AT&T has begun a hybrid millimeter wave (mmWave) wireless and wireline technology trial, targeting apartment complexes outside of its wireline service area to deliver up to 100 Mbps in areas where it has not been able to reach potential broadband users. But 100 Mbps is just the start of its bandwidth ambitions.
AT&T indicated that it plans to make faster speeds available, including a possible 500 Mbps tier that it will test through this fixed-wireless solution. To deliver the service to each user, AT&T is using mmWave wireless technology to send a multi-gigabit signal from a central building connected to fiber to neighboring locations, and then is connecting each unit over the existing in-building wiring. When a neighboring building receives the multi-gigabit mmWave wireless signal, AT&T converts it to a wired internet connection. The telco then uses existing or new wiring in the property to offer internet access directly to each unit. When customers that reside in these properties sign up for service, they can plug their Wi-Fi router into an existing wall outlet to get internet service in their apartment. AT&T did not specify what millimeter wave spectrum band it is using for this trial.
Georgia’s lawmakers are working together to find a way to enhance broadband service in the state’s rural areas by asking residents to take an online survey about their service experience. After tallying the survey results, state Sen Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega (GA)) said a joint committee of state lawmakers will make a set of recommendations, including developing tax incentives to further broadband investment and getting rid of certain government regulation. State Sen Gooch said that substandard Internet service creates a barrier to economic development in rural parts of Northeast Georgia. State Sen Gooch added that businesses say broadband weighs heavily on whether they will locate their business in a particular town or city.
CenturyLink said that as it extends broadband services to rural areas via the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund-II program, it can attract a larger amount of customers that reside in 1.2 million homes with 10/1 Mbps speeds. In 2015, CenturyLink accepted $500 million in the second phase of the FCC's Connect America Fund (CAF-II), enabling it to deliver broadband services to about 1.2 million rural households and businesses in 33 states over the next six years. By accepting the 33 CAF II statewide offers, CenturyLink will be able to deliver up to 10/1 Mbps to locations in FCC-designated, high-cost census blocks that today can get at best between 1.5 to 3 Mbps speeds. Stewart Ewing, CFO of CenturyLink, said that as its technicians begin building service in a community, more users will sign up. “There are numerous examples of places where we have gone out and enabled locations that did not have service before,” Ewing said. “With door hangers left by the technicians and word of mouth, basically you can quickly get penetration of 50 percent.”
Verizon and Incompas’ joint business data services (BDS) proposal has gotten the support of several state and local trade associations which say it will enhance network investment and provide greater choice to businesses and non-profit organizations. The letter was signed by the Midwest Association of Competitive Communications, CALTEL, Michigan Internet & Telecommunications Alliance, Northwest Telecommunications Association, and CompSouth.
“The beneficial effects of BDS reform will reverberate throughout the economy,” said the group of organizations. “Competitive wireline and wireless providers will be able to invest more in their own networks and innovative products and services, benefitting customers and competition throughout their communities. Indeed, one study shows that the spill-over effects of price reductions in the broader economy are substantial and an annual boost to GDP 2.6 times as great as the direct reduction in prices.” The group said that it agrees with the Verizon-Incompas proposal that implementing a “competitive market test using three bandwidth tiers is appropriate” because “it recognizes where it makes economic sense for competitors to build and where it doesn’t.” Additionally, the trade groups said that by implementing a 15 percent price cap reduction for TDM, the FCC can achieve its goals to ensure greater competition in the BDS market.
Google Fiber may have lit the fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) fire, but network construction company Dycom said that AT&T and CenturyLink’s ambitious FTTH expansion plans represent the consumer and business customer’s demand for higher speed bandwidth. Steven Nielsen, CEO of Dycom, told investors during this week’s DA Davidson 15th Annual Engineering & Construction Conference that AT&T and CenturyLink’s FTTH aren’t directly linked to Google Fiber’s actions. “Google Fiber is responding to the same factors for consumer demand for high bandwidth that the incumbents are,” Nielsen said. “They are the effect of the consumer demand and not the cause of other people spending because they are all reacting to the same environment.”
Nielsen added how a number of Canada’s key incumbent telecommunication and cable operators – a list that includes Bell, Telus, Shaw and Rogers – all stated they will enhance their fiber and broadband footprints. “In Canada where Google Fiber is not present, you have the exact same dynamic as you have here in the U.S.,” Nielsen said. AT&T and CenturyLink have set some ambitious targets for their FTTH deployments, a process that will represent potential new revenue streams for Dycom. During the second quarter, AT&T had only 2.2 million homes passed with fiber, a figure the telecommunication company expects to ramp to 2.6 million by the end of 2016.
Consolidated Communications said a large portion of its footprint it passes can get 20 Mbps, enabling the company to surpass the Federal Communications Commission’s 10/1 Mbps Connect America Fund-II requirement. To participate in the CAF-II program, service providers had to commit to delivering up to a minimum of 10/1 Mbps to their target set of homes and businesses.
Steve Childers, CFO of Consolidated Communications, told investors during the Drexel Hamilton Telecom, Media & Technology Conference that its long track record in building out networks in rural markets makes it easier to bring higher speeds to harder to reach customers. “We’re already well above what the FCC standard is and we feel like we have been investing in rural America for a number of years,” Childers said. The service provider breaks out broadband availability into three main buckets: Speeds of 20 Mbps, 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps.
AT&T has become a major stakeholder in the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) ConnectHome initiative to connect low-income families with internet services, but critics question the availability of its new offerings. As part of its work with HUD, the service provider plans to host 30 events across 15 ConnectHome pilot communities located within AT&T’s 21-state wireline service area. During these events, AT&T will provide information about Access from AT&T, a low-cost internet service it launched in April. AT&T will also provide up to 100 Udacity Nanodegree program scholarships to select participants in designated HUD communities. Nanodegree programs are self-paced, online curricula that provide students in-demand skills to help obtain tech-related jobs. The courses will focus on web development, mobile development and data analytics. Set to start on September 10, the events will spread ConnectHome pilot communities in several cities across ten states: New York, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, California, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Illinois and Texas.
Households that qualify for Access from AT&T will be able to access three speed tiers: 10 Mbps, 5 Mbps or 3 Mbps available at their address. Speeds of 10 Mbps and 5 Mbps will cost $10 a month while 3 Mbps will cost $5. AT&T will waive installation and internet equipment fees for participating households. However compelling AT&T’s intentions are to bridge the so-called digital divide, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) said in a report that many of its affiliates that tried to help SNAP participants apply for Access were told the program was unavailable.
CenturyLink revealed in its semi-annual broadband deployment report to the Federal Communications Commission that 51 percent of the living units in its more populated legacy Qwest territory can get 40 Mbps or higher. But rural areas overwhelmingly get much slower speeds, showing the disparity between different markets.
In the rural sections of CenturyLink’s legacy Qwest footprint, only 21.9 percent of households can get access to a 40 Mbps copper-based service. The disparity is due to the challenge of deploying copper-based broadband. Despite advances like VDSL2 and vectoring, CenturyLink is stymied by the physical limitations of copper plant that require electronics to be placed closer to each customer. The service provider saw similar variations between rural and non-rural markets for its 12 Mbps and 5 Mbps service. CenturyLink’s 12 Mbps service availability non-rural markets was 71 percent, a figure that drops to 47.6 percent in rural markets. Likewise, the 5 Mbps tier was available to nearly 80 percent of living units in non-rural Qwest markets, while only 61.3 percent could get the same service. Finally, the 1.5 Mbps service fared a bit better with service noted to be available in 95.6 percent of non-rural markets and 83 percent in rural markets. Regardless of the differences in the availability of copper-based broadband service speeds, CenturyLink is making progress across all of its markets to make higher speeds available to more customers.
Shentel may not be the size of its larger incumbent local exchange carrier compatriots, but the service provider is being no less aggressive in pursuing dark fiber deals with school districts and wireless operators in its largely rural territory. What’s helping Shentel get the attention of wholesale and retail customers is a fiber network that currently consists of nearly 5,000 route miles of fiber throughout Virginia, West Virginia and parts of Maryland. Ed McKay, SVP of engineering and planning for Shentel, said that the fiber network is being used to satisfy external and internal needs. One of those needs is being able to backhaul traffic on its growing wireless network. The telecommunication company has built fiber to over 240 of its own cell sites and it has 60 more in construction. “We’re using it to not only go after fiber customers, but also to reduce our operational costs,” McKay said. “We’re interconnecting our cable networks and providing backhaul to our own cell sites.”
CenturyLink and Education Networks of America are suing the state of Idaho for $37 million over claims that it broke the terms of their broadband agreement, one that includes expanding their fiber network to support a state broadband project for local schools. This suit follows a decision made by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden demanding the two companies repay the millions of dollars that the state had paid them for services.
CenturyLink and Education Networks of America said in a Salt Lake Tribune article that the contract was void due to missteps taken by the state. The pair said they want to be paid for the work they did. Additionally, the two companies said they want to be compensated for the investment they made to meet the future terms of the contract, including the extension of fiber facilities to hard to reach rural areas. In its lawsuit, CenturyLink officials said that state officials -- including Gov CL "Butch" Otter (R-ID) and other legislative leaders -- told them that Idaho should pay for the network services the telecommunication company provided to them. Although state lawmakers proposed an $8 million settlement, Idaho will have to pay out a larger amount of money for the troubled state broadband plan. The project, which was launched in 2008, aimed to provide one broadband network for all schools across the state. To date, Idaho taxpayers have paid over $29 million for the project.