It’s All Aboard the FTTH Train in the US

Bright House Networks Announces Plans for 1 Gbps Speeds to Consumers’ Homes

FTTH Council Hosts Fiber Conferences Across the States

Significance: Incumbents may think there is little demand for Gigabit speeds, but that doesn’t mean communities don’t want all-fiber networks.

The fiber train is gaining steam in the US. Cableco Bright House Networks is the latest to hop on board. This week, the incumbent unveiled plans to build a fiber network in Tampa, Florida.

Interest in the FTTH networks is growing across the US. Last week, the FTTH (Fiber to the Home) Council held the second installment of its “Following the Gigabit Highway” traveling conference this year in Lafayette, Louisiana. FTTH is holding conferences across the States to communities that have built their own fiber networks, the first one being held in the Kansas Cities where Google Fiber launched. Next on the tour is Seattle, Washington, followed by Raleigh, North Carolina.

“Today we are approaching 30% of the homes passed,” Tom Cohen, counsel to the firm Kelley, Drye & Warren in Washington DC and board member of the FTTH Council, said during his speech at the FTTH conference. “We’ve spent the past dozen or so years pushing the rock up the hill, and we’re at a point now where the rock is going to start falling over, and people are beginning to appreciate ‘I want fiber. It’s something I need.’”

In Florida, Bright House Networks announced its fiber plans in conjunction with residential community development project in Tampa, spear headed by the local Metro Development Group (MDG).

The fiber network will serve only 6,000 households initially, in a number of communities planned by the MDG, but could eventually pass around 20,000. Bright House currently serves 2.4 million subscribers in Florida, California, Indiana, Alabama and Michigan. The cableco said pricing will be “competitive,” but we’re not sure if that means Google Fiber competitive or Verizon FiOS competitive.

Mismatched Expectations between Communities and Incumbents

There is a widening distance between consumer perceptions of a gigabit-capable fiber network, and incumbent assumptions about the need for such a network. The disparate attitudes towards fiber were no more apparent than at the FTTH fiber conference last week.

Incumbents, and particularly telcos, are quick to point out that there is virtually zero consumer demand for broadband speeds of 100 Mbps in the US at present, while fiber advocates treat the question as a non sequitur. “The discussion about whether or not a gigabit is enough to do what you think you can do today is false question,” said Tom Koutsky, chief policy counsel for Connected Nation, speaking at the FTTH conference. “We need to have the US and local communities leading the acceleration of this broadband ecosystem.”

Fiber advocates say communities around the world recognize an “ultra high speed” fiber network benefits the community in more ways than just buffer-free Netflix streaming. Twenty-nine locally-owned utilities including some telcos have announced they are building or have already built all-fiber, Gigabit-capable networks.

– It is a means to future-proof a community
– It attracts business, too, which in turn stimulates the economy
– It also increases property values on homes, which in turn raises property taxes

In Florida, MDG said it is interested in bringing 1 Gbps broadband speeds to its developments because broadband access is a differentiator in the community. Greg Singleton, president of MDG, told the Wall Street Journal that he believes communities that ignore investing in faster broadband speeds risk becoming obsolete in five to 10 years.

As Kurt Raaflaub, its senior manager of carrier networks product marketing at ADTRAN, told The Online Reporter a few weeks ago, every time the industry thinks it knows how much broadband speed residences need; it finds that it was wrong by a factor of 10.

Google’s Plan Worked

It looks like Google’s stated goal to spur innovation and competition among broadband providers has been successful. Google said that it was never its intention to build a national all-fiber network but only to show what could be done and how communities and their citizens could benefit from an all-fiber network.

“We have what I call the mountain change with the Google build,” Cohen said at the FTTH conference. “All of [a] sudden communities out there understand there are things we can do to help make these builds happen. We’ve come to this point where all of [a] sudden people are starting to say ‘give me fiber.’”

An example is AT&T in Austin, Texas. AT&T announced plans to build an all-fiber network in Austin the same day plans of a Google Fiberhood in the area leaked to the press. Publicly, AT&T said it wanted to show local and state regulators what an existing telco could do once the regulatory shackles were removed and it could play on the same field as Google, so it’s clear Google was at least an indirect cause of AT&T’s announcement.

Its fiberhoods have spurred communities to begin advocating for fiber networks, too. When Google first announced its fiber project, it received over 1,000 applications from cities around the US, indicating that there is a healthy demand at the local level for fiber networks.

Tom Reiman, president of the Broadband Group, a consulting firm that was involved in the Bright House fiber deal, echoed Cohen’s remarks …

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