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China Well Ahead of U.S. in Fiber Deployment; Lack of U.S. Competition Responsible for Lag

China is outpacing the U.S. in fiber broadband expansion. (Image: Broadband Now)

At least 86% of China now has access to fiber broadband connectivity after six years of aggressive fiber optic network expansion, putting the United States at a significant disadvantage.

Only 25% of the United States is served by fiber service, creating a giant digital divide that leaves most Americans without fiber high speed broadband. That is the finding of Broadband Now, which summarized the results of its investigation in an article published this week, blaming the country’s reliance on deregulated monopoly/duopoly telecom companies for much of the problem.

“While America continues to suffer from an immense digital divide, China’s government has made incredible progress building out a state-sponsored super network of fiber optic connections. This infrastructure will allow the country to take early advantage of some of the most impactful applications resulting from the fourth industrial revolution,” Broadband Now reports.

Chinese state policy has emphasized the importance of deploying modern telecommunications networks, including fiber-to-the-home and 5G wireless service. The Chinese central government is spending billions to build a core public broadband network, which providers can lease to offer service to their customers. U.S. providers rely on private investment that depends on a financial formula to determine if fiber upgrades will deliver a competitive advantage or a potential for robust profits.

Broadband Now notes that most U.S. providers face little significant competition — “a difficult proposition to justify installing robust fiber networks, especially in less populous areas of the U.S.”

The “return on investment” formula is also responsible for the lack of rural broadband access, a problem the Chinese government solved by directly subsidizing the construction of fiber networks across the country, deeming high speed connectivity a national priority. As a result, 96% of rural Chinese villages now have access to fast internet service.

Broadband Now advocates for more aggressive fiber broadband deployment in the United States, including policies that promote fiber expansion and reduce deployment costs. For example, Broadband Now believes that a national “dig once” policy that would require fiber optic conduit to be installed wherever roadway projects are undertaken could allow providers quick and inexpensive access to deploy fiber technology. The group estimates that nationwide fiber expansion costs could be reduced from $140 billion to $14 billion if dig once policies were the national standard.

Chinese fiber deployment has already laid a foundation for China to outpace the United States in the race to deploy 5G wireless networks. Fiber connections are required to power gigabit speed small cells integral to millimeter wave 5G services. With China well ahead of the U.S. in fiber deployment, the country is poised to rapidly expand 5G wireless service.

T-Mobile Fixed 4G Wireless Home Internet: $50/month With No Data Caps

T-Mobile is gradually expanding its new fixed wireless home broadband service, prioritizing rural areas next to major highways where the mobile provider has strong 4G LTE service.

T-Mobile Home Internet is initially being targeted to rural customers unlikely to have high speed internet access from a cable company or are stuck with low speed DSL from the phone company. It offers “unlimited service” with no data caps, but T-Mobile reserves the right to temporarily throttle speeds of users exceeding 50 GB of usage per month when their local cell tower is congested. Customers can check T-Mobile’s fixed wireless website to see if they qualify for service.

A Stop the Cap! reader in Indiana testing the service over the last month reports speeds averaging around 50/3 Mbps, with ping times often 30 ms or much more, which makes the service problematic for video games. But T-Mobile Home Internet works fine with streaming video services.

(Image: The Gadgeteer)

The service is currently available only in a few areas. T-Mobile is carefully managing the service by registering the customer’s wireless home internet equipment to a specific cell tower. Customers are not allowed to take the service on the road, such as on vacation. Since the service relies on T-Mobile’s existing 4G LTE cell tower network, it is essential to balance capacity between fixed wireless customers and T-Mobile’s existing mobile users. Pricing is comparable to Verizon’s 5G Home Internet and in most cases the price includes taxes and fees.

T-Mobile began marketing the service to its existing customers in qualified service areas over the summer. Among those enrolled, none have reported speed throttling, despite the fine print warning to heavy users.

“I consistently use over 250 GB a month and speeds have never been impacted,” our reader told us. “However, speeds can suffer around rush hour, when I suspect more people are using their cell phones. But they are still 25+ Mbps for downloads.”

Customers signing up for the service will receive:

  • a T-Mobile LTE Wi-Fi Gateway with a pre-installed T-Mobile SIM card;
  • A 5200mAh battery backup, also likely for future portability options;
  • AC Adapter;
  • Quick Setup Manual.

(Image: The Gadgeteer)

There is no charge for the equipment and start-up kit, but it remains the property of T-Mobile and needs to be returned if you cancel, otherwise T-Mobile will charge you $207.

Users plug in the equipment in an area of their home that gets the strongest T-Mobile reception. Once T-Mobile’s LTE network is detected, the service will register and activate service on the T-Mobile cell tower. Customers manage the rest of the service with a smartphone app, which configures Wi-Fi capable devices, sets streaming speeds, and allows customers to check usage. There are two LAN ports on the back of the device for Ethernet connections and a phone jack, presumably to support landline service sometime in the future. Most will be able to configure the service in less than 10 minutes.

Ironically, one service T-Mobile explicitly says won’t work with its fixed wireless offering is T-Mobile’s new TVision live TV service. But customers report no problems using AT&T TV Now and Hulu’s Live TV service.

The included backup battery provides long lasting power to stay connected during a power interruption.

Customers have reported favorable impressions of the service, assuming they have a solid signal from a nearby cell tower. T-Mobile is cautiously marketing the service only to customers where cell towers are not already congested, and only in areas relatively close to a nearby cell tower, to assure good reception. T-Mobile can also self-limit the number of fixed wireless customers signed up for each cell tower. That means most of its fixed wireless customers will be in semi-rural areas, often nearby a major road or highway where a T-Mobile tower provides service. It is not likely T-Mobile will initially market fixed wireless service in dense suburban or urban areas, because cell towers are much more likely to be congested. It also seems unlikely T-Mobile will sell the service in deeply rural areas where it lacks good cell coverage because T-Mobile is relying on its existing network of cell towers to support the fixed wireless service.

An excellent review of the service and its features has been written by The Gadgeteer.

T-Mobile explains how its fixed wireless home internet service works. (1:15)

Sen. Manchin Wants West Virginians to Call Out ISP Lies About Broadband Availability

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) wants every West Virginian to test their internet speed and send his office the results to ferret out deceptive service maps and uncover more information about the state’s ongoing broadband problems.

“We’re urging everyone to do these speed tests,” Manchin told residents in Lewis County last Sunday. “We need to know, and people need to be involved in West Virginia, if they ever want to have broadband, high-speed internet and cell service. This is what we’re fighting for.”

Manchin is on a mission to debunk FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s claims that rural broadband has grown under Pai’s leadership. Manchin believes the FCC’s broadband coverage maps are wildly inaccurate, advertised speeds are not met, and many rural residents in the state are left without internet access.

The senator intends to send the speed test results to Pai’s office, and he wants consumers to use the FCC’s own free speed test app (for Android and iOS) to “cover [Pai]” with piles of speed test results shining a light on the problem.

“There’s an FCC app that you can download on your phone,” Wes Kungel, legislative director for Manchin’s office told WVNews. “If you download that, you can hit a little button and it will tell you your speeds. If you email or mail that to our office, we will put it in a letter and send it personally to Chairmen Pai.”

Sen. Manchin

The ongoing problem with faulty broadband service maps have allowed a select group of telecom companies (many responsible for the data used by those maps) to receive federal funding to expand their own broadband businesses while preventing others from getting funding claiming the new providers would receive government funding to overlap their existing service areas.

“This is really where it all started,” he said. “[People] contacted us a few years back and basically they weren’t getting the coverage. They could not get coverage because [the FCC] said the maps showed that there was already coverage here. So we came out and did the speed tests.”

Manchin argues that West Virginia is among the most broadband-challenged states and inaccurate maps will result in the state not getting its fair share of the estimated $20 billion the FCC plans to distribute in rural America to improve broadband service.

“There’s no state that needs it more than rural West Virginia,” Manchin added. “A ‘urban’ community is 50,000 (people) or more. We don’t have one city in West Virginia with 50,000 so we have nothing to compare it to. We are all rural and we’re going to have to fight for every dollar that we can to get connected.”

West Virginians can submit their speed test results to Sen. Manchin’s office by following this link.

California Governor Vetoes Rural Broadband Development Bills; AT&T and Frontier Benefit the Most

Gov. Newsom

California’s efforts to address the state’s ongoing rural broadband problems made little headway in 2019, as Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in the past week vetoed (or allowed to expire) the only two broadband measures surviving the treacherous journey through the California legislature.

Assembly Bill 1212 would have made rural broadband a priority for Caltrans — California’s Department of Transportation and the Department of Water Resources, including broadband on recommended lists of projects for funding consideration by two of the state’s largest pension investment funds: the California Public Employees Retirement System and the California State Teachers Retirement System. Current state law only allows pension boards to invest in in-state infrastructure projects that meet certain fiduciary responsibilities. By expanding investment projects to include telecommunications, funding from two major pension funds might have been unlocked and made available to future rural internet projects.

Assembly Bill 417, also known as the Agriculture and Rural Prosperity Act, included several measures targeting rural farming. Two passages in the bill would have included broadband expansion as a new priority for the California Department of Food and Agriculture (DFA):

Due to the central role of agriculture in rural California, it is necessary to achieve a detailed understanding of the economic value that agriculture brings to rural communities and to identify opportunities to improve agricultural productivity, including by increasing broadband access, advancing agricultural innovation, technology, and education, and supporting a well-trained, productive rural workforce, to benefit rural communities.

[…] Making recommendations to the secretary on actions to further the development of rural agricultural economies, including, but not limited to, increasing broadband access, providing technical, resource, and regulatory compliance assistance, advancing agricultural innovation and technology, establishing programs for education and workforce development, and evaluating recreation and tourism opportunities.

Several other proposed measures, including AB 1409 which would have created a fund for providing wireless hotspots for students and Wi-Fi service on school buses was killed last spring behind closed doors in the California Assembly’s Appropriations Committee. The annual attempt by AT&T and other telecom companies to write their own laws to deregulate themselves (this time AB 1366), was suddenly pulled from committee consideration by its author back in September.

That the two mild measures made it through the legislature to the governor’s desk was not surprising considering the sheer number of minor bills that pile up on Newsom’s desk. But for both to suffer quiet deaths through veto or expiration despite almost no public opposition speaks to the power of Sacramento insider politics.

Newsom’s explanation for killing AB 1212 was hardly compelling, as he explained he felt the measure was “unnecessary” because “existing law already encourages public retirement systems to invest in state infrastructure.” But that explanation ignores decades of state government bureaucracy, where agencies zealously guard their funding and protect their own existing project priorities to the hilt. AB 417 would have expanded the mission of the DFA, something the governor argued should only be done in the state budget and only within the specific context of the broader mission of the department, whatever that means. The head of the DFA was likely thrilled anyway.

Telecom consultant Steve Blum notes Caltrans and other state agencies were unlikely to ever consider rural broadband a funding priority, unless it was intended for their own use. Blum also believes the most likely suspects responsible for convincing the governor to kill both bills were the heads of the departments themselves.

“The simplest explanation for Newsom’s vetoes is that Caltrans, DWR and/or DFA staff asked him to do it, because those are jobs they don’t want to do,” Blum wrote on his blog. “That sort of opposition was why a Caltrans dig once policy bill was watered down in 2016.”

Blum believes the state’s largest phone companies will benefit the most from the outcome of the 2019 legislative session.

“Newsom’s vetoes bolster AT&T’s and Frontier’s rural monopoly business model, which redlines poorer and less densely populated communities and leaves them with low speed DSL service, if they’re lucky enough to get anything at all,” he wrote.

The loss of AB 1212 and 417 won’t change much for Californians waiting for rural broadband. Neither measure would have led to any immediate improvement in internet access in the less populated areas of the state. But the measures would have set a foundation to bring two more state agencies into the fight to tackle rural broadband issues.

Ultimately, just as in other states, a large amount of money will have to be found to wire those still without internet access. Governments and regulators can either make rural internet expansion a contingency of future merger deals or other business-government transactions or find suitable funding to subsidize the cost of internet expansion by for-profit companies, rural co-ops, or local governments willing to tackle the problem on the local level.

Charter Spectrum Planning New Rural CBRS Wireless Trials in Upstate New York and Rural North Carolina

A CBRS antenna for fixed wireless broadband was installed on this North Carolina home by Charter Spectrum. (Image: Charter Communications)

Charter Communications is envisioning building out a rural fixed wireless network on the edges of its existing service areas in rural parts of New York and North Carolina to attract new customers without spending money on extending its hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) network to high-cost areas.

Charter has spent more than a year conducting mobility and fixed wireless tests using small cells in several cities across the country to determine if the technology is commercially viable. The company is focusing on two service scenarios: rural areas within a mile or two of its existing cable footprint and urban and suburban areas already served by Spectrum’s HFC network.

Charter’s rural initiative uses the Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) band at 3.5 GHz to provide rural fixed wireless service to areas just out of reach of its cable network. Trials of fixed wireless service are already underway or will be soon in exurban and rural areas near Denver, Tampa, Bakesfield, Calif., Coldwater, Mich., and Lexington, Ky. These first trials were designed to prove the concept of delivering high-speed fixed wireless internet in different areas of the country. In 2020, additional trials are planned for rural parts of New York and North Carolina, with a tentative plan to launch service that same year.

“Results of these trials have been promising as we were seeing speeds that significantly exceed the FCC’s definition of high speed broadband in most circumstances which would allow for video streaming and the use of multiple apps simultaneously,” Charter wrote on its Policy Blog. “We believe fixed wireless access technologies using this mid-band spectrum could offer a cost-effective solution for providing broadband service to homes and businesses in harder to reach rural areas.”

The next step for Charter is a full service trial in rural counties in New York and North Carolina that would offer high-speed wireless broadband to residential customers. Charter began testing its fixed wireless service in Davidson County, N.C. roughly between the communities of Lexington and Salisbury. Each of Charter’s four temporary transmitting locations in Davidson County are licensed to serve a radius of up to 9.3 miles, but most customers are significantly closer to the transmitting sites. Participants get free service for the duration of the trial, a free outdoor antenna and a free combination receiver/router. All equipment remains the property of Charter and is to be returned at the end of the trial.

Charter told attendees at last week’s SCTE/ISBE Cable-Tec Expo in New Orleans that results exceeded performance expectations. Customers are getting in excess of 25/3 Mbps service, and there is enough bandwidth left over for Charter to consider offering a true wireless triple play package of video, internet, and home phone service.

Charter’s mobile vans can deploy a CBRS, C-Band, or millimeter wave signal. (Image: Charter Communications)

Craig Cowden, Charter’s senior vice president of wireless technology, told attendees Charter envisions CBRS wireless service to extend the Spectrum cable footprint into rural areas just outside of the cable company’s wired footprint, and a good economic case might be possible to offer service to residents that usually fail the company’s Return On Investment test that governs whether Charter will extend wired service into unserved neighborhoods within their franchise area.

But Cowden also sees Charter deploying CBRS in urban and suburban areas to handle wireless traffic for a growing number of its wireless customers. Spectrum Mobile relies on free Wi-Fi networks and an agreement with Verizon Wireless to provide 4G LTE connectivity for its customers. Charter can begin reducing costs by moving mobile traffic off of Verizon’s network and onto Charter’s own mobile network, likely operating on CBRS frequencies.

The CBRS band is suitable for outdoor traffic, but is likely not going to work well when customers go indoors. Charter plans to hand that traffic back to its extensive network of Wi-Fi hotspots, mostly located at businesses using Spectrum’s commercial service, and the customer’s own in-home Wi-Fi.

Charter has been testing its mobile CBRS service from test transmitters in Tampa and Charlotte, N.C., but plans a much more extensive test in New York and Los Angeles utilizing more than 250 cell sites.

In 2017 and 2018, Charter also filed requests for special temporary authority to test 5G service in the 28 GHz millimeter wave band, but those tests appear to be exploratory and there is no indication a commercial deployment effort is forthcoming soon.

Charter’s Experimental CBRS Projects (based on filings with the FCC for experimental and permanent licenses)

Lexington, Kentucky

WM9LXR was licensed on March 23, 2018 and a CBRS transmitter capable of reaching up to a radius of 9.3 miles was placed on top of the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Lexington North at 2100 Hackney Place in Lexington. The license expired Sept. 19, 2018. A new application to operate this transmitter was filed Nov. 16, 2018 expiring June 4, 2019.

Centennial, Colorado

WM9XTL was licensed on June 1, 2018 and a CBRS transmitter capable of reaching up to 15 miles away was erected just northeast of the Centennial Airport along E. Easter Avenue. This transmitter was designed to experiment with mobile CBRS services. The license expired Dec. 5, 2018.

Another experimental license to test CBRS service was sought Nov. 16, 2018 and expired June 4, 2019.

A license to operate WO9XOY was filed on May 10, 2019 to experiment with a private fixed wireless LTE network in the CBRS band for a corporate client from the same transmitter location as above. The license would expire Dec. 2, 2019.

Los Angeles

WM9XXU was licensed on June 22, 2018 to test CBRS mobile service from four transmitting sites around Baird Park, Van Nuys, Baldwin Hills, and West Anaheim Junction areas. The license expired Dec. 22, 2018.

An application to operate WN9XRT was filed with the FCC on Nov. 16, 2018. CBRS transmitters would operate from the same neighborhoods as above to conduct outdoor and indoor fixed wireless mobile testing within 8 miles of the four fixed locations until Dec. 22, 2018.

An application to run WO9XQW on an experimental basis was filed May 31, 2019 to expire Dec. 19, 2019. The license application described the CBRS test project:

Charter will deploy experimental fixed and mobile equipment in various configurations. Depending on the testing scenario, devices will be deployed on existing aerial cable strand, on existing buildings/poles or indoors.

Specifically, Charter will use the following deployment approaches:

  1. Strand mount deployment: 118ft. height.
  2. Building/pole mount deployment: up to 100ft. height.
  3. Indoors: up to 40ft. height (3rd floor indoor).

New York

WM9XXV was licensed on June 22, 2018 to test various CBRS applications from three transmitter sites:

125th Street & Rockaway Blvd. Jamaica
72nd Street Flushing
South Beach, Staten Island

The license expired Dec. 22, 2018.

An application for WN9XRS was filed with the FCC on Nov. 16, 2018 to expire Dec. 23, 2018 to test CBRS services from the three locations noted above. On May 31, 2019, another application was filed to continue testing until Dec. 19, 2019.

Charlotte, North Carolina

A pending application filed Aug. 28, 2019 for WN9XHY, a CBRS transmitter located on S. Caldwell Street next to Spectrum Center was filed on Aug. 28, 2018. Charter sought to cover a radius of just over 9 miles to test fixed and mobile applications with an expiration of March 16, 2019.

An application for WO9XCX was filed on March 15, 2019 set to expire Sept. 29, 2019. This is a CBRS experimental project to test indoor and outdoor fixed and mobile wireless reception from two fixed transmitter locations located at Spectrum Center and the Clanton Park/Roseland neighborhood. An application for an additional experimental license was filed March 15, 2019 with an operational end date of Sep. 28, 2019.

Tampa, Florida

An application for WN9XHZ, a CBRS transmitter covering up to 8 miles from Ybor Heights was sought on Aug. 28, 2018 to expire March 16, 2019. It was to test fixed and mobile CBRS applications.

Keystone, Iowa

A license to operate WN9XIX from a mobile transmitter van was filed Sept. 6, 2018 to expire March 30, 2019. An additional application to operate a similar CBRS test project was filed Sep. 17, 2019 and set to expire March 28, 2020. On Sep. 20, 2019 an application was filed to operate WP9XIC until March 29, 2020. This latter project is designed “to evaluate 5G frequencies and technologies for their use in point-to-multipoint access network capacity (e.g., rate versus range) and data throughput. The proposed operations will advance Charter’s understanding of technology and network potential using mid-band spectrum and will advance the potential deployment of fixed and mobile 5G services.”

Bowling Green (and Lake Wales), Florida

A license application filed Nov. 28, 2018 proposed to test wireless service in the so-called C-Band spectrum now used by satellites to check how well it performs with the potential of interference from licensed satellite TV services. Outdoor-only tests of wireless service within a two-mile radius of fixed transmitter locations in the vicinity of Bowling Green and Lake Wales were underway until the license for WN9XSQ expired June 10, 2019.

An additional license to further test potential C-Band spectrum for interference issues was sought to begin Dec. 12, 2018 and expiring June 10, 2019.

Davidson County, North Carolina

Charter applied for an ongoing license to operate WJ2XZT, a CBRS project consisting of four transmitters each serving a radius of approximately nine miles, to provide fixed wireless service to customers in this part of rural North Carolina. The transmitters are located at three locations:

153 Sigmon Road, Lexington
185 Chestnut Grove Church Road, Lexington
784 Mount Carmel Road, Lexington

Park City, Utah

On July 3, 2019 the company applied for WK2XIP, a new one-year experimental project:

“As part of its efforts to lead the industry in broadband innovation, Charter intends to conduct fixed wireless experiments in the 3550-3700 MHz band. The proposed operations will advance Charter’s understanding of 5G technology and network potential in mid-band spectrum and will advance the potential deployment of 5G fixed and mobile services.

“Charter will conduct the proposed test using antennas at a location in the Park City, Utah area. These experiments will evaluate the 3550-3700 MHz frequencies and 5G technologies for their use in real-time communications in a low-latency environment.

“The tests will utilize fixed transmitters with a 2km or smaller effective radius. The antennas will be mounted on a hydraulic mast attached to a mobile trailer, which will be located at the requested test location. The radios will be pointed towards the side of the mountain, the peak of which is higher than the peak height of the mast. The trailer mast can be raised to 10.4 meters.”

Colorado Springs, Colorado

An experimental license for WO9XXJ was filed July 18, 2019 to test a millimeter wave 5G network in the 37 GHz band. The license expires Jan. 28, 2020.

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