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FCC rules on fiber, power-line broadband regulation
10/14/2004 2:16:19 PM, by Eric Bangeman
The Federal Communications Commission today made rulings which regulate (or deregulates, as the case may be) two broadband technologies that are still on the horizon for most residents of the US. In one vote, the FCC has opened the door to deployment of broadband over power lines (BPL), adopting a set of rules that will allow power utilities to offer broadband service to their customers. BPL has been piloted in a couple of locations in the US by Earthlink as well as in Europe, and the FCC decision clears the way for utilities to begin offering broadband service. BPL should be cost-competitive with current consumer-level DSL offerings — in one recent trial, Earthlink charged US$19.95 for the first three months of BPL service and US$39.95 afterwards.
The other decision made by the FCC involved deregulating new optical networks, including fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP). Some local incumbent phone companies have been aggressively upgrading old copper cable to optical, hoping to use the new infrastructure to offer services such as digital TV and broadband. Verizon is currently piloting its new fast DSL services with speeds of up to 30Mbps down and 5Mbps up to customers in Texas, California, and Florida while other telcos have announced plans to begin deploying FTTP over the next couple of years.
Deregulating new optical networks means that the incumbent telcos who lay the networks will not have to lease them to competitors. The FCC's reasoning was twofold: first, having to open the networks up to competition might discourage the telcos from building them in the first place. Second, there have been a smattering of court rulings which have stated that the phone companies do not have any obligation to lease FTTP networks to competitors.
If nothing else, the two rulings mean that US consumers will have more options for broadband in the near future. Many of the technical hurdles which have hampered BPL since it was first piloted back in 1997 have been overcome, and the FCC's decision brings BPL service one step closer to reality. Some concerns over interference remain, as a number of ham radio and cellular operators have raised vehement objections to BPL. They hold that the rules put in place by the FCC do not go far enough to ensure that BPL deployments will not cause interference. One ongoing BPL field trial in particular has come under heavy fire from the ARRL due to its causing "harmful interference" to ham radio operators in the area.
The FCC's decision to deregulate FTTP fits into its vision of competition between broadband technologies rather than between providers of a single service (e.g., choosing between Earthlink, Verizon, and Speakeasy for DSL). It also means that incumbent telcos deploying the fiber networks will have a monopoly over their use. However, they will still need to price their offerings competitively in order to overcome consumer inertia over switching from cable or DSL to newer, higher-speed services.
Having both BPL and FTTP on the horizon as alternatives (or even replacements) to current broadband offerings is one reason behind some of the skepticism around other, heavily-hyped technologies such as WiMAX.
VOIP is on the way using high speed broadband powerline.
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