Opinion: Why ConnectKentucky makes a bad model for U.S. broadband

The United States risks falling deeper into the world-wide digital divide if states model their future after a Kentucky initiative that embraces DSL as the broadband standard.That’s the fear articulated by Sean P. Aune on an international tech blog. DSL may be high-speed compared to dial-up but, in terms of where the rest of the world is already headed, it’s slooooooow.The United States risks falling deeper into the world-wide digital divide if states model their future after a Kentucky initiative that embraces DSL as the broadband standard.That’s the fear articulated by Sean P. Aune on Tech.Blorge and it deserves to be echoed here.

DSL’s download speeds range from 128 kbps to about 3Mbps and uploads are even slower. Nevertheless, ConnectKentucky, an initiative in which incumbent providers are heavily invested, is touting the state’s model as one for the nation. Kentucky deserves a lot of credit for extending current broadband options, including DSL, to its rural communities. It enjoys a success rate that’s admirable for a state as rural and mountainous as Kentucky. But should one state’s strategy be super-imposed on a nation, particularly when that strategy is married to technologies that are not delivering the band width needed for the emerging demands of high-speed connectivity?

That is, of course, a rhetorical question. The answer is “it shouldn’t.”

ConnectKentucky is largely focused on expanding service through private providers heavily invested in DSL. It has succeeded in getting a majority of residents in that rural state connected. But, when it comes to national policy, consideration should not stop at just building out current service. Contrast ConnectKentucky to the goals in Minnesota where communities are eying fiber build-outs as the solution.

Aune predicts a DSL mindset will hammer shut the coffin on U.S. competitiveness in broadband connectivity if it’s used as the centerpiece of a national strategy. He’s right–and not just because DSL is slow.

Back in May, we summarized quite a number of the proposals and initiatives being presented in Washington as national leaders debate what could go into a national broadband model. Readers expressed a variety of opinions regarding issues and models that should be considered in the debate.

Kentucky is hardly the only state pursuing aggressive initiatives. New Hampshire and Vermont are also on the fore front. Not coincidentally, these are all very rural, mountainous states where the chief concern is pushing broadband out to remote communities that previously had little to nothing. So anything better than dial-up would have been welcomed. But is that what the nation should settle for?

Communities that enjoy a wealth of broadband choices, such as mine here in the New York metro area, have enjoyed a plethora of broadband options from private providers for some time. Here, the concern is not getting broadband but getting fast reliable service that can support the band-hungry applications customers want delivered. Even more importantly in my area–where memories of Sept. 11 will forever linger–is the question of raliable, redundant, fail-safe service that can handle large-scale public emergencies.

We’re certainly not alone in those concerns and, as areas around the nation achieve universal connectivity and begin looking to what more they want and expect of broadband, the question will increasingly turn from access to speed, reliability, and whatever it takes to run the applications communities deem necessary to their future and well-being.

Click here to read Aune’s remarks.

Comments

  1. AnalogSlug says

    You are missing the point.

    It is not a question of whether or not our “nation should settle for” DSL. And to imply that using the ConnectKentucky model on a national scale is going to be the final plan for broadband for the US is outright idiotic.

    Yes, anything better than dial-up is welcomed where there is NO broadband. The purpose of programs like this is just to get broadband out to rural areas where there is none.

    Ok so your average rural residence is not going to get a 16 megabit connection.

    You think they are going to complain about that if they are offered a basic 1.4 Megabit DSL connection?

    I have no broadband.

    I live 10 minutes outside the city limits of a major city in the SE.

    I am not concerned with getting a super-duper speed.

    I just want to get broadband, and DSL is a fine start.

    Programs such as ConnectKentucky are valid and necessary to simply
    BEGIN to implement the infrastructure for future improvements.

    Sure DSL is a first step, but we MUST make that first step.

    Granted it is not the kind of bandwidth that can be seen as adequate for future use, but dialup must be eliminated. It is antiquated, and not useful for anything on the internet anymore.

    The ISPs are dragging their feet on implementing upgrades.
    Comcast owns the cable system I am on, yet I can only get 45 analog cable channels. I have been on Comcast’s ass for 5 years now, with no upgrade in sight.

    Bellsouth owns the phone infrastructure where I live.

    There is no DSL in this area, and they have no plans to upgrade.

    And I am in favor of anything that forces the ISPs to OFFER THE SERVICES THEY ADVERTISE!!!

    Currently ComCast is offering a 3-way package. $99 for cable, VOIP, and broadband. They are advertising services they have no intention of selling everyone. That is against the law.

    Yet somehow they get away with it.

    Something must be done to give broadband penetration in this country a kick in the ass to help the US catch up to the rest of the world.

  2. Carol, This is a very important topic for rural America at this time. It seems that the speed at which this technology is changing makes it appropriate to leave broadband delivery options as open as possible. I see the competitive marketplace in rural areas now beginning to show that there many creative ways to deploy virtually any technology infrastructure.

    We can learn from the experience of others around the world. Just look at how many parts of Europe, especially eastern Europe have made the technical “leap” over the United States with their deployment of wireless and wireline technology.

    I concur with your comments whole heartedly!

    Tim

  3. Excellent aritcle and observations. ConnectKentucky is simply a front for protecting the interests of incumbent telcos. The very idea that they lay some claim to the proliferation of broadband in Kentucky is laughable. Broadband, if one can even call DSL broadband, is available in Kentucky due to the vigorous lead exerted by several municipalities in Kentucky. The telcos have responded, as Adam Smith predicted in 1776. When Smith noted that: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”, he was accurately describing the perfect model for broadband deployment. If a community wants more bandwidth than the local telco wants to deploy, then they should be totally free to deploy it themselves and attempt to interrupt the telco’s “interest.”

    Now ConnectKentucky wants to claim credit for what the marketplace hath wrought. Further, they would like for the Kentucky legislature to fund their snake oil wagon so the poor member of the coalition (the incumbent telcos) don’t have to continue paying for their “groundbreaking” activity. Further, they see themselves as such geniuses that their model should be spread far and wide in other states. What a joke!

  4. Thanks, all, for your comments.

    Analogslug’s comments that DSL is better than nothing, I think, shows just how desperate underserved communities are for any kind of broadband–even slow broadband. But Aune’s point, with which I concur, is that government’s role should be to look to the infrastructure that will best serve the needs of the future. I think of all the huge infrastructure build-outs the United States has succeeded in and seriously doubt that any one private company using the means at its disposal would have undertaken the risk if government had not pushed it–the great dams (Boulder and Grand Coulee) which brought flood control and produced electricity in the West, the TVA which brought electricity to the rural South, the interstate highway system which was actually envisioned long before WWII by government planners who knew the nation would need to expedite transit of military supplies and equipment, the vast network of bridges, tunnels and causeways that lace together the cities of the eastern seaboard. They’re Those kinds of initiatives require vision and planning and, not just what’s expedient for the moment.

  5. Correct me if I am wrong, but the Connect Kentucky initiative is not specifically a DSL model. It also encompasses wireless access from what I understand. I have had the opportunity to sit down and talk with someone who helped put the project together and there was never a mention of it strictly being DSL. If it was simply a DSL solution, there is no way that they would be able to get the coverage that they state they have.

    So I have to disagree with this post on the merit that it is inaccurate, from what I understand about the project. If it was in fact only DSL, then I would see the issue, but since it is not, I can’t agree with this topic.

    References:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ConnectKentucky
    “The two relatively populous areas, Owensboro and Henderson, both have local municipally-owned wireless ISPs that largely met the goals of ConnectKentucky within and near their city limits prior to its conception.”

    http://www.connectkentucky.org/events/pressreleases/demo.htm

    http://www.connectkentucky.org/events/pressreleases/crownck.htm

    From the Q&A on GovTech:
    http://www.govtech.com/dc/articles/104182?id=104182&story_pg=1
    (this part is on page 2)

    “Q: How has the private sector participated?

    A: We have had very good cooperation from all broadband providers in Kentucky –wireless ISPs, municipalities, cable companies, all the telephone companies. We have collected their coverage data and converted it to a GIS format, which makes it very easy to lay other layers of data on that map, especially census data. So once we have the coverage areas, then we can overlay census data in the underserved areas and know exactly how many households are in those areas. That is very important information for providers.”

  6. There are some very valid comments in this article and comments but there are some initiatives ConnectKentucky is supporting outside the local incumbent telco and DSL. I happen to be very involved with one of these projects and neither DSL nor the local incumbent telcos are involved.

    Billy Ray’s comments about the municipality’s influence are very true. Glasgow EPB has been a pioneer in Kentucky in this area and Kentuckians owe a great deal to the municipalities for bringing affordable broadband to their constituents. GEPB was deploying this infrastructure while other people were hadn’t learned to spell Internet yet! I also understand Analog Slug’s desperation for broadband period! Unserved and underserved areas are what my firm has focused on over the past 3 years.

    The firm for which I am employed, Digital Connections Inc., is in the process of deploying a wireless broadband system in an area of western Kentucky. This region is known as the Green River Area Development District. It consists of seven counties encompassing over 2,600 square miles. Broadband is available in several of the communities in this area and there is a substantial number of users outside this coverage area the have options of satellite or dialup. We are not an incumbent telco. DCI is deploying an entirely wireless infrastructure. This is partnership with Cinergy Communications who is providing the ISP services and the local county governments. While multiple options have been considered, wireless kept coming to the top of the list as far as covering these areas in an economically viable model. ConnectKentucky supported and assisted the GRADD personnel in working through the RFP, review and selection in awarding the RFP. ConnectKentucky’s, Brian Mefford, uses this example as an emerging model in some of his speaking engagements across the country. The addition of Chip Spann should also show their commitment to the wireless alternative to DSL. Mr. Spann successfully implemented a wireless broadband solution a few years ago in another part of Kentucky with a much tougher terrain than GRADD region.

    I understand ConnectKentucky’s emphasis on DSL to start. The incumbent carriers have a commitment to their areas and have deeper pockets. It is usually easier and less riskier overall for the incumbent telcos to provide the service. But for some areas they have no desire to provide service because the payback is unachievable in an acceptable timeframe. To reach these areas government money will need to be spent to provide broadband service. The county governments in the GRADD region have stepped up to the plate and are making this commitment to its citizens. ConnectKentucky has done its best to get broadband deployed without costing the local governments any capital or operational monies. But in this case and sure to be more similar, government may be required to assist providers.

    To reach these outside areas is where ConnectKentucky has been open to embrace alternative solutions. They openly supported the model GRADD is implementing from the beginning of their involvement. It should also be noted that an additional ConnectKentucky initiative is to educate the public on the applications that can benefit the areas such as e-commerce, etc. I don’t know wireless is a solution that would work in the mountains of eastern Kentucky but I am sure ConnectKentucky would look at any type of service to boost the broadband coverage. I also know they have investigated BPL services as well.

    Bottom line, whether you agree with ConnectKentucky or not, they have companies like DCI and Cinergy Communications and local governments trying to put together solutions to provide broadband service to the unserved and / or underserved areas. Some may find a solution and some many not. This GRADD project would not have ever happened if ConnectKentucky had not spurred that interest.

  7. Our company is currently working on a project initiative for ConnectKentucky in Western Kentucky. It is a seven county area that covers over 2600 square miles of urban, but mostly rural territory. Most of the residents of this project have but one choice for Internet access; dial-up. The scattered towns that boast DSL have but a shadow of a coverage map. The commercial customer is mostly the recipient of this opulent service.

    We are covering this area with wireless broadband. We can deliver multi-megabit service to the people that have only dreamt about having broadband for their farms or children’s education. We can even deliver quality of service which guarantees the bandwidth needed for them to also have VoIP service to compete with or replace their existing land lines.

    In all of our discussions with ConnectKentucky, there has never been the consideration of asking the Telco’s to push out DSL for these unserved or underserved patrons. If it had been a profitable model to do this, they would have already had it done. DSLAM’s are not cheap and their use is one that falls under much scrutiny from their respective finance departments.

    The injustice in the whole process of bringing broadband to the rural customer is profitability for the business venture that chooses to show they care for the underserved. They often have to choose between quality or quantity and cannot afford to provide the rural customer with the type of service that their urban cousin gets to take for granted. ConnectKentucky has been the advocate for many a customer that would have absolutely no voice in the their state legislature or Telco’s board room. ConnectKentucky has stepped up and asked the private business and public entities to work together to solve this immediate problem. If you believe that ConnectKentucky is not the right procedure to grant broadband to those who don’t have it, you are probably sitting in a home or apartment that has several choices for broadband. Remember, that until recently, many of these same customers have not had cable-like choices for TV viewing either. They have even suffered through the regulated monopolies of the Telco’s with their choices in phone service.

    If you still think that ConnectKentucky is bringing forth a model of “snake oil” and “political agendas” then I ask but one simple question – what is your solution and have you presented it to your state legislature or county government? It is easy for one to point out a problem. It takes creative and generous acts for someone to provide solutions. I think ConnectKentucky should be recognized for its accomplishments.

  8. Thanks Drew, David and Kelly for insights into particular initiatives within ConnectKentucky. To be sure, my remarks were not intended as criticism for ConnectKentucky and I didn’t not interpret Aune’s to be either. Its accomplishments in bringing broadband to rural America are, as I said in the post, admirable. The concern is over adopting its model for the United States and whether the model can sufficiently close the gap in competitiveness between the United States and the rest of the world. The Washington Post recently reported that broadband access in Japan is over 30 times faster than the United States http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/28/AR2007082801990.html?hpid=topnews
    That’s a huge gap and an extraordinary concern.