This week I want to talk a bit about Network Access and Choices. I spent about 15 years in this specific business and it is very misunderstood.
One of the problems with Network Access as a business is that is in the realest of real worlds. Access is that portion of the network from the Central Office (or equivalent) out to the residence or business. This means this business is not consistent from a deployment model. Neighborhoods and Business Parks grow up in a local way. This means that you can have a general view to how Access Networks are built, but then need to adapt them to local conditions. Think about this in a really simple way. Access Networks are required in rural Wyoming and in New York City. It is hard to imagine that you can build products that work really well for both and in reality you can’t.
The technology choices that you make really define your cost structure as does the product sets that you use. From a customer standpoint, they don’t really care. They simply want your bits per second. Any machinations that you have to do to get the bits there is your problem.
However, this is the biggest problem to me. Outside of basic phone service (Plain Old Telephone Service aka POTS) nobody has to deliver service to you. There is no regulatory requirement. So what has been happening is that Service Providers have focused on upgrading those regions that are the most profitable. That is one of the things that most people don’t understand. Almost any network upgrade will be profitable. The question is when will it be profitable. There are so many possible projects in any given year that companies only work on the most profitable of them. Which is a problem. If we want everyone to get upgraded, then how do we get these low priority projects done?
The answers are not great for any of us. Much of what the US Federal Government has tried has not worked very well. Many of these unprofitable projects lie in the large service providers. These large providers have been reluctant to take subsidies on these areas.
Probably the easiest thing is some form of public/private partnership. There are many companies that are what are called Overbuilders. For smaller towns and cities to work with companies like this might be the best approach. The towns and cities don’t normally have the kind of expertise to be able to build and operate a network. Overbuilders do. With some incentives, they can be persuaded to deliver network upgrades in the town or city. These incentives might include support for funding, marketing and advertising, and tax breaks.
This can be done without changes in the regulatory climate, which means they can be executed today. As you are aware, large Service Providers have been trying to prevent municipalities from building their own networks. However, done properly these public/private partnerships can work really well. This is not a universal solution, but nothing in Access ever is. But at least, you can control your own destiny.
Have a great weekend!
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