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Harvard Study Shows Why Big Telecom Is Terrified of Community-Run Broadband (vice.com)
379 points by owens99 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 144 comments



We can easily be running our own internet. I recenlty discovered CJDNS[1] (protocol for encrypted p2p address allocation and routing for mesh networks, so essentially OSI layer 3) and project Hyperboria[2] (a community of local WiFi initiatives) while exploring scuttlebutt[3]. Confirmed my suspicions that we could probably be getting waaay better internet connectivity at way lower prices.

Decentralized tech is going to be the future. Now if we can only figure out how to not get squashed down by the powers that be.

[1] https://github.com/cjdelisle/cjdns

[2] https://hyperboria.net/

[3] p2p social network https://scuttlebutt.nz


"trying not to get squashed by the powers that be" is the future. Only going to get harder each year.


Which is why we should be scrambling to get it done now. Free and non-centrally-controllable access to connectivity is going to be a powerful aide in all the other battles.

Priorities priorities priorities.

Andre Staltz gives[1] an approximate deadline of 5-10 years, or we're doomed.

[1] https://staltz.com/a-plan-to-rescue-the-web-from-the-interne...


Non-centrally controlled connectivity can be solved by low-altitude communication satellites[1], and other sky based solutions[2].

We should be focusing on tech that makes aerospace less costly. The benefits will extend beyond a free & open network. There is good science and theory on ways to reduce costs in aerospace, it's an engineering/business problem at this point.

[1]https://www.cnbc.com/2017/05/04/spacex-internet-satellites-e... [2]https://medium.com/iot-5g-extreme-ideas-lab/googles-balloon-...


How are LEO satellites not going to be centrally controlled? It's not like the satellite owners will let you use them for free or be controlled by commercial interests and subject to laws and regulations.

You are also not going to be deploying your own balloon Internet.


1. There can be multiple sets of satellite services an area. How many entities currently own satellites? Maybe 100. Reducing the cost will increase diversity in satellite ownership.

2. Satellites can, in theory, run a mesh network among themselves.

3. Decentralized doesn't mean you own one. Decentralized means there are multiple agents and none have a commanding control of the system. I don't need to be able to deploy my own internet balloon to belong to a decentralized system. Cheap internet balloons will allow smaller companies to work on the "last mile" problem, further decentralizing the network.

4. Decentralized doesn't mean free as in beer, free from commercial interests, or free from laws and regulations.


Satellites are expensive and frequencies are limited. Even if you solve the first, the latter isn't about to change.

Demand is also limited. Not a great combination, so your vision on multiple low cost satellite service providers isn't likely to come true.

There are only a few satellite owners you can buy broadband service from, not a 100. It's capital intensive and past bankruptcies don't bode well for new entrants.

Satellites can and do run satellite to satellite comms, a "mesh" if you like, but it increases latency.

Neither are balloons likely to be a viable long term solution.


Unless you plan on conjuring spectrum out of thin air that's still got some serious barriers. Most of the frequency bands are pretty crowded already.


I'd give you the same deadline of 5-10 years for figuring out a way to hold off the automation of military and security operations, which will be just as bad as losing the open web.


> CJDNS[1] (protocol for encrypted p2p address allocation and routing for mesh networks, so essentially OSI layer 3) and project Hyperboria[2] (a community of local WiFi initiatives)

None of this addresses the big point, which is the backhaul, the transit networks, the big networks which knit together all of the smaller community networks and make them more useful.

In short: If you make a nice little mesh network in your small town (New York City, say) you still haven't solved the problem of getting access to websites in Los Angeles, let alone Doha.

Nobody talks much about that. Probably because it isn't possible for that to be decentralized or open in any meaningful sense, and it's certainly impossible for hobbyists to build it.


There's no monopoly in backhaul, in fact various market shenanigans have reduced long-distance data profits to pennies. The internet is designed entirely with the idea of making it easy to connect the first mile to the rest; that is a solved problem. In USA the remaining problem is local service provided by monopolists. This problem will persist in general until FCC is forced, kicking and screaming, into allowing more equitable use of the radio spectrum. Until then, as TFA notes, this problem will be solved piecemeal in those communities who are allowed to run their own services.


Yes, wholesale broadband rates are dirt cheap and falling like a rock forever because of improvements in technology.

What you pay for for broadband in the home is: 1) last mile connection (expensive to install) 2) bribes (sorry, "franchise fees") 3) advertising to maintain the illusion of competition 4) customer support to help you deal with your anger and cancel/activate you when you switch between various shitty providers to maintain the illusion of competition


What kills me about the advertising are three things:

1) It creates a huge barrier to entry because new ISPs have a hard time getting any name recognition.

2) Newpapers, radio stations, and television stations probably wouldn't want to say anything bad about telephone or cable providers. Imagine the phone call an NBC TV station would get if it attacked Comcast. That advertising is a good chunk of money.

3) Advertising is rolled into the PUC-approved "cost of doing business" and the cable or telephone companies get to add their profits on top of that.


We’re working on www.altheamesh.com to create networks where participants within the network can compete with one another to provide better service without the end consumers having to switch providers.

This is accomplished by adding a price metric to the routing protocol so that packets are routed along the best and cheapest paths.

So if you notice that a certain neighborhood has bad service, you can set up some kind of connection to it and sell into that network to make a profit. No advertising. The end users will only notice their internet access getting cheaper and or better.


The mesh networks target the last mile problem. That is the big point to be addressed as it causes the affordability issues and is the main connectivity bottleneck. To improve the existing system full decentralisation is not necessary.


Exactly. It would allow companies like Google to get involved by leasing out their fiber backbone at cost for long-distance comms.

Right now they're restricted by last mile costs, but otherwise they're incentivized to simply provide the fastest bandwidth to the most people, as their revenue simply scales with internet usage as a whole.


I believe it is already being done: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long-range_Wi-Fi#Large-scale_d...

We'll still need big orgs to take care of those undersea cables, for now at least; but even with that still out of reach for hobbyists or community projects, the situation can already be much better than what is being forced on us.

On another note, if you are using p2p tech like scuttlebutt and DAT[1] and Beaker[2] browser then just having good neighbourhood and city wide meshes will already be a YUUUGE boon :D since they share data locally, and for a lot of uses you don't really need access to servers across the oceans

[1] https://datproject.org/

[2] https://beakerbrowser.com/


As a side note, it always bothered me how terribly inefficient it is to be sending data in circles around the world just to message someone two streets down or, worse, my house mate in the other room......

The decentralized future is going to be a lot more efficient, a lot more reliable, and even faster.


1. build local net

2. feed it with a few links to the central net, but mostly transit the data locality

3. wait until ISPs goes out of business

4. plug isolated nets into new dark fiber lying around.

done.


How do you figure that when 70% of traffic is streaming?


if you are just consuming content owned by netflix or such, a central or decentralised net means nothing to the end user.


Which was just about my point. As this covers the vast majority of all end users, how do you figure your list logically applies?


Regarding a more decentralized web, I recommend this talk: https://media.ccc.de/v/34c3-8740-the_internet_in_cuba_a_stor...


This was great; very inspiring!

Also a shame they are not using much better tech (proper mesh protocols like CJDNS), which is already available and successfully deployed.


In Germany we have Freifunk [0], a very active community providing free WiFi and meshing in many places.

[0] https://freifunk.net/en/


This was my first ever look at mesh networks, years ago!! Met a bunch of people hacking on it in c-base. Those guys are awesome! And my go-to example for large successful installations of CJDNS over wireless mesh (40k+ nodes AFAIK!). Also I'm under the impression that Freifunk consider themselves part of Hyperboria, but I'm not so sure actually...

People are usually impressed just looking at the network map https://www.freifunk-karte.de/


Hey, add http://altheamesh.com to your list. We are creating a system where routers pay each other per byte for bandwidth, and packets are routed along the best and cheapest routes.

To address CJDNS, it’s a project that inspired a lot of people, but it’s not actually used for internet access. It’s mostly used by people who are connecting to it over their existing ISPs. This is because it is not good at finding efficient routes. People trying to set up an efficient network will use distance vector protocols like Babel or Batman. We have some patches to Babel that enable our price based routing. To my knowledge CJDNS is not used by any mesh networks actually providing people with internet access.

Why people connect to CJDNS over their ISPs, I’m not sure, but who am I to judge what people do in their spare time. My guess is that it’s easier than actually doing the work of setting up a real network but they can still feel like they are part of a “mesh network”.


Cool project (altheamesh.com) but please don't spread FUD about CJDNS...

What do you mean by "internet access"? If you mean access to the "commercial internet" then I assure you a lot of CJDNS peers provide gateways to the "clearnet", as they like to call it, and traffic gets routed to it when needed.

A lot of the nodes are connected over existing infrastructure because infrastructure is hard; but yet there are already several dozens of thousands of wireless mesh nodes running CJDNS. For one example of a network (that is not over existing ISPs): https://www.freifunk-karte.de/ and I'm sure you can google for more. The CJDNS project clearly promotes setting up wireless mesh over going with your existing infra.

I believe the flexibility to be part overlay part independent at the same time is a powerful boon to the project actually. Perhaps that's why there are 100s of thousands of CJDNS nodes around the globe?

Regarding routing, CJDNS uses "source routing" which has various advantages. All the satisfied nodes running CJDNS don't seem to be complaining about the routing efficiency.... BATMAN is superior when nodes are actually changing location (i.e. mobile mesh networks), which is not the intended use-case here (CJDNS nodes are at fixed locations and peering connectiongs are set up manually by exchanging keys out-of-band). Also BATMAN is only a routing protocol whereas CJDNS does address allocation and cryptographic peer auth as well, and the routing protocol can actually be changed anyway.


One final note, I personally prefer networks where the incentive to support the network is simply because the members want to see it succeed (mutual benefit all around), not because each node wants to accumulate cryptocurrency.

And it seems to be working just fine without cryptocurrency being involved. Call me naive but I think it's possible to motivate people without money.


>What do you mean by "internet access"? If you mean access to the "commercial internet" then I assure you a lot of CJDNS peers provide gateways to the "clearnet", as they like to call it, and traffic gets routed to it when needed.

In this case "internet access" refers to access to the big backbones of ISPs that allow CJDNS peers to exchange data. If you don't have an ISP to connect you up to the larger networks a CJDNS peer will not be able to send any data anywhere.

Or how does CJDNS send data across the transatlantic fibre without an ISP?


It was sorta rhetorical to make a point about 'internet' meaning just interconnected networks :D And any wireless mesh based network will face the same issue (my reply was mainly about FUD against CJDNS, and some implication that http://altheamesh.com/ is superior because ????)

But anyway, access to the commercial internet and sending data over the transatlantic obviously need "normal" ISPs, but as others have noted below (replies to https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16135626) that's not the "big issue".


Why would I imply that Althea is superior to CJDNS? They are not the same kind of thing. I was relating my experiences as an engineer that assessed CJDNS for my project. You’ve somehow taken it as an attack on a sacred cow.


Are you implying that Freifunk uses CJDNS? This is not true. I am not “spreading FUD” about CJDNS. Althea is not superior to CJDNS, because it’s not a competition. We looked at CJDNS when building Althea and found that Babel or Batman (which is what Freifunk actually uses) were much more efficient and effective. They also don’t roll routing, address allocation, and crypto into one huge ball of code.


People tried a long time ago. What was needed was an access point with two radios (so you can bridge without interference) and with enough range to hit a few neighbors (in case your nearest aren’t participating).

I think we are there now but the people who were interested in mesh have lost interest.


Those are some pretty noble ventures, but how can something with a name like scuttlebutt ever hope to become mainstream? There's a p2p torrent video service called bitchute, which is equally noble as the services you mentioned, but it too is just so not-sexy - it'll never make it to the mainstream. I think these services could eventually take off, but the marketing and branding are going to be parts that need the most work.


Anyone have experience with hyperboria? Looks like there is a node in SF, I'd be interested in setting up a node in the south bay.


Most broadband providers work with overbooking / contention ratios, so if you sell 100/100mbit you buy 20:1 to 50:1 less from the upstream provider. Overbooking ratios for consumer internet can be between for example 20:1 to 50:1. That means for 20mbit of bandwith to consumers you buy 1 mbit of bandwidth from a upstream provider.

Buying one megabit of uplink at current market rate is typically less than a dollar from upstream providers.

Contention ratio of Uk broadband. https://web.archive.org/web/20070930041720/http://www.ofcom....

You can buy commercial Internet uplink and link up your neighbours for cheaper than broadband ratios. Digging fibre in the ground is fairly expensive but gives more stable connection and most bandwidth. A cheaper route is to go Wifi mesh networking but on normal wifi access points one radio per access point you get halving of bandwidth for each mesh hop. If you go open source mesh with 3 radios per AP you can get better bandwidth.

Nasa study of Mesh networks. Mesh hops vs bandwith https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/201400...


I think you’re mis-interpreting the overbooking ratios. My understanding is that a 20:1 ratio means that for 1 mbit you can serve 20 customers 1 mbit.

Your point still stands though. That means if 1 mbit cost $1 then it costs $0.04/customer.

The real cost is in deploying the wires and countless studies have shown the ROI on that, especially given the exorbitant rates, is typically 5 years or less per hookup. Can you imagine how much Comcast etc have made per house they’ve run coax to? The ROI must be mind boggling.


But we taxpayers already paid $400 billion to have fiber ran throughout the US, just never happened. ISPs took payment but didn't deliver.

https://www.reddit.com/r/explainlikeimfive/comments/6c5e97/e...


The author of the book that makes that claim has a tendency to exaggerate. Here is some discussion of his earlier book, when it was just $200 billion he was claiming: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7709556


Right. So what can be done about telcos taking that money, and giving it to shareholders instead of delivering the infrastructure they committed to? Very little. That money is gone.


It can be observed that they are a hostile party who have no place in our local communities and are not welcome. They can have their exclusive contracts to pole access and provision of telecom services revoked by municipalities who then construct an ISP as a regulated public utility like water or power. A private company runs the utility, one legally required to base their fees upon the actual cost of providing the service (which guarantees it drops as fast as tech costs drop - fast), has to appeal to a utilities commission if they wish to raise rates, while providing legitimate justification based upon an increase in the cost of providing the service, etc.

Overnight government would be able to mandate universal service availability, and count on citizens having Internet access. That would mean being able to close physical government offices and let the clerks work from home. Billions saved right off the bat. It would mean less spying, as municipal people are not going to just bend over when the feds show up, they will actually demand to see a warrant - unlike any large American company who derives large amounts of their own income from being granted government contracts. It would mean no ridiculous upcharging for "business" connections (just like we don't charge restaurants more for tap water because they make soup out of it and sell it). It would also mean no more asynchronous connections which only exist to prop up the expensive business connections. It would mean an ISP that serves as infrastructure that improves society in a multitude of ways rather than a luxury good fed off of by a greedy tick that was lucky enough to hold exclusive sway over pole access rights and telecom rights when their single biggest competitor, the Internet, appeared on the scene.

Letting companies like Comcast, Time Warner, etc run ISPs is sheer madness. They are media distribution companies. Their empires were built on that. And the Internet makes media distribution worthless. Any clever kid can run circles around them and provide a better service. And we let them have their hands on its throat?


The very government you expect to mandate universal service availability is the government that approves exclusive franchise agreements with predatory cable/internet providers.

Unless you're ready to run for local office and champion municipal/coop internet, or find incumbents who support your cause, you will not succeed.

> Any clever kid can run circles around them and provide a better service. And we let them have their hands on its throat?

A bit of an exaggeration of course; running an ISP is hard, and the margins are razor thin unless you have regulatory capture. It can be done, but that's a governing issue. See what I said above.

TL;DR Run for office. Fix the problem.


>A bit of an exaggeration of course; running an ISP is har

I think you misunderstood me. I did not mean to say that being an ISP was something a clever kid could pull off. I meant to say that a clever kid can run circles around the established players when it comes to media distribution. That clever kid can upload whatever media needs to be distributed to a CDN and it's done. The entrenched players have to manage maintaining a byzantine maze of distribution agreement contracts that they entered into long ago, invent ways in which they will prevent becoming a "simple dumb pipe" (as they call it), manage how the availability of the content will affect the success of their other media properties, etc.

And you are correct about the municipalities being the ones who granted those exclusive contracts originally, and that is where change needs to happen. And it has in a few places! A friend of mine works for a municipal ISP in Florida. But.... each and every single municipality that has ever tried to go that route faces years and years of protracted litigation. Comcast and their compatriots litigate vigorously in their attempt to prevent the establishment of municipal ISPs. Many municipalities simply can't afford to spend 10 years and $100 million just to get out of a contract they foolishly agreed to that gave exclusive rights to providing telecom services to a company for 99 years (a common arrangement).


I misunderstood, thanks for clarifying. Agree that anyone can be Netflix/do media distribution these days with transcoding + storage + CDN all commodities now.


Why was there no class-action lawsuit to come out of this?


Right, 20:1 ratio means for 20mbit of bandwith to consumers you buy 1 mbit of bandwidth from a upstream provider. I don't think you're disagreeing.


The marginal cost of a new 20Mbit customer when you have 500+ customers is 1 Mbit upstream bandwidth. However, you can't really get just 1 Mbit at those scales so it's closer to 100 extra customers cost 100Mbit.


That ignores that the USO does require some mind blowingly expensive links I doubt that laying new local plant is a positive roi in 5 years.


According to NRTC [1] fiber deployments to the premises cost approximately $800/deployment. Ignoring uptake, operational expenses etc that’s $13/mo per deployment to recover cost in 5 years.

I have no idea what the average consumer pays their residential provider but I would estimate it’s over $100/mo on average. It seems like it would be fairly easy to get return in 5 years. These are numbers for fiber.

[1] https://www.nrtc.coop/rural-connect/cost-of-rural-ftth-deplo...


In San Francisco Sonic charges $50 + taxes for 100Mb/s fiber service, and they're profitable. IIRC, the CEO of Sonic has hinted their connection cost per house is closer to $400 (at least during a roll-out in an SF suburb), though I can't find any references.

They forced AT&T's hand, which began rolling out their service in the city about a year later. AT&T charges $70 or more, I think.

It's cheaper to do this stuff than the big companies let on. The problem is that they can make even _more_ money investing in other services and products, like cellular and cable TV. Worse, fiber eats into their cable TV profits and jeopardizes their wet dreams about 5G cellular data plans.

[1] It's $40 + $10 router rental, or $50 if you have your own router. But $50 for the service alone isn't promotional, whereas the $40 + rental is technically promotional and might become $50 + rental down the road.


Less of that three digit cable bill goes to the company than you might expect. Content providers don't give it away for free. ESPN is notorious for eating a huge % of the bill.


> You can buy commercial Internet uplink and link up your neighbours...

Thanks for this. I've been wondering about this for the last few years now. Guess the idea isn't completely nuts and will have to research further.


I've been building https://startyourownisp.com - it's a (free) guide to starting a small ISP in your garage. I've been working with companies doing that for almost 15 years in the US.


Many many 'thank you(s)' for that.


Alternatively go get a pile of money and prepare to set fire to it.

Source: did this for 10 years.


I would be very interested to hear more about your experience dboreham! I'm assuming you mean you ran a small/local ISP and it was an overall loss?

What do you think of something like Hyperboria (https://hyperboria.net/) which is based on CJDNS, so there's no "ISP" really, but each peer sort of is a very small very local service provider to whoever they decide to peer with.

I was imagining some peers will charge other peers money to act as their gateway to the public network. Or maybe a bunch of people will pool their money and buy commercial network access


Mesh networking is completely useless for providing anything other than last-ditch service. It originated in a) academia where it's a nice thing to tinker with and write PhD theses and b) in the military where having a network connection no matter how crappy can make the difference between life and death. It has no place imho in delivering any kind of service that someone would use day-to-day and certainly not one that anyone would pay for.

WISP networks are built with point-to-point links: the appropriate technology for delivering good QoS. Since radios and antennas are extremely cheap this is the way to go.

The rock you'll flounder upon is that you need to buy a pretty beefy connection to serve any number of customers (even 1). The cost of said connection in most places is quite high. This places a lower bound on the number of paying customers you need to break even. That number is somewhere around 100. This is before you factor in the cost of customer support, schlepping around on people's roofs, finding and negotiating leases on repeater locations, etc. The number of places where there is not a better competitive offering available to customers (or a high likelihood one will show up before you recoup your investment) is low.

Current wireless technology (and according to Shannon, any wireless technology we can imagine) has quite a low upper bound to throughput -- much lower than is achievable with coax for example. So you can't complete on speed with anyone except DSL and Satellite.


Be careful... in many places, it is illegal to offer a telecom service that competes. In many places, Comcast and similar have exclusivity contracts with the municipalities. And of course if you're going to be digging trenches and running lines, you need legal right-of-ways through properties or pole access rights to run lines on poles. In most places, they don't want any more cables run than are already present, so the only way to get those rights is through heavy political manipulation.

Also, if you live in a nice permissive place and you get all set up, don't be surprised if Comcast techs cut all of your lines and claim they didn't realize they shouldn't have done that. It wouldn't be the first time.


See, THIS is what we should be fighting. NN is unnecessary if we have actual competition. Those exclusivity contracts, to me seem like Sherman Antitrust Act violations, since they are effectively creating cartel-like conditions to limit interstate commerce (i.e. commerce over "the wire.")


Digging trenches and laying out cables over entire neighborhoods is probably natural monopoly territory... i.e. it's not easily achievable without proper regulation / governemnt involvement. Therefore, another way to look at this is:

Proliferating internet access has been a big public/private partnership, and therefore we need NN to ensure that it continues to serve the public good. We shuld be fighting for the "public" part of the public/private partnership to not get fleeced.


Exactly. This is why Internet access is a public utility. No municipality wants 50 lines going pole to pole. I was curious about the idea of Internet as a public utility, so I did some research. I wanted to know what made people declare electricity, water, natural gas, etc to be regulated public utilities instead of just a free market setup. After reading some beautiful quotes from people opposing the establishment of such things (including many quotes from people certain that no reasonable person could ever want, much less need, a telephone in their own home when they could walk to a local store (because businesses were the only ones with legitimate need) and use theirs), I found that it comes down to one single question:

Does the benefit gained by society by having the service be ubiquitous amount to something greater than the damage done by the elimination of competition? If the answer is yes, then it should be made a public utility. I don't know how anyone could honestly argue that the private oligopoly setup we have now is so valuable to preserve that it provides more value to society than would ubiquitous Internet access. Just the fact that we could actually write laws on the assumption that people have Internet access would provide such tremendous benefit and enable us to get rid of some much duplicated junk as to be monumental.


Who cares what the "local government" wants, what do the people want? The people could probably care less about huge lines being run if they can get their internet faster and cheaper.


Our condo building in Seattle is one of the first to land a landmark experience... we have 3x coax cable providers in our building; per unit, we can select and move between the providers.

They are all playing in this space because they want the customers and revenue, but it took a long time for the gentlemen's agreements between the firms to start.

The installers for Comcast (the most recent to enter our building) were super professional, friendly and did a great job.

Hope other cities are able to fight down the exclusive contracts etc.


The prequalification walls stuff is bullshit and should be illegal. Twice now I've moved to a recently constructed place where it was impossible to get any information on offerings or prices before completion - and putting in neighbor's addresses is an infuriating process of trying to find one who has ISP A instead of B repeatedly until I don't get a "this address already has service please login" message.

So help me God I will get involved in local government if for no other reason that to advocate for municipal broadband and requiring fiber be laid for all new construction.


The monopoly broadband providers are extremely good at spreading FUD based on (incorrect) market-based economies: that public-sector solutions are usually more expensive and less efficient than private-sector ones.

This is only true in the presence of healthy competition, which is generally absent in US broadband. Broadband providers tend to point to their (at most) single competitor as evidence of a competitive market.

It doesn't take collusion to fix prices if you only have one competitor.


Living in Oakland I wish I could replace my slow, expensive and high-latency Comcast broadband connection with Fiber. It is crazy that we in silicon valley practically have no competition.


When I was in Oakland I was able to get Webpass with my building. $500/yr and 200mbit, though in practice it was actually higher. Never had a problem real with them, and their service was great.

Per latency, my ping when playing games was sub 20 (but to be fair the servers were in California).


Not that I am a big fan of AT&T, but they have started offering fiber gigabit in Oakland over the past year. I switched from Comcast in December. Wish Sonic or Monkeybrains would become available here.


I switched a couple of months ago from DSL to AT&T fiber and it's been fantastic. Helped that I was already an AT&T phone customer, but the fiber hasn't been available for that long, so it was nice discovery when I went to pick up my wife's iphone.


What did you switch to?


To AT&T fiber, for now, pending a better option.


What part of Oakland? You might check out common.net. We can cover some parts of Oakland now and hopefully more soon. I work there.


Peter Thiel explained it for you: competition is for suckers


I have for many years suspected that the US telecoms have colluded to set a price floor for broadband service at $60/mo, and for mobile data services at $40/mo. It strains credulity that data services would be markedly cheaper in nearly every other country.


The only way to get the last mile competition we need in the US, and make net neutrality irrelevant, is for org-run fiber builds in which the org doesn't offer services. The org operates a multi-tenant fiber infrastructure in which you and I can pick (n) "service providers"...part of what I am hoping is a 2018 full of decentralization and distribution: https://goo.gl/DkpmU5


Or just unbundle the local loop as we do in the UK


Already had that in the US until the Supreme Court decided we shouldn't have that in the Brand X case.

It's very, very unlikely to come back.


The FCC did a terrible job at rate setting and ended up killing DSL technology in America. That's why cable companies are typically the biggest ISP in any given location instead of the telecoms.


Yeah there aren't enough suckers willing to invest in firms to "compete" with the monopolists to fall for that regulatory bait-and-switch again.


yes although can be harder to retrofit, e.g. i don't believe many of the US fiber architectures were built to be multi-tenant with (n) service providers behind 1 operator. especially because the duopoly's control most of them. enter the muni-fiber and similar projects...but built to a different commercial model...


For the urban, and dense suburban areas fiber is a great option and has much higher potential. But there will always be a large portion of the US that is not profitable to run fiber, and already has phone service. We already have multitenant access in the US for all phone service. Just extending the current regulation to cover DSL is all that is needed to allow for competition and improved internet speed. You can get up to 76mbps with VDSL2 over copper wire, just modern modems and provider side equipment. And there is newer technology that provides even better speeds over the same copper wire.


In the less dense areas the most economical solution for great connectivity is definitely mesh networks. They are even being deployed in very rural areas at a very low cost! http://owni.fr/files/2011/09/Building_a_Rural_Wireless_Mesh_...

Obviously there are better (commercial, prepackaged) mesh network solutions


Mesh networking hasn't really worked out. WISPs, i.e. Wireless Internet Service Providers, do a great job at serving rural (and other) areas.


Hmmm I think it's a bit of a stretch to say mesh networking hasn't really worked out. It just hasn't spread far enough yet.

Have you heard of CJDNS[1]? or BATMAN[2]?

Hyperboria[3] is multiple sizeable deployments of CJDNS. Maybe you heard of Freifunk[4] in Germany, with over 40k access points so far.

[1] https://github.com/cjdelisle/cjdns

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B.A.T.M.A.N.

[3] http://hyperboria.net/

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freifunk


Yes, I've heard of them and others, but I think dboreham already put the matter conclusively at rest:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16138402


For buildings (offices, condos, apartments), air fiber solutions are way better and often faster than fiber pulls. 60 GHz microwave, building-to-building if needed, all are in the big cities... why waste time fighting rights to run fiber in dense urban cores?


Define way better. Wireless solutions have many benefits, but they are in no way better in all aspects than fiber.

Fiber has its place, as has wireless.


There's no way there's going to be subloop unbundling after the Supreme Court killer local loop unbundling.


It could happen just for DSL. The big ISP don't really want to service rural areas anyways.


Could happen how? The big ISPs don't want to do it voluntarily and the Supreme Court says they don't have to. Just because the ISPs don't want to serve rural areas doesn't mean they want anybody else to either.


As an illustration of a related inclination, the FCC, pushed by the big telcos—who also tend to be big ISPs—under Ajit Pai killed the use of resellers (non-facilities-based providers) in the Lifeline program, despite the fact that 70% of Lifeline customers used them, often because the facilities-based providers aren't offering them service directly. This got overlooked by a lot of people, because what attention was on the FCC was all about net neutrality.


Well tough luck mate (you want to play in the big boys game ante up sub) Any how you can use ADSL variants or upgrade to FTC and use VDSL for the last drop.


Open access networks are the way to go. It keeps all the incentives in the right place to allow for capital investments to improve the network, prevent overbuilding, and encourage competition.


Another pie-in-the-sky option: pick a UHF television channel and de-license that portion of the spectrum. The IEEE would develop a standard (like what was done for Wi-Fi) that lets anyone be a local broadcaster or service provider


We already have this. It's called white space technology and has so far amounted to pretty much nothing. The technology is immature and expensive plus it provides very little bandwidth.


Cool, thanks for the heads up. After wiki-ing around, it looks like current whitespace technology is hobbled by forcing the broadcast device to get permission from an FCC database in order to transmit. With that constraint, I am not surprised it hasn't taken off.


What segments of the spectrum allow this technology for public use? How do those compare to what ATT/VZN own?



That leaves nothing for those "service providers" to do except skim profit. Why should they get a cut? Because they have a router?


My question is an honest one. A modern ISP needs to only run a router, really. They don't need to provide email accounts. They don't need to provide a Usenet server. They don't need to provide free web hosting space. They don't need to provide hardly any of the things ISPs once did. They don't even need to provide DNS servers. They need to provide DHCP and a route to the Internet. That's it. Where is competition going to occur? Wherever an open network that honestly permits competition exists, one would hope to expect the establishment of such a barebones ISP offering simple access at speed only limited by the customers equipment, with no throttling or restriction (since we're splitting that fiber amongst a potentially infinite number of ISP companies, this will work out great), for maybe 1% over the price they have to pay to the muni for access to the network. And then who competes with them and how?


I'm going to take a wild guess and say you have never run an ISP.

The answer is people. You need people to "provide a route to the Internet". To answer phones. To fix things when they break.

Running an ISP is far from glamorous and far from just leaning back and skimming the profit.


The trend has been going more towards OTT services, because there's more profit to be made.


I see two factors:

1. 'Big Telecom', has all the problems of publicly traded large companies: Focus on creating shareholder value, complexity, inertia, etc. This is inefficiency due to objectives and organization.

2. Payoff horizon. It's easy/cheap to buy technology and set up a network for today, but are they charging enough to update all the hardware in a few years when technology improves? In Canada, even with aggressive government subsidization, multiple attempts to create new independent wireless carriers(Fido, Wind) have failed when they could not afford to grow their network beyond initial investments.

It'll be very interesting to see how this develops and find out whether 1 trumps 2: will small community organizations be sufficiently efficient, or will they struggle with faster obsolescence than expected and be forced to acquire more capital.


'community-owned broadband networks provide consumers with significantly lower rates than their private-sector counterparts'


is it cheap and fast because they are run efficiently? or because they are subsidized by taxpayers or they are not burdened by the same rules that potential competitors have to hoop through?

Having worked for a small gov't agency in NYC and personally witnessed all sorts of waste and incompetence, I'm a bit skeptical that this is at all possible. I don't think efficiency or cost-effectiveness is not something that comes to my mind when someone talks about gov't services.


The community-owned options are only considered cheap and fast because they're being compared to monopoly or near-monopoly ISPs, which can get away with inflated prices and poor service because they have no competition.

And while it's true that government bureaucracies tend to drift toward inefficiency, private monopolies are very similar. Comcast is basically so bad that they're unfixable.


Community-owned does not necessarily mean govt owned: look at peer-to-peer mesh networks (https://hyperboria.net/). Private citizens run their own nodes and connect to the nodes near them (and potentially help their neighbours by hooking them up and so on). The community members literally own the infrastructure; not through the abstraction of government.

They have incentive to keep things running well and efficiently because well it's you and your friends and neighbours!


Ask HN: If I wanted to create a very small cooperative ISP for my family and a handful of neighbors, it doesn't seem like rocket science, except...

At some point it has to connect to the Internet, meaning I have to buy some sort of connection. How's that work?


I have been wondering about this. Appreciate it if anyone provide some idea.

I mean it it quite easy nowadays to set up a network both wired and wireless to share among neighbours. I did that. But lastly, it needs to be connected to the internet/first mile. If I can negotiate enough numbers and do the fiber laying work myself, how can i get the internet connection at wholesale?


You can buy wholesale Internet bandwidth from most larger ISPs. Get quotes by contacting the carriers in your area. Expect to pay a few grand per month for the pleasure.

Give me a shout for more details.


Hi, is this applicable even for outside US?


Yes, this is pretty much how is works everywhere.


Several Danish municipalities have begun running their own WANs on loraWAN tech because it’s virtually free once the initial fee of setting it up has been paid. It’s not real internet, but it’s the only way we can connect our IOT and smart city stuff in a way that is economically feasible because we can’t afford to pay fees on connections for thousands of devices.

We could set up our own internet, and I think we should, unfortunately this would be illegal as the large telecoms have lobbied their way into legislation ensuring that people pay, what is essentially a private tax, on their utilities.


These shenanigans are why telcos/cell networks, and not ISP's/cable networks, are probably going to end up controlling all Internet traffic someday


Not so much. @HighTechForum: Berkman at Harvard study finds public networks to be nearly 7 Mbps slower than commercial ones; but hey, they’re often cheaper! See Community Broadband is Cheaper – and Slower” http://hightechforum.org/community-broadband-cheaper-slower/


Very interesting possibilities ... network is really same as physical highways ... should be funded and run by the locales and federated into a wider network ... let’s start the journey ...


Government entities are fine for running utilities based on slow moving technologies (e.g. community sewer system). They would also be good for version 1 of your community internet service. But what about version 2? By the time the government is ready to roll out the version 2 internet backbone, it will be obsolete.


Fiber lasts for decades. It does not go obsolete. If you want something faster or better change the electronics on each end.

If you are worried about the governed not keeping up, let the government put in the fiber and have somebody else light it.


Useful resource for checking how many ISPs you have in your area: https://broadbandnow.com/

Though I'm skeptical at how accurate their maps are. It SAID that another provider covered my area, but when I called them that turned out to not be the case.


I hope new technology continues to provide new options and services for consumers. https://latechnews.org/eliminate-dropped-calls/ Read about ABWN and their new tech to eliminate dropped calls.


It'd be nice to use terminology that distinguishes between infrastructure that is provided and maintained voluntarily, and infrastructure that is compulsorily funded by taxpayers.

The difference is relevant from economic, moral and design perspectives.


I always why there are MVNOs that can use the big cell networks but no alternative providers on cable. Was there regulation that forced cell providers to open their networks to third party sellers?


No regulation needed for this. MNOs make a profit from their MVNO business, and it allows them to overbid for spectrum in a relatively risk-free manner. Even if ATT can't get enough fools to sign up for their overpriced gold-plated mobile service to use all the spectrum they bought, they can tune the prices they charge MVNOs to fill the rest of the pipe. This arrangement also allow them to enjoy various other anticompetitive benefits like dictating "acceptable" marketing to MVNOs and forcing them to sign one-sided backhaul deals.


> Was there regulation that forced cell providers to open their networks to third party sellers?

In many places, yes, because the spectrum is limited.


This article basically said that water is wet.


Would it be possible to shut out such community ISPs by not peering with them? Is that something that might cause concern?


Peering agreements are typically between two networks of comparable size. In the case of a regional ISP wanting to connect to the internet, they would paying for access to one or more Tier 1 or Tier 2 providers and possibly participating in an IXP.

There is much more competition in these markets and plenty of ISPs (e.g. CenturyLink) are also Teir 1 providers in markets where they do not act as an ISP.


Id say its a concern in the short run, but that would incentivize neighboring communities to invest in shared infrastructure and to peer with each other in the long run, esp if their only other option is to be shut out of the market entirely.


peering with each other is no good - you need to peer with a Tier 1 who is in the IPX or you have no internet.


Non-ISP transit providers would fill that need. Perhaps the ISPs would pressure them to not. Eventually a lawsuit would put an end to that.


ecommerce retailers would peer with them directly and the entertainment networks would then be left holding nothing.


I think it's quite obvious and doesn't require a "Harvard" study. Community broadband can offer customers something big telecom won't: Reliable, honest, responsive service.


That's not entirely fair. There's plenty of reasons why this wouldn't be obvious - if there's limited demand for local broadband because of e.g. bundling agreements (you want TV + internet + phone, but the local broadband can only provide internet), or because the infrastructure costs on the last mile make it impossible for small players to charge low prices (so they operate with premium service as their sell instead).


true but do these services have their own customer service reps probably not


Sometimes researchers need things to study so they can justify their existence.


Well, some people won't take it seriously unless there's a big brand name attached to the report.


Are community-run broadband providers cheaper because they are subsidized by taxes?


> Are community-run broadband providers cheaper because they are subsidized by taxes?

No, they are cheaper because the local monopolists/duopolists can charge the customers through the nose, as they don't have any alternative. Any form of competition leads to a reduction in costs for the consumer.

In addition, stuff like eight-digit compensations (Comcast: 37.5M $ for the CEO alone, https://www1.salary.com/Stephen-B-Burke-Salary-Bonus-Stock-O...), marketing (TV ads, but also sponsoring, e.g. Comcast/ESL) or the costs associated with running e.g. decades-old mainframe stuff for CRM/financial systems or simply maintaining even older copper lines vs brand new fibre stuff sums up to quite a bunch of money - humble local ISPs don't have all that crap and therefore can pass on the savings to customers.


And let's not forget their grand incompetence as well. At&t and comcast spend huge amounts on wasted advertisement. I get ads for At&T all the time. I hate them so much, I repeat click on their ads just to waste more of their marketing dollars. Obliviously, they keep sending me the same ads.


They don't advertise to get more customers. Why do you think Lockheed Martin et. al. advertise? How many people watching football on Sunday are interested in buying an F-22? They advertise to stop the media company from running negative stories about them. They don't give a shit about advertising to you. It's a pay-off.


Why do you want to make things more expensive? Wasting their marketing dollars means they have to charge a higher price for their services. It's like going into a grocery store and taking all of the advertisement circulars and throwing them into the toilet. A pointless exercise that drives up costs.


They saw what happened to AOL, and they know it can happen to them too.


Obviously. This is Econ 101.




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