Thursday, April 30, 2009

National broadband inventory map

Up to $350m of the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) funding is designated for the development and maintenance of a broadband inventory map. The specifications and features of the inventory map are yet to be determined. The NTIA is soliciting public comments for defining them. Below, I have listed the potential features from the collected information so far. - It could be in the form of a comprehensive Geographic Information System (GIS) - It is preferred that it is publicly available - It will, most probably, require the release of more detailed information by the communication companies beyond current FCC regulations. Current FFC requirements are described here. - It is preferred to have street level granularity - It can be used for other government planning activities, e.g., education and health care, as well as BTOP The funding has been primarily allocated to guide NTIA to how to spend the $4.2 billion for BTOP. The BTOP is not the first grant by a Federal agency to “subsidize” projects for development in the unserved and under-served areas. Normally, a project that is funded by the government, requires a matching fund from a private sector. The prerequisite is to pass an independent evaluation of the viability of the project itself by the private agency. The current funded projects by the US Department of Agriculture are some examples of this private-public partnership. The broadband grant will have similar steps. To be approved for NTIA funding, a 20% matching fund is required. But it can be waived! The tight credit market might be a reason for having such a low percentage of matching fund and including the possibility of a lift. Now, NTIA has a large stake in the projects. Therefore, it is even more important and critical to review the proposals comprehensively. I can see the necessity of developing a broadband inventory map to guide NTIA in evaluating the grant proposals. However, can NTIA successfully achieve the mapping goal with only $350 million without the support of the communication companies?! Even if it does, how could it possibly maintain the map and keep up with the fast growth of the communication infrastructure?! I will have more about this in the future posts and I would love to hear your ideas! also please check out this article for more information. edited by Behnam Analui

Thursday, April 23, 2009

lack of government rules for Reliability of Internet Service

The National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) is considering criteria for evaluating the proposals for the broadband grants ($4.7b). I think besides the peak data rate as a main factor, it is essential to include some reliability measures. Various factors may play into the reliability of an ISP. I name two. First, every ISP has some down time during which users cannot access the net. Ok, If this averages to 0.1% in a year, that's fine. But what if the network is down 4 random hours a day every week. Can a bussiness rely on it even if when it is not down, it provides extremely high-speed. Second, the nature of the TCP/IP protocol introduces a random delay to the network access time. You would think this delay is hidden from the users senses. True, only if the ISP meets a minimum set of standards in quality of service. Imagine the internet packet that contains your search request to a google's server takes 30 minutes to get there because AT&T, your ISP, does not have enough routers due to high traffic. Is it acceptable, even if your search results are downloaded at lightening speed? Would AT&T stay in ISP business? Evaluating a company's proposal merely based on the peak data rate they can provide and ignoring the quality of service provided might lead to a system that is not reliable. If we want to promote providing broadband Internet as a tool for economical growth, i.e., if we want people to make money by having broad Internet at their disposal, we need to provide a "reasonable" level of reliability with the service. I think the appropriate metaphor here is a "road". If you want to sell your product to the neighbor city you need to be sure that the road between you and that particular city is not closed. If the road is closed for road work half of the time, or if it is always rush hour on that road, you will probably move out of the area, or move out of that bussiness. If you want to sell your product through Internet you need to know that when you need to be connected, there is a high probability that you will be. In metropolitan areas, or anywhere with enough demand to stimulate competition, the services will evolve to becoming more reliable because the users will naturally choose the more reliable solution. However, the recovery act is targeting un-served and under-served areas, mostly rural, that does not have similar level of demands. When the government is investing in such rural broadband infrastructure, it must enforce regulations that guarantee reliability similar to what is available in metro areas. I found it interesting that the Italian government has already established reliability measures to evaluates ISPs. Some examples include “activation time”, “repair time”, “availability”, “real line speed”, and “packet delay”. So far, I could not find any government guide lines for reliability in the United States. The FCC does seek nominations for a new committee called Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council. The new committee is going to focus on the reliability of commercial communication systems, but only in cases of emergency and disaster. A similar committee is needed to at least oversee that the large amount of money spent in developing rural broadband access results in reliable broadband internet for America. edited by Behnam Analui

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The color of india

Just for a break from the broadband, I thought I can share with you the above photo I took in Mumbai, India in December, 2008. The picture is taken in a wedding with ~5,000 guests! It was the most colorful moment of my life; the second one was visiting chihuly's glass work exhibition.

Friday, April 17, 2009

policy making on the fast lane

"Traditionally there is a 1-2 years gap between a public hearing and a call for proposals for the government grants, particularly Federal Communication Commission (FCC) grants." quoting a consultant at Richard S. Becker & Associates, Chartered. However, the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 is planning to have the first set of deadlines for broadband expansion proposals around 3 month after the public hearings.  Here is the NTIA schedule for spending the $4.7 billion grant, in conjunction with the FCC:   - 7 Public hearing meetings were held March 12-24, 2009 - Deadline to submit a public comment to either NTIA or FCC was April 13, 2009 (it is still possible to submit a comment on the NTIA web site. But I am not sure if they will be considered.) - There will be 3 sets of deadlines for submitting proposals. The approximate dates for the proposal deadlines are April-June 2009, Oct-Dec 2009, and April-June 2010. - Based on the Congress plan, all awards are to be made by the end of the September 2010 and all projects are to be completed within two years of an award. Participants in the public hearing of NTIA in Las Vegas, were understandably concerned about this fast pace. Some were skeptical that the grant might go to waste. But the majority of participants were trying to be optimistic. My observation was that most of the attendees were representing small companies who had a history of working with the government through Universal Service Fund (USF). USF is a grant for approximately $7 billion every year, so it has a similar scale as the stimulus grant. Some of these veterans were complaining that they have seen a lot of new faces in the public hearings in Washington DC. They were clearly concerned about opportunists who smell money! There was a minority from large telecommunication companies, particularly cox communications. However, the NTIA representatives clearly addressed that the fund is not going to be granted to large telecommunication companies. They are focusing on creating competition in under-served areas so that the cost of broadband access will drop. I also like to be an optimist and hope that the fund will build an infrastructure that drives our economy for the next decade. What are your thoughts?