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?

AT&T to Make Mobile 5G a Reality in at Least 21 Major Cities this Year, including Minneapolis and Chicago

The latest from AT&T…

AT&T to Make Mobile 5G a Reality in at Least 21 Major Cities this Year, including Minneapolis and Chicago

FEB 13, 2019 – It’s been about 50 days since we’ve introduced our mobile 5G+ mmWave network and a 5G capable mobile hot spot to customers. As the 5G leader in the U.S., we are pushing the industry and driving network and device performance improvements with our suppliers quickly.

In fact, due to a number of incremental improvements on both the network and device side, some of our early customers using 5G delivered over millimeter wave spectrum, which we call 5G+, have experienced speeds in the range of 200-300 megabits per second – and even as high as 400 megabits per second.* And we’ve recently observed wireless speeds surpassing 1.5 gigabits per second in field testing on our 5G+ network using a test device. **

Given this encouraging start to our 5G launch, we are moving forward in bringing 5G+ to parts of more cities in the coming months. Today, we’re adding Minneapolis, MN and Chicago, IL to our 2019 deployment roadmap.

We expect 5G+ customer performance and speed to continue to improve in the coming months as we gather learnings from our real-world, commercial network, giving us a head start relative to others still looking to roll out 5G. In addition, we’re on track and expect to have a nationwide 5G network using sub-6 Ghz spectrum by early 2020.

“Getting to mobile 5G first meant pushing the industry and ourselves faster than ever before, but we did it right and blazed a trail for others to follow,” said Jeff McElfresh, President, AT&T Technology Operations. “Now that we’ve had a few weeks to let the network breathe and look at real world results, I’m very encouraged by what we’re seeing. We can’t wait to drive forward and bring 5G+ to even more consumers and businesses in the coming months.”

“It is exciting to see AT&T as one of the world’s leaders in these early innings of 5G”, says Mark Lowenstein, managing director, Mobile Ecosystem. “This promises to be an exciting year, as we learn about initial mmWave deployments, expand coverage to more cities and across additional bands of spectrum, and see more 5G devices.”

Insights from One of the First 5G Customers 

Many of our first mobile 5G customers have been small to medium sized businesses. We think 5G technology has great potential to disrupt and improve many industries and provide a direct benefit to American consumers as a result. To support this, we laid out our strategy for 5G in business last month.

We’re already working with businesses to implement 5G. The first business we connected is Deep South Studios, a full-service motion picture, television and digital media production facility in New Orleans.

“We jumped at the chance to work with AT&T as an early adopter of 5G” said Mick Flannigan, Executive Vice President, Deep South Studios. “We’re interested to see how the technology will handle transferring large amounts of HD video, including high-resolution graphics and video effects. A video production studio can really stand out because of its technology. And if you look at the capabilities of 5G, it feels limitless.”

More Cities to Get 5G this Year 

Given this encouraging start to our 5G launch, we are moving forward in bringing 5G+ to parts of more cities in the coming months. Today, we’re adding Minneapolis, MN and Chicago, IL to our 2019 deployment roadmap.

They will join our previously announced 2019 launch cities: Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose.

Learn more about our path to 5G at att.com/5Gnews.

5G will be a game changer for those who have access

Sprint has recently posted a new “5G Explainer” all about the wonders of 5G. Here are the areas they cover:

  • Latency
  • Speed
  • Coverage
  • Capacity
  • Density

The site is interesting and it will explain the technology but it doesn’t talk too much about the impact of 5G in rural areas. Here’s what they say about coverage…

Up until now, network coverage strategies were optimized for one primary use case: people with smartphones, moving around.

But in a world where every milk carton, motorcycle, park bench and parking space has a sensor and a transmitter, coverage presents a different range of challenges.

Today, users might experience places – even in cities – where the network doesn’t reach. But imagine you’re running a service that delivers parcels to moving targets – customers who are on the move. What happens when the network can’t reach your vehicles or your customers – even for a moment?

5G will rise to new coverage challenges by combining new technologies in new ways. Smaller antennae in massive arrays will make a single base station act like many. Beamforming techniques will focus data streams at specific users, tracking them as they move – even bouncing signals off walls to maintain the connection.

The bottom line: the coverage benefits 5G delivers will extend the power of the network to far more users, devices, IoT sensors and connected vehicles.

So think about what happens if your IoT implementation can manage a million more devices than your biggest competitor’s.

On the surface it’s just more sensors. But once you start capturing all that data and feeding it to your algorithm, you’ll be generating better answers to your customers problems faster than you can say ‘network effects’.

They talk about ubiquitous coverage but mention only cities when the ability to reach devices seem to have a real potential for farms too.

The impact of 5G will be amazing but only for the areas that have access. The areas that don’t have access may find themselves in a deep divide.

Three reasons FCC 5G proposal won’t work according to Blair Levin

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors recently asked Blair Levin for his take on the FCC’s proposal to cap the fees that state and local governments may charge for small-cell attachments. The FCC says this will save the industry $2 billion and result in $2.5 billion in investment in rural areas.

He has three reasons this won’t work. Here’s a very abbreviated version below…

First, focusing on state and local government fees and processes is a distraction from the real obstacles to accelerated and ubiquitous deployment of next-generation mobile services, which are that broadband deployment economics are very challenging and have to be addressed at all levels of government and through creative collaboration with the private sector. Fees for access to public property represent only one of many, many costs of doing business a carrier will encounter. A focus on reducing or eliminating one (relatively marginal) cost of doing business does not solve the challenging economics of broadband deployment and serves only to obscure the true challenges. Indeed, even if one accepts the FCC claim about the $2.5 billion—which is highly questionable—that amount is about 1% of what the FCC and industry claim is the necessary new investment needed for next-generation network deployments, and therefore is not likely to have a significant impact. …

Second, local governments have a strong recent track record of endeavoring to enable and facilitate broadband deployment, as the Google Fiber experience conclusively demonstrated. Vilifying them based on fees for use of public property is not only a distraction but also unfair. Indeed, rather than acknowledging that carriers have a proven ability to negotiate advantageous fees with localities, the FCC’s draft order infantilizes carriers by preempting state and local government, presumably on the theory that carriers cannot protect themselves in negotiations with states and localities.

This is absurd. As the carriers themselves have acknowledged, they have sufficient leverage to walk away from any locality that creates too many obstacles to deployment and that leverage has led them to strike the same kinds of deals that numerous fixed broadband providers were able to strike in the wake of the Google Fiber efforts.  …

Third, the FCC’s draft order is based on a fallacy that no credible investor would adopt and no credible economist endorse: that reducing or eliminating costs for small cell mounting on public property in lucrative areas of the country (thus reducing carriers’ operating costs), will lead to increased capital expenditures in less lucrative areas– thus supposedly making investment more attractive in rural areas.

That simply is not how investment decisions are made. …

MVTV Wireless helps out Frontier customer after PUC meeting

I heard from a lot of people after I posted about the PUC-Frontier meetings last week. Systemically, people in rural areas are frustrated by lack of choice and competition in broadband providers.

I did hear one happy ending story from MVTV Wireless, a provider that offers another option in some areas. Julie Foote, at MVTV, had reached out to someone who gave public comments at the meeting and was able to get them a better connection. I wanted to share the story – especially if it helps connect someone else to the broadband they need. Here is the Q&A on it…

How did Joe connect with you?  I reached out to Joe after reading the Blandin Blog. I was able to track him down thru work (googled him and found his LinkedIn account). Joe was surprised by how much attention the article was getting, and seemed to be glad that it was making a positive impact. Joe had never heard of MVTV Wireless Internet but was willing to give us a try. He agreed to allow our tech to check his location for Line Of Sight (LOS).

How were you able to help? Signal was available from our Worthington Access Point (AP), our tech installed the radio and Joe’s family now has 25Mbps!

As a member-owned not-for-profit Cooperative, if we had not been able to find LOS to Joe’s home, we would have tracked it as a ‘miss’ and continued to work on a solution if possible. …cause that’s what coops do. We focus on member needs.

This is how MVTV determines where we need to build/expand to next. Each new community is served due to an expressed need for alternative broadband internet choices. This practice enables us to go where we are needed and not waste resources on areas already being served sufficiently.

What speeds and prices are available? MVTV Wireless Internet provides unlimited fixed wireless broadband internet service at speeds ranging from 5Mbps to 25Mpbs. If a business were to need more speed, our Business Sales Team would work with them to find the appropriate technology for their bandwidth needs and mission critical tech support. For a list of plans, go to https://www.mvtvwireless.com/our-products/wireless-internet/ or call our office in Granite Falls at 320-564-4807. The prices listed are exactly what you pay. …no hidden fees. And we do not have contracts.

And how would someone know if you were available in their area? MVTV serves SW MN and a map of our footprint can be found here: https://www.mvtvwireless.com/our-products/wireless-internet/coverage-maps/

And/or on a more macro level – are you interested in talking to new service areas? ABSOLUTELY! Since our $1.85M middle mile network upgrade (which was completed last summer), we are now able to offer faster speeds and reach more areas. Since then, we’ve been actively back-filling areas we had not been able to serve in the past. In just one year, we’ve delivered service to dozens of new communities throughout our footprint.  Residents and businesses should check back with us if they had tried us in the past. We’ll be happy to send a tech for a recheck at no charge.