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The War on Upstart Fiber Internet Providers (chrishacken.com)
553 points by joecool1029 10 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 236 comments

The "last mile" (couple KM) of physical infrastructure should be owned by the people.

This is the way that it works best for walkways, roads, and even utilities like power and water where (at least I've only ever seen) one single option exists and is highly regulated. In the case of power that's true for 'transmission' but there have been times I've had options for generation.

IMO laws like the ones in Washington State that were put in place by entrenched and abusive commercial monopolies (like the cable companies and telephone companies) harm competition, by restricting existing and new utilities from partnering with the people to create these last mile platforms, and allow competition on top of them. Just as how there is competition in package delivery service on top of the roadways.

Back in 2016 in Toronto, I chose a condominium specifically because it had Beanfield fiber (it was $50CAD/mo for 250 Mbit symmetric, no cap). Other buildings had Bell or Rogers at double the cost, with caps, and sometimes asymmetric. Those other buildings signed agreements with either Bell or Rogers and for the rest of the life of the building, those residents will be stuck with inferior, more expensive service.

When we moved to SF a few months ago, Sonic wasn't available in our building so we had to get AT&T. I'm paying almost double what Sonic charges for basically the same service.

In both cases, where buildings had exclusivity agreements or had the fiber providers lay the fiber themselves, residents are worse off. Buildings should be running their own fiber and letting residents hook up to whoever they want.

Same thing with residential house internet; cities should own the last mile infrastructure (sure, pay providers to dig it and run it if you have to).

Especially since we're migrating off of copper and onto fiber; this is the chance to get it right for the next few decades!

FYI SF has legislation in place that allows tenants in multi-units to choose any ISP provider (1). This was part of a broader effort to deploy internet as a utility that I was fortunate to have been a part of (2). Unfortunately the Mayor passed away and we lost political sponsorship (and of course the constant and expected lobbying from incumbents didn't help)(3)

(1) https://medium.com/@MarkFarrellSF/supervisor-farrell-to-intr...

(2) https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2018/07/12/america...

(3) https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20190401/08232241919/telec...

> Back in 2016 in Toronto, I chose a condominium specifically because it had Beanfield fiber

I'm in Toronto, thank goodness this is becoming more common, not less. I was recently condo hunting and I noticed most new buildings had Beanfield or their competitor, FibreStream. The building we ended up with has the latter, so we're getting 500Mbps symmetric/no cap.

Yay for not having to annually fight with Bell for a "promotional" rate anymore!

I'm looking forward to this when I move next. I currently have Rogers 1Gbps on a promotional rate, which is pretty good, but 30Mbps upload cap. Also double what you're paying!

The asymmetry between download and upload speeds on cable connections is really awful in recent years. I see advertised download speeds like 300 Mbps and 1 Gbps available in many places, but the upload speeds seem to never exceed 30 Mbps around here (which is just 3% of the download speed at 1 Gbps!). Having something like 250/250 Mbps symmetric available would be overall more preferable than 1000/30 in all but the most extreme download situations, in my opinion.

I suppose maybe the cable networks are more optimized for average user behaviour (far more download than upload), but maybe there's also a fundamental limitation with the cable infrastructure that prevents faster uploads, perhaps to do with cable's legacy delivering television broadcasts? Whereas with fibre, almost everything I've seen available comes with symmetric speeds by default.

The major reason that upload speeds tend to be far lower is that they are the lowest part of the spectrum on a cable network. As everything on a shared cable network is receiving everything else, encryption and noise filters are imperative. The higher the frequency of your noise, the more likely it is to cause issues on the rest of the hardware. There are high-pass filters all over the coax network to ensure that nothing over a certain frequency is able to get out on the network and screw things up for other customers. In order to expand the bandwidth by making the coax frequency pie larger, CATV providers would not only need to replace everybodys equipment to ensure it could handle the increased noise but also check every single meter of cable to find and remove all the high-pass filters.

A high-pass filter removes low frequencies, I think you mean there are low-pass filters.

I require symmetric since I upload a lot, plus I am on videoconferences frequently. I'd personally rather go for 100/100 than gigabit/something less than 100.

DOCSIS 3.0 (I think that's the latest) allocates a particular ratio of download vs upload frequencies, so even when speeds increase the asymmetry is still the same. I heard the next version of DOCSIS might change that though. Ideally there'd be enough fiber to not require DOCSIS anyway, but I don't have my hopes up for that.

Hopefully with a lot more WFH arrangements people start demanding symmetric connections. But

Most video conference uses ~4Mbps for your video feed going out. It is more likely you need 100Mbps upload for doing backups or uploading photos or home videos etc. For a household with 2 people working from home and also watching a ton of streaming content, 50Mbps up/down would be just fine, if you can get it reliably.

Anything more than that, especially in gigabit range is just gimmicks, IMO.

Totally agreed. Reliable 30 Mbps is enough for me and my wife to simultaneously join Teams or Zoom video calls without issues. It's enough even when our preschooler wants to call a friend on Zoom at the same time, which happened once. And it's enough to watch Netflix in HD on two screens at once.

Here in Northern NJ Comcast is a quite reliable broadband provider... but in the almost 18 years we've had their service the download speed has risen to 225 Mbps, while the upload speed has remained at around 5 Mbps. In practice this doesn't seem to matter much. I assume they could potentially add additional upstream frequencies but I doubt they get many complaints about it, or that very many of their customers are even aware of the asymmetry.

Switch to their business class offering if you need the upstream. I'm also in northern NJ and on 200/20 tier. There's no technical limitation on that bandwidth restriction so long as you have a docsis 3 modem or later that can bond multiple upstream channels.

However, there was a technical issue I had some months ago with a faulty Arris modem provisioning file that disabled upstream bonding across most of their models. It took an email to the CEO to sort it out (after a Reddit and DSLReports post on the matter).

How did you figure out the root cause? Usually you can't fetch those files yourself.

I bought 3 different Arris modems and they all bonded upstream until activated on the network through comcast's walled garden. Once activation was run the upstream sync light changed to show it was no longer bonding upstream. If a deactivated one was plugged in, again it would bond.

Previously I had been on a 50/10 tier and when the new business class tiers were released they blamed my trusted old SB6121s for being too old, so I bought 2 newer ones in the SB series and had same issues. After writing the CEO and CC'ing all the techs I spoke to and including links to the threads they gave me a direct engineering contact that confirmed the issue. For the trouble they credited me out 2 months of service.

It's market segmentation. You can get symmetric cable, but you have to pay for the business service

I checked before we moved to SF, and apparently FibreStream has 5Gbps service in select buildings in downtown Toronto. Pretty awesome!

This sounds very strange that You have those exclusivity arrangements there. Most of the buildings in Riga, Latvia has at least 2-5 physical connections to choose from (an even more providers as they could share one cable). Maybe it is because most of the buildings are soviet ones and only flats themselves ar privately owned but building itself is owned by municipality. Last mile is owned by private companies mostly but everything before that is owned by state.

I can get up to 1gbit connection for 15 EUR, 100mbit for 7 EUR because of competitive market

It easy to run cables to those buildings because they are built according the same blueprint. You can run the cables the same way, no need to create separate plans which is an extra cost. In Budapest old soviet buildings have the best internet(fiber).

We usually only have one or two competing provider per building, but their prices are still low(same as yours).

In both cases, where buildings had exclusivity agreements or had the fiber providers lay the fiber themselves, residents are worse off.

This is an opportunity for wireless. I've lived in buildings with exclusive internet agreements. I was able to bypass those in some cities back when WiMax was still available. I got double the speed for half the price when I was living in an AT&T building, and the same speed for half the price when I was in a Qwest building.

I'm not a fan of the new breed of satellite internet startups, but if they put fear into the wired/fibered carriers, then at least some good will come out of them.

when I was living in an AT&T building

The dystopian future is here.

My father actually worked for a startup providing wireless access to rural and urban areas back in the late 90s. It was nice to have a 27 megabit connection to my house when the hottest thing was a 2 megabit DSL line.

What cost that company $200,000 in 1998 and took up an entire rack now can be bought for about $2,000 from Ubiquiti and mounted in a few U in a rack. They even have the software available to run your own ISP!

I love their gear. It has a lot of warts and strange issues, but it fills a space above standard consumer stuff. You can end up with a ridiculous setup if you aren’t careful.

Beanfield is especially amazing. They recently reduced (!) the rates of their gigabit service to $50/month from $100, and increased everyone's service to gigabit if they weren't already on it.

Canada struggles with regulation. Not too much or too little, but rather poorly executed and manipulated for political reasons.

Builders get big providers to pay for communications wiring, in some cases including that of their competitors, for the privilege of exclusive advertising rights. Those same big providers need to provide (some level of) service to all the people in their geography.

Between influences like these and regulation, the big providers have to shoulder significant costs which they pass on to their consumers. The upstarts don't have these costs and can offer much better pricing.

The regulators and politicians can then step in and gain voter favor by going after these big, "bad" providers by enabling new entrants into the market with must better cost structures (e.g. regional service only) or even just outright subsidizing them, ultimately seeming to go after a problem that they actually created.

Whether this public/private capitalist mess is more cost effective than a public entity is unclear, but it does succeed in shifting accountability away from the government.

In the end the citizens pay for it all, just inequitably. Perhaps it is a capitalist victory that a price sensitive consumer can invest the time to find a better deal and opt out of subsidizing rural communities.

Also look at the other side: if you’re at&t and have the opportunity to lock in while buildings or neighborhoods into your service and dictate their pricing, that’s ... well, priceless!

So the expenses around lobbying, wining and dining a few politicians etc. are totally worth it.

I believe Sonic uses AT&T fiber, so you actually are getting the same service...

Sonic resells AT&T fiber when their own fiber offering is not built out in that area. This allows the customer to utilize Sonic's services and support (being able to call Sonic instead of AT&T is a feature for many people) as well as use sonic services, and allows Sonic to still make a small amount of money per customer and have a built in audience of people what likely want to upgrade if Sonic fiber is built in the area as it will be cheaper for them (and still more profitable for Sonic).

Disclosure: I work for sonic, and this is my personal understanding of the strategy, which may have other nuances.

More explicitly: Sonic has run quite a bit of their own fiber all over the city. Sonic can also use AT&T fiber, which they do in parts of the city that they don't have fiber in.

I don’t think that’s true. They use ATT copper for reselling their DSL but for fiber they roll their own. I’m lucky and have Sonic 1Gb symmetrical service for $40.

See the post above yours; they do both. I'm in a building where Sonic is offered but it's through AT&T. I went with AT&T since the price was the same, would still need to rent AT&T's stupid PON device (which I bypass anyway), and Sonic mentioned that AT&T provided poor customer service for Sonic customers.

I'd love it if the fiber in the building was public so I could just pay 1/2 what I pay AT&T for Sonic instead.

Yes, I'm a Sonic fiber customer on AT&T fiber. AT&T terminated fiber to the house, and my bits go over their network (with all the negatives that implies), but my service is uncapped and my bill comes from Sonic. It's more than $40 though.

This is close to what happens in New Zealand. We built a fibre network (FTTH) funded by the state starting in 2011. The project was put up for tender on a area-by-area basis, but with a small mountain of regulations attached.

Basically, the companies which received the contracts were required to not act as ISPs, instead to wholesale access to their fibre network to any ISP interested. Maximum rates and minimum level of service are set by the Commerce Commission (the govt), though the fibre holders are free to reduce prices or improve services, which they are (we now can get gigabit internet nationwide for less than 100NZD - an excellent price considering there's no competition for the last mile itself).

This is true for our old copper network too. It was built by Telecom, the old govt monopoly, in the 20th century. In 2009(?) the copper network was spun off into its own company, Chorus, and Chorus was bound by the same wholesale and non-ISP regulations.

As a result of these enlightened regulations, NZ now has a super-competitive ISP market. ISPs are super cheap to set up - you basically just need to provide the core network and lease the last mile and backbone.

I'd advise anyone campaigning for better ISP regulations in any other country to look at the NZ example. The free market may work better for extremely high density cities, but these regs are great for any markets where there is only demand for one last-mile network.

For reference, Australia tried the same thing with the National Broadband Network. We would have had the same end-result as NZ, except that Rupert Murdoch didn't like the newfangled Internet-based media competing with his Fox cable network, so he told Tony Abbott that he'd get him elected as Prime Minister if he killed it off.

The deal was struct, Tony was suddenly the "wonderkid" that could do no wrong and Fox News made sure the whole world heard his name. He was promptly elected by retired country morons who've never heard of the Internet but watched Fox on the telly every evening.

Tony licked Rupert's boots like a good little boy and did his best to kill the NBN: https://delimiter.com.au/2012/07/06/australia-doesnt-need-th...

Thankfully his power didn't last long, but his short stint nonetheless had lasting damage: https://thenewdaily.com.au/news/national/2019/01/10/rupert-m...

We can now (as of just a few weeks ago!) get gigabit on the Australian NBN, except that instead of NZD 100 it costs AUD 150 monthly. You also have to be one of the lucky 19% to be on the FTTH network that was built before Tony stopped its construction: https://thenewdaily.com.au/finance/property/2019/01/28/what-...

Fuck Rupert Murdoch. Seriously. He is one of the most evil, vile, hateful, greedy, self-centered cunts alive on this planet.

To add to this - for $50-65US per month uncapped you can have 900Mbps down and 450mbps up. At the higher end of that price range is great support and no contract. As someone who previously had a 3mbps copper line, it’s fantastic.

> funded by the state

Subsidised. Private funding covered much of the cost.

Cost was split about 50:50 as far as the initial deal was concerned I think (2013 link below) but I am unsure how the later stages have been funded.


In france, last miles are not owned by the people, but usually by the biggest ISP, Orange (which was state-owned before). But all other operators have the right to use the lines. And Orange has the obligation to sell this service without making any benefits (charging only exactly what the costs of maintaining lines).

To ensure that the prices are fairly calculated, we have a public authority which checks that the prices are correct.

We used to have a similar situation in the US: ILECs (the no-longer-monopoly telephone companies) were required to make lines available to CLECs (competitors) for a particular cost.

What happened was that the ILECs all managed to come up with the same excuses: sorry, no lines available in that office. And, mysteriously, working CLEC lines would stop working, and it would be blamed on a "bad cable", but there wouldn't be a spare cable to switch to... and the ILEC had just installed a customer.

Regulation needs to be enforced.

Then they switched to fiber which didn't have these rules, and let the copper plant rot away.

I had the local ILEC repair my home POTS line so many times, I finally gave up and switched to VOIP. Now a year of service costs me less than a month used to...

Yeah. That's the role of our public regulator, the ARCEP. I believe they have power to fine or give sanctions to companies that don't comply with regulations, which seems essential.

This used to be the case in the US for DSL. It still is the case in Canada.

In 2003 and 2005[1] the market was deregulated and all the tiny independent ISP's went under as they were unable to throw wires up on the poles nor able to use the incumbents.

[1] https://transition.fcc.gov/meetings/080505/sharing.pdf?mod=a...

This type of rule is called local loop unbundling.

Same in the U.K. - except for Kingston upon Hull.

OFCOM sets the price Openreach is allowed to charge for FTTC or LLU access and that’s that. Hence we have tens of ISPs available in most areas that compete on cost and customer service.

Openreach is not the only game in town in the UK. Virgin Media has their own extensive broadband network (hybrid fibre/coaxial). Smaller fibre-only ISPs such as Hyperoptic, Cityfibre, and Gigaclear also have their own physical infrastructure.

And wireless providers are now competing pretty effectively with consumer-grade fibre. (I'm happy getting 400 Mbit and streaming 1080p Stadia lag-free on Vodafone 5G for £30 a month - who even needs fibre!)

I have hyperoptic, and i will never give up fiber. You will have to pry it from my cold, dead hands!

UTOPIA in Utah is an example of a network that is pretty close to what you propose. The city installs all the last mile fiber and leases the lines to private ISPs. They have ~10 ISPs to choose from, and you can get 10 Gbps connections.

My city is placing a similar proposal on the ballot this November (https://connectkaysville.com/).

You're largely right... local ISPs (cable, telco) have serious entrenchment. They received public funding and easements to roll out infrastructure and pulled up the ladders behind them.

Often localities are hindered by their state governments thanks to lobbying from the incumbents. I would prefer to see more local governments actively rolling their own telecom infrastructure to inter-city/state endpoints (should they choose to). From a security standpoint I feel that most locations should have two options at the least.

I'd also like to see any civil funding start and end at the local municipalities. The feds don't do well managing these things as noted in TFA.

Totally agree here. I live in a building that only has Time Warner (ya, didn't think about the ISP before renting my apartment.....). Every week I lose internet for a day or two. Internet is a public good and should be treated as such...

Making kickbacks and other freebies illegal would help, as would requiring all contracts entered into by such middle-management public records.

I recall hearing something about a former apartment complex mentioning how costly (letting an additional provider) in was for them; but I never did learn the details of _what_ was costly about that. Having said data out in the bright sunlight of public records would make planning a beneficial change to the status quo much easier.

The problem with this is you can name a “kickback” by anything else, like “rent”, and that makes it legal.

I don't think internet is a public good. But I do think there is a public interest. This is how I see it:

Communication must be transported through some medium. That could be air, copper, fiber, etc. For the sake of this discussion, let's focus on fiber.

To connect everybody with fiber, the utility has to bury fiber under property it doesn't own. (Or it could run it arial over property it doesn't own.) For the little section that runs from the street through my property to the network interface device attached to my house, I am more than happy to give the utility permission to trench and bury fiber. But they own the fiber and are responsible for its maintenance.

If there is ever any maintenance issue with that small portion buried in my yard, they don't have an easement to dig it up and service it. They need my permission. Because it is directly affecting my internet connection, I'm usually happy to grant permission. But when it runs under my driveway, I don't want them digging up my driveway. We work together to find some option that isn't too expensive, but doesn't involve the destruction of my driveway.

Let's say I want to switch providers. The new provider can't just reuse the fiber in my yard because it doesn't belong to them, nor to me. So each potential provider has to bury their own across my yard without disturbing the others.

Because this seems suboptimal to me and because I take the long view, I have my network interface device moved to the curb, and I own the fiber in my yard. But now the burden is on me to have the right kind of fiber and the right type of fiber connects and to fix any issues.

Now let's say that my neighbor's connection also runs through my yard. Neither my neighbor nor the utility want to be beholden to me for maintenance. They will want an easement that gives them the right to do whatever it takes to fix the fiber in my yard. But if my neighbor ever wants to switch providers, the new provider will need another easement.

Generally most of the property across which the fiber is installed is publicly owned. Each utility has their own easements through that property. Aside from the obvious duplication of infrastructure with its associated price inflation, there is another problem. There is only a limited space for easements. If there are multiple water utilities and multiple power utilities and multiple gas utilities and multiple telecom utilities, the easement corridor gets pretty crowded and could conceivably even be exhausted. How do you decide which private company gets a free easement and which doesn't. Should we start charging for the easements?

Also, it stands to reason that if there are 25 utility easements under main street, there is a much higher probability on any given day that one of them will dig up main street for maintenance than if there were only 5 utility easements.

So in the end, I think all private utilities should have equal access to easements on public land. You can do that by auctioning those easements every set interval. Kind of like we do with spectrum. But I'm not very satisfied with how that has worked in the past. It is impossible for any little guy to get a foot over that hurdle. The only acceptable alternative I have encountered is to deny easements to them all.

We still need transmission lines and those will still need easements on public property. One obvious solution is to have those lines be publicly owned. Just like I took ownership of that hypothetical fiber running through my yard.

In the case of fiber, you could run 144 x 144 fiber in very nearly the same space it takes one utility to run 144 fiber. So you could conceivably rent out fiber to utilities. But that doesn't work as well for water utilities. With telecom, we can mingle data on the same fiber. That doesn't work so great for water. It is probably practical to have a different solution for water or gas than for telecom. Power may require a solution of its own.

Through this line of reasoning I have come to believe that public ownership of transmission lines across public property is the best arrangement for telecom. Any provider that wants to buy up private property or buy up easements across private property is still free to do so.

Washington State seems kind of weird to pick for your example. Unlike many other states which do not allow municipal or county broadband at all, Washington's just prevents governments from offering it retail to consumers. They can offer it wholesale to resellers who can then use it to provide retail broadband.

Mesh networking is a great solution here.

NYC Mesh puts a fiber connected node with a laser receiver on a tall building. You install a laser receiver on top of your building. Anyone with line of sight to the node now has fast, affordable internet access. They don't have to deal with mega telecoms anymore.

[0] https://www.nycmesh.net/

A wireless mesh network is not an alternative to fiber based internet. It's a great idea and has many useful applications but it's slow. Loop Internet sells symmetrical gigabit for $65/month. The laser receiver on the top of your building (NYC Mesh has been known to use a Ubiquiti LiteBeam AC Gen2) typically has less than 350-450 Mbps of bandwidth total and that's for the entire building to share. I have 30~ units in my building. How well is that mesh networking going to scale? Is it better than say, dial-up? Sure. Is it better than basically any other type of broadband? No.

>The laser receiver on the top of your building (NYC Mesh has been known to use a Ubiquiti LiteBeam AC Gen2) typically has less than 350-450 Mbps of bandwidth total and that's for the entire building to share. I have 30~ units in my building.

If you already have line of sight I don't see a reason this couldn't be replaced with a 60ghz 802.11ad link, which should give you 4.6 gigabits.

Hadn't come across 802.11ad, but Wikipedia seems to think it's range is "just a few meters"[0]?

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEEE_802.11ad

That range is true in a typical household setup with an omnidirectional antenna and things like... walls.

If you have line of sight though and a fixed point to point link the range is much greater, since there's nothing in the way and an dish antenna gives you huge gain.


From the linked page:

"Ideal for high-throughput connectivity with a range of up to 500 m".

For reference, that approximately two blocks in NYC.

That's for maximum bandwidth. You can go farther if you want with slower speeds.

Anyway, I looked up the Ubiquiti LiteBeam AC Gen2 since I wasn't familiar with it, and I think OP might have the wrong impression. It's a LiteBeam, not a LightBeam. The LiteBeam is just bog standard 5 GHz 802.11ac with a high gain antenna. That explains the data rates.

Given that, there seems to be no disadvantage to using the 60 GHz solution if you're close enough to the next building where it's still faster (probably close to 2 miles). It's only ~$200 more, which spread out over a building is basically nothing.

How are you getting from 500m to 2 miles? Is there any data to support this?

Ubiquiti makes gigabit speed wireless backhaul devices in the unlicensed 24Ghz band. It's the AF24HD. They can go several miles, but are susceptible to the signal dropping in the rain depending on your climate.

MikroTik makes some 60Ghz point to point gigabit radios that can supposedly go for 2km.

Finally, many commercial providers of E-band devices (licensed 70-80Ghz spectrum) sell gigabit capable radios that can go a couple of miles.

Any of those seem like good options for an urban building in need of better internet service.

Those are likely great options for people and small groups that don't have other options. At the same time, I doubt you'll see many companies jumping to provide that service, at least not ones that have the experience to handle it appropriately.

Wireless internet makes for a very poor product to sell, because the service is unreliable, and often has problems exactly when people want it most (during inclement weather). Also, customers often have a problem dissassociating problems that should be expected with the service from problems with the service provider. It's probably not very gratifying to provide what is often the only option people have for high speed internet to have some subset of them that don't understand the reality, or are just too upset to care, disparage your name online. It also probably doesn't lead to securing additional contracts easily, and as soon as other connectivity does become available, your customers will leave at the earliest opportunity (there's not a lot of friction to signing up somewhere else when the service is currently down).

I'm no RF engineer, but I'm pretty sure a 60Ghz link will be crippled when it rains.

as will the laser

presumably you can have more than one laser link using the same frequency and bandwidth of light since it is a laser beam just put the next link a couple meters over and they should not interfere with each other at all.

The parent comment is confused. NYC mesh doesn't use actual laser beams, they use a cheap 5Ghz TDMA solution made by Ubiquiti called Litebeam. Interference can be a big issue for this equipment, especially in an urban environment with a high noise floor.

(No affiliation with NYC folks, just a WISP guy handing out the basics)

This is great for urban areas, but connectivity in more rural parts of the country is shockingly bad, and doesn't seem to have as many elegant solutions as densely populated urban areas do. I live "out in the country" now during COVID and I'm now paying $60 for 250MB/s down, as opposed to paying $70 for gigabit a couple months ago living in the city.

It cannot be understated how badly the more rural parts of the country are being screwed by big telecom right now.

> I'm now paying $60 for 250MB/s down

LOL. My mom lives in an older house in a formerly-rural area where she's now surrounded by suburb-style new development. She wanted cable internet, and it cost her about $8000 and endless hours of haranguing Cox and chasing down service vans just to get a hook up. Literally she would see a Cox van at a construction site and stop and ask the person, because no one would talk to her on the phone. She eventually found one guy who gave her his business card and cell number, and knew a few people in the construction department who would help. The woman who took her credit card number over the phone to charge for the service told her she knew absolutely nothing about the process, and could make no guarantees about when it would happen. My mom was so desperate, she gave her her credit card number anyway. It took nearly a year to run maybe 100 yards of cable down her driveway from the street to her house, but she finally does have broadband now.

Meanwhile in Mexico... my dad's closest ISP switch was fully saturated by his neighbors. Somehow, he convinced the guys to run a full fiber run (about 300 ft) to his house from the next link for a good tip (20 USD). Even then the service is not particularly expensive around 30USD for 50MB+ symmetric. I was surprised it is more expensive in the US after many years of being quite expensive in Mexico and basically having a monopoly.

> $60 for 250MB/s dow

I’m going to guess that 80% of the US can’t get that.

I live in a rural area where the incumbent is building out FTTH as fast as they can. For all residences that have fiber, the price difference between 50M, 300M, and 1000M is significant.

The actual bandwidth used by a 300M customer and a 1000M customer is usually the same. The provider's upstream contracts would not change much if they put every one of their customers on 1000M.

But their pricing is regulated. The arm and a leg they charge for 1000M service is largely a function of that regulation, even though it hardly affects their costs otherwise. You might think that if the infrastructure costs are the same for 1M or 1000M and that the infrastructure costs are 90% of all costs, 1M and 1000M could be priced within 25% of each other. It might seem that a price jump from $100/50M to $1000/1000M is unreasonable. But the U.S. government right now is handing out $billions to rural providers to build out fiber, then requiring them to charge ridiculously high prices.

"The actual bandwidth used by a 300M customer and a 1000M customer is usually the same. The provider's upstream contracts would not change much if they put every one of their customers on 1000M."

Correct. I have a gig/gig symmetrical connection and a family of four information-devouring people. In the last 30 days we used 1 TB of data... which is to say, an average of just over 3Mb/s. We probably peaked at about 600Mb/s a few times.

Can I switch with you? I pay $88/mo for what is rate as "25 Mbps" high speed service. Reality? 20-22 Mbps down and 6-8 Mbps up in the local area, falling off significantly with distance (10.5 down just now to SF).

This is asymmetric with no disclaimer on their advertising page from an entrenched local monopoly in the north east (a small one)

I’d happily switch with you lol. $60 for 10/0.5. American broadband infrastructure is a sad joke.

We were at 6/0.768 for ~$90/month. 60ms latency. We switched to a local WISP and got 10/2 for $65/month, with 20ms latency. And the WISP's service is usually a bit faster than what they say as opposed to CenturyLink...

If I had more free time, I’d legitimately start a WISP for my neighborhood.

I pay $70 for 175/5, and I'm technically in the biggest city in my state.

We pay $50/mo for (up to) 10 Mb/s down, 1 Mb/s up (that's megabits, so just over 1 MB/s down, and 0.125 MB/s up). Our only alternative is bundled service from Comcast that's $130/mo not including fees (at up to 300 Mb/s, with a 1TB data cap).

I’m paying $60 for 10Mbps down and 0.5 up.

It’s a weird situation. Windstream lies to the federal government and says they offer broadband to my area, when they don’t offer any service at all. The only actual provider (South Slope), which offers fiber elsewhere, is therefore shut out of the usual federal programs to finance upgrades to the completely antiquated and over-provisioned DSL lines. I’m 3 miles line of sight from their headquarters.

I’m out in rural Wisconsin with 3 choices for high-speed Internet. With my current provider: 1Gbps down/400Mbps up for $75/month.

My parents live in the near Chicago suburbs, have 1 choice for high speed Internet, and pay $80/month for 100Mbps down and 6Mbps up.

So, rural internet options are actually better than urban in some areas.

I wonder how well it works during a blizzard, when you want your internet to be working since you're stuck inside.

Laser? Do you have any links for them using lasers? I only see directional antennas (that you can buy on amazon) on their site.

Who provides that fiber connection?

Widespread public infrastructure rented/leased to private companies is the only way to solve net neutrality, long-term. Otherwise it's just going to ping pong back and forth in the legislative/executive system for the next 50 years while a bunch of useful idiots argue that we should let companies turn internet access into tiered cable TV plans.

Singapore is the best. Here they separated the fiber from ISP. So ISP just rent the fiber and a nationalise company does the fibre. This creates cheap high speed internet plans in Singapore since new isp do not need to lay cables

One of my secret fantasies is an "Uber for ISPs". That is where someone ignores all the laws, rules, and regulations, and just builds a fiber ISP without anyone's permission. String fiber in through people's windows. Instead of burying them, put them in those temporary cable trenches (that you see all the time for construction or film crews), or run them beside sidewalks and cover them with cement. Hell, maybe a really sticky piece of duct tape is enough.

It would be totally illegal and you'd probably go to prison forever if you started a company to do it. And annoying people with scissors would be cutting them every day (not to mention glass-eating wasps! a real thing!).

But I'd pay for it.

I did this on a small scale in college! Back then the only way to get internet was via dialup, unless you paid $300+ a month for a DSL line (which was about 5x the speed and always on).

Since my friends and I had all just moved into a brand new apartment building together, I picked up a spool of ethernet and some ends and we literally strung the wires from window to window (wireless was far too expensive). The building was blue so I used blue wires and the owner either didn't notice or didn't care, because no one said a thing about it.

We all split the cost of the initial supplies and then everyone paid me whatever they could for the internet and I covered the rest. We had 10 people and I ended up paying about $40/mo for it personally.

On the plus side, since I controlled the gateway (and old computer the University threw out) I could do fun stuff like traffic shaping and setting up a web server to be a bulletin board for us. Also I got everyone to install one of those enterprise notification things on their Windows machines so we could send blast messages to each other about going to the city or down to the local cafe for dinner.

Good times.

This is what I did in college! Ethernet cable under the carpet and along the wall for me. I had DSL piped into a Freesco Router (a floppy disk running Linux 2.0.36). I remember finally upgrading to an ethernet based ADSL modem that had the ability to flash it with router firmware. All I had to do was plug that thing into my 10baseT 3Com switch!!

We checked out a drill from the dorm office (could also get DVDs and stuff) and attempted to drill from inside of a closet into a beam that crossed the hallway. The beam seemed likely to be hollow so the idea was that then we could run a cable across and have glorious gigabit instead of the 100 Mbps that the dorm switches provided. But the exploratory drilling in the first closet was not rewarding.

I lived in the same apartment complex as some coworkers for a few years and we had a similar setup - one of our neighbors (a devops guy from work) had a high spec business comcast line and we quietly ran ethernet cables through the walls and ceilings so everyone had good internet for cheap. Great experience.

I've seen something not too far from this done in rural areas in the UK. It's not illegal - in fact, it receives public money via broadband vouchers!

Direct-burying of fibre in the countryside is cheap, doesn't require permission (beyond getting access to the land etc.) Landowners are generally hugely supportive, as they get better internet too (and being rural, have useless connectivity to begin with).

You can get street works permits fairly easily, for the "last half-mile", through access to "code powers" [1]. That also helps you bypass certain planning rules. And you can just do a regular premises installation - nothing cloak and dagger here!

[1] https://www.ofcom.org.uk/phones-telecoms-and-internet/inform...

In Nebraska we could direct-bury fiber up to eight feet underground with what was essentially a vibrating knife (pulled through the earth by two large Caterpillers) along the gravel paved county roads that were established when the railroads sold off land to finance their grade/track construction. It's incredibly cheap compared to any other means of installation and the right-of-ways are consistently available - https://duckduckgo.com/?q=vibration+cable+plough&t=ffab&iar=....

A tiny fraction of our fiber was mounted above ground (eight miles out of over 700 IIRC) but it was taken down by tornados/wind shear twice in the first three years after it was lit.

Here in Iowa, I see these "Ditch Witch" things [1] everywhere they do utility work. Seems like they can do pretty quick work with them.

[1] https://www.ditchwitch.com/directional-drills

Those will go through much tougher ground than a vibrating plough, but they're also much slower and you can see the trench when it's done. With the plough, we'd typically go through the gravel berm along the road and you'd have a hard time telling that it had just buried the cable even if you were looking for it!

Our fiber ISP, Ting, used those in our neighborhood to lay new lines. It was interesting to watch. For the most part, the only place where you could see any disturbance was when they had to pop up for a junction box.

Generally looking at around $200,000 for one of those. They work great in certain areas. If you’re doing urban work like we are they’re not so great because there’s a utility every 10 feet.

That's pretty similar to how broadband developed in Romania, and a significant reason why they have some of the best Internet speeds in the world.[0] It's also more or less the model that successful community mesh networks have followed, like NYC mesh[1] and Guifi[2].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_in_Romania [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NYC_Mesh [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guifi.net

I don't remember the name of the operator but there was a small telecom in Houston TX that ran cable/fiber illegally all over the city. We worked hard to get permits for everything but it was tough seeing his infrastructure duct taped to the underside of I10 bridges. Very hard to compete with that!

> It would be totally illegal and you'd probably go to prison forever if you started a company to do it. ... > And annoying people with scissors would be cutting them every day

That is probably why the wireless packet mesh networks are more popular since there's no physical infra in other people's property (spectrum as "property" sounds odd, but even that is a commons for some fraction of it).

It only exists when it is used and just disappears when it isn't & is easily moved around.

I assume the illegality would be its own reward sometimes. Didn't El Chapo run his own cellphone network?

There's a whole plot line in "Person of Interest" about this happening in NYC, hiding in plain sight as regular TV antennas (the Panopticon episode).

The wireless mesh projects was the first thing that came to mind as well.

This is pretty common in India. All the Internet fiber is just spread from roof to roof, none of it is underground. It looks ugly but it is very convenient. Even the rates are pretty reasonable compared to some first world countries, I pay about $20 for 200mbps/1TB FUP, with some pretty reliable service.

Yes. I second the parent comment. I get 150mbps, 1TB FUP and my plan consts ~14USD per month. There is an offer also in which if I prepay 1 year's fee then I get 6 months free. This means the actual per month costs me even lesser.

Where can I read about glass-eating wasps? Google is failing me.

I'm not sure if much has been written. I used to work on Google Fiber. One day a customer complained that their Internet wasn't working. A technician was dispatched. The technician found a wasp's nest where the fiber entered the customer's house and the wasps had chewed right through the fiber. I suppose it was surprising because glass is not a particularly soft substance -- with the right tools, sure, you can cut it, but it was surprising that wasps could cut it.

I think it's more like they chewed the rubber/support for the wire and then it snapped?


You would probably end up with something like this : https://miro.medium.com/max/2048/1*ZeyDyk8VYEY8-3Npb7Gw4w.jp...

They do have good service tho, not sure about the esthetics

This would be a great test for how reliable you can make a network if you add in a lot of redundancy. if you have enough routes it shouldn't matter if a few fibers get cut or destroyed.

The difference between Uber and ISP is that in addition to penalizing for illegal activity they will surely rip all the infrastructure built.

I would imagine that if you would run fiber to the nearest POP they probably wouldn't mind connecting you, since anything wrong with it would be on you.

Uber worked like that because governments are far less hesitant in fining / moving / removing stationary objects vs mobile objects which contains multiple voters inside of them.

i had a ~500 meter campus link in a rural area i maintained for 10 years, with fiber and coax when necessary. wire is right out, but fiber is such a bitch to work with. The tools are expensive and hard to use, to the point that we replaced our fiber lines with pre-made cables as the economical alternative to repairing breaks. This was a decade+ ago and I hope things are easier now.

You can buy a perfectly workable fusion splicer for (relatively) cheap from fs.com and similar sites these days. I wouldn’t go throwing one at a novice with no experience or supervision and saying “go for it” - but the hardest part of deploying fiber today is definitely permits.

House Democrats just proposed $100B to fund last mile fiber. The bill includes thinks like a "Dig Once" provision and supersedes state laws against municipal fiber.



ugh, that bill is horrible. 0 talk of deregulating things which allow the ISP monopolies(which are responsible for the terrible service) to exist. Literally just another tax-payer handout to private companies.

If I remember correctly, in Israel they forced the telcos to open up their infrastructure to everyone and the sky didn't fall down.

Here in the US, AT+T was ordered to allow independent DSL operators to share its twisted pair to households. Worked okay for a while, but AT+T found ways to get the shared equipment e.g. at the local office, misconfigured for those customers. Source: I was such a one, with a year and a half of intermittent service.

My fear for open access is where the open market ISPs and the natural monopoly fiber demux meet -- we should fear attempts at collusion and market manipulation.

It was the 1996 telecom act and it was implemented poorly and the telcos made it super difficult to operate within.

Note that cable companies were exempt (which is because they had better politicians) and telcos had a lot of runway to put up barriers for a clec to provide services. In the end, the telcos moved the goal posts, could subsidize customer equipment better and could delay your installs.

This was always the plan. Pretend to follow and enforce UNE regulations for a few years, so that lots of investors would be fooled into thinking that competition could exist in USA telecom. Then after lots of infrastructure has been built out that the Daughters Bell would like to acquire for pennies on the dollar (to subsidize their simultaneous large investment on the wireless side), completely stop enforcing any UNE program. CLEC pitches to new customers: "If you sign up today, we'll be able to start your service in one to five months!" Poof, there goes the business. Now you have to sell all your customers, equipment, marketing, etc. to the same assholes who colluded with FCC to screw you over, at fire-sale prices. ILEC execs, bankers, and politicians got rich. Telecom investors learned they have to wire around anything that FCC/PUCs can reach. In dense locations that may be fiber. Everywhere else it will be higher-GHz-band wireless. Absorption will make anticonsumer regulation more obviously corrupt, and there will be only so much that FCC can do.

In general, this is how massive new laws in USA work. Lots of consumers/citizens/normal people are somewhat dissatisfied with the status quo, and so some public-interest people start pushing through a big change to benefit humanity at the slight expense of entrenched interests. Lobbyists for entrenched interests aren't stupid; they know you don't step in front of a speeding train. Instead, they flip all the right switches (i.e. they pay massive bribes) to direct the train along the tracks they prefer. "Oh, we're going to have competition in wired telecommunications, are we? Yes, let's pretend that, just for fun..."

Yes. This was the reality. A ton of money went into DSL/clecs that were gone within years. Saw it first hand.

In most of Europe too.

> Recently, the FCC and USDA, among others, have created massive funds in an effort to deploy broadband in underserved areas.

The Universal Service Fund was established mid-'90s to get fund telecommunications connections to schools and libraries in rural areas (in the same way the Rural Electrification Act did in the early 1900s). Funds were paid out through 2000 or so but I haven't heard of any contracts being built using USF funds since then. I will however point out that you can still see this surcharge on your phone bill. I also agree that these contracts tended to favor huge CLECs (versus huge cable companies back then) and that more consideration should be given to "mom and pop" shops.

EDIT: The focus on schools and libraries was an effort to get service into these geographic areas with the idea that once it was there, consumers would be targeted as customers who could then "just connect". That's when we also learned that the "last mile" was way more expensive (often politically) than anticipated. In the cable industry, the response was to upgrade plant equipment and create/adopt the DOCSIS standard for data transmission over coax.

DISCLAIMER: I was a member of two of the committees that helped write specific portions of the DOCSIS 2.0 specification.

This is what is preventing my move from suburban Washington State to rural Montana or even Idaho. Getting ANY information from wired ISPs is like pulling teeth. Each address has to be called in, and no ISP can say something helpful like "we don't service that, but try ISP X", they all say "that's not on our service area... today".

I have high hopes for Starlink, personally, but my first choice would absolutely be gigabit fiber to the homestead.

Whatever you do, avoid Ziply. It sounds like a great deal but when they bought out Frontier in our area they cancelled our auto-pay and then wouldn't refund the late fee. I think we spent more than 16 hours total on the phone with them. They still haven't mailed out the return label for their MoCa bridge. The first time we tried calling them the CSR would "put us on hold to be transferred" and then hang up on us. This happened about 3 times over the course of 2 hours. Nothing any of their CSRs say can be trusted.

It is absolutely the worst company I have ever had the displeasure of doing business with, and I'm so happy I had the option of switching to Comcast.

Just be aware that Ziply inherited the Frontier customer support team and the supposedly poor software as well.

My last call with Ziply 2 weeks ago to upgrade my 50/50 to 100/100 was a great experience. I'm not saying every call is going to be great, just that it can be.

I know the network folks at Ziply, and they are investing a lot of time, effort, and money into improving things as quickly as possible. It’s some of the same folks from CondoInternet / WaveG.

Funnily enough, I was doing research one day and came across a local ISP co-op in one of the Dakotas that was selling rural, symmetric 1/1 for $70 per month. Much better service at a lower cost than in SF (been trying to get ATT to finish their fiber install for the past 2 months).

Unfortunately I don't remember the name, but you could probably find it on one of the FCC maps.

Sonic in SF is a better deal, no?

You betcha! I live in the East bay and Sonic gigabit fiber to the house delivers 1Gb/s up and down. No data caps. $62 per month includes taxes, fees, and a VOIP phone line. Dynamic IP address, but you can't have everything.

At least it's a public IP and not CGNAT.

I’m guessing they didn’t mean 1 gigabit :(

They did, which was the shocking part! If you believe their claims about profit distributions (which you probably shouldn't), the total cost might even average less than $70/mo.

There are a few cities in Idaho that have municipal broadband. Might not be locations you're looking at, but worth noting. I believe Ammon and Idaho Falls are two of them.

You can use the FTC Broadband Map[1] to find areas that already have fiber. It's not that precise, especially in rural areas, but can be a good starting point to know if there's at least one fiber install in the general area.

1: https://broadbandmap.fcc.gov/

> It's not that precise

I think you're being too kind. That map is a disgrace. The 'latest public release' is from June 2019, a whole year out of date. One self-reported hookup in a census block is enough to mark the entire block as 'having service', which is a ridiculous metric, particularly in rural areas as you said.

This map was designed by the incumbents as something to point at when they are criticized for the sub-par and overpriced services they provide. And the FCC went along with it, which is just regulatory capture.

A real broadband map would

a) not rely on self-reporting or have really serious fines if companies deliberately provide incorrect information

b) give an indication of what is actually installed (1 house out of the 100 in this census block has fiber from Verizon? Great, 1% actually installed).

c) give an indication of what is actually available. 95 buildings out of 100 can't get the Verizon fiber service? That's 95% of the census block that does not have service. The telcos have this information (they all have a way to look up a physical address on their website to see if you can get service), they are just not sharing it.

The FCC broadband map is about as bad as the cell phone carrier's coverage maps, which are also a complete joke.

For those, though, there are crowdsourced and way more accurate alternatives (e.g. opensignal.com, cellmapper.net).

Yeah the FCC thinks I have 19 options for broadband. I most assuredly do not.

This is 100% accurate. Add in hostile/lazy city utility offices, litigious competitors with infinite pockets, and people who just hate change and you're starting to understand the uphill battle that is bettering internet infrastructure.

There’s also intergenerational change. Many older folks don’t care about the benefits of high speed internet and fiber. Add in resistance to change and that can create some startling traction against progress.

- I live in a building with 180 units. Our options are AT&T and Comcast. Copper is mandatory and old. Want to guess how Comcast is them the only option for fast broadband?

- When I upgraded my plan the first person to notice it was my mom in India. Her internet is so much better that the increase in my upload speed was visibly apparent to her. I realised I was the bottleneck.

- I appreciated the local control in the US a lot. But I now know it’s a huge detriment to develop and improve basic infrastructure. The goal is to keep things the way they are. In that sense even San Francisco is extremely conservative.

I think we need to make it a lot cheaper to run cables like this: I don't understand why we have to dig up roads to lay cables. Why can't there be a shared conduit for cables underneath or beside a road? It can be included in the initial construction of the road, for example.

> I don't understand why we have to dig up roads to lay cables. Why can't there be a shared conduit for cables underneath or beside a road?

Because the city doesn't want to pay for it. And the companies, having the money to dig the road up don't want to make their competitor's jobs easier. So pretty classic market failure.

What needs to happen, IMO, is that the last mile should be utility infrastructure, and ISPs should connect to that. Then the ISPs pay the city for use of the last mile on a endpoint by endpoint basis. Lowers the barrier for new ISPs since they don't have to dig up new last mile, and the city is encouraged to upkeep the last mile since it's a revenue stream with a few high paying representatives of customers (so no tragedy of the commons), but the low barrier to entry for ISPs means that the city won't get too connected to individual ISPs.

Okay but who is going to do that? My county is still working on bringing water and sewer to most places, and I’m less than 10 minutes outside Annapolis. Especially places that already have cable or fiber that was privately installed?

When there's a clear revenue source coming out of it, bonds make sense to pay for it.

And yeah, if you're in barely first world conditions where you're struggling to hook sewer up to your residents near a major municipality, you obviously have systemic issues that get in the way of proper utility work of nearly any scale.

20% of the country doesn’t have public water or sewer, including many fairly wealth areas. In vastly more of the country, existing water and sewer infrastructure is crumbling and needs replacement. Sure, you can pass bonds, but how do you get people to vote for those bonds when you also need to issue bonds for all this other higher priority infrastructure?

> 20% of the country doesn’t have public water or sewer, including many fairly wealth areas

Almost entirely rural. These people aren't digging up roads, but it's purely a right of way issue on the poles (if they're getting real high speed internet either way).

> In vastly more of the country, existing water and sewer infrastructure is crumbling and needs replacement.

Yes, the united states is devolving into a third world country when it comes to infrastructure. My scheme is obviously predicated on not being in one of the municipalities that are actively trying to run the concept of government into the ground.

> Sure, you can pass bonds, but how do you get people to vote for those bonds when you also need to issue bonds for all this other higher priority infrastructure?

So you don't get to have works like this until you have the basics of potable water covered.

Like for real, 10 minutes outside of Annapolis should be able to have sewer covered.

That's probably a misunderstanding. There are plenty of places that don't have public water, but that do have abundant potable water. It's just coming from a nearby well rather than a water treatment plant. Same with the sewer; they've got private septic systems rather than a public sewer system. This type of distributed infrastructure is less costly and more resilient than public water and sewer systems, though it's not suitable for cities or even suburbs.

I understand that, I have a house on a well.

That bit is covered by my first response:

> Almost entirely rural. These people aren't digging up roads, but it's purely a right of way issue on the poles (if they're getting real high speed internet either way).

The part you seem to take issue with is the part where I think I had reduced the subset to people who have an issue getting current infrastructure, probably because it hasn't been maintained properly (thinking of flint like situations). I'm admitting that there are cases where they have bigger utility issues and systemic problems managing those utilities, and probably don't have the bandwidth to deal with a new one.

I don’t think that’s a totally fair comparison. I grew up with well water and a septic system a bit outside of a rural town, and it’s not practically much different from living with city water and sewage now. You just have to maintain those systems yourself. Now if you could access the internet by digging a well, that’d be golden :p

Totally agree about cities owning last-mile fiber. Though I think more than that would be needed for rural areas where folks might not live in city limits. That’s where fast internet is most needed. I think my folks still only get 3mbps down and much less up living about a half mile away from where the cable company run ends

You don't even need to be outside a rural town. I grew up in the middle of a city of 100k+ people, in a county of 500k+, and we were on well and septic because of the uniqueness of our property and the fact that to get on city water required $30k-$40k of combined trenching (to get it to our property from behind the house across the street) and hookup fees.

Across the (small private) road in front of our house, 50 feet away, the neighbor was on city water. To the side of us, across the creek that bordered out property, was a large public High School (which I went to). To the other side of the property was an on-ramp to an elevated freeway. This is an hour north of SF.

That's hardly rural. There are still select properties on well water all around even in cities, it's just not always obvious.

Are you in Hartford County, MD by chance?

Why can't there be a shared conduit for cables underneath or beside a road?

Because the city doesn't want to pay for it.

What needs to happen, IMO, is that the last mile should be utility infrastructure, and ISPs should connect to that

...so, the cities won’t shell out to build conduits, but they’ll happily pay to build out conduits + fiber?

Well, they don't need to build out conduits + fiber, only fiber since the idea is encourage their monopoly over the last mile. They just need to do what is happening today on the private side and run a fiber (which is cheaper for each individual player). Then encouraging everything other than the last mile to be private sets up all the right incentive structures as far as I can see to solve a lot of problems of broadband internet access.

You can see this model in very similar markets, where some countries run the cell network as a national utility. But your actual carriers are a large choice of companies connected to that network that differentiate on service, price, and added on features, rather than the amount of capital available for infrastructure investment.

Well you need conduit to run fiber generally; so you would be doing both.

In the UK, I have a "full fibre" provider (Hyperoptic) which pretty much exclusively serve apartment blocks. They run fibre to a switch they install in the building, and then ethernet cabling from that switch to every apartment. Targetting dense buildings I suspect gives them a really good cost/customer upfront ratio (in some cities they own their own fibre, in others they use other commercial providers, including Openreach which was spun out of the former state monopoly BT and has to provide fair rates to competitors). The latter seems like a reasonable trade off of government regulation and free market to encourage competition, I suspect the lobbying culture in the US wouldn't allow it though.

In San Francisco, everyone along streets with underground utilities are denied fiber due to Public Works disallowing microtrenching.

Additionally, AT&T has not upgraded their lines in these areas, so we're stuck with Comcast or DSL...

Also the NIMBYs and ridiculous permitting requirements, such as needing environmental studies to add distribution boxes.

How do NIMBYs play into this?

They've fought the installation of CEVs (controlled environment vaults) which are used to put in network/telecom gear to extend broadband services.

One town decided they didn't like this beige box on a main street so they painted over it with a color that fit better. Turns out, that paint was important for cooling it: within a few days gear overheated and hundreds were out of service.

NIMBYs put laws in place that makes it harder to install fiber.

To be fair, microtrenching sucks. It’s extremely difficult to dig around lines that have even micro trenched without damaging them. Our “micro trenches” are still 16” deep, but we stopped doing that. Our new stuff is a minimum of 24”, generally 36” deep. I know people who were doing it between 4-8” and I think that’s just plain stupid.

I agree microtrenching isn’t ideal. Neither is a plethora of service providers tearing up streets to install proper conduit and lines, however.

Texas has shared transmission lines and a choice of electrical suppliers. It’s high past time we applied the same model to data.

If you can get it, monkeybrains is pretty good

What speeds are you getting with them?

Chattanooga's EPB - 300mbps up/down 57.99, 1Gps up/down 67.99 10Gps up/down 299.00



I was pleasantly surprised last time I stayed in Chattanooga ;).

I was flying a private airplane (am a pilot) and the monthly GIS database updates and PNG map tiles required to fly with an app rather than paper maps go well into the tens of gigs, which is usually quite painful on hotel wifi.

I set the update going on my iPad one night in the hotel before going to bed, took a shower, and was pleasantly surprised after coming out of the bathroom a few minutes later to see that it was done!

Proof that private ownership of infrastructure is bullshit, and utilities (including internet lines) should not be owned by profit-seeking organizations.

Yeah PA this doesn't surprise me. It's Pittsburgh and Philly with a 3rd world country in between.

The entire state is basically those two islands, and 4 highways to get back and forth from the northeast. The rest is mountains and nothing filled with people fighting over scraps while getting snooty about the, 'dangerous high tax cities.'

Source, grew up in the nothing part of the state. Hit the road for Pittsburgh as soon as I could afford it and never looked back.

What is the point of having advanced technologies, products, and services that are largely inaccessible to large segment of the population? There is something inherently structurally broken how US operates.

I pay about same amount for an unreliable 50Mbps cable internet connection at my home in US, and for 1Gbps Fibre internet connection at my home in Japan.

Is a typical thing (i.e. infrastructure) that the government (federal, state and local combined) should pay and maintain ? Clearly letting private companies doing it is not working in US. Dig once, lay enough municipal fiber, and rent it to any ISP that want to reach houses/buildings. Use that opportunity to properly lay the phone, cable, and electricity, and rent them out as well to the local provider of voice, TV and electricity. And the nice bonus would be uncluttered street, no more poles and wires going from building to building. Yes, it is expensive to lay down fiber, phone, cable, electricity. But if we had done the investment 20 years ago, it would likely be ahead now, with lower cost for customers, and a thriving environment with more innovation...

The writer forgot to mention the most important barrier - Basic economics.

Last mile infrastructure is always a winner takes all market.

Even if all the barriers to entry are removed, you won't have 20 different providers competing in a single city. Only 1 or 2 providers will survive. This is because operational costs for running your own lines will be constant, but you will always have only a fraction of the customers if you are competing with 20 other providers.

I've commented on this topic in a previous HN thread. But I believe the solution to the problem is a bidding system. Companies bid to build infrastructure. And companies bid to maintain it for short period of time (3 years).

I think the solution is what the developing countries have done: the national government just install the cables, then rent out the infrastructure to private companies to compete/service.

Several cities in the United States have implemented municipal fiber. There are a few different models [1] but my favorite is "open access", where the city owns the fiber and allows many providers to use it. (See more here [2].)

UTOPIA, a consortium of cities in Utah, operates under an open access model. You pay a $30 fee to the city for the line and then choose from 12 different ISPs [3]. A symmetrical 1Gbps plan is around $50, so $80 total. You can even get a 10Gbps plan for $200. If you're having problems with the ISP you're using, you just go online and change it.

[1] https://muninetworks.org/sites/www.muninetworks.org/files/20... [2] https://muninetworks.org/content/open-access [3] https://www.utopiafiber.com/residential3pricing/

The problem lies in states where they've been successfully lobbied at the state level to block municipal telecom.

Utah is one of those states that has laws that were originally crafted to prevent municipalities from providing the service by big ISP lobbyists. The law prevents municipalities from offering the service directly to consumers (still does), so UTOPIA was born with an open access network via a 'loophole' if you will in the laws.

I think the government involvement should be minimal. They should create a law that requires bidding on local infrastructure, and enforce that the bidding process is fair, and the selection/voting process is fair.

The bidding process is easily rigged. See redlining.

Hey. I looked up redlining, but I am not sure how it relates to bidding.

Could you explain your point in a bit more detail. I am kinda curious.

In telecommunications redlining is used to carve out profitable areas to serve and abandoning others.

It doesn't matter how fair the bidding and/or selection process is, you'll only end up with service in the profitable areas anyways. The bidding winner will most likely in most places be the incumbent, since they have a leg up.

A similar concept is gerrymandering where you manipulate district boundaries to get the desired election results.

> the national government just install the cables, then rent out the infrastructure to private companies to compete/service.

And in fact both of these things can be done the same way: by obtaining some bids and giving the task to the best bidder.

The issue is profitability (similar to the post office problem) -- if your house is in a rural area with low density, it's not worth it for a private industry actor to bid on your linkage. In many parts of the US, the only ways to get mail is through USPS (FedEx & UPS just don't service unprofitable routes). However I think internet access is a human right and a public good no matter where you live or can afford to live (imagine raising children who would never have access to at least broadband-level speed -- how would they function in a 21st century economy?) - and the infrastructure can only be provided equitably if the government steps in and subsidizes away the profitability problem.

That's a good point. The law can have an exception for communities that get less than 5 bids. If that happens the gov't builds the infrastructure.

I don't follow. How do you propose that the gov't build the infrastructure? A: get bids, award the task to highest bidder... :)

Profitability should be automatically part of the bid. It doesn't mean the bidders pay the government, it could be the other way around too.

It would be same as the regular bidding process.

Except that the gov't picks and pays for the contract (construction), instead of the local residents.

For service and maintenance contract the gov't would subsidize the monthly fees (which are expected to bee higher than a high density city)

I work for a company that provides BSS/OSS software to small ISPs in India. I'm so glad that the legal system in India is so weak that it is not possible for monopolies to enforce ownership of last mile infrastructure as smaller local players can just throw wires over buildings and give consumers the service at a low cost.

Our software is as cheap as 0.1 USD per user per month and has a large list of features and we're provisioning over a million connections all over India from villages to large cities like Mumbai.

Email me (see profile) or posts a link to your BSS/OSS. Inquiring minds want to know if it is usable outside India.

Sure, just emailed you (from address in my profile) with a link to our BSS/OSS and login credentials for you.

Would love to hear from you if you have any feedback or questions.

There's probably a good explanation, but let me ask the question: why do we need to have men cutting hard road surfaces?

If a city extends their subway network, they dont demolish all buildings on top, lay the tracks, and then rebuild. They do it without any major interference to the surface. Similarly for mountain tunnels, you dont start by demolishing a mile of rock. We just dig the tunnel.

Couldn't someone invent a robot to dig fibre tunnels? Then we wouldnt need to bother any shop owners or neighbours with noise and inconvenience?

How do you plan for these things to get into buildings? Sewer, water, and power utilities are anywhere from 20’ deep to 2’ deep, so unless you want these robots aimlessly digging into utilities, you still need to disturb the ground above. Subway tunnels are generally very deep... 40’+ And verrrrry expensive.

When Charter hooked up a building for me, they used a horizontal bore to get from their pedestal at the corner of the lot to the wall I wanted them to come in. I've also seen horizontal boring used to lay new fiber along a highway right-of-way, because they wanted to switch back and forth from one side of the highway to the other. You've probably seen these machines before. [0]

[0] https://www.ditchwitch.com/directional-drills

I would guess it’s a matter of cost and how deep the tunnel needs to be dug.

It could be. Otoh, if you were able to have less workers on the job, avoid having to repave entire streets, and avoid having to wait for 6 months to get started... youd think itd be worth it

Reading this I am very happy that my hometown state in Germany runs a state funded fiber project now. My mom had max 3Mbps for the last 18 years or so and will soon have 1Gbps for the same money.

Which state/city is that?

I realised the correct term in english is rather County than state though

Kreis Minden Lübbecke https://standort-minden-luebbecke.de/Standort/Breitband-Ausb...

In Memphis, TN, we have hideous overhead power lines running along most streets, usually with a combination of high voltage, low voltage, communication lines, and untold abandoned cabling. Im amazed that citizens will tolerate a very poorly maintained network of power poles vs arguing with cities and utilities to begin the admittedly long, expensive, and slow work to clean ups the more egregious and prominent locations, like along major thoroughfares. These overhead distribution networks require significant mutilation of trees (ugly) and are vulnerable to a variety of accidents including cars striking poles, trees falling on wires, squirrels exploding, etc.

A city-led effort to install underground conduit duct banks could be federally funded while also allow new ISPs to come along and lease empty conduit. Thats where I would focus my grass roots efforts.

In Memphis, its rumored to cost some $3B to bury all overhead power lines (estimated by the local public utility), therefore infeasible. I say, excellent, get to work on the easiest 50% of the scoop that over the next decade!

New York City looked like that in the late 19th century. A blizzard destroyed everything and the wires moved underground: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_City_Subway

That’s the city’s entire budget for 4 years. Even if you spread it out over a decade it’s over 40% of the city’s budget each year.

I would strongly encourage you to run for local office. You're on the right track, and the path to success is more leverage.

More people need to do this! There is so much that can be done by getting involved in local office. Earlier this year I successfully got a seat on the board overseeing my city's public utilities. One of my goals is to get municipal broadband.

Thank you for your efforts!

Same in San Francisco, it's pretty ugly, my dad said "it looks like third world country cabling" when he visited.

> Last year we were installing conduit for our fiber optic network. There were countless instances where people would literally stop their cars, roll down their windows, and yell profanities at us. In what world is that acceptable behavior for an adult?

In a world that highlights individuals, and where everyone has been taught their time is more valuable than other people's.

> Last year we were installing conduit for our fiber optic network. There were countless instances where people would literally stop their cars, roll down their windows, and yell profanities at us. In what world is that acceptable behavior for an adult?

People hate infrastructure. That’s the only explanation.

Many people dislike construction.

Another possibility is that it's just Pennsylvania...

Public utility functions are best run by regulated processes and it's just rubbish to say market forces help here. Prices for internet are now decoupled from true underlying cost in almost all markets. Fibre is a fifty year plus investment in the ground. Do it once.

I think it really sucks when you try to do good by everyone (community, business owners, ordinary citizens) and encounter so much friction. I think I can understand the author's point of view. Many areas seem to have dismal internet access in the US (I live in Canada).

However it seems to be a much better outcome for all compared to the 'wild-west-shoot-from-the-hip' method where anyone digs anywhere with minimal regulation and oversight.

Not having an infrastructure and building it slowly is better in my opinion than degrading public infrastructure and then having citizen foot the bill to clean up the mess left by some fast and loose startups.

I mention this in this particular context of building and transforming physical installations who affect the general public.

Interesting, but it's painful to read. It's as if someone is paying Chris per apostrophe.

With 5G, I think there's even less motivation for ISPs to provide fiber to those out of range. To the point where they'll just jack up the installation prices until no-one bothers them anymore.

At least that's the feeling I'm getting now. A friend of mine recently moved into a new building, which isn't too far from a fiber central. It's also out in the suburbs, so no extensive infrastructure like you'd find in the middle of a city...well, he requested a quote, and the company said - "hey, it'll cost you around $20k for [short stretch], but we're also offering wireless broadband for only [2-3 times the price of fiber, and 1/5th the speed)"

How long is "[short trench]" specifically? You may be able to find a third party contractor that can run the trunk cheaper, but it will vary by city/state. If it's even a mile in a city, $20k is probably about right. If it's a block with no intersections, it may be overpriced... that will really vary a lot.

What is the price of an unlimited 5G connection? If it is being provided by a telco I imagine that it will expensive and have limited data caps.

Verizon's is $70/month with no datacaps yet.

Speed and ability to get the service varies greatly by distance and LOS to the tower.

Source: https://www.verizon.com/support/5g-home-faqs/

5G requires more fiber runs since towers have to be closer together. Less fiber than running to every home but more than we have now.

I spent the last 2 years living in the south of Switzerland.

Wages are very high, costs of goods are high, but telecom services are inexpensive and very high quality.

In Lugano, I was paying $40 / month for 10 GB symmetric fiber to the home, and another $40 / month for truly unlimited 4G cell service. They gave me a $10 discount for bundling.

Fiber is universally wired to new buildings, and you have your choice of ISPs. There were cheaper options.

Whatever the reason, the US has been unable to figure this out. It’s not the urban nature of Europe. Small villages have the same setup.

I feel so lucky that I live in an area with fiber internet and 1000mbps speeds. I remember when we were house hunting, this was one of my criteria. While leads to my point - if enough people want fast internet speeds, they should/could plan their house buying/renting strategies accordingly. Nothing like incenting local municipalities to take action based on a community of people motivated by money.

There's a good Planet Money podcast on this


I believe the strategy is to frustrate tax payers into footing the bill allowing telecoms access to the enormous teat of the American government and others.

Rent seeking delenda est

So, right now is a terrible time for this logic given we live in an oligarchy with very little representation, but if we lived in an actual functional government, services like this seem like they should be socialized.

I don't want 3 different sewage companies ripping up my block to put in 3 different sewage lines. Similarly, I don't want a bunch of different internet providers having to do that.

Once again, this only makes sense in a functional government. Not in a lobbyist hacked representative democracy turned oligarchy.

Most of the policies like this are set at the state and local levels. You absolutely can make a difference at this level by showing up.

Especially if you can show up with some like-minded people in the same jurisdiction, and keep after it until the change has actually happened and is too late for the incumbents to undo.

While I really appreciate the democratic aspect of showing up at meetings, I would much prefer proper representation.

Representation such that someone says: "Hey what about people who are too busy to show up to these meetings? How do we get their input?"

At this point, the lobbyists have very, very, very obviously gotten root. The steps involved with reversing this (without beheadings) are unprecedented afaik.

That's exactly how it works? You show up, make a bunch of noise about what you want and eventually everyone can vote on it. The value of representative democracy is that you don't need to take the time to go to every meeting.

We don't have a "representative democracy," we have an oligarchy.

Our representation was lobbied away, like, 2 decades ago. Now they're just mocking us.

Go vote anyways.

What was the turning point? Why vote if the system is an oligarchy?

How about when we started a war with a country that hadn't attacked us so that some oil tycoons could line their pockets?

Did anyone vote on that? Just sending innocent civilians to die so some rich fuck could get richer?

How about "Corporations are people"? Was that for the good of the American public?

What about this current administration? Pretty much everyone in power doesn't belong there and does more to serve those who pay them (through lobbying) than the public.

Vote anyways because it's good for PR and slows down the spread of corruption.

Government dysfunction is a matter of perception. This defeatist attitude is toxic. Our government is functional. Your vote does count. You do have input, especially at a local level.

DUDE. They got root.

If this was a computer system, then they managed to leverage lobbying until they were able to move enough pieces to be able to turn money into real systemic changes, and at this point they've reached the top. They've also reached the bottom in the sense that if this was a pure democracy, they'd still get majority vote through manipulating non-experts.

The government is a system, and you're a "hacker." Honestly, how much further could the wealthy escalate their privileges?

P.S. Go vote anyways.

We all have root, that's the point.

Sure lobbyists have a lot of influence. That doesn't make the United States an oligarchy.

i have two choices in my area. ATT DSL or Comcast cable. the phone line system is so old in my neighborhood. it just barely better than dial up so i'm left with Comcast as the only option for high speed.

i'm hoping Elon Musk's Starlink will give us the high speed that we hope for that is not control by monopoly like Comcast and ATT.

This is the situation in most areas of the US. A few lucky people are in new developments where the phone company has run fiber wire and offers a real fiber to the home connection, but most are stuck with a crappy connection via coaxial wires.

Coax is not that bad. In theory you can get 10Gbps down and 6Gbps up.[1] The problem is cable companies with monopoly in the US. In Hungary you can get 1Gbps down 200Mbps up for less than 25 USD, and they rolling out DOCSIS 3.1

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DOCSIS

Who owns these poles? Are these municipalities or corporations? If the latter, who owns the land these poles are on?

> I remember my brother and I fighting over the computer day in and day out to play games like Wolfenstein - Enemy Territory, which was released in 2003. (I'm convinced that this will be the all-time best FPS game ever created.)

The author is correct.

The answer is a no, now and forever so get it over with at your own sweet pace.

Am I weird for not wanting fiber run into my apartment?

Sure it makes sense for ISPs to use it for infrastructure but the link from their switch to my equipment should be made of copper. It’s so easy to mess those cables up and having a contracted fish around in your walls just so you can have your <1Gig connection back is stupid.

When I first got a connection here it took the guy an extra few hours to deal with exactly this kind of problem.

The problem is that your going to have a contractor fish around in your walls and mess cables up anyway. If they aren't doing it for fiber, they'll be doing it for coax or ancient copper DSL lines.

So, if you have to have a person punch holes and fish around in walls anyway, you might as well get a nice fiber connection out of it, right?

Weird? No. Objectively wrong? Yes.

The link from their switch to your equipment should not be made of copper, because copper does not provide electrical isolation between the endpoints and is susceptible to interference.

Fiber does provide electrical isolation between endpoints and is not susceptible to interference.

Fiber also supports significantly higher throughput.

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