Diving Into Telecommunications

We have it from reliable sources that spread around the walls of executives at AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast are pictures from Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and hare, the tortoise winning the hotly contested foot race.  Under each is a title, Esperance, an old English and current French word for Hope.  These companies are massive, and massively successful, but they are slow, and encumbered with watchful investors who need higher returns now.   While their existing telephone and cable television wiring has made Internet access in America a possibility at the speed of the hare, they are not equipped to rush to the next stage of things, a stage they widely acknowledge, of new fiber optics wiring all the way to the home and small business.   It is less a question of capacity—trucks and linemen and cabling—as it is a question of money.  There is not enough incremental return for the expense in most areas.  AT&T and Verizon crow in their public statements that they pass (in total between them) more then 30 million homes with fiber optic, but they have connected fewer than 10 million, leaving 118 million to go.  The number they have connected in rural America is zero.

Meanwhile several hundred small and medium size towns, electric utilities, and rural telephone companies have installed very successful fiber optics networks over the last decade.  None are in Connecticut; indeed Connecticut is only one of three state with none.  The poster child is Chattanooga, TN, which finished in 2013 and now enjoys the robust economic development gigabit networks promote. We are not saying they happened over night.  They took time to convince elected officials and community members of the need.  Furthermore, many received federal or state subsidies, themselves a bureaucratic and time consuming ordeal.  But they have happened, and are happening at an ever increasing rate.  We are hoping to enter that parade, our own form of Esperance.  We may not move with the speed of the hare, but we know we will be years ahead of incumbent carriers in our region.  And they know it.

The Coronavirus has brought new urgency to our journey.  The crisis has demonstrated what has been true since smartphones were in the hands of virtually everyone, that broadband is our glue, our fourth utility, a necessity like roads and electricity. Everyone needs it at affordable rates.   But is has also demonstrated how weak and inadequate is our broadband infrastructure from cable television companies.  Cable companies advertised rates up to a gigabit per second downstream in some areas of the country. What they do not say is that such rates are shared by as many as 250 homes.  if everyone wants access at the same time, that rate per home may be as low as 4 mbps, not enough for an HD movie, and certainly not broadband.  The upstream is much worse.  The cable television network was designed for asymmetric data speeds, a lot downstream, not much upstream.  Now we are in the land of Zoom and 45 million people working at home, when upstream speeds must be the same as downstream.  Cable television cannot deliver.  We need broadband now for everyone at affordable rates and with the latest technology.  That technology is fiber to the home.

We are not getting this in our region from an incumbent carrier.  We have to do it ourselves to some degree.  The degree has become more difficult to assess.  Until the virus crisis, our region would have been denied any federal or state funding because we have cable television Internet at 65% of our homes.  Now we know that in fact we are 100% unserved when the going gets rough.  This may open gates to funding beyond the coffers of our communities.  The situation is fluid and uncertain.  But we now have to seek broader horizons.

We hope you might be willing to help—at least give us your thumbs up for the effort, watch one our webinars, sign up for newsletters, or contact Northwest Connect about offering some of your time.  We know the subject is complicated.  The titles in this section hope to broaden everyone’s understanding of the issues, the technology, the business cases and costs, and the general terrain.  But the stakes have gone up, way up, in  the last few months.  We cannot afford to let federal or state agencies decide things for us without our help.  Join us.

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