Danger! Fiber Coming to Your Neighborhood

BOSTON (06/12/2000) - Can more fiber to more of your network locations ever be a bad thing?

After umpty-ump years of waiting for phone companies to build more fiber in their local territories, a new theory is taking hold that perhaps the telcos should stick to copper loops.

As you might imagine, the reason for this theory is the boom in DSL interest.

But whether sticking with copper is really better for users, or just convenient for carriers who specialize in DSL, is something only you can decide.

Recently, Jato Communications, a competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC), wrote to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission raising an alarm about mega-Bell SBC Communications Inc.'s broadband plans.

SBC is touting a scheme called Project Pronto that aims to replace copper loops with a fiber/copper mix to deploy nearly ubiquitous broadband service. In its four territories - Pacific Bell, Southwestern Bell, Ameritech and Southern New England Telephone - SBC will run fiber from its central offices to 20,000 remote terminals near business and residential locations. From there, DSL signaling will carry traffic over the remaining copper loops.

Jato's concern? Remember that DSL doesn't work if there's extra stuff on the loop, such as bridge taps and load coils. Jato sees these remote terminals as bad stuff that will get in the way of its own symmetric DSL (SDSL) service.

Sure, SBC is technically allowing competitors to put their own DSL line cards in the remote terminals, but is that practical? Jato tells the FCC it has already expended "scores of millions of dollars" to collocate DSL equipment in 150 central offices, with 650 more in the works. How is it now supposed to collocate in 20,000 remote terminals?

Furthermore, the remote terminals don't expand the territory Jato can serve, the company legitimately complains. "Instead, the remote terminals is an impediment, much like a bridge tap, that Jato must bypass in order to provide SDSL service," the letter says.

Jato proposes a solution: The FCC should force SBC to keep the entire copper loop, from central office to premises, active and available for provisioning to CLECs even after the fiber is installed.

For some users there are potential advantages to that idea. Jato, and other CLECs that don't like what SBC is doing, specialize in the kind of SDSL that could replace corporate T-1s. SBC, by contrast, currently plans only asymmetric DSL (ADSL) for Project Pronto, limiting upstream transmissions to 384K bit/sec.

But look at this from SBC's standpoint. Policymakers for years have urged Bell companies to get moving on fiber buildouts. Now a Bell proposes just that. How can it be forced to maintain old infrastructure as well? Indeed, for the users who see DSL not as a replacement technology for corporate offices but as a potential gain for telecommuters, ADSL everywhere may be just the ticket.

One thing's for sure: It's going to be hard for new carriers to convince the FCC there's something wrong with a Bell company laying more fiber.

David Rohde is managing editor of The Edge section of Network World. He can be reached at drohde@nww.com.

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