Housing developers are now advertising "state-of-the-art fiber-optic connectivity" for new condos and new housing, but one has to look carefully - fiber-optic connectivity comes in many forms and ownership models are as important as technology.
This point was brought home to me last night as I skimmed the February issue of Broadband Properties magazine (which just arrived on my doorstep this week!). Two successive articles displayed two extremes in a range of home-owner control over fiber access.
The first article, Sunset Summits: Bringing Fiber to a South Carolina Greenfield, Q&A with Developer Jeff Hesla and Kent Brown of AFL Telecommunications, tells how developer Jeff Hesla installed dual point-to-point fiber pairs from every home to the community center at Sunset Summits in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Unlike the passive optical networks (PON) being installed by Verizon for their FiOS service and by many other communities, point-to-point means every home has a direct fiber connection to a hub point. Thus electronics can be upgraded on a per-home basis at any time. In addition, since fibers are dedicated, the ultimate capacity is much larger than with PON. At Sunset Summits they went further and put in two pairs of fiber per home - one for IP services (Internet connectivity) and the other for RF video, i.e. traditional cable TV technology.
Of course there is still a question of who owns the fiber - does each home owner have control of their fiber? does the home owners association own all the fiber? does the developer retain ownership? or has it been sold to a monopoly service provider. Obviously home owner control, or at least control through the home owners association, is desirable. It's what I'd want if I were purchasing a home in any such development.
The following article, The Law: Master Communications Easements in the Fiber Age, By Jeffry L. Hardin and James N. Moskowitz, Fleischman and Walsh, LLP, was the shocker for me. I'm well aware of developers building fiber networks and then selling them off to the local monopolist, but this is the first time I've read a detailed article on how a developer can set up fiber ownership so as to maximize developer control and developer revenue, at the expense of the future home owners.
Among other things, the article describes ways to structure a master communications easement so the developer remains in control, even after the roads have been turned over to the local town government. More than that, the article suggests a perimeter or "moat" easement around the inside boundary of the development to effectively seal off community residents from any service provider other than the developer or the developer's chosen partner. Yes, such a moat could be defeated by a point-to-point optical or radio link, but what a hassle (and expense).
So, if you are thinking of buying a home in a new community and you're promised "state-of-the-art fiber-optic connectivity," read the fine print.