Tag Archives: National Broadband Plan

– FCC’s Broadband Plan and Cities

FCC-broadband-plan.jpg

So the FCC has published its national broadband plan.   This plan has many implications for cities and counties and local government.   It has implications for public safety and general government, for consumers, for business, for wired and wireless networks. 

Here’s my take on it:

Q: Is this plan really radical or different?

A: The FCC has charted a brave new vision for the United States with this plan. For example, in this plan the FCC has set a goal of “one hundred squared”, that is, connecting 100 million households with 100 megabits per second. This is radical because it cannot be accomplished with existing copper wire networks such as the telephone networks or cable TV networks. Such speeds require fiber optic cable to every home and business, a radical change. The speeds copper can carry are quite limited. But fiber cable lightwave signals theoretically, have no upper limit on speed. Incidentally, there are about 114 million households in the U.S.

Q: A 100 megabits per second – a 100 million bits per second – is “geekspeak” . What does it really mean for consumers at home or small business?

A: Let me give you one specific example. Many homes and businesses are buying and installing flat screen TVs, and most of those are HDTV – high definition. That’s cool, and the quality of the image is very detailed. But the signal is one way – you “watch the TV” – you don’t really “interact” with it or use it for communications like you use a phone. At the same time, you can buy a video camcorder – even a cheap one like a Flip phone – that takes HDTV video. Now, let’s suppose you could put the video camcorder next to the HDTV and connect them – all of a sudden you would have a video telephone or a video conferencing setup. You could make video phone calls. You could attend meetings with video. You could attend class at a high school or community college or a university, and actually interact with the teacher or professor – ask questions and participate. You could visit your doctor to talk about a health problem, or work from home. You could visit your local appliance store or clothing store and talk to the owner and have the owner demonstrate what you want to buy. You could play really cool interactive video games. And think of the implications for quality of life – with this sort of video, grandparents could have dinner with their kids and grandchildren every night via a video phone. They could see their grandchildren from hundreds or thousands of miles away, or from an assisted living or nursing home. But all of this requires super fast networks for both high quality and almost zero latency – no delay, just like the voice phone network. And this requires fiber with 100 million bits per second or more. To each home or business.

Q: What are the implications for large cities like Seattle?

A: Seattle has been a leader in thinking about these networks. We’ve already installed fiber cable connecting every public school, all our college campuses, every fire station, police precinct and every major government building. We have done extensive planning for a fiber optic cable network to every one of the 300,000 homes and businesses in Seattle. We are a high tech community and we value education. We need such a fiber network for jobs, education and quality of life. Mayor Michael McGinn is very committed to the idea, and a number of departments are working together on a business plan to make it happen. The visionary goals set by the FCC’s broadband plan – 100 million bits per second to 100 million homes – validate that we’re following the right path, and we need to move rapidly to stay ahead of other cities in the United States and around the world.

Q: How can we learn more about this Seattle plan?

A: To stay abreast of it or support it, go to http://www.seattle.gov/broadband .

Q: What are the implications of the FCC plan for suburban and rural communities?

A: Suburban communities can be wired with fiber, just like the FCC’s plan envisions and Seattle intends to do. Some Seattle area communities such as Kirkland and Woodinville already have fiber networks installed by Verizon. In rural communities installing fiber to farms and small towns may not always make economic sense, although in some visionary places like Chelan County, the local PUD is doing it anyway. But the FCC has envisioned an alternative for rural communities – high speed wireless broadband. Today’s wireless networks are usually called “3G” or 3rd Generation. Fourth Generation – 4G – wireless networks will be available in a few places by the end of 2010. These faster networks require a lot of spectrum. You may recall that, in June, 2009, all TV broadcast signals became digital – every TV in the nation had to have a wired cable connection or a digital antenna. The FCC mandated this digital transition to take spectrum away from UHF TV use and give it to telecommunications companies to build 3G and 4G networks. The FCC’s broadband plan calls for adding another 500 megahertz of spectrum to be dedicated to new, faster, wireless networks. The FCC will try to convince TV broadcasters to give up even more of the 300 MHz of spectrum now used for TV. And the government itself controls another 600 MHz of spectrum, some of which could be used for wireless broadband. 

Q: The nation faces a number of threats – terrorism, disasters (like earthquakes and hurricanes like Katrina) and even local disasters like the shooting of four Lakewood, Washington, police officers in 2009. Will the FCC’s national broadband plan help with this problem?

A: Public safety communications were problematical on September 11th in New York City, in the Katrina Hurricane and in other disasters. The public cell phone networks won’t reliably operate in such disasters or, sometimes, even in daily emergencies like power outages. The FCC has allocated 10 Mhz of spectrum in the 700 Mhz band for a nationwide public safety broadband network. In the national broadband plan, the FCC proposes putting money where its mouth has been – the FCC is proposing $6.5 billion in grants to create the public safety network. The City of Seattle is one of only 17 communities nationwide who have asked the FCC for permission to use this spectrum and build such a network. In their plan, the FCC includes a method for setting standards and operating procedures which will allow cities like Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Boston to build. And these municipal or regional public safety wireless broadband networks will interoperate with others nationwide. In fact, under the FCC’s plan, the public safety networks will also interoperate with networks being constructed by AT&T and Verizon and T-Mobile. So if a police officer or firefighter can’t get a strong signal from the public safety network the officer could get signals from a commercial network instead. 

Furthermore, Seattle has proposed that other government agencies – our electric utility, Seattle City Light, our water utility, Seattle Public Utilities, our transportation department, and others, also be allowed to use this network. In both daily emergencies and major disasters such “second responders” are vital to public safety and must interoperate with police and fire to keep the public safe. The national broadband plan recognizes this need as well.

Q: Practically, why do we need a public safety wireless broadband network?

A: I’ll give one specific example – video. On October 31, 2009, a Seattle police officer was brutally murdered by an unknown assailant – Christopher Montfort was ultimately charged with the crime. How did the police find Montfort? I’ve discussed this in more detail in this blog entry, but essentially, every Seattle police patrol vehicle has a video camera which records video of traffic stops. The recording goes to a computer in the police vehicle. It took several days for the police to review all the video footage of traffic stops from Seattle police cars. They noticed, in the background of several such stops, a uniquely shaped vehicle cruising by, which was traced back to Montfort. With a wireless broadband network, such video could immediately, in real time, be transmitted to dispatch centers and other police officers. Furthermore, police and firefighters could receive mugshots, building plans, hazardous material data, and video from a variety of sources to improve their response to both daily incidents and larger disasters.

Q: Are there other implications of the plan?

A: Several are worth mentioning and there is a bit more detail in an analysis here.

  • The FCC has recognized that cities and counties need to be able to control their own streets, utility poles and rights-of-way, and receive fair compensation for their use by companies who build broadband networks, while allowing private companies better access to rights of way to build networks.
  • The FCC has recommended to Congress that it pre-empt laws in 18 states which prohibit cities and counties from building broadband networks. In most places, there is no competition for broadband – there are only one or two providers, usually the cable TV company and the phone company, with older, slower, networks. In places where the city or county has built a network – like Tacoma – consumer costs are significantly lower for phone, cable TV and Internet access.
  • The plan calls for strengthened cybersecurity measures to protect broadband networks, consumers and businesses from hackers and other cybersecurity threats.
  • The FCC plans to revamp the Universal Service Fund (USF) to help subsidize broadband adoption.

In summary, the FCC’s plan is visionary. Certainly it was carefully crafted with many competing interests interests in mind.  And it doesn’t really provide any good mechanism to encourage competition between private providers.  Such competition would reduce costs to users.  Nevertheless, if it is followed, will materially improve the economy, safety, and quality of life for the people of the United States.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under broadband, cable, fcc, wireless

– A Peek at the National Broadband Plan

Broadband Wireless

Broadband Wireless

On January 26th Admiral Jamie Barnett of the FCC spoke about the National Broadband Plan, which is now due out on March 17th (and I understand New York City, Boston and other cities with large Irish-American populations plan to have parades in honor of the plan that day, too!)

As a CTO, I’m so immersed in technology that I’m not sure “broadband” means anything to the average American (if an “average” American exists).   Certainly most Americans are now at least aware of the Internet and use technology in their lives, even if that tech is nothing more than a cell phone or ATM.   But all you have to do is watch the security lines at any airport and see all the laptops and luggables and cell phones and DVD players and other associated smart lumps of plastic dumped on the scanner lines to know that tech is ubiquitous in most people’s lives.

A significant fraction of people know about broadband and what it means.   In Seattle, some 84% of homes have an Internet connection, 75% have something faster than dial-up and 88% have a computer at home.  Of course Seattle’s got a reputation as a city of high tech folks (an image Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and I work hard to polish).   But even nationwide 79% of homes have an Internet connection and 63% are faster than dial-up.  The source for these stats is here.  

These are numbers are hard to fathom when one considers the web didn’t exist 20 years ago,  and most people probably thought “Internet” had something to do with basketball, volleyball, tennis or another “net-centric” sport.

Admiral Barnett heads the Homeland Security and Public Safety Bureau at the FCC.   He’s charged with making wireless spectrum available to government in general and specifically to the law enforcement, firefighting and emergency medical agencies who keep the public safe.   He spoke at the Winter Summit of Association of Public Safety Communications Officials on January 26th, and gave us a glimpse of what the National Broadband Plan will contain. 

Admiral Barnett’s remarks centered on wireless spectrum for use by first responders.  About 10 Megahertz is available nationwide for public safety, but the license for that is held by a  single nationwide organization.     Yet most police, fire and emergency medical agencies are operated by cities and counties.    Given this paradoxical situation, 17 states and cities have requested waivers from the FCC to use that spectrum in their local areas to immediately create networks for their use.  

And why is the spectrum required?   These new wireless networks hold promise that cops in police vehicles can see videos of crimes in progress as they race to crime scenes, or rapidly access building plans, images and video.  Have a peek at a  report prepared by PTI and APCO here for more uses.  

According to Admiral Barnett, those waivers may be granted later this year so we can get started building the network.  The FCC is very interested in public-private partnerships to build the networks because many jurisdictions don’t have funds to construct such networks for themselves.  Luckily, commercial cell phone carriers like Verizon and AT&T, and companies like Motorola and Alcatel-Lucent have signed on in support of this plan, and are developing new networks including  LTE (long term evolution) for not only their own networks but also for public safety use.   This means public safety agencies could use a network built and funded by taxpayers (more resilient, better priority, less costly) for most of their work, but could roam only the commercial carriers’ networks when necessary.   This is in stark contrast to today’s networks, where police/fire radios are incompatible with the cell phone networks.  The best of both worlds!

It looks like the FCC will encourage these partnerships in its plan. 

The FCC also knows that funding will be required to construct these networks.   Admiral Barnett understands funding is required not just to build the networks, but to operate them.  Besides public-private partnerships, the FCC is floating the idea of an Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC) to pushing forward on a national public safety wireless network.  We’ll hear more about this on February 10th.

Finally, Barnett said  “next generation 911” will also be recognized in the national broadband plan.   Right now, the only way to get information to a 911 center is to … well … telephone 911!    But many citizens’ cell phones have the capability to do text messages, take photos and video.   Yet 911 centers have little or no capability to accept such media, which can be critical to rapidly apprehending perpetrators and rendering aid to victims.   We higher-speed land line fiber optic networking between 911 centers and other public safety and government facilities too, and I hope that will be in the Plan.

Twenty years ago, very few people knew of the Internet or Web.   Now it is an indispensible part of most people’s lives and a vital component of our HomeCity security and public safety.  But we need more network SPEED, both wired and wireless.  The National Broadband Plan could be, with a bit of vision by the FCC, a roadmap to the future of the nation.

1 Comment

Filed under 911, APCO, broadband, emergency operations, homecity security, PSST, PTI

– Fibering, UnFibering America

Broadband-America as Second Class - click for moreOn August 25th I had a chance to participate in a workshop at the Federal Communications Commission discussing what should be in the National Broadband Plan. The FCC is charged by the President and Congress to create that plan by February, 2010. To that end, they are conducting a series of workshops to gather input.

The workshops are the standard fare of a government sausage-making machine. The usual vaudeville performers with their usual songs-and-dances protecting their usual patches of the stage and their seats in the theater called the telecommunications market. There are very few representatives of city and county governments, but lots of representatives of “industry”.

On the other hand, I’m heartened by the Obama administration’s choices to lead the FCC. Julius Genachowski is the new FCC chair and is one of the primary authors of the broadband portion of the “stimulus act” (ARRA). Admiral Jamie Barnett is the new Chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. He listened intently during the workshop, and the staff of that Bureau appears to be genuinely engaged and interested in this task.

These are all good signs that, with the National Broadband Plan, we’ll not get the usual lowest-common-denominator beaurcratized pabulum, but something truly visionary – a roadmap to take the United States from its present second-world Internet infrastructure to an electronic network suitable for the remainder of the century.

In my mind – and this was the essence of my talk – that roadmap is simple: build a fiber optic network to every home and business in America. As that network is built, create a fourth-generation wireless network on top of it by placing radio towers at key points throughout the network. I’m sold on fiber optics because of its virtually limitless capacity. As electronics improve, new switches and routers can be replaced on a fiber network, driving it to ever higher speeds. Signals from multiple different competing service providers (Internet, television, video, music, security, telephone etc.) can ride this network, just like anyone’s car or trucking company can ride the public highways.

Telephone and cable companies will oppose this vision tooth-and-nail. They have immense investments in existing copper-cable networks and will want to wring every last dollar of profit from those networks. But those copper cable networks are old and slow, literally dinosaurs in the world of fiber optics. South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Australia, Paris, Sweden, Amsterdam, see the value of fiber and are investing in both municipal and national networks. If we listen to the copper-wire-dinosaurs, the United States will continue to fall behind.

A fiber network has numerous advantages. I’ve already mentioned the potential to break the telephone and cable monopolies which grip our present electronic infrastructure. By fostering competition, we’re not only going to be improving service, consumer choice and reducing prices, but we’re being “capitalist” in the most fundamental meaning of the word.

Really high speed fiber networks have the potential to transform our world – literally. Homes and businesses will increasingly have high-definition television sets. By adding high-definition television cameras to them, along with a fiber network, every home becomes a video studio. Telecommuting, tele-education, tele-medicine, video telephony all become possible. Virtual classrooms from home, routine visits to the doctor, and video-calls with family all could improve our quality of life.

Furthermore, with true two-way, high-definition video a possibility, perhaps we can coax people out of their automobiles, to attend classes via video, to telecommute and conduct business at home, traveling less. This, in turn, means greater productivity, less time wasted in traffic jams, less consumption of precious gasoline, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and less dependence on foreign oil. And that means improved homeland security.

This transformation simply echoes previous transformations in our history, where the telegraph allowed long-distance communications between cities or continents, the telephone allowed homes across the nation to be interconnected for voice, and the internet brought the web, e-mail and social networking into the lives of almost every American. We’ve done this before – and it has always changed America for the better, serving as an engine of economic development as well as making us more safe and secure. We’ve built national telegraph and telephone networks, and, more recently, the Internet. We’ve built national broadcasting networks for radio and television and cable television. We’ve constructed cellular telephone networks and public safety radio networks. We’ve built the national highway network and then the Interstate highway network. Sometimes we’ve built these networks with entirely public investment, sometimes with entirely private investment, and sometimes a combination of the two. Wise regulation and spectrum management by the FCC has often paved the way. And we can do it again, if the National Broadband Plan is innovative and visionary.

Will the FCC and the Obama administration have the vision, the innovation, the leadership and the guts to be this bold?

Additional Information:

3 Comments

Filed under broadband, Fedgov