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San Jose Partnership Will Mine Cryptocurrency from Helium Hotspots to Benefit Low Income Residents

Phillip Dampier October 5, 2021 Public Policy & Gov't, Wireless Broadband No Comments

A public-private partnership between the city of San Jose, Helium, and the California Emerging Technology Fund will install 20 Helium-compatible IoT Hotspots that will deliver limited internet connectivity, mine cryptocurrency, and convert the proceeds into prepaid debit cards for low-income residents to subsidize the cost of home internet service.

The program, currently in a six-month trial, is expected to return enough cryptocurrency proceeds to provide a $120 one-time debit card to each of over 1,300 low income residents in the city.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said the program was “one of many innovative public-private partnership models that we’re advancing to bridge the digital divide for residents.”

Unlike traditional Wi-Fi hotspots that provide wireless internet connectivity, the Helium Hotspot uses a “Long-Fi” radio signal and routes packets from low-power devices in an area that use LoRaWAN and have been deployed to the Helium Network. Typically these are devices such as GPS trackers, environmental sensors, weather meters, etc., that only need to transmit and share small bits of information. The Hotspot uses an existing internet connection (via Wi-Fi or Ethernet) to deliver the data packets sent by devices. It does not replace internet or cellular service for regular devices like computers and smartphones.

Unlike traditional cryptocurrency mining computers, Helium’s hotspots do not consume large amounts of electricity. Each hotspot on the network uses approximately 5 watts and transmits and receives an average of less than two megabytes of data per month. The city of San Jose expects to utilize the network for certain city “Internet of Things” low data traffic applications such as air quality monitoring, fire detection, water leakage, and climate-related data.

There are tens of thousands of consumers who also own and deploy Helium-compatible hotspots to mine cryptocurrency as part of a passive income strategy.

Although San Jose’s partnership with Helium will not directly provide internet service, the proceeds earned from mining cryptocurrency will help reduce the cost of internet service for some city residents. Helium has a network of approximately 200,000 active hotspots supporting a myriad of IoT applications, from agricultural monitoring, weather and buoy data, and even one application that returns information about the amount of dryer lint accumulating in an apartment complex’s laundry room.

Cox Waives Its Own Data Cap When It Faces Unlimited 5G Home Wireless Competition

Phillip Dampier September 22, 2021 Broadband "Shortage", Competition, Consumer News, Cox, Data Caps No Comments

With unlimited home wireless broadband from T-Mobile and Verizon starting to take a dent out of Cox Communications’ customer base, the cable operator is shoring up a defensive position by waiving its arbitrary data cap for existing customers signed up for gigabit speed service in select areas.

“We’re showing our appreciation by giving you free unlimited data for two years,” reads the postcard sent to one of Stop the Cap’s readers in Phoenix. “Now you can stream away without worrying about overages.”

Phoenix residents currently have a choice of up to four different providers — Cox Cable, CenturyLink, Verizon 5G Home Internet, or T-Mobile’s 5G fixed wireless home broadband. Verizon and T-Mobile both offer service with no data caps, but coverage remains selective, especially for Verizon.

Customers must receive the postcard offer and redeem it with Cox to waive their data cap, and the offer is not transferable. It applies only to subscribers with gigabit speed and after 24 months, Cox’s 1.25 TB data cap returns.

The fact Cox is willing to waive its own arbitrary data cap for marketing and competition reasons further demonstrates that artificial limits imposed on internet service have nothing to do with congestion, “fairness,” or network management.

 

CenturyLink Has “Given Up” and Abandoned Its Customers, Leaving Some Without Service for Months

Two months after a late July thunderstorm interrupted phone and internet service for some CenturyLink customers in parts of Albemarle County, Va, some are still waiting for the phone company to restore service.

Multiple CenturyLink customers around the area told The Daily Progress about the extended outage, and the company’s lack of responsiveness in restoring service. Many report their service appointments are unilaterally canceled or a repair technician just never shows up. Others are receiving messages the repairs are complete, but they still have no service.

Mobile phone service is spotty in this part of central Virginia, so many customers keep their landlines to reach emergency services. With service out for nearly two months, making emergency calls or accessing the internet has been difficult.

In August, CenturyLink employee Derek Kelly told attendees at a Albemarle Broadband Authority meeting that at storm brought down almost a mile of CenturyLink’s legacy copper wire network, which has been in place for decades. Kelly noted CenturyLink intended to replace the damaged copper wiring with more copper wiring, instead of upgrading to fiber optics, and because of supply chain issues, customers have been left waiting.

“We ran into logistical issues of being able to find that length of copper,” Kelly said. “I think between COVID and everything else, supplies are limited, so it took us longer than we typically hope for to get the copper in place and get it in town and get it hung back up and spliced in.”

So far, customers are still being billed for service they do not have, and the company has refused to issue automatic credits for customers left without service. Some customers want CenturyLink to compensate them extra for interrupted service as well as for the company wasting their time on unfulfilled service calls and being left on hold, sometimes for an hour, trying to resolve the problem.

Firefly is a service of municipal/co-op power companies in central Virginia.

Albemarle County Supervisor Donna Price has been hearing complaints from local residents for weeks and she is also well aware CenturyLink is in the process of selling a large part of its legacy local phone operations in 20 states to Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm. The phone company will keep its most profitable customers in 16 states — many already served by fiber optics, under its Lumen brand. As that sale waits to close, Price believes CenturyLink has already walked away from their soon-to-be ex-customers.

“I believe that corporate CenturyLink has basically given up and has abandoned their responsibility, which leaves it all upon the individual consumers to either seek some sort of collective relief or basically just suffer until a new provider comes in,” Price told the newspaper. “I think CenturyLink has failed in customer service, in the delivery of service and, I’ll be a little more generous, in the recovery from the storm, because those are really difficult situations.”

Some customers in nearby Fluvanna County who have also experienced multi-month service interruptions from CenturyLink were lucky enough to have a choice of broadband providers, and many have switched to Firefly Fiber Broadband, which also supplies landline phone service. Firefly is owned and operated by a partnership subsidiary that includes the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative. That fiber to the home network has survived serious storms in the past without lengthy service interruptions. The member-owned cooperative has also invested heavily in fiber broadband and communications services its members demand, and if something goes wrong, local repairmen answerable to local supervisors are on hand to manage any issues.

Firefly Fiber is currently looking to expand its operations within its central Virginia service area, which includes the counties of Albemarle, Appomattox, Buckingham, Cumberland, Fluvanna, Goochland, Greene, Louisa, and Powhatan.

Judge Orders Permanent Injunction That Likely Deals Final Death Blow to Locast

The same New York District Court judge that forced a temporary shutdown of Locast, which streamed over the air broadcasts inside their communities of service, has dealt what is likely a final death blow against the non-profit group, issuing a permanent injunction that forbids the service from operating.

Judge Louis L. Stanton signed the two-page permanent injunction on Wednesday:

ORDERED that, Defendants, along with their officers, agents, servants, employees, attorneys and other persons who are in active concert or participation with Defendants or the officers, agents, servants, employees, or attorneys (if they receive actual notice pursuant to Rule 65 (d) (2) of the Federal Rules of Civil procedure) are permanently restrained and enjoined from operating Locast.

Two weeks earlier, Judge Stanton found Locast’s arguments that it was operating legally under an exemption to the Copyright Act to be uncompelling. Locast had argued it was operating a translator service on a not-for-profit basis, offering TV stations improved coverage within their broadcast service area at no charge to station owners or viewers. But Judge Stanton found Locast was nagging viewers with persistent requests for donations, interrupting the signal every 15 minutes for those who did not contribute at least $5 a month. In his mind, that made Locast a de facto subscription service, and an apparently profitable one, collecting at least $2 million more than it needed to operate the service in the past year.

Stanton ruled Locast’s profits disqualified the service from being considered exempt from the Copyright Act, and rejected Locast’s arguments that as a translator service, it did not need the permission of local stations to stream their signals.

Locast earlier predicted it planned to appeal. Unless it does and wins an appeal ruling in its favor, the three-year old service will remain permanently closed down.

U.S. Gone from World Ranking of Fastest Broadband Countries; Cozy Duopoly Results in Less Investment, Upgrades

Phillip Dampier September 13, 2021 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

The United States is rapidly losing its place among the world’s fastest broadband countries, dropping out of the top-10 this year and falling behind Chile, Liechtenstein, and Romania.

While other countries and internet providers are investing billions to improve their standing in an increasingly competitive global broadband marketplace, a comfortable duopoly of phone and cable companies in the United States has successfully kept regulators at bay and allowed many of the largest internet service providers to divert investment away from upgrades and towards stock buybacks, dividend payouts, debt reduction, and ongoing merger and acquisition activities.

Internet speed testing firm Ookla has watched the United States slip in its fixed broadband speed standings over the last three years, dropping from 8th place (2019) to 9th place (2020), to being dropped from its top 10 list this year (it now scores 14th). Canada has never made the list.

This year, the countries with the fastest internet download speeds are: Monaco, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Romania, Switzerland, South Korea, Chile, Denmark and Liechtenstein. The only other countries to fall off the top-10 list in the last three years are Taiwan, Andorra, Macau, and France.

Globally, wireless internet speeds are benefitting from 4G and 5G upgrades on cell towers, with overall speed increasing nearly 60% in the last year. Fixed broadband speeds are up 32% year over year, primarily from an increase in the amount of fiber to the home connections providers are making as they move away from traditional copper wiring. Heavy investment in network upgrades can deliver remarkable boosts in internet speeds.

“South Korea and the United Arab Emirates stood out with mean mobile download speeds that were more than 240% faster than the global average and fixed broadband downloads that were more than 70% faster than the global average,” said Ookla’s Isla McKetta. “China’s mobile download speed was more than 180% faster than the global average and the country was more than 70% faster than the global average for fixed broadband. Switzerland’s mobile and fixed broadband download speeds were close to 100% faster than the global average.”

All of those countries have invested heavily in fiber connectivity for both their mobile and fixed wired broadband connections.

In contrast, U.S. cable companies have delayed upgrades to DOCSIS 4.0, capable of supporting 10 Gbps connections, and many telephone companies have dragged their feet on fiber upgrades, facing resistance from Wall Street as well as heavy debt burdens from prior mergers and acquisitions.

Most of the countries ranking the fastest have pushed providers to supply gigabit internet speed connections, but U.S. regulators and politicians have reduced pressure on large providers by proposing to subsidize millions of expanded internet connections with U.S. taxpayer funds while reducing required speed minimums to just 100/20 Mbps.

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