Category Archives: Advocacy

Speed isn’t everything, freedom important too

Someone on twitter recently mentioned Molalla Communications Cooperative as a nearby existing fiber-to-the-premises network. It is, and there are others. It has better bandwidth and pricing than we get from incumbents here in Portland, their X-Fon product has 40 Mbps down, 10 Mbps up for under $50/month. However, looking at their fine print, we find this clause:

“You shall not connect servers of any type to the Services. Molalla Communications reserves the right to suspend or terminate Service without advance warning if a violation of this policy is detected.”

If you take that literally, and I think you have to, it would mean no Linux boxes that you can log into remotely, no web servers, no business email servers, no other “normal” internet services. It prevents you from using off-site system administrators to help you solve technical problems. In many realistic circumstances, this restriction makes the service unacceptably limited. Comcast has similarly restrictive terms of service. Service providers seem to like the bright line between producers and consumers, that you are a consumer and a consumer only. “We went to the trouble of labelling you, stay in your damned box!”

Users of infrastructure should pay for the infrastructure, but having done so, they should have the ability and freedom to use that infrastructure for what they want, not limited to some artificial set of consumption-only activities. Ward Cunningham tells the story of how he changed the world because he could provide a service over a 14,400 baud modem with a $300 computer under his desk that let people communally develop and refine ideas about computer programming. The “no servers” rule would strangle in the cradle just that kind of innovation and collaboration that can make progress possible and life for everyone better. Maybe there are no creative people in Molalla (I know that’s not true), but there are in Portland. A Portland fiber network cannot have a restriction like that and be considered a success. This is why an open-access model, where many providers on the same infrastructure compete on price, quality and terms-of-service is essential.

Hey Qwest: Fake Fiber Is DSL in Disguise

Qwest, our local phone company–the company that owns all of the phone lines in the city, ran this full page ad in the Oregonian. Qwest is eager to advertise their “Fiber-optic* fast connection speeds up to 20 Mbps.”

Qwest Ad for Fake Fiber
Qwest Ad from 3/26 Oregonian

What Qwest is less eager to advertise is the little asterisk on “fiber-optic” which leads to the fine print “Fiber-optics exist only from the neighborhood terminal to the Internet.” So, if you happen to live in the neighborhood node, this is a pretty great deal. Unfortunately, the node in my neighborhood is about 4 or 5 blocks away, and the size of a doghouse. Really, Qwest is selling plain old DSL, but they’ve moved the DSLAM (the device that creates the DSL signal on the phone line) into a box in your neighborhood, and connected it back to their office with fiber-optics. They could just as easily call their service “Ethernet fast connections,” because somewhere, far away from your home, they use Ethernet to connect equipment to the Internet.

Don’t be fooled by DSL service disguised as fiber-optics. The only truly fiber-optic service is one where the connection between your home or business all the way back to the data-center is fiber-optic. That is the only fiber service that will offer 1Gbps speeds. The best fiber service will also be open-access, allowing any service provider to compete to offer you the services you want. Qwest’s fake fiber doesn’t provide any of that, but open-access, community fiber would.

Qwest’s ad calls their service “100% fast. 50% off.” It would be more accurate to call it 50% fast, and 100% off. Qwest doesn’t offer fiber speeds or fiber service and they never will. That’s one reason Portland responded to Google’s Fiber for Communities RFI, and it’s one reason that we shouldn’t be content until we have a citywide, open-access, fiber to the home infrastructure.