Shorter loops, less collocation, more conflict?

It's easy to be down on DSL if you think of DSL only in its original guise as a local carrier service provided out of traditional central offices. On that basis, Bell company mismanagement and competitive carrier turmoil makes the DSL outlook questionable and even unnerving.

But DSL is not just a service, it's a technology. It's popping up in new places as a complementary component to high-speed services wherever copper lives -- down the block, across the street and up building risers. Everyone from makers of passive optical network gear or fiber-to-the-curb systems to multi-tenant service providers are looking at DSL to complete the broadband connection to end users.

Sure, Verizon has backed out of its planned merger with DSL provider NorthPoint. But in a much less noticed development, Verizon last month closed its acquisition of OnePoint Communications, an in-building telecom provider, and renamed the unit Verizon Avenue. Verizon set up the rationale for the OnePoint merger as DSL -- but this time, DSL that's guaranteed to be within distance and loop-conditioning restrictions because the copper is fed out of in-building switching hubs serving a building, block or neighborhood.

Now here's the catch. As market watcher Current Analysis pointed out in a Jan. 2 report on the transaction that created Verizon Avenue, anytime a Bell company tries to move DSL closer to the customer it creates a built-in collocation conflict with its competitors. It's one thing for CLECs to demand and win the right to put DSLAMs in a dominant local carrier's central office. It's another thing to ask the carrier to cram competitors' equipment into common wiring closets in apartment and office buildings. How realistic is that?

Pro-competitive regulatory principles would appear to give competitors leeway to start asking Verizon Avenue to share its precious share in the buildings for which it has contracts -- currently representing 690,000 housing units, with a planned increase to 2 million in the next few years. But if all that accomplishes is to tie up the Verizon subsidiary in regulatory fights and slow down deployment, what will have really been accomplished?

We've already gotten a taste of this in the battle over SBC's Project Pronto, which moves the DSL termination point to next-generation neighborhood terminals. (We pulled back the cover on the entire Pronto fight in the just-published Network World Power Issue, in an article I authored called "The fight for fiber and copper," available at: http://www.nwfusion.com/power2000/power-strsbc/power-strsbc.html.) Obviously the government can't mandate that every CLEC jam its equipment into remote terminals the way they can in central offices. Now we're down to a likely fight over space in wiring closets. How can you referee access rights there?

I'm not choosing sides in this potential fight. I'm only pointing out that the laudable goal of shortening up the DSL loop -- especially important for such flavors as VDSL or copper services that run multiples of T-1 bit rates -- is inherently in conflict with government intervention to ration public-carrier access rights. As loops get shorter, the termination sites get smaller, and the collocation space gets tighter.

It 's useful to remember that while incumbent carriers rule the world of central offices, it's actually competitors who led the way in shared tenant services. Intermeddia's Advanced Building Networks, which recently committed to a huge DSL buildout, leads the market, and a dozen so-called BLECs, or building local exchange carriers, are pouring in behind them. I know the name Verizon Avenue has just been created, so it won't appear in a lot of articles at first. But make a mental note of it and watch for the next time you see it referenced this year. Whether the context is a service rollout or a regulatory matter will tell you a lot about this side of the mass-market DSL puzzle in 2001.

This story, "Shorter loops, less collocation, more conflict?" was originally published by Network World.

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