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New York’s Rural Broadband Program Betrays Tens of Thousands of Rural Residents

For 76,783 homes and businesses in upstate New York, the future of internet access will be a satellite dish and as little as a 20 GB data allowance per month, courtesy of the New York State Broadband Program Office’s decision to partner with HughesNet, a satellite internet provider, instead of finding a provider willing to extend wired internet access to every New Yorker.

HughesNet Satellite “Fraudband”

For town supervisors and village mayors up and down the state, relying on HughesNet is nothing short of breaking Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s promise to bring broadband service to every New York resident.

Lewis town supervisor James Monty called HughesNet and other satellite internet providers “a dead end.”

“HughesNet is not broadband,” Monty said. “I just think it’s a gross waste of public funds to use something that isn’t going to work.”

Rural residents strongly agree, if only because many of them have directly experienced the pain and frustration of satellite internet in the past.

Bethel resident Susan Harte has two words to describe the kind of service HughesNet has provided since it launched its first satellite: “it stinks.”

She isn’t pleased the governor is walking away from rural New Yorkers.

“Definitely broken promises there,” Harte says.

In the North Country, Willsboro town supervisor Shaun Gillilland believes the issue is personal between the governor and his constituents.

“The state made a promise and you’re all here expecting them to carry through on that promise, and I think what we’re finding is that that promise is falling very short,” Gillilland said.

Further west, some residents in Niagara County, near Niagara Falls, are preparing to abandon their homes and move out of state to find internet service and a state government less beholden to corporate interests.

One resident of Middleport tells Stop the Cap! “I’m in a state of disbelief that we are going to actually pull the kids from school and move. We don’t have anymore years to wait. We need internet.”

This particular resident has called out state and elected officials for months on social media to draw attention to the reality rural New Yorkers are going to be stuck with awful internet access for years, while Gov. Cuomo takes credit for a program he will claim is a success story.

A 20 GB Data Cap

HughesNet plans for New York customers at designated addresses for New York’s rural broadband program top out with a 20 GB data cap.

HughesNet appears to be ready to take $15,620,785 from New York and $13,720,697 in private and federal funds and leave residents with internet service even worse than they offer many of their regular customers.

“I’ve already been told by an insider [the only significant benefit New York is getting] is $200 off installation,” the Middleport resident tells us. “The service is exactly the same as ordinary HughesNet except NY Broadband Program Office recipients will have a 20 GB data cap instead of the 50 GB data cap offered elsewhere.”

Susan Potter, who lacks internet access to her home near Watertown, thinks there is a scam afoot.

“Why is New York giving HughesNet $15 million dollars for internet service that any New York resident could order themselves today?” she asked Stop the Cap! “Where is the money going and how exactly will it benefit New York residents? Except for a much smaller and completely inadequate data cap, I cannot find a single thing HughesNet is doing for New York except taking the government’s money for substandard internet access and giving us a break on a satellite dish that can already be discounted from promotions.”

HughesNet’s own website tells an interesting story. Residents who enter an address designated to receive satellite internet by New York are offered just two plans — 10 GB and 20 GB per month (with a 24-month term commitment). Outside of those areas, HughesNet offers up to four plans — 10, 20, 30 and 50 GB allowances per month (with the same two-year term commitment). HughesNet promises “up to 25 Mbps” but disclaims any responsibility if it fails to meet that speed.

“NYBPO officials cannot seem to understand that the technology has limitations and that they can’t offer unlimited data,” the Middleport resident and Stop the Cap! reader added.

Few Albany residents working for the state government have to contend with no internet options, and wired internet plans in New York remain uncapped with no data allowances, which may mean some public officials have yet to grasp the implications of a 20GB data cap, less than what wireless phone companies offer state residents with unlimited data plans. The average home broadband user now consumes an average of 190 GB of data per month, which means HughesNet’s offer is for strictly rationed internet access.

HughesNet plans in parts of North Carolina offer up to 50GB of access.

Back in Lewis, Michael Hopmeier, president of Unconventional Concepts, which provides engineering consultancy services, told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise he openly fears New York’s broadband future has been left in the hands of unqualified bureaucrats running the state’s broadband office:

“I found as an engineer and a person with a background in communications and testing evaluation, that the information that they were providing was completely unrefined,” Hopmeier said. “We were getting broad, vague numbers like ‘99 percent coverage.’”

He said he compiled a list of questions: 99 percent coverage of what? What exactly did they mean by “broadband?” Why were the contracts issued to the companies that they were? Then he and the supervisors filed a Freedom of Information Law request to the state for answers.

“The gist of the responses we received was either no answer, ‘We won’t answer that,’ or the answers made very little sense,” Hopmeier said.

With tens of millions of state taxpayer dollars on the table, Hopmeier worries the state is going to waste a huge amount of money on an unworkable solution for rural New Yorkers.

“My concerns boil down to: one, ‘How are they measuring what they are doing? Two, is there an audit going on? Is there an attempt to review and determine whether those standards and goals are actually being met? And then three, what actions will actually be taken to correct any problems if we can find them,” Hopmeier said.

He has experience using HughesNet himself, and as a result of what he calls “totally technically unacceptable” internet service, he is now sending work out of state to Virginia and Florida, where broadband service is better.

Two hours north of New York City, it is not difficult to find a broadband desert. Steve Israel, writing for the Times Herald-Record, notes Sullivan County communities like Bethel, Callicoon and Delaware, along with Ulster County towns like Marbletown and Rochester are going to be stuck with fixed wireless at 2 Mbps, HughesNet at 15 Mbps (assuming it isn’t congested that day) or for a precious few — Charter Spectrum, which is rebuilding its rural cable systems to support faster internet speeds. For others, DSL from Verizon claims to offer up to 15 Mbps, but few admit to getting service anywhere close to that speed. All of these rosy speed predictions come from the state, but residents on the ground know better.

“Thousands of folks will be left without the high-speed internet Cuomo promised,” Israel wrote.

Frontier’s Internet Nightmares – “They Talk a Lot and Don’t Accomplish Much”

HughesNet isn’t the only provider attracting crowds armed with pitchforks and torches. Frontier Communications, which was recently awarded $9.7 million to extend DSL service to 2,735 more rural customers in the Finger Lakes, Southern Tier and North Country, attracts scorn from its existing customers.

“There is a special place in hell reserved for Frontier’s despicable DSL service,” scowled Lillian Weber.

“Disgustingly inadequate,” fumed Wilmington resident Bob Rose, who has been at war with Frontier for months about slow or intermittent service.

“It’s like not having internet access at all — dial-up used to be faster,” added John Schneider, another unsatisfied customer.

Weber holds the record among her neighbors for the longest delay for a Frontier repair crew to show up — eight weeks, resulting from three “missed” appointments.

“They rarely bother to show up and once claimed they were here but nobody answered the door, despite the fact we spent all day on the porch staring at the driveway,” Weber. “They are even bad at lying.”

Last winter, Wilmington residents found several examples of neglected Frontier lines under pressure from overgrown tree limbs and branches. (Image courtesy: The Sun)

Rose is never sure if Frontier’s repair crews will turn up at his home either when his internet service fails, which is often.

“If I’m lucky, we have an internet connection 60 percent of the time,” Rose told The Sun. “We’ve been frustrated as hell over here, a lot of calls. We might have 1 in 10 days where we have internet all day.”

Frontier says Rose lives in a troubled, “high volume area.” Rose says his entire neighborhood has three or four homes. He now never leaves home without his Wi-Fi hotspot, because it is often the only way to stay connected.

Rose can point to at least one visible problem he saw last winter around his neighborhood. Frontier is simply not taking care of its network.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “Tree limbs, heavy with snow, laying right on the cable. They need to trim those trees.”

Local government officials also hear often about Frontier. Essex County Board of Supervisors chairman Randy Preston is one of them.

“Every other week, I get a complaint about Frontier,” he said. He has personally filed a complaint with the state’s attorney general and is sending a call-out to all Frontier customers dissatisfied with their internet service to do the same. He does not believe Frontier deserves a penny of state money, and the company should return what it has already received.

Essex County Board of Supervisors chairman Randy Prestonon Frontier: “They talk a lot and don’t accomplish much.”

“As far as I’m concerned, they haven’t met their commitment,” Preston told The Sun. “The grants should be pulled from them, and they should be fined. They aren’t living up to their commitment, and I don’t think that should be allowed.”

After years of dealing with Frontier, Preston has a saying about the phone company: “They talk a lot and don’t accomplish much.”

The requirements of the current round of broadband funding require participants to offer customers 100 Mbps of service, something a Frontier spokesperson confirmed.

“In general, the program requires projects to have speed capability of 100 Mbps. The Frontier projects will satisfy this requirement of the program,” the spokesperson said.

That will likely require the phone company to bring fiber to the home service to the 2,735 customers to be served. Current customers will believe it when they see it. It is also clear that existing customers will not be so lucky. When asked directly if Frontier will upgrade to fiber-fast internet speeds elsewhere in New York, Frontier Communications manager Andy Malinoski kept his answer to The Sun vague.

“Frontier is constantly investing in, expanding and improving our network as we continue to improve our customer experience in New York and across the United States,” Malinoski said. “The NY Broadband Program is one tactic we are implementing in certain communities to achieve those goals.”

The NY Public Service Commission urges New Yorkers with Frontier DSL problems to complain directly to them.

“If it were to receive a consumer complaint, PSC staff would work to resolve the issue, including bringing in other agencies if necessary,” said James Denn, a spokesman. “Going forward, all upstate New Yorkers will see dramatic improvements in service quality and availability as a result of Gov. Cuomo’s nation-leading investment program. As part of this effort, PSC staff will work closely with the NYBPO to ensure that companies receiving awards, including Frontier, provide good customer service.”

“That’s a hoot,” responded Weber. “They should spend a week with us and after that, if they are smart, they will throw Frontier out of New York right behind Charter.”

Verizon Starts Taking Orders Thursday for 5G Home Internet in Houston, Indianapolis, LA and Sacramento

Verizon 5G Home will begin accepting new customer orders for its in-home wireless broadband replacement as of this Thursday, Sept. 13, with a scheduled service launch date of Oct. 1.

The new high-speed wireless service will be available in select parts of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento.

Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg is calling the service part of Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network. Initial reports indicate speed will range between 300-1,000 Mbps and existing Verizon Wireless customers will get a $20 price break on service — $50 a month instead of $70 for non-Verizon Wireless customers. We are still waiting word on any data caps or speed throttle information. Verizon informs Stop the Cap! there are no data caps or speed throttles. Service is effectively unlimited, unless hidden terms and conditions introduce unpublished limits.

Interested customers can determine their eligibility starting at 8 a.m. ET on Thursday from the Firston5G website. If you are not eligible initially, you can add your email address to be notified when service is available in your area.

Early adopters will be awarded with a series of goodies:

  • Free installation (a big deal, since it could cost as much as $200 later. An external antenna is required, as well as in-home wiring and equipment.)
  • 90 days of free service (a good idea, considering there may be bugs to work out)
  • 90 days of free YouTube TV (a welcome gift for cord-cutters)
  • Free Chromecast or Apple TV 4K (a common sign up enticement with streaming cable-TV replacements)
  • Priority access to buy forthcoming line of 5G-capable mobile devices

Customers in the first four launch cities will be using equipment built around a draft standard of 5G, as the final release version is still forthcoming. Verizon is holding off on additional expansion of 5G services until the final 5G standard is released, and promises early adopters will receive upgraded technology when that happens.

Verizon is clearly providing a greater-than-average number of enticements for early adopters, undoubtedly to placate them if and when service anomalies and disruptions occur. Although Verizon has done limited beta testing of its 5G service, it is very likely the 5G network will get its first real shakeout with paying customers. Unanticipated challenges are likely to range from coverage and speed issues, unexpected interference, network traffic loading, the robustness of Verizon’s small cell network, and how well outside reception equipment will perform in different weather conditions, particularly heavy rain and snow. With a large number of freebies, and no charges for 90 days, customers are likely to be more forgiving of problems, at least initially.

Chromecast

Verizon’s 5G network depends on millimeter wave spectrum, which means it will be capable of providing very high-speed service with greater network capacity than traditional 4G LTE wireless networks. But Verizon will have to bring 5G antennas much closer to subscribers’ homes, because millimeter wave frequencies do not travel very far.

Verizon will combine a fiber backhaul network with small cell antennas placed on top of utility and light poles to reach customers. That explains why Verizon’s initial 5G deployment is unlikely to cover every customer inside city limits. There are substantial deployment costs and installation issues relating to small cells and the optical fiber network required to connect each small cell.

Verizon’s existing FiOS network areas will offer an easier path to introduce service, but where Verizon does not offer its fiber to the home service, it will need to bring fiber optic cables deep into neighborhoods.

AT&T sees a similar challenge to 5G and is openly questioning how useful wireless 5G can be for urban/suburban broadband service, considering it can simply extend fiber optic service to those homes and businesses instead, without a costly 5G small cell deployment.

Verizon introduces 5G wireless in-home broadband in four U.S. cities and starts taking new customer orders on Thursday. (1:00)

Article updated at 6:28pm ET with information about data caps and speed throttles provided by Verizon.

Fixed Wireless Not a Good Solution for Rural Areas; Usage Demand Outstrips Capacity

Morrow

Australia is learning a costly lesson finding ways to extend broadband service to rural areas in the country, choosing fixed wireless and satellite networks that will ultimately cost more than extending fiber optic broadband to rural customers.

Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) is tasked with supplying virtually all of Australia with internet access, using fiber/wired broadband in urban and suburban areas and fixed wireless and satellite internet access in the country’s most remote locations.

But just a few years after debuting satellite broadband and fixed LTE 4G wireless service in many parts of the country, demand has quickly begun to overwhelm capacity, forcing costly upgrades and punitive measures against so-called “heavy superusers.” The NBN has also scrapped plans to introduce higher-speed fixed wireless services, fearing it will only create additional demands on a network that was not envisioned to manage heavy broadband usage from video streaming.

NBN CEO Bill Morrow has elected to place most of the blame on his customers, specifically “superusers” that he characterized as “online gamers” who spend hours during the day and peak usage periods consuming large parts of the fixed wireless network’s available capacity.

“In the fixed wireless, there’s a large portion [of end users] that are using terabytes of data,” Morrow said. “We’re evaluating a form of fair use policy to say, ‘We would groom these extreme users.’ Now the grooming could be that, during the busy period of the day when these heavy users are impacting the majority, that they actually get throttled back to where they’re taking down what everybody else is taking down.”

Under the current NBN fair use policy, monthly downloads per household are capped at 400 GB, with maximum usage during peak usage periods limited to 150 GB a month, which is already significantly less than what most average American households consume each month. With expensive and unexpected early upgrades to more than 3,100 cell towers to manage rapidly growing usage, the cost of service is starting to rise substantially, even as usage limits and speed reductions make these networks less useful for consumers.

In areas where the NBN extends a fiber optic network, the fixed wholesale price for a 50/20 Mbps connection is $32.00 (U.S.) per month. (A 100/40 Mbps connection costs $46.25). For fixed wireless, prices are rising. A 50/20 Mbps fixed wireless connection (with usage cap) will now cost $46.25 a month.

Morrow took heat from members of Parliament over his claim that online gamers were chiefly responsible for slowing down the NBN’s fixed wireless network.

“With great respect to everything you said over the last 15 minutes, you have been saying to us the problem here is gamers,” said MP Stephen Jones (Whitlam).

Morrow clarified that online gamers were not the principal cause of congestion. The main issue is concurrency, which drags down network speeds when multiple family members unexpectedly use an internet connection at the same time. The worst congestion results when several family members launch internet video streams at the same time. Online video not only leads average users’ traffic, it can also quickly outstrip available cell tower capacity. High quality video streaming can quickly impact 4G LTE service during peak usage periods, driving speeds down for all users. The NBN now considers these newly revealed capacity constraints a limit on the feasibility of using wireless technology like LTE to supply internet access.

The current mitigation strategy includes limiting video bandwidth, discouraging video streaming with usage caps or speed throttles, capacity upgrades at cell towers, and public education requesting responsible usage during peak usage times. With capacity issues becoming more serious, Morrow canceled plans to upgrade fixed wireless to 100 Mbps speeds because of costs. The proposed upgrades would have cost “exponentially” more than wired internet access.

Hype vs. Reality: Most Australians reject fixed wireless and satellite internet as woefully inadequate. (Source: BIRRR)

Actual Fixed Wireless speeds

Actual Satellite Internet speeds

The concept of supplying fixed wireless or satellite internet access to rural areas may have made sense a decade ago, but there are growing questions about the suitability of this technology based on growth in consumer usage patterns, which increasingly includes streaming video. The cost to provide a sufficiently robust wireless network could easily rival or even outpace the costs of extending traditional fiber optic wired service to many rural properties currently considered cost prohibitive to serve. In Australia, fixed wireless and satellite has delivered sub-standard access for rural consumers, and requires the imposition of “fair usage” caps and speed throttles that inconvenience customers. For now, Morrow believes that is still the best solution, given that Australia’s national broadband plan relies heavily on wireless access in rural communities.

“[The benefit of a fair usage policy is] big enough to where if we did groom them during the busy time of the day, it would be a substantial [speed] lift for people,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a silver bullet in any of this – this is going to require us to think through a number of different areas.”

Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Rural Australia (a volunteer consumer group) shares horror stories about relying on satellite to solve rural broadband problems. (7:50)

 

AT&T Misled FCC About Pole Attachment Fees, Says Lincoln, Neb.

A complaint from AT&T that the city of Lincoln, Neb. charged “high fees” that have “delayed its residents the benefits of AT&T’s small cell deployments,” was false and misleading, city officials tell the Federal Communications Commission.

AT&T is one of the chief proponents of industry-friendly national pole attachment and zoning reform, urging the FCC to issue a national policy that would override state and local authorities on pole attachment fees, cell tower and antenna placement, environmental/historic/tribal impact reviews, and paperwork requirements.

In short, AT&T wants to improve its chances of getting fast and inexpensive approval to place its wireless infrastructure in localities with time limits on public input and local reviews.

But Lincoln city officials tell the FCC AT&T never even applied.

“A review of our records fails to reveal any permit applications filed by AT&T for such as deployment,” Lincoln officials wrote. “That means that AT&T either deployed without permission and unknown to the city, or AT&T provided misleading statements to the Commission. Lincoln has researched our rates, submitted them to national companies for evaluation, and as a result has signed small cell agreements with three different companies.”

Local officials around the country complain that the wireless industry is misrepresenting a handful of bad actors as indicative of rampant overcharging, and that a profitable, multi-billion dollar industry is seeking a government mandate to force preferential treatment for its infrastructure at below-market rates. Local government officials who hold a position on the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee issued a strong opinion that the wireless industry is getting a government-sanctioned benefit its competitors do not.

“It is unfair to prioritize one industry over all others in pricing the public rights-of-way and public infrastructure access,” the local officials advised. “Equal pricing of private access to public assets is especially a concern where there is no obligation for providers to serve all residents.”

Missouri, California, Oklahoma, and Virginia Big Winners in Rural Broadband Fund Auction

Telecom companies in four states will receive almost 50% of the $1.488 billion the FCC has set aside in support to expand rural broadband service in unserved areas of 45 states.

Missouri ($254,773,117.90), California ($149,026,913.20), Oklahoma ($113,599,113.70), and Virginia ($108,923,612.60) were the only states to win more than $100 million each to expand internet access to a total of 257.436 residents, and many of the award winners are planning to offer fixed wireless service.

The FCC claims 713,176 homes and businesses will get internet service over the next six years from 103 different providers as a result of the auction, with half getting the option of 100 Mbps. An additional 19% will have gigabit service available. All but 0.25% will have at least 25 Mbps service available, meeting the FCC’s current broadband definition. Many of the providers will charge substantially for faster speed service, however. Some wireless ISPs offering fixed wireless service currently charge up to $999.95 a month for 100/100 Mbps service.

“The successful conclusion of this first-of-its kind auction is great news for the residents of these rural communities, who will finally be able to share in the 21st-century digital opportunities that broadband provides,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “By tapping the mechanisms of the marketplace, the Phase II auction served as the most appropriate and cost effective way to allocate funding for broadband in these unserved communities, bringing the highest-quality broadband services to the most consumers at the lowest cost to the ratepayer.”

The winners are a mix of phone, cable, satellite, and fixed wireless companies and several rural utility co-ops. The biggest recipient is Wisper ISP, a Mascoutah, Ill. company awarded over $220 million to expand its fixed wireless service in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Other significant auction winners include California’s Cal.net, a fixed wireless provider serving rural areas east of Sacramento as far as South Lake Tahoe and Commnet Wireless, LLC which provides cell service and fixed wireless in rural Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

Providers must build out to 40 percent of the assigned homes and businesses in a state within three years and increase by 20 percent in each subsequent year, until complete buildout is reached at the end of the sixth year.

The Connect America Fund Phase II auction is part of a broader effort by the FCC to close the digital divide in rural America. In addition to the funding that will provided by this auction, the Commission is working toward the launch of a $4.53 billion Mobility Fund Phase II auction to expand 4G LTE wireless coverage throughout rural America. And the Connect America Fund is in the midst of providing over $9 billion over a six-year period for rural broadband in areas served by large carriers.

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  • john doe: The market is kind of saturated. Whoever wanted internet have already subscribed to Comcast/Charter. Beside this Verizon strategy is doomed to failure...
  • Coin: While its possible the connections are being throttled, I think its more likely that the cell network is overwhelmed. I live in a hurricane prone are...
  • Dylan: Just isn’t that nice? I would drop them quickly if they told me that my plan was too “low” and I needed to upgrade and pay more for better service. Wh...
  • Dan: Nice job Verizon first throttle first responders then hurricane victims. Fcc step in oh wait. Ajuit pia is worse than useless he is anti consumer....
  • LG: I didn't hear these speeches, and really don't know if what he said was incendiary or hateful, but I do know the left-wing media cannot be trusted to ...
  • Dylan: 20gigs? Abysmal. I would use that in a couple of hours. Even 50. I’m certainly fortunate to have unlimited internet with Spectrum....
  • EJ: I wonder if they are going to extend service based on demand. That system is used by many telecommunication companies that are coming into a new area ...
  • Phillip Dampier: Just to clarify, I think they are throwing in a free or discounted dish, which isn't such a big deal if you can find a promotion that does the same. I...
  • EJ: Well I guess I should of scrolled down first lol. Question answered by the Verizon article. Good job Phillip. Note to self scroll down a few articles ...
  • EJ: My question is what exactly is HughNet doing with the money? They already offer free installation in most areas so what is this money going towards? A...
  • Mark Wilkinson: This is a nightmare. Life was good until Verizon sold us to Frontier. Our service has been cut off twice for non-payment of an "non-returned equipme...
  • Don: I don't even have Greenlight available yet at my address. I am in Gates and Greenlight is taking orders for my address so I look up to see what would ...

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