Thursday, November 20, 2008

Homes with tails

A few months ago, I posed a question: what if consumers could buy their own super-fast fiber optic broadband connections? Rather than telephone and cable companies owning the wires that run into your home, what if you could purchase and own your "last-mile" connection, and select from a variety of different service providers? A fiber connection from your home would not only enable faster Internet speeds, but also novel services like HD videoconferencing and even, someday, real-time communication through 3D holograms (seriously). And because the customer-owned fiber model would make it much easier for new broadband service providers to enter the market, it would open the door to more innovation, competition, and lower prices in Internet access and other retail services.

In a New America Foundation working paper released today, Professor Tim Wu and I explore this idea in more detail. We outline what customer-owned fiber might look like, its possible advantages, and obstacles to its success.

The idea of customer-owned fiber may seem odd at first, but it is important to remember that many items that consumers buy today would have seemed very strange not long ago. Until the personal computer, a computer was something that only large companies owned. For decades, telephones were available only for lease, not for purchase. Fiber to the home could be the next technology that moves into the realm of consumer property.

While we certainly concede that there are many practical questions about this model's viability and that this is not a panacea for America's broadband challenges, we do hope the paper spurs further investigation and experimentation in broadband deployment. Our country needs as much creative thinking as it can get to determine how to deliver fast, open Internet access for everyone. Customer-owned fiber could be one piece of the puzzle.

For those of you in D.C., Tim and I will be giving a talk at the New America Foundation tomorrow:

Home With Tails
Friday, November 21, 2008
12:30-1:30 PM ET
New America Foundation
1630 Connecticut Ave NW 7th Floor
Washington, DC, 20009
Learn more and RSVP here

1 comment:

rgraham1 said...

A few thoughts and comments -

As a consumer/homeowner I don’t like the condominium model for fiber ownership.

I would prefer to personally own and be responsible for what I own. The idea of someone else requiring me to pay a monthly condominium maintenance fee on the fiber on the pole when there are no apparent problems doesn’t sit well with me.

Is there a way to reduce the cost of running the "last mile"?

How can homeowners do more of the work so as to reduce his cost?

It is misleading to create the idea of the customer running the cable, since as it was proposed it is actually a third party (not selected by him) that would run the cable.

Instead, could the customer could be responsible for the last hundred yards or so of fiber, not the last (few) miles or so?

Regarding the "Who builds": The Real Estate Developers and Fiber Contractors seem to have more incentive to do the job for the lowest price than the Carriers or the government.

An attractive solution would be to develop a technology that would allow the homeowner to be a DIY type of guy.

Another attractive scenario to the homeowner would be if the homeowner could select a subcontractor of his own choosing to run the fiber from his house to the first public utility pole. Then the Homeowner would really own that segment of the fiber.

Let a subcontractor put the “ends” on the cable so the company that owns the wires on the poles has to make a simple connection to “connect” the homeowner.

If you want this idea to be widely accepted by the homeowner then think of ways to save the consumer money in the short run and the long run.

Right now the country’s new leadership is talking about putting millions of people to work to stimulate the economy. This could be a win/win situation for the development of our broadband infrastructure.

Is this part of Obama’s plan to resuscitate our economy?

There are three pieces of the network that need to be funded and work together: 1) The homeowner’s piece of fiber from the pole to the house. 2) The few miles of fiber from that pole to the interconnection facility. 3) The participation of the service providers in that interconnection facility.

The national and state governments can provide a partial tax incentive to help the early adopter homeowners that are willing to be one of the first ones to commit.

The new political leadership can help in two ways: subsidize the laying of fiber from on the existing utility poles by providing jobs to build this infrastructure. Take steps to increase competition among ALL service providers to get them to offer their service at all interconnection facilities.