The FCC’s other big vote: small cities await their broadband fate

The big battle over net neutrality will go to a vote on Thursday but, for many people in small cities, it’s the other item on the agenda that matters most: whether the agency will allow two towns to build their own broadband infrastructure.

“It’s a way of letting local communities control their own fate. I don’t see a difference between broadband and gas or electricity,” said Harold DePriest, who is the CEO of EBP, a city-run fiber network in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

His city, along with Wilson, North Carolina (population 49,000), will soon find out if the FCC will grant their request to pre-empt state laws that restrict municipalities’ ability to offer broadband.

Those state laws are necessary, according to their supporters, to protect taxpayers from profligate city governments. Critics claim, however, that the laws are the result of undue influence exercised in state capitals by big telecom companies seeking to preserve their monopolies.

For places like Chattanooga, a lot rides on the outcome. The town’s fiber network, which offers 100 megabyte broadband for $58 a month and a gigabyte for $70, has led Chattanooga to brand itself as the “gig city,” where companies reliant on high speed internet can set up shop. It’s also about access.

“We feel this is an issue of local control. Here in Tennessee, we have homes that live in a digital desert,” said DePriest, who added that municipalities in many places have to step in when corporations fail to build the high-speed internet that is essential for modern business, education and entertainment services.

If the agency grants the petition at Thursday’s vote, Chattanooga and Wilson will immediately be able to expand their offerings. More significantly, a vote in favor of the petitions will provide legal footing to other towns across the country that face restrictions on municipal broadband.

In the case of Chattanooga, DePriest says the state law has led the city utility to be dragged into court five times at considerable expense. He hopes Thursday’s FCC vote will put a stop to this.

“I don’t like litigation. The only ones who win are lawyers, but this is too important for small town America, it’s worth fighting for.”

The vote will take place late morning EST. The cities are expected to prevail since FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has indicated he is in favor of pre-emption. We’ll have an update on the outcome.

Routing breakthrough could boost long haul capacity by 40 percent

Combining the long haul fiber optic networks with IP transit routing networks could help telecom operators save 40 percent in costs or could let them boost their network capacity by the same amount, according to a study by Bell Labs. This matters to anyone who loves the internet, because while it’s cheap to zip those bits of zeros and ones around the globe, it’s not free and the capacity to do so isn’t actually infinite.

The pipes that carry our information do fill up, and any technology that helps cram more information into those pipes or enables the data to travel  on the cheap is something to cheer over. Hence my excitement over this Bell Labs research. Today fiber optic networks — the long haul networks that carry communications traffic via light waves under the oceans, across continents and even via shorter distances in densely populated areas that need a lot of capacity — are pretty static.

When a company buys capacity, a network engineer provisions that capacity by slotting a physical card into a box and turning on the electronics to give the customer a dedicated connection between two places, for example 100 Gbps of lit fiber that stretch from New York to London. If that fiber route is disturbed, like when a shark attacks an undersea cable (sharks love undersea cables!) then to reroute that capacity might require people slotting in cards or at a minimum making changes in a computer elsewhere.

IP networks are different. Thanks to smarter routers and automation, when IP networks encounter congestion they route around it and find alternate routes. That’s the point. The Bell Labs paper proposes we treat fiber networks more like IP networks by giving them more automated routing functions. It does this with control plane management software at the fiber layer allowing the fiber network to route around problems there just like one does at the IP layer.

Then you can manage the optical (fiber) network and the IP network together so when a shark takes out an oceanic cable or an errant backhoe cuts through a cable in downtown NYC, the network automatically finds a new way to deliver you your data, rather then send a bunch technicians scrambling to reconnect your dead office LAN.

This means the network is more agile and the operator can run more traffic through it and keep less of it available for those “just in case” moments, which is where the cost savings or capacity gains come in. They’ve basically bought themselves a bit more elasticity on their networks and can now use it to carry more traffic if they choose.

Arnold Jansen, one of the co-authors of the study explained that the results could be replicated in any carrier network using equipment from any equipment maker — although since Bell Labs is owned by [company]Alcatel Lucent[/company] he believes Alcatel Lucent gear will have an edge in getting the software upgrades on its gear to make these upgrades possible.

Already operators including Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom are conducting their own studies on this concept. Jansen says a large European national operator is trying it out on its network, but progress will be slow. Operators are in general a cautious group, which makes sense if your job has been to deliver five nines reliability (99.999 percent up time). However, as we move more information to the cloud and more of our lives online, the companies that provide that infrastructure will have no choice but to try to keep up with any and every technology that will make transferring bits more efficient.

Google Fiber coming to four more cities

Update: Google has since confirmed that it will expand to 18 cities within the four metro areas below, with construction to start “within several months,” according to Dennis Kish, the VP of Google Fiber. It also added that it is continuing to explore bringing fiber to Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Antonio and San Jose, and will have updates on these potential Google Fiber cities later this year. We may add updates after a press conference held at 11:30 PST.

Google is set to announce its gigabit fiber-to-the-home service in Atlanta; Nashville, Tennessee; Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina this week according to the Wall Street Journal. The Journal quoted sources close to the events and said that local news media in Atlanta and Nashville were invited to events on Tuesday and the North Carolina cities were invited to events on Thursday.

These cities are among the nine that Google named last February as under consideration for fiber service. Other cities include San Jose, California and San Antonio, Texas. Currently [company]Google[/company] has a fiber network in Kansas City, Kansas; Kansas City, Missouri; Provo, Utah and Austin, Texas. It has also spurred several of the local incumbents in those and other areas of the country to start laying fiber services.

The Journal article says that the other areas where Google announced interest in building fiber networks should not consider any new network announcements to mean they are out of the running. According to the article:

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]Google has told some officials in those cities that it hasn’t ruled them out, and has yet to make a final decision.

David Vossbrink, a spokesman for the city of San Jose, said a Google Fiber official told him Monday that Google would be announcing expansion cities beginning Tuesday. “The message was that these announcements should not be considered the end of the road for the other areas,” Mr. Vossbrink said.
[/blockquote]

As it stands today, Google has every interest in prolonging the threat of its expansion for as long as possible. Even before laying conduit in Austin, it managed to spur AT&T to start upgrading its own network in Austin and pushed a local cable overbuilder to actually start offering gigabit service in limited areas before Google or AT&T actually ever managed to. AT&T actually serves more people I know than Google with gigabit service in Austin, although that’s less a statement of actual homes passed than a measure of where my friends happen to live.

And so when it comes to pushing for faster broadband networks around the country, Google’s best weapon is actually the press release and the threat of action, because it spurs the local government to clear roadblocks and gets incumbents to consider and sometimes actually upgrade their service. That said, I still eagerly await the day the Google truck rolls to my neighborhood in Austin.

Cable industry uses election money to smother municipal broadband efforts

Everyone knows that companies like Comcast(s cmcsa) throw money around to protect their interests, but it can still be surprising how far they’ll go. The Switch has a report showing how the cable lobby will pour money into even the smallest elections to prevent cities from getting a toehold into the fast broadband market. In some cases, the results are absurd. In tiny Longmont, Colorado, for instance, cable companies “spent over half a million dollars trying to prevent four percent of city households from gaining access to municipal fiber on any reasonable timescale.” Longmont finally prevailed in last night’s election, passing a bond initiative to fund a next-generation fiber optic network.

It’s fiber Monday: Zayo & Time Warner Cable go fiber network shopping

Time Warner Cable (s TWC) of New York is spending $600 million in cash to buy DukeNet, a fiber optic network that is part-owned by Duke Energy, the company announced today. The Charlotte, NC-based DukeNet will help Time Warner improve its network and business services in the Carolinas. Time Warner Cable had announced its intention to build a gigabit network in the Carolina earlier this year. In related news, Zayo, a large fiber network operator based in Boulder, Colorado announced that it was buying Fiberlink, a  small Midwestern fiber operator that owns 1,200 miles of dark fiber that runs between Denver and Chicago (and runs via Omaha and Des Moines.) The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Holy cow, the Formula 1 races have a ton of tech inside

Formula 1 racing has returned to America with last weekend’s race in Austin, Texas. And with it came a jumbo jet packed full of 160 tons of IT and broadcasting equipment and F1’s amazing traveling IT staff. Learn more about the tech powering the sport.

AT&T’s LTE investments will go big by using small cells

AT&T will invest $14 billion in its networks as it tries to maximize the use of LTE in combination with small cells. By the end of 2014, the carrier expects to blanket 300 million people with this approach, which includes more than 1,000 distributed antenna systems.

A gigabit is the loneliest number

The guys at the Lamp Post Group in Chattanooga, Tenn., have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to bandwidth. The city boasts the first real gigabit speeds in the U.S., but it doesn’t have another gigabit city nearby to talk to. Anyone want to help?