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Mendocino County Worried About Their Copper During IP Transition
This is not our first look at problems with communications service in rural Mendocino County, California, but we continue to see concerning stories coming from it. The tenuous situation along the North Coast, where large private providers have refused to invest in redundant networks, is heightening concern among first responders, community leaders, and citizens.
The problem stems from the tendency of incumbents to neglect existing copper systems that need to be replaced with fiber based VoIP. Randy MacDonald, assistant fire chief of the Camptche Volunteer For Department of rural Mendocino County recently presented the department's concerns to congressional and regulatory staff in D.C. The Press Democrat quoted him in a recent article that examines the issue in their region:
“We’ve built a second-to-none 911 system,” MacDonald said. But “we’re almost by default allowing it to become degraded as technology changes.”
For decades, people have been paying bills with an expectation that they were helping to maintain the network. Uncle Sam has spent billions subsidizing carriers to ensure the network worked. But now it seems that some carriers are preparing to harvest as much as they can without delivering reliable communications to those paying the bills:
Verizon’s biggest union, the Communication Workers of America, has accused the company of refusing to fix broken copper lines and pushing customers to move to fiber or wireless systems. Verizon has flatly denied the charges.
Some, like MacDonald, believe other telecommunications corporations are attempting to abandon their copper systems through neglect.
“There is a lot of concern the telecom giants are basically allowing the copper infrastructure to just deteriorate,” Mendocino County Supervisor John McCowen said.
The FCC knows that there is growing concern over the attitude of the incumbents. In order to address some of these problems in Mendocino and similar rural areas as we trade in copper for glass, in August the FCC adopted a number of rules for carriers:
CNS Expanding Fiber in Rural Georgia
Community Network Services (CNS) has been serving six rural southwest Georgia communities since the late 1990s. Recently, we learned that the network added two more communities to its service area when it took over a small municipal cable system in Doerun and purchased a private cable company in Norman Park.
CNS has been our radar since 2012 when we learned how Thomasville, Cairo, Camilla, Moultrie, Baconton, and Pelham joined together to create a regional network that reached into 4 counties. The network has brought better access to rural Georgia, improved educational opportunities, and helped lower taxes.
Mike Scott, Moultrie City Manager, gave us details on the expansions into both of these very small communities. Scott repeated the CNS philosophy:
We don't look at it as a just a business plan…we look at it as economic development for the entire county.
Doerun, population 774, had its own municipal DSL and cable TV system but it needed significant upgrades. Doerun also faced increased costs for content, technology, and personnel challenges, and customers wanted faster connectivity. CNS and the community of Doerun had discussed the possibility of a CNS take over of the system in the past but network officials hesitated to take on the investment until Doerun upgraded due to the condition of the system. Doerun's school was already connected to the CNS network.
In addition to the problems with the network, an upgrade required considerable make-ready work. CNS estimated that preparing existing utility poles for fiber would be expensive, according to Scott, and network officials did not feel comfortable making that additional investment.
Like many other small rural communities, Doerun operates its own municipal electric utility. The electric system was also in need of upgrades but due to lack of available capital, the city would need to borrow to fund the work. CNS and Doerun worked out an agreement to transfer the cable TV and Internet access system to CNS for mutual benefit.
Another Rural Telephone Cooperative to Deploy Gigabit Fiber Network
Residents in the southeast rural town of Frontenac, Kansas, will have access to fiber by the spring of 2016, reports the FourStatesHomePage.com.
After receiving approval from the Frontenac City Council, the Craw-Kan Telephone Cooperative announced that it intends to deploy fiber within the city of 3,400. Each home will have access; gigabit service will cost approximately $70 per month. Construction will begin this summer.
From the article and the video embedded below:
"It's just superior to anything out there. I mean, we've been doing fiber for several years. We have well over 2,000 customers, and I think we just finally asked ourselves why are we restricting the use of this fiber optic cable when it can do so much more than what most people are receiving?" said Craig Wilbert, Craw-Kan General Manager.
Small Texas Town Don't Need No Stinkin' CenturyLink
The people in Kemp, population 1,100, have officially said "adios" to CenturyLink and now give their business to a local wireless provider, reports Government Technology. According to the article, the community grew tired of slipshod service and repeated service interruptions:
At one point, the city lost its Internet connection for five days. “That was the last straw because that was detrimental to us, because we depend on the Internet so much more, especially with our phone system," said [City Administrator Regina] Kiser. "We had just gone with the voice over IP [Internet protocol] when our system went down for five days, so you try to call city hall about various things, including the police department, and there was no phone. So, that was horrible.”
After a year of requests from the municipality for better service went unheeded, government officials decided it was time to make some changes:
“If you’re a government entity and you call in, they send you into cyberspace somewhere and your phone just rings and rings and rings, and I guess there’s just not any commission to be made on cities from what I’m understanding,” Kiser said. “This problem’s been going on for about a year, as far as not having the power we need to run our court program. So we tried, but it was just impossible to deal with CenturyLink.”
Kemp now works with One Ring Networks, where they receive service for a rate of $450 per month. There was no installation charge and in exchange, One Ring Networks is able to expand its network in the community. It now has the opportunity to sell service to residents and businesses in Kemp.
Unlike the typical "up to" speeds the big incumbents offer, One Ring Networks claims it "carves out" 5 Mbps download and upload for each subscriber, says Kris Maher from One Ring Networks:
“With the other carriers, that 10 Mbps by whatever is a best effort service, which means it can go up to 10 Mbps, but 10 Mbps isn’t guaranteed. Ours is right at 5 and it’s always going to be at 5, no matter who else is on our network.”
Kiser notes that residents are happy with their new provider and that, despite a brief delay caused by inclement weather, the upgrade was a simple task:
Indiana County Saving With Fiber in Pennsylvania
Indiana County, Pennsylvania's County Commission recently voted to use its fiber optic network for telephone service reports the Indiana Gazette. The change will allow the county to save $67,000 over the first five years. Indiana County is located on the west side of the state and is home to approximately 89,000 people.
The upgrade will allow the county to eliminate two-thirds of its phone lines by taking advantage of the network that was installed as part of Indiana County's public safety radio system. Phones in the courthouse, jail, district justices’ offices, a convalescent facility, the Indiana County Airport, the county parks and the departments of Children and Youth Services and Human Services will all be on the new system.
From the Gazette article:
“This is just the beginning of the savings we’ll see from the fiber optic network,” Baker said. Coming soon will be lower costs for county government’s Internet service.
Leverett Starts to Light Up in Massachusetts
The celebrated municipal network in Leverett, Massachusetts, is starting to serve select areas of the community. Customers' properties on the north side of town are now receiving 1 gigabit Internet service from the town's partner Crocker Communications. These early subscribers are considered "beta sites." Telephone service will become available when the network has been fully tested.
According to the press release:
The Town's initial plan was to turn on all subscriber locations at the same time; but interest from pre-subscribers was so strong that the Town's Broadband Committee arranged to offer sequential connections as individual homes are spliced into the network distribution cable.
We learned about Leverett in 2012 as they explored the possibility of a municipal network. Lack of Internet access and problems with traditional phone service drove the community to take the initiative. Since then, they have been heralded as a model for self-reliance by the press, featured in case studies, and included in a white paper from the National Economic Council and Council of Economic Advisors.
LeverettNet subscribers pay a monthly $49.95 fee to the local Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the agency that maintains and operates the infrastructure. As more subscribers sign-up, that fee will decrease.
For stand-alone gigabit Internet access, subscribers pay an additional $24.95 per month. Stand-alone telephone service will be $29.95 per month. Those services will be $44.95 per month when bundled together.
A subscriber with bundled services of 1 gigabit symmetrical Internet access and telephone service pays a total of $94.90 per month, which includes the MLP fee.
According to the press release, LeverettNet currently has 600 pre-subscribers, a take rate of 70%. Community leaders expect the network to be completed by August.
Cooperative Lights Up $88 Gigabit in Northeast Alabama
Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative (FTC) is now bringing gigabit service to its Alabama members. According to the Online Reporter, FTC is the largest member-owned cooperative in the state and offers symmetrical service to businesses and residents in two counties.
The cooperative began in 1952 when telephone companies of the time did not want to invest in the rural area of the state due to low expected returns. Years earlier, the community had organized its own electric cooperative and reproduced its success to bring telephone service to residents. The area, referred to as Sand Mountain, is a natural plateau at the southern tip of the Appalachian Mountain chain.
WHNT 19 News attended a lighting ceremony in Geraldine where the FTC CEO said that the cooperative has covered approximately 84 percent of its membership area. The fiber network runs between Chattanooga and Huntsville, consisting of approximately 2,770 miles of fiber.
“We’ve now covered about 84 percent of our traditional membership on Sand Mountain between the Tennessee River and the Georgia/Tennessee lines,” said Fred Johnson, CEO of Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative. “We’ve also been able to extend that network to communities of interest such as Fort Payne, Collinsville, Valley Head, Section, Dutton, and other areas in DeKalb and Jackson County that are part of our competitive area but not traditional area. They now all have access to that fiber broadband network.”
“Geraldine, and every other municipality in DeKalb and Jackson County that we touch can say they’re a gig city just like the rest,” Johnson says.
FTC pricing for stand alone symmetrical broadband is an affordable $67.50 for 100 Mbps and $88 for gigabit service. The cooperative also offers triple play and other bundling options.
Co-Mo Cooperative: Bringing Some of the Fastest Speeds in the Nation to Rural Missouri
Co-Mo Cooperative and the Co-Mo Connect Board of Directors recently voted to proceed with the final phases of its gigabit FTTH project. The decision assures the plan to bring to triple-play to all Co-Mo members by the end of 2016.
We checked in on Co-Mo about a year ago, when the cooperative announced it would increase speeds without increasing prices for both residential and business members. Residential fiber Internet service ranges from $39.95 per month for 5 Mbps to $99.95 per month for gigabit service; all speeds are symmetrical.
Triple-play service extends beyond the electric service territory. During the first phase of the project, the city of California (pop. 4,200) opened up city poles for Co-Mo in space that was previously used by a cable company that no longer operated in the area. The project then expanded to Tipton (pop. 3,200) and Versailles (pop. 2,500). In a story on the expansion on the Co-Mo website, General Manager Randy Klindt said:
“We’re creating this wide swath of the most advanced communications network in the country right here in rural Missouri. Part of the cooperative’s mission statement is to improve our communities, and these city projects definitely qualify. It is important the everyone in our region has access to broadband because the economic health of our cooperative members and our local towns are intertwined.”
“Despite what other telecommunication companies say, it’s not only doable, but it’s happened. The broadband speeds we deliver are 100 times what the FCC now determines to be broadband in rural areas,” Klindt said.
Ookla recognized Tipton as the community with the fastest Internet speeds in Missouri in 2014 with and average of 88.86 Mbps for those who ran speed tests on the network reported Lake Expo.com. Co-Mo Connect was also ranked 18th in the U.S. of fastest ISPs with at least 100 speed tests run from subscribers.
IP Transition Discussion on WAMU Kojo Nnamdi Radio Show
Discussion over the "IP transition" has taken a back seat in the media lately as news outlets focus on the question of local authority over the right to invest in fiber network infrastructure. The IP transition is the gradual change from older analog mostly copper networks to packet-switched IP approaches that may use any medium (copper, fiber, wireless, etc). Some big carriers, like AT&T, are pushing to change the traditional rules applied to telephony and telecommunications as part of this technological change.
In October, Kojo Nnamdi interviewed Jodie Griffin from Public Knowledge, Technology Reporter Brian Fung, and Rick Boucher, a lobbyist from the Sidney Austin law firm. The show, The Future of Phone Service, is archived and available for you to hear.
As technology creates options for how we speak with each other, rules, regulations, and policies must also stay current. In this interview, Nnamdi and his guests touch on some of the basic concerns we face moving forward. From the WAMU show description:
American phone companies began laying the nation’s vast copper wire telecom network in the 1800s. But today less than one-third of the country uses the old copper lines, and a mere 5 percent rely on them exclusively. The advent of fiber optic cable and wireless phone service makes the copper network obsolete. We explore the fate of landline phone service and concerns about pricing, safety and access as the nation transitions to an all-digital phone future.
If you are interested in learning more about the pros and cons in the IP transition debate, we encourage you to visit Public Knowledge's IP Transition issue page. They provide legal, anecdotal, and statistical data. PK also provides an advocacy toolkit to help you understand the transition and give you the info you need to defend your rights.
Call to Action: Support Stronger Rules for Mobile 911
An increasing number of Americans are abandoning their landlines for the convenience and economy of mobile devices. Unfortunately, doing so also makes it more difficult to locate the caller in an emergency. In order to correct the problem, the FCC has proposed a stronger set of rules that will increase location accuracy for 911 calls.
As can be expected, 911 Dispatchers and First Responders support the proposed rules. Public Knowledge recently wrote about the changes that could save an additional 10,000 lives per year.
Currently, wireless companies are not required to use specific cell tower information to lead emergency medical personnel to an apartment or the floor from which a call originates. They need only to supply specific information if the call is made from outdoors. As more and more people depend on mobile devices, both indoors and out of doors, our rules need updating.
Public Knowledge has posted a call to action to support stronger rules and ensure more successful rescues:
As a result of consumers’ growing reliance on wireless and reported failures in locating callers on time, the FCC has proposed rules that require carriers to give 911 dispatchers callers’ locations within 100 meters after their first connection with a cell phone tower, and 50 meters after the dispatchers search using location accuracy, such as GPS. They have also included a requirement for vertical location, or the ability to find what floor and building callers are located in.
We encourage you to read and sign the petition drafted by Public Knowledge and to let the FCC know that policy needs to keep pace with technology.