Doug Dawson predictions in upload broadband discussion

Doug Dawson recently wrote about the “Looming Battle Over Upload Speeds” as a precursor to doling out funds to deploy broadband. Even I can find discussion about broadband speed tedious … until you put a dollar sign in front of it, then it’s not just academic and Doug does a nice job queueing up the discussion…

By next week we’re going to see the opening shots in the battle for setting an official definition of upload broadband speeds. You might expect that this is a topic that would be debated at the FCC, but this battle is coming as a result of questions asked by the U.S. Department of Treasury as part of defining how to use the grant monies from the American Rescue Plan Act. Treasury has oddly been put in charge of deciding how to use $10 billion of direct broadband grants and some portion of the gigantic $350 billion in funding that is going directly to counties, cities, and towns across the country.

Treasury asked for comments through a series of questions about the broadband speeds of technologies that should be supported with the grant funding. The questions ask for a discussion of the pros and cons of requiring that grant dollars are used to built technologies that can achieve speeds of 100/20 Mbps versus 100/100 Mbps.

Treasury is not likely to see many comments on the requirement that grant deployments must meet 100 Mbps download speeds. All of the major broadband technologies will claim the ability to meet that speed – be that fiber, cable company hybrid-fiber networks, fixed wireless provided by WISPs, or low-orbit satellites. The only industry segment that might take exception to a 100 Mbps download requirement is fixed cellular broadband which can only meet that kind of speed for a short distance from a tower.

And putting jerseys on the respective teams…

A recent blog on the WISPA website argues that argues for upload speeds of 5 Mbps to 10 Mbps. The blog argues that it costs more to build 100/100 Mbps networks (as a way to remind that fixed wireless costs a lot less than fiber).

We know the cable industry is going to come out hard against any definition up upload speed greater than 20 Mbps – since that’s what most cable networks are delivering. In a show of solidarity with the rest of the cable industry, Altice recently announced that it will lower current upload speeds of 35 – 50 Mbps down to 5 – 10 Mbps. This is clearly being done to allow the cable industry to have a united front to argue against faster upload speeds. This act is one of most bizarre reactions that I’ve ever seen from an ISP to potential regulation and a direct poke in the eye to Altice customers.

Back in March, we saw Joan Marsh, the AT&T Executive VP argue that 21st-century broadband doesn’t need upload speeds greater than 10 Mbps. This was an argument that clearly was clearly meant to support using grant funds for rural fixed cellular technology. It’s an odd position to take for the second largest fiber provider in the country.

Access and Impacts Report: tracking Internet Essentials customers before the pandemic

The Technology Policy Institute just released a report on Access and Impacts: Exploring how internet access at home and online training shape people’s online behavior and perspectives about their lives

This research addresses these questions through a survey of subscribers to Comcast’s Internet Essentials pro[1]gram. The 2020 survey was fielded prior to the pandemic; it has a total of 618 respondents. The research also has a longitudinal design by which 218 respondents from a 2018 survey were called back in 2020.

They look at three questions:

  • How does having access at home shape people’s online behavior?
  • What factors may influence people’s online behavior once they subscribe?
  • Does having home internet access affect how people view their lives?

Here are the high level findings:

A study of Comcast Internet Essentials customers finds that home broadband service has…

A home access effect: 81% of IE subscribers say it helps a lot in carrying out online tasks, which in turn is correlated with:

  • Acquiring more computing devices
  • Expanding the scope of online activities
  • Optimism about the future

A digital skills effect, which is limited to the 34% of IE users who have had formal digital skills training.

  • Skills training is linked to higher levels of confidence in digital skills
  • This, in turn, has a link to greater internet use for education and other purposes
  • There is a correlation between digital skills training and people’s optimism about their futures

Looking at people’s digital skills training experience shows that:

  • Education is a large motivator for pursuing training

  • Learning how to better manage privacy and security of personal information also plays a role

  • Both in-person and online modes of training matter to users.

  • The time and location of training matters to those who pursue it, and many say a time that better fits their schedules would improve the training experience

Cable/broadband average costs almost $1200 annually in US

Telecompetitor reports

Americans spend $147 billion annually – an average of $1,141 annually per household on cable and internet bills, according to an analysis of household cable/internet spending from doxo based on anonymized billing data. More than four-in-five households (82%) pay cable and internet bills, which average $116 a month.

The research suggests that the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which pays $50 a month ($75 in tribal areas) toward the cost of internet service for low-income families, could help considerably with paying broadband bills.

Minneapolis made the lowest price list…

The five major municipalities with the highest average internet and cable bills were New York ($133), Boston ($129), St. Louis ($125), Los Angeles ($123) and Kansas City, Mo. ($121). The five major municipalities with the lowest average monthly internet and cable bills were Salt Lake City ($98), Miami ($101), Minneapolis ($101), Philadelphia ($106) and Denver ($108).

Cable and internet bills amount to 2% of consumers’ income per year, according to doxo’s analysis of household cable/internet spending data.

Broadband is happening around Ely with CTC, Midco and Treehouse Broadband expansions

There’s a lot of broadband activity happening in Ely these days between CTC, Midco and wireless options (Treehouse Broadband). Ely Timber Jay reports

Existing cable and internet customers who are frustrated with all-too-common service disruptions recently learned that Midco activated more than 200 additional miles of fiber to create a northern Minnesota fiber ring that adds diverse network paths for the Ely area.
The expansion and investment by the cable provider is an effort to reduce or eliminate service disruptions caused by fiber cuts and other sources of internet and business connections. Their recent investment announcement also appears to give the cable provider a bigger piece of the broadband pie in the immediate Ely area.

CTC is also building in the area…

CTC is in the midst of installing a state-of-the-art fiber-optic network in the city’s downtown corridor and is actively selling business services. In their first phase, CTC offers broadband technology to homes and businesses along Sheridan Street, and looks to offer business and residents internet, phone, and TV services along with business phone systems and IT services.
“We are scheduling a meeting with Midco at some point,” Langowski said. “We want to discuss where our project is and where their project is. I was a little concerned when I talked with (Midco’s) government affairs representative, who wasn’t aware of what we are doing or what our project is. I told him he must have been living under a rock. If he had read our local newspapers, he would have seen that we have been working on this for the last decade-plus.”
The first phase of the city of Ely’s CTC Broadband project is limited to the downtown area. “I don’t want it to sound like I’m not excited about (Midco’s) investment,” Langowski said. “I just want to make sure they don’t come in and overlay what we just did and cut us out of the market.”
Midco also announced that crews will begin installing FTTP (Fiber to the Premises) to homes and businesses in Ely and Winton in early 2022 capable of up to five Gbps. Connections can be upgraded to 10 Gbps, according to the cable provider.
The neighboring communities of Tower, Soudan and Babbitt will see similar construction activity with full FTTP network upgrades in 2023, company officials said.

Wireless is coming to the area too…

A wireless broadband project is also moving forward in the Town of Morse around the Ely area. Isaac Olson of Treehouse Broadband uses directional antennas operating on the radio frequency spectrum to provide high bandwidth internet service. With direct line of sight to their towers and repeater locations, they service customers in the Ely area. Unlike traditional satellite service, according to Olson, rain, snow and other weather has no impact on the frequencies and short-range transmissions he uses to deploy broadband.

Midco is expanding in other areas too…

In addition to the network redundancy and FTTP upgrades in the Ely area, the northern Minnesota communities of International Falls, Ranier and Littlefork will see faster data speeds from Midco in the coming year.
“All three communities will have access to Midco Gig in 2021. Midco Gig is 35 times faster than the average high-speed internet,” McAdaragh said.

Christopher Ali outlines broadband options for rural areas

Benton recently posted a column from Christopher Ali about the importance of cooperatives. He promotes cooperatives as broadband providers because they are local and they have infrastructure. He also quotes Bernadine…

Long story short, and to use a quote from Bernadine Joselyn of the Blandin Foundation in Minnesota, “everything is better with better broadband.”

 

But perhaps even more valuable is a succinct description of different types of broadband…

With wires, DSL, or digital subscriber line, is the most deployed broadband access technology in rural America. DSL connections are the copper wires owned and operated by telephone companies like CenturyLink. Despite its prevalence, the problem is that these types of connections are slow and outdated, oftentimes not able to meet the FCC’s definition of broadband, which is 25 Mbps download, 3 Mbps upload. More than this, DSL gets worse the further you are away from the network node. So once you’re about 3 miles from the access point, your internet is going to slow down considerably. AT&T and other providers have also begun phasing out their DSL networks, leaving many in rural America without an alternative.

Cable internet, or coaxial, or coax-hybrid internet is the most deployed type of connectivity in urban areas. These connections are owned and operated by cable companies like Comcast Xfinity. The benefit of cable internet is that you get blazing fast download speeds, which is great for binging Netflix. The problem is that the upload speed, which is so important for business and for video conferencing like we’re doing, is slower. More than this, cable internet suffers from something called “network congestion” – the more people on the network at the same time, the slower it becomes. Here in Charlottesville, my husband and I have Comcast, and we have definitely noticed slower service during peak working hours when everyone in our neighborhood is trying to make a Zoom call. It can make teaching really difficult!

Then there’s fiber optics, the “future-proof” and “gold standard” technology. It offers blazing-fast download and upload speeds, doesn’t degrade with distance, and is not impacted by how many people are on the network at the same time. The problem? It is expensive: Upwards of $27,000 per mile. And this is where counties and cooperatives and localities tend to struggle – how to raise the money necessary for fiber-to-the-home?

On the wireless side, counties like Culpeper are deploying towers with fiber-optic connections that transmit broadband wirelessly. This is known as “fixed wireless” and is provided by Wireless Internet Service Providers or “WISPs.” Fixed wireless has proven to be an important form of connectivity on its own, and for some counties, a mid-point towards fiber-to-the-home. It’s not as fast as fiber, and certainly comes with drawbacks like suffering from inclement weather and requiring line of sight, but many counties, particularly rural ones, are erecting a series of towers that are connected at the back end with fiber optics so that residents have meaningful connectivity. Fixed wireless is particularly useful for rural communities and agricultural spaces since one tower can cover a rather large distance. Others, however, say that nothing short of fiber for all will suffice. Again, the type of connectivity should be in tune with the community and the community’s needs.

Also on the wireless side is satellite, which many people don’t even consider viable because it is so problematic. Hughes and ViaSat are the two satellite internet providers in the country. Often times when I bring up satellite in rural areas, people roll their eyes at me, because it is expensive, slow, suffers from lag and inclement weather interruptions, and comes with tiny data caps. Still, the FCC considers satellite a viable complement to wireline broadband. It is available to almost everyone in the country, perhaps 99% or so. That said, I know of many residents who have to augment their satellite connections with mobile hotspots to ensure they are always connected, but at tremendous expense – sometimes $300 a month.

Many of you may have also heard about StarLink – Elon Musk’s SpaceX broadband service. StarLink is a type of satellite broadband called LEO or “Low Earth Orbital,” where the satellite sits closer to the Earth than traditional geosynchronous satellites like from Hughes or ViaSat. Theoretically, this proximity allows LEOs to provide faster and stronger service. Trials suggest StarLink is providing faster service, upwards of 100/20 in certain communities, but this pales in comparison to the original hype around LEOs, which promised speeds of gigabits per second. StarLink and others like it are just getting going, and the technology is still unproven at scale. A recent study, for instance, suggested that StarLink will reach capacity in only 8 short years. There’s still so much we don’t know about these networks. Despite this, the FCC recently awarded StarLink almost $900 million in funding. StarLink’s competitors are challenging this award, claiming that it overexaggerated its capabilities to the FCC.

We could say the same thing about 5G. While urban areas are getting a taste of what 5G can do – like blazing-fast mobile connections and the potential to replace your home broadband network – it is still in its trial stages and the type of 5G found in urban areas, known as millimeter-wave 5G or high-band 5G, is unavailable to the rest of the country. So far, 5G has not lived up to the hype mobile providers like Verizon and T-Mobile have promised us.

I get worried when I hear counties say that they are considering pausing their broadband plans in hopes that StarLink or 5G will arrive soon. Truth be told, these technologies are years away from being deployed in rural areas across our country. There is also uncertainty around cost, in addition to time. Communities that decide to pause will be waiting for something that may never come. In contrast, there are very real solutions available to counties today.

Do data caps during a pandemic make the case for symmetrical broadband?

Doug Dawson writes from the frontlines with a lot of engineering expertise in his back pocket and an eye toward how policy helps of hinders the end customer. Yesterday he took at look at data caps in the cable industry

During the pandemic, it’s been reported that millions of households nationwide have upgraded to more expensive broadband products in order to get an upload data path that will work. In the case of Mediacom, subscribing to a gigabit broadband product comes with a 50 Mbps upload speed – a speed that ought to be sufficient to support people working from home. But now the company is punishing customers that pay more for the extra speed and then try to use what they’ve purchased.

This is the kind of ISP behavior that cries out for broadband regulation. If the FCC regulated broadband, it could step in and tell Mediacom to stop this anti-customer behavior. This is a company that undoubtedly accepted a lot of upgrade orders from customers wanting faster broadband during the pandemic and then turned around and told those same customers they couldn’t use what the extra fees had purchased.

Mediacom could offer faster upload speeds but has decided not to. I have no doubt that Mediacom is still using the upload technology that came with DOCSIS 3.0 from 2006. That technology deploys upload bandwidth in the band of frequency inside the cable transmission between 5 MHz and 42 MHz. This is a relatively small band of frequency and doesn’t support much bandwidth. It’s also the noisiest frequency inside of a cable network and is subject to a lot of ambient interference.

Since Mediacom is offering gigabit broadband it means it upgraded the download path to DOCSIS 3.1. But the company clearly elected to not upgrade the upload bandwidth speeds. DOCSIS 3.1 allows for using what is labeled as a mid-split option to enable frequency as high as 204 MHz to be used for better upload speeds.

Maybe the Minnesota Broadband Task Force should add data caps to their discussion on speed goals. There are two barriers that matter to the end customer: do I have access and can I afford it? Data caps can make using broadband less affordable with the added worry of unpredictability. Anyone of a certain age with remember cost-per-minute of AOL internet connections or even metered long distance phone calls. It hinders use.

How are the cable companies experiencing broadband demand in Minnesota during COVID-19 threat?

NCTA is compiling data on how cable providers are experiencing broadband demand – nationally and by state – since the coronavirus threat…

Over 72 million homes and businesses across America subscribe to broadband delivered by cable providers. With the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, these connections are more important than ever, as our nation adapts to the realities of “social distancing” and many of our daily activities have moved online…

To better explain how changing consumer demand is affecting network usage and performance, NCTA members are joining together to report key metrics during the pandemic (reported below) that will better inform the public regarding usage trends and network performance. Companies currently reporting include: Charter, Comcast, Cox, GCI and Midco, and others will be added in the coming weeks.

 

Here are their main takeaways…

  • Both upstream and downstream peak usage is up, but networks continue to perform well
  • Provider backbone networks have significant capacity and show no signs of congestion
  • Upstream peak hours in many regions have shifted from late evening towards afternoon
  • Downstream peak hours are still primarily during the evening

I was interested in two things. First check out the increase in upload use:

We’ve always said that download supports consumers and upload supports producers. It looks like production increased is happening at a faster percentage. And the peak time for upload has shifted from late evening (perhaps when people used to come home from work) to mid-afternoon (now that more of us are working from home). And as you’ll see below Minnesota’s upload growth outpaces national.

It would be great to see percentage of download traffic to upload traffic. And assuming they maintain this tool, it will be great to see how the numbers change over time. Also, it would be nice to see this for all providers and down to county level data.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson sues Comcast

MPR reports

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson slammed Comcast Corp. on Friday, alleging in a lawsuit that the cable TV and internet giant overcharged customers for cable packages, charged consumers for unordered services and didn’t deliver the prepaid Visa cards promised in its promotions.

Comcast, also known by the brand name Xfinity, added home security, service protection plans, modem and other equipment charges to customers’ bills without authorization, Swanson told reporters.

To lure some customers, Swanson’s office said Comcast promised prepaid Visa cards of $200 or more if they remained in the minimum-term contract and up-to-date on monthly payments for 90 days, but did not deliver.

“It’s hard to shop for cable television if a company plays hide-the-ball on its true prices, and people shouldn’t have to watch their bills for things they didn’t buy,” Swanson said in a statement.

The lawsuit filed in Hennepin County seeks unspecified restitution and civil penalties.

Comcast responded saying it fully discloses all charges and fees and that the facts don’t support Swanson’s allegations.

“We’re committed to our customers in Minnesota, and it’s important to us to make sure customers completely understand the products and services they order,” said company spokesperson Jill Hornbacher.

FCC stepping in on Minnesota’s Charter case

Ars Technica reports

The Federal Communications Commission is intervening in a court case in order to help Charter Communications avoid utility-style consumer protections related to its phone service in Minnesota. The FCC and Charter both want to avoid a precedent that could lead other states to impose stricter consumer protection rules on VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone service offered by cable companies.

The FCC has never definitively settled the regulatory status of VoIP. By contrast, traditional landline phone service and mobile phone service are both classified as “telecommunications services” by the FCC, a distinction that places them under the same Title II common carrier regulatory framework that applies to broadband Internet access. But the FCC has never decided whether VoIP services offered by cable companies are telecommunications or “information services,” which aren’t as heavily regulated.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) hoped to fill this regulatory void by trying to re-impose utility rules on Charter’s Spectrum phone service. (Charter used to be subject to Minnesota’s utility rules but evaded them starting in 2013 by transferring its phone customers to a different subsidiary.) Minnesota wants Charter to collect fees from customers in order to contribute to state programs that help poor people and the hearing-impaired access telephone service. Customers should also be able to appeal to the MPUC in the event of disputes with Charter, the state regulatory body says.

The article is good, detailed, worth reading in full. I’ll just borrow from their presentaiton of both sides…

Rule of law rendered obsolete?

Minnesota argues that VoIP phone service shouldn’t come with fewer consumer protections simply because it is provided over a different kind of network than traditional circuit-switched landline phones.

“This case presents an important question of nationwide significance: whether the rule of law may be rendered obsolete by technological innovation,” the state utility commission said.

The district court’s finding that Charter’s VoIP service is not telecommunications “strips the MPUC of its authority to regulate VoIP telephone service, [and] is contrary to binding decisions of this Court, FCC precedent, and the longstanding system of cooperative federalism established under the Telecommunications Act,” the state commission said.

The PUC also urged the appeals court to declare that Charter’s phone service is telecommunications “under the plain language of the Telecommunications Act.” The federal statute defines telecommunications as “the transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received.”

Charter’s argument

Charter argues that the case hinges on just one question: whether Charter’s VoIP phone service is an information service under the federal communications statute.

Charter phone service “offers the ability to convert the protocol of calls when Charter’s network interconnects with other carriers,” thus fitting the statutory definition of information services as those that offer the “capability for… transforming [or] processing… information via telecommunications,” Charter wrote.

Minnesota is the only state in Charter’s footprint that “seeks to extend its regulatory reach to encompass advanced services,” the company wrote.

“Its approach not only ignores text and precedent, but would allow every state to impose idiosyncratic rules, creating a nationwide patchwork of requirements that would frustrate the FCC’s longstanding policy of insulating advanced services from such a regulatory morass,” Charter wrote.

Charter got support from other telecom companies that want to avoid stricter regulation of VoIP phone services. The brief filed by AT&T, Verizon, and USTelecom argues that VoIP is an information service because it converts voice signals from one format to another in order to carry phone calls to and from traditional landlines. AT&T and Verizon both offer utility landline phone services but are shifting toward VoIP services and want to shed the utility regulations that have long applied to phone networks.

Cable industry lobby group NCTA-The Internet & Television Association similarly filed a brief supporting Charter. “Preventing the imposition of utility regulation on VoIP will promote continued competition and benefit consumers,” NCTA wrote.

It’s hard when to consumers a phone is a phone is a phone. Internet access is internet access is internet access. But each supplier of phone/internet is treated so differently in terms of policy. That’s not a level playing field for the industry. What is also difficult is that consumers need protection. Increasingly residents need phone/internet access to live as active members of society. Yet not everyone can afford access – sometimes that a low-income issue and sometimes that’s a higher than normal prices issue. Universal service funds (in one shape or another) help get everyone online. Do we want everyone online or not? Because life without a phone/internet access is not a level playing field either. I guess the question is – which field do we want to level?

MN House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Broadband Industry Intro: VoIP, 5G,growth and frustration

Yesterday industry folks had an opportunity to provide updates to the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee. Speakers included representative from Minnesota Cable Communications Association, Minnesota Telecom Alliance and AT&T  Wireless. The presentations were similar to those given (by the same folks) to the Senate last week. The speakers were kind enough to share those with me last week – you can see them here. All three groups mentioned a desire to get fiber closer to the home/premise.

I tried something new for this meeting – I used Facebook Live to livestream the event. Here’s the archive:

I also took notes, which I’ll include below. It seems like there were more questions yesterday. Several Representatives were concerned about changing regulation for phone calls (landline versus VoIP) at the expense of consumer protection. One of the big concerns seems to be that VoIP requires power – so when the power goes out, the VoIP phone doesn’t work. (They have some power generators, but it’s a risk.) The push back is that VoIP is much more cost effective for the provider, especially since many customers are “cutting the cord” and going with cell phone options.

With wireless, there were questions about timeline for 5G and distance limitations. The standards for 5G have not been set yet. But AT&T wants to hit the ground running so they are currently working on small cell deployment. (Small cells make 5G work – they also improve 4G access.) Increased small cell deployment should help with distance issues – because there are distance limitations on 5G, which does make it a better solution for urban markets. Representation Hoppe remarked that they can’t legislate faster than technology can change.

While this committee doesn’t deal with the Broadband Funds, the State broadband grants did come up. One Representative had a customer in CenturyLink territory who was frustrated with his service. Apparently he has 1.5 Mbps (so I’m guessing DSL) and he runs a business. He wondered why/how a community upgrade could be so tied to a provider’s decision to upgrade or not. Panelists remarked that the grant had been a good opportunity for partnerships between provider, community and the State. But clearly that 3-legged stool only stands when all three legs are working together. Continue reading

Urban broadband is a cable game – rural broadband is DSL: how can that help us plan?

The FCC recently released the Industry Analysis and Technology Division Wireline Competition Bureau. It’s the culmination of FCC Form 477 filled out by providers.

I think there’s an interesting look at speeds by technology and location (metro vs rural) of technology. First location – the following graph tracks ratio of subscribership by household density, or who serves urban areas and who serves rural areas. The answer is DSL is a big player in rural areas; cable is the biggest player in towns and cities. Fixed wireless and satellite are players in rural areas and almost non-existent in urban areas. This graph does not track speed – just technology.

477a

Now it’s helpful to look at what speeds. When we look at access by speeds or 10/1 we see representation of all technologies.

477b

When we look at speeds of 25/3, DSL is no longer represented.

477c

Here’s another way to look at it:

477d

DSL has a larger share of slower connections. DSL has a larger share of rural connections. The Minnesota legislature has defined speed goals or 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026. They have dedicated funds to making it happen through the border to border grants. So there’s a recognized need for support, but the question is how to increase speeds in rural areas.

Do tools used in urban areas help rural connectivity? Do policy makers understand that there’s a significant difference in the two markets based on population density, distance to customers, limitations of transport technology and regulations and expectations of technologies based urban scenarios.

Right now Minnesota connectivity rates are well below the legislative goals (and the report only indicates download speeds):

  • 200 kbps – 99.5 percent connect
  • 3 Mbps – 93.0 percent connect
  • 10 Mbps – 75.2 percent connect
  • 25 Mbps – 54.2 percent connect
  • 100 Mbps – 13.4 percent connect

Mediacom Broadband Network to be Gigabit-Ready by Year End

mediacomGood news for many communities! Looks like most Mediacom communities in Minnesota will soon have access to 60+ Mbps – the towns of Cook and Grand Marais are stand-alone networks and are not connected to national/upgrading internet network…

Entire Mediacom Communications Broadband Network to be Gigabit-Ready by Year End

First Major U.S. Cable Company to Fully Deploy DOCSIS 3.1 Gigasphere Technology

Mediacom Park, NY – December 7, 2016 – Mediacom Communications today announced the company’s entire broadband network will be gigabit-capable by the end of 2016. Mediacom will become the first major U.S. cable company to fully transition to the DOCSIS 3.1Gigasphere” platform, the latest generation of broadband technology. As a result, virtually all of the 3 million homes and businesses that Mediacom serves across its 22 state footprint will be able to enjoy speeds that are up to 40 times faster than the minimum broadband definition set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

“Mediacom was founded on the principle that hard-working families in the smaller cities and towns in our nation’s heartland deserved the same advanced communications services enjoyed in the largest metropolitan areas” said Mediacom’s founder and CEO, Rocco B. Commisso. “Through our $8 billion of cumulative investments over the past 20 years in pursuit of that goal, we have enabled the communities where we operate to successfully bridge the digital divide.”

According to Mr. Commisso, “After the Gigasphere modems became available earlier this year, we accelerated the first phase of our previously announced 3-year, $1 billion capital investment plan so that Mediacom’s customers could begin taking advantage of superfast speeds as soon as possible. This will ensure that the predominantly working-class neighborhoods we serve throughout Middle America are not technologically disadvantaged in today’s global marketplace.”

He added that “I am especially proud that the substantial investments in our rural markets were made despite the heavy-handed and unfair regulatory burdens recently imposed on our company by the FCC and without depending on government subsidies. In contrast to many others who have been willing to deploy broadband in rural areas only if incentivized with loans and grants from federal and state programs, Mediacom has relied totally on private capital. Moreover, unlike some other competitors who offer 1-Gig speeds only in select neighborhoods in their service areas, our 1-Gig service will be accessible to absolutely everyone within the reach of our network, regardless of the size, income-level or other demographics of their community.”

JR Walden, Mediacom’s Chief Technology Officer, remarked that “It has taken a lot of hard work, but less than 10 months from announcing ‘Project Gigabit,’ we will have completed the upgrade of our entire broadband network to the Gigasphere platform. Deployment of this next-gen technology will considerably enhance the consumer experience today and lay the groundwork for multi-Gig capabilities in the future. With our rapid and seamless transition to this new platform, we have set our communities on an accelerated path into the gigabit era.”44

Mediacom’s network enhancements will provide a significant boost to the company’s internet speeds. The company’s new minimum entry level speed for residential customers will increase to 60 Mbps while flagship offerings of 100 Mbps and 200 Mbps will also be available. Moreover, Mediacom will begin rolling out ultra-fast 500 Mbps and 1-Gig (1000 Mbps) products on a market by market basis in the coming weeks.

Mediacom noted that the Gigasphere technology will primarily enhance speeds to its residential and small business customers. Mr. Walden said that “Mediacom Business has already been offering local businesses in our markets our Gigabit+ Fiber SolutionsTM for many years, with scalable services of up to 10-Gig speeds.”

About DOCSIS 3.1 Gigasphere Technology

The cable network is composed of a hybrid of optical fiber and coaxial cable elements, and the specification that enables use of the network for broadband is known as Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification, or DOCSIS®. Gigasphere is the brand name for products and services that use a technical specification called DOCSIS 3.1, the next generation of DOCSIS services developed and advanced by CableLabs, the U.S. cable industry’s research and development consortium, and its members. DOCSIS 3.1 provides a near-term path toward continued improvement of cable broadband performance, with network capacity of up to 10 gigabits per second in the downstream and up to 2 gigabits per second in the upstream. Equipment vendors are now supplying the necessary components. In January 2016, CableLabs certified the first DOCSIS 3.1 cable modems.

About Mediacom Communications

Mediacom Communications Corporation is the 5th largest cable operator in the U.S. serving over 1.3 million customers in smaller markets primarily in the Midwest and Southeast. Mediacom offers a wide array of information, communications and entertainment services to households and businesses, including video, high-speed data, phone, and home security and automation. Through Mediacom Business, the company provides innovative broadband solutions to commercial and public sector customers of all sizes, and sells advertising and production services under the OnMedia brand. More information about Mediacom is available at www.mediacomcable.com.

MACTA Conference Notes: Policy Updates and Cable Franchising

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the MACTA (Minnesota Association of Community Telecommunications Administrators) annual conference. These are the folks who work for local government on telecom, cable and broadband issues – which both an interest supporting broadband but also protecting public right-of-way. It was an interesting look at a group of folks who wear a lot of hats.

I’m going to start off topic to mention the format of their first session – 60 ideas in 60 seconds. They had four presenters – one very technical, one on regulations, one on producing TV show and one on social media. It’ was something for everyone. Very fast paced. Should be the start of every conference!

Back to the broadband-related sessions. There was a state and federal update:

State and Federal Legislative Updates (policy/legal track)

What happened during the State’s 2016 legislative session AND what is happening at the federal level that may affect cable, broadband and telecom policy?  How will the election year affect legislative activities? Key legislators and policy experts will address these items … and more.

Moderator: ◦Mike Reardon | Cable Communications Officer, City of St. Paul

Speakers: ◦Margaret Anderson Kelliher | CEO, MN High Tech Association & Chair, Governor’s Broadband Task Force

◦Rep. Sheldon Johnson | State Representative, 67B (St. Paul)

◦Bree Maki | Southern Minnesota Field Representative & Broadband and Telecommunications Representative, U.S. Senator Al Franken’s office

◦Jodie Miller | Executive Director, NDC4 & 2016 NATOA President

◦Sen. Matt Schmit | State Senator, District 21 (Red Wing)

 

Notes from Jodie Miller’s Talk

People in other states are jealous of Minnesota. We a have good foundation: the Task Force, very early roundtables that got everyone’s view to find common ground. We have three years in a row of board to border grant legislative. In other states there are drives to stop such efforts. In Colorado, they have a super majority rule to hinder city-led broadband efforts. There were dozens of cities that have voted away from that – but they are steps behind Minnesota.

What do we want in the future?

We have 201 legislative seats open this year. That will mean more education with policymakers again.

Fiber is the foundation. Wireless is the blanket on top. And rights of way is the third leg of the stool. Fiber and a wireless is never an either/or proposition.

Knowing that there are federal efforts does not make it OK to not have a state focus too.

Local franchising – can that come up in Minnesota again? We have a second entrant in the market (CenturyLink). Google has said that removing the barrier of local franchising would make it easier to enter the market.

We need to consider budget with rights of way. It’s an asset that some folks don’t consider.

The astro-turf bill reared its head. They wanted to create a study to hear more about

Notes from discussion:

VOiP – did not get through. Big question is – Is it a telecom service or an info service? Consumer protection folks are opposed to calling it an info service, which would make it easier to deregulate.

“MN is at high risk of expensive an intrusive cyber threat”

MAK – Broadband became an issue, which elevated the telecom issues as well. 3 years ago we recommended $200 million. We were pleased to see $100 million from Governor and $85 million from Senate.

“The two items that really survived the supplemental budget are equity agenda and broadband.” That’s a win.”

Sen Schmit – “I want us to be looking at $100 million for broadband next year. We set the speed goals this year”

MAK – The $500,000 for low income household is a door open to digital efforts in the state. Looking into public housing initiatives is one way to do it. Also we need to look into where people in poverty leave. We need to remember that poverty has an impact in urban and rural areas. We need to look at racial and location inequities.

A big question is – what is affordable? We need to give guidance with affordability.

We know if you subsidize broadband for 18 months, they will find a way to keep it.

We are also looking into cyber security. And workforce issues around cyber security.

VOiP proposal probably will come back next year.

Task Force supports modernization and VOiP bills. We do want to see continued consumer protection.

QUESTION – Do you see anything in Minnesota saying we want to get rid of local franchising?

CenturyLink has mentioned it. (CenturyLink says it’s working asis.)
Google has mentioned it.
But it’s not been a strong issue.

Maybe we need to look at the approach – are there opportunities for efficiencies. Simply – is there a better way of doing this?

Local franchising authorities worry that incompetents have taken the stand a that they have. We would like to work with other providers – but the incumbents are watching every more.

Observation on Cyber Security

We need a safe method to be able to bring concerns safely to the State.

WIRELESS – there was a bill introduced (small cell bill from Verizon – they established a task force, but it was included with the VOiP bill so it did not move forward.)

We need to look at all approaches that make sense. But it’s not always an even/or. We need to understand each other’s concerns. We need impact from local communities.

We need to educate policymakers about the different before wireless and fiber.

Luncheon Keynote: Updates from NATOA – Jodie Miller | Executive Director, NDC4 & 2016 NATOA President

Cable Franchising: Hot Topics (policy/legal track)

Based on a recent query of MACTA members, cable franchise renewals and competitive franchising remain hot topics for many Minnesota cities and franchise administrators, as does tracking consumer protection complaints and consumer protection issues.  This session will cover these items and any other hot topics that are current at the time of the conference.

Speaker: ◦Robert J. V. Vose | Shareholder, Kennedy & Graven, Chartered

(The video is disjointed due to technical difficulties and some musical chairs. But pretty frank talk.)

CenturyLink seeks cable franchising in Eagan

Comcast is the current cable franchise holder in Eagan – CenturyLink is looking to have a franchise as well. This presentation to the Eagan City Council is from an attorney on the topic. The presentation is really a look at why the Council should consider a second franchise and under what context.

You can watch the video. Or see the PPT presentation. The attorney really sets out what needs to happen to smooth the path to providing a franchise agreement to CenturyLink – looking at potential local and federal policy issues.

It sounds like July 21 would be the time that CenturyLink would actually present their application. It will be interesting to watch the process – in part because some of the agreements made with Comcast are not recent and the policies surrounding the issues are not necessarily recent. Although it sounds like Eagan does have fairly updated information on what residents want from a cable franchiser holder.

Cable Franchising: Learn more about it through Dakota County’s process

Cable franchising is always a prickly topic. Providers would often like to do away with or at least streamline the process of cable franchising. Local government is not always interested in losing control or revenue that stems from franchising.

Northern Dakota County is looking at cable franchising now. They recently sent an email out to residents about CenturyLink’s application for franchising. I think there’s a lot to be learned in the email – about the process in Northern Dakota and beyond…

Residents Feedback Wanted

Northern Dakota County Cable Communications Commission (“NDC4”) has received a Cable Television Franchise Application from CenturyLink, the local incumbent telephone exchange carrier operating in the Commission’s seven-city franchise area. Residents and businesses of Inver Grove Heights, Lilydale, Mendota, Mendota Heights, South St. Paul, Sunfish Lake, and West St. Paul are encouraged to submit comments or questions relating to CenturyLink’s franchise application via one of the following options:

  • Via telephone or in person during the LIVE televised and web streamed meeting on June 3rd at 7 p.m. The meeting will be televised LIVE on local Government Channel 18 (Comcast) and web streamed LIVE here.
  • Via e-mail at  www.townsquare.tv/contact-us.cfm by 3 p.m. on June 3, 2015.
  • Via US Postal Mail to NDC4 Cable Commission, 5845 Blaine Avenue, Inver Grove Heights, MN 55076, received in our office by 3 p.m. on June 3, 2015.

Submitters should indicate their name and home or business address located in one of the above-listed seven cities.

Background

NDC4 published a “Notice of Intent to Consider Application(s) for Franchise(s)” on March 8, and March 15, 2015, with the application deadline of March 31, 2015. One application was received from CenturyLink. NDC4 published a Notice of Public Hearing on April 5, 2015, announcing the opening of the public hearing to occur during the full Commission Meeting on April 15, 2015. During that meeting the Commission voted to continue the Public Hearing through the next full Commission meeting on June 3, 2015 at 7 p.m.

Documents and Video

The following documents are available at  www.townsquare.tv/customer-services-dakota-county-public-access.cfm.

You can also watch the April 15, 2015, NDC4 Commission Meeting online.

Other Information

CenturyLink has applied for franchises or requested the initiation of the process in many Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area communities. The City of Minneapolis granted CenturyLink a video franchise on May 15, 2015, and you can watch the video of that meeting here. You can read more about Minneapolis’s franchise process is available here and here.

NDC4 is a joint powers cooperative formed by its seven member cities to administer and enforce the cable television franchise ordinance for each of the seven cities. NDC4 is the local franchise authority representing cable subscribers’ consumer interests, and also overseeing seven local community access channels on the Comcast cable system. For more information, call 651-450-9891, Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or visit www.townsquare.tv.