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Customer Owned Fiber in Ottawa

Arstechnica had a nice article yesterday by Timothy Lee entitled ‘The really long tail’ following up on Derek Slater’s article last week on the Google Public Policy Blog entitled ‘What if you could own your Internet connection?’ Both articles are about a pilot project in Ottawa.

The “tail” in Timothy’s article is the “last mile” (or as I prefer, “first mile”) fiber connection from individual homes to a network peering point or other aggregation point where individuals can then choose from among multiple competing ISPs. The importance is, as Timothy Lee puts it,

Without the expense of rolling out last mile infrastructure to every home, many more ISPs could afford to serve a given neighborhood by running wiring to the peering point, leading to more competition and lower prices. Perhaps best of all, the growth of customer-owned fiber could make debates over “open access” and network neutrality moot, as robust telecom competition should prevent the worst of the monopolistic behavior exhibited by telco and cable incumbents.

Typical costs run below $3000 per household depending on density and the number of households that agree to participate. Considering the cost of a home, this is one investment that should easily increase the value of the home, most likely by much more than the cost!

Mentioned by Derek although unmentioned by Timothy is the most important person here, Bill St. Arnaud, Chief Research Officer at CANARIE, a Canadian nonprofit that focuses on network infrastructure.

Bill is driving the Ottawa trial and is the leading proponent of condominium fiber as described in his presentations here. His work has also had a major impact on my thinking about “layer zero” competition.

Either way, articles on the Google blog and at Arstechnica will help promote this excellent concept and, hopefully, improve the quality of discussion in policy circles.

By Brough Turner, Founder & CTO at netBlazr

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Not a practical idea Richard Bennett  –  Jul 31, 2008 11:17 PM

I don’t think the average consumer wants to be a network administrator, so this experiment is bound to fail. But that’s OK for Google, since they’re just looking to score some public relations points, as they did in the D Block auction.

Completely practical! - ISPs compete to connect your fiber for you. Brough Turner  –  Aug 3, 2008 11:11 PM

Richard, It's still ISPs who take on the responsibility of lighting the fiber, and charging you for their services. The point is you, the home owner, get to choose which ISP you want to light your fiber from a set of ISPs who are competing for your business! There may be a chicken and egg problem in getting started, but with enough customer owned fibers at an Internet POP or other aggregation point, the is no reason to think this will fail. In downtown Stockholm, where there is extensive dark fiber available for rent, you find businesses, building owners and individuals are able to negotiate with multiple competing ISPs. Only a few sophisticated IT departments actually light their own fiber -- most sign up an ISP to handle everything. The point is, if control of layer zero (the fiber) is available to individuals, you get real competition for everything else.

Practical Ross Currie  –  Aug 5, 2008 7:46 PM

I don't agree. I won't need to be a network administrator any more than I need to be a roofer or paver. With an open system like this there will be more room for a range of competing service levels. Non-techie folks could pay for a full-service package from an ISP while more tech-savvy folks could 'roll their own' package of services and set it up themselves. The thing I find most exciting about this model is the potential for fierce competition among ISPs and the lowered barrier to entry for innovative new telecoms technologies. An interesting tidbit I picked up a couple of years ago is that of the $40/month we pay for DSL about $10-15/month is for IP service and the rest goes to the phone system monopoly for the lines to your house.

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