10 October 2003 New Orleans, LA Lightwave -- While much of the attention directed toward the fiber to the home (FTTH) market has focused on the BellSouth/SBC/Verizon RFP, this week's FTTH Council conference in New Orleans demonstrated that most of the action continues to reside at the local level. The demographics of the nearly 1200 attendees -- twice last year's total -- as well as the conference content reflected the fact that municipalities, utilities, and real estate developers remain the catalyst for most FTTH infrastructure development. Upcoming judicial and regulatory rulings will determine if this remains the case.
The conference program, which ran from October 7 through 9, featured three tracks: technology, business case considerations, and FTTH basics. Many of the presentations were pitched at a level suitable for listeners not already telecommunications veterans, and several of the case histories reflected deployments by utilities and "munis." The angle is not surprising, given the fact that in its comments to the FCC as part of the run up to the final Triennial Review order, Corning said that of the 47 communities in the United States that "enjoy widespread FTTH deployment," competitive carriers had deployed fiber loops to 44,890 homes, compared to the incumbents' 4,000 (and only 400 of these were the work of the ex-Bells); municipalities accounted for loops to 18,100 homes.
Recent research from Render, Vanderslice & Associates put the number of homes passed at 180,300, of which 64,700 have taken advantage of FTTH to receive service. The number of communities with FTTH architectures is now 94.
The ability of municipalities to remain one of FTTH's primary engines will hinge in large part on a Supreme Court decision expected next year. At issue is whether the provision in the Telecom Act of 1996 that "any entity" can provide telecommunications services includes municipalities. Several states have ruled that it does not; in three recent court cases, two of the three decisions have come down in favor of the municipalities.
Another uncertainty revolves around the Triennial Review, which has currently engendered the expected barrage of lawsuits and petitions for reconsideration. One petition to watch comes from BellSouth, which has asked the FCC to include its current fiber to the curb (FTTC) deployments in the order's definition of FTTH, which would free BellSouth from most unbundling requirements. FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin, speaking Tuesday at the conference, stopped short of stating directly that he would be against granting BellSouth's petition, but his comments were widely taken to mean just that. For its part, the FTTH Council has not yet taken a position on the matter, according to Leonard Ray, chairman of the council's Governmental Relations Committee. However, he restated the council's position that it is important for FCC rulings to provide incentives for further build outs of FTTH infrastructure.
-- S. Hardy