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.

CenturyLink to provide cable in the Minneapolis? There are a few hoops first.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, CenturyLink is looking at providing cable services…

Minneapolis residents could soon have another option for cable TV service, as CenturyLink looks to dislodge Comcast’s monopoly on the market.

CenturyLink plans to seek a new franchise agreement that would allow it to provide its Prism TV cable service alongside Comcast’s offerings. The digital cable service is distributed through a fiber-optic network and allows customers to watch live programming on smartphones and tablets, in addition to their televisions.

Such an agreement would require the approval of the Minneapolis City Council, which won’t take up the issue until the new year. CenturyLink’s move could dramatically reshuffle the local television market, as cable companies nationally are under intensifying competition from other providers and Internet streaming services, such as Netflix.

One hiccup is that CenturyLink is looking to start in just a few neighborhoods and Comcast (the cable incumbent) has issues with Minneapolis allowing that to happen…

CenturyLink does not plan to immediately offer service to all Minneapolis residents. Instead, it would offer Prism TV to a variety of neighborhoods where its network is already in place and later bring it to other parts of the city.

Comcast said in a statement it expects competitors to adhere to the same standards it does.

Minneapolis, however, seems open to the idea of competition. In fact they are opening the door to other applications (Are they hoping Google Fiber applies?)…

Council Member John Quincy, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee — which will have to sign off on CenturyLink’s plan — said state law requires franchise holders to build out their systems over the entire franchise area. Franchise holders then pay the city a fixed percentage of their revenue.

In response to interest in a new franchise, the city has issued a formal notice of intent to accept applications. Now, CenturyLink and any other companies that want a shot at the business have a window of time to file their plans, along with a $40,000 application fee.

Quincy said Comcast has been the sole cable operator for years in part because companies must be able to prove they could serve the entire city.

“The bar’s pretty high,” he said. “If you’re going to be serious about doing it, you’re going to have to demonstrate a lot of capacity and capital to do the build-out.”

It will be interesting to see what happens. The comments show a great interest in what happens too – most are very positive about the opportunity for competition.

Cable Providers Asked to Think About Local Content

Last week I went to the MTA conference. (I’m hoping to get a PPT to share and will post my notes as soon as I get it.) It was interesting to hear about how telecommunications providers are exploring new sources of revenue. The telephone/telecom game has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. (Remember long distance bills and payphones?) Cable is experiencing some similar disruptions. They have picked up broadband as a product but the content/video game is changing daily. Here’s a view form a recent editorial from Olmsted County

To remain viable, cable needs to adapt in other ways. When television was first taking hold, radio felt its fair share of growing pains. Now it is television’s turn to evolve. Much like radio, I think cable television still has a place in the marketplace, but finding that niche is essential to success. Licensing content to online companies like Netflix and Hulu works for content creators, but content distributors depending on providing viewers content delivered straight to the television are struggling.

I learned in college the best way for radio stations to remain relevant was to localize. Their content changed from being something people gathered around in the living room every night to enjoy, to in-car entertainment, and the industry survived.

I’d love to see cable television attempt to do the same. The local news broadcasts are honestly what I miss the most from our lack of a cable subscription. Harnessing the local strategy might be able to sustain cable’s content delivery, but they’ll need to be innovative in their process.

His suggestions remind me of Lake County and Cook County – both communities are building a place for local content online and/or on air with a mashup between YouTube, Livestreaming and community radio. The old motto for the Internet was always “think local, act global” – looks like that sentiment is as strong as ever.

Two-thirds of Americans can access 100 Mbps broadband

According to a recent blog post from the NTIA (National Telecommunications & Information Administration)…

Considering wireline and wireless technologies together, the slowest broadband speeds are nearly ubiquitously available, and access to very fast broadband (over 100 Mbps) has now reached two-thirds of Americans. The data, as of December 31, 2013, shows that 99 percent of Americans have access to wired and/or wireless broadband at advertised speeds of 6 Mbps downstream and 1.5 Mbps up, though this number drops to 89 percent when considering wireline broadband alone.

The NTIA credit upgrades in cable infrastructure.

I myself moved to cable fairly recently. I finally cancelled my other/old broadband service last week. As any good provider (of any services) would do, the customer rep on the phone tried to talk me out of cancelling until I told her I really needed better upload capacity. She allowed that upload wasn’t their long suit.

As much as it’s heartening to hear that so many Americans have access to good speeds, it makes me nervous to see that juxtaposed so many having access to 100 Mbps that 89 (or 99) percent have access to “6 Mbps downstream and 1.5 Mbps up” or better because that is quite a digital divide. It’s exactly what the National Broadband Plan was going for (100 Mbps to 100 million homes; 4/1 Mbps service to everyone else) but again it’s quite a digital divide.

My fear is just as I forget about the days it used to take hours to upload some of the video I post on the blog regularly now that I have cable; I’m afraid the rest of the world will forget about the 4/1 people and communities once “we all” (or at least 100 million households) get 100 Mbps.

What Lake County Residents are Seeing

Yesterday I wrote about an editorial in the Lake County News-Chronicle on the reaction of Jeff Roiland, Project Manager for Lake Connections to postcards being sent to residents in Lake County.

Today I have a copy of the postcard that is being sent to folks. It helps to frame his comments so I thought I’d share with others. I’ll include the images of the postcard; but I thought I’d type out the contents too.

Text from Lake County postcard:

Why should Lake County taxpayers take a $70 million rick on fiber optics?

Several Minnesota communities have rejected risky fiber optic projects or paid for their mistake.

FiberNet Monticello is running a $250,000 monthly loss and using city funds to cover it
TonkaConnect was unanimously rejected as too risky by Lake Minnetonka Communications Commissioners
Cook County residents are up in arms over using $4 million in special sale tax for a fiber optic network
North St Paul residents overwhelmingly voted down PolarNet 2 to 1
GoMoorhead’s red ink increased electric bills and led the city to privatize the system

Side Two:

Why have Lake County officials broken their promise and committed $3.5 million of your money for this project?

Lake County Officials said the construction of a $70 million fiber optic project “WILL NOT BE SUPPORTED BY LAKE COUNTY TAXPAYERS” (Lake County News-Chronicle, June 11, 2009)

How much more will the fiber project cost you and who pays if this project fails?

Why won’t Lake County officials let taxpayers vote of the $70 million fiber optic project? State law required a referendum (vote of the people) when a local government builds a telecommunications network that includes telephone service like the proposed fiber optic project in Lake County (Minnesota Statutes 237.19)

Too many questions. Not enough answers. Visit http://www.letlakecountyvote.com to sign the petition for a public vote!

Paid for by the Minnesota Cable Communications Association.

Clearly point of view plays a large role in the message you create. Someone who was a proponent of the project might mention communities such as Windom, Lac qui Parle, Sibley County – or they may have even spoken to different people in Cook County and Monticello.

It’s a good reminder for residents in the community – there are at least two sides to every story. And a good reminder for any community looking at broadband – there will be many sides to your broadband story too.

The digital divide widens

The term digital divide was replaced by digital inclusion a while back – maybe a year ago , maybe two. Digital inclusion is more positive, it implies progress – but it doesn’t paint the picture. Over the weekend Susan Crawford helped to repaint that picture in an article in the New York Times

If you were white, middle-class and urban, the Internet was opening untold doors of information and opportunity. If you were poor, rural or a member of a minority group, you were fast being left behind.

She points out that…

While we still talk about “the” Internet, we increasingly have two separate access marketplaces: high-speed wired and second-class wireless. High-speed access is a superhighway for those who can afford it, while racial minorities and poorer and rural Americans must make do with a bike path.

And after detailing how (technically) we can close the gap with cable and fiber she concludes that the issue is a national concern…

The new digital divide raises important questions about social equity in an information-driven world. But it is also a matter of protecting our economic future. Thirty years from now, African-Americans and Latinos, who are at the greatest risk of being left behind in the Internet revolution, will be more than half of our work force. If we want to be competitive in the global economy, we need to make sure every American has truly high-speed wired access to the Internet for a reasonable cost.

With that in mind I want to ask if we to invest in technology that will raise all boats – faster broadband that will facilitate two-way communication requires for telehealth, remote employment, even job interviews – why does the National Broadband Plan perpetuate the digital divide by aiming to provide genuinely high speed (100 Mbps) connectivity to 100 million homes but settle for 4 Mbps for the rest?

Jackson – when it rains it pours broadband

Thanks to John Shepard for sending me a recent article from the Jackson Pilot. It drives me crazy – but Jackson Pilot does a really good job of posting teaser articles online persuading folks to go buy a paper for the whole scoop. (If I ran the paper, I might do it that way too.) The scoop in question today is community plans for fiber versus the city cable system. From a broadband blogger perspective this sounds like a nice problem to have – “too many” broadband options.

Here’s the main gist from the part of the article that is available online…

Last Tuesday, council members shelved a recommendation from the utilities commission to direct city cable TV department manager Curt Egeland to provide cost figures to the commission for upgrading Jackson’s cable TV system for the purpose of making it all digital and independent of the rural electric association’s signal. The commission had earlier tabled such action due to the city’s involvement in Southwest Minnesota Broadband Service’s fiber-to-the-premise project, which promises to compete with the city’s cable TV system and — eventually — replace it.

But at the commission’s July 25 meeting, member Kevin Speiker said that might not be such a good idea.

It seems as if Spieker is concerned about quality of service and thinks that the costs of upgrading the cable system have probably come down since they last investigated. City council member Ken Temple spoke out indicating that time would be better spent focused on fiber rather than cable. The topic has been shelved for now as a meeting has been scheduled between commission members and folks at Southwest Minnesota Broadband Group (SMBG).

I spoke with the folks at SMBS – they indicated that the folks they have contacted seem very enthusiastic about fiber – wondering what it might take to be first on the list for installation. ..

Members of the SMBS management group are meeting with the Jackson PUC in the near future to answer any questions they might have. SMBS will also be opening a sales/construction office in Jackson in the near future as construction in Jackson will be begin soon. SMBS has attended Jackson community events and has received positive feedback from the citizens of Jackson mostly asking when they can have the service and excited to finally have a choice for broadband service besides Qwest/CenturyLink and the limited wireless choices available today.

“While a new digital video headend might bring better video service to Jackson (which will be comparable to the services that SMBS is providing), the real issue is that there are not enough broadband options within Jackson”, stated Project Consultant John Schultz. SMBS will offer not only a better video service that is available today but also finally open the broadband market in Jackson.