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High-Speed SONET to Your Illinois Door? SBC, Comcast Say No

December 17, 2003 © ePrairie

By James Carlini

CHICAGO – Most communities have politicians who are still reinventing horse-and-buggy laws and ideas. When one Illinois community begins to look at fiber-to-the-door infrastructure, millions are spent by the usual suspects in the name of squelching, writes adjunct Northwestern professor James Carlini.

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Not much coverage was given to what should have been heralded as both a technological and an economic development breakthrough for a municipality in Illinois.

A visionary-led community creating high-paid, high-tech jobs (that could have been easily filled by all those who were laid off from SBC, Lucent and other companies within the telecom and cable industries) got no credit or accolades by media. In fact, many in the media and many politicians just didn’t get it.

The community wanted to create an all-fiber network to the doorstep of every household to provide huge bandwidth and adjunct services. In essence, it wanted SONET to your door.

One community had all this ready to go until it was beaten by a multimillion-dollar campaign that was funded by the dominant local phone company and the dominant local cable company, which both stood to lose control and a subscriber base forever. A municipality taking over? No way.

I’m talking about a well-documented study by the tri-city group of St. Charles, Batavia and Geneva, Ill. to develop an infrastructure that would essentially put a fiber-optic connection to everyone’s door and effectively put both Comcast and SBC out of business in their geographic area.

A similar idea was put forth in Anaheim, Calif. several years ago for 300,000 subscribers. Similarly, it was beaten down by the incumbent phone company as something that would create job loss. How shortsighted and totally false this was (just like the local ads generated by both Comcast and SBC).

In Illinois, the tri-city group was beaten down by a well-organized scare tactic approach by SBC and Comcast, which both would have lost out on revenues. Based on what the companies spent against it, it was a great plan.

The supporters of the referendum spent about $3,000 to promote the idea to the citizenry while the two telecom companies spent about $2 million to squelch it. It’s funny how these companies tout their community involvement and charity giving yet they are willing to blow $2 million against a community that has a better, more cost-effective approach than they do for subscribers.

No Technology Until It’s Time
Like the old Gallo Wine commercials with Orson Welles that used to say “we will sell no wine before it’s time,” some phone companies have the same motto when it comes to dictating when subscribers should have the use of new technology. There is no reason you can’t have fiber to the door now for all applications (especially if the municipality already owns the telephone poles).
In the case of the tri-city area, there are already lines and infrastructure in place to deliver electricity, which is done at a cost savings of 30 percent over ComEd. If you had the option in your community to save 30 percent on your electricity bill, I’m sure you’d jump at the chance.

Forget Wi-Fi as the hot technology. The real infrastructure breakthrough would be fiber-optic lines to the door that deliver everything from phone service to cable TV to meter reading for the utilities. Think of it as bandwidth becomes a non-issue and the applications that can fit on it are almost endless. Even more, the solution can be done today rather than a decade from now.

Municipal Porn, Teachers Out of Work
With a proven track record of providing cheaper services, the tri-city group developed a whole plan to provide fiber to the house (FTTH). The group should have won the referendum. Instead, people were bullied and cajoled by deceptive ads and threats of losing jobs. People were told that the fiber-optic network would put teachers out of work and the municipality would be promoting porn by selling adult channels.
When all else fails, start a fear campaign. Geez. Tell them anything so we don’t lose the revenues.

Wake up. Shame on the community members who were too apathetic to vote on something that would have put their community in the forefront of utilizing new technology infrastructure. This fiber-optic infrastructure would have created a more sophisticated learning environment and a service delivery capability. This would not only better the community value; it would also create real jobs for local people, too.

Shame on the media for not seeing this as a real story of a community trying to bounce back in a recession. Was their fear of recognizing and promoting it because of their own company greed? Some were getting full-page ads from Comcast to vote “no” on the referendum. As they say, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Shame on the higher-level politicians who always give lip service on what they are going to do to promote job and economic growth in this state while their idea is to get some retail jobs opened up that pay minimum wage.

Sealing Your Third-Rate Fate
Most politicians don’t know a broadband size from their waistband size. They talk about creating jobs for people who have lost high-tech jobs but invariably point to their great accomplishments as a local Home Depot opens up or a Starbucks gets built in a neighborhood. Big deal!
Those jobs don’t replace ones lost at Lucent, Motorola and many of the other high-paying tech jobs that somehow evaporated in Illinois and other states.

Instead of highly skilled, out-of-work people settling for a sales job at Carmax or a clerk job at Home Depot, these people could have utilized their real skills and provided a community with state-of-the-art capabilities for less than what subscribers are paying now for cable TV.

Real economic development means creating real jobs that can support a family. Buy a house, buy a car, send your kids to college, and most of all, pay big clumps of money into the tax base. So many states are in deficit spending because they have lost high-paying tech jobs to recession and global competition.

Politicians and teachers have to realize that the well has gone dry and they should over the next five years be looking at 20 percent cuts rather than 5 percent raises. Government spending has to reflect what they are taking in. When you lose tens of thousands of highly paid jobs, you don’t keep spending like (as our observant governor says) a bunch of drunken sailors.

All these technological Amish better wake up. The politicians who just don’t get it should not be reelected. Companies that keep you in a stranglehold and force you to use old technology to perpetuate their obsolete infrastructure and business model should be left to die like they should in a real capitalistic society.

Providing more channels on an obsolete coaxial cable plant does not equate to delivering everything on high-speed fiber-optic lines to your doorstep (especially when the fiber-optic route is cheaper and will create local jobs).

We are behind. Japan has a much better offering of ADSL. It is a plug-and-play, “no engineers necessary” service with a 26 Mbps downlink for about $30 a month. They look at 8 to 10 Mbps like a utility that should be readily available and they have more fiber in their network so they can offer higher speeds on the remaining copper.

We need to move forward fast because competition worldwide puts more emphasis on giving people a better infrastructure to work with than we do. In some cases, they are not only catching up; they are surpassing us. So why was this positive initiative by a community stifled by the “big lie” approach?

By the way, other communities are doing this and saving money today. Read the Web sites and see the success stories. Forget the one-page ads. As Donald Rumsfeld just said on TV: “Those who tell untruths are ultimately punished.” Can’t get fiber? Go buy a dish!

Carlinism: You need superior infrastructure to be a superior nation. Anyone blocking the advancement of infrastructure should be looked at as a saboteur.

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