Exploring the impact of broadband and technology on our lives, our businesses, and our communities.

Fiber can be an economic development powerhouse

Chattanooga's city-owned fiber network (via the City electric utility) is now ten years old, and they have published some results. The Gigabit fiber network delivered, on average, $261 Million PER YEAR in new jobs, retained jobs, lower unemployment, and reduced electric outages. Read the whole article for all the benefits.

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A great discussion of LEO broadband and Starlink

The always thorough and analytical Steve Ross has a great discussion of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) broadband and why Elon Musk's Starlink is not going to be a one size fits all replacement for fiber in rural areas.

Make no mistake about it: LEO/Starlink systems are a game changer for rural residents--for the better--but rural fiber is still going to be better and possibly less expensive over the long run.

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Mediacom "network stress"

Mediacom essentially has confirmed what I and many others have been saying for more than a decade, which is the cable HFC (Hybrid Fiber Coax) network is twentieth century technology that is not able to support the growing demand for bandwidth.

Stop the Cap! recently cited a Mediacom customer who got a letter and a phone call from Mediacom to complain that the customer was using too much bandwidth.

So you sell an Internet service. Customers like it, and use a lot of your service, and so you punish them.

That's quite a business model.

That's why WideOpen Networks is designing and building networks based on future needs, not last century technology.

Does your community want a future-forward network? Give us a call (540-552-2150) and ask for Dave Sobotta.

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Is Starlink a game changer for rural areas?

Early reports from beta tests of Starlink, the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Internet service are very promising, with excellent bandwidth and lower latency than the traditional Viasat and Hughesnet systems. Lower latency is important because it means that some voice and video services like Skype and Zoom may be more usable. It could be a game changer for rural and remote rural areas of the U.S. There are many rural areas that it is going to take time to deploy fiber. In the meantime, Starlink could be a good bridge solution.

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Have Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube made a mistake?

The "big three" of social media--Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube--have become the targets of increasing criticism around the way they choose to allow some users to post "acceptable" content while censoring other types of content. The companies' defense is to claim the protection of Section 230, a portion of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The statute provides a shield for Web sites and other Internet-based media to not have to be responsible for policing the content submitted by their users.

In essence, Section 230 says that Internet-based media sites may not be held responsible (i.e. subject to law suits) for content posted on their sites. In 1996, no one envisioned the rise and eventual near-monopoly of a few tech giants like Facebook and Twitter. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube simultaneously claim the protection of Section 230 while managing what content is available on their platforms, using the rubric of "enforcing 'community standards.'"

At this time, it is not at all clear if the Federal government and the FCC will make any changes to Section 230, but in the meantime, the free market is bringing competitors. Social media sites like MeWe, Parler, Gab, GabTV, and Bitchute are gaining users rapidly as people migrate to platforms that have a stronger commitment to free speech. If the competitors are successful, no legislation may be needed to reduce the influence of the tech oligopoly.

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Comcast is rolling out data caps

Stop the Cap points out that Comcast is rolling out data caps in many parts of the East Coast. If you want to keep your "unlimited" plan, you can pay an extra $30/month. Bandwidth is so cheap for a company the size of Comcast that the only reason for doing this is to hike profits.

What is driving this is the growth of heavy data users, and certainly Covid work from home users are part of that phenomenon. Ars Technica lays it all out.

I have been saying for years that the ISP business, in the four hundred year history of modern commerce, is the only business that punishes users for liking their product.

WideOpen is pioneering a different approach to broadband and Internet, one where we do not punish our customers for using our network. Give us a call (540-552-2150) or drop us a line (info at wideopennetworks dot us) if you want to learn more about how we are changing the industry.

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Alex, I'll take "Things I never knew I wanted" for $500

I would like to meet the person that convinced Google that there would be big demand for a phone app that lets you hum a song and have the Google InnerTubes tell you what the name and artist of the song is.

This strikes me as yet another example of bored Google software engineers without enough to do rolling out stuff that no one really wants. Does this really make anyone's life better?

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When coffee makers attack: Hacking the Internet of Things (IoT)

Alex, I'll take "Things I never thought I would write about" for $500. A network security researcher has successfully hacked a coffee machine and was able to take control of it, make it beep constantly, have it refuse to make coffee, and spill water all over.

Yes, you read that correctly. You can buy a coffee machine that connects to the Internet so that you can use an app on your phone to make coffee. Why, I have no idea, because you still have to put water and coffee in it to, you know, "make coffee."

I suppose there is some very weak argument for being able to stay in bed and turn the coffee maker on with your phone, but as I say, that's a weak argument, since most coffee makers that cost more than $10 have a timer so you can set it to turn on in the morning.

Aside from the pure insanity of putting a single board computer in a coffee machine, the lack of security controls that the researcher found is unfortunately typical of many Internet of Things (IoT) devices. The coffee machine connects to your home WiFi network and then to the Internet so it can get updates (don't get me started on why a coffee machine needs "updates).

This hack was done on an older coffee maker, and the manufacturer has indicated the security has been improved on the device. But as more and more people add IoT devices into their home and office networks, the potential for mischief, innocuous and serious, just increases.

Tulsa is paying home based workers to move to the city

Smaller communities in rural areas are always trying to attract workers and families. Tulsa, Oklahoma decided to try paying them to move, and it is apparently working. The City offers $10,000 in cash for "entrepreneurs, remote workers, and digital nomads." It's an idea so crazy it works! The funds can be used to offset moving expenses and monthly expenses during the first year of residency.

Communities that want to try it should make sure they have some good symmetric Internet service in at least some parts of the community to support work from home and online learning.

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Incumbents fight Huntington, WV on better broadband

The City of Huntington, West Virginia wants better broadband and had been begging the incumbents for years to improve service, with no success. The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) granted the City $2.5M in funds to start building a Gig fiber network, and that woke the incumbents from a deep sleep.

And of course, the incumbents claimed everything was just fine and that there was no need for a new "Gig" network because they could provide "up to" 2 Gig for residential customers and "up to" 10 Gig for business customers. Of course, the always amusing "up to" numbers are always referencing the download capacity of the incumbent networks and never include the critical upload capacity, which has become much more important as more people and businesses are trying to get work done from home.

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