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Special Report: The Return of Wireless Cable, Bringing Along 50Mbps Broadband

A Short History of Wireless Cable

Spectrum offered Chicago competition to larger ON-TV, selling commercial-free movies and sports on scrambled UHF channel 66 (today WGBO-TV).

Long before many Americans had access to cable television, watching premium commercial-free entertainment in the 1970s was only possible in a handful of large cities, where television stations gave up a significant chunk of their broadcast day to services like ON-TV, Spectrum, SelecTV, Prism, Starcase, Preview, VEU, and SuperTV. For around $20 a month, subscribers received a decoder box to watch the encrypted UHF broadcast programming, which consisted of sports, popular movies and adult entertainment. The channels were relatively expensive to receive, suffered from the same reception problems other UHF stations often had in large metropolitan areas, and were frequently pirated by non-paying customers with modified decoder boxes.

With the spread of cable television into large cities, the single channel over-the-air services were doomed, and between 1983-1985,virtually all of their operations closed down, converting to all-free-viewing, usually as an independent or ethnic language television outlet.

But the desire for competition for cable television persisted, and in the mid-1980s the Federal Communications Commission allocated two blocks of frequencies for entertainment video delivery. The FCC earlier allocated part of this channel space to Instructional Television Fixed Services (ITFS) for programming from schools, hospitals, and religious groups, which could use the capacity to transmit programming to different buildings and potentially to viewers at home with the necessary equipment.

Home Box Office got its start broadcasting on microwave frequencies before moving to satellite.

In practice, ITFS channels allocated during the 1970s were underutilized, because running such an operation was often beyond the budgets and technical expertise of many educational institutions. Premium movie entertainment once again drove the technology forward. After signing off at the end of the school day, Home Box Office, Showtime, and The Movie Channel signed on, using microwave technology to distribute their services to area cable systems and some subscribers. As those premium services migrated to satellite distribution beginning in 1975, reallocation for a new kind of “wireless cable TV” became a reality.

Wireless cable (technically known as “multichannel multipoint distribution service”) began in earnest in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with a package of around 32 channels — typically over the air stations, popular cable networks, and one or two premium movie channels. Some operations in smaller cities sought to beam just a channel or two of premium movies or adult entertainment to paying subscribers, the latter at a substantial price premium. Installation costs paid by providers were more affordable than traditional cable television — around $350 for wireless vs. $1,000 for cable television. That made wireless attractive in rural areas where installation costs for cable television could run even higher.

However, it was not too long before wireless cable operators ran into problems with their business models. Obtaining affordable programming was always difficult. Some cable networks, then-owned by large cable systems, either refused to do business with their wireless competitors or charged discriminatory rates to carry their networks. By the time legislative relief arrived, the wireless industry realized they now had a capacity problem. As cable television systems were being upgraded in the 1990s, the number of channels cable customers received quickly grew to 60 or more (with many more to come with the advent of “digital cable”). Wireless cable was stuck with just 32 channels and a then-analog platform. Satellite television was also becoming a larger competitive threat in rural areas, with DirecTV and Dish delivering hundreds of channels.

American Telecasting gave up its wireless cable ventures, under such names as People’s Wireless TV and SuperView in 1997, selling out to companies including Sprint and BellSouth (today AT&T). BellSouth pulled the plug on the services in February, 2001.

Wireless providers simply could not compete with their smaller packages, and most closed down or sold their operations, often to phone companies. The few remaining systems, mostly in rural areas, have typically combined their wireless frequencies with satellite provider partners to deliver television, slow broadband, and IP-based telephone service.

Rebooting Wireless Cable for the 21st Century

By the early-2000’s the Federal Communications Commission proposed a new allocation for a “Multichannel Video and Data Distribution Service” (MVDDS). Designed to share the 12.2-12.7GHz band with Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) services DirecTV and Dish, MVDDS was partly envisioned as a potential way to deliver local stations to satellite subscribers over ground-based transmitters. But things have evolved well beyond that concept, especially after both satellite providers began using “spot beams” to deliver local stations to different regions from their existing fleet of orbiting satellites.

MVDDS was ultimately opened up to be either a competing cable television-like service or for wireless broadband, or both. Michael Powell, then-chairman of the FCC during the first term of George W. Bush, said the technology was free to develop as providers saw fit:

What is MVDDS? The short answer is that we do not know.  Its name, Multichannel Video Distribution and Data Service, seems to suggest everything is possible – and perhaps it is.

But the service rules the Commission has adopted do not require MVDDS to provide any particular kind of service – it could be a multichannel video, or data, or digital radio service, or any other permutation on spectrum use.

The Commission was once in the business of requiring spectrum holders to provide a certain type of service.  That approach failed because government is a very bad predictor of technology and markets – both of which move a lot faster than government.  Over the past decade or so, the Commission has adopted more flexible service rules that bound a service based largely on interference limitations and its allocation (fixed or mobile, terrestrial or satellite).  In this Order, we follow that flexible model for MVDDS.

In 2004 and 2005, licenses to operate MVDDS services were opened up for auction, and a handful of companies won the bulk of them: MDS America, which built a 700-channel wireless cable system in the United Arab Emirates, DTV Norwich, an affiliate of cable operator Cablevision, and South.com, which is really satellite provider Dish Network. Another significant winner was Mr. Bruce E. Fox, who wants to partner with other providers to finance and operate MVDDS services.

Cablevision and Fox are the two most active license recipients at the moment.

A Look at Today’s MVDDS Wireless Players

Fox launched Go Long Wireless in Baltimore as a demonstration project. Go Long transmits its signal from the roof of the World Trade Center at the Baltimore Inner Harbor to the Emerging Technology Center, a business incubator site a few miles away. Fox believes the technology is especially suited to multi-dwelling units like apartment complexes and condos. He plans to work with other service providers who will market and bill the service under their own brand names. Fox does not seem to be interested in challenging the marketplace status quo. He does not believe in using MVDDS to provide television service, for example. In Fox’s view, the real money is in broadband and Voice over IP telephone service.

Cablevision’s involvement is more direct-to-consumer. Its Clearband service– now operating under the new brand ‘OMGFAST’ — is now selling up to 50/3Mbps wireless broadband service in the Deerfield Beach, Fla. area. The company has had nothing to say about whether this service is slated to expand, and if it does, Cablevision will not be permitted to operate it in areas where they already provide cable service, due to the FCC’s cross-ownership rules.

OMGFAST originally bundled voice service in its broadband packages, which it sold at different price points: 12Mbps for $39.95 a month, 25Mbps for $59.95 a month, and 50Mbps at $79.95. The company also tested a 50Mbps promotion priced at $29.95 a month for three months, $59.95 ongoing. Today it offers a better deal: $29.95 a month for 50Mbps service as an ongoing rate. (Expect to pay $10 a month more for mandatory equipment rental, and $14.95 a month if you also want voice service.)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Clearband FAST 50 Mbps Internet.flv

Here is a promotional video explaining how Clearband (now OMGFAST) wireless broadband works. (3 minutes)

MVDDS currently delivers broadband with similar constraints cable systems operate under — namely, download speeds are much faster than upload speeds. That is because upstream bandwidth relies on another transmission technology, often WiMAX, in the 3.65 GHz or 5 GHz bands.

The wireless technology is also very “line of sight,” meaning the tower must be within six miles of the subscriber and not blocked by any obstructions. Hills, buildings, even heavy foliage can all block MVDDS signals the same way satellite signals can be blocked (they share the same frequencies).

Most customers end up with an antenna that very much resembles a traditional satellite dish from DirecTV or Dish, mounted on a roof. To maximize available bandwidth, MVDDS uses a configuration similar to cellular systems, with up to 900Mbps of total bandwidth available to each 90-degree narrow beam sector.

Cablevision has MVDDS licenses to serve most large cities in the United States.

The question is, how will license holders ultimately use the technology. Although originally proposed as a competitor to traditional cable or satellite TV, deregulation has left the fate of MVDDS in the hands of the operators.

Some are considering not selling the service to consumers at all, but rather making a market out of providing backhaul connectivity for cell towers. Dish may be interested in using its licenses to offer customers a triple play package of broadband and phone service with its satellite TV package. Nobody seems particularly interested in providing television service over MVDDS, primarily because programmers’ demands for higher carriage payments would cut into revenue.

Even Cablevision isn’t completely sure what it wants to do. Although it currently is trialing broadband and phone service in Florida, the company earlier petitioned the FCC for increased power to establish a more suitable wireless backhaul service it can sell to mobile phone companies.

For the moment, reviews seem relatively positive for the Florida market test. Of course, as more customers pile on a wireless service, the less speed becomes available to each customer. OMGFAST does not appear to be currently concerned, noting it has no usage caps on its service.

Want to know which provider may be coming to your area? See below the jump for a list of the top-three bid winners and the cities they are now licensed to serve, in order of market size.

… Continue Reading

6 University Towns Will Get Gigabit Broadband Through New Public-Private Partnership

Six college towns will benefit from the nation’s first multi-community broadband gigabit deployment, thanks to $200 million in capital funding to get the broadband networks off the ground.

The Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program leverages local government, universities, private capital, and the public to jointly support and foster the development of new fiber optic networks.

The new program claims it will offer competitively-priced super-fast broadband through projects that will cover neighborhoods of 5,000-10,000 people and communities up to 100,000 in size.  Selection of the six winning communities will be announced between this fall and next spring.

“Gigabit Squared created the Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program to help select Gig.U communities build and test gigabit speed broadband networks with speeds from 100 to 1000 times faster than what Americans have today,” the company said in a statement.

“The United States is behind in the world for Internet speed,” said Mark Ansboury, Gigabit’s president and co-founder. “The goal is to help get us out front for a platform of innovation.”

That platform is certainly not forthcoming from the country’s largest broadband providers, who according to Ansboury have been pulling back on wired infrastructure upgrades in recent years, shifting focus to more profitable wireless networks.

Gigabit Squared defines the next generation of broadband Internet in terms of speed, declaring 2,000Mbps (2Gbps) as the target to achieve.

The winning projects will be sponsored by Gig.U members, which include:

  • Arizona State University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Colorado State University
  • Duke University
  • Florida State University
  • George Mason University
  • The Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Howard University
  • Indiana University
  • Michigan State University
  • North Carolina State University
  • Penn State University
  • University of Alaska – Fairbanks
  • University of Arizona
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Colorado – Boulder
  • University of Florida
  • University of Hawaii
  • University of Illinois
  • University of Kentucky
  • University of Louisville
  • University of Maine
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Missouri
  • University of Montana
  • University of Nebraska – Lincoln
  • University of New Mexico
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Oklahoma
  • University of South Florida
  • University of Virginia
  • University of Washington
  • Virginia Tech
  • Wake Forest University
  • West Virginia University

Blair Levin, executive director at Gig.U, believes private American telecom companies will always be constrained from delivering world class broadband comparable to South Korea or Japan because of Wall Street opposition to the investment required to construct them. In the eyes of investors, today’s slower networks, in their estimation, do just fine.

Gig.U believes that they have a solution, at least for towns with a sizable university system that can serve as host of the next generation broadband network:

First, any community that wants its residents to have access to a network that delivers world-leading bandwidth can do so. The barrier is not technology or economics. The barrier is organization; specifically, organizing demand and improved use of underutilized assets, such as rights of way, dark fiber, or in more rural areas, spectrum. The responses identified a multitude of ways local communities can improve the private investment case by lowering investment and risk, and increasing revenues for private players willing to upgrade or build new networks without budget outlays from the local government.

Second, the responses confirmed that university communities have the easiest organizing task and greatest upside. Their density, demographics and demand make the current economics more favorable for an upgrade than other communities. For example, the high percentage of the population in university communities living in multiple dwelling units makes the economics of an upgrade far more favorable than for communities composed largely of single-family homes. With the growing importance of Big Data for the economy and the society, university communities are the natural havens for such enterprises to be born and prosper. Through the Gig.U process, our communities are already exploring more than a half-dozen paths to achieve an upgrade; paths that will be replicable for others and will deliver a major step forward in providing America a strategic broadband advantage.

Outside of a handful of upstart private competitors like California-based Sonic.net, most fiber broadband expansion come from private companies like Google — building an experimental fiber-to-the-home network in Kansas City, community-owned broadband services coordinated by local town or city government, co-op telecommunications companies owned by their subscribers, or municipal utilities.

While those efforts are typically committed to the concept of “universal service” — wiring their entire communities — the Gig.U project targets funding only for networks in and around university campuses.

The New America Foundation builds on Gig.U’s premise in its own recent report, “Universities as Hubs for Next Generation Networks,” which argues affordable expansion of broadband can win community support when the public has the right to also benefit from those networks. While Gig.U’s approach suggests the project will target fiber broadband directly to the homes qualified to receive it, the New America Foundation supports the construction of mesh wireless Wi-Fi networks to keep construction costs low for neighborhoods targeted for service.

An earlier project in Orono and Old Town, Maine may afford a preview of Gig.U’s vision, as that collaboration between the University of Maine and private fiber provider GWI is already in its construction phase. For those lucky enough to live within range of the fiber project, broadband speeds will far exceed what incumbents Time Warner Cable and FairPoint Communications deliver. FairPoint has fought similar projects (and GWI specifically) for years.

Will private providers object to the Gig.U effort to win local governments’ favor in the six cities eventually chosen for service? History suggests the answer will be yes, at least to the extent local cable and phone companies demand the same concessions for easy pole access, reduced pole attachment fees, and easing of zoning restrictions and procedures Gig.U project coordinators expect.

Levin has stressed Gig.U projects are based on university and private funding sources, not taxpayer dollars. That may also limit how much objection commercial providers may be able to raise against the projects.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WABI Bangor Orono Maine Getting Faster Service 5-16-12.flv

WABI in Bangor previews the new gigabit broadband network being constructed in Orono and Old Town, Maine.  (2 minutes)

Broadband Stimulus Blockade – FairPoint Bankruptcy Doesn’t Stop Spending to Block Stimulus in Maine

In Maine, bankrupt FairPoint Communications managed to scrape up enough cash to launch a lobbying effort to get a bill introduced, tailor-written to prohibit stimulus award winners from… helping provide improved broadband service to Maine residents.


Incredibly, Sen. Lisa Marrache, D-Waterville, the assistant Senate majority leader, has introduced a bill that would ban the system from using any tuition money to help pay for efforts to expand broadband access. Marrache mouthed FairPoint’s talking points as she suggested poor college students’ tuition money would be diverted for broadband projects. She claimed the bill was introduced because constituents FairPoint’s lobbyists and employees were calling her about it.

The fact Marrache so misunderstood a public-private partnership between the University of Maine, Great Works Internet, and two private investors to improve the Internet “backbone” in Maine should be of grave concern to her constituents. Unless some campaign contributions from FairPoint and its executives make their way to Marrache’s next campaign, voters must be wondering whether the majority leader has a grip on the technology matters before her.

Indeed, the University of Maine explained the “middle mile” improvement program was not going to steal students’ lunch money, but rather dramatically improve broadband capacity for all comers — something FairPoint couldn’t be bothered with while breaking promises to expand broadband service themselves.

Jeff Letourneau, associate director of information technology at UMS, told the Bangor Daily News, “as for tuition subsidizing our broadband efforts, that does not happen and will not happen.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WABI Bangor Federal Funding of Maine's Rural Broadband 12-17-2009.flv

WABI-TV in Bangor reported on the announced funding of broadband projects in Maine designed to improve rural broadband service statewide (12-17-2009 — 2 minutes)

Ironically, the network that will be built with the help of the broadband stimulus program will be open to any and all providers, including FairPoint, on a wholesale cost basis. But of course FairPoint would not own and control it, so it’s bad for them, and they’re trying to convince Maine lawmakers it’s bad for Maine residents as well.

Great Works Internet has had a running dispute with FairPoint

But then, FairPoint has had a vendetta of sorts against Great Works Internet for months, trying to overcharge the independent ISP for connectivity it obtained under provisions established in the Communications Act of 1996.

Also running interference for FairPoint is Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield, who serves on the Legislature’s Utilities and Energy Committee. His bill prevents any “undue” competition by UMS with existing broadband providers. In other words, he has written the FairPoint Entrenched Provider of Mediocre Broadband Protection Act. Fitts said he has concerns that the university’s efforts could have unintended consequences on private companies (read that FairPoint) that “already provide access.” It will have directly intended consequences on GWI by further disadvantaging them and potentially sinking their efforts to provide better service in Maine.

“If the university is able to bypass some of the competitive markets, and cherry pick, it could affect the ability to deliver broadband to others,” he said.

Exactly how it affects the ability of FairPoint to deliver what it has failed to demonstrate it is capable of delivering is a question Fitts doesn’t answer.


“I know this will cause a lot of discussion in committee,” he told the newspaper. “But we need to have that discussion.”

Maine Public Radio covered the introduction of Rep. Fitts’ bill, and the debate swirling around it. (3 minutes)
You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

Constituents need to have a discussion with him. Unless he wants to be known as the representative from FairPoint, he might want to get out of the way of a project that has a chance of improving broadband in his state, as opposed to the empty promises from a bankrupt provider. If he wants to tie himself to FairPoint’s record of failure, voters can choose someone else to represent them at the earliest possible opportunity.

Those with a need for high speed broadband have tried, and failed, to obtain better service from FairPoint. As Stop the Cap! has reported in exhaustive detail, FairPoint was preoccupied in delivering third world phone service at the time, finally collapsing on the courthouse steps under the weight of its bankruptcy filing.

Bills like these in Maine are further evidence that Congress needs to act on the federal level to pass the Community Broadband Act, which would overturn these kinds of bought-and-paid-for protectionist bills passed in several states. Communities must have the right to bypass companies in the broadband shortage business.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WLBZ Bangor Broadband Stimulus Will Help Maine Health Care 12-2009.flv

WLBZ-TV in Bangor showed what broadband brings to Maine’s health care system and other business.  (3 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/MaineBiz Broadband Special 11-2009.flv

MaineBiz Sunday spent nearly an hour going in-depth into broadband challenges in Maine, the problems with FairPoint Communications, the dispute with GWI, and more.  Appearing on the show, which originally aired last November: Fletcher Kittredge CEO of GWI, Phil Lindley of the ConnectMaine Authority, Steve Hand of Know Technology and Rep. Cynthia Dill of District 121 in Cape Elizabeth. (36 minutes)

Coming up…

Comcast Is Allergic to the Word “Free” Except When They Are the Recipient

FairPoint Dispute May Cost Maine-Based ISP Its Business And Good Paying Local Jobs With It

gwiFairPoint Communications’ performance in New England, finally leading to bankruptcy, harms not only itself but also smaller local Internet companies providing jobs and service across the region.  That’s the gist of a report in this morning’s Kennebec Journal outlining a dispute between FairPoint and Great Works Internet, a Biddeford, Maine Internet Service Provider caught between FairPoint’s fiber optic network and a billing dispute that demands GWI pay more than $3 million dollars by December 19th, or face service termination by FairPoint.

GWI leased fiber optic cables with FairPoint’s predecessor Verizon back in 2005.  As part of the Communications Act of 1996, designed to spur competition, GWI obtained access at special interconnection rates, lower than the prices charged for retail customers.  Verizon felt the price was too low, and went to court in 2005 to seek the right to charge “market rates” for access, but the issue was never settled before Verizon sold its landline network to FairPoint last year.  In March of this year, FairPoint stopped accepting new orders from GWI for fiber service, which has kept the company from growing beyond its current fiber network agreements, costing the company plenty in new business.  Then, in September, FairPoint back-billed GWI for $3,085,025, representing the price FairPoint felt GWI should have been paying since 2006.  If the Maine-owned ISP doesn’t pay up, it has been threatened with having its service cut off altogether.

Fletcher Kittredge, GWI’s founder and chief executive officer, has been around the ISP business a long time.  The company was founded in 1994, before Internet access became common, and he has grown the company into a locally owned business serving 18,000 customers with phone and Internet connections.  At risk are the loss of up to 75 local jobs and a significant part of $13 million in annual revenues earned by what the Journal calls one of Maine’s leading Internet providers.

“For us, it’s vital that this be settled soon,” Kittredge told the newspaper. “FairPoint has been threatening us with some pretty draconian action.”

FairPoint’s threat has already cost the company customers, Kittredge said, and the uncertainty makes it hard to go after new business accounts.

But growth has been trimmed by FairPoint’s actions, according to Kittredge. For instance: The company signed a contract with the Skowhegan school system for high-speed access and set up equipment. But the connections it needed from FairPoint were never made, Kittredge said, and he had to cancel the school contract. That has had a chilling effect on efforts to go after new accounts.

“We can’t go out and solicit new businesses,” he said. “We can’t say, ‘This is going to be great, but we may not be able to deliver it to you.’ ”

Great Works hasn’t wanted to make a big deal in public of its fight with FairPoint. It’s concerned that the news will cause existing customers to worry that they could lose their Internet connections.

“It’s a threat I’m going to watch,” said Mitch Davis, chief information officer at Bowdoin College in Brunswick.

Bowdoin gets phone service from FairPoint, but most of its Internet access is from Great Works. Davis was aware of the initial court dispute, but didn’t realize FairPoint was threatening to cut line access. He hopes the bankruptcy judge will let the case go forward and get settled.

GWI told the Journal the company may just be trying to steal Great Works’ lucrative business customers.  That might come to pass if the circuits are cut.  Despite Davis believing FairPoint probably wouldn’t make good on their threat because of the bad publicity it would generate, he admits if they do, he might be forced to transfer the college account to FairPoint.

“I would do what I need to do to keep the college running,” Davis said.

One Journal reader characterized the dispute as just one more consequence of approving FairPoint Communications’ takeover of Verizon service in Maine.

“I would like to thank the governor of Maine for letting such a strong stable company like FairPoint in this state. You really did your homework.  I thought we had a Public Utilities Commission that watched out for public interest.  Boy are they on the ball.  I am glad to see […] they are not running my business.”

New Details on Rogers “Extreme Plus” and “Ultimate Tier” Packages

Phillip Dampier July 13, 2009 Canada, Internet Overcharging, Rogers 7 Comments

torontoLate last week, Rogers Cable announced the launch of an “Ultimate” tier broadband service for residents in greater Toronto, offering speeds of 50Mbps for $149.99 a month.  This morning, new details on a second tier of service, an adjustment to the usage allowances  for both tiers, and more.

New this morning:

  • A second tier of service for greater Toronto residents has been announced.  “Extreme Plus” will offer 25Mbps/1Mbps service for $99 a month, with a 125GB monthly allowance.  A digital cable TV subscription is mandatory.
  • Some corrected information about the “Ultimate” tier.  Despite what Rogers told one of our readers, this tier will offer 50Mbps/2Mbps service for $149.00 a month, with a 175GB monthly allowance (up from 150GB).
  • The purchase of the Rogers Wireless N router for $200 is mandatory for all customers choosing the “Extreme Plus” or “Ultimate” tier.
  • The overlimit penalty fee has not yet been established.  Rogers typically charges a maximum of $25 in penalties for exceeding usage allowances. As one reader put it: “What this means is that – IN REALITY – you are paying $124.00/month for an unlimited account at 25Mbps, or $199.00/month for an unlimited account at 50Mbps.”

Although many customers were excited by the initial news of higher speed service, the reality that the usage allowances are only incrementally higher, for a considerably higher priced level of service, reduced enthusiasm considerably.  Customers have also been underwhelmed by the upload speed, and by the news they will be required to purchase a router from Rogers for $200 just to obtain the service.

Rollout date for both services in sections of Toronto in August 17th, with other areas being added in mid-September.  We’ve obtained some preliminary specific dates for service based on Toronto metropolitan area postal codes:

August 17 is the date for implementation in the follow postal codes:

M4W (western section)



Richmond Hill



Bradford / East & West Gwillimbury

September 18th is the targeted date for Phase Two of the rollout in these areas:


All other areas surrounding Toronto (Pickering, Ajax, Brampton, Mississauga, etc.) upgrade is expected on September 18th + in these random postal codes:


Thanks to Digital Home and a Rogers employee who remains anonymous for specific details.

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