to pause the urge to sell.

Although hardware sales have fallen, Apple revenues from iTunes and other services have increased. The analyst proposed that investors should eye the add-on services offered by Apple as true indicators of the firm’s performance and value.

The analysis is consistent with various schools of conventional wisdom that characterize Google as a data, rather than a search engine company (a view that seems to be earning, “Of course, what’s new?” types of responses), and Tesla as an energy storage, rather than an automotive, firm.

Several weeks ago, I heard a rural service provider explain that his firm was not the community’s telephone company; he explained that he led the community’s technology company.

Apple’s virtual reality team has reportedly grown to about 100 people. This presumably does not diminish the company’s work on devices, but does indicate the breadth with which the firm views its portfolio.

“Let’s Watch One More…”

In college, our dining hall’s official policy—as proudly proclaimed on a sign on the cafeteria wall—was “All You Care to Eat.”  Give them points for truth in advertising: there’s a distinct difference between that and “all you can eat.”  Most days, there were two choices, which we very cleverly (or so we thought) dubbed “bad” and “worse.”

In retrospect, perhaps it was a sloppily-imposed weight maintenance regime.  Given the spotty (at best) overall quality of the product being served, incentives to over-consume were minimal.  Putting on the proverbial “freshman 15” was certainly possible, but it required a cast iron gut.

One looking for an example of the end results of a combining a high-quality product with unlimited availability need look no further than the video streaming market of the early 21st century.  “Binge watching” is now part of the vernacular, as providers regularly release full seasons of programming all at once, allowing those so inclined to consume an entire season in one sitting.

All of this has not gone unnoticed by Time Warner Inc.  Last week, the company announced a new strategy designed to combat the success of Netflix in offering viewers “all you care to watch” programming. Time Warner is negotiating to make more full seasons of shows available on an “on demand” basis to their TV customers.  At the same time, Time Warner’s Warner Brothers studio announced it had sold a new series, “Lucifer”, to 21st Century Fox.  The entire first season of “Lucifer” will be available for binge watching by cable subscribers—the first time Warner Brothers has made a full season of a program available to a broadcast network. Read more

CES 2016-7: Wrap-Up and Impressions

CES2016 067On any given day, Las Vegas is sensory overload: the lights, the crowds, the sheer “bigness” and grandiosity of it all. Who imagined a set of canals snaking through an indoor shopping concourse? And, of course, the “Vegas factor,” which would probably make Lot hesitate and wonder whether he should just return to Sodom, instead. Add the lights, sights and sounds of CES, and the madness expands (except for the Biblical references, of course – it’s a clean show).

The reporting from CES is the easy part: take notes during the conference sessions and expo hall interactions with developers, pick the best points, summarize and post. It is this annual wrap-up, by contrast, that is a bit more difficult. It is relatively easy to identify the sectors that commanded attention, or to note the products that seemed the most innovative. It is tougher to stitch it all together and present an overview that captures the multi-faceted essence of the event and what it means to the rural communications industry. The easy answer, of course, is that the proliferation of connected devices relies upon robust networks, and that the task of keeping rural America at pace with the rest of the nation in matters such as health care, education and economic development will require connected communities. CES, however, puts some gloss (if not out-and-out flair) on that perspective. Read more

CES 2016-6: I Did Not Give Blood at CES

(Las Vegas) Things I did not see at CES this year: Google glass and “hoverboards.” The latter probably did not make it onto airplanes, but even on the show floor it was tough to spot one among the booths. Big this year: 360-degree cameras and drones.

A couple of odd notes. One, I did not give blood on the show floor. I was asked to donate a teaspoonful to aid stem cell research, but the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center (despite the visible boxes of latex gloves nearby) did not seem the safest place to accept a needle. Two, I will not win the lottery. I effectively spent my “one in a million” moment, or at least my “one in nearly a half a million” moment (based on attendance estimates of CES) when I bumped into a PR rep I met about 18 months ago at telemedicine conference in Baltimore; she estimated the odds of that happening at about finding a needle in four haystacks. Read more

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