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Thurman, N.Y.’s Rural ‘White Space’ Wireless Network Debuts; Speed, Capacity Blows DSL and Satellite Away

The national map of available white space channels show plenty are available in rural areas, but designing an urban network might prove challenging because open channels just don't exist.

The national map of available white space channels show plenty are available in rural areas, but designing an urban network might prove challenging because open channels often just don’t exist. In a medium-sized city like Rochester, only 11 UHF channels are available, a number likely to dwindle to close to zero if the FCC successfully reallocates much of the UHF band to wireless providers like AT&T and Verizon.

A dozen homes in the middle of the Adirondacks now have access to Internet speeds far faster than what Verizon and Frontier DSL can deliver and without the usage caps or speed throttling common with satellite Internet access.

Thurman, N.Y.’s public-private “white space” wireless network survived months of political wrangling, debate, and even intentional signal interference created by someone intent on disrupting the project. For a community that some maps depict with zero residents, the 1,200 people of Thurman are now more known than ever, winning national attention for one of the first next generation rural wireless networks to use unused space on the UHF dial to provide Internet access.

A dozen homes are the first to receive the service, with nearly 80 more on the way during phase one of the project. A $200,000 New York state broadband grant helped get the project off the ground and defray the cost of equipment installed in each subscriber’s home. But the initial cost isn’t cheap, even with the grant. New customers pay an upfront equipment fee of $292 for a receiver that costs the project up to $600. The monthly service charge is $50. Despite the price, it’s worth it to a lot of subscribers.

“The white space service is truly amazing,” said John Schroeter of Kenyontown, noting he uses the Internet for genealogical research and relied on dial-up access for the last 15 years. “I can go from one web page to another without waiting forever.”

Schroeter told Denton Publications that web pages often failed to load with dial-up, even after hours of waiting. Now he can manage to complete days of research in about an hour, without having to drive 15 miles to the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot.

Despite the fact Verizon and Frontier Communications both run their own fiber cables on the same utility poles in the region, at least 75% of the 400 homes in Thurman have no access to broadband Internet, living out of reach of even basic DSL. Many end up in the parking lot of the town hall to use Wi-Fi. Others depend on prohibitively expensive satellite access. None of the existing options were ideal. Sheila Flanagan, proprietor of Nettle Meadow Farm complained it took her hours to prepare even a small number of shipping labels to send her cheese products across the country with UPS. Speeds were so slow, she was forced to drop Williams-Sonoma as a client.

thurmanThe concept of white space wireless Internet access has already taken hold in Europe but has dragged in the United States as existing UHF television stations, wireless carriers, wireless microphone manufacturers and others who use the same frequencies white space data services also depend on defend their turf. Since white space services are unlicensed and intended for two-way communications, fears that Internet users would degrade wireless microphones or TV reception meant special care had to be taken to lower the potential for interference.

Since rural areas lack a crowded television dial, are often outside of the coverage areas of wireless carriers, and are unlikely to host many wireless mics, white space broadband would seem like the natural solution.

The project in Thurman faced a number of obstacles to overcome anyway. There were philosophical objections from tea party conservatives who objected to tax dollars paying for the “luxury” of Internet access when satellite service is available. Some residents wanted a fiber to the home solution, one that was likely financially out of reach for the small community. Still others wanted the money spent on a fiber link between the town and Time Warner Cable, that might then be enticed to wire homes in the rural community. In the end, the community decided to go ahead with an advanced wireless network, citing a number of factors familiar to many living in rural areas:

  1. thurman-nySince the town is located entirely within the Adirondack Park, there are prohibitions on placing communications towers on nearby peaks or other high spots that could spoil the view;
  2. The heavily forested and mountainous area made a traditional Wireless ISP project difficult because those networks need line of sight communications. White space wireless signals easily penetrate through trees and can stay intact across hilly terrain;
  3. Although not as bandwidth capable as fiber optics, white space networks are capable of delivering 10Mbps broadband per UHF channel. Most networks bond multiple UHF channels together to support even faster speeds and expand capacity;
  4. The chances of creating interference for other spectrum users was low in Thurman, which is a four-hour drive from New York and far enough north of Albany to avoid interfering with signals from the state capital. Even wireless carriers hug their cell towers along I-87, a respectable distance away;
  5. The network has redundant backhaul access to fiber from both Verizon and Frontier, neither of which show the slightest interest in expanding services into the community on their own;
  6. The grant was limited in scope and white space broadband qualified so it proved the most economical choice for a community that was no stranger to fights over money, engaging in political battles over issues like the cost of building a salt shed and auditing the on-hand count of trash bags.
The Thurman white space broadband project hides base station antennas in the tree canopy.

The Thurman white space broadband project hides base station antennas in the tree canopy.

Tests provided the project managers with an idea where to place needed wireless antennas, often hidden within tree canopies. But at least one disgruntled resident made a point of creating intentional interference on the channels the project managers were testing, committing a federal offense along the way. That was quickly overcome and the equipment has been placed and will soon be joined by installations in nearby neighborhoods, broadening the reach of the service.

Recent advancements in white space technology have also allowed speed and capacity to improve dramatically. Equipment now transmits its exact GPS-identified location to a national database which sends back an authorized list of “white space” channels each transmitter can use to provide the service. If a new licensed broadcaster takes to the airwaves, a database update will lock out that channel in the area, preventing interference.

Although exact speed data was not available at press time, Sally Feihel demonstrated she could successfully stream an episode of a classic Andy Griffith Show on her iPod at the same time a videoconference was underway and someone else was downloading a movie, all without skipping a beat. In fact, there is so much speed and capacity built into the system, its managers say speed throttles and usage caps are completely unnecessary.

Most users agreed the wireless network far outpaced satellite and DSL and some believed it was even faster than Time Warner Cable Internet access they experienced elsewhere. (Time Warner Cable doesn’t come near the community today.)

Constructing the network only took several months, but the politics that often surrounds public-private initiatives and the need for grant funding in income-challenged rural America can tie up projects much longer than that. The need for decent and affordable Internet access often will cross party lines, especially in rural communities.

New York’s state broadband expansion fund could help expand similar projects to other bypassed areas of the state. That investment may actually save taxpayers from paying high broadband bills indefinitely.

Residents are eagerly waiting for the next expansion to begin down Valley, Garnet Lake and Glen-Athol Roads. Moving beyond that may take more grant funding.

“White space is saving us $90 per month, and it’s far faster than satellite ever was,” another resident said.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/MetroFocus A New way to Bring Broadband to Rural Towns in Upstate New York 2014.mp4

MetroFocus showed the initial planning and testing phases of Thurman’s new white space wireless network, including interviews with town officials and a tour of the community. (4:23)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Dynamic Spectrum in Action How TV White Space Devices Work.mp4

TV white space wireless broadband networks are designed to avoid interference with other licensed spectrum users. See how the technology works in this short video. (2:27)

“Free State Foundation” Sock Puppetry: Big Telecom Front Group Hosts Net Neutrality Bashing Session

Walden

Walden

When a group advocating broad-based deregulation and less government suddenly takes a laser-focused, almost obsessive interest in a subject like Internet Net Neutrality, it rarely happens for free.

Randolph May’s Free State Foundation claims to be a non-profit, nonpartisan think tank to promote the free market, limited government, and rule of law principles. But in fact it primarily promotes the corporate interests of some of the group’s biggest financial backers, which include the wireless and cable industry.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), no stranger to big checks from cable companies himself, was in friendly territory at the group’s annual Telecom Policy Conference, a largely consumer-free affair, where he served as keynote speaker. Walden used the occasion to announce a solution to the Net Neutrality problem — defunding the FCC sufficiently to make sure it can never enforce the policy.

Walden, ignoring four million Americans who submitted comments almost entirely in favor of Net Neutrality, said the idea of the FCC overseeing an open and free Internet represented “regulatory overreach that will hurt consumers.”

Big Telecom Funded

Big Telecom Funded

Walden serves as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. Walden told the audience he will be spending his time in Congress taking a hard look at the FCC, its budget request, and its policies after Net Neutrality became official FCC policy. Walden’s plans to punish the agency include a limit on FCC appropriations, making enforcement of Net Neutrality more difficult, if not impossible. Longer term, he hopes to bleed the agency dry by depriving it of resources to manage its regulatory mandate.

Walden’s third largest contributor is Comcast. He also receives significant financial support from the American Cable Association and Cox Cable. He spoke to a group that depends heavily on contributions from the same telecom industry Walden’s campaign coffer does.

According to tax filings by two cable and wireless lobbying groups, the Free State Foundation has cashed almost a half a million dollars in checks written by the groups in the last five years. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) paid FSF $280,000. The wireless lobby, represented by CTIA-The Wireless Association, managed $213,000 in contributions. These two groups are likely among FSF’s most substantial donors.

In 2012, Free State Foundation reported a total of $797,500 in contributions. After Stop the Cap! and other groups began reporting on the connection between the Free State Foundation’s agenda and its Big Telecom sponsors, the group began hiding its donor list. That earned FSF an “F” for donor transparency by PCWorld.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Free State Foundation Seventh Annual Telecom Policy Conference March 2015.mp4

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) delivered the keynote address at the 7th Annual Telecom Policy Conference of the Free State Foundation. Despite receiving nearly a half million dollars in contributions from the cable and wireless lobbies, the group did not think to invest in a tripod to keep the camera steady. (38:42)

HissyFitWatch: Republicans Accuse the White House of Pressuring FCC on Net Neutrality

Wheeler at this morning's hearing.

Wheeler at this morning’s hearing.

Revenge-seeking Republicans spent more than two hours this morning grilling the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Thomas Wheeler, in the first of five Congressional hearings on the agency to be held over the next two weeks.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, accused the FCC of a lack of transparency regarding the recent release of Net Neutrality rules that universally ban paid fast lanes and revenue-based traffic management. Republicans accused the Obama Administration of secretly pressuring Wheeler to adopt strong Open Internet protections.

“The lack of transparency surrounding the open Internet rule-making process raises a lot of questions,” said Chaffetz.

Chaffetz, most of his Republican colleagues, and many large telecom companies object to the Net Neutrality rules and suggest Wheeler’s rumored original lighter-touch “hybrid approach” was swamped by White House objections and replaced with a much stronger Open Internet policy framed around Title II reclassification of broadband as a telecommunications service at the urging of the administration.

Chaffetz dismissed comments from four million Americans writing the FCC in favor of Net Neutrality claiming the writers did not recommend Title II reclassification of broadband, despite the fact many suggested exactly that.

To bolster Republican arguments that President Obama exercised undue influence on an independent agency, Chaffetz’s committee selectively released portions of now-unredacted email exchanges between Wheeler, agency officials, Congress, and the White House. It also included a partial e-mail exchange involving AT&T’s top lobbyist, Jim Cicconi, who is evidently on a first-name basis with some of the FCC’s highest officials, including Wheeler’s senior counselor, Philip Verveer.

In response to a November 10 news release featuring comments from FCC chairman Wheeler in response to President Barack Obama’s statements of support for strong Net Neutrality, Cicconi sent a concerned email to Wheeler’s office the Republicans chose not to disclose. But they did include Verveer’s response:

Jim,

We’re trying to schedule a conversation about this morning’s developments for some time this afternoon. I hope we’re able to connect.

Phil

In response to that, Cicconi fired off this quick response from his iPad:

I hope so too.

Now I at least understand why you pushed the hybrid.

This is awful. And bad for any semblance of agency independence too.

Too many people saw Zients going in to meet with Tom last week.

verveer

Cicconi is referring to Jeff Zients, a White House economic adviser, who met with Wheeler on Nov. 6. In Cicconi’s mind, and by extension the Republicans at today’s House hearing, that meeting represented “undue pressure from the White House.”

Republicans also attempted to prove the FCC and the White House closely collaborated on a rollout of Net Neutrality using an email from an irritated Wheeler to his senior staff shortly after his driveway was blocked by Net Neutrality activists:

FYI, Isn’t it interesting:

  1. The day of the demonstration just happens to be the day folks take action at my house.
  2. The video of [President Obama] just happens to end up on the same message as the video from [the president].
  3. The White House sends this email to their supporter list asking “pass this on to anyone who cares about saving the Internet.”

Hmmm….

wheeler demo

chaffetz

Chaffetz

But Wheeler’s message suggests he was never aware of the White House’s campaign to bolster Net Neutrality, much less a part of it.

A third email from then Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office revealed the senator was no fan of Title II reclassification of broadband to protect Net Neutrality. David Krone, Reid’s chief of staff, lectured Wheeler about keeping strong Net Neutrality off the table because it creates “problems for us.”

In May 2014, chairman Wheeler announced his plans for a hybrid approach to Net Neutrality that would likely combine bans on censorship with permission for Internet providers to set up paid fast lanes for content producers like Netflix.

Initial media reports of Wheeler’s intentions sparked a major backlash against the proposal among Net Neutrality advocates.

In a May 15, 2014 email exchange with Wheeler, Krone attempted to buck up Wheeler and his “third way” Net Neutrality plan once in the morning before it was announced and later that evening after the proposal took heavy fire in the press.

9:26 am (Krone to Wheeler)

Good luck today.

Not sure how things have landed but I trust you to make it work. Please shout if you need anything.

Spoke again with the [White House] and told them to back off Title II. Went through once again the problems it creates for us.

6:15pm (Krone to Wheeler)

Too funny. I literally just watched your remarks from this morning. Spot on. Thank you!!!

P.S. Zients was definitely reacting to press reports. Or, should I say, overreacting. My main point to the [White House] is how can you declare today that regulations written in the 1930’s will work fine for 2014 technology. Let Tom do his job and this will be fine.

reid

Another email exchange between Wheeler and John Podesta, counselor to the president, referenced a New York Times story that signaled Wheeler was backpedaling on Net Neutrality, a story later proven inaccurate.

podesta

At this morning’s hearing, Wheeler pushed back against the Republican accusations.

“There were no secret instructions from the White House,” Wheeler said. “I did not, as CEO of an independent agency, feel obligated to follow the president’s recommendation.”

C-SPAN carried this morning’s hearing with FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler appearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. (2 hours, 41 minutes)

Verizon FiOS Dumps The Weather Channel; Viewers Barely Notice As Accu-Weather Takes Its Place

Phillip Dampier March 16, 2015 Competition, Consumer News, Verizon, Video 1 Comment

twc protestThe latest contract dispute over cable programming between The Weather Channel and Verizon FiOS has deprived Verizon customers of The Weather Channel, but more than a few viewers who don’t live for storm porn don’t seem to notice or care.

Verizon’s FiOS TV service has “opted out” of further carriage of the 24-hour weather network, according to Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski.

Verizon’s contract with The Weather Channel recently expired and Verizon chose not to renew it. Early last year, DirecTV temporarily dropped the weather network over its proposed wholesale renewal rate, so the asking price is likely a factor in the decision to drop the network.

Conveniently for Verizon, last Friday competitor AccuWeather launched its own 24/7 weather channel and gained five million U.S. viewers on its launch day courtesy of FiOS TV.

A spokesperson for Verizon hinted that the usefulness of The Weather Channel has been diminished with the onslaught of digital devices that can call up a local forecast in seconds instead of waiting for one on a weather cable network.

Verizon might have a point, considering The Weather Channel itself has gradually lost interest in showing local weather in favor of reality programming to slow declining ratings. Weather junkies disapprove.

“The Weather Channel needs to do some internal soul-searching before taking a leap of faith that every FiOS subscriber wants to view their mindless reality shows and watch annoying dum-dums like Al Roker,” commented one affected subscriber in Philadelphia. “Good for you Verizon for dumping once-great but now junk-show/dumbed-down channels. There are more of these channels you can also start getting rid of, don’t stop.”

550x1418_03131223_accuweather_announces_groundbreaking_247_networkAccuWeather also called out The Weather Channel for preempting the weather for “Fat Guys in the Woods” and “Prospectors” — two Weather Channel reality shows that may encounter bad weather, but don’t report on it.

The AccuWeather Network promises viewers “all-weather, all the time without reality-TV fluff,” according to a statement from the State College, Pa.-based media company.

Bloomberg News notes fewer viewers are bothering to watch cable weather channels when they can get a commercial-free forecast instantly from a smartphone without waiting for “Weather on the 8’s.”

AccuWeather Network is aware of this and has not been designed for extended viewing, expecting viewers won’t watch for very long.

“We want our channel to be something you look at, get your weather, and then go back to other programming,” says AccuWeather CEO Barry Lee Myers. “It’s a way to use your TV, just as you might use your tablet or phone.”

That seems to serve Verizon just fine because Shirley Powell, a spokeswoman for The Weather Channel said discussions to renew their contract with Verizon FiOS TV have ended. The Weather Channel is now depending on viewer loyalty to force Verizon to put the network back on the lineup, because lowering the price has not worked.

“In the end, we offered Verizon FiOS our bundle of services at a lower price than the previous contract,” the channel said on its Keep The Weather Channel website. “They were unresponsive to our offer and surprised us and their customers by unexpectedly dropping The Weather Channel, WeatherScan, Weather Channel On Demand and The Weather Channel weather widget from their offering.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg AccuWeather TV Channel Just Has the Weather 3-11-15.flv

Bloomberg News talks to the CEO of AccuWeather about his new 24/7 channel that promises the weather and nothing but the weather. (4:55)

Charter Cable in Talks to Acquire Bright House Networks in an All-Stock Deal; Deal May Still Fall Apart, Source Says

charterCharter Communications is in talks with Si Newhouse, Jr., the billionaire owner of Bright House Networks, to acquire the cable operator in an all-stock deal that could be worth over $12 billion, according to a report by Bloomberg News.

Bright House Networks serves 2.5 million customers, primarily in central Florida but also in parts of Alabama, Indiana, California and Michigan. Bright House has been closely controlled by the Newhouse family and has avoided efforts to consolidate the cable industry for more than two decades.

The deal is not yet finalized, according to two people asking not to be identified discussing confidential details of the deal. A side dispute over who will control voting shares of Charter after any acquisition remains at issue. John Malone’s Liberty Broadband, the largest single shareholder of Charter, is said to be seeking a larger ownership share of Charter Communications in what analysts expect will be a gradual takeover of Charter by Malone.

This afternoon, Bright House confirmed acquisition talks are underway.

brighthouse1“While we have had conversations with many parties about this transaction, we do not have an agreement with anyone regarding future plans for Bright House,” a company spokeswoman said in the statement.

The deal may also depend on whether regulators approve the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Time Warner Cable currently represents Bright House in most cable programming negotiations and the two cable companies have closely worked together on technology and services for more than a decade. That collaboration is likely to end if the Comcast merger is approved, stranding New House as a small independent operator.

Charter was long-expected to make offers to acquire other cable operators in its quest to grow larger, especially after failing in its bid to acquire Time Warner Cable for itself. An acquisition of Bright House by Charter would allow the company to further expand its presence in the south and midwest where it focuses most of its cable operations.

But it is not a done deal yet. The talks between Charter and Bright House could still fall apart and may not result in a deal, one source cautioned.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Charter in Talks to Buy Newhouse Bright House Networks 3-12-15.flv

Bloomberg News reports Charter Communications is in talks with the Newhouse family to acquire Bright House Networks in an all-stock deal. (1:22)

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