Category Archives: Broadband

One gbps: $105 per month

Smaller American municipalities are attracting businesses by offering economical broadband service. In 2010, Salisbury, North Carolina began offering broadband service to its residents and business customers. The city created a wholly owned utility named Fibrant. Fibrant’s FAQ page explains:

Q: How did Fibrant get started?
A: The City Council of Salisbury, NC was unhappy with the lack of broadband service provided by incumbent networks. They invested in building Fibrant as a municipal utility to encourage economic development, increase competitive opportunities for our existing businesses and to provide citizens globally competitive access to the world.

Salisbury, North Carolina served by Fibrant broadband

Fibrant’s latest pricing is enticing:

  • Ten gbps (gigabits per second) symmetrical service: $410 per month for business and residential customers
  • One gbps symmetrical service: $105 per month for business and residential customers
  • 50 Mbps (Megabits per second) symmetrical service for $45 per month

These are fantastic prices for smokin’ fast broadband service. The incumbent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have lobbied some state legislatures to prevent municipalities from undertaking broadband service provision. Salisbury residents are lucky. This article describes North Carolina’s ill-advised municipal broadband restrictions:

Those clamoring for fiber broadband speeds under the state’s anti-community broadband law will have to move to one of a handful of grandfathered communities in North Carolina where forward-thinking leaders actually built the fiber networks private companies are still only talking about.

I congratulate Salisbury’s city council. Fast broadband attracts business. Watch Salisbury grow. This Salisbury Post article mentions business opportunities.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

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FCC’s Tom Wheeler proposes Title 2

Tom_Wheeler_FCCLast week, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler — who has deep roots in the cable TV and wireless phone industries — proposed a surprise: broadband carriers, both wired and wireless, should be regulated as common carriers under title 2 of the Telecommunications Act so that they provide uniform broadband service to all consumers. In addition, the FCC proposed that the definition of broadband should be upgraded to 25 Mbps. (It has been 4 Mbps.) Consumers will benefit from these actions.

As a compensatory gift to the cable TV companies, Mr. Wheeler proposes that there should be no last mile (the distribution cable from the carrier’s central office to the customer premise) unbundling. (The phone companies were ordered years ago to unbundle their last mile — that’s what allows companies such as DSL Extreme to offer low cost DSL service over the local carrier’s twisted pair.) AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast spend tons of money on lobbyists. They’ll expect to receive favors from Congress in return for their largesse, so Mr. Wheeler’s proposal will be in for rough sledding when it hits Congress.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Internet speeds, by country

The United States ranks 33rd in consumer download speed, just behind Slovakia, according to Ookla’s Speedtest.net results page. (You may test your own download speed at http://speedtest.net.)

Top 5 as of 27 April 2014
Top 5 countries as of 27 April 2014

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

FCC Chairman Wheeler proposes net partiality

If you read my article about Tom Wheeler last year, you know that I disapprove of his appointment to the chairmanship of the FCC. Why? He’s a long-time lobbyist for both the cellular phone and cable TV industries. The fox is now guarding the hen house.

Tom WheelerOn Thursday, Chairman Wheeler published Setting the Record Straight on the FCC’s Open Internet Rules. His article proposes

That ISPs may not act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity.

Translation: ISPs may sell preferential access to the highest bidder.

This is exactly what Mr. Wheeler’s former employers want him to propose, and it will stifle innovation and creativity that depend upon a level Internet playing field.

In January, the Washington D.C. Court of Appeals told the FCC what it must do to ensure net neutrality: it must re-classify broadband service as a public utility. (Verge article: The wrong words: how the FCC lost net neutrality and could kill the internet)

Barbara van Schewick, writing in Stanford Law School’s blog, published a thoughtful discussion: The FCC changed course on network neutrality. Here is why you should care. She proposes:

The FCC can reclassify Internet service as a telecommunications service and adopt network neutrality rules under Title II of the Telecommunications Act – rules that are unencumbered by the restrictions imposed by Section 706. To ensure that reclassification does not result in onerous regulation, the FCC should immediately forbear from applying those Title II provisions that are not necessary to protect consumers.

Dan Gillmor, writing in The Guardian, summarizes Mr. Wheeler’s proposal in The FCC is about to axe-murder net neutrality. Don’t get mad – get even:

The sky hasn’t fallen with today’s FCC announcements. Let’s not panic. But if we don’t start getting serious about this, as a public, we will lose the most important medium in human history. That would be worse than tragic.

The Verge has prepared an excellent 90-second video that summarizes Mr. Wheeler’s net partiality. Watch it.


Tell the FCC what you think about the importance of a level Internet playing field. Send email to openinternet@fcc.gov.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Cities key to broadband deployment

Susan Crawford, in a ten-minute YouTube video interview, states that she’s focusing on U.S. mayors as the people best positioned to break wired broadband monopolies. She joked that she’s given up on the U.S. Federal government doing anything to roll out world-class high-speed Internet throughout the nation.

Susan Crawford
Susan Crawford at G8 press conference
Last month Ms. Crawford wrote an opinion column for The Boston Globe that urged mayors to take their cities’ broadband infrastructure seriously. Most cities do great jobs with supplying safe water, trash pickup, and sewage disposal systems. Now they just need to roll out fiber-based broadband Internet access to their residents.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Verizon beats FCC in court

This Verge article explains in simple language how profoundly yesterday’s ruling will affect us, and how badly the FCC has regulated (if you can call it that) the Internet service providers — for decades. I don’t expect the FCC’s new chairman, Tom Wheeler, former lobbyist for the cable AND cellular industries, to be the consumers’ friend.

The FCC has been a playground for ambitious lawyers, not engineers. You’d have thought that at least they’d have used the right words — their only stock in trade — but they screwed even that up. It’s time to replace the FCC’s lawyers with engineers.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

FCC’s Mobile Speed Test

The FCC has released a test version of a cellular data transfer speed measurement app for Android devices. It’s available from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.samknows.fcc.

fcc-test-resultsThe FCC has published the Android app’s open source code on its Github site. They’ve promised an iPhone version. It’s being developed by Samknows.com.

According to the app’s FAQ, “the application will run continuously in the background, periodically performing measurements.” I’m not enthused about having this app running continuously. I’ll probably uninstall it after each measurement run.

A feature of this app that I like is that it collects and reports “cell tower ID” and “cell tower location code” — data that may help my quest to pinpoint the physical location of T-Mobile’s nearest cell site. It also reports received signal strength in dBm.

The speed test data are collected from your mobile device and aggregated by the FCC. Let’s hope that they use the data to hold the carriers’ feet to the fire.

One reported problem is that the app, when testing over a WiFi connection, thinks that it’s connected via LTE. Also, it may have contributed to problems I had with other apps today.

4G??

If you examine the screenshot, you’ll see that although T-Mobile claims that the wireless connection (which was HSDPA when I snapped the screenshot) is “4G”, the download speed is a wimpy 1 Megabit per second. This disproves T-Mobile’s claim that HSDPA+ is “4G”. (The ITU specifies that 4G system mobile phones have a minimum peak download speed of 100 Mbps.) Maybe the FCC or FTC will do their jobs and slap T-Mobile for false advertising.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Tom Wheeler as FCC Chairman?

President Obama has nominated Tom Wheeler, another in a long line of political hacks at the FCC, for the FCC chair. This choice receives mixed reviews from observers: Obama’s new FCC chairman isn’t a reflexive shill for carriers, but he’s still a bad pick. Tom WheelerHis close ties to the cable TV and mobile phone industries worry me. Wheeler is former head of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and the mobile wireless trade group CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association). Translation: he lobbied for these industries. He’s also a major Obama campaign fund raiser. (His predecessor, Julius Genachowski, was an Obama election campaign committee official.) Nothing new here — it merely continues a long tradition of patronage at the FCC.

Remember Obama’s “no lobbyists in my administration” pledge?

In my opinion, Mr. Wheeler is way too closely connected to industries that fall under the FCC’s oversight. You can bet that his cable TV and cellular provider buddies hope that Congress approves his nomination as FCC Chairman. It’s ironic that the two segments of the American electronic communications market that are infamous for gouging the consumer are the industries for which he’s been a champion. If he runs the FCC, don’t expect change in either of these cozy shared marketplaces. Both industries are fat and happy, with limited competition. In fact, expect legislation to prevent municipalities and Google Fiber et al from competing with the incumbents.

Now, more than ever, the FCC Chairman should be independent of industry associations. Tim Wu, respected telecommunications observer, writing in The New Yorker, described The Coming War Over Net Neutrality. uncoveror comments,

The FCC, by getting in bed with the industries it is supposed to regulate, has undermined its very reason to exist. They are a corrupt agency for sale to the highest bidder.

I hope that Wheeler’s appointment is bounced by Congress and Mr. Obama instead nominates Susan Crawford, who doesn’t seem to be in any industry’s pocket. I almost forgot: she didn’t raise election funds for Mr. Obama. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

Video clip: former FCC board member Nicholas Johnson calls Wheeler’s nomination “somewhere between bizarre and outrageous”.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Broadband politics in the U.S.

The rollout of broadband Internet access in the United States has degenerated into a partisan battle between lawyers, MBAs, and other unqualified parties while engineers who actually understand the technologies were busy doing other things. This Forbes article (How the FCC sees Broadband’s 95% Success as 100% Failure), together with its comments, summarizes the battle.

The availability of broadband to the last 10 million or so Americans is at issue. Here’s the opinion of senior RF design engineer Rich Abrahams:

  1. Last time investigated, this was still a free country so we all choose where we live! Rural living is fine. However you have to put up with the good and the bad based on this choice.
  2. The only solution that makes any economic sense is to connect rural folks via satellite-based internet. However I’ll be damned if I’ll agree to subsidize this. Let them pay the going price based on their choice of living venue.
  3. As we’ve often discussed, spectrum is finite and therefore a precious resource to be managed and used sparingly. So far we’ve failed dismally at getting this across! Eventually we’ll have to prioritize its use.
  4. 95% coverage is great – you’ll never get to 100%

Rich’s opinion seems reasonable to me, yet it conflicts with the Telecommunications Act of 1996:

SEC. 706. ADVANCED TELECOMMUNICATIONS INCENTIVES.

(a) In General: The Commission and each State commission with regulatory jurisdiction over telecommunications services shall encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans . . .

Leaving aside the vague wording in the Act (What does “reasonable and timely” mean? What does “advanced telecommunications capability” mean — 128kbps, 6Mbps, or 1Gbps?), running a fiber-optic cable to each farmhouse in rural America will be expensive — a farmer probably couldn’t afford to pay for the installation himself. Do we want to follow the American telephone model established in 1913 in which businesses and urban residential subscribers subsidize rural residential subscribers?

Here’s the FCC’s broadband propaganda site: www.broadband.gov.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

FCC Chairman Genachowski steps down

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced on Friday that he will leave his office “in the near future” and President Obama thanked him for his service.

Julius Genachowski
Julius Genachowski

For consumers, Mr. Genachowski’s 4-year reign has been both good (opposed AT&T / T-Mobile “merger”) and bad (continued growth of de facto broadband shared monopoly). The FCC has been a political playground for decades: Genachowski was a Harvard Law buddy of Mr. Obama.

Like most federal agencies, the FCC provides a cushy resting-place for ambitious lawyers who change chairs every time the music stops. Inevitably, at least one of those chairs resides within an enterprise that the agency regulates.

Lawyers have run the show at the FCC for too long.

I’d like to see an engineer appointed FCC Chairman. Absent that pipe-dream, I’d like to see Susan Crawford appointed Chairwoman. I like her motives, but I fear that, like most lawyers, she thinks that every problem can be fixed with a new law.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Why US Internet Access is Slow, Costly, and Unfair

While listening to podcasts, I came upon Susan Crawford’s argument that in the United States, access to the Internet has been managed to benefit large corporations, and not for the benefit of the public.

Susan Crawford
Susan Crawford at G8 press conference (photo: Camille Gévaudan)
She points out that retail communication costs are rising in the United States, while they’re falling in most other countries. Why? Lack of competition. She recently appeared on Bill Moyers’ PBS TV show with Susan Crawford. She’s studied and documented the parceling of the American broadband market by the usual suspects: AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time-Warner, et al.

Both the telephony and cable-TV industries require very large capital investments, so the entry fee is high, effectively keeping newcomers out of their markets. Ms. Crawford has discovered that the incumbent cable-TV and telephone companies have consolidated and co-operated so that each broadband vendor enjoys a monopoly or at worst a shared monopoly.

I noted in Privatize profits. Socialize costs, that

Despite plummeting computing and data transport costs, average monthly AT&T bills have risen(!). This makes no sense. One reason for this absurdity? Itemized bills with numerous indecipherable items; the amount of each creeps upward imperceptibly a few times each year. Another reason: bloated management filled with MBAs, lawyers, and “managers” who don’t know Ohm’s Law. It’s surprising that this gouging has taken place under the watchful eyes of fifty state Public Utilities Commissions and the Federal Communications Commission. Mr. Johnston explains that the common carriers’ lobbyists have helped shape regulations to favor the regulated companies.

Ms. Crawford confirms that both the telephone and cable-TV companies employ very effective lobbyists, so communication legislation favors them, not the public. I’ve since heard Ms. Crawford speak in other venues, such as at Harvard’s Berkman center. Her newest book is Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age. It sounds like a good read.

She argues that wireless, despite AT&T and Verizon’s claims, is not a viable competitor to wired broadband service. I agree. Here is a link to her well-written blog.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695