American Crafts' New Muse is UTOPIA

If you are a 21st century crafter, you are probably prolific at finding inspiration online. You may be familiar with American Crafts of Orem for ideas or products. The company, founded in 1994, is now a customer of UTOPIA and reports significant bandwidth improvement after the switch from old T-1 connections. From the UTPOIA blog:

With a robust e-commerce presence, American Crafts has to rely on its network. According to Kris Barlow, IT Manager, before switching to UTOPIA, the firm used a single T-1 connection, along with two additional T-1 connections to connect a remote warehouse in Provo. “Our Provo location was using an iProvo connection at the time. By switching to UTOPIA, we could use a single fiber connection to our headquarters building which provided much faster Internet speeds—up to 10 Mbps on our service plan, as compared with traditional T-1 speeds.”

Barlow also notes how the switch has allowed the company to consolidate headquarters and warehouse locations. Reliablity has also been a key improvement:

“In the three years that we've had UTOPIA service, I can remember only two or three service interruptions, all of which were resolved within the same day and were not related specifically to our connection,” he says. “Using the UTOPIA network has allowed us to drastically reduce the fee that we pay for Internet service when compared to the T-1 connections we were previously using, all while also drastically increasing the bandwidth of the connection.”

Because UTOPIA is open access, the company could keep the same phone provider, as it is an ISP on the UTOPIA network. The switch was seamless:

“This allowed for us to simply add the UTOPIA service to our current provider’s bill and allowed us to avoid the hassle of establishing a new account with a new provider,” Barlow says.

Goliath Regulator Asks For More Davids

In a column published today, Chairman Genachowski explains why the U.S. Needs 'Gigabit Communities.' It starts off with an accurate observation...

Walking the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show last week, I kept thinking of that line from Jaws, “You’re going to need a bigger boat.” All the Internet-connected, data-hungry gadgets that are coming to market sent a strikingly clear message: we’re going to need faster broadband networks.

... It’s essential to economic growth, job creation and U.S. competitiveness.

Yes! If only the head of the Federal Communications Commission understood what is preventing us from building those networks. Hint: It isn't a lack of demand. Google was inundated with applications for its gigabit service. Hundreds of communities have built their own networks (some of which he praises).

Local businesses get it. Mayors get it. City councils get it. And unlike Chairman Genachowski, they know what the problem is: little incentive for massive, established cable monopolies to invest in networks when they are harvesting record profits and subscribers have no other choices. Wall Street not only gets it, it actually rejoices in it!

Comcast's traditional Cable Communications continues to grow and generate copious cash flow.. We're big fans of the firm's Video and High-Speed Internet businesses because both are either monopolies or duopolies in their respective markets.

What is our FCC Chair doing about this problem? He helped Comcast to grow even bigger, with more market power to crush those rivals that he is calling on to build gigabit test beds.

Chairman G wants to spur hundreds of David's while refusing to curb Goliath's power. Bad news, Mr. Chairman, Goliath actually wins most of the time. Rather than doing his job, Genachowski is begging others to do it for him.

DC Revolving Door FCC - /> Comcast

More and more, he sounds more like a cable lobbyist than a public servant. This is actually a pattern: the head cable lobbyist in DC is a former FCC Chief himself and a recent FCC Commissioner left for a job at Comcast just months after pushing for the Comcast/NBC merger.

The revolving door helps to explain why the FCC has refused to take meaningful action that might threaten the cozy relationship between supposed competitors that have divided the market to their benefit.

Consider that Chair Genachowski fully supported bandwidth caps before walking that back a tiny bit. But now the cable industry has admitted what the FCC should have known all along, bandwidth caps are about increasing revenue rather than managing congestion.

He seems to spend far more time with the big cable and DSL lobbyists than with the local governments and businesses that are actually building next-generation networks.

Local governments are essential for expanding needed networks and have a tremendous track record of spurring economic growth. Most started by trying to work with large incumbents but were rebuffed. Presently, some 19 states limit their ability to build networks and in some cases engage in partnerships with groups like Gig.U. While some FCC Commssioners, like Mignon Clyburn have spoken out forcefully against these restrictions, the Commission itself has done little to prevent them.

New testbeds are great but they don't solve our problem. We need an FCC Chair that will wrestle with the real problem: far too much of our essential telecommunications infrastructure is controlled by de facto monopolies unaccountable to the communities that depend upon them.

Captive Audience

As Susan Crawford notes in her new book Captive Audience, our entire economy depends on a few powerful corporations that are effectively unregulated by either a competitive market or by smart government policy.

The result of this deregulatory environment? Well, I just have to wonder when this sentence of his column was written:

"Make no mistake, if the U.S. doesn’t continue to invest in our broadband infrastructure, somebody else will take the lead."

It would have made sense ten years ago. Take a look at the international rankings, Mr. Chairman. And it has only gotten worse since you took over.

Having Susan Crawford as the Chair of the next FCC would do wonders to making the FCC responsive to the needs of all America, not just the cable and telephone companies. But Comcast's David Cohen is far too big a Democratic Party fundraiser for that to happen, which is why we need more Rootstrikers to recognize that until we resolve campaign finance corruption, it will be hard to fix any other problem.

Revolving door graphic adapted from AJakeS & Life of Riley under Creative Commons.

Bandwidth Caps are Unnecessary and Counterproductive

The Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation has released a report on data caps in the U.S. The report, Capping the Nation's Broadband Future, was authored by Hibah Hussain, Danielle Kehl, Benjamin Lennett, and Patrick Lucey.

The paper looks at the growing prevalence of monthly data caps by massive ISPs like Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and others. Authors conclude that data caps are effectively discouraging Internet usage with restrictions and limits that can be expensive. From the summary:

As this paper documents, data caps, especially on wireline networks, are hardly a necessity. Rather, they are motivated by a desire to further increase revenues from existing subscribers and protect legacy services such as cable television from competing Internet services. Although traffic on U.S. broadband networks is increasing at a steady rate, the costs to provide broadband service are also declining, including the cost of Internet connectivity or IP transit as well as equipment and other operational costs. The result is that broadband is an incredibly profitable business, particularly for cable ISPs. Tiered pricing and data caps have also become a cash cow for the two largest mobile providers, Verizon and AT&T, who already were making impressive margins on their mobile data service before abandoning unlimited plans.

The increasing prevalence of data caps both on the nation’s wireline and mobile networks underscore a critical need for policymakers to implement reforms to promote competition in the broadband marketplace.  Data caps may offer an effective means for incumbents to generate more revenue from subscribers and satisfy investors, but making bandwidth an unnecessarily scarce commodity is bad for consumers and innovation.  The future is not just about streaming movies or TV shows but also access to online education or telehealth services that are just starting to take off. Capping their future may mean capping the nation’s future as well.

The paper also looks at the technical challenges of capping data usage. Additionally, the authors delve into the many ways data caps are turned into profit for a few big providers while harming users. This resource brings relevent data into focus along side long term policy implications and offers some advice:

Data Cap Myth

For the Internet to continue to serve as a catalyst for economic growth it is imperative that consumers and entrepreneurs not feel constrained online. In a recent speech, former FCC Executive Director and Chief of Staff Blair Levin highlighted the links between broadband abundance, innovation, and economic growth.

"When it comes to the wireline access network, instead of talking about upgrades, we are talking about caps and tiers. Instead of talking about investment for growth, we are talking about harvesting for dividends,” …  “[policymakers] should recognize that our progress demands an investment environment that creates the conditions that allows us to invent the future, not just harvest from the past."

An uncapped Internet environment gave rise to a host of innovative and popular applications. Broadband and bandwidth must continue to be thought of as an abundant resource, not a rationed commodity, to ensure the vibrant online ecosystem can continue to flourish.

Shortly after this report was published, the lead lobbyists for cable interests in Washington, DC, admitted that the bandwidth caps are not designed to solve any congestion problems, which Karl Bode covered with his usual smart analysis.

Except the argument that usaged pricing is about fairness has been just as repeatedly debunked. If usage caps were about "fairness," carriers would offer the nation's grandmothers a $5-$15 a month tier that accurately reflected her twice weekly, several megabyte browsing of the Weather Channel website. Instead, what we most often see are low caps and high overages layered on top of already high existing flat rate pricing, raising rates for all users.

Any argument that caps for wireline service are necessary is refuted by the fact that the fastest networks in the US, whether publicly owned, Google, or even Verizon's FiOS, see no need to cap monthly transfer amounts.

The big cable monopolists don't care about fairness, they care about boosting profits while investing as little as possible. Unfortunately, their overcharging lack of investment is harming every other industry in our country.

Amherst, MA, Upgrades Its Free WiFi

In 2007, the City of Amherst, Massachusetts received a $150,000 grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build a wireless mesh network. DARPA and NSF have long been interested in developing mesh networks that are more resilient than traditional hub and spoke type networks.

The City IT Department, UMass Amherst Office of Information Technology Department, DARPA and NSF collaborated to deploy the network that now covers much of the city.

According to, the city is now investing another $50,000 to upgrade the system which now extends a mile through downtown. From the article:

“We definitely have the fastest and largest outdoor Wi-Fi network in the state,” said Information Technology Director Kristopher Pacunas.

The new system, which replaces aging equipment that was part of a smaller municipal Wi-Fi system, will be a boon to those who live, work and shop in downtown Amherst, said Pacunas, who anticipates as many as 2,000 different people will use the system daily.

“We’ve seen data in the short time we’ve had this (that) people will come to downtown areas with free Wi-Fi,” Pacunas said.

While the new upgrades were not officially launched until the start of 2013, Pacunas said that over 10,400 people used the system in the weeks leading up to the new year. Pacunas also notes that the network has limited functionality indoors, being designed mostly for public outdoor spaces downtown.

 The Town of Amherst Public WiFi website describes how the design was meant to blend in with the look of the city and the light and utility poles that house the access points. There are 30 wireless mesh access points and burst speeds up to 80 Mbps. This is another example of how a municipal network can create direct benefits AND indirect benefits simply through its implementation. Also from the article:

Alex Krogh-Grabbe, director of the Amherst Business Improvement District, said he sees the benefits of the system.

“The new downtown Wi-Fi put downtown Amherst and its business district way ahead of most communities in terms of attracting people to downtown through technology,” Krogh-Grabbe said.

Amhert Town Hall photo used under Creative Commons license courtesy of John Phelan.

County and State Partner For Local Connectivity in Iowa

In 2010, the Iowa Communications Network received a $16.2 million Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). The project will connect all 99 counties in the state by upgrading an existing 3,000 mile network (PDF of the project summary). The state plans to bring 10 Gbps capacity points of presence to each county and to provide 1 Gbps service to about 1,000 anchor institutions. The project will be managed by the state's Department of Transportation, which will be using fiber primarily for traffic management.

A recent Ames Tribune article reports that the local community will be partnering with the state to capitalize on the existence of the fiber for connectivity. Story County, located in the very center of the state, will soon be using several strands in the Ames area to create a loop between city and county offices. The 20-year arrangement will cost the county $15,000 and provides ample capacity to support the county's work and support future uses. From the article:

“For us this is a huge windfall,” [Story County Information Technology Director Barbara Steinback] said. “If we were to go on to a project like this on our own, it would cost between $250,000 and $300,000.”

The opportunity comes at a good time for Story County. The sheriff’s office recently began using new mobile laptops that Steinback said have been putting a strain on the network and, along with some other projects, has been resulting in some slowness issues.

“So we do need to take advantage of this opportunity,” she said.

Broadband Communities Magazine Spotlights ILSR's Chanute Report

We are pleased to announce that an excerpt of our report, Chanute's Gig: One Rural Kansas Community's Tradition of Innovation Led to A Gigabit and Ubiquitous Wireless Coverage, is now highlighted in the newest Broadband Communities Magazine. The November/December 2012 issue focuses on economic development.

Editors chose our report because it shows how a community can successfully develop a network to address community needs. The result is greater economic development and a range of increased community benefits. In addition to our report, several other articles focus on economic development and come from authors such as Reed Hundt and Blair Levin, Doug Adams and Michael Curri, Ken Demlow, Craig Settles, and David Moore.

You can access the digital edition online and see the entire issue table of contents at Broadband Communities Magazine Online.

You can still download the full report from the ILSR website and check out some of our other resources including case studies, fact sheets, video and audio.

Princeton, Illinois, Uses Electric Wires to Deliver Low Cost Internet Access

Recently, we covered the city-owned fiber optic network in Princeton, Illinois. The network has been serving city facilities, schools, libraries, and businesses since late 2003. The network contributes to economic development by delivering high capacity telecommunications services at affordable prices to local businesses. The City built and owns the network but services are delivered by a private sector partner.

Princeton is also working to bridge the digital divide in its community. The city offers an inexpensive Broadband Over Power Lines (BPL) service to residents and small businesses, using the municipal electricial grid.

BPL was once touted as a great hope for rural connectivity. The technology allows users to send telecommunications over the electrical lines already in place across the country.  After several deployments revealed problems with radio interference, performance issues, and unreliability, the great hope considerably dimmed. However, the technology still has its place.

BPL lives on in Princeton as a supplement to its fiber network. According to Jason Bird, Director of Utilities, subscribers like being able to access the Internet from any room in their home that has an electric outlet. Capacity is very limited - only 1 Mbps service for residential service - but the price is right for those who do not have a large demand for speed. Residential service is $24.95 per month and commercial service is $99.00 per month.

The technology was attractive to the city utility because it was economical and quick to install. Prior to the BPL network, most people in town still used dial-up. As we reported in our post on Princeton's fiber network, the city has forged a long relationship with IVNet, an Illinois ISP. The BPL network is another successful joint project that has been helpful to the community. The two shared the cost of constructing the BPL network and profits are shared with IVNet retaining 70% of the profits.

The future of current BPL networks is uncertain with the loss of interest in devloping the technology. For now, however, Princeton customers have the benefit of a locally managed network to keep them online. 

Photo courtesy of ILPlanner, used under Creative Commons License.

Susan Crawford's Captive Audience Book Reviewed

I quickly read the just-released Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, and came away quite excited by Susan Crawford's new book.

Susan Crawford has been supportive of community owned networks and a loud voice against the poor policies that have allowed a few massive cable and telephone companies to monopolize our telecommunications. Her new book is a good resource for those just getting interested in this issue.

After the book was released last week, Susan Crawford appeared on the Diane Rehm show -- an excellent 50 minute interview that comes highly recommended. Be aware that the cable/telephone industry is engaging in character assassination to prevent Susan's message from reverberating around the country.

The book led to Sam Gustin's article in Time, "Is Broadband Internet Access a Public Utility?"

State and local laws that make it difficult — if not impossible — for new competition to emerge in broadband markets should be reformed, according to Crawford. For example, many states make it very difficult for municipalities to create public wireless networks, thanks to decades of state-level lobbying by the industry giants. In order to help local governments upgrade their communications grids, Crawford is calling for an infrastructure bank to help cities obtain affordable financing to help build high-speed fiber networks for their citizens. Finally, U.S. regulators should apply real oversight to the broadband industry to ensure that these market behemoths abide by open Internet principles and don’t price gouge consumers.

Art Brodsky also reviewed the book on the Huffington Post. He leads with a reminder of the damage done by the NFL's replacement refs, an apt comparison given how poorly the FCC and Congress have protected the public.

Susan will be our guest for the Community Broadband Bits Podcast (episode 29) on Tuesday, Jan 15, and I will be offering periodic thoughts on passages from the book in coming days/weeks.

Cottage Grove, Oregon, Looks to Bring Jobs to Town With Fiber Expansion

Cottage Grove, Oregon, is on the cusp of adding up to 250 new jobs with the aid of its fiber optic network.  A recent article by Serena Markstrom details the potential project between the City and First Call Resolution. The company is interested in expanding to a Cottage Grove shopping strip. While the space is the right size and location, it does not have the needed telecommunications connections for a high-capacity call center.

The City is looking into expanding its fiber optic network to accommodate First Call. City leaders will seek a state economic development grant and recently approved funding for an engineer's construction plan to lay the cable to get an accurate cost estimate. Initial estimates are $450,000 for an entire underground installation. Council members have already suggested that the expansion makes sense, regardless of whether or not First Call becomes a tenant. The 7 miles of fiber are primarily located in the southern part of the city while the shopping strip is in the north.

The City Manager Richard Meyers hopes the added infrastructure will bring more than just First Call Resolution to the shopping strip. From the article:

The commercial strip being considered for the call center has much empty space. “The whole plaza needs help,” Meyers said. “We need to do something to see if we can get other things in there.”

If more businesses moved in and started leasing the cable, the city could collect money — just like any utility — from those who tapped into the network and use those funds to continue to expand fiber optic cable around town, Meyers said.

“With our fiber and what we’ve developed, we’re within 4,000 feet of connecting” to the Village Center, he said. “That’s how close we are,” he said. “It’s not a huge distance. We can do it. (It would be a) piece of cake to connect our system to his network and so all of [First Call Resolution's] call centers would be on the same network.”

The city network also offers a Wi-Fi network throughout 80% of the city. Rates vary, ranging from 10 free hours each month at 128 Kbps to 7 Mbps unlimited with tech support for $50 per month. According to the CGWiFi website:

Wireless icon

CGWiFi is a service provided by the City of Cottage Grove.  The City of Cottage Grove developed CGWiFi after many years of efforts to improve the availability of broadband services within the community.  The City of Cottage Grove fiber optic and WiFi System were developed to primarily create infrastructure capacity, provide connectivity and enhance technology available for South Lane School District and Lane Community College and to improve broadband service for Public Safety and government operations.  CGWiFi was created using excess capacity on the system to provide the public access to broadband services.  The fees for public broadband services cover the operation and  bandwidth requirements for the public use.

City Hall, the South Lane schools and district office within city limits, and the Creswell school district and schools are now connected with fiber. Plans are in the works to also connect the Cottage Grove Hospital to the fiber system. The city is working with the Regional Fiber Consortium.

As we learn more, we will bring any new developments from Cottage Grove. Like many of the other communities that use their networks for economic development, we anticipate positive results.

Verizon Begs Regulators for Protection While Demanding Deregulation

From the "A Pox on Both Your Houses" files, Verizon is squaring off against greedy landlords in New York City as it tries to fix lines damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

In short, Verizon needs access to the common areas of the multi-dwelling units (MDU or industry-speak for apartments) to fix or upgrade the lines. Verizon is using these repairs as an opportunity to transition connections from copper to its fiber optic FiOS system.

AT&T and Verizon have been arguing that once a household transitions from a copper connection to FiOS (in the case of Verizon) or U-Verse (in the case of AT&T, which actually hasn't even changed the copper connection), they are using a fundamentally different, less regulated service. My conversation with Bruce Kushnick delved into some of these claims.

Verizon's copper to fiber upgrade could actually therefore be an accountability downgrade if regulators agree that households deserve fewer protections on connections over fiber than over copper. This appears to be a major fight brewing -- how to regulate the same services over different types of connections.

And this is where it gets interesting. Verizon, AT&T, and the other big cable/telcos are constantly arguing for deregulation, saying that the market is so competitive that the government should just get lost.

But then Sandy rips through and landlords (that I have ZERO sympathy for) see an opportunity to shakedown Verizon. After all, Verizon is going to use the new connections to increase revenues from these households by selling more services (triple play over fiber). This seems a perfectly reasonable deregulated market showdown.

Crying Verizon

But Verizon immediately goes crying to the state regulators: "The landlords aren't playing nice, force them to let us into their buildings!"

Anyone who still believes competitive or free markets are synonymous with unregulated markets is fooling themselves. Big firms use deregulation or regulation in their attempts to corner and monopolize markets. They only favor less regulation when they perceive an immediate benefit to the bottom line.

We need a government that is sufficiently wise to decide when more regulation or less regulation will create the best outcomes for all of us. In some cases, regulation is essential to preserve a competitive market and in others, some deregulation may be in order. Unfortunately, we have a government that tends to act based on what is best for those employing the best lobbyists and making the most campaign contributions.

To be clear, I don't think landlords should be able to hold tenants hostage until they get paid off. However, that is in large part because I view access to the Internet as an essential infrastructure that requires accountability. Being a natural monopoly, the market will not provide those protections, which is why the government has long protected the public interest in telecommunications with regulations.