FCC sets 10 Mbps as new rural broadband starting point

Wireline companies wanting to tap into Connect America funding will have to deliver broadband speeds of at least 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream, the FCC has ruled.

These new speeds, up from 2011’s 4 Mbps down/1 Mbps up, make certain that rural consumers get the same broadband speeds that 99 percent of urban Americans receive, the FCC said in a press release.

Other portions of the 2011 provisions also had to be tweaked to accommodate the new speeds. Among these, the FCC said, are provisions:

• Increasing the terms of support for price cap carriers from five to six years and possibly seven

• Increasing flexibility in the build-out requirement as long as recipients reach out to Americans that were previously unserved

• Forbearing from certain universal service obligations in low cost census blocks where price cap carriers are not eligible to receive Connect America support and census blocks where there’s competition

• Requiring recipients that decline Connect America support in a state to continue to deliver voice service to high cost census blocks until replaced through competitive bidding by another subsidized carrier that will deliver voice and 10/1 broadband

In a company statement, Windstream praised the FCC, calling the new order "another major step toward expanding robust broadband service to Americans in rural, high-cost areas."

Matt Polka, president-CEO of the American Cable Association (ACA), added that organization’s support for the change as well. “ACA may differ with the FCC on select aspects of the program but not the overall direction, and we intend to continue to work with the FCC to ensure unserved consumers get high-speed broadband in an efficient and fiscally responsible manner,” said a statement attributed to Polka.

AT&T (NYSE: T), Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) opposed changing the broadband definition because 4 Mbps was sufficient, an Ars Technica story said.

Interestingly, while the FCC believes that rural communities deserve 10 Mbps broadband speeds, the nation’s most densely populated state feels that 4G speeds meet consumer broadband demands.

The Board of Public Utilities (BPU) ruled earlier this year that Verizon was no longer obligated to provide broadband to New Jersey residents who can access broadband service from cable TV providers or via wireless 4G service. Residents in pockets of the state without cable or wireless broadband were given the option to petition Verizon for service but would only get broadband if at least 35 people in a single census track agreed to sign contracts for a minimum of one year and pay $100 deposits.

Verizon at the time called the ruling “great news for the state’s consumers.”

Thailand plans national backhaul company

The Thai government has announced plans to set up a National Backbone Holding Company that would own and operate telecom assets nationwide.

The planned company would seek to reduce redundancies in network equipment and reduce the prices for broadband services, the Bangkok Post reported.

A national backbone holding company could inherit the 150,000km of fiber owned by state-owned operators TOT and CAT. It may also include the 50,000km of fiber owned by private players and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand.

Infrastructure from private players could potentially be included as part of the operators' build-operate-transfer concession agreements.

According to the report, the holding company would operate all existing telecom network assets, renting the network to operators. The holding company would have a telecom tower and fiber optic network company within its banner.

The planned new holding company would form part of Thailand's new digital economy strategy, which aims to improve broadband penetration and address broadband blackspots.

But the panel tasked with developing the digital economy policy has acknowledged that legal technicalities could make setting up a telecom holding company a difficult prospect.

State-owned operator CAT recently signed an agreement with private telco DTAC covering evaluating network sharing arrangements, which could go on to form part of the holding company plan.

China opens fixed broadband market to private firms

China is opening up its booming fixed broadband market to private firms in an attempt to increase competition in a market that has been dominated by China Telecom and China Unicom.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) on Wednesday launched public consultations on a proposal to allow private enterprises to provide fixed broadband services in the country during a three-year trial period.

Under the proposal, privately owned Chinese enterprises with a minimum market capitalization of 20 million yuan ($3.2 million) and more than three years of experience in the telecom industry would be able to apply to participate in the trial to provide fixed broadband services including FTTH to consumers .

Private companies, when their applications are approved, could either directly build broadband infrastructure, or lease network infrastructure via the three stated-owned incumbents – China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile – to operate as service providers.

Currently, China's broadband market is dominated by China Telecom and China Unicom. In 2011, China Unicom and China Telecom were embroiled in antitrust investigations for alleged abuse of dominance in the broadband market.

Earlier this year the country's anti-monopoly regulator, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), said it is evaluating an anti-monopoly case against the duo and will make a ruling soon.

The plan will be tested in 16 major cities – Taiyuan, Shenyang, Ha'erbin, Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Xiamen, Qingdao, Zhengzhou, Wuhan, Changsha, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chongqing and Chengdu.

Interested parties will have until December 16 to participate in the MIIT's consultation period for the proposal, according to an announcement posted on the regulator's website.

The trial is the MIIT's latest attempts to further liberalize the telecom sector. The Chinese government first announced in June 2012 that it plans to progressively open the telecom sector up to private investment.

The MIIT has since given out MVNO licenses to 33 privately-owned companies to resell mobile services with the incumbent carriers under a two-year trial, in a move to bring more competition to the country's mobile market.

In January, the ministry also announced plans to allow foreign investment in seven telecom VAS segments within the Shanghai Free Trade Zone.

Middle East-North Africa Region Shows Consistent Growth in FTTH

Middle East Chapter of FTTH Council reports consistent growth for FTTH in its member countries in Middle East Asia and North African regions. The findings are summarized in a study conducted by iDATE for FTTH Council. The sixth annual conference of FTTH Council MENA region will be held in Dubai World Trade Center on November 24 and 25. iDATE is the research partner of FTTH Council. The annual conference will be held in UAE under the patronage of TRA.

United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia has shown noticeable growth for Fiber to the home technologies in MENA region. In UAE, Fiber to the home broadband technology has been promoted mainly by Etisalat. The deployment started somewhere in 2008 and has been continued till date making UAE to the top of the highest Fiber penetrated countries in the world in terms of percentage.

In Saudi Arabia, Fiber based broadband technologies are promoted by Saudi Telecom Company and Mobily. While STC is concentrating in FTTH, Mobily has been actively involved in FTTB and business enterprise solutions. Mobily is also active in providing fiber to the home broadband services in Saudi Arabia. The study also found that Saudi Arabia has strong potential to develop FTTH technology, with a current FTTH/B penetration of around 30 percent. Currently, KSA is making progress, with STC and Mobily having decided to deploy FTTH extensively around the country. In Oman, the recently announced broadband company has started its work to deploy broadband services in Oman. Fiber based broadband deployments were started in Kuwait as well, but the progress is not significant as in UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Qatar’s Ooredoo is focusing on massive deployment of fiber based broadband technologies. Qatar, where FTTH/B penetration rate is currently at over 55% percent, has also made great progress in covering most of the country’s territory, with a very fast adoption by the leading operator, Ooredoo. We have heard similar progress reports from Bahrain as well. With the rise in development of MENA region’s ICT sector, Fiber to the home broadband is leading the new generation and the way to innovation and technology. Middle East Asian countries need a future-proof infrastructure to answer the requirements of the new emerging perspective. Strategy planners in these countries are aware of the challenges in delivering 1 Gbps speeds to every household along with maintaining commercial success,he added.

In the North African countries, FTTH/B is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, there is a strong potential for this technology to develop in countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Algeria in the next 10 years to come.

The FTTH Council Middle East and North Africa is an industry organization with a mission to accelerate FTTH adoption by all broadband stakeholders through information and promotion, in order to accelerate the availability of fiber-based, ultra-high-speed access networks to consumers and businesses.