back to article High-speed broadband fiber in America: You want the good news or bad news first?

In what could prove to be an important turning point in the rollout of fiber across the US, this week the Arkansas congressional committee voted to repeal their state's prohibition on municipal broadband. Meanwhile just 500 miles away in a neighboring state, what was once held out as the savior of Americas internet – Google …

  1. DougS Silver badge

    How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

    Whether they put it 2" deep like they tried and failed in Louisville, or 6" deep like they say works great elsewhere, this seems like a huge problem. Because they've got to patch the road where they tore it up, freeze/thaw cycles are going to create the edge of a pothole there. Potholes can easily grow to 6" deep...

    Even ignoring that, what happens when they need to do some minor work on the road, like tearing up a small section to fix whatever utility they need access to. If the fiber goes through it, does Google come out and reroute the fiber around the work area? Or is your neighborhood just down for a couple days until the work is finished?

    There's a reason the only utilities routed under the street are WAY under the street, and wires are either run through a duct deep under the street, or in the median. If I saw a company doing that around here there's no way I'd sign up with them. Maybe in a place where it almost never snows like Austin it would be OK, but in most of the US freeze/thaw cycles are a real thing and these microtrenches are a problem waiting to happen.

    But hey, Google doesn't care. They will probably end Google Fiber before long, just like they unceremoniously drop 2/3 of the products they start.

    1. Claptrap314 Bronze badge

      Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

      Six inch deep potholes in Austin are not super rare.

    2. Ashentaine

      Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

      In places where snowfall occurs, this micro trenching or nano trenching or whatever they want to call it would fail even harder, not just because of freeze/thaw, but because the municipal plow trucks would tear the patches right out of the pavement the first time they put their plows down to clear the streets.

      All the asphalt plugs they put down in the summer around here got ripped away after the first decent snowstorm, and now parts of the highways look like the surface of the moon. I can't imagine how a long skinny trench would stand a chance, and forget about the expensive cable dwelling inside it.

      1. overunder

        Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

        How can micro trenching even be accepted by the city as a sound practice? Because America's infrastructure is absolutely horrible thanks to corrupt politicians (who this time were paid off by Google).

        Even if the trenches are not by the road, salt laid in the winter will make asphalt anywhere hurt. Of course should asphalt even be used? No, but to keep the tax machine going they want road crews out 24/7 to pay off the political "promises" to businesses. The entire road infrastructure is one big money launder.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

          Around here I love it when i see them resurfacing a road with asphalt instead of redoing the concrete. If they redo the concrete it will be closed all year, and sometimes take longer than that. Asphalt may need to be done more often, but it is very quick - if they aren't messing around taking advantage of the closure for other maintenance it they can do a mile long section in a week, easy.

          From what I can tell they will do a road in concrete, then they'll redo it with asphalt several times, but I guess at some point the concrete underneath gets in bad enough shape that they have to rip everything out and start the whole process all over again.

          I love riding my bike on newly done asphalt - it is so smooth. Concrete never is as smooth due to the expansion joints, and the texture they 'comb' into it. Of course 10 years down the road, the asphalt is a minefield of patchwork that has me praying for it to get resurfaced ASAP, while 10 year old concrete is still in pretty good shape...

          1. overunder

            Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

            "...they can do a mile long section in a week."

            Where I live, to do a mile of asphalt would take about 4 months. A mile of concrete takes, pfffff, 4 years? I'm not sure how many years it actually takes to do a mile in concrete, but it takes long enough that when they are done, I'm so accustomed to the traffic and road blocks that I've forgotten they were even doing it in the first place.

            As far as cycling goes, I would like to see at least an attempt at polished concrete for cyclists. You see completely polished concrete used as flooring inside of buildings (pretty much all buildings), but that same surface with a slight texture pattern would be amazing to ride on and hold no where near as much heat in the summer.

            1. DougS Silver badge

              Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

              Ever walked on polished concrete that has a slight bit of water on it - as if you spritzed it with a sprayer? With lots of water it is fine, but with just the right amount of "some, but not much" it is like very much like walking on ice. I'd hate to ride my bike on that and have it start drizzling...

              1. overunder

                Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

                "Ever walked on polished concrete that has a slight bit of water on it -"

                No, that's walking on completely polished concrete, sure, that's crazy. I mean polished then grated. I have walked on that while it's oiled... it's fine. 1 advantage to it is that the grate can be sealed and peeled. 1 disadvantage is that it's extremely expensive. But for a small 2-lane cycle way, I'd at least like to try it.

                Also, wet asphalt is deceiving on descents.

          2. Spazturtle Silver badge

            Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

            Where I am they have managed to get the company doing the resurfacing to do it all at night, they close the road at 23:00 and reopen it at 05:00. Obviously they need to do it in stages over multiple nights but the road is usable (even without the top surface) for all the days in between.

            1. DougS Silver badge

              Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

              Yeah I see bigger cities tend to do a lot of work overnight. Probably have to pay the workers more for that, though if I did road construction I'd prefer that at least in the summer as it is cooler at night and would leave your days free (well the part of the day you weren't sleeping, at least)

              1. Spazturtle Silver badge

                Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

                Yeah they have to be paid extra for night work (although they only work a 6 hour day), but the advantage for the company is that they can have have a day team and a night team working on different jobs and sharing the same expensive heavy machinery.

    3. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

      Like Kieran points out, it often doesn't. As Google found out. The sales presentations are good. So basically a disc cutter that you can tow along a road. That chops a neat little slot, then plonks a microduct down the bottom and fill the slot with approved reinstatement mix. Zip along the hard shoulder/High occupancy lane and you can run kilometres (ok, miles) a day for a lot less than doing it properly.

      Then reality bites. Or the disc cutter bites into signalling/sensing cables that run across roads to measure traffic flows. Or you get freeze/thaw soil creep and expansion that brings cable loops back to the surface where they're easily snagged. Or you find out that a lorry with a puncture has wheel rims that seek your slot. As a few European network operators who've tried this discovered. It still gets used where you absolutely have to, ie going across bridges were there's no ducts and no option to dig deep.

      As for roadworks, in theory the cable owner gets contacted by the construction contractor to come and rig a bypass cable around where they're working. In practice, they may get contacted once the contractor's found a length of fibre hanging from their backhoe.

      But fibre provision is a civil engineering job, and it makes a lot of sense for Munis to run it as a natural monopoly. They know where the infrastructure is (ie roads, existing Muni utilities) and are theoretically better placed to manage and maintain rather than having multiple telcos digging up their roads every week. Not sure how far it'll get as a state-level thing, but it's a good start, and probably a good use of USO funds. I think it may also be possible to get the cable & telcos on board if fibre provision is wholesaled to them as a neutral service. After all, as Google discovered, building networks is a major PITA. Providing services over the top, much more lucrative.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

        "But fibre provision is a civil engineering job, and it makes a lot of sense for Munis to run it as a natural monopoly. "

        Yes, it's not like each water or power company runs their own lines or pipes. You put stuff in at one end of the network and your customer pays to take stuff out at the other end. But I see Trump used the word "socialist" as an insult yesterday in relation to another Dem announcing a Presidential run. It seems anything which might "take" from business and to be built/run by any level of government is "socialism", which appears to be something with horns, hooves and a forked tail for many Americans. I really can't see a problem with a city, town or state running a fibre network to every home and offering access to any ISP who wants to serve customers on that network. Of course, that means they'd have to be good at their jobs and offer add-ons to "beat" the competition. And that means actual work and maybe lower profits than they'd get in a monopoly infrastructure deal.

        It's probably just as well the road network is "socialist" and you don't have to subscribe to multiple services to drive around the country on the various private road networks.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

          It's probably just as well the road network is "socialist" and you don't have to subscribe to multiple services to drive around the country on the various private road networks.

          But you kind of do.. Which is the paperwork challenge. Kansas State legislature says go for it, but roads within that State might be owned/managed at the Federal, State, city, town or private with different funding and management. And if you get the paperwork wrong, someone from the Army Corps of Engineers may turn up and tell you to back away from the backhoe, slowly. Then there's incorporated vs unincorporated land and other oddities to non-Americans like me.

          But it's possibly the right time to have a go. A lot of infrastructure in the US is in dog order, and there may be funding to fix it and install ducts at the same time. Doing that as a joined-up, State level infrastructure project would likely be a challenge still. With a wholesale offer, I suspect smart network operators would love the idea because installing and maintaining infrastructure's an expensive ballache.

          As for 'socialism', well, that's the essence of government.. Although perhaps not to the extent of the 'Green new deal'..

          1. AndrueC Silver badge
            Meh

            Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

            Having a single entity own the physical infrastructure but allowing other entities to use it doesn't have to be socialist. That's the essence of LLU. It's what the UK's British Telecom has been forced to do for nearly twenty years now.

            Competitors can pay BT to carry traffic from their customer all the way back to their own servers. Or they can pay BT to carry the traffic to a convenient POP where they themselves will take over (or arrange for another company to do it). Or they can pay BT just to carry the traffic to the exchange then they will take over. Interestingly some of BT's competitors are even offering their own wholesale service using BT infrastructure these days.

            In fact BT have been required to allow competitors access to its poles and ducts for several years although few competitors have been able to make the numbers work - possibly because it's a PIA :)

            But does this strategy work? Hmmm. If you want everyone to have a choice of ISP and expect that to drive down costs, then yes. Almost everyone in the UK has a choice of a dozen or more ISPs. And internet access is pretty cheap. It's also ubiquitous and is adequate for most people most of the time. However what it isn't is world record setting fast.

            1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

              Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

              That sort of happens in the US with versions of LLU at the CLEC/ILEC level.. With the usual results, ie when NY flooded a few years back, lots of Verizon copper got damaged, so got replaced with fibre, which doesn't fall under competitive access regulations. Funny how that works. And NY's roads are much like London, ie full of potholes.. I mean trenches where competitors have spent millions to build duplicate infrastructure in the hope of winning business traffic. Then of course businesses take advantage of competition to drive down their costs. Then there's all the regulatory paperwork which goes with it, ie FCC reporting, wayleave management, OAM costs, USO charges etc etc.

              Much of that could be simplified under a State/Muni natural monopoly structure and like you say, pretty much happens at consumer level in the UK via our LLU and Openreach's 'structural seperation' from the service layer.

              1. AndrueC Silver badge

                Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

                when NY flooded a few years back, lots of Verizon copper got damaged, so got replaced with fibre, which doesn't fall under competitive access regulations

                Yeah I don't think that could happen here. BT has to provide equivalence of access to all Communication Providers regardless of medium. They are sometimes allowed an exemption from the normal margin squeeze tests for significant investment (they were allowed to charge other CPs what they wanted in the early days of FTTC for instance) but they wouldn't be allowed to just exclude other CPs by rolling out an incompatible technology.

                Although switching copper for fibre would present a slight conundrum because at the moment only a few CPs have signed up for BT's FTTP offering. Ofcom would have to decide how to tackle that - do you just shrug and say 'tough titty' to those CPs that have yet to embrace FTTP? If so what about their customers?

                1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                  Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

                  Although switching copper for fibre would present a slight conundrum because at the moment only a few CPs have signed up for BT's FTTP offering. Ofcom would have to decide how to tackle that - do you just shrug and say 'tough titty' to those CPs that have yet to embrace FTTP? If so what about their customers?

                  What about them? Ofcom regulates service providers, and like most of the UK's regulators, focuses on the 'market', not the consumer. Any arguably deregulation and competition has been anti-consumer because it's resulted in huge amounts of waste building parallel infrastructure chasing the low hanging fruit.. And infrastructure is expensive, hence the market's been consolidating. In the US, Ma Bell got broken up, but its slowly and steadily reassembling itself.

                  Then there's the regulatory gamesmanship. CPs wanted BT dark fibre and/or duct access. BT sucked it's teeth and came up with it's FTTP and duct/pole access.. Which is a service, and not dark fibre, and has equivalence. Openreach will sell it to any CP, it's just that given the way the services are structured, it best suits BT's business and retail divisions. Funny how that works.

                  Politically, it makes some sense to favour the incumbent given they've generally inherited the infrastructure and are generally 'too big to fail'. BT is critical national infrastructure, smaller fibre providers aren't. But politically, it also gets complicated. State says 'fibre for all!'. Nice, so figure on $100/m or more to dig fibre. How is that funded? My FTTP install had 4 Openreach vans working a Saturday to blow fibre into my home, then an inside plant guy doing the termination. With a Huawei OTN. So the US bans Huawei.. who would they buy their OTNs from that aren't made in China?

                  But figure on say, $2,500 per termination. If that's wholesaled at say, $9/month, it's a long payback. Especially if you have to pay wayleave charges, power, taxes (USO, or UK rates) and a competitor can take on the retail customer after their 12month contract is up. And if you're a cable provider, you're looking at ever increasing content costs for movies/sports/TV channels, and you're losing those revenues to OTT IP streaming services like Amazon, Netflix, YT, HBO etc etc who'll take the subscription fees and won't pay for carriage.

                  So basically it's a bit of a slow motion train wreck.. And realising connectivity is a natural monopoly like water supply is one possible solution, albeit expensive. The technology side is really the easy bit, ie G.984 and call it good :)

        2. Spazturtle Silver badge

          Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

          The issue is that 100% of Americans don't trust the Government 50% of the time. If you are saying you want government owned and run internet that at this present time that would mean having Donald Trump in charge of your internet.

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: How can this "micro trenching" possibly work?

            ...that would mean having Donald Trump in charge of your internet.

            Not really. Although being President, he kind of is anyway. But this is a State-level thing, so nominally Asa Hutchinson in charge. But it's also just a change in state legislation saying if Munis want to build infrastructure, they now can. All part of the fun of the US political system, eg California legalised weed, even though it's still illegal at Federal level. Or they mandated that new build houses should all have solar panels.. But not decent broadband. So Californians are mostly stuck with Comcast.

            IANAL, but I guess Arkansas could make a similar bit of legislation saying all their houses and buildings should have fibre. That's probably the easy bit compared to figuring out who'll pay/build/manage it.

  2. Claptrap314 Bronze badge

    Hey, Kieren, maybe you should turn down the snark just a tad until you learn what governing bodies in the several states are called. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arkansas_General_Assembly. First line.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Claverhouse

      Like anybody cares what the governing assemblies of random unimportant American States are called.

      Nor do I keep a list of laws passed in provinces of Papua New Guinea, or the town halls in Japanese Prefectures.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "Like anybody cares what the governing assemblies of random unimportant American States are called."

        That could be the next killer feature of O365!!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Sorry, details matter

        Except the repeated refererences to a "congressional committee" in the article are actually misleading: leaving the impression that action was being taken by a US federal legislative body whose proposal, if enacted into law, could pre-empt bans on municipal broadband across the entire nation.

        Man, I miss Groklaw.

  3. Michael Jarve
    FAIL

    As the first part of the article alludes to, states, or even the federal government should start regulating broadband as a utility. Maybe not as solidly as the have for say, electricity, but actually put forward a grand scheme to get everyone connected. It worked for rural electrification, and, for most of a century, it worked for telephone service. Private industry investment is predicated on the investment/return ratio, and large, publicly traded telecommunications companies are not concerned with long-term, 20-50 year, return on investment. They're concerned with next quarter's earnings statements. Google, despite pocketing more per day in profit than any of 2000 (well paid by our standards, and combined) other people in my county will see in a year, is not immune to this. I honestly wonder if not for the REA and TVA, and the the quasi-nationalization of AT&T/Bell, whether even today electrical and phone service would be as wide spread as it is. My own great grandparents could not get electricity to their house, despite living less than a mile away from a hydro-electric dam until the REA, back in the 1930's.

    With regards to municipal and publicly owned affordable, universal, and open broadband service, I think the first step is to try and coerce private companies to invest and comply. They will not do so, because it's perverse to look to the long-term gains to the well being of the company (or society); after all, once they declare bankruptcy, yet again, and are denied a despised government bailout, they can look forward to achieving success in the face of uncertainty by spinning out their most profitable and least profitable divisions and getting bought out in a lightly regulated merger with a former rival *cough* Worldcom *cough*. Once this failure is complete, despite the protestations and unfulfilled promises of incumbent providers, a municipality should have the right to build out a broadband network in lack of or in competition with a publicly traded or private company, if that is the will of the community. If profit cannot decide that such affordable universal access is necessary, perhaps utility can. I'd be happy to pay $80/month and have an additional $133/year added to my property tax for reliable 50-100Mb/s broadband, and I'd profit from it (compared to what I currently have).

  4. Paul Herber
    Trollface

    I'd like to see big cable expanding everywhere, you know, fingers in pai's ...

    <cough>

  5. LDS Silver badge

    Microtrenching can go far deeper than four inch

    AFAIK, it can reach 1-2 feet, depending on the machinery used, and the soil type.. Anyway, is just another technique that makes sense in some situations and not others. Reusing existing ducts is evidently cheaper and at less risk of cutting the fibre while doing other works. But done right to deploy fibre when other techniques would be just too expensive or impossible to use it's a valuable option.

    It looks Google went the cheap way and cut corners to cut investments, and found, not surprisingly, it didn.t work. It's more difficult to reuse other people's work for nothing outside its data centres....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Microtrenching can go far deeper than four inch

      A duct would be far more reusable. It might have space to run new and improved fiber later on with less work.

      My local telephone/internet/cable company put in their fiber using directional drilling equipment. Seems like it was 4 or so feet down but it's hard to say because there is no trench. Only could tell from the hole they vacuumed to make sure they didn't cut the existing phone cables and that seemed to be 4 foot deep.

      Downside is the newer fiber they are putting in now can't reuse the old work so they are redoing it all. And as I'm 3 miles out of town I'm still waiting to get the new higher speed.

      But very little road disruption most of the time as the equipment and fiber is beside the road. Other than the time they hit a gas line in town.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: Microtrenching can go far deeper than four inch

        Horizontal drilling is another technique which again is feasible in some situations and not others. In a town close to my workplace, a woman was killed when a gas line was hit - the gas went underground until it surfaced in an house basement, where it exploded and brought down part of the house. One issue is too many town, especially smaller ones, have no idea what's below their roads and where. Very few invested in GIS applications to map utilities and other underground infrastructures to make such deployments both faster and safer.

        Re-using existing ducts whenever possibile would be the smarter way, especially since fibre can run along power lines without interference, and using far less metallic parts, is also less prone to oxidation.

        Most deployments here are being done in such a way, but just because the company owning the power lines has decided to enter the fibre business. Still, they use other techniques wherever needed, as the existing ducts may not always fit the fibre needs.

        However if a state believes an high-speed network infrastructure is a critical one, should enact regulations to ease its deployment reusing existing infrastructure as much as possible to speed up deployment - turf guarding and increased costs will just delay it.

        After all when roads, railways or other infrastructure are built often some people will be forced to give up something - I don't understand why it can't happen with fibre too. While badly deployed fibre like the Google's one will just become wasted money and time.

        1. JJKing Bronze badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Microtrenching can go far deeper than four inch

          Now just you stop right there. No need to become all practical and logical on us with fibre running next to power cables. :-)

          I would like to say that the unsuccessful Google fibre will not become wasted money and time but rather a lesson in not how to lay fibre which will save the local taxpayers money when the town & city administrations get to rolling out their own fibre.

  6. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Cable vs Cellphone

    In Feraldom cable companies usually have a local monopoly of sorts. Local governments will limit the number of competitors but will not really regulate the services offered. Also adding a new service is expensive as laying fiber is not cheap nor particularly fast. But since there is little or no competition there is nothing pressuring the cable companies to provide quality services at a fair price But with cellphones, building towers is much easier and cheaper than running fiber everywhere still a pain and not cheap. And there is no local monopoly so companies actually have to compete on the price vs service equation to get and keep customers. Plus, it is not that difficult to switch phone carriers and some do not even have contracts. (Note many Feral carriers offer contracts which give you a nice phone for a discount - typically 2 year renewable contracts). Those that do not have contracts will offer phones at retail so you own the phone outright from the start.

  7. devTrail

    Forgetting something

    On Mondays they open the road because they have to fix the gas

    On Tuesdays they open the road because they have to fix the water

    On Wednesdays they open the road because they have to fix the electricity

    On Thursdays they open the road because they have to fix the sewage

    On Fridays they open the road because they have to fix the telephone

    On Saturdays they open the road because they forgot something inside

    Can you imagine this old joke with multiple Telecom/cable TV operators and Electricity providers?

    Micro trenching is not going to work in any case there would be something else deeper beneath the shallow trench. The only solution is to put together the investments of different operators plus public money and build a network of service tunnels.

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