About six months ago, I was quite bullish on advances in over-the-top (OTT) video making it easier for communities to build fiber networks because they would no longer have to deal with the challenges of securing and delivering traditional cable television channels. I explored these challenges in a recent post.
OTT video includes Hulu, Netflix, Apple TV, and similar services that deliver video content over your broadband connection, ideally to your television. Last summer, we were anticipating more devices and services that would expand OTT options.
In the time since, I have been disappointed. There have been advances - the Google Chromecast dongle works well (if you have a good Wi-Fi signal near your TV - no ethernet option unfortunately). But Chromecast works with a limited suite of video services.
Hulu works well enough, but seems to have fewer shows that I want to watch available on Hulu plus. Also, Comcast owns it and won't always be shackled by the temporary conditions it agreed to in order to secure permission to buy NBC Universal.
Aereo continues to be a very interesting model but will be fighting in the courts for awhile yet, creating an air of uncertainty over its future. Additionally, its business model hurts public access media (locally produced content), which often depends on franchise fees that Aereo and broadband providers don't have to pay. On the other hand, Aereo solves the problem of getting sports programming over the top and that is a big deal.
We had high hopes for an announcement from Intel that it would begin marketing a service offering television channels over the top but it ran into the steep barriers to entry we have previously noted. Now the Intel effort is dead to us: Verizon has purchased it.
Maybe Sony or Samsung or some other manufacturer will suddenly come out with a breakthrough, but given my experience with their user interfaces, I would be shocked if it were usable, to say nothing of desirable.
It is distinctly possible that we will see breakthroughs that make OTT video more accessible and therefore help to drive new investment in fiber networks that don't require large investments in cable head end technology and acquiring hundreds of channel contracts. But I think it more likely that we are going to see OTT content hold steady or even draw back - we may see still fewer popular programs available on Hulu in the near future, for instance.
Regardless, we should not assume that we are in the midst of a linear progression from little OTT video to much more. Given the massive power of Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and the channel owners, we could well see a return to content only being available to those who pay ever-increasing fees to the local cable monopoly.
There is a reason Google decided it needed to offer television channels to get enough subscribers to make their investment worthwhile. Communities may not need the same high subscriber rates that Google wants, but it is a sign of where they think the market is staying.
Pikeville, Kentucky officials, after almost a decade of fighting with Internet Service Provider (ISP) Optimum about service so consistently poor that the city finally sued the provider, are working on an alternative: a partnership that will see the local government build new citywide fiber infrastructure and lease it to an operating partner. The city formalized a public-private partnership with Inter Mountain Cable, a private local company, which will build the network and get exclusive rights to operate it for 15 years, with the city retaining ownership.
Last week, Pulse Fiber officials announced that construction of its community-owned broadband network is now complete with every household and business in this city of 77,000 now having access to affordable gig-speed service. The $110 million construction project, which began in earnest only four years ago, is the largest capital project in the city’s history, reaching the finish line on time and on budget, city officials said.
California has an ambitious $6 billion proposal to shore up affordable broadband access throughout the state, which includes a $3.25 billion plan to build an open-access statewide broadband middle-mile network backers say could transform competition in the Golden State. But while the proposal has incredible potential, digital equity advocates remain concerned that the historic opportunity could be squandered.
In 2021 West Springfield, Massachusetts announced it would be partnering with Westfield Gas and Electric, a publicly owned utility, to deliver its residents symmetrical gigabit fiber service. But efforts to launch the project have been on hold thanks to ongoing delays by Verizon and Eversource to prepare local utility poles for fiber attachment.
With the $14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) on track to run out of funds by spring/early summer 2024, finally there is a request from the White House to extend funding for the program that over 21 million households now rely on to help pay for high-speed Internet service. While digital equity advocates rightly celebrate the White House request for additional funding as a national effort is underway to boost ACP enrollment, leading digital inclusion organizations – such as the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) – have also been advocating for a more permanent funding solution, possibly through reform of the Universal Services Fund.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has introduced an ambitious new plan to incentivize private telecom providers to deliver affordable fiber to 85 percent of the Tennessee city of 633,000. The project, part of the city’s Memphis 3.0 master plan, will spend more than $700 million to expand broadband in a city where less than a quarter of residents–most of them wealthy–have access to next-generation fiber.