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

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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Wiretapping Alexa

According to an article in
Wired magazine, it is becoming commonplace for law enforcement to "wiretap" your smart speaker by asking Amazon or Google for transcripts and timestamps of recorded activity. Police have to file a search warrant or subpoena to do so, but users of such devices may not be aware that what the tech companies are recording and storing could be used by law enforcement.

As awareness of the side effects of these devices becomes more widespread, I think that there will be increased demand for "smart" speakers that do not upload activities to a third party.

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Broadband planning is more important than ever

The corona virus and the need for so many to work from home has highlighted what I have been telling communities for nearly two decades: neighborhoods and rural roads are business districts.

It is too soon to tell what will happen once most businesses are open again and people return to work, but "return to work" may have an entirely different meaning as businesses realize employees can work productively from home at least part of the time.

In rural areas of the country, workers trying to work from home for the first time are realizing just how bad their broadband service is. Incumbent providers, especially the larger incumbent telephone companies, have essentially abandoned their landline infrastructure in many areas. Landline voice and DSL service in West Virginia, as one example, is terrible almost everywhere.

Despite the reluctance of many local governments to step in to try to solve the rural broadband crisis, the virus and the lockdown has increased the urgency of developing a broadband plan.

Design Nine has been helping rural communities improve broadband infrastructure longer than anyone else in the country. Give us a call if you want help (540-951-4400) or send us an email (info@designnine.com).

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Why videoconferencing is tiring

A lot of people who used videoconferencing only lightly or never at all have acquired a crash course in it over the past month. Because Design Nine and WideOpen Networks have had staff distributed around the country for years, it was not a challenge for us.

But in the past, we usually visited our clients and had on-site meetings. Now, we are doing most of our meetings using GoToMeeting, which is one of Zoom's competitors. I have had several days over the past few weeks where I've been in a series of videoconferences for a total of four to five hours a day, and end up feeling exhausted by the end of the day.

This article explains why we find videoconferences tiring.

One of the article's comments I had already known somewhat intuitively--you have to pay more attention as compared to a face to face meeting. In the latter, you don't have to try to "read" everyone in the room all the time, but in a vidcon, you are constantly glancing at each of the participant windows all the time to try to keep up with everyone.

Something I did not know is that studies of vidcon have shown that even very small time lags of 1-2 seconds can be stressful compared to a face to face meeting--small video/audio lags get you thinking that something might be wrong and of course, there often is--someone has to drop off and call back, etc.

It's well worth a read.

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OneWeb bankruptcy questions LEO Internet viability

OneWeb just filed for bankruptcy. The company planned to put hundreds of Internet satellites into low earth orbit (LEO) to provide high speed Internet service. OneWeb promised Internet speeds of several hundred Megabits, but only managed to get seventy satellites into orbit out of a planned six hundred by the end of 2020. All 500 employees are expected to be laid off within weeks.

OneWeb's troubles raise questions about Elon Musk's SpaceX plans to provide LEO Internet service. SpaceX is apparently lobbying to make satellite service eligible for Federal grant funds, much in the same way that Musk's Tesla benefits from Federal subsidies. The need for Federal funding to support the SpaceX business suggests it may also be having financial challenges.

LEO Internet service is likely to be a much better option than current satellite Internet, but like the Iridium satellite phone service, it may turn out to be expensive. One clue that it could be pricey is that in all the glowing articles about how wonderful LEO Internet is going to be, price is never mentioned. Or as Sherlock Holmes might say, price is the dog that has not barked.

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VPNs, Coronavirus, and symmetric bandwidth

I have been writing for years (decades, at this point) about how important symmetric bandwidth is to the business from home, work from home segment of the economy. It would appear that the lockdown we are currently experiencing and the huge surge in work from home needs has been illustrating just how important symmetric bandwidth is. Related to symmetric bandwidth is Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology, which provides end to end encryption of an Internet connection between two points (e.g. a home based worker and their corporate network). Atlas VPN reports that Internet searches for "What is VPN" has nearly doubled in the past several weeks.

VPNs work best with symmetric bandwidth so that files and services on the corporate network operate smoothly. And fiber and well-designed fixed point wireless can deliver that symmetric bandwidth.

Coronavirus and bandwidth shortages

With the huge increase in people working from home, bandwidth has become an issue. There are numerous stories about Netflix and other streaming services degrading picture quality to ease the burden on networks. But it is not really a problem that Netflix is having. Netflix is reducing bandwidth to help local cable, DSL, and wireless networks cope. Netflix long ago pushed most of their content to locations directly connected to local networks--the problem is getting from the Netflix server already attached to a Comcast or Spectrum or Verizon network to the local customers.

As I have been writing about for years, the cable Internet technology was not designed to provide symmetric bandwidth, but that's what you need if you are going to be work from home for long periods of time. The corporate VPN and the company videoconferencing all work better with symmetric bandwidth.

The current crisis is made worse because K12 and college students are also at home, trying to access school materials, online classes, and/or just watching movies.

It is a perfect storm of bandwidth needs. We need more fiber in more communities; fiber is designed specifically to deliver symmetric bandwidth--it's baked into the technology, unlike cable Internet, which was essentially a hack of the coaxial copper network that was designed to deliver broadband TV and nothing else.

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Comcast is doing a good thing

I'll give credit where credit is due: Comcast has announced that it will not disconnect any customers for late payment or non-payment for the next sixty days. They will also not charge late fees for small business customers who fall behind on payment. This latter offer could be very important for small retailers, especially those in the restaurant business. Comcast is doing a good thing.

Can the network handle work from home?

The news is filling up with stories about office workers trying to work from home. The most interesting thing I have seen is a report from the Utopia network out in the Salt Lake City area, which said that they have had a 20% increase in requests for fiber service in the last week.

No one is going to call for a new network connection in the middle of a crisis like this one unless their current network connection is not meeting their needs.

Cable Internet networks have not been designed to support massive data traffic during the day, and with schools sending kids home at the same time, if you are trying to work from home right now and have a cable connection, then every day is going to be a snow day--meaning your cable Internet service is going to slow to a crawl.

Well-designed, modern fiber networks do not have the same capacity limitations as the old fashioned copper-based coaxial cable systems. Improvements in the DOCSIS software that the cable companies use to manage their networks have enabled them to increase the download speeds to support video streaming, but they have to steal bandwidth from the upload side. Upload speeds on cable networks have become so embarrassing that the cable companies won't even publish them any more. We noticed this starting about a year ago, when we could no longer get any information on upload speeds from any of the cable companies. Formerly, they did publish this.

The corona virus may finally be a tipping point for a switch to fiber networks. Want fiber in your community? Give us a call (www.wideopennetworks.us).

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Death of TV: Part LXXXII: Google says "no" to TV

Google announced earlier this month that it will no longer offer a package of traditional TV. Instead, it is going to let customers sign up for FuboTV, which carries lots of sports-related programming.

This makes sense, because FuboTV does not really compete with the YouTube TV paid subscription service, which currently costs $45. I'm meeting more and more cord cutters who are entirely happy with their YouTube TV service, supplemented by a couple of other streaming services like Netflix or Hulu.

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