Monday, November 22, 2010

Does Verizon's 150 Mbps FiOS Spell Disaster for Rural America

You might not think there could be any downside to Verizon's rollout of150 Mbps FiOS service, but you'd be wrong, at least in the minds of many Americans who, like me, live in rural areas that have no broadband service.

What's the downside? Something I've dubbed the rural death spiral, wherein people leave rural areas because they have no broadband, leading to a decline in property values because very few people want to buy a house that lacks broadband, even if they are not Internet users themselves (few people do, or should, buy a house without thinking of its resale value, which depends, in part, on broad appeal, not just appealing to the few people left in America for whom broadband is unappealing).

And as property values fall, so do local tax revenues, leading to declines in services, schools, and infrastructure maintenance, leading to further population declines, and further property value declines. A spiral headed down.

How does the new Verizon FiOS offering play into this? It highlights the fact that Verizon's focus is on high-end urban broadband, not rural communications. I suspect that Verizon would love to stop providing me and my neighbors with landline phone service if they could (thank Congress there has been a law on the books for decades that requires them to keep the lines working but who knows how long that will withstand lobbying pressure in the new Congress).

The other factor is the push that FiOS gives to broadband assumptions. More and more companies assume that people have more and more broadband. Last week Apple cheerfully issued a 680Mb operating system upgrade as an online patch. Try installing that without broadband!

Our government increasingly employs video and PDF documents to inform its citizenry, assuming they have broadband. I've been paying for a NetFlix "movies-by-mail" account that includes streaming video, which is not going to happen without broadband, and so on. You can forgive rural residents for think faster FiOS is one more nail in the coffin for communities that lack broadband.

Verizon FiOS Speeds Up To 150 Mbps | News & Opinion | PCMag.com

Friday, September 17, 2010

Carrier pigeons are faster than rural broadband!

Brilliant way to demonstrate rural broadband disparities!

Our hats are off to our UK counterparts. I think a walking man carrying a hard drive between two villages in Upstate New York is next. The lack of broadband is stifling life in America's farm country and the telcos should be ashamed to run their cables through here without providing local service.

Carrier pigeons are faster than rural broadband - Telegraph: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Not So Big Foot: Time Warner Business Class says "You are outside the TWC footprint "

When we read this email from Time Warner Business Class they might as well have said "You are outside the TWC footprint and man is that going to cost you."

Two months have passed since we got this message informing us that Time Warner Cable Business Class was not going to honor its contract to supply us with broadband (see previous post for more details). So we thought it would be a good idea to publish the email so people can see for themselves the preposterous sum of "over $100,000" quoted for rural broadband access. We assume that they assumed we did not have over $100k on hand.
Time Warner Cable Business Class email
Note that we have obscured contact info to protect the TWC employee who at least had the courtesy to communicate with us (although they managed to spell my name wrong).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Biden announces $1.8 billion broadband stimulus awards

I think the operative word here is begin: because we still have a long way to go and it is now clear that the stimulus money will run out long before all of America's rural communities have access to true broadband connectivity (i.e. something other than over-priced satellite service with its crippling latency and crushing usage caps):
“Today’s investment in broadband technology will create jobs across the country and expand opportunities for millions of Americans and American companies. In addition to bringing 21st century infrastructure to underserved communities and rural areas, these investments will begin to harness the power of broadband to improve education, health care, and public safety,” said Vice President Biden. -- Biden announces $1.8 billion broadband stimulus awards | MuniWireless
Don't get me wrong, I truly appreciate the Obama-Biden Plan putting rural broadband on the national agenda. But until the regulators get serious about making telecommunication companies give more back to the communities they run their cables through, but whose needs they by-pass, well the future will continue to look bleak for millions of rural homes and businesses.

The Cost of Digital Exclusion: Rural Minnesota waits for high-speed Internet

Some great coverage here of how the America's telcos are choking off business for rural Americans:
Bruce Kerfoot summed up an equally pressing issue at the summit. He owns Gunflint Lodge near Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area.

Kerfoot said his family recently decided to vacation in a remote Swiss village. It took them two minutes to make an online reservation at the resort they had chosen. "There is not one person in Europe who can make an online reservation with me," Kerfoot said.

Further, Kerfoot said he hasn't had a foreign visitor all year while half the customers at Canadian wilderness resorts in the Rockies have come from Asia where travelers overwhelmingly prefer to book online.

Living in remote and rugged northeastern Minnesota, Kerfoot is among some 100,000 households in the state that don't have broadband. And he can't get it even if he wants to pay for it.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Federal Government Buys Into a Telco-sponsored Oxymoron: Satellite Broadband

Here's how the federal government perpetuates the myth that satellite internet service is broadband:
Just as satellites orbiting the earth provide necessary links for telephone and television service, they can also provide links for broadband. Satellite broadband is another form of wireless broadband, and is also useful for serving remote or sparsely populated areas. [Satellite is NOT broadband]

Downstream and upstream speeds for satellite broadband depend on several factors, including the provider and service package purchased, the consumer’s line of sight to the orbiting satellite, and the weather. Typically a consumer can expect to receive (download) at a speed of about 500 Kbps and send (upload) at a speed of about 80 Kbps. These speeds may be slower than DSL and cable modem, but they are about 10 times faster than the download speed with dial-up Internet access. Service can be disrupted in extreme weather conditions. [And you cannot use it for real-time commodities trading, VPN, VoIP, or watching videos, movies, TV, etc.]

Types of Broadband Connections - Broadband.gov

List of Rural Broadband Projects Funded August 5

This week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the funding of 126 new Recovery Act broadband infrastructure projects to help create jobs and provide rural residents in 38 states and Native American tribal areas access to improved service.

The announcement is part of the second round of USDA broadband funding through the Recovery Act. A complete list of projects receiving Recovery Act broadband grant awards today can be viewed in full by clicking here. PrecisionAg.com - More Rural Broadband Projects Funded

Monday, August 2, 2010

Rural Poor to Get Poorer? 14 to 24 million Americans lack access to broadband

From International Business Times:
"In March, the FCC introduced the comprehensive National Broadband Plan. The FCC says somewhere in the range of 14 to 24 million Americans lack access to broadband internet connections. Most live in poorer, sparsely populated rural communities." -- FCC's National Broadband Plan Comes Under Fire
Those poorer rural communities are only going to get poorer if they don't get broadband. No broadband = lower property values; apart from the Amish, very few Americans want to live or work or raise a family without broadband. Lower property values = declining tax base = fewer services = poorer schools, and so on in a cycle of decline.

Read the full article for a detailed look at the issues involved. We have to say that between inter-agency wrangling and the lobbying might of the big telcos (who want $20,000 per mile to connect rural users) the outlook is not good.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

National Summit Brings Together Technology, Rural Ed Experts to Focus on Solutions

Interesting event:
More than 150 rural education stakeholders and technology experts from 26 states came together to learn from one another and provide feedback to federal officials today at a National Rural Education Technology Summit in Washington, D.C. Federal leaders in education, content, and connectivity held up the work of rural superintendents, school leaders, education service agencies, and researchers as examples for leveraging technology to overcome distance and increase access to high-quality teaching and learning in rural schools. -- U.S. Department of Education
Wonder if they discussed how teachers can assess homework fairly across the digital divide. For example, if half your students have broadband at home and the rest don't, how do you compensate for that when grading homework? This is a problem in a lot of rural schools today.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Time Warner Cable Supports "Broadband for America" But Demands $20,000 Per Mile to Deliver

If you are one of the tens of millions of Americans who can't get broadband Internet because it is just not available where you live, and you have looked into the problem of why this might be, you may have encountered BroadbandforAmerica.com. This is an organization that sounds like it might be promoting greater broadband access for Americans, but look a little closer and you will see it is really a bunch of telecommunication and cable companies (telcos) trying to avoid any requirements to provide broadband that might be imposed by local, state or federal government.

That's right folks, it's not a group of people out to help rural communities that can't get anyone to bring them broadband, it's a bunch of corporate and union lobbyists. Indeed, if you read their slogan carefully it says:
Brought to you by over 200 companies and organizations dedicated to expanding the discussion of BROADBAND for AMERICA
They are NOT about expanding the DELIVERY of BROADBAND for AMERICA, they're just about talking about the topic of broadband. And a lot of that talk is just plain nonsense.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Time Warner Cable Wants $20,000 Per Mile to Serve Rural America

That headline is not a typo, we recently discovered that Time Warner Cable is quoting $20,000 per mile to bring broadband Internet service to unserved rural areas. Here's how we found out: We conducted an experiment in rural broadband access.

We went to the Time Warner Cable Business Class website. We wanted to show the company we were serious about buying a big chunk of their service (for the record, we were willing and able to pay any reasonable fees for business class service, indeed we still are). We submitted a request for a quote via the website on May 29. This quote included some heavy duty broadband plus TV plus phone service to a location in rural New York state about 50 miles from the capital, Albany.

As background we should point out that this area produces a lot of the milk and other dairy products that are consumed in cities like Albany and New York (a lot of people don't realize that the state of New York is America's third largest when it comes to producing dairy products).

We got an email confirmation of the website quote right (click the image for a larger view).

A few days later we got a phone call from a nice lady at TWC. She discussed our order and actually got the price down to $199 per month for a 36 month contract, confirmed in an email on June 2 (click the image for a larger view). We were delighted!

(While $199 doesn't match those $89 per month Verizon FIOS deals that city dwellers get in places like Manhattan, this figure is way less than the amount that people in this part of rural New York state are required to pay to get very inferior service. For example, landline + long distance + 238Kbps satellite Internet capped at 350Mb of downloading per day + satellite TV = $285 per month.)

In fact, before we signed the contract we asked for clarification that this number was correct.

After that, things did not go so well. We were told the number was correct but "The problem at this point is that your address populated for the Albany district and you are not in their footprint so we now sent it to the CNY division to see if you are serviceable under that division.  I have not heard back as of yet.

And so we waited, and waited. One week, two weeks; and when we asked why it was taking so long, we were told, on July 6, that: "you are outside the TWC footprint and it would be over 100k to get the services to you.  I thought this was relayed to you and I apologize if they did not."

Over $100,000? The nearest Time Warner customer is only 5 miles from the location for which we requested service. That's at least $20,000 per mile, to string cable? And there are other businesses and homes all along those 5 miles, many of whom are ideal candidates for TWC service.

To add further context, the location for which we requested a quote is not along some season logging road but adjacent to a fully-maintained state highway which already has power lines and telephone lines running along it. (The route even has Verizon fiber optic cable along much of it, but apparently that's for inter-city communications and not for use by rural folk who just get to look at it.)

The target location is less than 5 miles from the nearest existing Time Warner customer in one direction and there is TWC service 7 miles in the other direction, and both directions are along state highways. There are lots of other businesses and residences along these highway, so if Time Warner just ran their cable down this 12 mile stretch of highway they could reach hundreds of eager customers. (Even if they only signed 85 customers at $199 per month; that's still over $200,000 in annual revenue.)

So why the quote of $100,000 to bring cable 5 miles down a road that could yield a lot more than one new customer? Was it just a number they dreamed up to make us go away? Or does it reflect a grossly incompetent mega-company that has such poor controls over its costs that it can't string cable for less than $20,000 a mile?

We don't know the answer those questions. But we do have more questions, like why does the State of New York allow Time Warner to cherry pick its customers? Why does Otsego County, home of Baseball's Hall of Fame, allow Time Warner Cable to criss-cross its lands with wires without serving its residents? And why does Time Warner Cable think it is an acceptable business practice to demand exorbitant fees from the communities that raise the cattle and corn that produce the food and milk that Time Warner's suburban customers buy at such affordable prices. We'd like answers because right now it sounds a lot like another case of little people who just don't matter to the big people.

FCC Finds 14-24 Million Americans Lack Access to Broadband

And we think it's even more than that. Even relatively rich states like New York have so far failed to map their broadband access, despite a succession of promises from a succession of governors. (Apparently the city dwellers don't want the people who supply their milk and eggs to be distracted by streaming video or cheap long distance calls). Here's more of today's report:
"In its newly issued Sixth Broadband Deployment Report, the FCC has found that between 14 and 24 million Americans still lack access to broadband, and the immediate prospects for deployment to them are bleak. Many of these Americans are poor or live in rural areas that will remain unserved without reform of the universal service program and other changes to U.S. broadband policy that spur investment in broadband networks by lowering the cost of deployment."
For more see http://www.convergedigest.com/DSL/lastmilearticle.asp?ID=30957

Monday, July 5, 2010

Atlantic Beach, SC becomes 1st town in America with access to a Free Wi-Fi connection for ALL residents

Way to go Atlantic Beach, SC becomes 1st town in America with access to a Free Wi-Fi connection for ALL residents - Free Citywide Wi-Fi, 1st in the nation

Monday, April 26, 2010

New Public/Private Consortium to Drive Small Business Growth With Broadband

Interesting initiative I just spotted: A New Public/Private Consortium to Drive Small Business Growth Through the Access to Broadband
Constant Contact and SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business” will help increase small business success with the Broadband Plan, training, tools and resources for high speed Internet use. Learn more at (http://www.score.org/Broadband_event_2010.html).