“It could be up to five years before customers in smaller cities like Fargo and Bismarck can expect to see 5G”

The Grand Forks Herald looks at wireless broadband in rural areas, recognizing that it may be five years before smaller cities like Bismark will get 5G. If we’re looking at five years for Bismark, it will likely be longer for the area two miles outside Bismark…

The telecommunications world is racing to deploy the next generation of wireless technology, called 5G, shorthand for fifth generation. The service is now available in some major cities, including Minneapolis.

The next-generation mobile network will provide dazzlingly fast internet access — with speeds of 300 mps or higher.

But experts say it could be up to five years before customers in smaller cities like Fargo and Bismarck can expect to see 5G wireless, and it likely will be available only in densely populated areas, such as the downtowns, the campus of North Dakota State University or state capitol complex.

That’s because 5G uses very high-frequency radio waves that travel very short distances, requiring a dense — and very expensive — network of transmitters that are cost-effective only in very urban environments.

T-Mobile has 18% discount for nonprofit orgs to serve their clients

I just heard that T-Mobile has opened up its contracts with states and the federal GSA to nonprofits. This means you have access to an 18% discount on service. If you pay T-Mobile directly you can use this discount to provide service to the folks you serve. They do not have a system for the folks you serve to pay T-Mobile directly.

This could be a way to offer hotspots to library patrons or to families you serve that don’t have access at home. (Get pricing. And check coverage areas before you get into any contracts!)

Other providers may have similar service – and if they do I’d be happy to post it here too. (Just send me info atreacy@treacyinfo.com or post a comment below.)

Rural and Urban Broadband are different and 5G isn’t a panacea for both

Doug Dawson take on the most popular question of the last few years (again!) – will 5G bring ubiquitous broadband to rural areas. And the answer again is – no. I’m a little tempted to just leave my comments as that and link readers directly to Doug – but I’ll try to pull out some very high level points…

There are a few hot-button topics that are the current favorite talking points at the FCC. T-Mobile and Sprint are pressing both the 5G and the rural broadband buttons with their merger request. The companies are claiming that if they are allowed to merge that they can cover 96% of America with a ‘deep, broad, and nationwide’ 5G network.

There are multiple technologies being referred to as 5G – wireless broadband loops and 5G cellular – and their claim doesn’t hold water for either application.

Doug goes on to explain the multiple technologies. And if you want/need to know the differences, I think he makes it pretty easy to understand. If you don’t want or need to know – you can skip right to his conclusion…

The T-Mobile and Sprint claim is pure bosh. These companies are not going to be investing in fiber to bring 5G wireless loops to rural America. While a combined company will have more spectrum than the other carriers there is no immediate advantage for using 5G for rural cellular coverage . The T-Mobile and Sprint announcements are just pushing the 5G and the rural broadband hot-buttons because the topics resonate well with politicians who don’t understand the technology.

Check out a hotspot from the Rock County library

Fun news for Rock County Library patrons (as found on their Facebook Page)…

The Rock County Library now has wifi hotspots to check out! We have five Verizon hotspots available for Rock County library card holders 18 years or older with cards in good standing (fees at $5 or below) to check out.

The hotspots check out for two weeks, can connect up to 15 devices per hotspot, and will work anywhere in the United States with Verizon coverage.

Our partnership with the Blandin Foundation and Rock County’s involvement as a Blandin Broadband Community has made this possible.

A Better Wireless has a Solution for Rural MN – but they need access to spectrum

The Benton Foundation has posted a column from Mitchell Koep, CEO of A Better Wireless, about the need in rural areas (specifically rural Minnesota) for better broadband to create a level playing field for students…

I know firsthand what it’s like living on the wrong side of the digital divide because my local community in rural Minnesota has been experiencing it for far too long. That is one of the reasons why I founded A Better Wireless, a wireless ISP that is seeking to connect rural Minnesotans who lack affordable broadband access.

The most upsetting part about the digital divide is the lack of access our students face. As more teachers assign homework that requires an internet connection, students without home access are at a severe disadvantage. My granddaughter and her third-grade classmates are living in this divide known as the “Homework Gap.” At Battle Lake Independent School District in Otter Tail County, Minnesota – where my granddaughter attends school – 23 percent of all families with an enrolled student lack broadband access. This Homework Gap not only impacts families from participating in digital life but also severely inhibits students from accessing the same educational opportunities that benefit their urban peers.

Koep offers a solution with wireless…

Last year, Otter Tail County approached commercial providers asking to help solve our digital divide. Incumbent telephone companies told the county it would take $49 million to expand fiber along roadways in just the southern third of the county. This plan would require rural residents to pay to bury fiber from the road down their driveways—some of which are half a mile long or longer.

A Better Wireless submitted a proposal to connect these same households with fixed wireless for a fraction of that cost. For just $8.6 million, we would upgrade capacity for county schools — which currently pay $2,300 per month for 200 Mbps service — to gigabit access for just $750-$1000 per month. For students who ride the bus up to an hour one way to and from school—a journey that takes even longer when we receive 30 inches of snow—we plan to equip school buses with internet access to turn travel time into homework time. And families with enrolled students that qualify for free and reduced lunch plans would get 25/10 Mbps service for just $15/month.

Our plan also includes offering fixed wireless broadband access to every resident in the county for just $45 per month. In addition, we will offer our public safety officials access to a mobile, public safety network.

But they need access to spectrum to make it happen,,,

But our plan hinges on the Federal Communications Commission making currently unused Educational Broadband Service (EBS) spectrum available to educational entities. While EBS has been licensed in roughly half of the United States, geography covering 85 percent of Americans, the remaining half covering roughly 50 million Americans has never been licensed. The FCC has now proposed to finish licensing this spectrum — which has essentially been frozen since 1995 — to local educational entities. A Better Wireless has already developed partnerships with schools interested in applying for licenses if the spectrum is made available. We have also joined an advocacy group with 70 other companies and educational entities called Educators and Broadband Providers for American Rural Communities (EBPARC) to help make this proposal a reality. I recently traveled to Washington (DC) to tell the FCC and Congress about the critical need for smaller operators like mine to access this key spectrum band.

The biggest threat to our plan is that large, national, wireless providers are urging the FCC to sell these licenses to them instead of continuing to license to educational entities. Rural schools like those in Otter Tail County will not be able to compete in a spectrum auction against large telecommunications companies—the same companies that have been ignoring our community for far too long. Even if resources were available, schools in some states are not legally allowed to spend resources on spectrum.

5G – the good, the bad, and the things we hear again and again

Last Friday I happened to catch NPR’s Science Friday’s segment on The Future of 5G. If 5G is still a mystery to you – it’s absolutely worth listening to the program. It starts with a 101 and then delves into potential security risks and what 5G means for rural areas. They also talk about 5G as a marketing term. Some providers talk about 5G Evolution, which isn’t yet 5G but is more like 4G+.

Minneapolis is a 5G shining star – I’d go on a limb to say that hosting the Superbowl last year put us on that map. 5G is great for high speed connectivity in small spaces. So if you want everyone in a packed stadium to be able to stream a football game from their awesome seats to friends back home – 5G is your friend. The MN Broadband Task Force heard all about the upgrades last February; policy changes like small cell equipment regulation helped.

Rural areas will have a tougher time getting on the 5G stage – in part because distance is not your friend with 5G. It takes a lot more equipment to support 5G than it does 4G. I think I heard 9 times the equipment. Someone can please correct me if I’m wrong. That kind of infrastructure is expensive and in rural areas it’s hard to make it up in volume. Mainstreet publications, such as Fortune, have pointed out that to be ready, rural areas need more fiber.

Last week, FCC Chair Pai and President Trump announced federal programs intended to help the US “win the race to 5G.” Specifically they mentioned the following:

President Trump’s historic tax cuts and deregulatory actions have created incentives for the wireless industry to invest in 5G technology.

To ensure rural America is not left behind, the FCC aims to create a new $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund that will extend high-speed broadband to 4 million homes and small businesses.

The Benton Foundation has taken on the claims of the latest announcement…

An FCC fact sheet claims the $20.4 billion will be distributed in rural America over the next ten years. “It will provide funding through a reverse auction to service providers that will deploy infrastructure that will provide up to gigabit-speed broadband in parts of the country most in need of connectivity.” Chairman Pai claims, “The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund represents the FCC’s single biggest step yet to close the digital divide.”

Details of the plan began to emerge in the days after the White House event. We learned that the funding would come from essentially extending and rebranding the FCC’s Connect America Fund (CAF) program. …

CAF is the program aimed at connecting rural and remote areas that are expensive to reach. The Obama-era FCC created CAF to support broadband instead of just traditional voice phone service. CAF II currently makes around $2 billion in insubsidies available for telecommunications providers each year. CAF II is scheduled to end in 2020.

The crux of Chairman Pai’s announcement is that he is proposing to extend CAF’s current $2 billion per year for another ten years.

One of the issues that I can see for folks on the frontlines is that while they are extending the speed minimum, it still won’t keep pace with urban counterparts…

FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield said the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund would establish a minimum speed threshold of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads (25/3), as opposed to the current 10/1 Mbps. Wigfield also said the new program would be “technology neutral” and “open to all qualified providers,” but specifics about eligibility will depend on an FCC rulemaking not yet launched.

By comparison, the MN speed goals for 2022 are 25/3 and for 2026 are 100/20. So yes, the new speeds are faster – they are still not at pace of growth in other areas.

Reaction has been…

Deb Socia, executive director of Next Century Cities, characterized the proposal as “more of a rebranding than a new project,” although she was careful to note that details about it are still unclear. “I don’t think it’s significantly different,” she said. But the proposal was still welcomed. “We’re always happy when more money can go into rural communities,” Socia added. “And we’re really pleased to see them upping the speed.”

Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge, said, “This is really just like slapping ‘new and improved!’ on the same package.”

Feld also said repurposing USF funds as proposed could prove legally problematic because the FCC decided in the 2017 net neutrality repeal to re-reclassify broadband as a Title I information service rather than a Title II telecommunications service. “It is hard to see how you can do this given that broadband is a Title I information service and USF is restricted to Title II telecommunications.”

What do you do when the maps are wrong and you aren’t served?

I heard from reader Steve Riley who is stuck in Crow Wing County with less broadband than he needs, “I’ve been trying to get faster DSL at my home. Currently I’m at 5-9 Mbps, but usually slower.” Since an injury a few years ago, his wife teleworks but those speeds make it difficult to be productive.

He sent me pictures of the telecom situation in the area.

He adds, “My current provider and the FCC say my area is served by high speed internet, but as you can see it’s not if you’re between DSLAMS. I’ve asked 3 different techs why I can’t be hooked up to the new DSLAM installed 2 years ago that’s less than 500 feet from me and they all say it’s easy to do but it’s against policy.” My guess is that they don’t want to sell beyond capacity but I can understand the frustration. And I hear often about the frustration of maps that aren’t quite right and just the inability to get the broadband you need.

And I worry about the communities where this happens. Who is going to move into an area, who is going to start a business where you can’t get sufficient broadband?