The Puzzle of Rural Broadband

August 27th, 2009 by · 7 Comments

Dan O’Shea over at FierceTelecom has some great commentary on expectations and realities for rural broadband.  One of his main points is that rural communities and the PUCs that look after them often want broadband but they want it within the context of a Bell type company that no longer exists.  We really need to get past this and see rural communication infrastructure in a modern context.

Suppose we were to redesign rural telecom infrastructure from the ground up, what would it look like?  In order to be competitively priced, it needs to scale with distance and that just doesn’t work when you have to run copper or even fiber to every home.  That’s why our society has had to subsidize rural communications all this time, and if we try to apply urban and suburban fiber solutions to the countryside then one way or another we are going to have to subsidize it all over again.  

Mixing in technologies like WiMAX seem to make things more even because spectrum gets cheaper as population  density gets smaller, but then the other problem looms.  The money is always, always going to be better in the cities and suburbs.  You have to cover so much rural territory to make the same amount of money as you can in more populated areas that the money will always flow to the latter first.   Efforts to interest telecom giants in this are almost certainly fruitless.

So you get two kinds of companies involved in these things:  1) RLECs who are currently running their copper as a cash machine, many of whom see doing anything else as unnecessarily risky and may not even have the expertise available to build a modern infrastructure, and 2) locally based startups who know the modern infrastructure but lack the financial resources and the safe relationship with the consumers that a Bell type company generally has.

To sweeten the pot, we now have the government waving money in the air – free money if you don’t find network neutrality constraining.  So far it has not been enough to get attention from the larger players except in the ‘middle mile’, leaving the development of the next generation of rural infrastructure largely up to local interests.  On the one hand, that means efforts will be piecemeal.  But on the other hand, it represents a huge opportunity for the little guy that really figures out how to do it right.

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Categories: Government Regulations · ILECs, PTTs · Wireless

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7 Comments So Far

  • The_highwayman says:

    Our RLEC/ITC upgraded it’s copper plant to Fiber some time ago. They are now going with FTTH, because field trials involving WIMAX/WIFI, etc proved what some of us have known for years…it can suck in rural area’s, due to rain, snow and even tree fade and distance limitations and ways to spread the spectrum to catch enough homes.

    so to lower thier costs, we are hearing that they are going to offer a unique solution. They will be asking home owners to trench and lay the approved conduit from their home demarc point to the end of the driveway, the ITC will pick it up there and splice it the “backbone” fiber and install the fiber through your conduit. The home owner owns their last mile conduit( not the fiber)

    the rumors state this will not only lower the ITC OSP costs, but also lower phone/TV/INET costs to the consumers by a large amount and give us cable Vs. DISH/DTV, which I cannot stand out in our enck of the woods.

    Our County commissioner came up with this by working with our ITC and not against them, the State regualtors are looking over it to insure the consumer benefits and is protected.

    Knowing me and what I do, I think you would agree that if this does happen, it’s like a no brainer for me.

    The only drawback to this is because of uneven terrain and the amount of sandstone under the soil, the ITC will have to go aerial…

    Another angle their working is with the electric companies and COOPs to pole attach the fiber on poles on your land. the consumer would pay a one time OSP fee and then pay a portion of the monthly ROE fee on their phone or electric bill.

    That is in very premature stages right now.

    The main idea thought here is that our RLEC/ITC has embraced fiber and our county and stae folks are working with them to cross the broadband divide.

    I think other creative ideas like this are happening in rural areas across the country.

    We are seeing a generation(mine) and the one below mine starting to come back home to the rural area’s they were raised in and want to come back for lower cost of living, etc. In order, to do that jobs and of course broaband connectivity are 2 of the largest drivers, our County and ITC saw that and responded. Even though the economy is down we see mid sized to large business uprooting from T-Town and heading to rural areas, because of cheaper power and new broadband infrastructure.

    We have to get away from this notion that seed capital from the guvvie, etc is the answer to our problems, we need to return back to our innovative roots and get busy livin, instead get busy moochin and dyin..

    • Crossy says:

      very intersting news indeed

      it’s good to see those owning a “captive franchise” far from high teledensity areas are interested on growing the pie and not dragging their feet

      may I ask- is your RLEC publicly listed ? Could be a winning strategy down the road (and make quite a difference)


  • Rural areas rely on entertainment and if broadband supply is offered, than it’s good.

  • OSP contractor says:

    The first generation(s) of copper telephony was aerial so it always made sense to me that the telcos (or electric companies) might spin up aerial to save costs on the first generation of fiber. Higher maintenance vs lower capex costs. There is a much bigger difference these days in being out of service though, if DSL or TV being provided especially.
    I would want to make sure that the homeowner had some assistance in placing a conduit, since distance of drop, location/route, type of materials and duct integrity could all impact the placement of fiber. Maybe train a local contractor who would most likely be glad to get the work.
    Nice to see telcos interested in serving their customers and taking the initiative to discuss new ways to do so.

  • Frank Coluccio says:

    Highwayman’s second paragraph above says a lot. Read it again. This is the modality we first saw deployed in Sweden and Norway during the Nineties, and it has spread since then to great success as what’s come to be known as an “infrastructure model” conducive to wholesaling, as opposed to a single party, top-down triple play model.

    A book on the approach of direct involvement by the homeowner – called variously “Asset based networking”(because such models add to a home’s ecquity and factor into its mortgageability), “Subscriber-based” networking, etc. was published in 1999 by the MIT Press entitled . I commend it very highly, fwiw.

    “The First 100 Feet”

    Edited by Deborah Hurley and James H. Keller

    Today we’re seeing something remarkably close to this in the energy sphere by homeowners and whole communities who seek self sufficiency in satisfying local energy needs as well. In a similar vein to that of broadband (mentioned above), another book was recently published covering this area as well:

    “PERFECT POWER: How the Microgrid Revolution Will Unleash Cleaner, Greener, More Abundant Energy”

    By Bob Galvin and Kurt Yaeger



  • The_highwayman says:

    OSP contractor,
    I agree with you 100% our RLEC is working with local contractors as we speak, the County may even get involved.

    I am in the industry and understand the complex process we both know this presents.

    I have spoken to the local GM of our RLEC and advised that maybe they provide the homeowner with a bill of materials(BOM) and supply places, etc.

    for our set up we have a pole at the end of the driveway and the RLEC fiber is on that side. It will get a little bit more cimbersome for folks that have to cross the road to pole attach.

    Needless to say there will be issues like this to work through.

  • Rob Powell says:

    It sounds great! But how widespread is this trend? Why does it work in your location and not in others, or why haven’t other RLECs begun to look at the same path to fiber?

    FWIW, a fair amount of Verizon FIOS is aerial already – my neighborhood included.

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