1. Broadband Stimulus Winner ION Jumpstarts Carrier Ethernet for Other Carriers

    CEN Feature (Nov 1 2012)

    1. Broadband Stimulus Winner ION Jumpstarts Carrier Ethernet for Other Carriers

      In late 2009 when broadband stimulus funding was awarded to ION by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) administrators focused heavily on what they called “middle mile” projects that brought high-speed open access broadband connectivity to community anchor institutions in rural areas. These anchor institutions include hospitals, schools, libraries and government buildings. By focusing on those areas, administrators hoped to maximize the impact of the stimulus program on local communities, as many people would benefit from connectivity to those institutions.

      There was another idea behind this approach:  Once a high-speed open access network was available in a community, last-mile service providers would be able to make a business case for deploying broadband to individual homes and businesses. This approach appears to be working, as a project from fiber network operator ION in rural New York State illustrates, according to Jim Becker, CEO & President of ION, the Independent Optical Network.

      ION’s Network

      ION won a broadband stimulus award to expand an existing fiber network that already connected many rural New York communities. This middle mile fiber network now connects many more communities and serves anchor institutions in connected communities, said ION Vice President Joe Calzone. As part of the project, ION also brought fiber to numerous rural independent telephone company central offices with greater broadband coverage in the individual communities.

      At the request of several other service providers, ION recently began deploying Carrier Ethernet access platforms in ILEC central offices in ION communities, thereby enabling the other service providers to easily gain access to last-mile ILEC copper connections to individual customer locations and to use those connections to deliver Carrier Ethernet service. When merited, ION also brings fiber to certain business locations or to wireless towers. Anchor institutions always get fiber.

      Interest on the part of anchor institutions has been strong, Calzone said. Services for those institutions typically are delivered by one of ION’s wholesale customers, who purchase a Carrier Ethernet connection from ION and layer other value-added services, such as VOIP or cloud services, on top.

      Universities, in particular, “are very receptive to having an alternative provider on campus,” said Calzone. Although universities and other anchor institutions don’t always cancel their existing service, he said they are usually willing to sign up an alternative provider as backup.

      Carrier Ethernet over Copper

      It’s too soon to know what take rates for ION’s Carrier Ethernet-over-copper offering ultimately will be, but Calzone sees strong interest in the offering from other service providers, who tend to fall into three distinct groups.  Wireless ISPs offering fixed wireless service are seeking connectivity to their towers. Cellular network operators also need connectivity to towers to support burgeoning mobile data demand. And local economic development groups and businesses are looking to bring Carrier Ethernet into business parks and other business locations – or locations that could support new businesses locating in the community.

      When a service provider customer needs to serve an end user business location, ION provides a connection from the end location to the carrier’s point of presence, which may include both a last-mile link and local or regional transport across the ION network.

      “What we’ll do is install fiber into their switch room in the larger cities so that they’re on-network to us and we can provide them Ethernet transport to underserved communities,” explained Calzone.

      ION’s Roots

      Funding for ION’s initial network, constructed in 2005-2007 came from several rural independent telcos that were seeking a more economical and reliable connection to access tandem switches, Internet Service Providers or cable TV head-ends. Previously, the carriers relied on connections from the large incumbent carriers, which typically had little or no competition.

      “Those connections were not robust, protected or cost-effective and a real impediment to growing their business,” said Calzone.

      ION’s initial 2,200-mile network later attracted the attention of Atlantic Tele-Network, which invested in the company and is now the majority owner. The broadband stimulus award helped fund the addition of 1,300 miles to the ION network.

      Although ION’s grant is covering a large percentage of network construction costs, Calzone noted that “at the end of the day we have to come up with a minority percentage -- and we’re totally responsible for the ongoing operational expenses.”

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