A STRING OF EVENTS DURING THE SECOND half of 2004 created a hopeful climate that led home technology partisans to believe that 2005 is the year more builders and developers will start marketing home technology as a mainstream product.

First, in mid-October, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that the major telephone companies don't have to lease new fiber installations to competitors for greenfield projects. Although the telecoms must open up existing copper lines to competitors when they upgrade to fiber, the FCC ruling was viewed as a positive step that will let the telecoms more easily deploy fiber-to-the-home and related services at new construction projects. The hope is that the telecoms will bring much needed price competition to the cable companies, many of which have operated as monopolies in local markets for decades.

Next, long-awaited initiatives by large telecoms Verizon and SBC to roll out fiber-to-the-home, next-generation technology that promises gigabit-speed bandwidth and a more stable platform for home entertainment and automation, and Web applications.

Verizon now offers fiber-based Internet access at speeds of up to 30 megabits-per-second (Mbps) in nine states. Verizon plans to make fiber available to some two million homes and businesses in 2005. SBC plans to make fiber optics available to 18 million households by the end of 2007. Although no specific deals with builders were announced at press time, SBC's commitment to fiber was another indication that the telecoms are serious.

Then, finally, a large telecom—Verizon—finally had a major fiber success story: the 6,000-home Brambleton project in Loudoun County, Va. Brambleton is well into phase one, with 655 of the 680 units now occupied. Brambleton residents receive voice services through Verizon and high-speed Internet access and video services through Gatehouse Networks. Residents pay $125 a month for high-speed access up to 1.5 Mpbs and 80 cable channels. All the voice, high-speed access, and video services are delivered over Verizon's fiber network.

Tom Reiman, president of the Broadband Group in Sacramento, Calif., the consultant that developed the technology master plan for Brambleton, says that builders and developers need to look beyond the so-called triple play of voice, high-speed access, and video services.

“When a community adopts a technology master plan, more products will evolve beyond voice, data, and video,” says Reiman, who adds that the increased bandwidth fiber offers can deliver more entertainment options and make possible integrated services such as security, life safety, HVAC, and meter reading.

Another success story for Reiman's Broadband Group is Palmetto Bluff, a 20,000-acre development in Bluffton, S.C. Crescent Resources, the project's developer, struck a deal with local service provider Hargray Communications last fall to deliver a fiber-based, voice, data, and video package that also offers residents a data-on-demand service.

The idea behind data-on-demand is that residents pay for increased bandwidth only when they are using the service. Since many of the units are vacation homes, residents would pay $25.95 per month when the home isn't being used, but they could pay $59.95 for 768-kilobits-per-second service or $119.95 for 1.5-Mpbs service whenever they need the added bandwidth.

Yet another important development was the marketing agreement between Verizon and Pulte Homes that called for Verizon to install fiber at four Pulte communities in California. At press time, Pulte was promoting voice and high-speed access through Verizon and video services via the local cable provider. Pulte's plan is to offer residents Verizon's video offering once the large telecom's anticipated video service becomes available. Verizon officials say the company will release more details about its video strategy sometime soon.