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.

Midcontinent brings 100 Mbps to parts of MN

According to MultiChannel News

Midcontinent Communications is boosting broadband speeds for more than 250,000 customers in the Upper Midwest, including a top tier of 100 Megabits per second down and 15 Mbps up, and has added access to ESPN3.com online video service as part of the upgrade.

Not often I get to mention ESPN. The article goes on to talk about the services offered and the method…

The DOCSIS 3.0-based MidcoNet Xstream Wideband service is available in three new tiers of service: 100/15 Mbps; 50/10 Mbps; and 30/5 Mbps. Those replace the operator’s previous tiers of 50/5, 30/3 and 20/2.

The higher speeds were made possible by Midcontinent’s analog-reclamation project which freed up spectrum. The company said up to 300 Mbps now flows into individual neighborhoods. Midcontinent already offered the fastest Internet speeds in the three-state area, where 3 Mbps downstream is the average, according to the company.

The last time I reported anything on Midcontinent was in 2009 when they were beginning to serve Sabin Minnesota with 50 Mbps down and 5 up. They recently purchased systems in North Dakota and MN from US Cable and now report having 214,000 customers between the two states.

Telecommunications Legislation from League of MN Cities

The League of MN Cities does a great job of advocating for and educating Minnesota Cities. So when they post about how Broadband and Cable Franchising Developments May Impact Cities, I listen.

They posted on the latest broadband news – but that really means pointing folks to the latest Minnesota Broadband Advisory Task Force Report, which has been discussed here. (That’s not to minimize the impact of the benchmarks that the report sets!)

The LMC also gives an update on statewide cable franchising. I will borrow from their update…

The League has learned that Qwest, the national telecommunications service provider, is looking into seeking legislation to eliminate local franchising in favor of state franchising. Several city cable franchise administrators indicated that colleagues in other states that have reported this. Qwest officials apparently are especially interested in this legislative change as its merger with CenturyLink moves closer to final approval across the 14 states where Qwest is the major telecommunications service provider.

No legislation has yet been introduced in Minnesota to grant Qwest or any other company new statewide franchises to offer cable TV services. Still, local cable commissions and franchise administrators are reminding legislators that cities have supported competitive cable franchising at the local level and that state law already prohibits exclusive local cable TV franchises.

Last session, with the support of the League and the Minnesota Association of Community Telecommunications Administrators, the Legislature enacted a new law clarifying that cities are authorized to grant a competitive local franchise to a telecommunications service provider to serve customers in the area where the provider currently offers local phone services within the city—even if that service area is different than the one where the incumbent cable TV franchisee is operating. In addition, the League previously provided the Legislature with a list of at least 50 cities where two competitive cable franchisees offer video programming service.

There are about 600 cities in the state that already franchise cable service operators.

Broadband options around Marshall

For the second in her Broadband series, Deb Rau from the Marshall Independent focused on broadband options available in the area. Cable (first in the form of Prairiewave, now Knology) has been a big players in towns such as Tracy.

I love the look back in her article…

“Before that [cable], there was dial-up. It was 56 kilobits per second, if you could get it,” said David Spencer, finance director for the city of Tracy, and a local resident. Getting a telecommunications hookup in town was “very big, not just for the Internet, but for telephones and cable television too.”

Remember when you had to convince an Internet service provider to bring dialup to your area? I was one of the people you called if you wanted MRNet to come to your town. I remember getting the calls and I remember visiting areas where the Internet was a long distance phone call. It wasn’t that long ago.

The article recognizes the expense of bringing infrastructure to rural areas where the population density is lower, which means fewer customers per mile, which in turn means you have to cover more miles. But that being said, local providers in the area have talked about customer base tripling in the last 5 years.

Cable isn’t the only option, wireless is mentioned too…

Some groups have opted to pursue alternatives to cable-based Internet in southwest Minnesota, however. About four years ago, the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative invested in a system of microwave wireless towers to provide high-speed Internet to a total of 31 school districts in the region. Minnesota Valley Television also uses a wireless network to bring Internet service to rural areas.

The MVTV wireless network was another good option for Tracy.

MVTV received ARRA funding so their area is about to expand. They weren’t the only providers in Southwest Minnesota to receive funding. The Southwest Minnesota Broadband Group has received moved to deploy fiber – but maybe I’m getting ahead of the Marshall series on broadband.

Comcast soon offering 250Mbps

According to DSL Reports, Comcast may be offering 250Mbps service by the end of the year. (Thanks to Tim Finnerty for the heads up.) Here are their numbers…

Comcast has already pushed DOCSIS 3.0 past 90% of their footprint, delivering 50 Mbps speeds in the process. While the company only offers 100 Mbps service in one market, a source tells us Comcast will be pushing faster 100 Mbps service to around 20% of their market by year end.

It’s a great glimpse at what DOCSIS 3.0 can do and it’s good to see someone deploying at the high end. But for a glimpse at the broadband discussion throughout the US – check out the comments. Some love Comcast, some don’t. Some will never get enough bandwidth, some wonder what in the heck you’d do with so much. Some blame the users, some blame the providers. Also you can get a history of cable and broadband – it’s personalized and biased but still interesting and still a part of the broadband discussion.

Cable – Ipv6 & turbo boosts

What’s new in the world of cable? I’m a little closer to updated with help from Tim Finnerty who recently sent me some interesting articles.

First – Cable Braces for IPv6. It seems as if I’ve been hearing about IPv6 forever – certainly in 1994 – it also seem as if eventually we will need to move to IPv6 as more and more devices get online. (IPv6 is Internet Protocol version 6 – the next generation addressing scheme.) Apparently guestimates for a timeline for running out of numbers are as soon as two years from now. According to Cable Digital News, Comcast has already has its backbone outfitted for next-gen IPv6 and could begin residential tests as early as this year. With DOCSIS 3.0, they expect to be able to run IPv6 to businesses and homes by the end of next year.

Second – Cable Crafts Turbo Option. Apparently the cable industry is brainstorming an invention to allow customers to supercharge their connections for short spurts of time. Here’s the scoop from Cable Digital News:

As described (PDF) by CableLabs, that invention — dubbed the “Method for dynamic control of per-flow bandwidth preemption” [Ed. note: Catchy!] — will let a customer request that the cable operator provision (mostly likely through the cable modem and the cable modem termination system) a temporarily faster and higher-priority level of service.

It’s not here yet – but they’re working on it.

Minnesota Ultra High Speed Task Force December Meeting

Big crowd at the Task Force meeting today. Loads of people joining via phone. I have not seen so many suits since I quit working at law libraries.

I have included my notes, such as they are. Please forgive any typos. Thanks to the Task Force for sharing the PPT presentations.

I usually try not to give too much of my opinion, but… I think it was great for so many providers to come in to talk. But I think it might have been more helpful to give each 90 seconds to speak and then let the board ask questions. I think that would have helped get beyond the party lines for each business and into more heated issues.

Here are the notes… Continue reading

Comcast Throttling Downstream Traffic?

It’s a beautiful day in Minnesota – and I know our days are numbered – I read through all of my headlines and said I’d only pause if I saw something really good or really bad. Well, I paused…

Comcast sent their network management maps and plans to the FCC – as required. I guess that’s the good news. The bad news is that they are planning to “manage” downstream traffic as well as upstream traffic. So they are widening their focus. Now they’ll be managing not only the P2P folks but anyone who downloads a lot – such as movies or TV shows.

The good folks at IP Democracy (such a great name) have really looked into the issue.

I’m pretty surprised by this. So many more people download and now the management has the potential to reach so many more people – and not just the geeks. I think it’s a strategy that might backfire as word gets out. Well as people run into bandwidth issues. Apparently they have tested it and so far no issues – but have they tested in the dead of winter in Minnesota when the whole family has nothing to do and 4 computers to do it on.

FCC Rules in Favor of BitTorrent

When it rains, it pours. For the past two weeks it’s been all I could do to keep up on Minnesota broadband happenings. Off in the ether, I’ve been getting glimpses at the FCC’s activity but I haven’t been tracking it too closely. Well the news broke today on FCC ruling on the Comcast/BitTorrent case and I want to thank Jim Baller for not only tracking the news but allowing me to post his comments here. (Jim maintains a great daily email list of telecommunications policy news.)

The big news is that the FCC just ruled, as widely expected, that Comcast’s treatment of BitTorrent traffic violates the FCC’s broadband policies.

According to Commissioner Michael Copps, who joined with Chairman Kevin Martin and Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein to form a 3-2 majority, “This is a landmark decision for the FCC—a meaningful stride forward on the road to guaranteed openness of the Internet.”

The decision does not attempt to lay down rules for all situations but focuses on the specific Comcast practices at issue. The FCC emphasizes the need for a balance between preserving the openness of the Internet and permitting essential network management.

A written order is not yet available. The FCC’s press release and the statements of Chairman Martin and Commissioners Copps and Adelstein are available at www.fcc.gov. They are well worth reading.

FCC & Network Management Meeting

On February 25, the FCC held a hearing on broadband network management practices. (You can download audio and video of the meeting.) IP Democracy did a nice write up of the meeting. (A big thanks to them for saving me the effort!) The short description – the got together to talk about allegations of Comcast over-managing their network to the disservice of certain applications.

My super short notes – everyone recognized that providers need to be able to manage their networks to keep them running. But we need to know that network management is reasonable – that consumers will be able to do what they want and need to do. (So long as it is legal.) As Rep Markley said – Internet freedoms are consumer-centric.

Another big point was transparency. Consumers need to know the rules as the providers maintain them. As Michael Copps alluded, decisions on how the Internet works (and info flows) are currently being made by providers and other vendors. (He gave some great examples.)

Copps suggested that the FCC create a process for future allegations against broadband providers.

Several speakers mentioned a bill of rights for online citizens.

Gilles BianRosa gives a nice demo of Vuze (a Peer to Peer application) in explaining how traffic throttling by a network provider affects the service. He also estimated that the upload capacity of a US connection is 10-20 percent of the download speed – whereas in the rest of the world upload is generally equal to download.

Comcast votes for letting the market set the rules and encouraging the FCC to tread lightly on regulation.

(You can get a list of upcoming meetings on the FCC site.)

Senate & House Telecommunications Bills Update

fiber opticsI love when people help me out with information! Towards that end I was delighted to speak today with Anne Higgins from the Minnesota League of Cities on the statewide cable franchising bill.

One thing I had missed in an earlier blog post was where the bill is going next. I had said that it will be going to the Committee on Commerce and Labor but it sounds as if it will get pulled back into the Telecommunications Regulation and Infrastructure Division after the first of the year. Also it seems as if Qwest has plans to try local cable franchises between now and the first of the year to see how accommodating local entities are.

Representative Johnson also mentioned getting together a working group or two to discuss the bill further and there was a mention of getting someone to talk about the FCC ruling on video conferencing. Elizabeth Emerson, committee administrator, at (651) 296-7175 or elizabeth.emerson@house.mn is the one to contact about the working groups.

One interesting aspect of the potential move is that there is no overlap in members of the Telecommunications Regulation and Infrastructure Division and the Committee on Commerce. It seems as if the learning curve could be potentially pretty steep.

I have not been following the bill as closely in the Senate I did finally listen to the archive of the meeting from April 24. Continue reading