Friday, December 28, 2007

The car and my wife / la voiture et ma femme

My wife has been wonderful supporting my plans to build this network. I've mentioned in earlier posts that my two goals of the project are (1) learning everything I can about building these networks and (2) having an open access fiber connection to my home. I'm much less concerned about getting initial investment back.

My wife agreed to let me shift some money away from a car fund that we keep and use it for putting in the conduit. That has been the plan all along and the money is sitting there waiting for when the residence does the road work.

Then the car problems hit.

It's not that we haven't seen the problem coming. Our car has nearly 250'000 KM and now things are starting to go. We have had the car towed twice in two months and she's had to taxi back with the rest of the family from where they were stranded. It started to look as if we'd have to actually use the money for the car.

Things worked out though and we were able to buy a used car for less than half the money of a new one. We picked it up last weekend after buying it from a friend's family. That means that we will still have money available for the conduit and now have a more reliable car.

Crisis averted.

More on the Numericable offer in St Nom / Plus sur l'offre de Numericable a St Nom

Numericable offer in St Nom La Breteche Now for a bit more information that I've been able to gather on the offer from Numericable. They advertise 100 Mbit/s downloads but only 5 Mbit/s upload speeds on their offer. Not bad, although the upstream is important to me for the ability to telework.

I got a call today from an independent company to verify the change of my account - essentially ensuring that I did agree to upgrade my connection and pay more each month. They weren't able to answer any questions though about the connections such as when it would be available.

I have noticed that my connection is actually much faster now than it was just a few months ago. I don't know what kind of changes they have made but today I was able to reach 16 Mbit/s download from That's closer to what I should have already been getting with my "30 Mbit/s" connection I pay for now.

The graphic above shows the upgrade schedule for St Nom La Breteche on Numericable's website. Cities with 100 Mbit/s are marked with the year of the upgrade. Those in the process of being upgraded are marked with one of the codes on the bottom right showing which quarter or semester the upgrade should happen. Interestingly St Nom isn't even given a timeline for a fiber upgrade.

A large part of our village doesn't even have cable coverage so I wonder if the headend for our residence is located elsewhere.

I'll update as I find more information. However, with a limit of 5 Mbit/s upstream I'll still go ahead with the investment.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The plot thickens

I've had a number of posts partially written, waiting to be finished up over the holidays and uploaded to the blog. I'll write them up over the next week but I just hung up from a phone call 30 seconds ago which could possibly change the game plan.

Numericable, our cable operator, just called with a new package bundle. They didn't say who they were when I answered and asked for my wife so I passed her the phone. Once they announced who they were she passed the phone back to me.

The man said they were now offering 100 Mbit/s over fiber in our area as part of a triple-play package. EUR 29.90 gets you 100 Mbits, 110 television channels and free PSTN calls to 32 destinations.

Numericable does have conduit in our neighborhood but I have a hard time believing they are doing true FTTH - particularly here. I did notice that the advertised 30 Mbit/s connection that I pay for now has recently jumped up from 3 to 10 Mbit/s in actual throughput so they've obviously upgraded something somewhere.

I signed up to the new offer and we'll see how it goes. If this is real then it may be more difficult to convince other residents to sign up to do our own fibre. However, given Numericable's previous record I'm not going to believe it until I see it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Broadband and the role of municipalities /l'Internet à haute vitesse et le rôle des gouvernements municipaux

I recently spoke with a number of people running community broadband projects as part of my job. I was very interested in their own experiences from both a professional and personal standpoint. We've recently seen the meltdown of a number of municipal Wi-Fi projects and I believe there are still some questions surrounding the most appropriate role of governments in telecommunications. That's why it was so interesting to talk to people "in the trenches" and hear about their own experiences and struggles. I was particularly interested in their experiences with fiber.

The people leading these projects seem to be driven overwhelmingly by the desire to improve their communities over the longer term. Many of these communities lack good broadband infrastructure and the people pushing these projects see new broadband networks as a way to build sustainable communities - often outside of major city centers. They believe that the investment models of telecom and cable firms are focused too much on the short-term. Fiber isn't a 3-5 year return proposition and the CEO's of telcos and cable companies often don't even last that long. Instead, fiber evangelists argue that their communities need fiber and that these investments should be evaluated over a much longer time span. That could make them less interesting for the private sector.

The arguments for government intervention should be tied more to positive externalities. Private firms are concerned with short-term returns on investment. Communities, on the other hand, often have other social goals in mind. Private firms want to maximize profit while governments often aim to maximize welfare (utility). That means the the private sector and local governments may come to different conclusions regarding when a project is "worthwhile." Private firms will come when it's profitable. Governments may step in when it is net welfare enhancing.

Municipalities typically aim to cover costs of the network but there may also be other social benefits such as drawing a high tech employer to the area and stimulating demand. This could still make the project socially worthwhile even if it weren't profitable. It's interesting because the effects of externalities are typically neglected from discussions of fiber infrastructure. However, similar externalities are front and center when cities give millions of dollars in tax rebates to developers for building shopping centers or manufacturing plants. I think these externalities deserve more attention.

I'm taking a different approach by building this network as a private citizen but I will still rely on these positive externalities as a selling point for the network. The difference is I'll need to convince people to pay a little extra for these benefits while governments typically can use taxes for the same purpose. I'm hoping that the residents in my neighborhood will be able to recognize these benefits and then support the project by signing up. The telecom and cable companies don't consider the welfare of people in St Nom La Breteche when they make their telecommunication decisions. Residents, on the other hand, should.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Another offer of funding / Une autre offre de financement

We had a friend's family over the other day for dinner. He's a French lawyer and I had previously approached him for advice about setting up the business here in France as a foreigner. He had done some legal work on fiber networks in the past and seemed excited about the project when I initially told him about them. Then, while we were talking at the house he mentioned he'd be interested in investing in the project - even though he doesn't live in the area.

I've been a bit surprised at the two offers I've received because I've never solicited any funds. I figure I'm not to that stage yet since I'll be paying myself to have the conduit installed. The next stage is likely when I'd need to look for funding to run a trunk line out from our residence to the exchange.

I will certainly approach both friends as soon as I am farther along in the project if I decide to fund it this way. However, the fact that both of them approached me about participating gives me hope that I could raise the money necessary for our local project using small investments from a number of people. What I think is even more promising though is the possibility of getting the neighbors to invest themselves.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Attracting investors / Attirer les investisseurs

I had an interesting discussion with one of my friends from our old neighborhood the other day. He had heard me mention that I wanted to roll out fiber-to-the-home in St Nom. We talked for about an hour and a half and I explained why the transition to fiber is so important and how I think a small scale project could work in our particular case. I also explained that I thought this could be a good test case for whether the model really will work or not, or if the project could expand at some point.

After we were done speaking he said that he'd be interested in investing in the project. I thought that was really great news, not because I'm looking for investors at the moment, but because he could see the value of the project without being someone involved directly in telecom.

I'm moving forward in steps to put this together. First, I'll work on putting the conduit in the ground in our residence. I won't need investors for that portion. The conduit would likely be a risky part of the investment because there is no guarantee that I will be able to convince an operator to connect with us. Obviously having a conduit for fiber in the ground would pay off one day (at least in terms of connectivity). The big question is how to recover that initial investment. I can take the risk because I'm more interested in learning everything about this than recovering this part of the investment.

However, outside money will likely play a part in the second stage of the project. I may need to raise some money to run fiber between our residence and the exchange in St Nom (where we could potentially interconnect with a number of operators). The numbers here wouldn't be huge - probably in the EUR 40,000 range, but this is where I'd start looking at financing options. Given the willingness of my friend to participate I may consider approaching the people in the residence in becoming co-owners of the fiber between the exchange and our residence. That could be a win-win situation because it would increase their incentive to actually use the line themselves.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

How to sell fiber / Comment vendre la fibre

I was recently attending a conference abroad where someone brought up an interesting point that got me thinking. The speaker was saying that we spend too much time trying to sell broadband. Instead, we need to sell people on what they can do with broadband. Essentially users don't buy lines. They buy services.

A lot of my planning recently has been how to convince people in the community that they need fiber. Maybe that's missing the point. I should focus on things they would be able to do with fiber that are not possible with standard ADSL - particularly where we are.

The big question for me (and probably the rest of the telecommunication world) is what are these services? What services could attract a 70-year old couple in the village and make it worth it to pay a little extra for fiber services?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Missed opportunity / un occasion manquée

St Nom - Gas trench across D307 I walked down to the church today and they have indeed finished the the trench across the main street (D307) that runs through the village. It's too bad that I was not ready to put in conduit when they had the street opened up. It feels like a missed opportunity but I just wasn't ready.

However, I have learned something from this. I'm going to contact the Mairie in our village to find out if there are any other projects coming up where they'll be doing roadwork. I spoke to the Mayor in June but didn't ask about other groups getting permission to dig. This way I'll be ready the next time someone comes to town to dig up the road.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Distance to the exchange / Distance au commutateur

I was driving back home tonight with the family and we started up the road where the exchange is located to get home. It's a bit of a shortcut for people going to our section of St Nom. We had the GPS turned on so I decided to reset the odometer at the exchange to see how far our residence was "as the car drives".

I was surprised to see the exchange was closer than I had estimated. Driving in the car, the bottom of our residence was only 400-450 meters away. The only problem is the road going up to the village from the exchange is cobblestone - which could certainly complicate matters for a dig.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Why our sidewalks need repair / Pourquoi nous devons réparer nos trottoirs

Shallow asphalt on sidewalk in St NomI noticed how badly our sidewalks need repair as I was walking out of the residence the other day. The asphalt has simply broken away in certain areas. It some ways it was nice because it allowed me to look at what was going on underneath. I was a bit surprised at how shallow the asphalt actually is. There was just rock and dirt underneath.

I had never really thought about the depth of the asphalt on the road and sidewalks.

I uploaded the picture I took that morning to my flikr account along with the other photos I snapped of the gas dig in our neighborhood. I laughed as I was uploading the pictures because my account is full of pictures of dirt, holes, sidewalks and streets - all interesting to me but probably not to the general public!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Conduit for the gas network in St Nom / Conduit pour le réseau de gaz a St Nom

Yellow gas conduit Large gas conduit in St Nom

I left the house this evening with the car and drove past the church right at the bottom of our residence. There was a whole area cordoned off around a fresh dig and a roll of yellow conduit. The dig was ready to go under the exact street that we would have to cross to get to the exchange.

In France (and probably other places) builders are required to use a certain color of conduit to put in the ground so that other workers will know what it is if they come across it in their own digs.

I knew that red was for electricity and blue was for water but I wasn't sure what yellow was for. If it was for telecom I would have taken the day off tomorrow and asked the construction crew how I could possibly lay my own conduit quickly next to theirs. If I could get across the main street the next little bit to the exchange would be much easier.

I was already planning on calling Vincent MONVILLE for something unrelated and thought if anyone could tell me what the yellow color represented he could. I asked him about the conduit and he explained that is was for gas. He chuckled when he said that it's not a great idea to try and mix fiber and gas. :)

So close...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Moment to set up the business / Le moment pour la création de l'entreprise

This evening I spent time talking to a French friend of mine who has a tech-related startup (Mulot Déclic) here in France. We talked about the FTTH project as a whole and about what I would need to do to register the company here in France. He grilled me about how and if this project could be expanded later on. It was a very good exercise to try and convince him that it could work. If I ever do want to expand I'll have to make similar explanations to investors.

One of the key things we discussed was the need to set up a proper business here in France. He assured me that setting one up wasn't as difficult as it is often made out to be. He said that now it was possible to do a lot of it online and that the cost of registering the business should be around EUR 300.

He and his wife are also the brains behind the name for the company. I grabbed the domain name a few months ago and will publish it all as soon as the official business registration goes though. They're both native French speakers and were able to come up with something really catchy.

The Mayor told me I needed a proper business if I wanted to do any street work outside of the residence. It will also make things much more straight-forward when it comes to getting an agreement with our residence association. The only outstanding question is whether I'll need to take on a French partner to register the company - given that I don't have a standard French work permit. I'll look into that.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

How long of a loop? / Quelle longueur pour la boucle locale?

It's clear to me that one of the most challenging elements for network operators is actually mapping out the most efficient topology in terms of capacity and cost. I thought I had decided how I would lay out the network but now I'm starting to wonder if I should readjust after certain developments here in France.

One of my big struggles now is how long to make the "local loop" element of the network. I know that "local loop" typically refers to a copper twisted pair but I'm not sure exactly what you would call its replacement in FTTH-speak.

Initially I had imagined putting a concentration point in the middle of our residence (100 meters away) where I could install active equipment. Then any operator could come and patch into us to offer services at the edge of our network. However, now I'm beginning to wonder if I should plan on taking all fibers all the way back down to the exchange 600 meters away.

If I thought that I would surely stop at just laying fiber in our residence then locating the active equipment next to us would probably be a good idea. However, the situation becomes a bit more complicated if I ever decide to spread out the fixed costs of connecting to exchange by expanding the project to other subdivisions at a later date.

I'm not sure that it makes good economic sense to place active equipment in each subdivision of a small village. It's not cost effective for the equipment and it surely introduces more potential points of failure. At the same time, it may not be cost effective to run a large amount of fiber to the edges of the village several kilometers away either.

Right now this is playing out in Paris. France Telecom's PON network requires less physical space than Iliad/Free's point-to-point network. That means that Free is likely looking for property all over Paris where it can locate active equipment to terminate its fiber closer to users.

I don't need to make all these decisions now since I can wait to see how the project progresses and if other subdivisions are interested in connecting with us. One of the important decisions for now though is how big of conduit I should put in leaving our residence out to the exchange? Do I plan for something big enough to accommodate future growth - even if it will increase my up-front fixed costs?

Friday, September 7, 2007

France Telecom's FTTH - La fibre de France Telecom

I recently took a tour of France Telecom's FTTH rollout in Paris and wanted to write about it for a few reasons. It wasn't related to my own fiber plans but there were a couple of inter-related items.

  1. France Telecom is proposing to share the internal fiber wiring it the buildings it connects with competitors as long as they are willing to reciprocate. I spoke with someone before I'd gone and I didn't understand exactly what they were doing until I saw it for myself. FT puts in a cabinet in the basement of an apartment building which holds their passive GPON equipment. All the single fiber lines to apartments come down from the ceiling right beside the FT cabinet where they can easily be patched into the FT equipment (or theoretically a competitors). ARCEP, the regulator here in France, launched a consultation recently on sharing the internal wiring of buildings and France Telecom seems agree with the regulator that this is the best way to avoid having to go down the functional separation route.

  2. A neutral fiber network within the building is not much different than a neutral fiber network in a small residence. At one point I asked one of the FT people if they would consider connecting to a residence that had put it its own fiber. Their unofficial answer was that they likely would. They also explained that they would be particularly interested if there was empty conduit in place where they could blow through their own fiber.

The whole visit pretty much re-energized me for the project because I believe that by putting part of the network in place myself I'll be able to attract operators. The idea of connecting 50 homes may not be a huge draw for them but once the network is in place I plan on making enough noise publicly when I'm looking for operators that it should be in their interest to participate.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Upgrading the exchange in St Nom - Travail sur le NRA a St Nom

The other day one of my friends in the residence passed along news about our telecom exchange. He said that he heard our France Telecom exchange (NOM78) in St Nom La Breteche is about to be upgraded in December and the lines all regrouped back there from other distant exchanges. I've heard this before but haven't seen any movement near the exchange which would suggest imminent work.

Our mayor did have a meeting with France Telecom in June where they asked for more land to expand the exchange. The rumor around the village says that it was supposed to be completed next month (September) but now they've pushed the date back to December 2007.

I don't think there's much chance of it happening that quickly. If France Telecom asked for more land then they're going to need to build a bigger exchange and likely allow for collocation. The current exchange is just too small. I've lived here long enough to know that construction projects take longer than a few months to put together - particularly if France Telecom was still discussing the land issue two months ago.

There are some interesting implications however for the fiber project. Our exchange is probably 400-600 meters from the residence which means people could see a huge jump in bandwidth using ADSL2+. I would hope that competitive operators would take advantage of full unbundling at our exchange because those are the best offers in the market right now.

This is great news for the residence but could make convincing people to switch to fiber and pay more for it a bit more difficult. If they do upgrade quickly then I'm going to have to come up with an interesting "local" application for fiber that would convince people to sign up through us. I thought about a security service for their homes but it's an area I don't know much about.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Worried about the road work /Inquiété de la réparation des routes

I rode home yesterday with one of my neighbors from the residence. We talked a lot about the progress of the project and I explained exactly what I'd done so far.

In the course of the discussion he expressed concern that we may not be able to convince some of the holdouts in the residence to agree to do the general road work. That could be a problem because putting in the conduit is probably only economically viable if we're already digging up the roads. The roads will have to be done eventually. It's just a question of how much time we'll have to wait.

If we have to postpone the road work one year then the positive aspect is I'll have more time to get everything ready.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Excavation work? Lay empty conduit. / Excavation? Installer le fourreau vide.

Sweden really seems to get it when it comes to looking for ways to get fiber into the ground. I found this today from the government's IT Policy Strategy Group and was impressed with their foresight:

Pipe-laying should be coordinated, including the allocation of costs, the goal being that empty piping should at least be laid when excavation must in any case be carried out.

“Policy for the IT society: Recommendations from the members of the IT Policy Strategy Group”, IT Policy Strategy Group – Sweden, 26 October 2006, at:;jsessionid=aRgt9J6DAf-g/

I've tried to break this project down into manageable steps and the first is simply getting conduit into the ground. Everything else can progress from there including the details about interconnection with ISPs. For the time being the focus should be on getting the conduit in when they dig up the roads in the residence.

The Swedes do raise another interesting point. Should I announce my intentions and offer to share the costs of putting in the conduit with the other providers? I'd be more than happy to see them come (which I doubt they would) but that could also make it difficult for me to personally recoup my own costs. That then begs the question of how many open access fibers are necessary to each home...

Monday, August 20, 2007

End of vacations in St Nom - fin des vacances à St Nom

August is a very quiet time in France and our village is no exception. I've never seen things so quiet and it feels like a ghost town. That will all change in the next two weeks as people return from vacation and school starts.

I'm planning on preparing a small handout that I will pass around to all the neighbors in the residence explaining what I'd like to do for soon after they get back. It will explain what I plan on doing and where I'll need their help.

I was thinking about it last night and much of this is really going to be about marketing the idea to people. Getting people excited about fiber in English is one thing but trying to do it in French (writing) is somewhat daunting. I've decided to it first in English and then I'll get help translating it into perfect French.

I'll post my drafts of the handout here on the blog and would welcome any comments.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

New networks drive innovation / Nouveaux réseaux stimulent l'innovation

I rode on a new Delta Airlines plane the other day across the US and was impressed with the television/entertainment system installed in every seat. The movie and TV portion of the system were the same as you would find on any other long-haul flight. However, the new system also allows you to play interactive games against other passengers.

Delta customers also will be entertained with a suite of 10 video games, including Book Worm, Trivia, Bejewled, Zuma, Texas Hold 'em Poker and an interactive trivia game that allows for some friendly competitive play among passengers. Panasonic's eFX single aisle in-flight entertainment system gives Delta an interactive technology platform to offer even more in-flight options in the future like laptop connectivity, broadband internet, and e-mail access.

My favorite was the interactive trivia game which pits travelers against one another. You can see all the participants' screen names and seat numbers alongside their scores as you play. I played round after round and was amazed at how quickly the time passed on the flight. I was struck by how this new and innovative application was made possible by networking the seats on the plane together. After seeing and trying the trivia game for the first time it seems like such a wonderful, simple and obvious use of the plane's upgraded internal network.

I immediately thought back to the FTTH network in St Nom and the struggles I've had trying to explain to people what applications will need 100 Mbit/s now or in the future. The answer is we probably don't know yet but they will appear once the networks are in place. They too will likely strike us as wonderful, simple and obvious after we've tried them the first time.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Time to think - Du temps a penser

I'm looking forward to having a bit more time to stop, think and plan. We've come to the US on vacation and that will hopefully give me some time to make calls and ask some questions here in English about fiber rollouts. There are some interesting projects going on here in the US and hopefully I'll be able to make a site visit to one of them.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

fSONA: Is anyone there? / fSONA: est-ce que quelqu'un est là ?

fSONA makes high-capacity wireless optical systems (using lasers) that can be used for point-to-point communication without a license. I wanted to call them to ask about prices - possibly as a way to avoid digging the 310 meters from our residence to the exchange. I know. It's a longshot but I figured I'd give it a try.

The reason I thought of fSONA was because I had fairly good contact with their company in my previous job. They found an interesting niche and their marketing team was always very helpful at providing me with case studies and background information when I needed it.

Now, fast forward a few years and I'm calling as a possible client - not as an analyst. I visited their site and there was no pricing information. I waited until evening my time (in Paris) and called their US/Canadian numbers to speak with the sales department. They didn't answer and I was routed through to an outsourced answering service which offered to take a message. I gave them my information and then was hit with his doosie of a question:

Operator: "How much do you want to spend?"

Tad: "As little as possible!"

The first thing I though of was Clark W. Griswold's experience with the mechanic in "National Lampoon's Vacation".

I called back for four days straight and they don't seem to be answering their phones. Each time I leave a message for them to call me and I still haven't heard from them. It's too bad because their marketing team really stood out for how hard they worked to raise the company's visibility. Now they seem like a company that can't manage answering their own phones in the sales department. Ouch.

It certainly doesn't seem like a good sign for fSONA.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Meeting with Yvelines Numériques / RDV avec Yvelines Numériques

I met up with Jean LEBRET of Yvelines Numériques today in Paris. (For a quick reminder: Yvelines Numeriques is a public/private backhaul network running through our French department). We walked over to a small cafe to talk about the project when French fighter planes cruised right above us in formation - flanking what looked to be a bomber of some sort. It happened three times on the short walk and the jets even left blue and red trails behind them. The whole ground shook as they flew by. Very impressive. We assumed it was practice for Bastille Day coming up.

Once we sat down I explained what I wanted to accomplish with the project and where our residence is located. I may be wrong but I think he was a bit surprised with my determination to see this project through. He jumped right in too saying that he hadn't heard of a similar project yet in France and thought this could actually work in our favor - helping us convince politicians to help me out.

He pulled out his computer and we started going over the maps. It turns out we are very close to their fiber backbone network - but not quite as close as their public map had made it appear. Their network actually dips down a street lower from us, away from the main road, as it comes near the church (and near us). He was able to measure the distance from the edge of the residence to the nearest possible splice point for their network (310 meters). Still not too bad.

He gave me an estimate for how much it will cost to get from our network (in the residence) to his (closer to the exchange): EUR 120 per meter.

310 meters * EUR 120/meter = EUR 37,200

Expensive. He did mention that the prices for the dig could actually be lower (down to EUR 50 per meter) if we were mainly going through fields - which I don't think we would be.

I was a bit taken back with the costs of simply getting to the backhaul but it make me think of some other options, particularly wireless. I'll write about those a bit later.

The main thing I pulled out of our conversation was that he thinks the best way to approach this is by convincing the government to help us get connected to the network. We would essentially ask the village or department to pay for (or subsidize) the connection to Yvelines Numériques as a way for them to save money on connectivity for government offices in the town (e.g. schools, mayor's office, post office). The more he talked about it the more I thought this could be an option. He gave me the names of two people in the Conseil Général to contact who may be able to help. He also suggested I go back to the Mayor and try to convince him to pool the demand for the local government as a way to justify running a fiber between the mayor's office and their network. We could take some strands as the network passed by on the road to the commercial center.

This could be politically attractive option since the Department helped fund half the backbone network and they would have an interest in seeing it lit. Yvelines Numériques only provides the dark fiber so the more cables they can light, the better. I got the impression that the network has much more capacity now than is in use. Out of the 144 fibers in their first cable it sounded like less than 10% were lit in our area. They would definitely have room for us if we could get to them. He also explained that once we'd be in contact with their own fiber the costs would be quite low to go the rest of the way to the exchange (100 meters). They charge EUR 1.80 per meter per year.

Once we made it to the exchange other operators could easily supply us with services since they also have lit fibers on the same backhaul network. The operators may not have their own equipment in the exchange now but it wouldn't be difficult or expensive to simply create a drop point.

Finally, Jean recommended I use PEHD (high density polyethylene in English) for the conduit when I lay it down in the sidewalks. By his calculation I'd need around a kilometer of it and he said the costs wouldn't be too bad.

I was very glad that Yvelines Numériques got back to me and there may be a way to work with them on this. The costs seemed high but I feel at least that this was sign that I can actually make this work.

Monday, July 9, 2007

FTTH advice from the Netherlands / Conseil de FTTH venant des Pays Bas.

Vincent MONVILLE suggested I talk to someone who actually does FTTH rollouts to get an idea of what type of network topology I should choose. Then he'd be able to help me calculate the costs of putting in the network.

I've made several contacts in the Netherlands with operators who have/are putting in their own open-access fiber networks and I contacted them with the question about network topology over the weekend.

I explained that I was originally interested in having a simple "active star" topology with the fiber aggregation point in the middle of the residence and an individual conduit to each home going out from the center like the arms of an octopus. Vincent raised some concern that this could mean I'd need much bigger trenches right next to the aggregation point because I'd have to put a large number of conduit together.

I wrote to the FTTH experts in the Netherlands and asked for ideas, explaining my concerns and looking for their suggestions. They responded quickly and said that running individual conduit to each house from the center was probably the best way to proceed - given our particular geographic and cost factors. The maximum number of conduit I'd be putting in any trench would likely be 8 (with the exception of the two apartment buildings). There I could probably run a larger conduit which would support a thicker cable of fibers.

I'll get back to Vincent and ask for his advice from here.

French civil costs with Vincent MONVILLE / Discussion des coûts civils avec Vincent MONVILLE

I had lunch with Vincent MONVILLE, a French fiber specialist who is a friend of Benoît FELTEN. I met him to talk about general costs and civil works here in France. He's very familiar with providing point-to-point fiber connectivity and clued me in to some of the hurdles I'm going to have to go through. I took notes and even snatched the part of the paper table cloth where he'd drawn some network diagrams.

He broke the network into three geographical parts:

  1. Outside the residence
    This is one of the most complex parts of the civil works to manage bureaucratically. He suggested this is best handled by the operator from whom we eventually purchase connectivity or bring in to provide their own services. In these areas we're also required to dig down the full 60 cm for the trenches.
  2. Public areas of the residence (sidewalks, roads. aggregation point)
    Vincent explained that in a residence I'll probably need to put my request to use the public spaces (and dig the road) to a vote of the residents. That seems natural. I then asked him if I'd need unanimous support from the residents. This could be difficult to obtain after watching some of the debates at the previous association meeting. However, he explained that the process for getting approval is different among associations. In some you only need permission of the "syndic" or president of the association. Others may require a majority vote. Finally, there are some circumstances when we'd have to have all residents in agreement. I'll have to check more on how this works for our own residence. One positive element - we may be able to reduce the depth of the trenches to 15 cm since the residence is private property. That will reduce costs.
  3. Personal property
    Obviously here we'd need permission of every owner before digging in their property. I think most will agree to this, particularly if they're not paying up front. However, there could still be cases where people may decide they don't need fiber and don't want their lawns and gardens touched. This poses a particular problem. In order to attract operators we need to have as many potential clients as possible. Skipping a house with the network (because an owner refuses) will be slightly less costly but also will decrease the incentive for operators. Vincent suggested a work-around here. We could simply put a small drop box in the public portion of the sidewalk in front of their home. As soon as the owner changed his/her mind we could pick up the conduit from there and bring it to the house.

Vincent also explained several steps before the contractors come in and start digging up the road/sidewalk in the residence:

  1. Ask the mayor for a list of network owners
    We need the list of the network owners (electricity, water, sewer, gas, phone, cable) so we can ask them for maps of where their networks are in the area. We'd need to map our own conduit around the existing infrastructure. Vincent explained this was part of a 1991 law I'll have to dig up (so to speak).
  2. Wait four weeks for answers
    The operators have four weeks to answer us with their maps. These will typically come as a PDF or as paper copies.
  3. Present maps and plans to residents
    Once I've mapped out the proposed route for the network I need to present it to the residents. This would show them where we would like to dig in the public areas and on their property.
  4. Notifying existing network owners of the dig
    The company doing the digging has to send a "DICT" to all network owners 10 business days before the work starts. This notifies them that there may be work near their own networks and I assume it allows them to come and ensure their networks remain untouched.

Vincent also gave me a bit of information about the rack I'd need to install and the elements that I'd need to put in it. I'll try to locate this in the public area of the residence which will serve as the aggregation point for the fiber connections.

  • Enclosure: 2m x 60 cm x 60 cm
  • Uninterrupted power supply
  • A fiber entry point
  • The actual switching/termination equipment
  • Batteries

Vincent gave me lots of good advice and suggested I speak next with people who have been doing FTTH projects to see how they would plan out the network. Once I have that information he said he'd be able to give me a better picture of the costs involved.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Olivier JERPHAGNON - (Calient)

Yesterday I met with Olivier JERPHAGNON who works for Calient Networks. Dirk VAN DER WOUDE suggested we meet because of the connection between unbundling/regulatory policy and the optical switching equipment Calient produces. The gist of our discussion was about how different topologies and technologies affect the way alternative operators can access end-users. Luckily, I was also able to talk to him for a minute about this project as well.

Here are a some of the key/interesting items he brought up:


  1. One of the competitive operators here in France is planning to have 60 POPs for all of Paris at 10,000 subscribers each. That certainly helps in terms of scale economies.
  2. Access networks are similar to airports and harbors. If cities can promote the development of airports and harbors then they should be able to put in networks as well.
  3. The more "pure" the model for structural separation, the more tax money will be needed to fund the rollout of the network.
  4. VDSL and PON FTTH networks typically have a few hundred subscribers in a street cabinet compared to our 50.
  5. Calient's equipment is useful for creating dynamic PON and end-run networks from a central point. Their equipment is usually located in a central office (exchange) but they are working on a smaller version for street-size cabinet use.
St Nom Fiber
  1. Our project is small enough that it may be difficult to attract operators to come and provide services. He suggested that operators may only consider if they can be the sole provider.
  2. He emphasized that the key to attracting an operator will be having everything in place for them to connect in.
  3. One area where we may have an advantage is connecting the last 10 meters. The last few meters to reach a house and install the connection are among the most difficult and expensive for operators. We will be much more attractive to operators if, with the support of the residents, we install the network ourselves (and this last 10 meters) ourselves.
  4. He urged me to approach as many operators as possible about coming in and connecting into the network.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Benoît FELTEN - (Fiberevolution)

Two work colleagues and I had lunch with Benoît FELTEN of Fiberevolution to talk about the project and fiber rollouts in general here in France. We spent a good deal of time discussing why many operators were planning PON-based networks versus end-run fiber.

Some key points of the discussion:

  • First fiber in will likely solidify their position as a monopoly provider. This has huge implications for competition, network architecture and regulation.
  • The 50 homes in our project are peanuts for operators here in France. The key will be using this as a high-profile test case for the business model.
  • This little project could help apply pressure on local candidates running for office next year. Hopefully we can make open-access fiber one of the main campaign issues at least in the village.
  • The power of Web/Telco 2.0. This came up in two ways. First, it's so easy to make connections with other like-minded people with the interactive Internet of today. Second, and Benoît pointed this out, we're likely not long from the day where you can offer a complete third-party "triple-play" offer using Joost, Gmail and Skype.

I've also asked Benoît for help locating people with fiber expertise in the area. This is going to be really important because as interested as I am personally, I need to find someone who really knows installations here in France.

Competition / Concurrence

Competition is king.

I'm a big fan of competitive telecommunication markets because that's where the action is. Consumers are better off and providers are pushed to innovate and provide the best services. France has one of the most competitive broadband markets in the world and that has both positive and negative implications for this project.

On the positive side - Paris and other large cities are getting fiber - possibly from multiple providers. Soon others (in non-covered areas) are going to start wondering why they don't have it as well. That can only help projects like this one. We also have some of the best broadband packages in the world. The operator Free offers ADSL 2+ connections at up to 26 Mbps, free fixed calls to 42 countries and 100+ television channels for EUR 29.99 a month. Free has announced that it will move people to fiber for the same price. That's hard to beat.

And therein lies the negative aspect of competition on our project. Some operators in other countries are able to sell lower-speed ADSL (and even fiber) subscriptions without the other 2 parts of the triple play package. I don't think that consumers here in France would accept that now. If you don't have a compelling video and phone offer then people simply aren't interested. Offering an up-front triple-play offer is clearly outside the realm of possibilities for me alone with this project. That means that competition will likely force me to team up with someone who can.

Friday, June 29, 2007

X is the magic number / X est le chiffre magique

I had a talk with Laurent at work today and he put forward one of the most important questions:

How many users will the ISP require before they'll come and patch you into their network?

He suggested contacting the major ISPs here in France to see what their magic number (X) is. I think he's right. So much of the project will depend on whether they can make a business case for selling to 50 homes.

However, I've decided I'm going to put in the conduit/network whether or not we can find an operator who will build out to us and offer services over the fiber. My reasoning for this ties back to the overall goal of the the project. I consider this first and foremost a learning exercise and figure I'll learn either way. Second, I know that even if we can't get an operator to build out to us now they may change their minds down the road - particularly when faced with the prospect of digging up the roads to put their own infrastructure. That will save us trouble in the long run.

If we can't find someone to come in then I can also look into getting a 50-100 Mbps connection into the residence to share.

Hopefully operators would be willing to take a chance on the project because there are ways to improve the scale economies if we can show this works.

No single "best practice" / Non seulement un "best practice"

I've had several discussions offline the past 2 weeks with experts who have offered their advice. What I'm starting to understand better is that there is no single "best practice" for putting in a FTTH network. All cases are different and lend themselves to different network topographies, equipment and business plans.

I knew when I started that different housing layouts would require different topologies. What I hadn't counted on was the sheer number of parameters that factor into the decision. It's not like you can just say that you want to run fiber to the home. Will that be PON or end-run? Will the deployment be arial or underground? Even if you narrow that one down you're faced with what type of underground deployment (direct-bury or in conduit, etc). Then you get into questions about what kind of fiber... The list of decisions goes on and on. Luckily I'm getting very good advice from people who want to see more fiber rollouts.

All this leaves me in a bit of a chicken/egg situation. I can't convince people to sign up for the network until I know how much it's going to cost and where it will run. However, I can't easily make many of these decisions regarding the network until I have a feel for their level of interest either (and if they'll let me dig in their yards). It's tough to show up at someone's door and ask them if they're interested if you can't give them details. That's probably exactly what I'm going to have to do though.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Backyard vs. Street / Jardin vs. Rue

I've been having some discussions offline with several experts the past few days that have been really helpful. They've mainly been about the physical network components and topology. I'll summarize the discussions soon (along with my key findings) but one of the most interesting ideas has been where to put the conduit/cables.

I decided that I wanted to do the project when I heard that all households were being asked to pay roughly EUR 2000 to redo the roads in our "residence". I couldn't think of a better time to put down conduit in the streets to run fiber.

It's never quite that easy though. There are a couple of issues I've run into that I'd never thought about before in my life. For example, I've been going to bed at night thinking about how I could traverse the concrete curbs between the road and the sidewalk which are not scheduled for repair. There is also the question of how we'll dig the trenches too.

One of the options put forward is that I could consider actually running the network through the back gardens of the homes - rather than the streets. There are some interesting possibilities there but also some challenges.

My French friends have explained that France has a long socialist history where people band together. BUT, one area where this does not apply is in housing residences. I saw this in the meeting I attended and can imagine that there may be owners who wouldn't allow us to dig through their gardens.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Network topology / Topologie du reseau

I'm very interested in getting an idea on how much this broadband rollout is going to cost, particularly for the different stages. However, I've realized that the first thing I need to do is to decide on the topology of the network.

Here's a view of our residence from the air. I've marked the outline of the area I want to cover in red. The yellow lines represent where I'm planning on putting down the fiber once the street is open. The yellow star in the middle is where I'll locate the concentrator (right next to the cable company's box). Finally, the Yvelines Numeriques network and our France Telecom Exchange are in green. (You can get an idea of relative sizes by comparing things to the tennis courts at the middle right edge of the picture).

Saint Nom La Breteche FTTH Map

Here are the current questions I'm working on:

  1. Does it make sense to run a dedicated conduit to each home in the residence?
  2. What about the 24 apartments (12 in each building)?
  3. Would it be best to have the conduit run all the way to each home or simply go to a small box in the ground just beyond the sidewalk - which would then require further trenching the last few meters when they signed up?

I'll post what I find.

Involvement of ISPs / Participation des autres opérateurs

A friend of mine in the residence is good friends with a key technical person for a very large ISP here in France. The two of them spoke about the project and we got some good feedback.

The technical friend explained that it would be very costly for us to try and tap into the Yvelines Numériques fiber backbone ourselves. That seems to be the message we're getting on all fronts. It's too bad. Nice network but too expensive for small-scale rollouts.

On the other hand, it sounded like he didn't rule out the possibility of a firm like his coming in and connecting into our small dark fiber network. That seems to be the way the project is evolving. Maybe the best way to move forward is to put the infrastructure in place in a way that makes it east for other operators to patch in and reach the end users. Bill WOODCOCK suggested making sure the conduit was ready and that there was space and electricity at the concentration point for other operators. I think that's excellent advice.

Any other comments, suggestions or experience welcome.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The association meeting / La réunion de l’association

Last night was the association meeting. It started at 8:30 PM and didn't end until about 12:30 AM. It was a very interesting introduction to how these associations work.

As with all good public meetings there had to be a bit of drama. We needed everyone in the residence represented in the room in order to vote on a particular issue that required unanimous agreement. The association leadership scrambled to get everyone there, including making last minute phone calls from the meeting, and finally succeeded. However, just then, someone got up, stormed out and went home without a word. We'll get to put that item BACK on the agenda for next year. :)

There was no decision on the roads either so we'll need another meeting on it probably in December. There are various rules about calling these meetings including the amount of notice you need to give people. I think they said they needed 3 months - but I'll check to make sure. The association made very good arguments for why the roads should be done now (e.g. more costly if we wait, possible significant tax hike). However, some of the residents wanted to have an architect come and give an expert opinion on what work was necessary before continuing. That means that I'll have some time to plan everything before the work actually has to be done. I see this as a good thing.

There were a few other things that struck me which will have an impact on the project. First, the residents who have lived there from the beginning (35 years) have a very different perspective on many of the issues than some of the younger couples now moving in. The longer-term residents seem less interested in fixing roads, replacing lamp posts etc. Second, I get the feeling that the EUR 2,000 required from each household to fix the roads will likely be much more difficult to pay for some households than others. There may be a income, as well as a generational division within the community.

From the discussions, I can tell it will be very difficult to get a large number of residents to pay up front to install the fiber. Probably the only way to get this off the ground is me putting it in and then renting lines back to the residents. I may have overestimated "willingness" and "ability to pay" from a good number of residents. That isn't to say that they won't pay for broadband or triple play over fiber. I believe most will. They just don't want the upfront risk for a network they don't really understand. Education may solve some of the problem but there are others who just simply won't connect. I'm still positive about the project though.

I did have time to speak to the people arranging the bids for the road work and told them that I'd like to have some trenching included in the overall bid - even if I have to pay the difference. Someone explained to me that putting in the trenches may be fairly easy and inexpensive once the road work had started. I'll have to look into that a bit more. There is also the question of whether we could use the existing ducts of Noos.

Even though we weren't able to come to a decision on the road I still feel there is sufficient support for the project to go forward.

Help from the Netherlands / Aide du Pays Bas

Today I received an e-mail from Dirk VAN DER WOUDE who is the broadband program manager for the city of Amsterdam. He passed along some great information that I'm going to start going through after the meeting this evening. I always figured the Netherlands would be one of the best places to look for examples. Dirk's information will be a big help.

One of the initial things he sent caught my eye in particular. It's a company in Sweden called Zitius which acts as a go-between for property owners and ISPs. From my understanding they operate and manage a network that allows 14 service providers to sell to any of the 50,000 homes they pass from one central location.

To me, it's a very interesting way to position themselves as a company. Certainly I think it would be great to get access to multiple providers via one pipe. I haven't heard of anything similar though here in France. There could be a market opening in areas with open-access fiber backbones for such a company to appear and cater specifically to local rollouts.

The interview Dirk passed along is from Benoît FELTEN’s blog (Fiberevolution). I don't know Benoît yet but I'm going to make an effort to. :)

The meeting with the residence association is tonight. This is going to probably be a make-or-break moment for the next year - particularly in regards to the work on the roads.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Discussions with James ENCK

This week I was able to spend some time speaking with James ENCK (of the universally revered EuroTelcoBlog) about fiber. I always look forward to talking with James because he really understands telecom markets and is such an entertaining speaker. In fact, I believe he's the only person I've ever seen get a standing ovation after a telecom presentation. :)

James examines telecommunication markets from a slightly different perspective than I do - as an investor. That's one of the reasons I was so interested to get his take on new fiber developments.

One of the themes to emerge from our discussion is how investors are starting to view telecommunication firms differently in general. There is a lot of talk in various telecom circles about the business moving towards a utility-type model with longer-term investing perspectives and predictable returns.

Now how I tie this idea back in with our network. We, as users and residents, are better at gauging demand than operators since we actually subscribe to the services and know our reservation prices. Operators, on the other hand, should be better at providing services than our small neighborhood (comparative advantage).

We can both benefit if our residence puts in the dark fiber once we determine there is sufficient demand. We may also be willing to pay a premium for the faster access than operators would be able to charge - given they typically have national pricing plans. This leads to our current stalemate situation. We may be willing to pay for better access but the operators figure it's not worth their while extending faster access to us at the national rates.

Our own fiber network helps resolve the stalemate by capturing some of the extra willingness to pay in the local network rollout in exchange for faster connections ahead of the market's current schedule. We can all win because there is less risk for the operator and faster connections for us.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Meeting with head of the association for our residence / Parler avec le president de notre residence

Saturday I walked down to talk to the head of our residence association about the fiber plan. He was very open to the idea of the project and we talked for about 30 minutes about what I think we should do. He said that he'd allow me a few minutes to make my case at the association meeting on June 13th.

In some ways it may be an uphill battle. The association has had trouble before convincing everyone that now is the time to redo the road. There seems to be a split among the younger residents (for the repairs) and older residents (against).

While we were talking he said that he could understand why I would want to put in the network but that the connection he has now is sufficient for their family. The mayor said the same thing when I met with him.

I think this highlights a challenge for all municipal or local rollouts. We don't appreciate what high-speed broadband can be used for when we haven't had access to it at home. It reminds me of a conference I attended a few years back where someone stood up and said that his software company of 10-15 people did just fine sharing an 64 kbit/s connection. There was an audible gasp in the room.

In these cases I typically explain how much bandwidth is required for one HDTV stream (10 Mbit/s). However, there are other applications I think will have an even larger impact on our everday lives. One of these will likely be teleworking. Sure, it hasn't panned out yet but all the new focus on reducing carbon emissions is bound to make it a more attractive option in the future.

Luckily the cable company Noos has done me a huge favor with the association president and others in the village. There is this rage directed at the company that lurks beneath the surface here among its subscribers. I've never seen anything like it with a company before. It's not just our village either. Noos was recently put under surveillance by the DGCCRF (Competition and Consumer Fraud Department of the Finance Ministry). The president of the association said that while his connection worked well that he had lots of difficulties with them over billing.

Noos is making selling this idea much easier.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Posts from the train

I've gone back to do some editing of posts for typos (not substance) which didn't come across clear the first time. I thought about correcting things I may have misunderstood at the time (not uncommon for me in English, let alone French) but decided against making the changes. I'd rather have this blog reflect the progression and that will mean correcting things I didn't understand in later posts. One example may turn out to be the reach of the Yvelines Numériques network. I assumed initially it went into Paris. Now I am fairly sure it doesn't. Big difference.

I also should explain that I write the posts on the train to and from work each day. Store and forward is alive and well. :)

Response from Yvelines Numériques / Réponse des Yvelines Numériques

Today I received an e-mail from the company running the Yvelines Numériques project (EIFFAGE Connectic 78). They explained that if I wanted to use their network I'd need to go through an ISP - which would then make the arrangements necessary for me to connect through the fiber backbone. I can understand that they would only deal with operators but the question is whether they will sell access to a new, small-scale operator.

I responded back just as I was leaving work with some information and a few more questions. I explained that we were in the process of speaking with ISPs about buying access through them or getting them to come patch into our network themselves. Then I put forward a few more questions:

  1. If talks with the large operators fail, would Yvelines Numériques be willing to work with us as a new (and small) ISP?
  2. Does your network terminate near or at an Internet exchange point?
  3. I've heard that your network may be underutilized. If that is the case would you consider selling access directly to municipal fiber projects (assuming there is access to an Internet exchange)?

I was happy to hear back from them and they did offer a phone contact - which is not available on the website. I may call them on Monday since my spoken French is likely somewhat easier to understand that my written French.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Brainstorming with Laurent / Brainstorming avec Laurent

One of the best people I've found to bounce ideas off of is Laurent at work. He's French, very smart, and someone who calls it like he sees it. He's also been such a wonderful resource in how to maneuver through the French bureaucracy. Laurent is the one who pointed me in the direction of speaking with the mayor and then the conseil général.

At the end of lunch today Laurent took a few minutes to sit down with me and go over the meeting with the mayor and the best way to proceed from here. He had many of the same feelings initially that the mayor repeated. Networks can be difficult beasts - even for engineers and I'm just an economist.

I found that putting together my arguments for Laurent helped me solidify some of the elements of the project myself in my head. He posed some pretty tricky questions about how I'm going to bring in Internet connectivity to reach the fiber network and I struggled to come up with answers.

One of his key points is that the small number of homes just isn't going to be attractive enough to competitive operators (such as Free) for them to come in and install their own equipment in our "residence". I think Laurent probably has a very good point here. However, I'm looking through the papers from the residence again on the train ride home and there are a totally of 26 homes and 24 apartments we could connect easily. That means 50 households in one swoop for a provider - particularly if there is just who chooses to take us up on the offer to come in.

I figure that 50 units would be comparable to a large apartment building and that could be seen as very attractive to an operator. That works out to EUR 1,500 a month (EUR 18,000 per year) in revenue at EUR 30 per household for broadband (the going rate in France). Assuming that EUR 10 per customer went to paying for and maintaining the local network there would still be EUR 12,000 per year of revenue left for the operator. I'll have to calculate how much their equipment and backhaul costs would be to get to but I think we'd be able to make a good case.

Should have said: "ensure unbundling"

You know, there was something I really wanted to mention to the mayor but forgot before I left. He mentioned that France Telecom wanted to upgrade the exchange. I should have told him that he should insert the requirement that in exchange for more land that they would need to build a space large enough to accommodate other operators and allow them to take unbundled local loops.

There's a good possibility that this would be required anyway by the ARCEP but I wanted to make sure that this exchange "upgrade" included the options for other operators to enter in and put in their own equipment.

Speaking with our mayor / Reunion avec notre maire

Today I met with the mayor of our village, Jean-Pierre GAUGENOT. I got lucky on two counts. First, he's an "informatician" (IT person) and second, he speaks English extremely well. That allowed me to jump into English when there were things I was having difficulty explaining.

It turns out he has a meeting with France Telecom scheduled for June 12th to discuss the future of their exchange in St Nom La Breteche (St Nom). I guess the municipality owns the land where it is currently located and France Telecom wants more land to expand. They've promised that they'll increase the size of the exchange (it's just for business connections now) and will give everyone in the village access to 8 Mbit/s connections with it. I quickly jumped in to say that wasn't enough.

He knew a lot about the fiber optic network from Yvelines Numeriques that passes by the town and said that he had given them the permission to build through. He wasn't sure that there was actually anyone using the network though. He mentioned that he would suggest they simply sell the network off to a private company. I figure there's little chance of that happening.

He bought up some very good points during our discussion that I'm going to have to eventually deal with.

  1. A private individual or even a "residence" isn't going to be able to get a permit to cross a city street. I'd have to start a small company in order to even apply. He made it seem as if that may not be very easy.
  2. There would be issues about who would be responsible for maintaining the network after it was built. He had concerns that it would be difficult to support when there were problems. I agreed and figuring out how to fix problems with the network when they pop up will be a key element of getting this off the ground.
  3. He also suggested that pushing changes here in our village isn't easy. He said that the people love the way St Nom is right now and the best municipal projects are the ones that don't change anything.

It's a bit difficult for me to judge his reaction from the meeting. By the end of the meeting though he seemed interested in the idea and offered several good suggestions on how to proceed. I took that as a good sign.

  1. He suggested that I try and partner with a big telecom provider to form a pilot FTTH project. He suggested contacting competitive operators to see if they'd be willing to help with the project as a model for future rollouts. I actually think that could be a good idea, particularly if I have to maneuver through a lot of red tape. I'm going to contact a few operators directly and ask them what they think.
  2. He suggested that I write a letter to our "Conseiller Général", Colette LE MOAL. She is the elected person over our larger region and is influential in the Departement. He recommended I spell out the project to her, telling her I'd already discussed it with him. He said they were good friends I can see how that could help. He mentioned that she may have someone better to recommend as the contact for our project at her level.
I'll go ahead with his ideas and try and move this forward quickly. I'd like to have a letter ready for Ms. LE MOAL before his meeting with France Telecom as well.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Possible backhaul problem

I was gathering up information to take with me to my meeting with the mayor this week when I ran across some pricing information for connecting to the fiber backhaul(Yvelines Numeriques). I read through their literature and realize that I may have a problem using their network.

Our Department had the right idea about creating a fiber optic backhaul network that runs throughout our area. We've seen similar rollouts work well all over the world. The government comes in, helps fund the backhaul, and then lets the private sector take over - typically with open access rules.

The only problem here is that they've seemed to have decided ahead of time who they want on the network - and new operators are not part of that group. Their own website states:

FRENCH: Le Conseil Général des Yvelines ne cherche pas à favoriser l’éclosion d’un nouvel opérateur de télécommunications. Il cherche en revanche à attirer les opérateurs existants.

[ENGLISH: The General Council of the Yvelines is not looking to promote the development of a new telecommunication operator. Instead, it is looking to attract existing operators.

Essentially the goal is to bring in existing operators to use France Telecom's existing copper lines to homes - not create new ones.

I believe that this reveals a lack of a longer-term vision when they developed the project. From what I understand they've had trouble attracting the big operators to come and rent capacity to reach the local exchanges. To make matters worse, a French colleague of mine explained that they're locked into the terms of the contract for the 20 years of the "concession".

This seems to be their plan. They built the network mainly to help with local loop unbundling. Operators can lease fiber backhaul to local telecommunication exchanges and then rent copper lines directly to homes from there. The costs are probably too expensive for smaller operators.

They gave some of the pricing on the web. The entry-level price for a fiber strand is EUR 0.70 per meter per year. I initially wanted to run a connection back into Paris but that would be over 20 KM - if they even go that far. I did a few calculations and figured that I'd really need a much larger subscriber base even make the backhaul pay for itself. The minimum cost of taking a fiber from our village towards Paris would be EUR 14,000 per year. We'd have to spread that among a large number of households to make it even start to pay for itself - and that doesn't include the other costs of our own network or transit at the Internet exchange.

I may need to start looking into whether it would be possible to either buy capacity from a larger player or have them come to us.

Appointment with the mayor of St Nom / RDV avec le Maire de St Nom

I was at work today and I received a call on my cell from the Mairie of St Nom La Breteche. I have an appointment to see him about the project in two days at 10 AM. I'm going to have to ask my boss to let me come in late.

I don't know what kind of information to take with me to the meeting. I thought about some reports that we've written (which are translated into French) but it will probably be better just to speak with him, ask about what is going on in the village and explain what I'd like to do.

Monday, June 4, 2007

DSL progress in St Nom? / Progrès de DSL à St Nom?

I rode the train home with two of my friends from the residence today (Patrick and Pascal). We talked about the project a bit and Patrick explained that France Telecom was working on building a large exchange (NRA) not too far from where we live, just across from the current (unused) exchange. The current exchange is very small (about the size of 2 refrigerators next to each other) and only serves business clients. However, he said that the new exchange is under construction just across the street from the current one and that it would be online in October. That would mean that our broadband options could increase dramatically around that time.

This is something I'd really like to speak with the Mayor about because it may have implications for the fiber project. Even if they did upgrade our DSL I think it would be crazy not to lay fiber down if we are re-doing the roads.

Patrick also explained that Noos, the cable company, has ducts in the street that maybe we could use. I figure it's probably going to be easier if we simply lay our own PVC pipe but it's something I'm going to look into. I was encouraged that both Patrick and Pascal seemed excited about the project.

The conseil général / Le conseil général

One of my good friends at work gave me a good introduction to how things work on a political level here in France. I have to admit that I'm a bit daunted by the prospect of trying to work through the French system to put in this fiber. However, my French friends are a huge help and have given me some very good leads.

One of the suggestions was that I start moving my requests from the mayor up through the conseil général (the higher governing body). One of my coworkers looked through the village web site and located the names of people up the political chain whom I should contact after the mayor. My friend Laurent explained that it would be important to get convince the Mayor that the project was worthwhile and then ask him to draft a letter to the conseil général, Colette LE MOAL.

I'll put together my information for the Mayor and then work on the best way to move this up the political ladder.

Calling the mayor / Appel au maire

Today I called the office of the Mayor of St Nom La Breteche (Jean-Pierre GAUGENOT) to make an appointment to see him. I didn't exactly know how to go about it so I talked to one of my French coworkers and he explained the process. My colleague said that it would be good to start with the Mayor to find out if anything else was going on in the city. It's important as well that he be on board with the project since we'd need his support to cross over any roads with the network.

The Mayor's office asked me some questions about what I wanted to speak to him about and then said they'd call me back on my mobile phone to make the appointment.

IP addresses as a barrier to entry / Les adresses IP comme barrière à l'entrée

IP addresses are something I tended to take for granted. However, today I looked into getting a range of IP addresses for the first time and came away from it a bit shocked by the prices. I figure I only need "one class C" set of addresses (254 IP addresses) but it looks as if I have to pay the same registration fee as all other ISPs to to be a member for a year. I may have it wrong but it seems as if you have to pay the same price, regardless of size.

RIPE: New Member Information

There is a EUR 2000 sign-up fee and then yearly dues of EUR 1300. Again, the system seems to favor companies with scale, rather than a start-up looking to connect a small number of houses.

I'm debating what to do on the addresses because the feeling is IPv4 addresses will all be gone shortly. It would probably be a wise decision to get some while they're still around.

On the other hand, EUR 3000 would buy a good amount of fiber or conduit. I'm going to hold off on the IP addresses as well until I figure out if I'm going to be running my own ISP or just providing dark fiber to others.

Friday, June 1, 2007

No word yet from Yvelines Numériques / Pas de nouvelle des Yvelines Numériques

I haven't heard back from Yvelines Numérique yet. They are one of the big wildcards here in the project. I need to splice into their network to get from our village to one of the Internet exchanges in Paris. The price they'll charge for a fiber pair will set this project in one of two paths.

If the price is affordable then I think I'll stick with the option of becoming my own small ISP. However, if we have to sign up for a 30 year contract with them (and pay it up front), then that may not be an option. In that case I'd probably put in the duct infrastructure and fiber but wait for another operator to come along and light it.

I'm hoping their lack of response isn't the result of my terrible French. I've been warned by several French friends that this project could be an introduction to the French bureaucracy as well.

Bill's advice on conduits, electricity and perserverance / Conseil sur des conduits, l'électricité, persévérance

Bill from PCH sent along the link to his presentation which covers a lot of good ideas for the project. His presentation is tailored to a large rollout but the ideas seem to be the same for the smaller type of rollout that I'm interested in. Regulating Communications Infrastructure for Growth (PDF presentation, 2 MB) Bill had some other great points in his e-mail that I think are worth repeating:
  1. "If the roads are going to actually be _open_, then you probably want to put in home-runs of conduit from each house to a street junction box (either on the sidewalk, or in a manhole, if you can afford that), so that all new communications utilities can share it, and then put in several bigger conduit from that box out to the edges of the community, where they can meet up with utility providers."
  2. "Having [the end runs] already in place (and if possible, power available from the electrical utility, in the box) will make you a lot more attractive for other people's deployments, as well. Once you've got the conduit in, copper and fiber are really easy, and you might as well do both. Moreover, you don't have to do all the houses at once. If only some of the neighbors want to do it, they can get copper or fiber pulled through the conduit later. All at once will be cheaper on a per-house basis, but if you can only get buy-in from a few of them, that's no problem either. The conduit is the most important part."
  3. "Don't underestimate how much work this is going to be. Pace yourself. Don't get upset with yourself if you're only halfway done, a year from now. This is the kind of thing that's vastly more expensive if you rush it, but can be economical if you wait for bargains and synergies."
This will be a longer-term project and there are still a lot of significant hurdles but the journey is going to be fun.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bill Woodcock from Packet Clearing House / Bill Woodcock de Packet Clearing House

I was lucky to be at a meeting last week with Bill Woodcock from Packet Clearing House. I don't know of anyone in the world who knows more about Internet traffic exchange and I spent all night at dinner asking him quesitons about the project. I'm an economist - not an engineer - so parts of the discussion went over my head. However, he had some excellent ideas on the network architecture.

His suggestion was to run a 48 strand fibre assembly from the point where we connect into the backbone network back into our own group of houses. He suggested we locate the midpoint in the residence to terminate the fiber connection. From there we could run copper (or fiber) for the last 100 meters to each home and still be capable of gigabit speeds. This would require someone to put the equipment in their basement - or at least at the side of their house.

He also was able to pull together some numbers based on what I said we wanted. Of course we don't know how much it will cost to patch into the backbone network but he figured of the top of his head that we'd be able to put together the network for under EUR 24,000 to reach the 24 homes. I'm going to start looking into the equipment I'd need on the ends of the connections to get a firm idea.

He also told me he has a presentation that Packet Clearing House gives about setting up larger-scale networks but that the same principles would apply to smaller networks. I wrote to him today to ask if he could pass it along.

Contacting Yvelines Numériques / Contacter Yvelines Numériques

Today I wrote an e-mail to Yvelines Numériques to ask about splicing into their fiber in our village. I decided to send the letter off in my bad French rather than wait to have someone go through it and perfect it. That may have been a mistake but I figure I'd rather get as much information as quickly as possible. I've asked them how much it will cost to splice in and then how much I'll need to pay for connectivity per month to reach one of the Internet exchanges in Paris. I specifically asked about the prices to reach POUIX or PARIX.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The bad news / La mauvaise nouvelle

We live close to fiber but that doesn't mean that we're going to be able to afford splicing into it. I was at a conference in Paris earlier in the week and spoke with several backhaul carriers who were familiar with the Yvelines Numeriques project. They mentioned that since it was open access and non-discriminatory that meant that I would have to pay as much for a fiber line as a large telco which was unbundling at the exchange. That makes sense to me (from an economic perspective) but does imply that our little residential project may run up against scale economy problems. One possiblity is that we'll be able to make the initial splice and pay for capacity which can then be resold in bits to other neighborhoods in the village which may be interested.

The other bad news could be the road construction. It seems as if several neighbors have been against spending EUR 2000 each to upgrade our roads. I spoke to my wife and she thought the roads were in perfectly good shape and would probably recommend holding off on doing the road work if it were up to her. That could pose a problem - or maybe just end up leaving us another year to work out the details.

The good news / La bonne nouvelle

One of the main reasons I think this project could work is that we live very close to an open-access fibre backbone ring running throughout our French department (Les Yvelines - 78). Our community (residence) within the village has 24 homes, one apartment building and a few commercial shops. At the closest point we're less than 100 meters from the fibre running down the main street of the village and then out to the rest of the department.

From my understanding the fiber ring project, Yvelines Numeriques, was built to provide companies using unbundled local loops a way to connect to local exchanges. We happen to be geographically very close to the network so the civil engineering costs should be quite low to reach the fiber ring.

The other good news is our "residence" will vote next month on whether we should pay to have our roads redone. Our road is private and we're looking at roughly EUR 110,000 to redo it - spread among the residents. If the road work does go ahead then this would be an excellent opportunity to lay the fiber.

There also seems to be a lot of support from people in the neighborhood for such a project. Everyone has trouble with their broadband connections. Our DSL was out for 4 weeks straight in April and others have had similar problems. A few people in our village work in telecommunications and others have jobs that rely heavily on Internet connections. I believe that take-up could be high, particularly among the newer residents.

Intro: The project / Intro: Le projet

I'm a telecommunications economist in Paris and I spend a lot of time thinking about and using broadband. We've chosen to live in a beautiful area of southwest Paris but one which has limited broadband options. In fact, broadband is terrible for everyone in our village. The incumbent operator (France Telecom) hasn't upgraded our own exchange for DSL and that means that people in the village are connected through one of two towns, each roughly 5 km away.

I subscribe to broadband via DSL and cable. At 4.5 km from the DSL exchange I receive 1 Mbit/s via the competitive operator Free - too slow for me to take advantage of their IPTV offer for example. I also subscribe to Noos for cable Internet. I pay for a 30 Mbit/s connection but receive only 3 Mbit/s - and even that is traffic shaped. Even 200 euros of calls to the helpline at 34 cents a minute hasn't solved the problem. I am not alone. It seems that almost everyone I speak with here has similar problems and people are getting fed up.

There is talk around town that France Telecom has offered to upgrade the exchange if the town will pay the costs (roughly EUR 50K). I say no. We're going to build this network ourselves. We are going to bring our own broadband to our homes.

Our goal is simple. We want a fiber to the home network capable of gigabit speeds which will be open to services from any operator. I've spent enough time writing about "open access" networks and infrastructure-based competition at work. Now it's time to get down and dirty and build one myself.

I've decided to keep a journal of my experiences along the way in case someone wants to replicate a similar rollout. This certainly won't be the first of it's kind. That honor probably goes to Måttgränd, Sweden. I'll be contacting them shortly for advice. However, I hope this project will show whether it is indeed possible for a small provider to roll out FTTH without economies of scale.