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Rural Broadband to Replace POTS As Beneficiary of US Gov't Subsidies 208

IDG reports that "The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has voted to overhaul a decades-old system of telephone subsidies in rural areas, with the funding refocused on broadband deployment. The FCC's vote Thursday would transition the Universal Service Fund's (USF's) high-cost program, now subsidizing voice service, to a new Connect America Fund focused on broadband deployment to areas that don't yet have service. The FCC will cap the broadband fund at $4.5 billion a year, the current budget of the USF high-cost program, funded by a tax on telephone bills." That cap, says Reuters, is "the first budget constraint ever imposed on the program."
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Rural Broadband to Replace POTS As Beneficiary of US Gov't Subsidies

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  • by MetricT ( 128876 ) on Thursday October 27, 2011 @04:13PM (#37860766)

    I have been trying to get broadband for my parents for years. They live a mile off the main road in a deep valley. Thus far...

    * No ISDN. A year or two ago Tennessee decided it no longer had to be a tariffed service, and AT&T burned their ships behind them as rapidly as possible, because I was told our CO no longer has ISDN hardware (it did back in 2001-2002).

    * No DSL. AT&T has a cluster of SAI cabinets 1 mile from their driveway, but no free ports on their DSLAM, and no intention of adding new ones. I've voluntered to *BUY* them a frickin' VDSL2 DSLAM and give it to them, but I've never heard back from them on that or any of several other offers. AT&T is a bigger information sink than /dev/null

    * No Fiber. I have asked Charter if they could provision single-mode fiber if I pulled it to the road. I was agnostic about whether that's a pure FTTH setup, or just a cabinet by the road with a cable modem and a fiber converter. Nope. They cannot provision my fiber under either scenario, but they *can* provision fiber they lay themselves, which strangely costs roughly "one new car" more than doing it myself. Which is kind of hard on retired fixed-income folks.

    * No cable. Their house doesn't have cable coax. See Charter's idea of fair price above.

    * No cell. The valley effectively blocks all signals. I have maps of every cell tower in a 10 mile radius, and never found a useful signal on any of them.

    * No satellite. They don't have line-of-sight with geosynchronous orbit, and even if they did, the satellite providers in our area aren't accepting new customers right now.

    I mean, what can you do at this point? My next step is getting two 2 watt Wi-Fi routers and a couple of high-gain antennas, setting up a couple of passive repeaters between them and my house (very NoLOS), and hoping I can set up a wireless bridge. My next step past that is contacting CERN to see if they can beam internet over neutrinos.

    The last time this issue came up on Slashdot, the (L)ibertarians came out of the woodwork, blaming my parents for building a house somewhere where there's no broadband, despite the fact that they built the house in 1985. Which is about as rational as blaming settlers in the 1700's for not building cities where the interstates were going to be.

    They also pounced on me for wanting something subsidized. Except you're not subsidizing me one thin dime. The phone cable is already in the ground. All I need is a DSLAM in the local SAI cabinet, *which I volunteered to purchase myself*. No go. A free market only exists when the buyer actually has a choice (see "healthcare" for another example of your economic ideologies colliding with reality).

    Freshman economics tells you that some business don't behave well under the usual free-market rules, and thus need to be heavily regulated. Those business are called "natural monopolies", which is why gas, electricity, sewage, roads, phone (hah!) are provided by either public utilities, or publicly-regulated private utilities. A utility only needs one set of physical plant, one set of staff, one set of senior management. Multiple companies waste megabucks on multiple plant/staff/management. They waste further megabucks on advertising, trying to steal profitable customers from each other in a zero-sum game. All that needless spending increases your costs, increases the necessary rate of return before they will provide internet, and ends up marooning a lot of marginal households on the wrong side of the digital divide.

    In the middle 2000's several underserved TN cities and utilities got tired of being ignored by the AT&T and Comcast's of the world and were looking at getting into the game themselves. And then in 2008 our state politicians decided to actively hinder the formation of municipal internet and the entrance of local electric utilities (existing ones got grandfathered in), in the name of "encouraging compet

    • by Leebert ( 1694 ) *

      * No cable. Their house doesn't have cable coax. See Charter's idea of fair price above.

      You know what I would consider doing (seriously)? I'd actually lay the coax myself and order the cable. The guy on the truck won't give a crap who installed it, and he'd probably get a kick out of you doing it yourself, if you did it right. Assuming he even knew you did it.

      • by MetricT ( 128876 )

        I would be tempted. But given the cost of doing so, and the likelihood that they wouldn't support that either, it doesn't make a lot of sense.

        It also doesn't make a lot of sense to invest several thousand laying coax when it's going to be obsoleted by fiber in a few years any. Last time I checked, the successor to HDTV (Utra-HDTV) required 250 Mbs for streaming, and is supposed to be out around 2018. I rather doubt coax would scale that high. So it doesn't make sense to spend money that's going to be

        • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

          If they will provision on the cable, then run both. You only need to rent the ditch witch for the same amount of time.

          Odds are they will not. They will tell you that their coax ends at the road, and they want $XXk to run it to the house. They will have no way of dealing with you running it yourself.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Bury a damn conduit. Pull whatever you need later.

        • my house had no cable when we moved in a year ago, time warner layed the cable to my house (underground, had to be dugg) and left me a 3/4 full spindel of coax and let me wire the inside myself the way i wanted to. oh yeah, and it didnt cost us a dime. This is in a rural are in upstate NY
        • by RealTime ( 3392 ) *
          Bury conduit instead?

          Just choose a diameter that will accommodate anything you might expect to pull in the future and be sure to have some intermediate weather-tight boxes every few hundred feet.
          • by Medievalist ( 16032 ) on Thursday October 27, 2011 @05:26PM (#37861624)

            Bury conduit instead?

            Just choose a diameter that will accommodate anything you might expect to pull in the future and be sure to have some intermediate weather-tight boxes every few hundred feet.

            The problem with that is that the provider will know you did it, because it's been done right.

            If you do a half-assed looking job you can just call 'em up and when they say "we don't have a cable into your house" you can reply "yes you do, what are you talking about, I'm looking right at it!" and make them send a truck out to check. The guy on the truck will say "hmmm, looks just like one of ours" if you do the job badly enough, and you'll probably get hooked right in.

        • by Leebert ( 1694 ) *

          I would be tempted. But given the cost of doing so, and the likelihood that they wouldn't support that either, it doesn't make a lot of sense.

          Hmmm. Well, maybe what you could do is FIRST badger the person taking the order into just putting it in. Insist that you brought out a "technician" who told you the cable is there, and that they insisted that the cable is in place. Or insist that you *did* agree to have them come out and bury the cable, but they came out and said the cable is already there. "What do you mean you don't have a record of it? Your records are wrong! Look, I don't have all day, just put in the order please, do you know how

      • I don't know about his sitch but I actually tried that with my mom. She is exactly TWO BLOCKS from the end of their connections on both DSL and cable and NEITHER would run it. So I contacted a friend that was a lineman at the time, had him come out and figure up the cost of the line (about $2300 including the time for him and the bucket truck) and ran the line in my mom's place to the road and contacted the cableco. I was told they would need $35,000 PLUS at least a dozen homes PLUS a guarantee that each home would take the max package PLUS another 35% surcharge on TOP of all that!

        Finally in a level of sheer POed I cornered the PHB at the cableco and said WTF did he think he was doing and was told it is SOP to not run a single inch where they can't guarantee at LEAST 100% profit above the cost of the run IMMEDIATELY along with a similar profit for at least two years, but that was only for large jobs with big payoffs, for small jobs try ten times or more for their "effort". This is why they haven't run a single inch except to some condos that signed a crazy exclusive agreement in damned near 20 years, nobody will do shit in this country anymore unless insane profits are handed to them the instant they do it.

        Frankly is it any wonder why we get the short bus to the info superhighway folks? Frankly we ought to nationalize the lines since they have ALREADY stolen $200 billion [pbs.org] from We, The PEOPLE for nationwide broadband and all we got was the finger and an autographed pic of the CxOs snorting coke off their $1000 hookers with the "free' bonuses we gave them. Well after dealing with them for over 20 damned years trying to get them to run a lousy two fucking blocks I say, to quote Mr garrison "You go to hell! You go to hell and you die!" We need to nationalize and FORCE competition if we are ever to get anywhere. If they want a monopoly? That's fiber to door in return for 15 years. If its a place that currently isn't being served (REALLY served, not the horseshit like that .gov self reporting site which says my mom has 6 choices not counting sat when even in the middle of town i only have two and she has none) we'll give them 25. if they fall down on the job and stop hooking people in the neighborhood up, or trying claiming a single house on the edge of the area means the whole area is served? then bye bye monopoly, the lines are opened and its a free for all.

        Just look at how opening up the POTS gave us all this new tech and new devices. If we could take the lines away from the cartels (who should be banned from having both lines and media as a conflict of interest) we could see a similar explosion of new ideas in broadband. but as it is its just the 1%ers at the top bleeding the country dry and giving back ever shittier service in return.

        • Split the different run a pair of single mode fiber to each home/business back to a CO, allow all comers to rent space or bring fiber to these CO's. Sounds like something better to do with 4 billion a year. Since it can all be doen with passive optics it's realy cheap CWDM and that gets 10 gigabits or more to each and every house.

    • by Thud457 ( 234763 )

      a moderate Republican

      boggles I think I saw one of those in a museum once.

      with a ...MBA

      This is /. , now you're just bold-faced trolling. GTFO. ;-p

    • by XanC ( 644172 )

      The last time this issue came up on Slashdot, the (L)ibertarians came out of the woodwork, blaming my parents for building a house somewhere where there's no broadband, despite the fact that they built the house in 1985. Which is about as rational as blaming settlers in the 1700's for not building cities where the interstates were going to be.

      If by "blame" you mean that people live with the consequences of earlier decisions, then we certainly do. Those towns founded in the 1700s don't have Interstate service. You're in the position of saying that we should build an interstate to every town founded in the 1700s just so that people there aren't "blamed" for the founder's choice of location.

    • by fred911 ( 83970 )

      Build or buy a yagi and point it at one of the cell towers you have mapped. You should easily be able find signal in a valley with a 35db gain antenna. It might not be the most pretty solution, but it shouldn 't be too costly either. Kinda down and dirty, have by torrow solution.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm not going to scroll through ALL the responses and see if someone else already suggested this, but...

      Have you considered trying to acquire some land closer to, or even adjacent to, the road? If you could just get 100sq ft or so, you could perhaps convince the companies to provision to THAT location and then run the rest of the cabling yourself. This has the advantage of solving the "we have to run it all the way to the property ourselves" problem, you've brought the mountain to Mohammed!

      • by MetricT ( 128876 )

        Actually I have considered it. It's a ludicrous idea, but it's also a ludicrous situation too.

    • Why not start an ISP yourself? Seems you've done the research, and your research suggests that there is a market ready. While your ROI timeframe may scare away investors, you might be able to get some of the locals who will be using this service to invest in it themselves, as they too likely see the value.
      • Because you can't in most parts of the US? Much for the same reason he mentions the outlawing of municipal broadband. They simply won't allow new competitors in their markets to run cable and unless you have money to buy spectrum (good luck with that!) your screwed.

    • by Z34107 ( 925136 )

      You think (L)ibertarians are in any way happy that a telecom duopoly is about as competitive as it gets in America? Fix root causes, rather than pretend turning that duopoly into a monopoly will magically make things better.

      • Uhh, the only reason they have more than one service provider is because of the Universal Service Fund. Gotta credit the government with giving them a choice at all.

      • Yeah, all those regulated monopolies in Europe have terrible service.
    • by tmosley ( 996283 )
      Wait wait wait. You are on the one hand complaining about not being able to get service, and on the other holding up government enforced monopolies as "good" even though it means you can't get service for ANY price?

      I think they need to fill in the valley.
    • by dissy ( 172727 )

      So you are willing to purchase a $25000+ dslam, but not pay the $10000 fiber run charge?
      I've only been out of telecom for 3 years now and can't at all believe prices have changed that much in such a tiny amount of time. Especially for hardware that is not mass-produced for consumers...

      I'm also almost shocked* they wouldn't run a PRI to you for around $10k. That's what AT&T wanted to charge me to pull new wiring from the CO down the 5 block area where I live, just to provision a PRI/BRI
      (* Yea after 3 s

      • by MetricT ( 128876 )

        A Zhone 24 port VDSL2 DSLAM goes for about $100 a port nowadays. The fiber run and node was north of $20k just for the hardware. Labor was estimated at $5-7k on top of that.

        I'd be willing to run twister pair to a neighbor's house, pay their internet if they'd share, and pipe it back on VDSL2 modem. ZyXEL sells 'em for $300. But the neighbors are in much the same situation.

      • You missed the rest of the anectdote.

        The 10k install figure was only the beginning. They want a 100% ROI for 10 years, based on that figure.

        Eg, 20k/year, for 10 years.

        I would be hesitant to spend a quarter million dollars just for dsl servie myself. That 25k dslam is peanuts in comparison.

    • There are many benefits of living away from civilization that your parents enjoy but urban residents don't. Consider the lack of broadband options one of the costs. It's up to them to decide whether the benefits outweigh the costs.

      Until you can prove that the benefit to the government of subsidizing broadband access for rural residents outweighs the costs, don't ask the government to intervene. It isn't the government's role to pick the winners and the losers.

    • You're going to have to go ahead and build that unlicensed repeater network yourself. The good news is that you should be able to do it very inexpensively with mostly used parts. It's too bad yard sale and flea market season is just ending.

    • The last time this issue came up on Slashdot, the (L)ibertarians came out of the woodwork, blaming my parents for building a house somewhere where there's no broadband, despite the fact that they built the house in 1985. Which is about as rational as blaming settlers in the 1700's for not building cities where the interstates were going to be.

      Yeah, I feel your pain. I consider myself a moderate libertarian, and my response to this would be dismantling their effective monopolies and encouraging local coops.

      I'm also a believer in Kenesian economics - so I'd be putting all those people who are out of work to work building infrastructure. It'd catch up sooner or later.

    • Are there telephone poles? Can you get pole space to pull wire to run VDSL? You'll be in for about a thousand bucks for wire and modems. If there's conduit do the same.

      If you can't get pole space, blame your local government - they dictate rights of way and grant monopolies to people who couldn't care if you live or breathe.

      • by MetricT ( 128876 )

        There are electric poles to my parent's house, but that hits two major problems:

        * Hanging anything on a power pole costs $1 per month. Multiply that by the number of poles it would take, and that's $30 a month just by itself.

        * Even if I did that, no one else on my main road has DSL either.

        Right now I'm looking at creating a wireless bridge to my house. Airlive sells a 2 watt Wifi Router for $70

        http://www.flyteccomputers.com/details.cfm?wid=1270&wb=N.Power&wre=1 [flyteccomputers.com]

        and TP-Link sells a 24 DBi Wifi dish

        • Right now I'm looking at creating a wireless bridge to my house. Airlive sells a 2 watt Wifi Router for $70

          How wooded are you? I started out with WiFi and wound up running VDSL for all but very short hops. It was fine in the winter, but when the leaves came out everything stopped working.

          I would have gladly paid $30/mo for pole space - I wound up on ladders installing standoffs on random trees in the woods, usually on rocky footing.

    • by troutman ( 26963 )

      So, does Charter have coax on the road? Is the only thing holding you back the cost of getting the coax down the driveway?

      Here's a solution that is cheap and wrong, but it works.

      You know how construction sites have a small pole (usually a 6x6 10 foot beam the ground) with a plywood backboard for electrical and phones?
      You can get a coax CATV drop done to a "work site" demarc. They may say no initially, but you can do it.

      You could create your own "construction site" temporary service pole near the road, wi

      • by MetricT ( 128876 )

        Unfortunately no. I asked them if they could just drop cable off the pole and I'd handle the rest, and they said no because it wasn't a physical address. If they would just do that, I could lay fiber and then get a cable modem and fiber converter and run it, similar to what you said.

        Our neighbors are in the same boat as my parents, so that's another problem

        Appreciate the suggestions though.

        • by troutman ( 26963 )

          You have to be better at not taking "no" for an answer. :-)

          They can do it. They just have to be persuaded. Or you can get a physical address for your construction site from your town/county/etc.

  • by RobinEggs ( 1453925 ) on Thursday October 27, 2011 @04:17PM (#37860822)

    The changes will cost U.S. residents paying less than $30 a month for telephone service an additional $0.10 to $0.15 a month

    This sounds great. Good for people without broadband, insignificantly more expensive for people who currently get a POTS subsidy from the program.

    Now how about an urban broadband fund, to replace the worthless service tens of millions of us still have, service so bad it isn't even legally 'broadband' in any other industrialized country, with something usable?

    • I hate the FCC. They'll now have an extra 4.5 billion to give back to the major telcos, that already owe 300 billion in undelivered broadband [newnetworks.com]. I harped on my local rep about this when he was head of the house subcommittee on telecommunications, but he was in the pocket of Telcos then. Since the telcos lobbied so hard to roll back the telco reform of '96, that ended up killing CLECs and ISPs, we know who will obviously win with a few billion more - the monopolies.

      The libertarian answer would be to stop gov

    • by yuhong ( 1378501 )

      Well, these rural areas likely currently only have 56k dial-up or satellite, which is even worse, even for basic tasks like checking email.

  • When I drive around in the vicinity of the Mohave Desert I see houses scattered - a line of poles provides a telephone line may extend to 20 miles, or more to a lone dwelling. So to provided High Speed there will need to be either fibre or a series of amplifiers and power to them. Not something a phone company would enjoy doing, for one dwelling.

  • The internet may be important but the telephone remains more important, especially in remote areas where it is the norm for business and power distribution may be less than reliable (POTS usually has backup power supplies, which is useful in emergencies).

    On the other hand, there are plenty of places where the telephone system is just fine and they are looking for broadband.

    So shouldn't the region be deciding what's more important given their needs and level of development?

    • if broadband can be made as reliable as POTS, nobody will need POTS anymore when they can VoIP.
    • Why are we paying for private corps to build our infrastructure? Can't we wake up and have the DoT lay the lines when they work on the roads? Put them under ground X distance from all roads that have any work done. Same with the water and gas lines. If you don't have a decent enough road; then you are on your own.
      The huge profit margins of these corps could fund a great deal.... they don't innovate anymore; they avoid upgrading to maximize profit 1st. Profit is #1 and if they are a monopoly your happin

      • All that road work is done by contractors, too. You just meant that we should drop cable whenever we have the earth open already, right? Which means that we can't do it for surface-only work, but we certainly could whenever or wherever we're putting in sewage. Any city with municipal fiber probably already does this. (Hell, as far as I know they run the fiber in lines in the sewer pipes.) But of course municipal fiber is basically dead every where since it competes with companies that won't do shit wit

  • For laying fiber in rural areas, a quick search comes up with a cost of between $16,000 and $80,000 per mile. This appears to include digging a ditch, laying the cable, repeaters, etc. So, for $4.5 billion we should be able to lay about 90,000 miles of fiber. Of course, pretty much all of these rural places that need broadband should already have phone service (and power; internet is probably not terribly useful without it), so in theory we should be able to hang new fiber on the existing utility poles - th

  • VOIP is available as well. Seriously, it makes good sense to convert POTS lines to DSL/VOIP systems. It might even make sense to run fiber in many areas.

Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them. -- Bill Vaughn