Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Making the case for Rural Broadband via the Public Safety Broadband Network

“Hell, there are no rules here - we're trying to accomplish something.Thomas A. Edison 

There seems to be a lot of talk surrounding the FCCs latest arrangement to allocate funding from the Universal Service Fund to pay for broadband access to rural Americans. I have a personal view on this topic being that I have family members that live in the rurals and are stuck to DSL for their Internet access, which is actually better than most.... it was dial-up just a few years ago.

I have constantly made the case that the Rural Broadband legislation should be combined with the Nations First Responder Broadband Network or Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN). In order to see how this works you need to take off the blinders of viewing a Public Safety Network of yesteryear. We are in a state of technological advancement that is pushing wireless access to speeds far beyond what, cost effectively, wireline access can provide.

Some background first; the typical 3G network is designed using 3 Kilometer circles around the base of its towers. This is the radio footprint. For LTE it is designed to 6-8 Miles and can reach as far as 30 Miles.  Bandwidth for 3G is, at best times, 1.5 Megabits Per Second (Mbps). Just the first generation of LTE is above 890 Mbps in lab trials and is being deployed at roughly 25-100 Mpbs segments. Your best commercially available home connection is at around 25 Mpbs and that covers cable or carrier based service. I don’t know about you, but my service states 25 Mpbs and I’m surprised if I get 12 Mpbs -- even worse on the upload speeds.

The main reason the commercial carriers, and cable providers, don’t want to deliver service to the rural areas has to do with basic economics. There aren’t enough customers, which relates to revenue, in the rural areas to justify expanding their platforms to cover those areas.  It’s not rocket science. But, there are those that will take the money anyway, being that it is being thrust at them, and will make the case later in that the Federal and State governments will have to step in to pick up the bill for operations and maintenance if the revenue isn’t there. You have to face the fact that the carriers, and cable operators, are in the business to make money…not provide free broadband service. There is a solution though.

With the amount of bandwidth, and the technical capabilities of the new wireless platforms, i.e. LTE, there is no reason why the PSBN could not justify the necessity to reach those rural clients. After all, their wireless footprint will cover the areas anyway. I can easily see an opportunity to sell those rural broadband users to the cable companies and carriers via an MVNO (Managed Virtual Network Operator) contract. Can you imagine…the role reversal?

Let’s say I am the great State of Texas and I have just completed building out my Public Safety Broadband Network covering more than 96% of the geographic landmass of the State.  Wouldn’t it be nice to recoup some of that money by selling non-priority, and underutilized, network availability access to the rural customers that fall within its footprint? After all there is a “self funding” requirement for long-term operations and support that needs to be paid as laid out in the Federal Legislation. I’m not saying that the State should sell direct access, but rather they should sell wholesale access to those rural customers via the PSBN to the carriers and the cable MSO’s; who in return would pay a monthly, or yearly, contract fee to access those users.

That’s just one example. If we go one step further, a Public Private Partnership (P3) could actually be the profit engine for the State PSBN and they will in turn manage the selling of services to the carriers and cable companies; of which, the P3 would manage the long-term SLAs contracts with all the State entities anyway.

Just some guy and a blog….


Mike said...

I am posting a comment that was passed to me through Linkedin....

"Hi Michael,

I read you’re posting most of the time, and I believe along with you that rural areas of our country need broadband delivered to their homes, businesses, government agencies, schools, medical facilities, and first responders now.

In this country there are over 2,300 small independent broadband companies that are investing their own and family members monies building and providing broadband services for the true rural area residents, farmers, schools, and first responders.

These individuals work 65 to 80 a week, providing broadband and phone services at a significant lower cost then any of the incumbent telephone companies are willing to do.

To take monies from a fund that the rural area residents have paid into and provide it to any of the incumbent carries that have refused to offer them broadband services, and NOT include the current independent rural broadband carriers is just wrong.

Your idea about the LTE carriers getting this money so that they can provide service just will not work. In eastern Illinois we have over 12% of 6,000sq miles where there is no or very limited cellular coverage. We are 6.4 miles outside of town and need to drive a ¼ mile before I can use my mobile phone. Also in this 6,000 sq mile area there are three mobile carries and none of them cover the entire area, and one does not offer roaming, so if our farmers roam into these areas they ether carry two phones or they can not make-receive calls. Most of the cell towers are still on generation 2 or 2.5, so data downloads are painful. So, the rural areas will wait until late into 2020’s before they have LTE service. Note: AT&T’s announcement that they will retire all 2nd generation cell towers by end of 2017, moving them to 3rd gen.

Your thoughts on the PBSN offing wholesale service has strong merit, but wholesale services to the current incumbents, the companies that have refused to build out into the rural areas is wrong, why reward them. The current independent rural wireless broadband carriers that invest their private monies should be included, if not the only carriers to have access.

For the most part, the independent broadband carrier has no government support like low interest broadband loans, and the incumbent carriers lobby against any funding program that is proposed by a Federal or State Government agencies that may support them.

If you would include the independent broadband carriers in your blogs, and more bloggers realized that there are thousands of independent broadband carriers bring broadband services to the rural areas of our country, then maybe these local pioneers that have been struggling for over ten-years to provide services may get the recognition that they need from our government officials.

Sorry if this sounds like a rant, but the rural areas need broadband now, and the independent broadband carrier cares about their neighbors and their local communities more than any corporate executive that lives in their ivory towers in the major metropolitan cities could ever care. Cold day in hell when they would drive 40 mile in a storm at 2am to repair a tower that services 35 farmers. "

Mike said...

My response.....

I really appreciate your comments. Points are well taken. It brings comfort in knowing that the hours it takes to put these articles together, and post them, are at least being read.

I totally agree with your standpoint of the small local carriers getting a piece of the action. In actuality such services to the rural areas puts these small providers in a better position than the big guys. The providers will still need to address local outages, local support and local maintenance, which means more money that they will have to…well…provide. This means the small incumbents will be in a small, yet local, power position.

By wholesaling the services through the PSBN opens the door to bidding action. That bidding action is where the local guys will win every time, because their cost to maintain is drastically lower, and the larger carriers know that, so we would most likely see cooperation between large and small providers.

In the end though, and it may be just me, but the FCC needs to reallocate those USF funds to the PSBN rollout with the mandate that those funds specifically go to rural adaptation; meaning the smaller providers would be better positioned for. Those funds sole purpose should be to light up rural broadband customers once the PSBN is completed…not metro expansion.

To raise another point; selling wholesale to the Telco’s is just one way of getting service to the rural areas. What about the Utilities? Why wouldn’t it be advantageous for a Utility company, who is using LTE broadband access for its SMART Metering, not be allowed to sell broadband service to its customers? Which by the way has a higher penetration rate than the Telco’s and would cover the majority of the users (if not 100%) within their footprints. Remember, their business case is about providing power to the house, or business, so ancillary services of broadband makes sense. Who better to do a commoditized service than a Utility (which would also include Co-Ops). There could be a chance for a small local provider to manage service that offering as well.

Just some guy and a blog…


Words to Live By: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… The ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” (Steve Jobs)