Sunday, July 17, 2011


Community Networks or Council Broadband ?

Recently I've been looking at US implementations of "community networks" after our local "fibre or bust" proponents were tweeting links to them.

Some of them didn't look like community networks, at least not by my personal understanding of the term. Perhaps we need a more granular taxonomy than defining everything that isn't owned by a large corporate as "community".

An article in the Huffington Post from an advocate of community networks puts forward a campaigning stance that "community networks" are at a disadvantage compared to the one or two large corporate providers present in a typical US locality (cable provider and DSL from incumbent telco). The network in question is a municipal network "Salisbury Fibrant"which offers triple play services over Fibre to the Home in Salisbury, North Carolina in competition with 7, 10 or 15M Time Warner Cable and 6M DSL from AT&T.

I call this a "municipal network" because it is financed, owned and operated as part of the local government, with some controversy as one would expect in the freedom loving and capitalist USA. In essence it's offering a 15M/15M symmetrical FTTH service at $45/month with $20/month increments to 25, 50, 75 or 100M so the 100M service is $125 per month taken on its own. There are a wide array of TV and phone bundles too. The DSL and Cable competition do look poor and appear to have dropped prices in response to Fibrant's arrival.

Those opposed to the Salisbury Fibrant project point to low takeup, high retail prices, mounting debts and increased taxes and local utility fees to pay for Fibrant. It's hard to judge the truth of the matter from this distance, but time will tell.

In nearby Wilson, NC the Greenlight municipal FTTH network has disconnected 1,000 customers who never paid a bill - an alarming figure relative to their 5,000 or so subscribers.
In the State of Vermont the city owned Burlington Telecom got into financial problems when the takeup rate for its fiber system didn't meet requirements and losses mounted. So all is not well in the world of council broadband.

In case anyone runs away with the idea that things would be different in the UK, take a look at Swindon's controversial municipal Wi-Fi project "Get Signal" provided by Digital City.

I'm sure there are proper community projects in the USA that are not council broadband, and look forward to reading about them. All links and hints gratefully received.

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Friday, July 15, 2011


2M USC and Rural Digital Divide

A draft Requirements Document put out by BDUK contains a couple of interesting snippets, at least in its current form. The invitation to comment has now closed.

The 2 Mbits/s Universal Service Commitment is now being expressed as "a minimum edge-of-network throughput of 2Mb/s and that most solutions will exceed 2Mb/s". Throughput is defined in the document as being measured by transferring a file and measuring the time taken, so it is the actual useful data throughput without overheads rather than the sync speed, IP profile or other higher level measure.

Interestingly, this means that a 2M fixed speed ADSL service will not meet the USC requirement as expressed, because the measurable throughput of IPStream Home 2000 is at best 1900 kbits/s. Current MaxDSL services will need an IP profile of 2500 to meet the spec which is a sync speed of at least 2848 kbits/s at the ATM level.

In the same document (p19) an example of a Local Authority call-off shows the speed vs rurality hierarchy at the core of BDUK's plans :-

5A1 Delivery of 50Mb/s to xx Market Towns (Example) L2
5A2 Required for delivery of 20Mb/s to 50Mb/s to xx Villages L2 (Example)
5A3 Delivery of < 20Mb/s to xx Hamlets (Example) L2
5A4 Required for delivery of xx Community Hubs (Example) L2
5A5 Required for delivery of 2Mb/s to edge of network access speeds L2
to xx Rural Communities (Example)

So if you live in a Hamlet (OS definition " small, isolated group of houses without a church. ") then it's ADSL2+ or less for you. Granted it's an example, and the document is a Draft, but it does suggest what we have to look forward to.

Another recent BDUK publication is the Data Model Explanatory Notes which accompany a model that appears not to have been published. This model looks quite interesting as it calculates funding requirements and costs for deploying various broadband solution. It also reinforces the notion described above that isolated and sparse rural types will be getting BDUK's slowest offering :-

" The superfast broadband model therefore calculates costs and revenues for the final third on a cabinet by cabinet basis. The cheapest cabinets in terms of investment gap per customer served are upgraded first until a floor threshold for fibre coverage (e.g. 90% of premises) has been reached in every Local Authority area and fibre connectivity to every community has been provided.

Premises that are expected to receive less than 2Mbit/s, after targets for fibre coverage have been reached, are input into a wireless and satellite cost model. For 10x10km grid squares with a population density above a chosen threshold it is assumed that a wireless mast is constructed, and all premises in grid squares below this threshold are served with satellite. "

From this I conclude that if you can currently only get 2M ADSL then you'll be offered a wireless solution if the population density is sufficient, or a satellite dish if not.

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