Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Like it or Not, Future of Competitive Business Services is Based on Facilities

It will not come as any surprise that competitive access services providers argue incumbent telcos still have market power. That is the argument that motivates the Federal Communications Commission to protect wholesale access for firms with little to no willingness or ability to build their own access facilities.

Since roughly 2002, though, the FCC has made clear its preference for facilities-based competition in the local loop, something cable TV companies, Google Fiber and now a growing number of independent Internet service providers are doing, especially in the arguably harder business case of consumer customers.

Some ISPs serving enterprise customers in urban cores use wireless access rather than digging trenches, so that provides yet another model for investment in access facilities.

Some have estimated that Google Fiber’s first gigabit access network in Kansas City (Missouri and Kansas) cost about $563 per location. With more experience, Google Fiber undoubtedly will drive those costs lower.  

Customer acquisition and customer premises add more costs, but you get the point: building gigabit Internet access plant using fiber to the location does not cost as much as it used to.

Not every service provider--in fact, very few, historically--wants to build such plant. There are many reasons, among them the danger of creating stranded assets if a customer disconnects. In cases where a customer account lifecycle is three years, that is a problem.

In other cases, capital cannot easily be raised to do so. And while enterprises often are very happy to buy gigabit IP connections, many smaller businesses still buy legacy T1 and DS3 connections.

In fact, cable TV operators are gearing up for a major assault on enterprise and mid-size business customers, proving that a facilities-based approach is possible. It just is not possible for every contender in a market.

Cable TV firms have been aggressively targeting the small and medium-sized business with growing success, and generating at least $10 billion in revenue annually and growing in excess of 20 percent annually.

Enterprise services are the next big evolution.

Not all business models, consumer or business-focused, work forever. The FCC wants facilities-based competition. Not every contestant will benefit. But a growing number of initiatives by facilities-based providers show what can be done.

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