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Big telco initiatives not the whole broadband story

When it comes to grabbing headlines or making an impression on Wall Street, major fiber initiatives are certainly the ticket. In fact, the public focus on efforts such as Verizon's FiOS fiber-to-the-premises network and AT&T's Project Lightspeed fiber-to-the-node buildout have prompted public criticism that the major telephone companies are engaging in redlining — only investing in neighborhoods where they can make immediate profits.

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In less public ways, however, AT&T, BellSouth, Qwest and Verizon are trying to make advanced broadband services, such as video, more universally available. Only AT&T has actively promoted its initiative, known as HomeZone, which it will launch across its local footprint in the second quarter, but all four companies are, to some degree, testing broadband wireless and copper solutions.

To allay redlining criticism and for competitive reasons, Brian Washburn, broadband analyst for Current Analysis, expects to see BellSouth, Verizon and possibly Qwest follow AT&T's lead in developing services using existing partnerships with direct broadcast satellite players — either EchoStar's Dish Networks or DirecTV — along with DSL connections to deliver an advanced video product well before fiber buildouts reach the masses.

A BellSouth spokeswoman said the company will address universal broadband by continuing WiMAX projects and by using ADSL2+ to deliver between 12 Mb/s and 24 Mb/s service over copper loops of up to 5000 feet.

AT&T Project Lightspeed 18 million homes by 2008, 3 million this year, 9 million in 2007 Homezone combines DSL, DISH satellite available 2Q 2006
BellSouth Fiber to the curb WiMAX broadband wireless, ADSL 2+
Verizon FiOS reaching 3 million homes per year to 15 million to 20 million by 2009 DSL extensions Fixed wireless trials
Qwest Qwest ChoiceTV over VDSL to limited communities in Arizona and Colorado, HFC network in Omaha No specific plans announced
All four companies are doing FTTH in green-field developments.

“Fifty percent of our customers are within 5000 feet, and we will move that up to 80% by continuing to build out our network,” she said. “Plus, we have wireless broadband up and running in six markets today, and we will move onto WiMAX and increase our broadband penetration in rural markets, once the WiMAX-certified equipment becomes available.”

Verizon also is eyeing fixed wireless and has deployed the technology in five markets, offering high-speed Internet access, a spokesman said. And the company continues to invest in extending its DSL footprint.

“In those areas still served by copper, we are continuing to add DSLAM equipment to our remote terminals,” the spokesman said. “DSL service has about a 15,000 to 16,000-foot range, and when you put the DSLAM at the RT, you restart that 15,000-foot count, so a lot more customers can get the service, even if they aren't close to the [central office].”

Verizon Chief Technology Officer Mark Wegleitner has said the company continues to explore alternatives where Verizon doesn't consider it financially feasible to use FiOS.

That might not be much consolation for those customers, said Daniel Briere, president of consultancy TeleChoice.

“The main focus of their strategies is on launching more services to the most dense populations that have the most money,” he said. “That puts people in North Dakota out of luck, which is why they are looking at putting blimps in the air. If you are part of the disenfranchised population, you have two choices — complain up the ladder or take things into your own hands.”

That's why residents of multiple communities in rural Maine, including Georgetown and Woolwich, are banding together to petition Verizon to bring DSL to their towns, signing up residents who say they'll pay for the service. A Verizon spokesman said the company listens to what such customers are saying.

One major concern, Briere said, is that FiOS is draining money away from a DSL buildout.

“To me it starts with broadband because if you can't get broadband, forget about getting on the road map,” he said. “The more pressure put on FiOS, the longer that everyone who is not on the FiOS buildout may have to wait.”

Qwest CEO Richard Notebaert told the investment community recently that the company is “disciplined” in its approach to fiber deployment. A spokeswoman said Qwest is constantly exploring its options for delivering Qwest Choice TV, which it offers on VDSL networks in Arizona and Colorado, over an HFC network in Omaha, Neb., and over FTTH networks elsewhere.

AT&T's HomeZone combines a DSL line with satellite video service, from AT&T partner DISH Networks, at the set-top box to create an in-home entertainment network combining PC and TV capabilities. The service is intended for those not on the planned LightSpeed footprint, a spokesman said, although HomeZone will be launched regionwide and is a near-term alternative for customers who will eventually get LightSpeed.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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