Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Open Access to MDU Internal Wiring Sounds Great, Until You Think About the Physical Issues

Lots of problems in the communications business that would seem to be simple are, in fact, often somewhat complicated, and often costly. If you know people who work in outside plant (cable and telco, especially), and you ask about why it is that multiple dwelling units often are the last-wired homes in a city, you are going to get a couple of consistent sets of answers.

Unlike the detached single-family home environment, building owners have the legal right to refuse a service provider’s desire to wire the building. Residential single-family homeowners cannot prevent a service provider from building access plant down the street or alley.

Building owners can, in fact, bar access to an MDU or other large private property. So even if the network runs down the street or alley, the right to access the MDU internal wiring network, building basement, rooftop or other spaces can be denied. Obtaining such rights has to be negotiated building by building, as well.

That is why MDUs often are the last to get any telco or cable service, on a uniform and timely basis, in a city.

To promote competition, the obvious answer for many has been to do an “open access” approach within each building, assuming the building owner agrees, where multiple providers can use the internal wiring.

Sounds reasonable, no? But that is where one has to talk to the outside plant experts. For any sort of voice, video or data network, there always is a network demarcation point of some sort.

Also, it is easy to criticize the Federal Communications Commission for not favoring local laws requiring open access to internal wiring networks, as pro-competitive as that sounds.

There actually are all sorts of reasons having to do with cumbersome interface and cabling issues that creates.

For a single-family, detached home, that is a plastic network interface unit on the side of a house. For an MDU, something more complex is required. Typically, that is some sort of wiring chasis that demultiplexes a signal stream, allowing individual tenants to get access to a service, using the internal riser network.

Sure, in principle one might place multiple interface panels, side by side, in a basement, closet, panel or pedestal. Even assuming security is not an issue (it is), the solution for service to any particular unit within the building would involve running a jumper cable from one interface panel to another panel where the internal wiring all terminates.

If you have talked to people who run data centers--or spent time in such centers--you know the wiring mass can be quite substantial. There is great need for detailed labeling and some method to tidy up the mass of cables.

So picture a basement wall having to support multiple wiring panels, one for cables that terminate in each living unit on every floor, then some way to route jumper cables from each of the separate service provider termination units. Again, ignore the fact that the security of each service providers termination panel has to be provided, but also the ability to physically disable rival provider jumper cables, so that any new provider can connect to the in-building riser network.

Imagine the growing number of abandoned cables that accumulate every time a single customer changes service providers. It is messy and ultimately unworkable.

Probably few of us who are would-be customers like the practice of exclusive contracts on MDU properties. That restricts choice. On the other hand, the physical challenges of allowing multiple suppliers to connect to internal wiring networks is not an easy problem to solve, without creating complicated and bulky equipment issues in whatever space is used for network terminations.

Multiple service providers having access to each and every potential customer location in an MDU sounds reasonable enough. But there are physical constraints, especially over time as more customers move in and out, start and then terminate service, with the old cables being stranded.

To the best of my knowledge, a new service provider is under no legal obligation to remove older cables that had been used by any other service provider. And that means lots of unused, stranded cables that may or may not be marked, take up space and make installation and subsequent repairs more difficult.

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