Sunday, November 26, 2006

More Data in Support of UTOPIA

The New York Times has a report about the squabbles between equipment installers for phone and cable companies. They seem to be perpetually damaging each other's equipment as they switch customers from one service to the other.

One of the strongest arguments for a municipal broadband infrastructure is avoiding the waste and hassles of maintaining several infrastructures. Would we want UPS and FedEx to maintain separate road systems for their package delivery? A shared road system is the only viable option. And a shared community fiber optic network also makes a lot of sense.

...Qwest said that since 2004 its technicians had been dispatched more than 7,900 times to fix equipment damaged by Cox, repairs that cost nearly half a million dollars.
...Verizon had made thousands of cuts in Comcast’s cables, generating $1.4 million in damages.

The telephone boxes he visited had a few exposed wires, small unsealed holes and what Mr. Pappas said was improper grounding of Cox electrical wires to Qwest equipment.

... In San Antonio, for instance, AT&T says it found instances where Time Warner Cable installers cut phone company wires when trying to install their own voice service.

In fact, a city might take this argument one step further and refuse to grant any new rights-of-way for utility lines and decline to renew any previous right-of-ways for communications cabling. Perhaps that is a bit too extreme...

One poster over on Slashdot has already commented about UTOPIA. He writes, "Now, instead of getting crazy plans with no upload and bad ping times, I have my choice of four different providers for data, three (soon to be four) for voice, and three for video. All running on the same set of community fiber."

Maybe someday Spanish Fork, where I live, will jump on the UTOPIA bandwagon.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure the road and delivery service paradigm is completely analogous to media/communication lines because there are competing and rapidly evolving tchnologies involved. A more apt paradigm might be different types of transportation lines, such as road, rail, waterways, and air. These systems still have to work around each other. Sometimes they serve the same customers and even perform the same functions, while other times they specialize into different market areas.

Once you lock down a single media/communication standard within a municipality, you stifle flexibility, although; there are often good arguments for standardizing as well. Both pros and cons must be considered.

Many cities have horrible traffic problems because they settled early on street-sidewalk standards that are too narrow for today's needs. Solid rocket motor capacity is constrained by the diameter of the motors, which is constrained by the width of rail cars, which is constrained by standard rail width and weight capacity.

We do not change rail widths or weight capacity due to the prohibitive expense of upgrading infrastructure. Cities have difficulty widening and upgrading roads due to the prohibitive expense of property encroachment and reconstruction.

This shows that it is dangerous to adopt permanent standards too early. Media and communication standards are evolving at a breakneck pace. Once municipalities heavily invest in a single standard, they will be loath to upgrade to a newer standard, while businesses respond much more nimbly to evolving standards and customer wishes.

I am not saying that UTOPIA is never a good idea, but it is no utopian system. It has both pluses and minuses. It must be considered with both eyes wide open.

Bradley Ross said...

You make some very good points, though there is something very cool about the fiber optic connections they are using for UTOPIA. Fiber optic cables can hold a TON of data. They are currently bound in their performance by the type of connectors we put on the end of the cable. If I remember correctly, UTOPIA is being paid for on a 20 year plan. We just won't outgrow fiber in that time span. Interested people can refer to the UTOPIA site for more information on why they chose fiber optic connections.

y-intercept said...

The road analogy falls short for me as well. Both UPS and USPS are using an existing infrastructure. The place that we are falling behind the rest of the world with data communications in in bringing highspeed connections to the home.

Quite frankly, I think our main problem is in the excessive regulations we have on the ability to string cable. If people were allowed to build their own networks out from their house, we would actually have greater bandwidth than the social UTOPIA promised by a municipal monopoly on bandwidth. Unfortunately, as it stands the regulations bar entry to the broadband market and we are left at the mercy of behemoths like comcast and qwest.

The Deseret Spectacle said...

There are some very good points here. However, in this particular instance, I disagree that business will adapt more "nimbly" to evolving standards or consumer wishes.

Private enterprise is bound by the same practical issues that municipalities face. But while municipal intentions, we hope, are to provide a facilitating framework, business is looking to extract as much profit as possible.

If a company is the only show in town, what incentive do they have to invest in new technologies?

It would be more profitable for them to spend money on PR campaigns to manage consumer expectations, and lobby for laws and regulations which prevent or discourage competition, than spend gobs of money to advance an infrastructure that consumers would soon take for granted.

At some point, no matter how quickly the technology is moving, we have to move forward. I think Fiber Optic Cabling is a good plank to walk off of.