Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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Chanute has been exploring available options for a citywide FTTH network. In addition to offering residential service, city leaders want to expand the business use of its municipal fiber network. A limited number of businesses currently join schools, government, and utilities on the fiber infrastructure.
The community incrementally built a fiber network to serve government, utilities, and schools with no borrowing or bonding. The broadband utility continues to expand and uses WiMAX for public safety and to connect several businesses. For the full story of this central Kansas community, download our case study Chanute’s Gig: One Rural Kansas Community’s Tradition of Innovation Led to a Gigabit and Ubiquitous Wireless Coverage.
As we reported previously, the City Council began reviewing potential scenarios to bring fiber to each premise. The Wichita Eagle reported that Utilities Director Larry Gates recently presented price and speed estimates to a City Council study session:
When complete, the city system will offer service at a speed of one gigabit per second.
City residents will pay $40 a month; it will cost $50 outside the city limits and $75 for businesses.
To put that in perspective, Chanute will offer the same ultra-fast connection speed as the Google Fiber system being rolled out across the Kansas City metropolitan area, but 42 percent cheaper than Google’s $70-a-month charge.
Or, to use another comparison, Chanute’s fiber-to-home system will be 14 times faster and cost 60 percent less than the best Internet service the town’s residents can get today.
Even though the Kansas cable lobby have temporarily retracted their competition-killing telecom bill, we still want to highlight the benefits of preserving full home rule, local authority by focusing on a number of communities, including Chanute, Ottawa, and Erie.
We have reported on Chanute's municipal network for years. The community leveraged its electric utility assets and incrementally built an extensive publicly owned gigabit fiber network. Over several decades, the community expanded its network to serve schools, libraries, local government, and businesses. Chanute took advantage of every opportunity and created a valuable asset with no borrowing or bonding.
Several business, including Spirit AeroSystems, chose to locate in Chanute because of its incredible fiber network. Spirit brought approximately 150 new jobs. The network also retained jobs when incumbents refused to provide needed upgrades to local businesses. Rather than leave town, the businesses connected to the City's network and increased their productivity.
Former City Manager J.D. Lester referred to municipal broadband as “the great equalizer for Rural America,” saying: “You don’t have to live in Kansas City to work there.” (See our case study Chanute's Gig: One Rural Kansas Community's Tradition of Innovation Led to A Gigabit and Ubiquitous Wireless Coverage [PDF])
Kids in Chanute have access to connectivity other schools can only dream about. The local community college has expanded its distance learning program with higher capacity broadband. Free Wi-Fi hotspots are all over town; money otherwise sent to distant providers stays in the community. Chanute has invested in a WiMAX wireless system that serves public safety all over the region, not only in town. Their other utilities use the network for automatic metering and SCADA applications, saving energy and allowing customers the chance to reduce utility bills.
Kevin Litten, of the Baltimore Business Journal has published a good discussion of why Baltimore is considering a public investment to expand the City's fiber network.
Councilman William H. Cole IV still bristles when he talks about the absence of FiOS in the city, a decision industry observers say has played out in other urban areas where the suburbs outrank the city in wealth. “When you look at a map of Maryland and what counties they chose to skip, Baltimore stands out, and it stands out for all the wrong reasons,” Cole said. “We need to explore every option we have to remain competitive. You can’t talk about being a great city for biotech and trying to attract startups and continue to expand the [University of Maryland] BioPark and not continue to invest.”
Litten also explored how Comcast is damaging area businesses by abusing its position as the sole citywide provider of fast Internet access (Verizon does poor DSL):
At No Inc., a 10-employee tech firm that develops software for commercial real estate, Chief Technology Officer Alex Markson said that Comcast wanted to charge $20,000 to build infrastructure to the company’s small office building on Water Street downtown.
The company had to settle for an affordable, but vastly inferior wireless connection from Clear using WiMAX. Keep this in mind the next time you hear that wireless is providing an alternative to the cable and telephone monopolies.
But that setup, which includes a barbecue grill-like satellite dish pointed out the window of the company’s offices, isn’t ideal. Productivity plummets when employees have to wait for long downloads. When using technology such as GoToMeeting to make sales pitches, “you’re not crushing it because you look like you’re slow,” Markson said.
And finally, Litten quotes some guy named Christopher Mitchell that seems to know what he is talking about:
Customers began complaining in mid-2010 that Clearwire had begun to throttle their home Internet connections, sometimes as slow as 256Kbps. It wasn't clear (ba-dum ching) at the time as to what standard Clearwire was using in order to trigger the throttling—some users were told about monthly usage caps while others were simply told that there were certain times of day in which the network would be congested. Customers were frustrated at this lack of transparency, and complaints began piling up all over the Web.We were told for years that WiMax would obviate the need for last-mile wired connections. Now we are told that 4G LTE will solve those problems - and gullible reporters gush about how fast their connections are in these early days as the network is built. This is akin to driving on a metro interstate at 3AM and wondering why anyone would ever complain about rush hour traffic. 4G networks will likely be much better than 3G (it is a higher number, after all) but it remains to be seen how well they perform in real world conditions when many devices can actually attach and congest them. We remain skeptical of wireless as a solution to last-mile problems. Wireless does little more than take a high-capacity wired connection and split it among hundreds or thousands of users - while reducing its reliability.
The Netflix Techblog has released a graph of performance by Internet Service Provider - which I modified to demonstrate the Looming cable monopoly as identified by Susan Crawford (and recently discussed here by Mitch Shapiro).
The trend is unmistakable. There are 2 distinct groupings - the cable providers all beat the DSL providers (Verizon is in the middle, likely due to its fast FiOS speeds averaging with much slower DSL connections). At the very bottom is Clear's 4G WiMax - you know, the superfast wireless that is the key to fast broadband!
Communities need to read this chart and take a lesson: the future of broadband is not pretty if you do not have a network that puts your needs first. Cable broadband speeds are increasingly more rapidly than DSL, meaning a local monopoly on high speed broadband, with DSL slowly becoming the modern dial-up.
Salisbury, a community in North Carolina building a city-owned full fiber-to-the-home network, has run into an unexpected difficulty: naming the new network.
To put it simply, all the good names are taken. Mike Crowell, director of broadband services — he jokes that he is the director of BS — says the city can't find a name that it can both trademark and get a domain name for.
The story has some entertaining suggestions - but the reason I wanted to note the article is because it ends with this:
In coming weeks, the city will be purchasing and outfitting a marketing trailer, which it can send into neighborhoods and to community events to explain the new cable utility and get people excited about what's around the bend. The trailer will be plastered, of course, with the system's chosen name.
This is a great marketing method - particularly if the trailer has computers showing what is possible with the new network in direct comparison to existing offers. Wilson's Greenlight Network also used this approach and reported that it was very successful.
South Carolina was unique in being the only state where the public controlled the spectrum available for WiMax and could have built a state-wide broadband network. Instead, they chose to sell it off to the private sector for a pittance.
Despite state-created barriers to publicly owned broadband networks in South Carolina, the town of Hartsville is studying the feasibility of a city-owned network. The new Mayor is supporting this initiative:
Pennington spoke about a proposed broadband initiative he is pushing that would enable the city to create a fiber optic network and offer broadband services such as high speed internet, cable television and digital telephone service to city residents and businesses.
- What exactly is a Community Fiber Network?
- Who offers services?
- What does public ownership mean?
- Why publicly owned? Aren't private companies more efficient?
- I heard there is tons of dark fiber available - why do we need more fiber?
- What if a better technology comes along in a few years?
- Doesn't fiber break easily?
- Don't existing companies already have fiber networks?
- DOCSIS 3, isn't that as good as fiber?
- Should government compete with the private sector?
- Do we really need faster connections?
- Symmetric? Asymmetric? Huh?
- Why not wireless?
- What happened to the whole muni-wireless thing?
- What about WiMAX?
- What about broadband over powerlines?
A Community Fiber Network is a community-owned broadband network that uses fiber-optic cables to connect all subscribers. It can offer phone, television, and Internet access. The capacity on the network is so great that it could offer tens of thousands of television channels while allowing thousands of people to talk on the phone while still offering Internet access at faster speeds than a cable modem system or DSL currently offer.
In some communities, the local government (Monticello) or public power utility (Chattanooga) has a department that provides video, phone, and Internet services. In others, the network is only open to private service providers who compete for customers on equal terms (this would be an open network, Report: Open Access: The Third Way). Some cities have used a hybrid approach where the city offers services and offers non-discriminatory wholesale access to other providers and competes against them.
Communities generally would prefer not to offer services; unfortunately, the pure open access or open services model often does not generate enough revenue to pay the start-up costs.
Public, or community ownership is discussed in greater depth on our public accountability page. Briefly, it means that the public has some measure of self-determination over the network. Much like the water department is accountable to the public and therefore does not raise water rates unreasonably, those running the network would be accountable to the public. If the community decided to offer subsidized connections to those living below the poverty line, they could do that. If they wanted more than a few community channels, they could easily create them. (Report: Breaking the Broadband Monopoly)
We have an entire page discussing the importance of who owns the network. The thumbnail sketch is that the community now depends upon broadband and cannot rely upon private companies to act in the community's best interest. Refusing to upgrade infrastructure may be more profitable for a private company, but damages the community. (Policy In-Depth: Debate over Muni Broadband Competing With Private Sector)
Dark fiber, or fiber cables that are currently unused (or "unlit") is not always in convenient places and rarely extends all the way to homes. While dark fiber may help in some areas, it is unavailable in most.
As we discuss on the page dealing specifically with fiber networks, fiber networks are future-proof. The speeds capable on fiber networks are still increasing with new electronics. These networks will have paid for themselves many times over before becoming obsolete.
As we discuss on the page dealing specifically with fiber networks, fiber cable deployments are surprisingly strong. There are problems when fiber is cut, but there are similar problems when phone lines or power lines are severed. That said, they have proven more resilient than power lines in ice storms and tornadoes.
Fiber networks have been used for decades and the tools for keeping them running 24/7 are mature.
Most telecom and cable companies have fiber as parts of their network, but they do not connect everyone to the network with fiber. That said, Verizon is increasingly building fiber all the way to homes in some areas of its footprint. The others run fiber to your neighborhood but connect the last mile with slower copper wires that create a bottleneck, resulting in slower speeds that leave us less competitive in a world increasingly requiring faster speeds. Non fiber-to-the-home networks cannot offer the same experience or guarantee the same high level of service that a true Community Fiber Network offers. You can learn more about fiber on our fiber page. (see: AT&T CEO Admits DSL is Obsolete)
DOCSIS 3 is a standard for cable modem networks that will greatly increase the available speeds offered by cable companies. However, the cable network remains a massively shared loop, leaving it vulnerable to a few subscribers hogging bandwidth and degrading service for everyone else. We briefly discuss DOCSIS 3 on the fiber page
Statements like "the government should not compete with the private sector" ignore the many ways in which we already accept important government services that "compete" with the private sector. Libraries might take customers from bookstores. Police forces compete with private sector security guards.
But in other ways, government is clearly crucial to the private sector. Whether by building and maintaining roads, educating the future workforce, or offering clean water at very affordable prices, our private sector economic growth over the past century depended on public infrastructure.
When phone and cable companies try to make this into a public v. private argument, they miss the fact that the question of ownership is actually one of phone/cable companies against everyone else. When the private phone/cable companies refuse to invest in competitive connections, everyone suffers. Private businesses have to pay more for slower services than their competitors in other communities.
The idea of a level playing field between government and the private sector misses fundamental differences between the two. The private sector has a mission to maximize profit and shareholder value, primarily in the short term. The public sector maximizes social benefit and focuses on the long term. Understanding these differences in important to understanding why infrastructure has historically been owned or closely regulated by the public sector. We would not want GM owning the roads; they would find it quite profitable to ban competing car companies or force them to pay more to access the same roads.
Broadband networks have become infrastructure, and private companies should not be the sole arbiters of who gets 21st century infrastructure and when they get it.(Report: Publicly Owned Broadband Networks: Averting the Looming Broadband Monopoly, Free Press Responds to 'Sloppy' Incumbent Broadband Arguments)
Some of us do. When Eisenhower decided to push the Interstate system, it was not with the idea that everyone would have to use it. However, business and government functions were greatly improved by this massive infrastructure project. Over time, more and more people recognized its value.
We need more choices. Those that need fast and affordable connections should have the option.
Symmetric connections have the same downstream speeds as upstream. This means that you can send a file to someone else just as fast as you could get it from them. Asymmetric connections tend to offer much slower upload speeds, which can slow usage of the modern Internet to a crawl. Both cable and DSL networks are typically asymmetrical by design.
10 years ago, when DSL and cable offered cutting edge, fast speeds, most Internet users simply consumed content and they did not need faster upload speeds. However, the Internet has changed and people increasingly want to send large files that require faster upload speeds (for instance, parents want to send photos and videos of their children to family members living across the country).
A purely symmetrical experience is less important than the objective to have fast speeds at affordable prices. But having upload speeds at 1/10 the download speed is clearly too asymmetric to take full advantage of the modern Internet.
We discuss the merits of wireless here. In short, Wi-Fi is great for mobility, but does not offer competitively fast speeds or the reliability of wired connections. Fiber is a long term investment that facilitates wireless, but wireless is not a replacement for a full fiber-to-the-home network.
A fiber network could actually lay the groundwork (literally) for a wireless network. The fiber network would offer more potential locations to add wireless access points, which need backhaul.
Communities around the country have investigated wireless networks. Some entered into contracts with private companies, such as Earthlink, who promised to build the networks at no cost to the city. When Earthlink failed to make a profit, for a variety of factors, it turned the networks off and abandoned the cities. These are the failures that have led the press to pronounce all municipal wireless efforts as dead.
Municipal wireless is far from dead. There are a variety of business models that are achieving variable levels of success. The main advantage of wireless is that it allows users to be mobile. However, mobility comes at a price - wireless connections tend not be as reliable or fast as wired access (especially when connected to a full fiber-to-the-home network. More information on wireless here.
We touch on WiMAX in our wireless page. Briefly, WiMAX is unproven and cannot compare with fiber in its ability to reliably deliver the fastest speeds. Additionally, the nature of WiMAX locks subscribers into a single vendor in ways that do not encourage competition. (see: Stories on WiMAX)
Broadband over electrical power lines is ultimately too expensive, delivers speeds that are too slow, and has too many bad side effects.
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