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Bradford, N.Y. – The Poster Child of America’s Rural Broadband Crisis (Updated)

The Kozy Korner Restaurant is one of the local businesses in Bradford, N.Y.

Bradford, N.Y. is an unassuming place, not atypical of communities of under 1,000 across western and central New York. It’s too far south to benefit from the tourist traffic and affluent seasonal residences of the Finger Lakes region. It isn’t next to a major interstate, and the majority of travellers heading into the Southern Tier of New York are unlikely to know Bradford even exists. Nestled between the Sugar Hill State Forest, Coon Hollow State Forest, Goundry Hill State Forest, and the Birdseye Hollow State Forest, the largely agricultural community does offer some nearby tourist opportunities for outdoor hiking, camping, boating, and horseback riding.

Ironically, just 25 miles further south of Bradford is the headquarters of Corning, Inc., a world leader in the production of optical fiber. Both communities are in Steuben County, but are miles apart in terms of 21st century telecommunications technology.

Corning residents can choose between Verizon and Charter Spectrum. Bradford has a smattering of cable television and internet service from Haefele TV, a tiny cable company serving 5,500 customers in 22 municipalities in upstate New York — towns and villages dominant provider Charter Spectrum has shown no interest in serving. Verizon barely bothers offering DSL service, and has shown no interest in improving or expanding the service they currently offer. As a result, according to the Bradford Central School District, approximately 90% of student households in the district do not have access to broadband internet speeds that meet or exceed the FCC’s minimum standard of 25 Mbps.

“Connectivity is sporadic throughout the community,” the district told state officials.

Some residents suffer with satellite internet, which has proven to be largely a bust and source of frequent frustration. Slow speeds and frequent application disruptions leave customers with web pages that never load, videos that don’t play, and cloud-based applications far too risky to rely on. Others are sneaking by using their mobile phone’s hotspot for in-home Wi-Fi, at least until their provider throws them into the penalty corner for using too much data.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2015 Broadband for All initiative was supposed to end this problem forever. Gov. Cuomo promised that his program would offer high-speed internet access to any New Yorker that wanted it. New Yorkers want it, but still can’t get it, and now comes word the all-important third round of funding to reach some of the hardest areas of the state to serve may now on “indefinite hold,” according to Haefele TV, with no explanation. That means providers that would otherwise not expand service without the state’s financial assistance are shelving their expansion plans until the money arrives, if it ever does.

This week, the Democrat and Chronicle toured broadband-challenged Bradford. Reporter Sarah Taddeo sends word the status quo is not looking good for the people of the spread-out community. In fact, the internet challenges Bradford faces are all too familiar to long-time readers of Stop the Cap!:

  • Stalled funding: Haefele TV has shown an interest in expanding service in Bradford, and New York State awarded the company $5,150,612 to connect 1,303 homes and businesses in upstate New York. The money now appears to be on hold, according to a Haefele spokesperson.
  • Poor broadband maps: Bradford residents without service are hopelessly dependent on the broadband service maps offered voluntarily by incumbent providers. Those maps are inaccurate and typically unverified. Even worse, many Bradford residents are falling victim to the scourge of the “census block,” a granular measurement of an area showing who has service and who does not. In suburban areas, a census block is usually part of a neighborhood. In rural areas, it can encompass several streets containing random houses, businesses, and farms. Most broadband funding programs only award funds to “unserved” census blocks. If any provider delivers service to a single home or business within a census block, while ignoring potentially dozens of others, awards are typically not available because that area is deemed “served.” Bradford has several examples of “served” census blocks that are actually not well-served, as well as at least one that was skipped over altogether.
  • Politics and bureaucracy: Politicians are usually on hand to take credit for broadband expansion programs, but leave it to the bureaucrats to dole out funding. That is typically a long and arduous process, requiring a lot of documentation to process payments, which are usually provided in stages. Some providers do not believe it is worth the hassle of participating. Others do appreciate the funding, but do not appreciate the delays and paperwork. Politicians who declare the problem solved are unlikely to be back to explain what went wrong if lofty goals are ultimately unachieved.
  • Relying on for-profit providers: Some portions of Bradford will eventually get service from Haefele, while others will be officially designated as served by Hughes’ satellite internet service — one of two satellite providers that already earn low marks from local residents sharing scathing reviews from paying customers. Haefele won’t break ground without state dollars, and nothing stops Bradford residents from signing up for satellite internet today.
  • Homework Hotspots: Impacted families often have to drive to a community institution or public restaurant or shopping center that offers reliable Wi-Fi to complete homework assignments, pay bills, and manage the online responsibilities most people take for granted. Their children may be left at a permanent disadvantage not growing up in the kind of digital world kids in more populated areas do.

With funding for the area seemingly “on hold,” the Bradford’s school district stepped up and found $456,000 from the community’s share of the state’s Smart Schools bond fund, which supplied $2 billion for school districts to spend on technology products and services. Instead of buying iPads or more computers, school officials announced an initiative that would spend the money on an 18-mile fiber network strung through the community’s most student-dense neighborhoods. The school district claims “50-75% of student households will be covered” by the initial phase of the project, with plans to eventually reach everyone with a fiber-fed Wi-Fi network. The proposal has been cautious about staying within the guidelines of the bond initiative, such as limiting access exclusively to students, at least for now.

So far, the proposal has survived its first major review by state officials, but there is still plenty of time for large cable and phone companies serving the state to object, not so much because they want to punish the people of Bradford, but because they may not like a precedent established allowing school districts to spend state funds on broadband projects that could expose them to unwanted competition.

Updated 3:50pm ET: We received word from a credible source denying that the third round of broadband funding was on hold across New York, so we are striking through that section of the story. We anticipate receiving a statement for publication shortly and will update the story again when it arrives.

The Star Gazette visited Bradford, N.Y., to learn more about the broadband challenges faced by the community of nearly 800 people in southwestern New York. (1:47)

Verizon On Track to Mothball CDMA/3G Network; Older Devices Will Cease Working End of 2019

Times up. Legacy devices like the GizmoPal watch will stop connecting to Verizon after the company shuts down its CDMA/3G network at the end of the year.

Customers with older phones and devices that are dependent on Verizon Wireless, take note: those devices may stop working at the end of this year as Verizon Wireless mothballs its legacy CDMA network and 3G mobile data. Verizon originally announced it was planning to shut down CDMA and 3G service last summer, and stopped activating new devices that did not support the current 4G LTE standard. Since that time, the company has been gradually replacing CDMA and 3G-dedicated frequencies to 4G LTE to relieve congestion.

As this transition continues, some customers with older basic phone are noticing call issues and a lack of adequate mobile data service. That happens when a tower has re-dedicated almost all of its available spectrum to 4G LTE service, and those using older devices share a quickly declining number of frequencies. Some smartphone owners are also affected, even if their device supports 4G LTE data, because it may still rely on Verizon’s CDMA network to make and receive phone calls.

One of the biggest impacts of the shutdown will be felt by General Motors’ OnStar customers driving vehicles made before 2015, which rely on Verizon CDMA and 3G technology to support GPS, crash detection, diagnostics, and voice calling. Starting with 2015 models, GM moved its OnStar platform in new vehicles to AT&T’s 4G LTE network. Some GM vehicle owners, but not all, have the option of upgrading to OnStar over AT&T’s 4G LTE network with a retrofit kit, which also supports an in-vehicle hotspot. If this option is not available, service is expected to sunset for older vehicles on Dec. 31, 2019.

Some medical monitoring devices that rely on Verizon’s legacy CDMA network will also cease working unless a retrofit or upgrade is made available by the manufacturer.

Affected devices include:

  • CDMA (3G)-only devices, including 3G basic phones and 3G smartphones
  • 4G LTE smartphones that do not support HD Voice
  • Apple iPhone 5s or prior including the Apple iPhone 5c
  • Connected devices with CDMA (e.g,, GizmoPal, GizmoPal2, GizmoGadget and some Hum + models).
  • In-car telematics devices like GM’s OnStar on pre-2015 model year vehicles
  • Certain medical monitoring devices

Verizon had originally planned to mothball its CDMA network in late 2021, but the carrier needed to repurpose existing spectrum to meet growing data demands on its network, so it moved the drop dead date forward to Dec. 31, 2019.

Verizon’s Mobile 5G Network Launch Will Cover Only Tiny Parts of Chicago, Minneapolis

You may not want to hurry upgrading your devices to be ready for Verizon’s launch of its 5G mobile network this spring, because only a tiny portion of Chicago and Minneapolis are slated to initially get service.

A review of permits, publicity studied by PC, and reports from residents witnessing the installation of wireless equipment suggests Verizon’s mobile 5G launch will be focused on tourist, entertainment, and shopping areas inside the cities of Chicago and Minneapolis, and will be targeted to people spending time downtown.

Verizon (in red) and Sprint (in yellow) anticipated 5G coverage in Chicago.

Verizon’s 5G service will reach places like Union Station, Millennium Park, and the Chicago Theatre in Chicago, but not far beyond that. In contrast, Sprint’s forthcoming 2.5 GHz 5G network will reach west to East Garfield Park and south to Chinatown.

In Minneapolis, Verizon’s 5G network is likely to reach neighborhoods in the Downtown East, Elliot Park, Downtown West, Central Minneapolis, and the Waterfront area between West 2nd Avenue and 35W. It will also be available inside the Mall of America, the Minneapolis Convention Center, Central Library, and Target Center.

Verizon 5G coverage anticipated in Minneapolis.

Verizon’s network should be faster, but Sprint’s will cover a larger area. Carriers are prioritizing 5G coverage on dense urban areas that attract significant crowds, which can also strain wireless networks. Suburban areas in cities and suburbs are not a priority at this stage, and rural areas are ignored completely.

Verizon and Sprint 5G Coverage — Chicago and Minneapolis (Courtesy of PC). Use zoom controls to study anticipated coverage areas in both cities.

Verizon Wants You to Pay $10/mo Extra for Mobile 5G Service

Verizon has decided to treat its emerging mobile 5G network as a premium service that customers should pay more to access.

The company is debuting its mobile 5G network next month at select locations in Chicago and Minneapolis, but customers wishing to use it will need a new phone and a new, costlier plan.

Verizon confirmed its new Mobile 5G service will require a new premium unlimited plan, starting at $85. That is $10 more than Verizon’s current GoUnlimited plan. Customers will also need a Motorola Moto Z3 phone — currently the only model compatible with Verizon’s 5G network, and a special 5G Moto Mod attachment, sold separately.

You will need to switch to one of three 5G-capable unlimited plans from Verizon (pricing does not reflect $10 5G surcharge and legacy unlimited plans do not qualify for 5G service):

5G Moto Mod (back and front)

Some other points to consider:

  • The $10 charge will not apply to your first three billing cycles.
  • Verizon normally sells the Motorola Moto Z3 phone for $480.
  • Verizon normally charges $350 for the 5G Moto Mod add-on, but if you preorder, it sells for as little as $50. Required for 5G service. It snaps on the back of your Z3 phone.
  • Samsung will be ready with its first 5G phones later this year, but they will not support all the frequency bands expected to be used for 5G.

Verizon is planning a special sale on March 14 only:

  • Add a new line of service to a Verizon device payment plan on March 14 only, and get a Moto Z3 for free.
  • Existing customers can upgrade their phone to a Moto Z3 for $10 a month for 24 months, half the usual $480 retail price.
  • Preorder the 5G Moto Mod add-on and pay $50 (usual retail price is: $349.99)

Verizon Says Its 5G Home Broadband Will Only Be for Urban Areas

Verizon, the country’s leading provider of millimeter wave 5G wireless broadband, is promising to expand service nationwide, but admits it will only service urban areas where the economics of small cell/fiber network infrastructure makes economic sense.

At the Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona, Spain, Verizon’s vice president of technology planning told PC that when it launches its mobile 5G network later this spring, home wireless internet service will come along for the ride.

“It is one network, based on 5G, supporting multiple use cases,” Verizon’s Adam Koeppe said. “Enterprise, small/medium business, consumer, mobility, fixed. When the 5G network is built, you have a fixed and mobile play that’s basically native to the deployment you’re doing.”

That means Verizon’s millimeter wave 5G network is designed to be shared by everyone and everything, including businesses, residential customers, cell phone users on the go, Internet of Things applications like smart meters and intelligent traffic systems, and more. But that network will not be everywhere Verizon or Verizon Wireless currently provides service.

“Our deployments of millimeter wave are focused on urban centers. It’s where the people are, where the consumption is,” Koeppe said.

Verizon faces significant costs building out its 5G wireless network in areas where it does not already offer FiOS fiber to the home service. Verizon’s 5G network is dependent on a fiber optic-fed network of small cells placed on top of utility and light poles at least every few city blocks. That means Verizon is most likely to get a reasonable return on its investment placing its 5G network in urban downtown areas and high wireless traffic suburban zones, such as around event venues, large shopping centers and entertainment districts. The company has chosen to deploy 5G in some residential areas, but only within large city limits. So far, it has generally steered clear of residential suburbs in favor of older gentrified city neighborhoods with plenty of closely-spaced multi-dwelling apartments, condos, and homes, as well as in urban centers with converted lofts or apartments.

Koeppe

Rural areas are definitely off Verizon’s list because the millimeter waves Verizon prefers to use do not travel very far, making it very expensive to deploy the technology to serve a relatively small number of customers.

Other carriers are not committing to large scale 5G deployments either.

At a debate held earlier today at Georgetown Law’s Institute for Technology Law & Policy, former FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, now a paid lobbyist for T-Mobile, warned that unless T-Mobile was allowed to merge with Sprint, its deployment of 5G will only happen in “very limited areas.”

Sprint has plans to introduce its own flavor of 5G, which won’t use millimeter wave frequencies, by June in nine U.S. cities. T-Mobile has talked about deploying 5G on existing large cell towers, which means one tower will serve many more customers than Verizon’s small cells. But with more customers sharing that bandwidth, the effective speed customers will see is likely to be only incrementally better than T-Mobile’s existing 4G LTE network. AT&T is initially moving in the same direction as T-Mobile, meaning many customers will be sharing the same bandwidth. That may explain why AT&T’s current 5G hotspot service plan also comes with a 15 GB data cap.

Verizon says its millimeter wave network will, by geography and design, limit the number of people sharing each small cell, making data caps unnecessary for its 5G fixed wireless home broadband replacement, which delivers download speeds of around 300 Mbps on average.

“We engineer the network to give the customer what they need when they need it, and the results speak for themselves,” Koeppe said.

Verizon is already selling its 5G service in limited areas for $50 a month to Verizon Wireless customers, $70 a month for non-customers. There are no data caps or speed throttles.

Based on the plans of all four major U.S. carriers, consumers should only expect scattered rollouts of 5G this year, and only in certain neighborhoods at first. It will take several years to build out the different iterations of 5G technology, with millimeter wave taking the longest to expand because of infrastructure and potential permitting issues.

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  • Kim: I am having this exact same problem. Our internet usage doubled in one month... not slowly grew... doubled! I have been fighting them about this fo...
  • Kenneth Thomas: My home is surrounded by trees, so even satellite signal did not get through. What a.antenna can you use...
  • Willem G Gentry: What did you exchange it for? I want to drop Spectrum, too. We generally used movie channels--HBO, MAX, EPIX not big sports people...
  • psychic99: I can confirm the one competitor pricing of 400/20 for 2 years, $45, $50 install fee. In Verizon FiOS area Amherst, NY. I currently pay $39.99 ($42....
  • Louis DiMeglio: LiveWire is the worst of them. Doesn't even function as a basic antenna....
  • Laura: Thank you for taking time to inform us so throughly! What about LiveWire?...
  • Mike: Have you tested "Live Wave" antennas. It plugs into a electrical wall outlet, then uses your house wiring as an antenna....
  • Jim: Wikipedia says 763 people live there and Google maps shows a sparse housing footprint. I am somewhat familiar with upstate NY having going to college...
  • Jim: CDMA ended up being a serious impediment to Verizon and Sprint network wise anyway....
  • Jim: No one actually believes Sprint will have 5G coverage in that area with their paltry 150mhz of band 41 do they?...
  • Louis DiMeglio: Umm History is a cable channel, not OTA. You won't get that with the largest antenna in the world....
  • Jane Grenon: I ordered my live wave antenna on Jan 24 and just received it today on March 22. I had gotten through to customer service 2 weeks ago and they said it...

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