UK – Will Anti-Piracy ISPs Fuel Appetite for Fiber-Optic Connections?

After reading the news that ISPs in Britain surrendered to pressure and agreed to fight piracy, some users may not know all of their options to avoid possible false accusations.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Now, it seems, a company is rolling out fibre optics for users lucky enough to live in the right city and offering to sell the connection outright.

We’ve been following the story of British ISPs caving to pressure and agreeing to fight piracy for some time. We noted that the government was also behind the move when a leaked letter stated that they would cut down internet piracy by 80%. Microsoft said that 54% of UK kids are file-sharers shortly afterwards. We also recalled Blanks and Postage as one option to bi-pass the ISPs prying eyes and noted that Swedish ISPs criticised the UK ISPs move. As an added bonus, we reported on an Australian ISP that points out that filtering technology can’t determine the difference between an unauthorized file and a legit file on a file-sharing network.

We continue our coverage of this developing story with something that, on the surface, may not seem related, but seems, nevertheless, a very interesting point to add in our coverage. Think Broadband is reporting that a company called H2O Networks is rolling out fiber-optics in a pilot project in the city of Bournemouth. It basically takes advantage of the already existing sewer networks in the city to install fiber-optics so that less road would have to be torn up to roll it out. Residents of the city reportedly received recently letters that said that they could get in on the deal, but had 28 days to respond (26 left as of this writing)

The thing that’s rather unique about this internet service is that it’s not just another ISP a customer would have to sign up for and pay a monthly bill. This service allows customers to simply buy their own internet connection outright. No monthly fee and no going through an ISP.

Skeptics will likely note that the price isn’t exactly the most advertised part of the offer, but ThinkBroadband comments with the following:

The cost of installing fibre to the premises (FTTP) is often quoted at as much as £1,000 per property. Residents in Bournemouth in the area where the Fibrecity network is to be deployed will be receiving a letter giving them a 28-day window to indicate that they would like Fibrecity to connect their home to the fibre network for free with no obligation to take any actual service.

H2O Networks was the company that rolled out the fiber-optics in the sewer system.

Bournemouth isn’t the only city being wired up with fiber-optics. Dundee in Scotland is also a part of this pilot project.

This isn’t the first of its kind project. In Canada, CANARIE is testing out its own version of the fiber optics pilot project. Derek Slater explained the idea in the Google Policy blog:

The main challenges with this model are economic, rather than technical. Most importantly, ownership has to be made appealing and affordable to consumers. The construction company is using conservative estimates that only 10% of homeowners will sign up and there will be a per-customer cost of $2700. If you assume 50% take-up, then the per-customer cost drops to $1100. Both figures might seem like a lot, but people pay for a variety of improvements to their home — like remodeled kitchens, or a deck — that also cost large sums.

This model faces other significant obstacles as well and it may only be possible in certain circumstances, if it’s practical at all. But the only way to really figure that out is to experiment. Cable television started out as CATV — community antenna television, an experiment by individual entrepreneurs and rural towns to deliver broadcast signals across longer distances. The Internet started as an experiment in the research community before becoming the worldwide network we know today.

It’s also worth considering that, as recently as a few decades ago, personal telephones were unheard of — the telephone was owned by Bell and simply part of the network. Similarly, the very idea of a “personal” computer used to seem ridiculous, and people relied on sharing access to mainframes. Sure, there are differences between owning your own computer and your own Internet connection, but perhaps one day we may see that the differences weren’t as great as we thought.

Even if this experiment fails, it can be a worthwhile data point in discussions about broadband deployment. We need as much creative thinking as we can get to determine how to deliver fast, open Internet for everyone.

Fibrecity, the company promoting the British fiber-optics project says the connection speeds are about “100mps” (100 MB per second?) For those worried about being targeted by their own ISP for alleged copyright infringement and those who are looking for a fast internet connection alternative, the deal seems rather enticing.

Some are already hoping that the project is a success. Some may hope that there’ll finally be an end to the comfortable oligopoly British telecom companies sat on for several years – putting pressure on them to improve their services as suggested by carpetburn of ThinkBroadband.

It’ll be interesting to see if the fiber-optics idea spreads to other cities around the world. What’ll be more interesting is to see what the implications would be in the file-sharing community should the project be successful.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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