Tying The Fibers Together: Bits, Bandwidth, Georgia, And The FCC

Georgia has a lot of fiber. No, I’m not talking about the carpet or textile industry or the molecules that keep you regular…I’m talking about fiber optics.

Last month, The Enterprisers Project had a guest post from University System of Georgia Vice Chancellor and Chief Information Officer Curt Carver. Dr. Carver talked about the “bottomless bucket of bandwidth” that is available to member institutions of the USG. They either own or have primary use of 2,800 miles of fiber optic cable and operate a private cloud across the state.

It’s a boon to the public universities across our state, but there is potential to expand out the usage to public schools:

Because of the success of this service, the CIO from the Georgia Department of Education started working with us to develop a proposal to move the 6,000 K-12 schools in Georgia — about 181 school districts, 1.6 million students — onto our private cloud. Gov. Nathan Deal approved this project and included it in his budget for this last year. We’re in the process of implementing that right now to go live in July 2015. In many cases, school districts or schools are going to have a 33-fold increase in bandwidth available to them. This will help to flatten the state. No more haves or have-nots in terms of bandwidth going into the school districts. The school districts will then distribute to the individual schools.

Think of the opportunities for students to have access to online courses on subjects that may not currently be available to that school. If we’re striving for more STEM courses, then this would be a way to move towards that goal.

Recently, Google announced that they would be providing their Google Fiber service to Atlanta and a few surrounding municipalities. What an exciting opportunity to see faster broadband service coming to Atlanta…which has already seen some big companies make Atlanta their new home. Gigabit Internet is a commodity. A commodity that will get faster and cheaper over time as long as competition isn’t hampered. I’m hoping that we will see more and more start-ups come into Georgia

Currently, the FCC is contemplating reclassifying broadband Internet Service Providers under Title II of the Communications Act which would give them the authority to regulate them as they would the phone or cable companies. The purpose is to enforce “net neutrality”. I’ve written about it before, and I still believe it’s a solution in search of a problem. The concern that I and others have is that it could open up the door to taxes and fees tacked on to broadband service. Of course, I’m sure the FCC will say that they would not do that, but that doesn’t prevent it happening in the future.

There’s also the possibility of big telecoms and cable providers screaming for the FCC to do something about Google’s fiber service. The Wall Street Journal has an article that discusses how reclassification could hamper, and definitely not encourage, competition:

President Obama claims that Title II would boost broadband, but the opposite is true. Today, Google Fiber is the main threat to the phone and cable broadband duopoly. Under Title II, cable and telecom lawyers will be able to press the FCC to declare Google’s business model “unjust or unreasonable.” They can object to Google serving only certain areas. They can say it’s unfair that Google can charge consumers less because it benefits from advertising.

I know President Obama touted municipalities that provide broadband Internet to citizens. However, I remember the hue and cry by Comcast over Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board (EPB) plans to offer gigabit Internet service to its customers. What I don’t know is how reclassifying broadband will affect municipal ISPs or even the University System of Georgia. What I’m afraid of is that we are about to open Pandora’s Box to “solve” a problem that doesn’t have much, if any, demonstrable evidence.

If the FCC really wants to ensure that ISPs are playing fair, then there needs to be increased competition. Google Fiber and, yes, municipal ISPs does increase competition against cable providers which usually have a monopoly in a given area. Start with addressing the monopolies in those areas (how about it legislators?) and let competition thrive.

5 comments

  1. Teri says:

    I have mixed feelings on municipalities as ISPs. I can see why it’s tempting to say, “Forget y’all, Charter/Comcast/AT&T/Whoever, we’re doing this our way,” and I’ve heard that the gigabit service in Chattanooga is stellar, but in most cities, unless your mayor is Sergey Brin, is it a wise idea to expand the reach of local government beyond the typical municipal services?

    • Nathan says:

      Full disclosure: I am an EPB customer and their service is fantastic…not to mention, I’m able to get a local person on the phone in the event there’s an issue.

      That said, it was an expensive undertaking that still has a lot of people asking questions on how much it really cost and how long it will take to pay back the bonds and whatnot. I believe the PR from EPB and the City of Chattanooga is such to where there is a bit of a “reality distortion field” in effect (perhaps borrowed from Apple). They’ve been promoting “GigCity” like nobody’s business since the beginning. I don’t think the moniker will last much longer.

  2. Will Durant says:

    Just look to China and Iran for examples of “we’re from the government and we’re here to help you,” regarding the net. I am always for less bureaucracy when possible and in this case the possibilities for harm still outweigh those for good in my mind.

  3. Ridgerunner says:

    Gigabit speed broadband is a great thing, but Obama’s plans for the internet will without a doubt, send internet costs skyrocketing, and at some point will provide yet another freebie for the entitlement crowd at the expense of those of us who pay. If he has his way, we WILL pay more; lots more.

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