Greenwood Town Board officials question value of broadband

I have been working in broadband for 20 years. I remember introducing people to the internet. I was the first person to show them the WWW. I was like a magic librarian. And back then I spoke to CEOs, City Officials and others about the value of Internet. But it has been years since I’ve heard of community meeting that shifted from “how can we get broadband” to “why.” But apparently that was the shift at the Greenwood Town Board meeting on May 14, as the Timber Jay reports

Several Greenwood Town Board officials, at their meeting on May 14, questioned the township’s participation in the ongoing regional broadband project. The Blandin Foundation has awarded a $75,000 grant to several local communities consisting of representatives from Tower, Breitung, Eagles Nest, Vermilion Lake, and Greenwood to use for smaller community projects to increase broadband availability.

The group has allocated $5,000 of the grant to allow Greenwood to purchase a public computer for use at the town hall. The township is required to provide a match for the grant, but the township’s contribution could be in-kind services, such as providing rent-free use of the town hall space, use of the township’s printer (at a per copy charge) and oversight by township staff. The plan calls for the computer to be available only during the clerk’s regular office hours, 20 hours a week. The grant would also cover additional costs for higher speed internet service.

But town board members, who had approved the project at last month’s meeting, had more questions, and some seemed unwilling to participate at all.

It seems like part of the issue is the cost of technology…

Treasurer Pam Rodgers appeared to support the project, but she questioned the computer and software set-up from Mark Wilcox Computer Services that had been included in the proposal, at a cost of $3,278. She said she had talked with Wilcox and felt a lower cost computer would be more than adequate. She estimated that annual maintenance costs for the computer would be $300 a year.

Chairman Carmen DeLuca wondered why the public couldn’t use the old fire department office computer. Board members told him that computer was outdated, and probably wouldn’t be suitable.

I understand the desire to get the best deal but computers for home and business (or industrial-strength shared) use are different. It’s difficult to understand that if you don’t work in IT; I think the correlation might be home versus an industrial oven.

The bigger issue might be assumption that satellite will make fiber obsolete, or not worth the investment…

DeLuca also questioned the project’s commitment to installing broadband service. He said that in five years that technology would be outdated and satellite technology would be in use.

DeLuca isn’t alone in wanting satellite to be a solution but experts have repeatedly said that high orbit satellite will not work for rural areas…

Everyone is looking for a cheaper, easier, better way to bring broadband to rural Minnesota. 5G isn’t it. Industry experts have confirmed that 5G isn’t a solution for rural areas and a speaker at a recent US House Energy and Commerce Committee confirmed it.

And recently Doug Dawson explained how/why low orbit satellite isn’t likely to be a viable solution either…

At this early stage, it’s nearly impossible to know what impact these companies might have. We don’t know anything about their download and speed capacity, their pricing strategy, or their targeted market so it’s impossible to begin to predict their impact. We don’t even know how long it’s going to take to get these satellites in space since these three companies alone have plans to launch over 10,000 new satellites – a tall task when compared to the 1,100 satellites currently active in space. …

I foresee a different future for the satellite industry. Let’s start with a few facts we know. While 10,000 satellites is an impressive number, that’s a worldwide number and there will be fewer than 1,000 satellites over the US. Most of the satellites are tiny – these are not the same as the huge satellites launched by HughesNet. Starlink has described their satellites as varying in size between a football and a small dorm refrigerator. At those small sizes these satellites are probably the electronic equivalent of the OLT cabinets used as neighborhood nodes in a FTTH network – each satellite will likely support some limited and defined number of customers. OneWeb recently told the FCC in a spectrum docket that they are envisioning needing one million radio links, meaning their US satellites would be able to serve one million households. Let’s say that all of the satellite providers together will serve 3 – 5 million homes in the US – that’s an impressive number, but it’s not going to drive other ISPs into a pricing panic.
I also guess that the satellite providers will not offer cheap prices – they don’t need to. In fact, I expect them to charge more than urban ISPs. The satellite providers will have one huge market advantage – the ability to bring broadband where there isn’t landline competition. The satellite providers can likely use all of their capacity selling only in rural America at a premium price.

Choosing fiber today isn’t like choosing an 8-track player in the 1970s. Fiber will never become defunct. For broadband transport outside of satellite, a key aspect of the equation is how close you can bring the last mile to a fiber connection.

Dedicated Broadband for MN Responders is now available

Good news from the press release…

DEDICATED BROADBAND FOR MINNESOTA RESPONDERS NOW AVAILABLE
Approved Contract Will Provide Priority and Preemption in Emergencies

ST PAUL – Minnesota’s law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services personnel and sovereign nations now have the opportunity to sign up for the dedicated nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN), known as FirstNet. The State of Minnesota finalized the contract with FirstNet and AT&T. The pair has partnered to build and deploy the network at no cost to taxpayers for 25 years.

FirstNet’s dedicated public safety network, devices and apps will allow first responders to send and receive mission-critical information without experiencing delays. Minnesota first responders currently use wireless networks that can become overwhelmed or lack coverage in rural areas, especially during emergencies.

“FirstNet offers priority, preemption and reliability during emergencies like the Interstate 35 bridge collapse or the recent refinery explosion in Superior, Wisconsin,” said Emergency Communication Networks Director Dana Wahlberg. “Duluth responders provided mutual aid to the refinery explosion and experienced congestion on the wireless network during the incident.”

In October 2017, Gov. Mark Dayton signed the agreement after the Department of Public Safety’s Emergency Communication Networks (ECN) division partnered with public safety stakeholders to draft Minnesota’s State Plan. ECN is coordinating with FirstNet and AT&T as they begin to build and develop a quality network across the state.

“By opening up this avenue for Minnesota’s public safety agencies to adopt FirstNet service, the State is ensuring that lifesaving technology quickly gets into the hands of first responders to help them save lives and protect communities,” said First Responder Network Authority CEO Mike Poth. “FirstNet is the only wireless communications platform for emergency response built with the feedback and input of Minnesota’s public safety community and we look forward to our continued partnership with the State as we deploy public safety’s network.”

It is up to each individual public agency and sovereign nation to determine if they want to subscribe to FirstNet. ECN has provided an online workbook to help agencies with project planning and considerations such as coverage, capacity and cost.

What is FirstNet?

FirstNet was created by the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 following a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. Its mission is to create a dedicated public safety interoperable, nationwide mobile broadband network to enable continued communication during a disaster, emergency or large-scale event. The State of Minnesota initiated the FirstNet Consultation Project in January 2014. For more information on FirstNet, visit: www.firstnet.gov.

[FACT SHEET] Learn more about how FirstNet will help Minnesota first responders.

Klobuchar, Kennedy Introduce Bipartisan Privacy Legislation to Protect Consumers’ Online Data

From Senator Klobuchar’s website

April24, 2018

Legislation would increase transparency by strengthening disclosure requirements, ensure the right to control one’s own data by allowing people to opt out of data collection and tracking, and require notification of a privacy violation within 72 hours

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Kennedy (R-LA) today announced privacy legislation that will protect consumers’ online data. Social media and other online platforms routinely capture users’ behavior and personal information, which is then used to help advertisers or other third parties target those users. The bipartisan legislation would require companies to make privacy disclosures clearer and more transparent, give consumers the right to control their own data by allowing people to opt-out of having their data collected, and require companies to notify consumers of a privacy violation within 72 hours.

Specifically, the legislation:

  • Requires terms of service agreements to be in plain language,
  • Ensures users have the ability to see what information about them has already been collected and shared,
  • Provides users greater access to and control over their data,
  • Gives consumers the right to opt-out and keep their information private by disabling data tracking and collection,
  • Mandates that users be notified of a privacy violation within 72 hours,
  • Offers remedies for users when a privacy violation occurs,
  • Requires that online platforms have a privacy program in place.

“Every day companies profit off of the data they’re collecting from Americans, yet leave consumers completely in the dark about how their personal information, online behavior, and private messages are being used.” Senator Klobuchar said. “Consumers should have the right to control their personal data and that means allowing them to opt out of having their data collected and tracked and alerting them within 72 hours when a privacy violation occurs and their personal information may be compromised. The digital space can’t keep operating like the Wild West at the expense of our privacy.”

“I don’t want to hurt Facebook, and I don’t want to regulate them half to death, either. But I have a job to do, and that’s protecting the rights and privacy of our citizens,” Senator Kennedy said. “Our bill gives consumers more control over their private data, requires user agreements to be written in plain English and requires companies to notify users of privacy violations. These are just simple steps that online platforms should have implemented in the first place.”

In October, Klobuchar introduced the Honest Ads Act with U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, and U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, to help prevent foreign interference in future elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements. Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election by buying and placing political ads on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google. The content and purchaser(s) of those online advertisements are a mystery to the public because of outdated laws that have failed to keep up with evolving technology. The Honest Ads Act would prevent foreign actors from influencing our elections by ensuring that political ads sold online are covered by the same rules as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite.

 

Network Resiliency and Security Playbook for local government

Someone shared this with me, I wanted to pass it on. It’s from November 2017 – it’s a Network Resiliency and Security Playbook written to help local and state governments adopt best practices for preventing significant communications infrastructure failures and stopping or mitigating intrusions, hacking, and other disruptions of communications networks.

Intended audience…

The target audiences for this Playbook include information technology (IT) leaders and staff—the government employees who are responsible for implementing, operating, and maintaining IT systems—and the users of those government networks, including first responders. Because these audiences have a range of IT knowledge and expertise, this document includes high-level introductory information and links to useful background resources, as well as detailed technical descriptions of best practices.

Why you need it…

This Playbook addresses some of the key reasons that local and state government entities need to routinely include security and resiliency in their infrastructure development processes:

  • Local governments are attractive targets for cyber threats because they are often easy targets—especially those that do not have sufficient security resources and expertise

  • Local government networks can also be attractive targets in their own right, given their maintenance of sensitive data such as tax and voter rolls, contracts, procurements, traffic data, public-run utilities, etc.

  • Smaller governments often experience difficulty funding and staffing critical IT functions; as a result, those local governments might delay updating systems and applications, or even patching known issues, due to worry about proper functioning of legacy systems and risk of unintended impacts

  • Poor or inadequate segmentation of government networks can lead to large impacts from modest intrusion efforts

  • Local governments’ networks are increasingly interconnected with other systems, including those of other local governments, federal agencies, and private sector partners

  • Ransomware attacks make any target attractive regardless of size or sensitivity of data

  • Storms, floods, and other natural threats are a constant concern for any network, but especially for mission-critical public safety and government communications networks

If you’re still reading this may be a great tool for you!

New Year’s Resolution: Protect your Internet of Things

The Minneapolis Star Tribune ran an interesting article this week on cyber security and the Internet of things. The quick take is that the Internet of Things will make life so much more convenient but will also open us up for greater security risk. I think that’s the balance we have any time we use the Internet – for email, for web browsing, to buy anything. It’ makes life easier but riskier. The difference with the Internet of Things is that the risk more directly impacts our home and our bodies…

Consumers will soon become accustomed to conveniences such as starting a dishwasher from work, even though it’s hardly a necessity, said Ken Hoyme, a scientist with Minneapolis-based technology researchers Adventium Labs.

Small smart devices are “the weakest links” in a network, he said, whether it’s in a hospital or a home. For instance, he said computer worms can get into hospital systems through CAT scan machines with built-in browsers for automatic updates.

Breaking into an organization’s network could be as simple as exploiting out-of-date software on a smart thermostat to gain access to other connected systems, or simply changing the temperature settings to overheat a server room.

Hoyme said medical devices attached to the Internet could also be hacked, but that the dangers associated with not implanting a smart defibrillator far outweigh the likelihood of being the victim of a cyberattack. The University of Minnesota’s Technological Leadership Institute recently held a public forum on securing wireless medical devices against hacking.

If you’re looking for a short list for New Year’s Resolutions – you might at least consider how wide you want to balance convenience with security and privacy

Did you know you were a public hotspot hub for Comcast?

Here’s an ideological question – would you forgo personal privacy and security for the common good? If you could open up your home wireless router to others would you? I have certainly heard of people finding a way to share access with their neighbors since I’ve been in involved with ISPs. I remember in 1995, customers of MRNet found ways to connect their network through a dialup connection. (Can you imagine sharing a dialup connection now!) But the decision was always on the customer to share. Comcast has turned that around a little; according to CNN

Comcast has been swapping out customers’ old routers with new ones capable of doubling as public hotspots. So far, the company has turned 3 million home devices into public ones. By year’s end it plans to activate that feature on the other 5 million already installed.

Anyone with an Xfinity account can register their devices (laptop, tablet, phone) and the public network will always keep them registered — at a friend’s home, coffee shop or bus stop. No more asking for your cousin’s Wi-Fi network password.

And yes, this has been happening in Minnesota…

Comcast’s project that started in northern New Jersey has now spread to Boston, Chicago, Houston, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and elsewhere.

They say they have found ways to make it secure for the end user and to make sure added usage does not hinder speeds. All good developments – but to me the hiccup is doing it without informed consent. I assume customers have signed something (no one waking more eloquently about usage agreements that John Oliver on acceptable use) but according to the article, only one percent have opted out, which tells me most folks haven’t realized this was happening.

So two questions – should an ISP have permission/ability/right to open up the network in this way? Second – will they be opening up the technology to make this possible to others? So can a community looking to expand broadband learn any tricks? And a while back there was some pressure on coffee shops and others who offer public WiFi, often through “home” type connections to upgrade to commercial Hot Spot services – does this help those businesses offer public hot spots more easily and within the boundaries of their contract.

PSA on Security, Privacy and the Internet

It’s not often that I stand on a soapbox – and admittedly my life is kind of an open book online – but I thought the video below was worth sharing.

My intent is not to scare people away from using the Internet but just to be wise in the information they share. A recent report indicates that people aren’t very careful…

A new study by Amdocs Ltd. shows consumers are willing to barter personal data for service discounts, higher broadband speeds and priority customer service. The survey found that 57 percent of respondents said they would exchange data on Facebook friends, family members, and locations in return for a better service deal.

Last week I saw an interesting TED University talk by Jennifer Healey on personal ownership of our digital footprint. She chastised the privacy policies that no one reads pointing out that we are giving out a lot of information about ourselves for very little in return. Part of the problem is that right now access to personal digital information is an all or nothing proposition. There are times when you might be OK with sharing your personal data (from buying history to contacts) when the return is worthwhile – but access to the latest game app might not be it.

People need the power to be able to manage and negotiate with their own personal, digital data. There ought to be a better way – but in the meantime be prudent in the information you share and the access you give to various websites and apps in exchange for using their tools.