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Recent Advances in the Wireless Future - Community Broadband Bits Episode 154

After reading "Amtrak's Lessons for Access to the Airwaves," I knew we wanted to talk to Michael Calabrese and Patrick Lucey of the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation to discuss wireless policy. Unfortunately, scheduling challenges kept Patrick off the this show but we do have a great discussion for this week's Community Broadband Bits podcast with Michael Calabrese, who runs the Wireless Future program at OTI.

We discuss the wireless technology Amtrak has wanted to deploy and alternatives that would have been less costly and more quickly to implement. However, this is really just an opportunity to begin the larger discussion about where wireless is going.

We also talk about a recent FCC decision to create much more shared spectrum and how the new system will work, which was also described in a presentation by Milo Medin at the 2015 Freedom to Connect event.

If you enjoy this discussion, you may be interested in our previous discussions with Dewayne Hendricks.

Read the transcript from our conversation here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 25 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

Community Broadband Media Roundup - June 1

Colorado

Internet speed wars escalate in region by Joshua Lindenstein, BizWest

Editorial: Fort Collins needs municipal broadband, The Coloradoan Editorial Board

Other potential benefits, as we see it, include increased telecommuting (which will get cars off the road and ease the congestion issues as Fort Collins grows). Some people would also be able to cut ties with their satellite dishes and cable boxes — and the associated costs — because everything is available and, presumably, faster to access online.

Sure, being able to download and watch a movie online faster would be more convenient, but it's not life-changing. However, as innovations like telemedicine — communicating with care providers via a video conference online before stepping into a doctor's office — become more common, we need to have Internet speeds that can keep up with advancements.

 

Maine

Islesboro acts to become Maine’s most ‘wired’ island: Residents OK steps to bring fiber-optic 'gigabit' Internet service to the community in Penobscot Bay. by J. Craig Anderson, Portland Herald

 

Massachusetts

Broadband competition, Cajun style by Dante Ramos, Boston Globe

When communities aren’t being served — or, as in Lafayette’s case, they want better service than they’re getting — why should they wait for Comcast Corp., Cox Communications, or other broadband giants to come to their rescue?

 At least 500 communities have community-owned broadband networks, according to data from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, an organization that promotes the idea. Except for a few newer details — you know, minor stuff like fiber optics and the Internet — the argument over such networks has been raging since the Roosevelt administration.

 

New York

Hoodlinked: Do-it-yourself Internet network reaches Ridge by Max Jaeger, The Brooklyn Paper

A group of techies aiming to build a citywide, community-owned wifi network is making inroads into Bay Ridge. Called NYC Mesh, the network links computers together using standard wifi routers — allowing users to share internet connections, set up openly accessible community message boards, and even communicate with one another when internet service is not available.

 

North Carolina

Departing Raleigh CIO Gail Roper leaves high-speed legacy in Triangle, WRAL Techwire

 

Wisconsin

Madison municipal Internet projects fall behind due to mayoral election, disagreement by Bryna Godar, Capital Times

 

FCC

FCC Aims to Overhaul Phone Subsidy Program to Cover Broadband by Jim Puzzanghera, LA Times

About 12 million households participated last year in the Lifeline program, which began 30 years ago to ensure that all Americans had access to basic telecommunications services.

 

Charter/Time Warner Cable Merger

Charter Deal for Time Warner Cable Signals Shift in TV Industry by Michael J. de la Merced

Charter nears Time Warner Cable deal for $55 billion by Alex Sherman and Ed Hammond

Dealmaking is heating up in an industry facing waning demand for traditional pay-TV packages and competition from Netflix, Amazon and other online services.

5 reasons your Internet bill keeps climbing by Erik Sherman, MoneyWatch

What We Must Demand From Charter, Time Warner Cable by Sascha Sega, PC Mag

Mesh Networks: They Are Out There

There are probably more mesh Wi-Fi networks operating in the U.S. than most of us realize. They require only one hard-wired connection to the Internet and there are many industrious, tech minded people out there who have the skills to set up this self-healing technology, though they are still working out the kinks.

A mesh network allows devices to engage each other without going through a central point. If I want to use my cell phone to call the cell phone of someone standing 10 feet away from me, the signal may travel thousands of times farther than it would have to because a cell phone company wants to track minutes, collect data, and more. In a mesh network, the two devices would just talk to each other without intermediation. 

A recent Technical.ly article, explores a dozen communities that are using the technology to serve local residents.

The article provides some basic info on these local mesh networks:

We have reported on mesh networks in Poulsbo, Washington, and Ponca City, Oklahoma. An attractive feature for those communities was the ability to expand the network as needed with modest investment. As Technical.ly reports:

Mesh networks help people stay connected while avoiding traditional internet providers. Motivation around the country for creating community mesh networks ranges from a desire for social justice, improved information access during natural disasters or just the need to experiment.

Carl Junction Partnering for Wi-Fi in Missouri

Carl Junction has been looking for a way to improve connectivity in its southwest corner of the state for several years. Plans for a fiber network did not come to pass, but the community has found a private partner to bring ubiquitous high-speed Wi-Fi to town.

The City Council voted unanimously to approve a deal with Aire Fiber, reports the Joplin Globe, for a basic plan that will offer service for $49.99 per month. Users will not be constrained by data caps, speeds will be up to 50 Mbps download and 10 - 15 Mbps upload, and the network will provide service to each address in town. Installation is $99 per address; rates will be the same for businesses and residences. There are no long term committments. The partners have launched their campaign to get signups online seeking 289 subscriptions to get the project off the ground.

Aire Fiber will also provide free Wi-Fi to select locations in town such as the Community Center.

Steve Lawver, Carl Junction City Administrator, told us that the city will receive 10 percent of the gross revenue from the network. The city will purchase the equipment and provide facilities on which Aire Fiber will mount the equipment. Air Fiber will handle installation, management, and all technical aspects required to keep the network up and running.

If the network picks up 10 percent of the market, both partners will break even. KOAM reports that the system will cost from $400,000 - $450,000 to deploy. City officials expect to have it serving the community by mid-summer.

Even though AT&T and MediaCom both have a presence in Carl Junction, neither serve the entire community. City leaders told KOAM they hope to create better consistency of service throughout the community with this partnership:

"We think this is a big step forward for the city — now high-speed broadband Internet connection will be available to all citizens of Carl Junction, no matter what their address is.''

Lawver said Media Com, the city's cable television company, does not offer Internet service in all areas of the town. AT&T only serves parts of the city, he said.

Carl Junction Mayor Mike Moss said, "Reliable, effective and affordable broadband connection throughout the whole city will put us on the same foothold as other cities of our region and the state. It is what will keep us competing with other cities in the 21st century.''

Local media has reported on the project:

Video: 
See video

Amherst, Massachusetts Exploring Fiber for Economic Development Downtown

The Amherst Business Improvement District (BID) recently hired a firm to prepare an engineering study aimed at bringing fiber connectivity to its downtown reports MassLive. 

In 2007, the community began offering free Wi-Fi downtown after receiving a grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build a wireless mesh network. The city worked with UMass Amherst, DARPA, and NSF to deploy the system. In 2013, the city invested in upgrades which increased speeds and extended the network's geographic coverage area.

Community leaders feel Amherst needs fiber to boost economic development now and in the future. Sean Hannon, Amherst Information Technology director, told MassLive:

"Fiber is needed because it's the only medium that can support those speeds at the distance we need.  It also should support new network equipment 20 to 30 years from now."

The study will examine optimal routes, methods, and cost estimates for deployment.

The Amherst BID is a nonprofit economic development organization whose members include local property owners, business owners, and residents. Their focus, as defined by the community's 2011 Improvement Plan, is to improve the downtown area through economic development, events, marketing, beautification, and special projects.

Tennessee Farm Bureau Association Backs State Legislation to End Barriers

The Tennessee Farm Bureau Association recently put its support behind state legislation from Senator Janice Bowling and Rep. Kevin Brooks reports the Times Free Press

The Bureau told the Times Free Press:

"Our members are hungry to have broadband," said Rhedonna Rose, executive vice president of the 600,000-member Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. "We represent a lot of Tennesseans in very rural areas of the state who are frustrated that they don't have high-speed Internet."

SB 1134 and its companion HB 1303 are brief and direct, allowing municipal power distributors the right to extend Internet access beyond current geographic boundaries established by state barriers. Bradley County, one of EPB's neighbors, would like to have EPB expand service to them but state laws, backed by large corporate incumbents not interested in serving Bradley, forbid expansion.

According to a Chattanoogan article, EPB and Bradley County are planning for the expansion which will serve about 1,000 people; about 800 of those people rely on dial-up for Internet access. From the Chattanoogan article:

“We have people who live within half a mile of our service territory … who have nothing but dial-up, and that doesn’t make any sense” [EPB CEO Harold] DePriest said. “In a lot of cases we can get to those areas fairly easily.”

The recent FCC decision changed the landscape in Tennessee and North Carolina for now but policy advocates, telecommunications attorneys, and community leaders are braced for legal challenges. In a Times Free Press article from last week, Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Haslam stated that his office would consider appealing the FCC decision. 

Bowling and Brooks are more interested in solving the broadband problem for their constituents than in asserting rights as state legislators. They know untangling the impending court cases could slow the current momentum to bring better connectivity to Tennessee. Rather than wait for a decision, Bowling and Brooks are taking action as policy makers.

Bowling, who serves Tullahoma and its gigabit community, is a long-time supporter of local choice. She told the Times Free Press:

"Tennessee can take care of business for Tennessee," Bowling said. "We don't need the federal regulation so much; we just need the freedom to expand high-speed broadband in small-town Tennessee."

Last fall we introduced readers to some of the people from the small towns in Bradley County who desperately need help from EPB. Joyce Coltrin, a local business owner, told us that her business must rely on expensive mobile broadband even though she is less than 1/2 mile from EPB's service area. Joyce is leading a group of persistent residents who support SB 1134 and HB 1303. Joyce spoke with the Times Free Press:

Joyce Coltrin, a member of the group “Citizens Striving to be Part of the 21st Century, said, “I am hearing many legislators today talking about states’ rights and saying that the Federal Communications Commission has no right to go around state laws concerning the internet. I suggest that the logical extension of that thought would be that a state has no right to go around its commitment to the betterment of its citizens by denying access to the internet.”

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 13, 2015

The FCC’s decision to change the definition of broadband continues to make ripples in the muni broadband world. With the speed increased from 4 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up, to 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up, 75% of the country is now classified as having either no service, or no choices for their Internet connection. The change also means more underserved communities may be able to access to grant money to build networks, it also highlights a more realistic view of the importance of Internet speed for economic development:

Shaming Cable Giants, FCC Demands Faster Internet Republicans complain that increasing the definition of "broadband" is meant to justify power grabs, by Brendan Sasso, National Journal.

DSL The New Dialup? by Bernie Arneson, Telecompetitor

Under New Definition, Comcast Claims 56% of All Broadband Users by Karl Bode, DSLReports

Getting up to speed on the Internet: An upcoming change in defining broadband is sparking debate by Julie Sherwood, Webster Post

 

Muni Regulatory Decisions

FCC on verge of killing state laws that harm municipal broadband: Chairman targets laws in Tennessee and North Carolina. 17 more states to go by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

FCC may kill state restrictions on municipal broadband, force ISP competition by Joel Hruska, Extreme Tech

FCC to vote on overturning two state laws limiting municipal broadband by Grant Gross, PCWorld

Senate renews plan to ban internet taxes forever by Jeff John Roberts, GigaOm

The Source: FCC Proposal Could Ease Cities’ Efforts For Municipal Broadband by Paul Flahive, Texas Public Radio

FCC's Plans to Extend Availability of Internet Access for K-12 by Navindra Persaud, Education World

Wireless & Cable Industries fight net neutrality with laughably misleading op-eds and video by Chris Morran, Consumerist:

At what point have consumers ever been “at the center of Internet policy”?

• Did consumers pay politicians millions of dollars to urge regulators to keep broadband classified as nothing more than a content delivery system? No, that was the cable and telecom industries.

• Did consumers sue the FCC — and then invest millions in a four-year legal fight — to gut the 2010 net neutrality rules? No, that was Verizon.

• Did consumers demand that Internet Service Providers be allowed to create “fast lanes” so that Verizon, Time Warner Cable and others could charge a premium to large companies for better service? Nope, wasn’t us. Must have been the mammoth telecom and cable companies that can benefit from it.

So when Powell says that “consumers” should be at the center of Internet policy, he actually means “Verizon and other NCTA members.”

Net Neutrality’s Biggest Deal: Proposed FCC Rule Would Keep Internet Open by Matt Wood and Candace Clement, Flagler Live

 

Opinion

More and more editors are coming out in favor of local choice for municipal networks. Here is a rundown of the opinions, editorials, and blog posts in which these networks are featured.

Tying The Fibers Together: Bits, Bandwidth, Georgia, And The FCC by Nathan, Peach Pundit 

Our View: Regulating Internet could ease digital divide by Portland Press Herald Editorial Board: Lower costs could ignite educational and economic access for those now disenfranchised.

OUR OPINION: Need for Internet means its status should be utility: The change would allow FCC to manage broadband providers more effectively, by Central Maine Kennebec Journal Morning Sentinel Editorial Board

Community Fiber Networks: Bringing Competition and World-Class Infrastructure to American Cities by Mitch Shapiro, Quello Center

Dark fiber should fill residential broadband holes: More existing dark fiber should be provisioned for residential use to thwart incumbent ISP service problems and price increases. by Patrick Nelson, NetworkWorld.

 

Muni Letter

Dozens of municipal networks came forward this week to sign a petition opposing Title II reclassification on the advice of cable lobbyists from the American Cable Association (represents smaller cable companies). Some media picked up on the story, saying that the muni world is fractured and weakened. Matt Hamblen’s article in Computer World does an excellent job of laying out the story. 

Muni broadband providers clash over Title II net neutrality reforms by Matt Hamblen, Computer World 

43 Muni-Broadband Communities Say They Oppose Title II by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

 

States and Cities:

There are about as many different ways to bring local choice to communities as there are communities themselves. Because each town or city can learn so much from successful approaches, we like to feature what different cities are doing, and where they are in their path toward fast, reliable, affordable Internet service.

Alabama:

Alabama Expanse Gets Upgraded to a Gig by Jason Myers, Light Reading  

Colorado:

Grand Junction to vote on broadband improvement by Lindsey Pallares, KKCONews

Louisiana:

Lafayette, La. to join FCC's anti-municipal broadband fight by Sean Buckley, FierceTelecom

Lafayette May Petition FCC For Muni-Broadband Help by Karl Bode, DSLReports

LUS gets another shot at Lafayette school system Internet contract: The school system is now reopening its call for proposals for an Internet provider. by Marsha Sills, The Advocate

Maine

Maine’s headline this week was all about a luxury trip paid in full by Time Warner Cable. Pine Tree Watchdog’s Naomi Schalit and Blake Davis first broke the story.

Time Warner Cable's lavish plan to stop city-run Internet in Maine By Eric Gelle, Daily Dot

Feckless thug alert: Time Warner Cable’s lavish plan to stop city-run Internet in Maine by UK Progressive

Maryland:

How an Internet Startup with Registrar Roots Plans to Take On Municipal Broadband by Nicole Henderson, Whir

Minnesota:

City council agrees to broadband Internet study by Edie Grossfield, Rochester Post-Bulletin

Mississippi:

Cable One increasing rates, shifting focus to broadband by Lauren Walck, Sun Herald 

New York:

Move over, Google Fiber. Hello, Brooklyn Fiber by Matthew Flamm, Crain’s New York Business 

New Jersey:

Tech for All: Senator Booker’s Plan to Increase Tech Engagement and Access for People of Color by Charlyn Stanberry, Politic365

North Carolina:

FCC could knock down state law, open door for Fibrant’s expansion by David Purtell, Salisbury Post

Wilson had fiber while the rest of N.C. was waiting for its page to load by Billy Ball, IndyWeek

Newspaper: FCC chair supports municipal broadband plan by WNCN Staff

FCC Chair Supports Wilson's Petition: Vote set for Feb. 26 as national precedent looms by Jon Jimison, Wilson Times

Ohio:

City of Fairlawn Issues Request for Proposals for FairlawnGig by Business Wire

Oregon:

Google Fiber or not, Hillsboro to study building a municipal fiber network by Luke Hammill, The Oregonian

 

Comcast Is Who We Thought They Were

 Comcast calls customer an ‘A–hole’ on cable bill by Post Staff, New York Post 

A customer was shocked after the cable giant called her husband an “a- -hole” on their cable bill, apparently in retaliation for canceling service. A Spokane, Wash., resident named Lisa Brown said after she called Comcast to cut her bill, her husband’s name was changed from Ricardo Brown to “A- -hole Brown.”

Ting to Offer Fiber Internet Service in Charlottesville

Comcast may be an ISP Goliath, but a new David will soon move to Charlottesville. Tucows Inc., recently announced that it plans to begin serving as an ISP in the area and will eventually expand to other markets.

In a Motherboard article, CEO Elliot Noss said:

"At the simplest level, we'll be offering a lot more product for the same price, and a much better customer experience. We want to become like a mini Google fiber."

The company began in the 1990s and is known for registering and selling premium domain names and hosting corporate emails accounts. Two years ago they ventured into wireless cell service and were immediately praised for their top notch customer service and no-frills billing. Tucows promises to fill the customer service gap left by incumbent Comcast, one of the most hated companies in America.

Tucows will operate its Internet service under its cellular brand, Ting. It will take over existing fiber infrastructure owned by Blue Ridge InternetWorks and will begin serving customers as early as the first quarter of 2015. Ting hopes to be able to charge less than $100 per month for gigabit fiber service. Comcast charges $90 per month for 50 Mbps and CenturyLink charges $40 per month for 10 Mbps in Charlottesville.

As far as "fast lanes" go? From the Motherboard article:

Noss said that the company is dedicated to net neutrality as a "sensible business practice" and said "it's our responsibility to make sure content like Netflix is fast on our network. We're not looking for content providers to pay us in a double-sided fashion."

Ting reaffirms that philosophy on the Ting Blog:

Tucows believes very strongly in the open Internet. Up until now, there wasn’t a whole lot we could do but educate, agitate and contribute. Getting into fixed access, owning our own pipe, is an opportunity for us to practice what we preach when it comes to the open Internet and net neutrality.

Noss told Motherboard the company is looking beyond Charlottesville and taking input from an interested public at their website. They will first look at partnering, buying infrastructure, and leasing fiber from local governments. From the article:

"The one thing we won't do is spend a lot of time convincing people of the need for a fiber network,” he said. “We think that's a waste of time, and I think people already see the value.”

Athens, Ohio Learns from Neighbors and Considers Fiber Investments

Recently, we ran a story on the Columbus suburb of Dublin, which has a growing fiber optic network that has paid huge dividends in public savings, economic development, and facilitating technology research with the Ohio State University. Apparently others are taking notice of Dublin as well: Athens, a city 90 miles to the Southeast, has its city council discussing how to get fiber in the ground and the possibility of a public WiFi network. 

After meeting representatives of Dublin’s economic development department at a conference in November, Athens mayor Paul Wiehl came away impressed enough to start a discussion with the city council about how the Dublin model of extensive conduit networks and fiber access for businesses and public buildings might be adapted to Athens.  Athens is a college town, home of Ohio University, which may mean that like Dublin (which is only a few miles from the Ohio State University) it could be well positioned for research partnerships using fiber optics.

While specific plans have not yet been worked out, 

[Mayor] Wiehl said that the city's public works director, Andy Stone, recently has been looking at ways to incorporate fiber-optic line capacity into city infrastructure projects. The lines likely would be maintained by the city, and probably would run only to local businesses, who would pay the city for use of the Internet service.

Unfortunately, Athens’ city leaders may be overly enamored with the idea of citywide Wi-Fi. DubLINK launched a citywide WiFi network several years ago, but like nearly every other citywide WiFi system in the country it has not been able to deliver reliable high speed connections blanketing the entire city due to technological limitations. WiFi can still provide considerable value if deployed intelligently in specific public spaces as a supplement to other forms of access. But if Athens officials are expecting a cheap and easy answer to providing robust home access over a wide area, they are likely to be disappointed. 

Still, Athens offers an encouraging example of how good connectivity policy ideas can spread from one community to another. Dublin’s example has helped to put fiber investments on the agenda and in the minds of city leaders in Athens. Where the discussion goes from there will be up to the locals. 

Minnesota's Chaska.net to End Service in 2015

The rumors have been swirling for months now that the city of Chaska was considering putting an end to its municipal Wi-Fi service, Chaska.net. A recent Chaska Herald article confirms that city staff recommends the Council choose to end its residential service. If the Council follows the recommendation, the remaining business Wi-Fi customer, KleinBank data center, and School District 112 will still receive Wi-Fi service.

According to the article, the city explored the possibility of selling the system to the private sector, but the idea did not garner a favorable deal:

[City Administrator Matt] Podhradsky said that it appeared that the proposals were more of an attempt to gain access to the city’s water towers. “We started asking ourselves, ‘Should we be in the business of picking winners and losers?’” said Podhradsky. “We decided that’s just not the right direction for us.” 

City staff is recommending that the service end when the contract for support for the existing equipment ends in July. They also recommend that the last four months of service be offered free of charge. Customers will be notified by letter in early 2015.

The end of Chaska.net is bittersweet. When it was new, it was much celebrated as one of the first municipal Wi-Fi networks in the U.S. The past few years, however, have proved difficult. Waning subscriptions, competition from private providers, and old equipment have taken a toll. In order to replace the aging equipment, the city needs to spend $3 million. 

Podhrasky said the city is proud of what it accomplished with Chaska.net. “When you think back, there were a lot of cities that tried things and spent a lot of dollars to get something like this off the ground.”

He noted that the goal of the Internet utility was to provide high-speed service at an affordable cost until the market caught up. “We were a gap,” he said.

Today, that market has caught up. “It sort of feels like we completed our goal,” said Podhradsky.

Read more about Chaska's fiber network and Wi-Fi investment in our recent report, All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access.