Tag: "Wireless"

Posted January 4, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Susan Crawford has coined the expression "looming cable monopoly" to describe important changes in the Internet access arena. We have long discussed the ways in which FTTH represents a natural monopoly -- the first entity to build a FTTH network is likely to be the only one. What we haven't discussed how cable networks are similarly edging DSL-dependent telcos out of the market.

Fortunately, Susan Crawford has recently been casting light on this trend -- and her work has been picked up by Ars Technica (the finest tech reporters in the biz for my money).

The short version is this: upgrading cable networks to offer fastest speeds is much less expensive than upgrading DSL networks. Something not often mentioned: aside from AT&T and Verizon (who effectively mint dollars with their mobile revenues), the telephone companies have no money to upgrade their DSL networks anyway.

When the FCC took a look at this situation, they concluded that what little competition we have for broadband in the US is about to decrease (something we have long argued is a result of relying solely on the private sector for essential infrastructure). From the National Broadband Plan [pdf] on page 42:

Prior to cable’s DOCSIS 3.0 upgrade, more than 80% of the population could choose from two reasonably similar products (DSL and cable). Once the current round of upgrades is complete, consumers interested in only today’s typical peak speeds can, in principle, have the same choices available as they do today. Around 15% of the population will be able to choose from two providers for very high peak speeds (providers with FTTP and DOCSIS 3.0 infrastructure). However, providers offering fiber-to-the-node and then DSL from the node to the premises (FTTN), while potentially much faster than traditional DSL, may not be able to match the peak speeds offered by FTTP and DOCSIS 3.0.

Thus, in areas that include 75% of the population, consumers will likely have only one service provider (cable companies with DOCSIS 3.0-enabled infrastructure) that can offer very high peak download speeds.

To be clear - those "very high peak download speeds" they...

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Posted December 20, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

On TelecomTV, Sean McLaughlin discusses their local efforts to improve broadband access and the impediments they face from big national carriers.

Sean has a great understanding (and capacity to communicate that understanding) of how media access has changed from a focus on television to a broader focus centered on the Internet.

Posted November 29, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Vermonters are asking some hard questions about the federal broadband stimulus decision to throw money at a wireless network for Vermont rather than loaning money to an organization dedicated to delivering real broadband.

Senator Bernie Sanders convened a meeting to discuss the awards toward the end of October.

Senator Bernie Sanders led off his “broadband town meeting” Saturday morning at Vermont Technical College with a ringing affirmation of the need for better broadband coverage in Vermont and the nation.

However, nobody in the crowd of nearly 300 people needed to be convinced of that. What they wanted to know was whether a huge new federal grant to a private company was the right way to do it.

VTel, a small private telephone company, received a $116 million grant to build a FTTH network to serve their existing 18,000 footprint as well as a wireless network that is intended to serve the entire state.

In contrast, the East Central Vermont Fiber Network (which we have covered previously), applied for a loan to build a FTTH network to everyone in the 24 communities that have joined together to form the network. The ECFiber network would be run by a nonprofit and would repay the loan from revenue generated by selling triple-play services on the network.

Vermonters have a strong fiscal conservatism streak, which has shown up strongly in the discussions around this situation, something noted in a story leading up to the Sanders meeting:

He will get plenty of both from representatives of ECFiber, the consortium of 23 towns that has been planning a network of fiber-optic broadband to virtually every home in the White River Valley and beyond.

The organization was stung recently when its own request for a loan was not funded by RUS, which instead awarded a much larger outright grant to VTel, which is located in Springfield.

Our position at MuniNetworks, is quite similar to that of the these Vermonters: loans would be better policy than grants for broadband infrastructure.

Supporters of the wireless network, including VTel's CEO, Michel Guite, have suggested the $116 million...

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Posted November 26, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Remember our post that privately owned broadband networks tend toward consolidation? A Wall Street Journal article notes that Verizon CEO Seidenbuerg agrees:

Mr. Seidenberg also had some words for his smaller competitors like Sprint Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile USA, which claim to have their own 4G networks up and running already. He thinks the companies, along with other smaller wireless operators, should join forces. "There are too many players in the industry," he said. "I think it would be healthy if there's more consolidation."

So while most of want more competition (which is to say, actual competition rather than essentially the same limited choices from a few providers), they are working to eliminate the few choices we have.

The same story also peeks into the super fast world of the 4G networks that some would have us believe will obviate the need for a faster, more reliable FTTH connection:

Mr. Shammo said Verizon's 4G network, which is based on technology called Long-Term Evolution, can deliver between 1 and 12 megabits per second of data, allowing for tiered pricing structure similar to home wired Internet service.

Call me crazy, but 4G seems like a step backward for most of us who care about fast broadband.

Posted November 22, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Washington, DC, has greatly increased the available free Wi-Fi hotspots available to those hanging out on the National Mall. DC-Net is a massive fiber-optic network used by public agencies, schools, community institutions, etc. and offers connections that are faster, less expensive, and more reliable than could be achieved by relying on leased connections from private providers. And now it is using this network to improve our experiences when we visit our capital (or Capitol for that matter). DC-Net hotspot map

[T]he District of Columbia announced additions to its citywide wireless internet initiative. Over 220 Wi-Fi hotspots have been linked up to provide free Web access for city residents, visitors and businesses, District Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Bryan Sivak said in a statement. The municipal Wi-Fi network now extends coverage on the National Mall, from 3rd Street on the east to 14th Street on the west. The Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) partnered with several federal agencies including the Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce and the General Services Administration. Hardware and Internet services were donated by Cisco and Level 3.

A more detailed explanation of both achievements and goals of the program notes:

In response to the growth of wireless hotspot users and in an effort to improve the overall wireless user experience, DC-Net increased the capacity of the wireless network from support for 1896 concurrent users in FY 09 to 6464 users in FY 10. It also tripled the number of wireless access devices deployed from 1,000 in FY 09 to 3,100 in FY 10, while modestly increasing hotspot locations from 218 in FY 09 to 230 in FY 10, thereby strengthening hotspot capacity. Wireless bandwidth also nearly tripled, from 50 Mbps in FY 09 to 130 Mbps in FY 10. Hotspots support 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi standards and user access speeds up to 20 Mbps.

The Wi-Fi network is both for visitors as well as City employees who have access to a secure wireless network to improve their...

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Posted November 17, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Today, we at MuniNetworks.org have released the first of a series of regional broadband comparisons examining the benefits of community networks. We decided to start with the Minneapolis / St Paul area, where we live and work. Read the Analysis [pdf]
Read the Press Release
Our analysis, "Twin Cities Broadband No Match For Community Network," compares the available broadband plans in Minneapolis and St. Paul to small town Monticello, located 45 miles NW of Minneapolis. Monticello, as we have frequently discussed, has built a publicly owned FTTH network (which then pushed its telco incumbent to invest in much faster connections as well). Despite Comcast's much touted DOCSIS 3 upgrades and Qwest's "Heavy Duty" DSL, neither comes close to the value of Monticello's services. These companies have continued to use last-generation DSL and cable technologies with significant downfalls, including much slower upstream speeds than downstream -- a limitation particularly damaging to small businesses and people attempting to work from home. Qwest advertises "fiber-optic fast" but its speeds come nowhere near Monticello's actual fiber-optic network. Further, Qwest's actual speeds are often far below their claims due to limitations with DSL technologies. Comcast offers faster speeds than Qwest, even advertising a 50 Mbps downstream speed that appears to rival Monticello's until you consider the Comcast cable architecture rarely delivers promised speeds because entire neighborhoods have to share bandwidth. Both providers struggle to deliver fast upstream speeds, whereas Monticello's network services all include upstream speeds just as fast as the downstream speeds. When it comes to prices, Monticello's are lower, despite the faster speeds they offer. Minneapolis residents have access to a low-cost Wi-Fi network, but in that case, the low cost reflects the slower available speeds and significantly lower reliability. Our analysis also includes Clear, a new Wi-Max provider, to discredit any claims that 4G wireless will somehow change the fundamental dynamic at work in the Twin Cities: Comcast and Qwest are content to deliver 2nd rate speeds at inflated prices. Wireless provider have...

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Posted November 14, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Communities with both smart-grid investments as well as community networks are again in the news, this time featuring Chattanooga, Leesburg, and Ponca City. Thanks to my colleague at EnergySelfReliantStates.org, who posted this item. ESRS publishes original content about decentralized renewable energy - mostly of a quantitative nature using charts.

Perhaps one of the reasons the broadband networks run by public power utilities are so much more reliable than those run by telco and cablecos is the many decades that public power companies have focused intently on reliability.

Reliability is a good economic development tool, he said. One business looking at Chattanooga asked about the cost of a redundant feed. After EPB explained its smart grid plans, the company chose Chattanooga and decided it didn’t need a redundant feed, he said. In talking to businesses, "I can tell you ... that they get it and they get the importance of this level of automation."

The article offered more details about Ponca City's wireless network that we had previously not discussed. In addition to offering free Wi-Fi to residents, the Ponca City offers fiber-optic-based broadband to local businesses... and two are quite connected.

Perhaps the most eye-opening benefit is that Ponca City offers all of its 26,000 citizens free WiFi service. The city uses its fiber network to sell broadband services to businesses (one has requested 300 mbps service) and those sales pay for the free WiFi, Baird said. The network is basically support-free, said Baird, adding that he gets one or two calls per week. And the free WiFi is "a huge economic development draw," he said.

Posted August 23, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

A community-owned network, infused with broadband stimulus dollars, is bringing broadband to people stuck on long-distance dial-up for Internet access.

Cedar Falls Utilities, which recently announced an upgrade to FTTH from HFC, announced more good news last week: they have received an RUS stimulus grant (PDF, scroll down) to expand their broadband services to nearby unserved areas.

CFU is a public power and telecom utility in Iowa with an electrical footprint that roams outside Cedar Falls muni boundary. For years, CFU has wanted to offer broadband to its whole electrical territory but could not justify the capital expense outside the city because the rural areas would not produce enough revenues to run the network in the black.

With this 50% grant ($873,000) from the Rural Utilities Services, CFU is expanding and will offer broadband to their whole electrical territory. Serving broadband to these areas will be a sustainable enterprise -- the building of broadband is what costs so much money (one of the very good reasons networks should be accountable to the communities -- the "market" will not make the appropriate investment by itself).

Some folks will get fiber services and others will get WiMAX, a welcome change from dial-up (for some, long distance dial-up is the only option to connect to the Internet!).

I asked CFU if people in the area had access to broadband and was told that some had access to satellite services… to which I responded, "So no one has access to broadband?" Satellite is a last ditch option, not a viable competitor to services that deliver actual broadband.

Some also have access to some very slow cellular speeds - again, not really broadband but it is better than dial-up.

We salute Cedar Falls for requesting a 50% grant from the Feds rather than the full 80% they could have gone with. Self-reliance means taking responsibility for the community, not maximizing the "free money" available from the Feds.

Though we at MuniNetworks.org believe in a future with everyone connected with both mobile and reliable wired access, we do not expect it to happen tomorrow. We hope that over time, CFU is able to expand the reach...

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Posted July 23, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

A Qwest sales person admits on tape that Qwest is trying to eliminate competition by purging the network of independent ISPs. Listen to the conversation here.

Customer: "Qwest is trying to eliminate competition?"

Customer Service Rep: "In a way."

Undoubtedly, Qwest will (if it has not already) disavow this quote and suggest the CSR just didn't know what she was talking about. But they are clearly trying to remove competition - something we have witnessed in the Twin Cities of Minnesota as the good ISPs (for instance, IP House) are slowly strangled because they are not permitted resell the faster circuits. Additionally, I believe allegations that Qwest deliberately allows more congestion on lines they resell than lines where they are the sole retailer.

Our office uses IP House and we have never had anything but good experiences with them. But we need a faster services, so we can choose between slightly faster options with Qwest or much faster options with Comcast. We have no choice but to take service from a crappy massive company if we want to maintain productivity.

Some would claim that we have additional choices because USIW runs a Wi-Fi network in Minneapolis (subsidized by the City) but the network's speeds cannot compare to Comcast and it is far less reliable than the wired network alternatives (though Qwest's reliability in some areas may actually be worse).

I found this story via the Free UTOPIA blog but it links to the original source on Xmission - a UTOPIA service provider and DSL resellter.

Posted July 2, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

While researching the Wired West Network in rural Massachusetts, I learned about another community broadband network. The little town of Warwick built a wireless network for itself; the story behind it gives a glimpse into the ways that the federal approach to broadband really fails small communities.

Miryam Ehrlick Williamson described their motivations and experiences. In 2008, after considering their options, they voted to borrow $40,000 in a town meeting (Warrick has 750 people) to build a simple wireless system that would be far superior to the existing options of dial-up and satellite (neither of which are a service that could properly be termed broadband). State and federal programs ostensibly meant to help towns in this position do little good:

We know about a USDA program meant to bring broadband to rural America. Our information is that most of the money has gone to suburban communities in Texas, and we don’t have a professional grant administrator to chase down any money that might be left.

We’re aware that the Massachusetts governor just signed a $40 million act establishing the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, to figure out how to bring broadband to unserved and underserved towns. We’re also aware that the money will go to vendors to develop regional systems and we don’t have the patience to wait the two or three years it will take for anyone to get around to thinking about maybe serving us.

Ultimately, the City was able to lend itself the money:

As it has turned out, we didn’t need to borrow — town financial officers found the funds without going to the bank for them. We got the necessary permits from the owners of two towers here, bought the equipment, got a couple of people trained to install the equipment, and turned on our first customers in March, 2009.

Between a local mountain and available cell tower, the topology apparently fits a fixed-wireless approach (at least for a significant part of the population). Nonetheless, they were well aware that the system would not have the reliability of robust wired networks - but occasional interference was vastly preferable to the status quo.

The plan expected to break even with as few as 15 households, but they have...

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