What If You Owned Your Own Fiber Connection?

from the not-a-ridiculous-suggestion dept

Almost five years ago, we wrote about a project in Burlington, Vermont to bring fiber optics to residents there. The idea was that, rather than a traditional "municipally-owned" network, this would actually be owned by the residents themselves. The article focused on the work of economist Alan McAdams, who (it needs to be admitted) was the guy who not only sent me down the path of better understanding the economics of information over a dozen years ago, but also convinced me to start Techdirt in the first place. McAdams has been pushing for the idea that if the end users actually owned the network itself, you would end up with much greater broadband, in part because you might still end up with a single fiber network, but there would be significant competition of service providers on that network. And, indeed, it appears that's where the Burlington fiber project has gone. A more recent case study on the project suggests that, with a slow and deliberate pace, thousands of residents in Burlington now have access to the fiber network, and can choose their own ISP, if they want.

Tim Lee has now written about another example as well, where there's an effort underway in Ottawa (which is only about 170 miles from Burlington), to string up 400 homes with fiber, but where the individual home owners will pay for and own the "last mile" connection to their homes. This is definitely a test on a small scale, but it's a similar situation to what McAdams has been pushing for all along. Let the customer own the connection itself, and then get to choose the service provider. In the Ottawa case, once again, service providers would no longer have to worry about wiring up your home (the most expensive part), but just need to offer service at various peering points, and each individual could choose who to get service from.

In this manner, you still get real competition, which is sorely lacking in the telco arena, and you get the benefits of higher speed networks. It's not as crazy as it might sound, either. As Lee points out, the telephone company used to own not just the wiring in your house, but the actual telephone as well. Over the years, that's been pushed back. Now you own your own phone -- and the wiring inside your house. So is it so crazy to think that you should own the wires outside of your house out to the main network as well? There are still plenty of practical issues that need to be resolved -- and the initial economics may be a bit daunting for many (the idea of paying, say, $3,000, to own your own fiber drop may freak some people out). But, it's experiments like these that are a real step in the right direction towards adding real competition, rather than the faux duopoly we all deal with today.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Freedom, Jul 31st, 2008 @ 9:58pm

    Make it a law...

    Require all new home communities to put in a fiber network (and probably even more importantly conduit as I'm sure they'll be fiber 2 or something else better in 6 months). Make sure the home owners own it and maintain it and then allow the providers to compete for services.

    Considering that lots of communities require you to install fire suppression systems in new homes and at a much larger cost, I don't see why you couldn't do this. Just sell it as protecting the children to ensure they are better connected than the rest of the world.

    Frankly for a new home, $3,000 wouldn't be noticed. In existing communities, a loan/bond type situation could be used and tacked on to your home owners dues or paid out right depending on the finances of the home owner.

    I want it - tell me where those 400 homes are going in :)

    Freedom

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2008 @ 11:32pm

    Using qwest fiber here in denver and its great. No competition of service sucks but it still Fiber!

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Grokk, Jul 31st, 2008 @ 11:35pm

    Telstra in Australia

    You should read up on some of the history of Telecom in Australia.
    From the beginning the home owner paid for the installation of that last mile(copper as was the case back then). However, even though the home owner paid for it, the telco still 'owned' it.

    I'd be pissed to find out that I paid $3000 for a fibre line only to have that line taken from me some years down the track.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Chunky Vomit, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 12:24am

    Putting up a 3k line might not be that bad a deal for most people, but you never put a line up and forget about it.

    Lines require maintenance, and sometimes have to be put back up.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    bish, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 12:37am

    My Home Town has 2 Cable ISPs

    .. on the same infrastructure.

    The cable TV system, you see, is owned by the townspeople. Not the muni; the people. While the people themselves don't know their grass is greener and want to get into a monopoly about as big as the big cable companies can shove compressed channels and pay-per-spew at them, they still enjoy the ability to switch cable ISP providers in about an hour's turnaround.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Doug Robb, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 6:25am

    It would be great but

    Technically its possible but as pointed out it will need to be maintained etc so there would need to some greater structure in place to keep things working than individual householders themselves.

    An analogy here in Australia would be that local councils ( so called local government authorities or LGA's) maintain local roads, paths, parks etc and the cost of this is shared by all people owning houses in that area.

    So if this sort of basic infrastructre (ie the fibre and not the associated communications networks) was connected and maintained by say an LGA which essentially treats it as any other service to their ratepayers then the price gouging of Telco's would largely be elimated from equation?

    I agree with the article that at some point we'd all be better off if householders owned the last mile - it's just a matter of how this can be sensibly achieved? Wireless may even be part of this mix?

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased), Aug 1st, 2008 @ 6:27am

    Re:

    Plus, is this going to be an aerial line or underground? Trenching/boring costs for this distance would be extremely expensive. If going overhead, you will have to attach it to something. You would have to install your own poles unless you pay a pole attachment fee to owners of existing poles (and that is even if the owning utility would let Joe Schmoe attach to their poles let alone climb up and make the attachment and perform maintenance). A pole attachment fee is a repeating rental charge. Then you get into space issues. How many fiber cables go up before you start to lose proper clearance? If you go underground, who is going to locate your line to prevent a neighbor from digging through it? Um, I think I will pay the cable/phone company for that.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    mjt, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 7:10am

    Re: Make it a law

    Anyone else notice the irony of someone calling himself "Freedom" pushing for gov't mandated control of their network connection. That's a joke, right?

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Abdul, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 7:46am

    It seems this is the onlyn plausible way to increase our broadband penetration. The big telcos won't do it for us and it's high time the federal government encourage such programmes: FTTH: Coming From a Government Near You(http://www.internetevolution.com/author.asp?section_id=561&doc_id=148317&F_src=flftwo)

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    David, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 9:04am

    I want it

    3k for fiber!!! Sign me up!
    I live in a rural area of NC (ironic, I am roughyl 25 miles for the state Capitol) and my selection are piss poor to be frank. And they are 1. Dial-up :( 2. DSL, I live 1000' out of the service area and the best i can get is 500k not guarenteed ... 3. Cable...when it works (key word WHEN) it's pretty fast, 10 meg. Problem is that is about 25% of the time. I call tech support once per week and see a field rep about once a month. I am willing to pay just about anything to ditch Charter Communications. So, 3k for my own fiber, with better service and faster speeds and better selection for...SIGN ME UP!

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous of Course, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 9:13am

    Re:

    Hopefully some form of NLOS wireless broadband
    will be the solution, or part of it.

    The US tax payers have given the telcos an enormous
    sum with the intent that it be used to increase
    connectivity in rural areas. All we have to show
    for it is dark fiber.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Rose M. Welch, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 10:11am

    Re: Make it a law...

    Ummm... No?

    I certainly don't want to be told that I have to run a connection to my home even though I may not use it. I don't even have to have utilities running to my home if I don't want them. I can have propane and a well, or nothing at all if I choose.

    However, when I got cable I had to pay a large amount of money for cable to be installed from their line into my home. It would make sense that I would own that line, just as I own the telephone line that I paid the telephone company to install in my home, and I own the plumbing that connects the city water utility to my home, and I own the wiring in my home that connects to the electric line, and I own the... Well, I own everything *but* the cable line and that's silly.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Bart, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 10:58am

    Too bad...

    ...this is illegal in most places.

    In this manner, you still get real competition, which is sorely lacking in the telco arena,
    Of course, which is why the incumbents have made sure that it's illegal.

    It's not as crazy as it might sound, either.
    The only thing "crazy" about it would be thinking that it has some soft of chance of being allowed in most places.

    As Lee points out, the telephone company used to own not just the wiring in your house, but the actual telephone as well. Over the years, that's been pushed back.
    AT&T was once broken up into a lot of smaller companies too, but that's been pushed back as well. Yes, push back is occurring, but in the direction of less competition, not more.

    But, it's experiments like these that are a real step in the right direction towards adding real competition, rather than the faux duopoly we all deal with today.
    Which is why they will never be tolerated on a widespread basis.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Rose M. Welchq, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 11:35am

    Re: Re:

    Trenching is not expensive. I know, I just got through trenching an acre of land so I could have a washing machine.

    It is even less expensive if you rent the rencher from Hoem Depot and do it yourself.

    The only part that I can see that might be expensive is getting a right-of-way for a mile... However, they could work it like they to utility poles and cable and everything thing else, where you ho along city land or an easement...

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Tim A, Aug 1st, 2008 @ 4:10pm

    Re: Make it a law...

    One better hope that FCI Broadband or Futureway or whatever company they are hiding as these days is not involved in the subdivision in Ottawa. If it is a Mattamy Homes subdivision I wouldn't doubt that it is.

    They couldn't get fiber or even cable working proper for years in my old subdivision.

    See http://tim.blog.kosmo.com/blog/CustomerService/_archives/2005/1/18/259704.html

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Lucretious, Aug 2nd, 2008 @ 6:37am

    I've been seeing commercials celebrating the amazing qualities of fiber optic networks since i was a kid (bear in mind I was born in '61) and so far in 2008 it has....what, about 5% market penetration?

    What is it about fiber optic networks that is taking so long to be implemented? I used to do CATV line construction in the early 80's and had the opportunity to install a few FO drops and I can tell you that physically speaking, fiber optic cable is much easier to work with than traditional aluminum sheathed trunk and feed CATV cable. My only guess is the expense?

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2008 @ 12:06pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    The only part that I can see that might be expensive is getting a right-of-way for a mile... However, they could work it like they to utility poles and cable and everything thing else, where you ho along city land or an easement...
    Well you see, that's the problem. Local governments usually prevent the use of utility easements by anyone but the selected incumbent providers. The excuse usually given is that by protecting the established incumbent telco and cable companies from competition those companies will be able to focus on just providing excellent service and value to their customers (yeah, right) instead of "wasting" their energies on "competing".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2008 @ 1:56pm

    Re: Re: Make it a law...

    I don't even have to have utilities running to my home if I don't want them. I can have propane and a well, or nothing at all if I choose.

    In most cities certain things are required and others prohibited in order to get a certificate of occupancy allowing you to legally occupy the premises.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Bill St. Arnaud, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 7:16am

    For more information on customer owned fiber in Ottawa

    For more information on customer owned fiber in Ottawa please see

    http://free-fiber-to-the-home.blogspot.com/

    Bill

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    دردشه, Jul 11th, 2009 @ 9:10am

    Well you see, that's the problem. Local governments usually prevent the use of utility easements by anyone but the selected incumbent providers. The excuse usually given is that by protecting the established incumbent telco and cable companies from competition those companies will be able to focus on just providing excellent service and value to their customers (yeah, right) instead of "wasting" their energies on

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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