Small Telcos in the Big Picture

Posted by John Sarkis on May 18, 2021 11:53:49 AM
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With the first quarter of performance testing behind us, we’d like to reflect on how our stamper technology performed. As we rolled out hundreds of stamper box devices across the United States, our years of experience in telecom were put to the test to adapt to new challenges that performance measures testing created. 

While CAF-II has been widely pursued by larger service providers, we’ve worked mostly with small to medium-sized telcos using the lesser known program called A-CAM (Alternate Connect America Cost Model). The A-CAM model is paying slightly over $1 billion per year for ten years and will support a broadband upgrade to 4.9 million households in underserved areas of the United States. Previously, larger telcos with CAF-II funding were aiming at deploying broadband to rural communities at a minimum of 10/1 speeds. With the A-CAM model, nearly half of the money is aimed at supplying rural homes with at least 25/3 Mbps, with the rest aimed at the same slower 10/1 threshold as the CAF II program for the bigger telcos.

In our experience we’ve found that these smaller providers that we work with are using the A-CAM funds to go above and beyond the 4/1, 10/1, and even 25/3 requirements. We’ve seen many build permanent new fiber networks to rural towns, upgrade locations to DSL, and install new hardware inside and outside customer’s homes. We’ve found that more than a few locations were even providing higher speeds than what they are provisioned for; so while customers are paying for 25/3 speeds, in some instances they are actually getting closer to 100/100 (mbps) at no extra cost to the customer. 

Since the first quarter of performance testing was considered part of the pre-testing phase, carriers do not risk penalties for failing to meet speed and latency standards. This gives them the chance to become familiar with the process of collecting data and submitting it to the USAC Portal, while still deploying new infrastructure to their service area. For us, this provided an opportunity to learn more about the USAC’s requirements and better understand how rural broadband providers are implementing high-speed internet access to remote areas.  

There were a few instances where providers had installed new hardware to homes with stamper devices and asked us to run some tests for them to make sure everything was working properly. These tests give us the ability to perform an analysis on each location’s settings to uncover not only the main concerns; which test locations pass, and fail requirements, but also other analytics that have been proven useful to providers. Speed and Latency tests reveal peak usage times, where your services excelled, along with areas that could use attention to improve tests in the coming quarters. 

There are a few different factors that go into why tests might fail. Some reasons include testing during peak customer activity hours (Usually around 9 pm), faulty or older hardware, or other less obvious reasons. In our experience, there’s often not just one or two locations in an area that fail speed or latency tests. Usually if there’s a problem with one location, other Hubb Locations in the area will report similar results. This however, can lead to an easy fix. For example, let’s say that all Hubb Locations in Town X consistently fail download tests. Once we show the provider these results, we ask “what is different about Town X that can be causing these failures?”. Usually there is something different about the area that we can pinpoint as the fault behind the failed tests. Uncovering these issues early leads to ironing out the kinks before the pretesting phase ends, and in turn, helps bring dependable broadband access to entire rural communities.

A non-compliant Hubb Location isn’t a failure, but more an opportunity. 

At the end of the day, the goal of Performance Measure Testing isn’t just about complying with FCC regulations, but more to give underserved rural communities equal opportunities that have largely been overlooked in recent years. In a fast-moving world that continues to move towards online dependence, bridging the digital divide is more important than ever. 

Looking towards the future. 

As we continue to work with our partners, we aim to make sure that every Hubb Location is compliant before the start of 2022. We’re confident that with each passing quarter we will progressively move closer to that goal, and look forward to continuing to work with providers to deploy our stampers to more locations across the country. 

As CAF II and A-CAM wind down, RDOF Phase I plans to disperse $9.2 billion to target wholly unserved census blocks, defined as those blocks where no location receives 25/3 Mbps broadband. It’s estimated that over 5.2 million unserved homes and businesses around the country will benefit from this plan, and the FCC noted that cable operators, electric cooperatives, incumbent telephone companies, satellite companies, and fixed wireless providers were among the winners. We are looking forward to finding out more about RDOFs testing requirements and would love to continue to work with telcos of all sizes to work towards a better future for rural broadband.

Thanks for reading!

Topics: Telecom Data Analytics, connect america fund, A-CAM