Tag: "Wireless"

Posted November 9, 2020 by Christopher Mitchell

In a new essay published by the Nonprofit Quarterly, Christopher tackles the connectivity gap in the context of the ongoing pandemic and how it could be solved by a variety of proven nonprofit models that are already connecting tens of thousands of Americans efficiently to fast, affordable networks.  

See an excerpt below, but check out the whole piece over at the Nonprofit Quarterly:

One of the longest-lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic may be the lost education opportunities for millions of children. While the vast majority of children studying remotely are adversely affected, several million students have no home broadband Internet access at all. As a result, they have been extraordinarily disadvantaged. For too many, public schooling has effectively ended.

[S]omewhere between 15 and 41 million Americans cannot buy a reasonable broadband connection today because their home is not served by an ISP. Most, but not all, of these homes are in rural America, and we typically talk about this problem as being one of “access.” Tens of millions more Americans live in a location that’s served by an ISP, but they cannot afford the fees or face other barriers such as lacking a device or digital literacy. This problem is typically referred to as a lack of digital inclusion, or the digital divide, although these terms are often tossed around loosely.

There is no single policy to solve the broadband problems faced by the nation. In most cases, better networks and lower prices would really help, but achieving that would require different strategies in rural or urban areas. Challenges around literacy and online safety/security will be more difficult.

The answer then is the answer now: nonprofit business models. In a nation as large and varied as the United States, a single business model rarely meets everyone’s needs. Universal electricity required some 4,000 municipal electric departments and nearly 1,000 rural electric cooperatives. And it worked. Not because municipal networks and cooperatives are magical, but because they have the right incentives.

Cities face a greater challenge because the stakes are higher. Cable and telephone lobbyists have shaped rural broadband subsidy programs but see an existential threat in programs aimed at improving urban...

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Posted November 5, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

As voters went to the polls to cast ballots in the 2020 Presidential election, in two major metropolitan areas residents overwhelmingly approved ballot questions to move forward on exploring how to expand broadband access in their respective cities.

In Chicago, nearly 90% of those who cast ballots said “yes” to a non-binding referendum question that asked: “Should the city of Chicago act to ensure that all the city's community areas have access to broadband Internet?" With 2,034 of 2,069 precincts counted, 772,235 voters out of 862,140 cast their ballots in favor of that question.

That vote came on the heels of the roll out of “Chicago Connected,” a new initiative to bring high-speed Internet service to 100,000 households that do not have reliable access within the nation’s third-largest school district.

Meanwhile, in Denver 219,435 voters, or 83.5% of the city’s electorate, cast ballots in favor of question 2H, which allows the city to opt out of the state’s 2005 state law referred to as SB 152. That law prevents municipalities from building or partnering for broadband networks. Approval of the ballot initiative also grants the city “the authority but not [the] obligation to provide high-speed Internet access." Two other Colorado communities – Berthoud and Englewood – also voted in favor of similar ballot questions, asking voters if they want to opt out of SB 152. In Berthoud, 77.3% of voters cast ballots in support of the question. In Englewood, the opt-out question passed with 79.4% of voters in favor, which will allow the city to provide Wi-Fi service in city facilities.

In the 15 years since SB 152 was passed 140 Colorado communities have opted out with resultant networks like Longmont’s...

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Posted October 29, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

In the fall of 2019, when the Kaysville City Council was poised to move forward on a $26 million, 30-year bond to build a municipal-owned fiber optic network, the COVID-19 pandemic had not yet turned life upside down.

Although city officials and advisors had spent 18 months thoroughly exploring options in a planning process City Councilwoman Michelle Barber called “one of the most vetted and open projects that we’ve worked on,” a group known as the Coalition for Responsible Kaysville Fiber created enough pushback to convince the City Council to shelve the plan and defer to a citizen-led ballot initiative.

On Tuesday, Nov. 3, Kaysville voters, in this city of approximately 32,000, will not only cast their ballots in the Presidential election, they will also be asked if they want the city to move forward with Kaysville Fiber. If the ballot initiative passes, it will allow the city to deploy a Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) network. 

Currently, Comcast and CenturyLink are the Internet Service Providers (ISP) for most of Kaysville with some areas near the city relying on satellite Internet access. As has been the case in hundreds of communities across the nation that have built out fiber networks, Kaysville city leaders are looking to build a “last mile” fiber network to lower prices and improve services by creating an environment for increased competition.

Proponents are hoping the new “normal” in the face of the on-going pandemic — with the massive rise in virtual classrooms, remote work from home, telemedicine, and online commerce — will help voters see Kaysville Fiber as necessary infrastructure. 

“I personally had residents who previously were either unsure of the project or were opposed, which is fine, now they said, ‘Oh I see what you guys were getting at. This is essential,’” City Councilwoman Barber told the Salt Lake Tribune earlier this month. “It’s not fair that some of us can function in the city and some of us can’t. COVID-19 has been a really poignant case study.”...

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Posted October 1, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

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-McCracken

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-McCracken

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-McCracken

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 Mitchell

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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