Tag: "rural"

Posted September 8, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

The good folks at Public Knowledge have released a report (with a fun video, embedded below) appropriately titled, "4G + Data Caps = Magic Beans." These are the fraudulent version of magic beans - don't expect any beanstalks to data clouds.

The 4G offered by major wireless carriers (with the notable exception of Sprint) is a waste of money because it comes with strict data caps. These data caps actively discourage the types of activities that 4G enables. Activities that are made possible by 4G, such as watching movies or uploading video to the internet, are made impossible by the data caps. As a result most users will avoid taking advantage of these new services out of fear of incurring large overage fees. That makes capped 4G little more than a bait and switch, like being sold a handful of magic beans.

I have been disturbed by statements from a number of policymakers and elected officials suggesting they believe the future of connectivity in rural America is wireless, specifically 4G because it is better than the horrible DSL that is mostly the only "broadband" connection available in much of rural America.

President Obama has suggested that investing in 4G wireless will spur economic development in northern Michigan. Not hardly. What are small businesses going to use the last 29 days of the month after they exceed their data caps?

People in Wired West have told me that those in charge of broadband in Massachusetts have at times been dismissive of their project to bring affordable, fast, and reliable broadband to everyone in their towns because the state would prefer to pretend that cheaper wireless solutions will accomplish the same goal.

4G wireless is not the solution to connecting rural America. It could be an interim solution while we build real broadband out to those areas, but it is insufficient as a solution in and of itself due to the many very real limitations of the technology and the business model of those controlling the spectrum necessary to access to it.

Posted September 6, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes, may soon also be the land of Countywide rural FTTH. Yet another County is doing a feasibility study to figure out how it can bring fast, affordable, and reliable broadband access to all of its citizens.

Redwood County’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) opted to move forward with a broadband feasibility study that would determine just what the county would need to do in order to get fiber to every premises.

The study, which is being conducted by the Blandin Foundation through what is known as the Robust Broad-band Networks Feasibility Grant Program.

The grant, which includes up to $40,000 for the county as it addresses the needs of every community and farm site from one end of the county to the other, requires matching funds, which are available through the county EDA.

Redwood County

Redwood County is in an interesting area, just north of the Windom area muni FTTH networks and west of the proposed project in Sibley and Renville counties. This study comes not long after Todd County started a feasibility study as well (the the latest on that). And though we haven't discussed it much on MuniNetworks.org, Lac qui Parle County to the northwest is working with a rural telephone cooperative to bring FTTH to many in their border as well.

And then beyond them, we have Cook County going FTTH with their electric coop and Lake County going its own way, both with the assistance of the broadband stimulus awards.

Minnesota could very well become the state with the most impressive rural connections. Unfortunately, thus far we have seen no assistance from the state in this matter, but perhaps the Dayton Administration will chart a new course. He has decided to appoint a new...

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Posted August 24, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

This has been a great month for communities building their own high capacity broadband networks in New England. Wired West in rural Massachusetts has formalized its coop of communities. Just last Friday, we wrote about the East Central Vermont Community Fiber network in beta. As of last night, EC Fiber is out of beta and officially live! Those interested can sign up at MyECFiber.net. Last night, they issued this press release:

SOUTH ROYALTON – Having completed its beta testing, and with the Phase I project nearly complete, ECFiber began connecting its first customers today. Eight customers have been beta-testing the system for the past two weeks, getting sustained 5Mbps symmetrical service.

The Barnard General Store, one of the beta sites, has been offering the experience to customers via WI-FI, and has been finding folks on their doorstep at all hours, trying out the system.

ecfiber-construction.png

“It’s been amazing,” says Kim Furlong, one of the store’s proprietors. “Because so much more of what we do is online, it is truly a joy to reap the reward of high-speed internet. Dial-up, and even satellite, is such a time-robber. Fiber is very different – you can be more efficient, and that is exciting. At the same time, I have some trepidation. People are going to relocate here more permanently because of what is available, and that is probably going to change the fabric of the community.”

According to Project Coordinator Leslie Nulty, 15 new accounts were opened within the first 24 hours after the doorstep delivery of information packets. Barnard Academy, another beta site, is also very excited about the service. They are planning an open house and community celebration of ECFiber’s arrival in mid-October.

Barnard was chosen for the Phase I project because of its proximity to the central office and its large number of unserved users. Pre-registrations topped 90% before the project started. Phase II, to build out the rest of the town of Barnard, is in the planning stages, with an informational meeting set for Thursday night at 7PM at the Barnard Town Hall.

Posted August 19, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

The East Central Vermont Fiber-to-the-Home network is officially connecting people. This has been a fascinating project to watch, though undoubtedly frustrating from the thousands of people who just want a fast, affordable, and reliable connection to the Internet (though any one of the three would be an improvement for them).

They started trying to finance the network when the markets weren't interested in even lending water to Jesus. They seemed a lock for stimulus funding but that money instead when to a wireless project. The state begged them to apply for Vermont Telecom Authority broadband funds and then slammed the door when they complied. All in the shadow of Burlington Telecom. So they did what they now say they should have done from the start: financed it themselves.

They organized and came up with $1 million locally to start the project. In July, they announced Barnard Vermont would get connected first.

And now they are starting to turn those connections on. And regularly updating their blog, something I love to see! As of yesterday, they had 7 beta connections going and were planning to add 2 more. 3 in 4 of those asked if they want drops installed have already said yes.

We look forward to tracking their progress.

Posted August 11, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

The open access fiber-optic network in Danville, Virginia, is officially going FTTH. We have long watched nDanville's progress and are excited to see the network expanding into residential access after significantly improving telecom services to businesses and schools.

Last year, City Council debated and ultimately rejected a more ambitious plan to expand the network more rapidly. But the utility has secured permission for a smaller project area this year, allowing it to expand without incurring debt. This project will be financed out of the reserves they have built up from net telecom revenues over the years. That's right, they have been running in the black and are reinvesting those funds into connecting more of the community.

The utility has $250,000 to use for the build, allowing them to connect some 250 homes (maybe double that if they can stretch the funds) in this phase. If things go as well as they have historically, they will roll through the community in this fashion, undoubtedly increasing their capacity as the model proves itself. Additionally, as new developments are built, they will likely be connected due to the extremely low cost in so-called greenfields.

They have one provider lined up to offer video services on their open access network (the utility provides no services themselves) but as they gain subscribers, more service providers will begin offering services.

This network is creating jobs directly (by expanding the physical infrastructure) but is also encouraging many more jobs indirectly -- the local service provider is expanding and local businesses are doing better than they would if mired in the duopoly so many other communities find themselves.

Posted August 9, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Very good news continues to come from Wired West. From a press release:

August 13th will be a historic occasion for many Western Massachusetts towns, as they form a joint cooperative to build and operate a state-of-the-art telecommunications network for residents and businesses. Founding member towns have traditionally been unserved or underserved by existing broadband providers. The new Cooperative, called WiredWest, will create a community-owned network offering high quality internet, phone and television services to member towns.

Today, most WiredWest towns have only partial coverage from limited-bandwidth broadband technologies. WiredWest's goal is not only to create fair access to broadband for all member town residents, but also to provide very high-quality services on a reliable, state-of-the-art network that will meet the escalating bandwidth requirements of businesses and home owners, and provide enough capacity for many decades.

The proposed WiredWest network will connect to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute's middle-mile fiber-optic infrastructure to create a robust network from end to end.

Twenty-three Western Massachusetts towns have taken the necessary steps to join the WiredWest co-operative by passing votes in two consecutive town meetings. Seventeen additional towns are in the process of voting and are expected to join the Cooperative over the next year. A map of WiredWest towns and their progress can be viewed on the WiredWest website.

The WiredWest Cooperative is utilizing "Municipal Light Plant" legislation, initially drafted in 1906, when rural towns faced a similar crisis of access to fundamental services from a lack of electricity. In 1996, the provision of telecommunications services was added to the statute, which enables municipalities to build and operate broadband services in the Commonwealth.

The leadership team and working groups are focused on finalizing a business plan, putting financing together and early network planning. The group recently received a $50,000 planning grant from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, and has also raised additional funding from local businesses and individuals to assist with start-up requirements.

The incorporation will take place in Cummington, a town in the geographic center of WiredWest's territory.

Posted July 23, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

We have long followed the efforts of rural communities in western Massachusetts to form the Wired West network. They will soon wrap up the town meeting season and have a sense of how many local towns are a part of the initial project. But if you aren't already familiar with the project, the Daily Yonder offers a background article.

Midway through the broadband stimulus program in early 2010, several western Massachusetts towns recognized this danger and decided to form WiredWest to take matters into their own hands. These communities believe “control of the network needs to stay in the hands of the community,” states Co-Chair and spokesperson Monica Webb, of Monterey, MA. “Private providers just cherry pick the best subscribers and offer empty promises to the rest of us.”

WiredWest structured itself legally as a "cooperative of municipal light plants," a designation created by a 100-year-old law that enabled towns to distribute their own electricity. This designation allows towns to own telecom services within existing legislative guidelines and use municipal bonds to fund the network, and it grants individuals and businesses tax deductions when they donate to WiredWest. WiredWest also can provide Internet access service without being required to provide cable TV services. Hilltown Community Dev Corp. is a second community co-op in the area and it is designated as a fiduciary able to apply for grants on WiredWest’s behalf. Once WiredWest officially launches this month, it will have the legal authority to apply for grants, contract with providers, and take other actions.

WiredWest early on took stock of its needs, learning how to recruit additional towns to join the coalition. “Of the 47 towns now in WiredWest, Verizon, Time Warner Cable and Comcast are only in seven,” says Webb. “There are two or three WISPs, (wireless Internet service providers) but getting coverage into many places requires lots of towers and repeaters that makes this option expensive. Some towns can make the coverage-to-cost work, but others tried to no avail.”

Posted July 21, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

If the future is wireless, we have to preserve unlicensed spaces. To explain: most wireless stuff uses licensed spectrum - where only a single entity has permission from the FCC to use a specific wavelength of spectrum. While this is great for those who can afford to license spectrum (companies like AT&T and Verizon), it is not particularly efficient because the rest of us cannot use those wavelengths even if AT&T and Verizon aren't (which is particularly a problem in rural areas).

Contrast that approach with Wi-Fi, which uses unlicensed spectrum. There are portions of spectrum where the FCC has said anyone can do anything. This is why we do not need permission to set up wireless networks in our house.

Last year, the FCC made a great decision to make "white spaces" wireless technology unlicensed -- which will allow more of us (again particularly in rural areas) to use white spaces without having to get permission. Because this decision creates a larger potential market, we would have more manufacturers interested in creating gear -- meaning more innovation and a lower cost to establish wireless networks (that are far more powerful than Wi-Fi allows).

But now Congress is considering reversing that decision and licensing that spectrum to generate a few billion dollars of one-time revenue for the government -- at a cost of far more than billions of dollars of lost opportunities, particularly in rural America where these unlicensed white spaces are the only real opportunity to rapidly deliver broadband in the short term.

In short, keeping these white spaces unlicensed will be far better for rural economies, innovation, and productivity than a one-time infusion of cash into the federal government.

These decisions are going to made shortly, so I encourage everyone to check out Public Knowledge's Action Alert calling on us to contact our members of Congress to oppose this approach.

Posted July 18, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

We watch in frustration as the federal government, dressed as Charlie Brown asks AT&T, wearing Lucy's blue dress and smiling brightly, if she really will hold the football properly this time. "Oh yes, Charlie, this time I really will create all those jobs if you let us buy T-Mobile," says AT&T Lucy.

Over at HuffPo, Art Brodsky recently revisited AT&T's promises in California to create jobs, lower broadband prices, and heal the infirm if the state would just deregulate the cable video market -- which it did, 4 years ago. California upheld its end of the bargain -- wanna guess if AT&T did? Hint: Charlie Brown ended up on his back then too.

The answer comes from James Weitkamp (via Art's HuffPo post), from the Communications Workers of America, a union that all too often acts in the interests of big companies like AT&T and CenturyLink rather than workers:

"AT&T and Verizon have slashed the frontline workforce, and there simply are not enough technicians available to restore service in a timely manner, nor enough customer service representatives to take customers' calls. Let me share some statistics. Since 2004, AT&T reduced its California landline frontline workforce by 40%, from about 29,900 workers to fewer than 18,000 today. The company will tell you that they need fewer wireline employees because customers have cut the cord going wireless or switched to another provider, but over this same period, AT&T access line loss has been just under nine percent nationally. I would be shocked if line loss in California corresponds to the 40 percent reduction in frontline employees.


"Similarly, since 2006 Verizon California cut its frontline landline workforce by one-third, from more than 7,000 in 2005 to about 4,700 today. I venture that Verizon has not lost one third of its land lines in the state."

Note that AT&T, Verizon, and other massive incumbents like Comcast have been wildly profitable over this term.

The same trend holds in cellular wireless - as noted by the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. wireless industry is booming as more consumers and businesses snap up smartphones, tablet computers and billions of wireless applications. But for...

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Posted July 15, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

For years, telephone and cable companies have claimed there is little demand for better networks because they cannot identify a single "killer app" that needs 100Mbps or 1Gbps. Recently, I've heard from kindred spirits saying that the "killer app" is the network itself.

This is a smart response.

Imagine someone demanding we dismantle the Interstates unless we can identify a single use that makes them worthy. The proposition is absurd. There are thousands of ways the Interstates are used. Some -- like ensuring the military can move about the country quickly -- are quite important whereas others are important only to a few people (as when my family goes on vacation).

We are all better off because we have such a robust transportation system. Our markets are more efficient and we have greater freedom of movement. We all also bear the cost (whether it be through taxes, pollution, or other impacts … and yes, we bear that cost unevenly). Roads have been essential infrastructure for centuries -- few argue they should only be built where those along the path can pay for the full cost of doing so.

Access to the Internet is rapidly becoming as important as the roads have long been. Whether for economic development, education, health, or quality of life, a lack of fast, reliable, and affordable access to the Internet diminishes all.

For years, rural cooperatives have built telecommunications networks in rural areas where no private company would dare invest. Joan Engebretson explains why "Broadband Payback is not Just About Subscriber Revenues.".

Antique Phone

The upshot is that in doing a cost/ benefit analysis on telecom infrastructure investment, it’s important to take into account not only the direct revenues that the infrastructure generates but also the dollars that flow into a community as a result of the investment.

Imagine trying to sell a home today that only had party line phone service and think about the impact that would have on the value of the home. Now apply that logic to broadband. With two-thirds of U.S. households accustomed to having broadband connectivity, I’m already hearing that homes in areas with inadequate broadband...

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