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Diffraction Analysis Offers Free Webinar on FTTH, April 15th, 11 a.m. Central

On April 15th, Benoit Felten and his organization, Diffraction Analysis, will host a free webinar to discuss results from their latest study. The study, Why Consumers Love FTTH – The FTTH Consumer Experience Study, delves into the fiber experience in Sweden. Here are some preliminary findings from the report:

  • In Sweden a huge majority FTTH users (75%) think their broadband is better than before they had fibre.
  • 67% of Swedish broadband users think broadband over fibre is ‘Very Good’, but only 13% think the same of DSL.
  • Swedish FTTH subscribers use video-communication over the Internet five times as much (25%) as DSL users.
  • In Sweden 59% of FTTH users think fibre broadband is sustainable. Only 44% of DSL users think the same of DSL.
  • In Sweden, 59% of DSL users find their broadband price excessive vs. only 32% for FTTH users.
  • For FTTH users in Sweden, quality of broadband is the 1st criterion after home price when choosing a new home.

He recently spoke at the 2014 Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas. Felten also spoke on Smart Cities and Infrastructure at the FTTH Conference in Stockholm, Sweden, in February. Chris interviewed Felten in episode 21 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast back in 2012, when the two discussed the famous network in Stokab. 

You can register for the free webinar at GoTo Meeting. The event starts at 11 a.m. Central on April 15th.

Overview of Stockholm's Stokab - Community Broadband Bits Episode #88

Having just returned from a short trip to Sweden, Lisa Gonzalez and I discuss what I learned and how Stockholm has become one of the most connected cities on the planet.

We talk about how Stockholm built a massive dark fiber network that has enabled competition at the service layer, the status of telecommunications in Sweden, and what lessons we can learn in the U.S. from their experience.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 15 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Valley Lodge for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Sweet Elizabeth."

Chris Mitchell Speaks in Sweden on U.S. Broadband: Archives Now Available

In February, ILSR's Christopher Mitchell travelled to Stockholm to participate in an event titled Fibre: The key to creating world-class IT regions. On February 21st, he presented info to attendees on the status of broadband in the U.S.

While Chris was there, he also spoke one-on-one with Anders Broberg, one of the conference organizers and head of communications for Stokab, the city owned dark fiber network powering Stockholm (we discussed Stokab with Benoit Felten in 2012). Chris' presentation, Q&A, and the interview are now available online.

Other discussions and presentation videos are available at the Stockholm IT Region website, where they recently wrote about the interview with Chris:

Cities and municipalities that build their own networks has done it in order to keep and create jobs. But in order to keep up the development and expansion, the local communities must be given much more autonomy – even for experimental purposes.

Christopher pointed out that the internet is no longer just a cool thing, but a necessity – which makes fibre networks comparable to roads. And local decision making is vital in order to speed up the development and get people on these roads.

Video available below:

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Chris Mitchell to Speak at Fiber Event in Stockholm Feb. 21

On Friday, February 21, 2014, Christopher Mitchell will be speaking in Stockholm at the Stockholm Waterfront Congress Center. The event, titled Fibre: The key to creating world-class IT regions, will begin at 8:30 a.m. in Sweden (1:30 a.m. CST for viewers in the U.S.) and will be livestreamed.

Chris will be providing an update on fiber efforts in the U.S. He will join a distinguished line-up of speakers including Benoit Felton. Felton joined us for Broadband Bits podast episode 21 to talk about his work in Stokab.

From the announcement:

The 21st century has presented a major shift into the digital age and enabled us to make fundamental progress in areas such as connectivity and sustainability. Access to the digital age is to a great extent made possible thanks to high-speed connectivity through fibre infrastructure.

Experience and international rankings show that fibre roll-outs and open networks are crucial in order to fully exploit the possibilities a connected society offers – stronger regional development, increased growth and sustainability. We can also see that when public and private sectors cooperate competitive, affordable and sustainable infrastructures have been accomplished.

Mexican Village Takes Control With Community Cellular Service

"In Mexico we have a saying: 'don't ask to be breastfed!'" laughs local radio presenter, Keyla Ramirez. "We have the satisfaction of no longer having to ask them: 'Please, come and install a service for which we're going to pay you'."

One Mexican community is exercising its self-reliance muscle to create its own cell phone network. A recent BBC article introduced us to Talea de Castro, a small coffee-producing village in Oaxaca. Community members repeatedly appealed to Mexico's main cellular networks to install an antenna in their village. 

America Movil and other large telecoms would only bring the service to the village if they installed electrical lines and new roads. Without those improvements, the trip was not worth the investment to the telco giants. Without the means to make the improvements, the small mountain community was without cell service.

Citizens decided cell phone service was a necessity so held a village meeting. Keyla Ramirez from the local radio station told the BBC:

"Communication. From the very start, that was our principle objective as a collective," she explains.

"Sometimes there might be an accident in the fields and, before, people couldn't let anyone know.

"They'd be cut off if the river was high or if they'd been bitten by a snake and couldn't make it back to the village. Now they can call their families and they'll come and help them."

Local radio personnel brought information to the meeting about cellular equipment the community could install themselves. With help from non-profit Rhizomatica and a US-based company, villagers installed the equipment and began the Talea Cellular Network. People of the village perform maintenance and keep the network live.

Calls and texts in the the village are free and calls outside the area cost significantly less than rates from the big telcos. Entrepreneurs use the network to boost business and families are no longer cut off from each other.

Word is spreading. From a San Diego Union-Tribune article on the network:

"The neighboring communities are interested in the project so the antennas can be linked in an autonomous community network," Villa Talea de Castro secretary Alejandro Lopez Canseco said in a telephone interview with Efe.

The town plans to acquire more equipment and provide the existing gear to another community, Lopez said.

Peter Bloom of Rhizomatica told the BBC:

"In the case of Mexico, the large providers don't see the Mexican countryside as being a viable option in terms of economics."

"We see other options. We use new technology, we try to take advantage of local structures and local capacity in order to provide equipment and services at a much lower cost."

While Ramiez touts the value of Talea de Castro's network as a way to keep citizens connected, she also revels in the community's ability to serve their own needs:

"This equipment belongs to the whole community. Now we can be autonomous, self-sufficient and self-reliant without having to ask to be breastfed by anyone!"

Rise of Comcast Linked to Slower US Internet Speeds

This is an older column, but the introduction is so dead-on, I wanted to draw more attention to it:

If Dwight Eisenhower had General Motors and George W. Bush had Halliburton, Barack Obama arguably has Comcast. US presidents are often linked to one or two corporations that donate a lot of money to them and then benefit from their actions. Comcast, which is America’s largest cable television and internet provider and is a near monopoly in most of its largest cities, is no exception.

The company’s meteoric rise in the past decade parallels the relative decline of internet service in the US.

It comes from an Edward Luce column in the Financial Times from February. He goes on to note the strong ties between the FCC and Comcast and between Comcast and President Obama. Remember that President Obama has golfed with Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and the CEO is on the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

Susan Crawford's Captive Audience offers a good examination of Comcast, the threat it (and other massive cable corporations) poses to our communities, and just how savvy it is in lobbying.

Don't be shocked as this Adminstration continues to push wireless and other telecommunications "solutions" that don't threaten Comcast's market domination of cable. Between a dysfunctional Congress and an inevitably interest-group-compromised Executive Branch, communities are on their own.

No High-Speed in Manchester: European Commission Rules Preempt Local Authority

Though we often discuss some of the ways European nations have surpassed the U.S. in Internet network investment, they also have some counter-productive rules that limit investment. The Manchester Evening News recently published an article about a plan to bring high speed Internet to a deprived area of 30,000 homes where access is either slow or absent. From the article:

European rules ban public subsidy being used to fund infrastructure where – in theory – a company could roll it out instead.

The Manchester Council planned to use public funding to bring the homes into the 21st century, but the European Commission blocked the plan. Because Internet providers say there is not enough demand for broadband access in the areas, they are not compelled to build there.

Sound familiar?

“Part of this involves trying to address the digital divide which means that some parts of Manchester have little or no high speed broadband coverage because commercial internet service providers, such as BT, Virgin and Talk Talk and others, claim there is not enough demand. We have tried hard to address this but it has become clear that Europe-wide regulations mean our hands our tied and we cannot help provide connections where the private sector is able, but not willing, to do so," [said Manchester Coun Nigel Murphy].

This serves as a reminder that Europe also has a variety of bad policy approaches that privilege massive corporations over local authority. We hope to see people there step to defend their rights to be locally self-reliant.

"Olds" is First Gigabit Town in Canada

We introduced you to Olds, Alberta and their community network O-Net in 2012. Now this community of 8,500 will be the first Canadian "gig town" where residents will have access to a gig at incredibly low prices. 

CBC News reports that the Olds Institute for Community and Regional Development, the nonprofit organization building the network, recently approved the upgrade. Residents with 100 Mbps will have access to a gigabit with no increase in price. Depending on how they bundle, the price for Internet will range between $57-90 per month.

CBC's Emily Chung noted how much of rural Canada offers only dial-up or satellite. Olds used to have the same problem; businesses were considering leaving town:

"We had engineering companies here who were sending memory chips by courier because there wasn't enough bandwidth to deal with their stuff," recalls Joe Gustafson, who spearheaded the project to bring a fibre network to Olds.

...

"Now there's no talk about people leaving because of bandwidth challenges."

The $13-14 million project, which also included a video conference center and 15 public use terminals for residents, launched in July 2012. The organization acquired a $2.5 million grant from the province of Alberta and a $6 million loan from the town of Olds. When incumbents were not interested in providing service over the network, O-Net adapted:

"We said, 'Well I guess if we're going to do this, we have to do our own services,'" Gustafson recalled.

The Olds Institute spent $3.5 million to buy the necessary electronic equipment to run internet and other services on the network and to build a central office to house it all. Last July, it launched O-Net.

The community-owned service offers not just internet, but also phone and IPTV services — TV signals carried on the network that includes dozens of SD and HD channels, and movies on demand that can be paused and later resumed.

The network will be available to the entire town by 2014. The residential plan brings one gig to access points in town that each serve four or five households. According to [Director of Marketing Nathan] Kusiek, that gig will be shared between households at each access point. There will be no data caps. Dedicated business gig access will be available for $5,000 per month.

The network has transformed teaching and learning. Local Olds College used to connect with 40 Mbps for 4,000 students. 

That made it impossible to push any kind of mobile learning — something that the college was starting to get into with initiatives such as an entrepreneurship course that required students to play an online game as part of its requirements.

Now, every space on campus allows each student to connect two devices at the same time. This September, every new student will receive an iPad and all textbooks will be web-based.

Kusiek said, "Because we're a community-owned project we get to balance out profitability versus what's best for the community."

Reading the comments on the CBC story is instructive of the different culture - the comments are overwhelmingly in support of Olds and castigate incumbent providers.

Fiber to the Hilarity From Down Under

Due to the many exciting developments in the U.S., we rarely have time to peek at interesting projects overseas, but Australia is experiencing a political fight over its ambitious open access network. The opposition party wants to cut the costs of the project by transforming it from a FTTH network to a FTTN project - Fiber-to-the-node (or as I like to say, fiber-to-the-nowhere as it does nothing to address the largest bottleneck).

Thanks to Benoit Felten, we have been alerted to a "fabled Australian comic duo" sending up the opposition plan. Clarke and Dawe:

Canadian Community Brings Fiber to All in Alberta Town

Back in 2010, we reported on SuperNet in Alberta, Canada. We noted how, even though it resulted in significant middle-mile infrastructure expansion, there were still many, many Canadians along the route that were not connected. We drew a parallel between that experience and the focus on middle mile infrastructure via the broadband stimulus programs.

In October, Broadband Communities Magazine carried Craig Settles' article on Olds, a small community in Alberta that overcame the last-mile challenge by working for over 10 years to create that last-mile connection, culminating in O-Net. This town is an inspiration for other communities who decide to take matters into their own hands and find a way to get members connected and engaged. 

Settles tells how the process began as a collaborative effort to get organized and revitalize the economy. A technology committee was charged with bringing fiber throughout the county, but the expense was prohibitive. From the article:

"The initial estimate to lay fiber optic cable throughout the county was approximately $80 million [Canadian dollars], well beyond OICRD's [Olds Institute for Community and Regional Development] funding ceiling,” states Joe Gustafson, who was OICRD chairman at that time. “The Tech Committee subsequently refocused on just the town of Olds and its population of just over 8,000, which brought the estimate down to $13.5 million, or about $3,140 per premises passed.”

The story goes on, taking us through several stops and starts the community experienced when working with private providers:

“To date, few incumbents see value in working with a community on a network such as this,” states Craig Dobson, currently the director of Olds Fibre Ltd. (OFL) and initially a consultant for the institute. “In essence, they believe strongly in facilities-based competition and appear to be threatened by market- based services competition that open- access networks enable.” Open-access networks rely on service providers for revenue – without them, the networks are not sustainable.

After working with the private providers to no avail, the organization decided to build the network themselves. The community next tried to work with a partner that would manage the network while the town retained ownership but even that partnership fizzled. OICRD remained the nonprofit organization that owns the town's for-profit network manager, Olds Fiber Ltd (OLF).

Olds Fiber Network Logo

The results have been favorable:

Owning its network enables a town to make business decisions that are in the best interests of its community. By having a well-managed, community-owned enterprise, a town such as Olds could retain the millions of dollars that other- wise were leaving the community every year for voice, Internet and TV services.

...

OICRD, a nonprofit organization, owns the for-profit OFL and provided it with a shareholder loan to build the dark fiber network – which the institute also owns. OFL licenses the network from the institute and is responsible for operating it. OFL sells broadband services and pays the institute a per-subscriber fee based on a formula that enables OFL to generate enough money to cover operating expenses. The institute uses the revenue from these fees to fund community economic development projects.

Local leaders find that the province is giving communities room and opportunity to be self-reliant in achieving connectivity. Olds received a government loan that covered some of the initial costs and OFL President/CEO Lance Douglas told Settles:

“The province is shifting toward a policy of letting communities take responsibility for their own economic and social development. Our community said, ‘We’ll take the risk.’ And government basically said, ‘Take your taxes back and build away.’”

Services from O-Net vary and, while triple-play packages are available, the network makes it easy for new applications to be developed (for example, a telehealth application allowing Doctors to interact with patients using their television). There is also a loyalty reward after 36 months of contiguous triple-play service -- they drop the price considerably. O-Net highlights the value of community owndership. From its website:

As Canada's first community owned and operated Fibre-to-the-Premises network is now lighting-up new orders, you are encouraged to support your community and help pave the way for your future, and the future of many generations to come.

You, the citizens of Olds, own this story.