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Congressman Clyburn Plans to Reintroduce $100 Billion Rural Broadband Expansion Fund Bill

Clyburn

Congressman James Clyburn (D-S.C.) plans to reintroduce a bill offering $100 billion dollars to provide rural high speed internet service in unserved and underserved parts of the United States and to provide subsidies as needed to ensure that internet service is affordable.

The return of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act will be welcomed by the House Rural Broadband Task Force and other groups appealing for rural broadband funding to resolve the pervasive lack of high-speed internet access in unprofitable service areas.

Clyburn notes that in his home state, one in ten rural South Carolinians lack access to suitable broadband service, despite years of more modest funding programs. His bill went nowhere in the 2020 session as part of the Democrats’ $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill, dubbed the Moving Forward Act. With the election of President Joe Biden and the razor thin Democratic majority control of the U.S. Senate, some form of expanded infrastructure spending bill is likely to emerge in Congress this spring, which will include rural broadband funding.

Like last year’s bill, the 2021 version will likely include:

  • $80 billion in direct subsidy funds to build out high-speed rural internet access to homes and businesses.
  • $5 billion set aside for low interest broadband deployment loans
  • $5 billion for distance learning programs
  • Funding for Wi-Fi service in school buses
  • The creation of the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to monitor, promote, and assist rural communities and those economically disadvantaged in getting affordable high-speed internet service established in their community.
  • Funding for digital equity programs to train those not yet connected in how to use the internet.
  • A requirement that the FCC track and analyze national broadband pricing and ensure price transparency.

Clyburn’s 2020 bill also knocked down state barriers on building and expanding municipal broadband networks.

According to the FCC, 21 million Americans and 10 million school-age children do not have internet access. Low-income households are the least connected in America, and, not surprisingly, rural communities are the least served. What might surprise us all is that the data reveals a 75% correlation between median household income and broadband access In 2019, US Representative Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) created the Rural Broadband Task Force to close the digital divide, with the goal of all Americans having high-speed internet access by 2025. The digital era is to the 21st century what electricity was to the 20th, argues Clyburn. Bridging the digital divide is something we must address if we are going to reset the US economy for all. Featuring Jim Clyburn in conversation with Naomi Nix. (9:21)

T-Mobile Expands Wireless 4G Home Internet Service in MI, MN, NY, ND, OH, PA, SD, WV and WI

T-Mobile is widening its wireless home broadband pilot program to cover more than 20 million additional underserved and unserved households in 130 communities in parts of nine states.

“Home broadband has been broken for far too long, especially for those in rural areas, and it’s time that cable and telco ISPs have some competition,” said Dow Draper, T-Mobile executive vice president of Emerging Products. “We’ve already brought T-Mobile Home Internet access to millions of customers who have been underserved by the competition. But we’re just getting started. As we’ve seen in our first few months together with Sprint, our combined network will continue to unlock benefits for our customers, laying the groundwork to bring 5G to Home Internet soon.”

T-Mobile Home Internet customers currently pay $50 a month for unlimited wireless internet for their home or business, using T-Mobile’s existing 4G LTE network. To prevent cell tower saturation, T-Mobile is making the service available on a first-come, first-served basis, where coverage is eligible, based on equipment inventory and local network capacity. T-Mobile is also protecting its high-value mobile customer base by prioritizing mobile network traffic, so speeds may slow for home internet customers during times of peak cell tower usage.

The company adds that its 4G service will soon be joined by a 5G home internet service, which should increase speeds and capacity. The company claims:

  • The service is self-installed, so no installation visits or charges.
  • Taxes and fees included.
  • No annual service contracts.
  • No “introductory” price offers.
  • No hardware rental or sign-up fees.
  • No data caps, but network prioritization may affect speed during peak usage periods, and video streaming resolution may be limited based on available speed in your location.

Other Details:

  • Pricing: $50/month with AutoPay (price includes sales tax and regulatory fees “for qualifying accounts” whatever that means, and if you don’t AutoPay, the price is $5 higher.)
  • Credit approval required.
  • T-Mobile will supply an LTE Wi-Fi Gateway with the service, for in-home use only at the address on the account. The gateway must be returned if you cancel service or pay $207.

List of New Cities & Towns:

Michigan

  • Adrian
  • Alma
  • Alpena
  • Ann Arbor
  • Battle Creek
  • Bay City
  • Big Rapids
  • Cadillac
  • Coldwater
  • Detroit-Warren-Dearborn
  • Flint
  • Grand Rapids-Kentwood
  • Hillsdale
  • Holland
  • Jackson
  • Kalamazoo-Portage
  • Lansing-East Lansing
  • Ludington
  • Midland
  • Monroe
  • Mount Pleasant
  • Muskegon
  • Niles
  • Saginaw
  • Sault Ste. Marie
  • South Bend-Mishawaka
  • Sturgis
  • Traverse City

Minnesota

  • Albert Lea
  • Alexandria
  • Austin
  • Bemidji
  • Brainerd
  • Duluth
  • Fairmont
  • Faribault-Northfield
  • Fergus Falls
  • Grand Rapids
  • Hutchinson
  • Mankato
  • Marshall
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington
  • New Ulm
  • Owatonna
  • Red Wing
  • Rochester
  • St. Cloud
  • Willmar
  • Winona
  • Worthington

New York

  • Binghamton
  • Corning

North Dakota

  • Bismarck
  • Dickinson
  • Jamestown
  • Minot
  • Williston
  • Fargo
  • Grand Forks
  • Wahpeton

Ohio

  • Akron
  • Ashland
  • Ashtabula
  • Bucyrus-Galion
  • Cambridge
  • Canton-Massillon
  • Cleveland-Elyria
  • Coshocton
  • Defiance
  • Findlay
  • Fremont
  • Lima
  • Mansfield
  • Marion
  • New Philadelphia-Dover
  • Norwalk
  • Salem
  • Sandusky
  • Tiffin
  • Toledo
  • Wooster
  • Youngstown-Warren-Boardman

Pennsylvania

  • Altoona
  • Bloomsburg-Berwick
  • Chambersburg-Waynesboro
  • DuBois
  • East Stroudsburg
  • Erie
  • Gettysburg
  • Harrisburg-Carlisle
  • Huntingdon
  • Indiana
  • Johnstown
  • Lancaster
  • Lebanon
  • Lewisburg
  • Lewistown
  • Lock Haven
  • Meadville
  • New Castle
  • Oil City
  • Pittsburgh
  • Pottsville
  • Reading
  • Sayre
  • Scranton–Wilkes-Barre
  • Selinsgrove
  • Somerset
  • St. Marys
  • State College
  • Sunbury
  • Williamsport
  • York-Hanover
  • Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton

South Dakota

  • Aberdeen
  • Brookings
  • Huron
  • Mitchell
  • Pierre
  • Rapid City
  • Sioux Falls
  • Watertown
  • Yankton

West Virginia

  • Clarksburg
  • Cumberland
  • Elkins
  • Morgantown
  • Weirton-Steubenville
  • Wheeling

Wisconsin

  • Eau Claire
  • La Crosse-Onalaska
  • Menomonie
  • Wisconsin Rapids-Marshfield

T-Mobile Home Internet: This company supplied video explains how the service works. (1:15)

T-Mobile Introduces New Suite of Cord-Cutter Streaming TV Options Starting at $10/Month

After months of testing, T-Mobile’s streaming TV service TVision will debut for some existing T-Mobile wireless customers on Nov. 1, with three packages starting at $10/month.

Although late to the already-competitive cord-cutting streaming TV marketplace, T-Mobile hopes to shake up the market with more choices and, in some cases, lower pricing.

“People sure love TV — but they sure don’t love their TV provider,” T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert said during a livestream previewing the TVision service. Sievert claimed the cable and satellite TV customers are fed up being ‘held hostage’ by programming lineup choices made by everyone but the customer, leaving consumers with costly bundles containing “live news and sports with hundreds of other channels you don’t want. Get ready to un-cable, everybody.”

The service will initially be available Nov. 1, but only to T-Mobile postpaid wireless customers. By the end of November, Sprint postpaid customers will also be invited to sign up. Prepaid T-Mobile and Sprint customers are expected to have access to the service sometime in 2021, along with those who do not have a T-Mobile or Sprint account. Non-customers will pay an undetermined surcharge.

TVision’s Android TV device, with remote control.

Details:

TVision will be available for streaming through apps on iOS, Android/Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV. It is currently not available on the Roku platform. Customers can also purchase a TVision Hub, a $50 Android TV device that plugs into an HDMI port on the back of your television to bring the streaming service to traditional television sets, along with a platform to use over 8,000 apps that already work with Android TV, including competing streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and CBS All Access.

Special Offer:

New customers who sign up for Live TV Plus or Live Zone by Dec. 31, 2020 will receive 12 months of free Apple TV Plus service and an $80 rebate offer for the Apple TV 4K set-top box (retails at $179, but will cost $99 after rebate).

Available Packages:

T-Mobile’s philosophy is that customers want to choose between packages containing general entertainment fare, news and sports, local TV, and premium channels. The more categories you want, the higher the price. If you want all four, you are likely going to pay pricing rivaling what you already pay your current provider. True, a-la-carte packages allowing customers to select specific channels is not available. T-Mobile currently has no agreement with CBS, so this means CBS network programming and local affiliates are not accessible on TVision at this time. The three higher priced Live packages include 100 hours of DVR cloud-based recording.

TVision Vibe (general entertainment) ($10/mo for 30 channels, up to 2 concurrent streams): AMC, Animal Planet, BBC America, BBC World News, BET, BET Her, CMT, Comedy Central, Discovery, DIY, Food Network, HGTV, Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, Hallmark Drama, IFC, ID, MotorTrend, MTV, MTV Classic, MTV2, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Nicktoons, OWN, Paramount Network, Sundance, Teen Nick, TLC, Travel Channel, TV Land, WEtv

TVision Live (emphasizing live news and local stations) ($40/mo for 30+ channels, up to 3 concurrent streams) Does not include networks from the Vibe package, which has to be purchased separately): ABC*, ABC News Live, Bravo, CNBC, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, CNN, Cozi TV, Disney Channel, Disney Jr., Disney XD, E!, ESPN, ESPN2, Fox*, Fox Business Network, Fox News Channel, Freeform, FS1, FS2, FX, FXX, HLN, MSNBC, National Geographic, NBC*, NBC News Now, NBC Sports Network, Oxygen, Syfy, TBS, Telemundo*, TNT, truTV, USA

TVision Live Plus (enhances live sports options) ($50/mo for 40+ channels, up to 3 concurrent streams): Includes all channels from TVision Live package plus ACC Network, Big Ten Network, ESPNews, ESPNU, ESPN College Extra, FXM, Longhorn Network*, NatGeo Wild, NBC regional sports networks*, NECN*, NFL Network, Olympic Channel, SEC Network, SNY*, TCM, Golf Channel

TVision Live Zone (brings even more live sports and Spanish language networks) ($60/mo for 50+ channels, up to 3 concurrent streams): Includes all channels from TVision Live Plus package plus Boomerang, CNBC World, ESPN Deportes, Fox Deportes, NFL RedZone, Universal Kids, Universo, MavTV

A-la-carte premium channels:

  • Starz ($8.99 per month): 28 channels
  • Showtime ($10.99 per month): 16 channels
  • Epix ($5.99 per month): 4 channels

(*-may not be available in all TV markets. For exact TV lineup in your area, visit here.)

T-Mobile’s CEO Mike Sievert announces TVision, the company’s new streaming TV service. (3:19)

Gov. Cuomo’s “Broadband for All” Under Audit by Comptroller; Angry NY’ers Still Waiting

Phillip Dampier October 13, 2020 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Rural Broadband, Video 1 Comment

Gov. Andrew Cuomo discusses his rural broadband initiative in New York.

Despite repeated assurances that 98% of New Yorkers now have access to high-speed internet, rural New Yorkers from the state’s border with Massachusetts to farm country outside of Niagara Falls don’t believe it. Now New York’s Comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, is auditing the half-billion dollar program to determine where the money went and where broadband service is now available.

A source told WGRZ-TV in Buffalo that an audit of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “Broadband for All” program was initiated by the Comptroller’s office back in March 2020 after rural residents and the lawmakers that represent them began complaining the program never delivered on its commitments. WGRZ Reporter Nate Benson notes that what may have started as a routine audit may now be under additional scrutiny because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many New Yorkers online for work and learning from home.

The broadband program, introduced with great fanfare by the governor in 2015, promised that every New Yorker that wanted high speed internet (at least 25 Mbps in rural areas, 100 Mbps in urban communities) would have access by the end of 2018. The governor claimed the state earmarked $500 million — mostly proceeds from legal settlements with large New York City banks accused of criminal activity surrounding the Great Recession — towards the program, with dollar for dollar matching from companies awarded grants to expand internet access in specific areas.

Benson noted that publicly available data on the N.Y. Broadband Program Office website found a significant shortfall in private investment dollars, with only four out of 53 internet service providers awarded grants matching or exceeding the amounts they received from the state broadband fund. In short, they accepted generous subsidies without being equally generous with their own money.

DiNapoli

The program used a reverse auction approach to award state broadband funding. Phone, cable, and wireless providers bid to serve one or more of the 256,000 “census blocks” the state identified as lacking access to high-speed internet. Most companies chose the most densely populated census blocks next to their existing service areas, assuring higher profits while the state paid a significant amount of the construction costs. In the end, 76,000 census blocks in very rural, sparsely populated areas least likely to get broadband service attracted no bids at all. To achieve the state’s vaunted “98% served,” officials signed a contract with a satellite internet provider to service the remaining 30% of rural New Yorkers left behind, despite the fact satellite internet providers had a reputation for not meeting subscriber expectations and rarely guaranteed consistent minimum broadband speeds of 25 Mbps. Hughes Satellite provides the service, but our readers using the service warn it comes with a stingy data cap inadequate for today’s average household usage. Speeds are wildly inconsistent as well, often way below 25 Mbps.

Even with satellite internet as an option, New Yorkers continue to tell Stop the Cap! they are still without access, including satellite, even in communities just a few miles outside of major cities like Albany, the state capital. The true scope of the problem became apparent last spring as the coronavirus pandemic emerged, forcing employers to send workers home and schools switched to online learning.

Westerlo, N.Y.

The Berne Knox Westerlo School District, located in the hill towns of Albany County, quickly realized there was a wide gap between the state’s “98% covered” claim and reality.

“We had about 28-30% of our student population without internet access or with very poor internet access.” Superintendent Dr. Timothy Mundell told WRGB News. The district tried stop-gap measures like parking Wi-Fi enabled school buses around the district and handing out Wi-Fi hotspot devices, which proved to work unevenly. Mundell says the only real solution to this problem is ubiquitous fiber to the home internet access, and that is a long way off.

“It concerns me because every day we’re without, my students have the potential of falling behind their peers down in the suburbs and the urban areas,” Mundell said. “So this is a real equity issue for us and we want to make sure rural areas get served.”

Two Republican lawmakers from Western New York also introduced a bill this year to repeal a 2019 state tax on optical fiber cable projects. Senators George Borrello and Pam Helming believe the tax will discourage fiber optic buildouts, especially in higher cost rural areas.

“The reality is that broadband is no longer a luxury this is a basic infrastructure need just like water sewer electric and roads, and without it we’re not going to be able to expand.” Sen. Borrello said.

Dundee, N.Y.

But the biggest proponent of the law’s repeal, Verizon Communications, is also one of the telecommunications companies showing the least interest in expanding its fiber internet service in rural New York. Verizon is fighting the tax so it can save money on expanding its mobile 4G and 5G wireless networks, which are connected with fiber optic cables, not because it wants to expand FiOS fiber to the home service.

Meanwhile, New Yorkers without broadband remain stuck.

“It’s all a lot of empty promises with no sign of service,” Katy tells Stop the Cap! from her home near Dundee, in the Finger Lakes region of the state. “I’ve lived here since the days when the only phone line you could get was a party line shared with four other homes and I still have my rotary dial phone New York Telephone installed in 1965. These companies don’t want me to forget I am living in the past.”

Katy lives about 500 feet from the nearest address able to subscribe to Charter Spectrum and was quoted $9,000 to extend cable to her home, set far back from the main road. Verizon has never offered DSL in her neighborhood, because she is located too far away from the central office. Her property is set in a small forest, so satellite internet is not a possibility either.

“I can watch two channels over the air from Syracuse with my outdoor antenna, but that is all. I guess I prefer reading anyway,” she tells us.

WGRZ in Buffalo reports the New York State’s Comptroller’s Office is auditing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Broadband for All program, which guaranteed 98% of New Yorkers high-speed internet. (3:06)

Digital TV Upgrade Will Make Room for a New Over-the-Air Slimmed Down Pay TV Package

Phillip Dampier August 25, 2020 Competition, Consumer News, Evoca, Online Video, Video 1 Comment

The forthcoming conversion of digital over-the-air TV stations from ATSC 1 to ATSC 3.0 will open up space for a new pay TV service that will bundle dozens of local and national channels with a video on demand service selling for as little as $20 a month.

Evoca is launching a consumer trial of its new service in Boise, Ida. in September, with plans to gradually expand service to small and medium-sized communities around the country.

Parent company Edge Networks is still negotiating with programmers, but will eventually sell a package of over 80 channels at a price it claims will be “less than half the cost of cable” TV. New customers will be offered a temporary promotional rate of $20 a month, but the service will eventually cost $49.95 a month. How can it afford to charge less? By offering customers a receiver that combines free, over the air local channels with a lineup of pay cable networks and, eventually, streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Evoca won’t have to pay local station retransmission fees since customers will be watching those channels directly over the air.

About half of Evoca’s lineup will be delivered over two existing ATSC 3.0 low power TV stations owned by Cocola Broadcasting and leased to Evoca in Boise, compressing 20 encrypted digital channels on each station (KBSE-LD on Channel 33 and KCBB-LD on Channel 34). Boise is located in the Treasure Valley, an optimal place to receive unobstructed low power television signals. Evoca’s set-top box has a connection for a UHF-TV antenna. A basic indoor antenna is offered by the service. ATSC 3.0 signals are expected to be more reliable in fringe reception zones than the existing ATSC 1 standard, which gives Evoca confidence it can supply quality reception. Evoca will also carefully identify which zip codes are likely to receive good reception from the two stations and will not sell the service in areas that cannot get good reception.

The rest of Evoca’s lineup will be delivered over the customer’s home internet connection (at least 5 Mbps recommended). An included set-top box integrates everything together, so customers won’t know or care if they are watching a standard over the air signal, one of Evoca’s compressed and encrypted ATSC 3.0 channels, or a video stream from the internet.  Evoca claims to support both HD and 4K video, where available.

Evoca’s launch market of Boise was not chosen randomly. The company is based in Boise. It will seek to offer the service in cities where cable companies have either given up on selling television packages or charges above average rates for a below average lineup. Most Boise residents are currently served by Sparklight, formerly Cable One, which was among the first to deprioritize selling television service. Sparklight’s still available TV package is costly and many subscribers have dropped it.

Evoca also has an edge attracting older viewers because it will bundle dozens of digital networks like Cozi and Me-TV that favor classic TV shows and movies. These digital over the air channels are often not included on cable lineups.

Evoca TV Trial for Boise Residents

If you live in Boise, you could be among the 200 customers selected for “early access” to Evoca when it launches September 1. Early adopters will receive a free receiver (a $100 value), free antenna, an Evoca t-shirt, and a preview package of 60+ channels for $20 a month until the end of 2021. On January 1, 2022 the price will increase to $49/month. For more information, visit the Evoca website. At the moment, the most compelling channels are those already provided over the air for free, and there are a handful of on-demand services to fill some sizeable gaps in the current lineup. Evoca claims it is close to reaching deals with more familiar cable networks and will bring those to the lineup in the coming months. A cloud based DVR service is also planned for sometime in the future.

Assuming the service achieves success in Boise, expect it to expand to other cities in Idaho and Montana first, then Nevada and Utah, and finally parts of Texas and Oklahoma. The company claims it is interested in providing nationwide service, but that will highly depend on its ability to lease at least two low power television stations in each market it intends to serve. Considering the fact many low power stations are owned by hedge funds or other investors that have parked home shopping or other free-to-air networks on their stations hoping to monetize them later (or offer to close them down so the spectrum can be used by cell phone companies), Evoca may not have too much trouble finding other partners to support an expansion. But reception of low power signals can vary widely, especially in difficult terrain areas.

Evoca produced this video demonstrating how to set up the service. (1:30)

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