Tag: "Wireless"

Posted October 1, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Over the last few months, a number of cities across the country have recognized the pressing need to find a way to get those in their community without Internet access connected. In San Rafael, California, San Antonio, Texas, and Champaign, Illinois, local governments along with a variety of philanthropic, technical, and private partners have developed a host of innovative ways to bring fixed wireless solutions to neighborhoods in need.

The city of McAllen (pop. 140,000) — near the mouth of the Rio Grande, at the southern tip of Texas — offers some additional lessons to be learned and a blueprint for success for other local governments thinking of doing the same. Quietly over the summer, it collected broadband data, designed, and deployed a fixed wireless network which to date covers more than three dozen neighborhoods and provides free connectivity for the city’s students and residents. 

Fiber From the Water Tower

Citywide Wi-Fi has been a long time coming in McAllen. Mayor Jim Dalson and the IT Department have wanted to do it for years, IT Director Robert Acosta said in an interview, but finding a way to pay for it has been the major barrier. In the meantime, his department has been adding wireless coverage to public spaces for the past half decade, at city parks, outside of government facilities, at the Museum of Art and Science, and at the Boys and Girls club. He also extended the network to traffic cameras, water towers, and other government facilities, and when the pandemic hit his department had more than 60 miles of fiber to call upon.

The current effort started in the middle of June, when the city commission and mayor allocated $2.9 million from county-distributed CARES money to the IT Department in order to get students connected for the upcoming school year (see map, right)....

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Posted September 18, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Over the summer, Oregon took a second swing at revising its state Universal Service Fund program by passing SB 1603, a bill which will create a larger rural broadband development fund by including retail wireless and VoIP service (in addition to traditional telephone service) in the fees it collects to bring basic connectivity services to unconnected parts of the state. The new law lowers the current tax rate on telecommunications service provider's gross revenue (from 8.5% to 6%) but dramatically broadens the collection base, which will bring in needed dollars to expand broadband access to state residents without it in coming years. The move comes on the heels of the state’s move to establish a Broadband Office in 2018 to “to promote access to broadband services for all Oregonians in order to improve the economy and quality of life.”

Nuts and Bolts

SB 1603, which passed the state legislature on June 26 and was signed into law on July 7, directs the Oregon Business Development Department  (OBDD) to transfer up to $5 million of the funds collected each year to a broadband fund for rural development projects, administered by the OBDD. While the amount that will be collected remains unknown at the moment, it will no doubt represent a significant boost: the current mechanism for funding rural information infrastructure projects — the Rural Broadband Capacity Pilot Program — received 25 applications for almost $5 million in requested funding, but was only able to grant $500,000, or 10%. SB 1603 caps the money to be collected by the Oregon Universal Service Fund at $28 million annually.

As a result of SB1603, Oregonians can expect the average cell phone bill would go up by about $4 a year, and those with landline telephone service will see an annual decrease of $12 a year. Some VoIP providers had contributed willingly prior to the bill — that voluntary opt-in is removed.

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Posted September 15, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed with stark clarity the impact of the digital divide across the country, and exacerbated the problem especially among the economically disadvantaged and in communities of color. With the onset of a new school year, school boards, city councils, and local governments have been distributing hotspots, equipping buses with Wi-Fi, and subsidizing subscription plans so that students can continue to learn over the summer. This week on the podcast Christopher talks with one community in California that took efforts to connect residents a step further.

Christopher is joined by Rebecca Woodbury, San Rafael Director of Digital Services and Open Government, and Air Gallegos, Director of Education & Career for the nonprofit Canal Alliance, who together worked with a coalition of dedicated people to begin building a neighborhood-wide Wi-Fi mesh network over the summer in response to the pandemic, and connect one of the city’s most vulnerable populations: those living in San Rafael's Canal neighborhood. Christopher, Rebecca, and Air talk about how it all came together, the impacts it’s already having, and the forethought that went into the network. 

They discuss the city’s work and the participation of local volunteers who helped jumpstart the effort, and the pivotal role played by the Canal Alliance, which has been fighting digital divide in the neighborhood for decades. The group also discusses lessons learned, expanding the network to reach as many resident as possible, and the ways that the coalition has tried to ensure that San Rafael’s Wi-Fi Mesh network works not just for the Canal neighborhood now, but in the future.

For additional detail on the San Rafael project, see our earlier story.

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

Read the transcript for this episode.

This show is 46...

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Posted September 3, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Marin County and the city of San Rafael, California, are demonstrating what happens when local government, a community nonprofit, and generous stakeholders come together to do something right. Over the summer they’ve built a Wi-Fi mesh network in the city’s Canal neighborhood to connect over 2,000 students and their families in anticipation of the upcoming school year. How the project unfolded shows what a thoughtful, committed group of people can do to respond to a public health crisis, close the digital divide, and make a long-term commitment to the vulnerable communities around them. 

A Neighborhood in Need

The Canal neighborhood (pop. 12,000) was founded in the 1950s and sits in the southeast corner of Marin County, bounded by the San Francisco Bay to the east, the city of San Quentin to the south, China Camp State Park to the north, and the Mount Tamalpais Watershed to the west. It’s split down the middle by Highway 101 and Interstate 580.

Canal is populated by predominantly low-income workers, and remains one of the most densely settled areas in Marin County — one of the wealthiest counties in the nation. Its residents serve, according to San Rafael Director of Digital Services and Open Government Rebecca Woodbury, as the backbone of the area’s service economy. Those who live there are mostly Latinx residents, with a small but significant segment who identify as Vietnamese. A 2015 study highlighted the challenges the community faces. Its population grew by half between 1990 and 2013, while available housing units grew by just 15%. During the same period, median household income shrunk by nearly a third, and unemployment remains twice as high in Canal than in the rest of Marin. It suffers from the largest education disparity in the entire state. It’s also among the hardest hit in the community by the coronavirus pandemic: the Latinx population in Canal accounts for just 16% of Marin County but 71% of cases so far.

Canal neighborhood residents are also among the least connected in the county. A recent survey by local nonprofit Canal Alliance showed that 57% of residents don’t own a computer, compared to just 10% of those...

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Posted May 12, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In this episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we get an introduction to what this week's guest calls "the most Southern of protocols" Wi-Fi. Here to guide us is Heather "Mo" Williams, Manager of Solutions Engineering at Ruckus Networks, Wi-Fi engineer for Black Hat conferences, and co-host on the podcast This Week in Enterprise Tech.

During her conversation with Christopher, Mo shares her background with Ruckus Networks and her family's personal experience with poor connectivity in rural Texas. Then, Mo and Christopher discuss the history of Wi-Fi, the basics of how it functions, and what it means to operate over unlicensed spectrum. Mo explains how network congestion and the proliferation of Wi-Fi-enabled devices challenge engineers.

Christopher and Mo talk about the overblown hype around 5G technologies. They also dig into the Federal Communications Commission's wireless policies, and Mo commends the agency for it's recent decision to open up more spectrum for Wi-Fi, calling it a "game changer."

This show is 51 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

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Posted April 7, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher speaks with Steve Song, a fellow at Mozilla who works to connect unserved communities across the globe.

Steve shares his background starting out at a nonprofit Internet service provider in 1990s South Africa, and they discuss the negative but mostly positive effects of widespread Internet access. While acknowledging the limitations of mobile connectivity, Steve describes the essential role wireless technologies have played in connecting people worldwide. To get everyone online, Steve argues that we need a mixture of models, including wireless providers.

Christopher and Steve also talk about how the potential impact of 5G is being diluted by focusing on high speeds instead of affordable, rural Internet access. At the same time, Steve explains that the U.S. has been a global leader in terms of opening up wireless spectrum for many uses. For better rural connectivity, Steve points to cooperatives as an exemplary model to follow, and he speaks to the need to treat spectrum differently in rural areas.

Talk to us! Would you like to hear shorter, more frequent episodes instead of our usual weekly episodes to keep up with the ever-changing times? Let us know by commenting below, sending an email to podcast@muninetworks.org, or connecting with us on social media.

This show is 29 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the...

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Posted March 12, 2020 by christopher

As schools and businesses ask people to stay home to reduce the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus, I wanted to share some thoughts about how I expect broadband Internet access networks will handle the change and increase in broadband traffic in residential areas.

Our first reaction is that, as with so many areas with network effects, the rich will get richer. This is to say that historic inequities will be exacerbated — people that have been able to afford the high-quality networks will probably see very little disruption and those who have older networks may be effectively disconnected.

Better Network Scenarios

Those on fiber optic networks probably won't notice major changes in demand. This is the easy one — it is why we have long believed that fiber optics should be the goal for the vast majority of Americans.

Most modern cable networks should be also able to handle the demand — especially on the download end. This is good because 2 out of 3 Americans with broadband gets it from a cable network. Upgrades in recent years from the aggressive cable companies (Comcast Xfinity, Cox, and some of the many smaller cable networks — Charter Spectrum less so) should allow more than sufficient download capacity even if home video streaming increases significantly. But in smaller towns, where the local cable companies haven't been able to afford those upgrades and the bigger cable providers have just ignored them, I would expect to see intermittent and in some cases, persistent congestion problems from bottlenecks.

In the upstream direction, the cable networks will have some challenges. I wouldn't expect most Comcast or Cox markets to have too many problems, though neighborhoods with lots of professionals using video conferencing tools could congest. I would expect Charter Spectrum, Mediacom, and many of the others to have frequent congestion for upstream connections, lowering throughput extremely at times.

Worse Network Scenarios

Fixed Wireless networks will be all over the board. Urban and advanced fixed wireless networks like ...

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Posted September 19, 2019 by lgonzalez

Rural tribal communities in the U.S. struggle with some of the worst connectivity in the country. Decades of neglect have put them even farther behind other rural communities, many of which are moving toward community networks rather than depending on national Internet access providers. The most isolated tribal community in the continental United States has chosen to shrink their disadvantages by establishing a community network.

Within the Canyon

The Havasupai Indian Reservation, home to about 600, is surrounded by the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. Having populated the region for centuries, the federal government restricted them to the reservation, an area of about 518 acres in Havasu Canyon, in 1882. Non-Indian ranchers, settlers, and miners started takng over the area in the 1870s and Executive Order confiscated the Havasupai homelands for public use. After the establishment of the Grand Canyon National Park and generations of persistence, the tribe finally won back more than 188,000 areas of plateau and canyon lands in 1975 through an Act of Congress.

The community, on the floor of the Grand Canyon, can only be reached by helicopter, or an 8-mile hike that starts 67 miles away from the nearest town. Mail is still delivered by mule.

Seeking Spectrum

That persistence is paying off again as the Havasupai Tribal Council focuses their attention on broadband access. They're collaborating with nonprofit MuralNet to connect the main residential area in Supai, where about 450 tribal members live. The nonprofit's mission is to assist tribes like the Havasupai develop infrastructure to obtain high-speed Internet access. 

orangewireless_2.jpg In the spring of 2018, the tribe obtained a temporary Educational Broadband Service (EBS) Spectrum license. MuralNet, local ISP Niles Radio, and Northern Arizona University have all contributed toward the effort to launch the community network. Niles Radio provided 30 Megabits per second (Mbps) backhaul at no charge in addition to volunteering to help with deployment. With MuralNet professionals and volunteers from the community, the LTE network was up and running within a day. Equipment costs for what MuralNet describes as the first phase of the network were $15,000. As a result, a few...

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Posted August 27, 2019 by lgonzalez

When we released our Pocket Guide to 5G Hype, we expected to see some reactions from others on the unrealistic expectations about 5G. When this week’s guest contacted us because he disagreed with some of the Pocket Guide content, however, we knew we should bring him on the show. 

Sascha Segan, PCMag.com’s lead mobile analyst has seen generations of mobile wireless come and go during more than a decade of reporting. In this interview, he provides more detail about 5G versus millimeter waves and he and Christopher talk about the distinctions. You'll walk away knowing more than you ever thought you could about mobile wireless connectivity.

Christopher and Sascha also discuss 5G marketing that has swiftly turned into hype. They talk about the next generation in mobile wireless through a more practical lens, considering how it will impact rural connectivity, competition, and innovation. The each share their predictions for fiber optic deployment in rural regions and explain why -- or why not -- they believe rural communities will ever have access to fiber connectivity. Advances in technology move forward, notes Sascha, but the real issues that prevent ubiquitous coverage in the U.S. continue to be regulatory and political roadblocks.

After you've learned more about 5G from Sascha, check out the Pocket Guide to 5G Hype for yourself.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please ...

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Posted August 12, 2019 by lgonzalez

It’s difficult to separate 5G fantasy from reality as reported in traditional news sources. Misunderstandings surrounding the demands and capabilities of 5G has snowballed, creating an incorrect assumption that the technology will solve America’s many connectivity problems. It’s true that 5G is an improvement, but it has limitations. In A Pocket Guide to 5G Hype, we address the most repeated errors surrounding 5G and explain why the technology should be considered another tool, not an exclusive remedy.

Download A Pocket Guide to 5G Hype [PDF] here.

Mistakes We Hear Over...and Over...and Over

Regardless of the source, several errors seem to be repeated and we address those in the fact sheet. We provide context to:

  • The fact that 5G still needs fiber optic connections
  • Why it won’t solve the problem of lack of competition
  • Why 5G won’t eliminate the digital divide
  • The myth of the 5G race

Orders, Complements, and More

The fact sheet also provides information about the FCC’s 2018 Order that interferes with local communities’ ability to control negotiations with 5G carriers. By choosing big telecom companies over local governments the FCC is preventing cities and counties from finding efficient paths to digital equity.

Our Pocket Guide to 5G Hype lays out a comparison between 5G and Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH). Rather than replacing fiber with 5G, the two technologies can have the most impact when they work together; on the fact sheet, we've laid out the reasons in a side-by-side chart.

We want you to delve deeper into the issue of 5G and find out the truth, rather than get lost in the hype and we've offered a few additional resources to get you started on your own research. Share the fact sheet with others who are interested in the truth about 5G and be sure to send it to your local elected officials. As they create local policies affecting 5G deployment in your community, they need to base their decisions on realities, not hype.

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