Duluth Tribune support statewide solutions to local small cell equipment collocation

The legislature is discussing a number of broadband-related topics. HF739/SF561 looks at creating a statewide policy to allow wireless companies to put their small cell equipment in public spaces. Right now a provider must work with the local government when they want to collocate equipment and the local government and charges a fee. The providers would like to streamline the process. Minnesota is not the only state looking at the issue – several states are. The last I heard (at a House Committee meeting), the League of Minnesota Cities and providers were trying to find a solution to meet all needs.

The Duluth News Tribune has posted an editorial on the issue…

“The deployment of small cells is one way providers can meet the demands on the network and also prepare for the next generation of wireless technologies called 5G,” Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Ross wrote in February in a letter urging lawmakers to find agreement on new measures. “This legislation will help enhance the wireless networks that Minnesota businesses rely upon to grow their companies and attract new investment.”

“These are the future,” AT&T Minnesota President Paul Weirtz said of small cells in an interview last week with the News Tribune editorial board. “The argument is if we can get some parameters as to how to deploy this over the 854 communities in Minnesota, just some standards around that, it’s going to get those antennas employed sooner. And that’s going to help bring that 5G wireless coverage quicker to Minnesota.”

The parameters the Legislature needs to determine — and, encouragingly, it’s working with providers, the League of Minnesota Cities and others to do so — include how much cities receive in rent, or rates, for small cells on traffic signals and in public right-of-ways. That varies widely right now. In cities in Ohio, it’s $200 per year, for example. In Indiana, cities charge $50 a year, according to Weirtz.

But in Duluth, he said, the reported rate runs $6,000 annually.

Clearly, Internet providers right now aren’t getting the consistent and fair rates they deserve and for which they can plan and with which they can do their work.

“We’re not seeing these rates anywhere else in the country,” Weirtz said of Duluth’s. “The legislation we’re hoping to do would put some common sense around a statewide rate structure. We don’t know what that number is going to be, but, you know, we’re hoping it’s south of $6,000.”

How much do you pay per bit and byte for your broadband? New comparison tool looks at speed and usage

Grocery stores put “price per ounce/serving” labels on product shelves. It has changed how I shop. Do I always buy the cheapest? No. Not all cookies are the same. But am I better informed? Yes. The National Broadband Plan promised similar tools with their Broadband Speed and Performance Digital Labels but those were based on performance – not cost.

The Minnesota Broadband Coalition has been working on a comparison of broadband pricing based on speed (bit) and data usage (byte). The Coalition is hoping that this information can help people — both consumers and policymakers –make more informed choices.

What does this mean?

There are some extreme differences – especially with satellite. You can see that the satellite service is more expensive for both bandwidth (speed) and data usage. The satellite price for data usage, at $5 or $6 per GB (gigabyte) compares unfavorably to the dimes and nickels charged by landline providers. For all providers except satellite, the lower bandwidth services have the highest price per Mbps (megabit per second).  In other words, the more you use, the less you pay per unit. There are two providers have no data cap for their Gigabit service.

Sources now put monthly average household data use at 190 GB (gigabyte) and that number is constantly growing. For rural residents that use data for school, business, health care or other data-heavy activities, it is clear that satellite is an expensive or very limiting broadband option.  It is, however, available everywhere, for those who can afford it.

The Coalition has created a broadband cost analysis spreadsheet that you can use to help calculate the unit cost of your broadband.

Mini-Lesson: Reminder on bits (speed) versus bytes (data usage)

  • Mbps is a measure of speed – megabits per second.) Speed provides the capacity to interact online. The FCC has a guide to help track speed requirements by online activity. For example, streaming an HD video requires 4 Mbps connection (download). To figure out your household’s speed requirement, you’ll have to consider all the users of broadband – every laptop, smartphone, ipad and the Internet of things for each member of your household or office.  Think about it – your family is probably using more than one device at the same time.
  • GB is a measure of how much data you’re using – gigabytes. For example, an HD movie may be 3-5 GB.  It’s like a cup that gets filled. Depending on your provider, you may pay more if you overfill your cup, your connection maybe slowed down if your cup gets filled or your provider may not have data caps (aka data allowances) so you can interact online (download or upload) without limitations. Many people have experience with usage on mobile contracts – but cellular providers aren’t the only ones that track and charge by usage.

Need more? I wrote a longer piece on bits/bytes and average household use in December.

Satellite – 25/3 access – with prohibitive costs, interference and no scalability

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.

I’ve been hearing a lot about satellite lately so I thought I’d declare today satellite Monday and post what I’ve learned – starting with this basic 101 post, then a post on scheduled satellite upgrades and finally a guest post from a satellite user.

How does satellite work? I found a good, brief video ….

As they video says – satellite is a better choice than dialup – but there are some issues: costs especially given data allowances, latency, interference and speeds.

Let’s start with cost. It’s difficult to get pricing. Most providers will only show their current deals and often that requires a two-year contract. I was able to get pricing from Reviews.com:

HughesNet:

  • Monthly Price: $49.99 – $129.99
    Price is based on data allowance and download speed
  • Additional fees:
    • Early Termination Fee: Up to $400
    • Equipment Lease Fee: $14.99/month
    • Standard Installation Fee: $199.99 with Equipment Purchase
    • One-Time Setup Fee: $99.00 with Equipment Lease

Exede

  • Monthly Price: $49.99 – $129.99
    Price is based on data allowance
  • Additional fees:
  • Early Termination Fee: $15/remaining month of contract
  • Equipment Lease Fee: $9.99/month
  • Installation Fee: $0, $49, or $99 depending on your region

There are overage fees for surpassing data or you need to essentially turn off broadband until the end of the month.

I think the video does a nice job if describing the latency. The FCC recognizes improvements in satellite latency, as well as the limitations…

While the physics that limit signal speed cannot be altered, technical improvements, such as protocol acceleration and information caching, reduce the number of  times communication must occur between  the earth-based systems and the satellite thus minimizing the effects of latency.  Regarding these techniques, the FCC state: ViaSat and other satellite industry operators have lowered overall latency by making improvements to other elements of their architecture, such as by dispensing with the need to  request communication channel assignments, adopting advances in consumer satellite terminal equipment, incorporating protocol acceleration technology, and developing new error correction technology to provide resiliency to rain fade. Despite these many improvements, latency for this new generation [of] satellite‐delivered broadband remains high.

Interference is an issue based on “terrestrial blockage”…

Since geostationary satellites orbit the earth over the equator, subscribers at the equator point their  satellite dishes nearly straight up to communicate with the satellite. As a subscriber’s distance from the  equator increases, the elevation of the dish relative to the horizon decreases. Therefore, the likelihood of an object obscuring the direct view of a satellite also increases as the subscriber’s distance  from the equator increases, as shown in Figure 4‐2.  Thus, terrestrial blockage is a more significant issue  in the northern states than in the southern states.

And weather interference

Weather can also affect the reliability of satellite communications.  The frequencies used by satellite  systems are susceptible to weather degradation. Transmission errors can  be caused by heavy rain and  the accumulation of ice or snow on dishes.  Weather interference occurs more severely in northern  areas of the United States where there are lower dish elevations, since the signals must travel a greater  distance through the atmosphere before reaching the satellite.

To mitigate weather effects, satellite providers have implemented adaptive power control and more robust modulation techniques; however, weather interference problems persist.

And then with speeds – the problem today is the upload speed limitation – 3 Mbps. The bigger problem is that these speeds aren’t scalable.

Wired vs wireless home connections – 20 percent use wireless

Telecompetitor recently ran an article on home broadband access and wireless…

Although the majority of households still access the Internet via fixed connections (cable, telco, fiber, etc.), nearly 4 in 10 said they usually use mobile for home Internet access, according to new research from ReportLinker.

ReportLinker points to Census Bureau data as further evidence of broadband cord cutting. According to the Dept. of Commerce agency’s report, the number of U.S. households that rely solely on mobile devices and wireless network connectivity for Internet access doubled to 20 percent between 2013 and 2015.

The shift is particularly strong among young adults. Thirty-nine percent of Americans ReportLinker surveyed said they “usually use” mobile devices to connect to the Internet at home. That rose to 55 percent among Millennials and 60 percent of respondents aged 18-24. But an important and interesting observation regarding these findings – how many of those millennials are actually connected via a home fixed broadband connection using Wi-Fi on that mobile device, and don’t even make or understand the distinction?

Their last line gets to an essential point. The world of “wireless” is confusing. When we talk about wireless are we talking about cellular, fixed wireless, wifi. If you asked my kids how they connected to the internet they would say wireless – despite the fact that at home and at school they are actually on wifi that connects to a wireline connection. It’s all the same to them – unless or until a password gets changed. Maybe they’ll know the difference when they are paying the bill – and going on a limb here I think most millennials and a good chunk of 18-24 year-olds are still not paying the bill.

BUT I think that gets at a larger view – it’s not an either/or solution. Most folks want the speed, reliability and limitless use of a wired solution. Most folks want the mobility of a wired (cellular) connection. The following are reasons that customers went one choice over another – most of the reasons come down to bad experience with the choice they didn’t make…

Those who rely on mobile broadband offered various reasons why they don’t have a home broadband connection:

  • 27 percent said they could do everything they want with a smartphone
  • 15 percent said it’s cheaper to have just one connection
  • 15 percent said wireless network access is faster than a home broadband connection
  • 8 percent said home broadband connections aren’t reliable

On the flip side:

  • 22 percent said they use fixed broadband at home because it came as part of a package deal

  • 21 percent said cable broadband is much faster

  • 17 percent said their home broadband data limit is much higher than their mobile data plan limit

  • 5 percent said that not everyone in their household has a good mobile data plan

Industry view of MN small cell legislation

The St Cloud Times recently ran an editorial from Barry Umansky, Ball State University Digital Policy Institute…

The question on the table is how to expedite the process of deploying the infrastructure needed to power 5G, the most advanced wireless broadband network technology to come to market in the history of mobile networking. Engineers are reporting that 5G will deliver data and video at speeds once unimaginable, making the technology a realistic and affordable economic development tool for localities as much as it will be for businesses and citizens. But how fast citizens of any state can realize the benefits of 5G will depend on which state can most quickly and effectively clear the regulatory underbrush slowing down deployment of the network equipment needed to make 5G a reality. Minnesota’s small cell legislation (House File 739 and Senate File 561) is intended to do just that. This legislation should be applauded and supported.

In many localities, installing a communications antenna smaller than a pizza box typically requires approval from local zoning authorities, town councils and other public agencies — and under rules that tend to differ from city to city and town to town. And because permission for small cells is usually negotiated separately with each service provider, there’s a chance that one service provider gets a green light while another runs into roadblocks — meaning that the latter’s customers simply lose out.

Umansky recently presented at the Minnesota Broadband Networks Conference hosted by Minnesota Cable Communications Association, MN Telecom Alliance, AT&T, Comcast and others. (The counter of his view comes from the League of Minnesota Cities and Cable industry.)

I posted notes on the conversation in a Senate Committee meeting. Clearly the wireless provider and League of Minnesota Cities were trying to come to a compromise that would work for all sides. That is where the committee meeting left it more or less.

A tricky part of this is that 5G is a great solution for urban areas, downtown areas but not for rural areas – in part because it requires so much equipment and in part because of the distance limitations for the signal. And the local governments are reticent to relinquish control over the public right of way. Another tricky factor is that this topic is also being discussed at a national level.

WiFi on School Buses – vendor details

I wrote about the Minnesota state grants to support wifi on buses and other ways to get hotspots to students without access at home when they announced the awards. I thought it might be valuable to other school districts or even community centers to share this press release from a vendor who is providing service to some of the grant recipients…

Districts Receive State Funding to Connect Students Outside the Classroom

MCLEAN, Virginia (PRWEB) February 27, 2017

Kajeet, the industry leader for safe, mobile student Internet connectivity, announces its most recent partnerships as a result of money allocated by the Minnesota Department of Education. Minnesota appropriated $500,000 to fund broadband connectivity to students without Internet outside the classroom. Up to $50,000 was available for each recipient. Of the 12 school districts awarded the Internet Broadband Expansion for Minnesota Students grant, six have already partnered with Kajeet to provide Internet access to their rural students.

“Part of our district has high-speed fiber, and part has nothing. But, with high poverty rates, people can’t always afford Internet,” said Matt Grose, superintendent for Deer River Public Schools. “Now we provide Internet connectivity for homework to kids in our district who didn’t have access at home.”

All applicants applied for the first grant, “Broadband Expansion and Off-Campus Learning,” which aims to enable student access to learning materials available on the Internet through a mobile broadband connection, such as a Wi-Fi hotspot. If eligible, applicants could apply to a second grant, “School Bus Internet Access,” designed to make Internet access available on school buses, enabling students to complete homework while commuting.

Deer River also connected their entire bus fleet, as some students spend over an hour commuting to and from school. “It’s a long time to be on the bus, which breeds trouble and wasted time. This [Kajeet] program is a natural extension of our student device initiatives,” said Grose. “We’re taking advantage of student time spent on the bus.”

Kajeet Education Broadband™ met the criteria for both grants with its Kajeet SmartSpot® and SmartBus™ solutions.

Is the hotspot check out at the St Paul Public Library in jeopardy?

A recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune outlines the trials and tribulations of the mobile hotspot checkout at the St Paul Public Library…highland

The metro area so far appears slow to embrace a trend described as “huge” by the president of the American Library Association (ALA) [lending portable hot spots to library patrons ]. The firm recommended by the ALA as a source of steeply discounted portable hot spots to libraries reports that about 360 systems across the country have taken up its offer, but only one in Minnesota.

And that one, the St. Paul Public Library, is warning it may have to withdraw its units unless it can find a sustainable funding source.

The difficult debate is how to handle a resource that’s so popular…

At a time when some library systems are seeing a decline in conventional services, libraries that do offer hot spots say they are the hottest item they lend. Those libraries still on the sidelines, however, say they are leery for a number of reasons.

First, library patrons commonly endure long waits for the units. With 130 units available through the St. Paul libraries, holds can last months even though most units can be retained for only a week.

And then there’s the issue of finding a reliable funding source to buy them. Many systems offering hot spots get grants to do so, but librarians worry about being forced to yank the popular option for lack of funding after users get accustomed to it.

It’s a difficult situation. Free wifi is a good way to get broadband into low income homes – to level the playing field in the same way computers in the library does. Maybe there’s an opportunity to send the hotspot home with a brochure on local options for low cost broadband subscriptions and Lifeline support. There may be some patrons who are able and willing to pay for a connection with support. Otherwise I hope they find ways to make it work. It’s sad to have to abandon or not try a program that is so popular. Good news for St Paul Public…

The prospect of St. Paul residents continuing to borrow hot spots has improved just in the past few weeks. Funds have been found to allow the library to offer hot spots for the rest of the school year for sure, and perhaps through the end of 2017.