Change Can Be Good

Things are changing at the local, state and national level. Most of the changes look horrible: Rising unemployment, lowering retail sales, budget deficits, foreclosures….

But out of this rubble some good thing may come. Sean McLaughlin from Access Humboldt sums up some of the positive changes that may create an more robust telecommunications infrastructure for us here on the North Coast in today’s Tech Thursday article. Much of these changes, if we pull it off, will be a direct result of the economic crisis by funneling recovery money in to projects that will build broadband structures to server rural region now and in to the future.

We’re a long way from these changes being a done deal. But the possibilities are exciting and give a glimmer of hope to offset a bit of all the gloomy economic news.

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Notes from Broadband Forum IV

Much coverage in the press has and will appear over Broadband Forum IV, but just in case they miss something herewith are notes provided by Larry Goldberg with a few minor edits from me. I understand at some point PowerPoint presentations will be posted on the Redwood Coast Connect web site.  BTW, this was an excellent event. Much thanks are due to Connie Stewart and Patty Berg’s office, and to Redwood Coast Rural Action which foot the bill.

Opening Remarks -  Rollin Richmond – RCRA

Governor’s broadband task force – findings released

  • Community Service District’s have been approved to provide broadband
  • Need to focus on providing “last mile” broadband to rural California

Peter Pennekamp, Humboldt Area Foundation

  • Broadband is essential to commerce, education and community networking
  • Too many people are still on dial-up; we need to correct this
  • Governor signed law (despite telephone co. objections) to allow community services provide broadband service

County Updates:
Del Norte – Jeannine

  • 5 Gb pipe from Charter
  • cable modem up to 16 Mb service
  • competitive telephone service soon
  • plan to extend pipe to Eureka through Klamath & Orick
  • redundancy with S. Oregon

Trinity co. – Barbara

  • Working on cell tower project – 42 sites planned
  • No broadband is currently available in Trinity
  • Weaverville may have fiber soon
  • Getting CalTrans to include fiber in all new highway projects
  • Customer survey by Community Services Dist. (28% don’t own computer & most who do are on dial-up currently)
  • Soliciting proposals for technology study (last mile)

Humboldt Co. – Amy Nelson
Office of Emergency Services – working on basic communications infrastructure
National incident management training

Mendocino Co.

  • Broadband issues have been a concern for over 18 years
  • Digital California & CNIC have provided high-speed service to schools
  • Rural tele-medicine project
  • Tower microwave system installed

Yurok tribe – Paul Romero

  • Working on microwave path from Crescent City (HUD grant) will complete project
  • Redwood Cost Connect Project Update

Project overview – Steve Carp, Project Manager

  • Mapping broadband usage and technology in four Northcoast counties
  • Funding from Ca. Emerging Technology Fund, HAF, RREDC, CDBG and others
  • Project scope – four counties (Del Norte, Humboldt, Trinity and Mendocino) which represent an area bigger than 4 states in U.S.
  • Surveys & interviews conducted to determine a) level of interest in broadband, b) price points & c) broadband availability
  • Aggregating demand for small rural areas
  • Self-selecting surveys coupled with telephone surveys
  • Over 1,100 responses were received over region – cross-section of all areas
  • Selected results:
  • 46% of residential have broadband/ 33% rely on dial-up
  • 64% felt broadband was critical
  • 60% of respondents say they’re willing to pay more
  • Most would pay at least $30-40/mo.
  • Although broadband access is high, only 50% are satisfied (downtime, cost of service & competition)
  • Only 54% of businesses are satisfied with current broadband
  • 73% of business would pay up to $75/mo. for broadband
  • Helping one household at a time
  • Educating people about importance of broadband

Community meetings – Tina Nerat

  • Mendocino had high turn-out (90 people turned out to Ft. Bragg meeting)
  • People who attended were cross-section of community
  • In Willow Creek it was mostly Seniors attending
  • Telecom providers have really expanded
  • Study gave good opportunity to chart actual broadband deployment
  • Wireless is a new entry into the market and is providing last-mile access
  • CPUC CASF fund – only telecom providers can apply
  • Actual applications have not been made public – we don’t know who eventually applied
  • Backhaul (middle mile) – redundancy is major issue
  • More diversity of choices needed (more competition)
  • Alternative scenarios – need “ladders with rungs” for redundancy
  • 60% of rural communities are unserved or under-served
  • Need for anchor tenants for broadband
  • Too many small businesses, not enough large “anchors”
  • Middle mile is greatest barrier to last-mile solutions
  • Will probably require subsidies for middle-mile to overcome problem

Community meetings – Connie Stewart

  • Draft Telecom element written for General Plan
  • Large next-step section planned
  • Calnet II contract and E-rate implications
  • Public/private partnership opportunities:
  • CASF
  • Other local opportunities
  • SB1191 – community service districts can provide broadband
  • No clear road to encourage investment – difficult to make business case
  • Fed/state subsidies need to be revamped for rural areas like the Redwood Coast
  • JPA could be good way to create public/private partnership to solve backhaul issues and right-of-way issues (first JPA between Humboldt and Trinity Co. for fiber)
  • CASF will influence next efforts
  • Broadband awareness/education
  • Local leadership (alliances) are necessary to move this forward
  • Determine how to keep maps up to date
  • Business case needs to be made for secondary alternate routes
  • Trinity Co. applied for separate funding from CPUC and are now putting in their own towers

Keynote Speaker – Susan Waters, Ca. Emerging Technologies Fund

  • “Rural is on California’s radar”
  • Relationship building carries project
  • The RCC study is a ground-breaking initiative to build community support for broadband
  • No one solution fits all (and solves all problems)
  • Understand resources and assets available to leverage
  • It takes local initiative to get things done
  • Second round of CASF coming soon

Increasing broadband access in our Region – Local providers (General comments: All offering wider coverage. Many seemed to have issues with government policies and permitting that slows progress and increases costs).

  • Velocity Technology (couldn’t be here but Tina gave update)
  • 101 NetLink (offers redundancy already, but have had few takers)
  • Cascadia Wireless
  • SuddenLink
  • Broadband Associates (builders of fiber networks)
  • Mendocino Community Network
  • AT&T
  • CENIC

Issues discussed:

  • Issues with National Parks service
  • 2000 dial-up customers today in Mendocino
  • CENIC recognized problems with infrastructure
  • NetLink just lit up 200 Mb channel
  • Market for redundancy is questionable (101 Netlink)
  • Lost Coast Communications (LCC) announced redundant fiber project with partner (bringing fiber in from Cottonwood). LCC project is going along PG&E right-of-way and is planned to be completed by late 1st quarter ’09. They are in negotiations with SuddenLink to provide redundant bandwidth. Large commercial and institutional clients are primary wholesale market. (see this post).

Permit  Panel – the best way to work together
Issues:

  • CEQA – many responsible agencies
  • Lead agencies – cities, counties and CalTrans
  • Dept. of Fish & Game – makes comments and reviews EIRs
  • Coastal Commission – reputation is both good and bad for good reason
  • Some forms of development are exempt from permits
  • Several Federal wildlife protection jurisdictions and levels of regulations
  • Get projects submitted as soon as possible
  • Governor has issued mandate to streamline broadband approval process
  • Encroachment permit has been revised
  • Conflict resolution process has been created
  • CalTrans utilizes fiber extensively within their own department
  • Lots of access for future utility providers within new CalTrans roads (e.g. at Confusion Hill they installed 6” & 12” conduits
  • Allison Detner (Ocean projects  Coastal Commission)
  • Concern about older towers with lattice-work attracting Ospreys (need to avoid towers providing habitat for bird species)
  • Directional drilling is a new technology which has little to no impact on wildlife habitat

National Policy Update

  • Alternative Scenarios – middle mile – Connie & Jacqueline
  • Multiple alternate routes discussed: highways 199, 299, 101
  • last mile service is still critical – wireless may be the best solution
  • “Redundancy” is a misused word – alternate paths is more appropriate
  • Access Humboldt: broadband policy project – inform public policy for advocacy for localism (research for broadband policy for community needs)

Susan Estrada – what’s happening in the treetops at the Federal Level

  • The reality – attracting investment in rural areas is nearly impossible
  • Ubiquitous infrastructure is only possible with urban density
  • Everyone is talking broadband now on the political level – something is going to change
  • Today’s federal subsidies are primarily geared towards wired telephone service
  • Current subsidies: Universal service fund
  • No national broadband policy
  • Fixed and mobile wireless will be the ultimate rural last mile solution
  • What’s the definition of broadband? (“instant gratification”?)
  • The definition of broadband is constantly changing
  • We need a useful Universal Service for broadband
  • Other financial incentives for encouraging high cost build-out
  • A deep understanding of the nature of rural problems
  • Getting there from here:
  • Grassroots organizing (local advocates) and treetops (elected officials) need to cooperate for success
  • Pressure your local federal elected officials to work on solution
  • ]Pressure your local state elected officials to pressure the state to work with the federal government on solutions
  • Provide the data that will allow bureaucrats to understand the needs, the barriers, the solutions in your communities.  Document the stories. Share the stories. YouTube the stories.
  • Follow the money!

Sean McLaughlin – what’s happening in the treetops at the Federal Level

  • Federal policy is convoluted and irrational
  • Comparison of speed and price – “market failure” of U.S. broadband industry
  • “You will need and you are entitled to broadband Internet “ – FCC commissioner Cox
  • “There’s a social obligation that everyone should participate in broadband infrastructure”
  • “Everyone has the right to free expression of opinion and seek and receive any media regardless of frontiers”
  • Is broadband a commodity or a right?
  • Cable modem service was initially regulated by local government with cable franchises
  • No regulatory structure around information services
  • Pre-emption of local government was attempted on Federal level and failed
  • Marketplace is not going to fix itself
  • Rights of way and spectrum licenses are two main ways of regulation for broadband
  • Spectrum – relocation about analog TV to digital spectrum (700 Mhz blocks were up for grabs)
  • Is your ability to communicate a privilege?  A commodity?

Next steps – where do we go from here?

  • Task force – form working groups to meet regularly and address regional and community issues
  • Address barriers to entry – educational outreach
  • Develop regional & statewide lobbying effort – RCRA?
  • Encourage increased competition
  • Helping community service districts find funding for their area
  • Fiber to the premises (a vision of the future)
  • Change broadband access to a right instead of a commodity
  • Meet more often & share info
  • Create incentives at all levels to leverage resources for public-private partnerships
  • Establish working groups to research over the year and keep the ball rolling
  • “Begin with the end in mind” – think about our goals
  • Collaborations between regulatory agencies
  • When planning infrastructure, consider financing fiber infrastructure

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Broadband Forum II Issues Raised

I’m not sure how useful my live blogging of Broadband Forum II was to people. I notice traffic has gone up quite a bit so I guess there is interest in the notes. But I wonder if the information provided out of context would mean a great deal to most people. Still, it was fun and could provide a record, at least for me, for reference in the future. We (meaning Morse Media) also video taped the entire first day. So, an even more complete record is also available. What will become of the video record is yet unclear.

I should note that Chris Crawford has written a pretty good summary of some the topics covered by BBF II on his blog at the Times-Standard site. Chris also hands out some wonderful praise to the Redwood Technology Consortium for its role in organizing BBF II and other activities as it has grown in stature and reach. Chris, it should be noted, was instrumental in pushing RTC from a small, somewhat insulated organization talking to itself, into a force for public change and awareness while serving on the board for several years. Additionally, I would like to thank Tina Nerat and Gregg Foster, both current RTC board members for putting so much time and effort in to getting this year’s Forum off the ground.

The Issues

I can only speak to Day One of the Forum since I was unable to attend Day Two which was a morning of workshops and discussion specifically targetting groups and individuals interested in deploying wireless solutions for rural areas and municipalities. But all reports was that Day Two was well attended and lively.

I won’t go in to details of the Forum, since it’s all available by reading the posts right here in this category. Start at the bottom of the page for the earliest post.

Instead, I would like to point out a few issues that caught my attention and raised some questions:

The Cost of Redundancy

One of the surprising pieces of information that came out of the Forum and in conversations afterward is that right-of-way fees expected to be charged by CalTrans could double the cost of building a second fiber line. Since there is no statue that requires CalTrans to charge these fess, nor any clear scale on which to base the amount of the fees, this policy seems obstructionist to economic development and technological advancement. Given the tax revenue that would be generated from economic expansion in the region once the redundant line is in place, it is also counterproductive and, I would think, counter to our current Governor’s vision for the state.

The plan that was engendered at the Forum was to organize a campaign to appeal directly to the Governor and, if need be, to address the issue in the Assembly.

Regional Technology Planning

Another idea that began to coalesce and gain some momentum at the Forum was the formation of a region-wide telecommunications infrastructure planning committee. This committee would be comprised of representatives from several counties and potentially municipalities. I have written about this concept in more detail here. Such a committee would be the ideal vehicle to push for elimination or at least reduction of right-of-way fees in laying a second fiber line. While this planning committee could accomplish many things if well-organized, often an issue like this is ideal for getting an enterprise off the ground. Let’s hope we don’t lose the momentum generated at the Forum.

at&t’s Take on Redundancy

I was happy to see at&t (formerly SBC) was well represented at the Forum. Much they had to say was news to me. Most important was they did reveal they had established radio signal backup in the event the fiber line goes down for some reason. This means, in the event of an emergency all telecommunications would not be cut off. It’s unclear to me what would be carried on those radio beams. Just voice or voice and data? Anyone know?

Even they acknowledged that while the radio signal is reassuring, it’s not a complete subsititute for redundant fiber. They noted they had done their own research into the feasibility of building another line, but they, too, discovered right-of-way and other fees and complication make the project too costly to sell to the parent company.

Wireless VS Redundancy

A great deal of time was spent with two WISP (Wireless Internet Services Providers) owners, Rick Kunze of ColusaNet and Marlon Schafer of Odessa Office Equipment & Wireless. They seemed to think spending the money on redundant fiber was less important than getting broadband deployed to more people with the resources we had. Maybe this was a self-serving point of view (don’t waste your money on redundant fiber because the chances of it breaking are very small, spend the money on what we do!). I’m not sure anyone was convinced. Especially if the redundant fiber as proposed by Susan Estrada was owned by an entity other than at&t. If so, the second line would not be just redundant but also an alternate solution. As Mark Geiger, Director of Network Operations for Cox (or Cebridge or whatever they will be called) said at one point during the Forum, an alternate fiber line would mean lower prices due to competition and he would be able to pass that on to consumers. He would be able to offer other services he feels are not possible now.

So, do we really need to choose between broadband (whether through wireless or other solutions) now and redundant fiber? I don’t think so. Given the low cost of the wireless solutions I think we can and should do both. And I think both should be undertaken as soon as possible.

BB Forum: Wireless Planning

Where are the customers? Are they in a valley? Are they in multi unit housing? The idea is to deploy the correct technology in a specific area.

How many will there likely be? Don’t believe surveys. If you get results, cut it in half. People lie.

What are the geographic limitations? Wireless allows lots of creative solutions. They believe DSL is dead. It will go the way of ISDN.

They aren’t talking about DSL, cable, wireless, satellite. They are talking about high speed Internet access that is technology independent. Use the right tools to solve the specific problem.

Are there any spectral limitations. Use the tools to see what the interference issues will be.

Research

  • Are tehre NO other options
  • Are poor existing options fixable
  • What are typical realistic take rates
  • What are realistic cell sizes
  • How many customers per base station
  • How many base stations are really needed
  • Do you need a T-1 or more

One step at a Time

Why
what will broadband do for you
Who wants it
What do they have now

How
What is the best technology
How reliale
Spectrum check
Find ‘tower’ ideas
It doesn’t pay to buy in too big since the technology is changing so rapidly.

Most customers are interested in cheap.

More planning:

Beware the ‘triple play’
Determine what customers need (notice I didn’t say “want”)
Hire help or do it yourself
Where will you get bandwidth – wired, fiber, wireless
Competition, now and in future
One network, multiple networks

Q and A time. Early. Too hard to follow.

Biggest points:

Broadband supports the home based business more than it will serve as an attraction for businesses that might want to move here.

What Rick and Marlon are doing in their regions wouldn’t work here. Howeverer, they could figure out how to make something work. It’s called flexibility. Coming up with a different model. There may be multiple solutions for different regions.

Continuing:

Deployment

Start small
Test the plan
Build in options for future use
Build in options for competitors
Stick to the plan but be flexible if conditions change
Construct to the level of the customer base

We’re done. I am out of here.

Connie Stewart: What Are the Legislative Potentials

Program has changed.

Getting rid of the right of way issues. Needs to be a regional approach. Maybe include Siskiyou county. Pending transportation bond does not include much money for no. california. So a strategy would include let’s focus on broadband and getting rid of the right of way costs.

There were three points in this brief presentation. I missed one of them. Maybe someone can fill this in.

BB Forum: Rural Wireless Basics

Rick Kunze of ColusaNet and Marlon Schafer of Odessa Office Equipment & Wireles

“Build for 20 years out. If you build for 10 years out, technology will overtake you.”

Rick Kunze: 10 gig to the home sounds great, but I have customers whose computers can’t handle 1 gig. It’s sexy, but not realistic. There’s little out there that can feed you data at higher speeds. People are buying the cheapest computers they can find. If you understand what you are shopping for you buy higher quality. If you don’t understand the technology you buy the cheapest. So people buy cheap computers and then wonder why it doesn’t work and doesn’t move the Internet very fast.

10 years ago folks in Colusa had no idea what they might do with the Internet. Those same folks are now dependent on the Internet. No one knows wha they will be doing on the Network in 10 years, but they know now their lives will be further entwined with it.

Rick tells the story of volunteering, along with other wireless providers to set up a wifi network at an air force base full of storm vicitms. They were prevented from getting on the base while SBC layed land lines.

Marlon Schafer: Small local providers can set up a wireless network in a municipal area quickly and very inexpensively. They are going to talk about how to get started: Here’s their checklist:

  • Why do you need it
  • How much will construction costs be
  • How much will operational costs be
  • Where are the customers
  • How many will there likely be
  • What are the geographic limitations
  • Are there any spectral limitations

Building a hybrid network: A little fiber here, a little fiber there, then let the wireless people fan it out. Wifi equipment is cheap and perfectly adequate for most people and businesses.

Several people voice their concerns in areas that are underserved: Weott, Eastern Humboldt. Rick and Marlon offer several possible solutions. This really sounds more like what will happen in tomorrows hands on sessions.

Security: There is no security on the Internet. There are devices that can track traffic, wired or wireless. Encryption shouldn’t be on the network. It’s on the end users, software based.

Operational costs: S*** happens. What will it cost to maintain/repair the network? Where will the money come from to cover it?

More questions from the audience: How do you deal with extreme conditions? What about security issues with towers in terms of vandalism?

A: No problems with security. Hardware stands up to extremes. It’s also cheap enough to replace if it breaks.

How do you build a muni wireless?

A: Don’t. Marlon’s opinion. It will create a nightmare of frequency interferences. Maybe not now. But in a few years there will be a rat’s nest of competing networks. Build a network above the town. Then put hotspots within the buildings where needed.

Taking a break. When we come back they will try and finish their presentation which has gotten a little bogged down in technical details raised by audience quesitons.