Oh that last mile. There are many providers of connectivity solutions out there, but getting them to your door can be a major challenge. There are initiatives to provide WiFi access, and some vendors are building their own facilities, but it doesn’t address the problem.
The Local Exchange Carrier (LEC)
The LECs are what we got when the Bell Telephone monopoly was broken up into smaller monopolies. They own the last mile into homes and businesses in their region. Connectivity either comes from them or rides the “last mile” over their lines. For example say you want to bring in a Sprint Internet circuit in Chicago. You would have to obtain a local loop from AT&T to complete the connection. This, of course, comes with an access charge, but it also complicates troubleshooting. You enter into a situation where multiple vendors are pointing fingers at each other.
All Carriers Are Not Created Equal
Not all of the LECs offer the same levels of service. If you look at the various Metro-IP options in the different markets, you can see this. Verizon has invested in building out their TLS network in New York, providing layer 2 networks across the city. AT&T picked up SBCs offerings which have been lagging behind other vendors. Their Opteman and Gigaman services compare poorly with other options. And if you look at what Qwest is offering in some markets or at Verizon’s FiOS service, you can see the difference.
The problem is that the LECs own the connectivity, so if the LEC is lacking there is no where to go. They are not really beholden to anyone. You can look at what the LECs have done to DSL providers in many areas. You hear stories all the time about a provider being told by the LEC they couldn’t deliver the service, only to have the LEC turn around and offer it directly. Or the many barriers placed to DSL installation.
Who Owns The Last Mile
In an ideal world, I would love to see the municipality take ownership of the cabling. The municipality could then subcontract the building and the management of the network out to the vendor, giving them specific performance goals. The contract would regularly be up for review, and the vendor would be replaced if they failed to meet the committed goals.
Of course this requires responsible government, and we all know how that goes. The idea is to remove the vendor lock in and give the user base a voice in their network, which is becoming increasingly critical. This also provides an opportunity to introduce desperately needed competition into the market.
Cities could also create incentives to bring multiple vendors in. By creating tax incentives, or just working with other the providers to do the construction necessary to lay the infrastructure. When infrastructure is put in, it should be opened to other vendors as well. Divergent fiber and competition, what more could we ask for.