Can You Hear Me Now? In Quest for Federal Money, States Debunk Providers’ Coverage Claims

Cellphone companies often boast about how much of the country they cover. But with billions of federal dollars at stake to expand mobile broadband in rural America, state officials and other groups across 37 states say those claims aren’t always true.

The challenge is proving the carriers wrong.

In Vermont, that meant sending out a guy in a gray Toyota Prius to imitate the ubiquitous “can you hear me now?” question as he motored among small towns and dairy farms in search of a signal. Other states took similar steps, and their concerns have caught the attention of the Federal Communications Commission, which has begun investigating the accuracy of the carriers’ claims.

The FCC got on to the question last year after it offered $4.5 billion through its Mobility Fund II reverse auction, meant to advance high-speed mobile broadband service in needy rural areas over the next decade. To determine which areas would be eligible for funding, the FCC required mobile providers to submit data showing where they provide 4G LTE coverage with download speeds of 5 megabits per second.

According to the carriers, several rural states, including Kansas and most of Vermont, New Hampshire and Mississippi, already had high-speed mobile broadband and didn’t need the FCC’s money.

Vermont begged to differ.

“When we first looked at the confidential coverage maps we called the FCC staff and said, ‘These maps are wrong,’” recalled Corey Chase, telecommunications infrastructure specialist with the Vermont Department of Public Service.

“The FCC said, ‘Well, if you don’t think they’re accurate, it would behoove you to do a challenge,’” he recalled. “It puts the onus on us.”

So, the department sent Chase on the road to challenge the carriers’ maps. With six phones in his passenger side seat running tests, and a seventh used as a map, Chase covered the Green Mountain State’s forested and at times rocky terrain to gather the data that would provide a foundation for an accurate statewide mobile broadband map.

Read the rest of the article HERE.

The CPUC has a mobile coverage data collection plan call CalSPEED. More Details HERE.

 

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If Broadband is Essential Infrastructure it Should be in the General Plan

In California, the General Plan is a document providing a long-range plan for a city’s and county’s physical development. Local jurisdictions have freedom as to what their general plans include, however, there are specific requirements under California state law that each general plan must meet; failure to do so could result in suspension of future development.

Each general plan must include the vision, goals, and objectives of the city or county in terms of planning and development within eight different “elements” defined by the state as: land use, housing, circulation, conservation, noise, safety, open space, and environmental justice which was added as an official element in 2016.

To assist cities and counties to develop and refine their planning document the Governor’s Office and Planning Research published some guidelines in August of 2017.  These charts capture the essence of that guidance.

Screenshot 2019-01-31 21.09.54

Screenshot 2019-01-31 21.10

Please note that broadband is not mentioned in either graphic, yet broadband has a significant relationship to land use, circulation, housing, conservation, and social justice.

Broadband is mention in the General Planning Guidelines three places:

Chapter 4, Required Elements, Page 81, broadband as a “relevant utility.”

Chapter 4, Page 82 Broadband:

“Both state and federal governments are implementing various funding programs that serve the goal of expanding broadband access to unserved and underserved areas. Within California, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) manages the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), which invests hundreds of millions of dollars annually in broadband deployment. The state also created the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), which was designed to be a public-purpose venture capital fund.”

Dig once policies can substantially reduce costs for providing broadband service to communities. A new provider can run ber through leased conduit space at a fraction of the costs, incentivizing more private actors to deploy or reducing costs to the city if self-provisioning broadband services. For example, if conduit construction was promoted along ongoing civil work projects, fiber deployment costs drop by $30,000- $100,000 per mile. On average, 60 to 90 percent of network deployment costs come from civil works as opposed to equipment and maintenance.

Chapter 6, page 211:

In addition, general plan policies may improve access to health services through integrated public transportation and provisions for access to broadband, allowing for telemedicine capacity. 

If California planners were serious about the benefits of every home and businesses having broadband access, they would provide General Planning Guidance beyond dig once.

According to a recent Brookings Metro Policy Paper in less than two decades broadband access has become one of the foundations of the American Economy, joining water, sewer, power, transportation, and energy as essential infrastructure.

If broadband is essential infrastructure, and a “relevant utility”, it should be included in the general planning requirements:

Land Use:  Reduce the cost of installing fixed and mobile wireless antennas, including G5 mini towers.  See Nevada County Land Use, Communications for WiFi example.

Circulation: Use of broadband reduces the need to travel, enables work from home, promoter online shopping all which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to a California, Emerging Technology Funds report Broadband as Green Strategy, access to broadband reduces vehicle miles traveled, office-space construction, energy use, while increasing online shopping, all which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.1 billion tons over ten years,

Housing:  All new development should include broadband networks, especially in multi-family housing in low-income neighborhoods, where adoption is hindered by high-cost access.

Conservation:  Broadband reduces the consumption of natural resources. See Circulation.

Environmental Justice: Broadband internet improves access to health care, education, and employment. Broadband opens the doors to entrepreneurship by individual and small groups, especially in rural communities creating community wealth.

Also missing from the Governor’s Office and Planning Research planning guidelines issued in August 2017 are topics and elements related to economic development. An issue worthy of a future post. 

Your thoughts? Should Broadband be given more attention in General Planning?

Volunteers Being Sought for Home Internet Study

CED Newsletter

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), Geographical Information Center (GIC) at California State University, Chico and CSU, Monterey Bay are seeking 500 volunteers to take part in the CPUC Home Internet Study. The study aims to explore and analyze the Californian’s internet connections including:
* Performance of connections in rural areas, compared with connections in urban areas.
* Performance of DSL connections, compared with Cable connections.
* WiFi Router technologies in use in the California WiFi landscape.
* Performance of Ethernet (wired) connections vs. WiFi connections.

For additional information about the project, or to sign up, visit www.calspeed.net

I was a volunteer member of the beta test team for the CalSpeed data collection box. The box arrived in the mall, and I connected it to my internet router with a Gigahertz connection from Wave Broadband.

When Initially installed, before the beta test started,  the Wave 1Gig modem interface device’s speed ranged from 700 to 850 Mbps using my desktop Mac with Speedtest.com Speed checks were take at random times during the day. Good to go for the beta test.

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Photo of beta test box

 

During the beta test, we were on vacation for two weeks in Seattle. While we were gone, PG&E change our electric meter. They cut off the power to the house while making the change. For some reason, the router quit working as did my drip irrigation system. I rebooted the router upon returning home and data collection restarted. After the reboot, I did a speed test on the Mac using SpeedTest.com and Wave’s Speed Test ranged between 300 Mbps and 500 Mbps.  Not the Wave promised 1000 Mbps!

These speeds are consistent with the overall averages collected by the CalSpeed data collection box. As you can see from the recorded data, my average was about 400 Mbps on ethernet and about 160 Mbps on WiFi.

Screenshot 2019-02-01 12.49.28
Screenshot of collected data from the beta test box on the CalSpeed webpage

The Wave network modem had built-in WiFi signals, one in the 2.4 GHz band and one in the 5.3 GHz band. It was not clear to me which band the CalSpeed box was monitoring, and I failed to ask.

I returned the beta test box to the development team, but I continue to monitor the Wave broadband signal with my DIY recorder box. Following the beta test, I downgraded my Wave connection to 250 Mbps Service, as my DIY box is limited to about 300 Mbps due to the circuit limitation on the Raspberry Pi processor board.

Raspberry Pi BB Recorder

Given all the marketing hype about broadband internet access speeds, the only valid method of determining the real speeds is field testing. Going out to the specific location and measuring the speed of the bits coming out of the ethernet port. So far, I am not getting what I am paying for, and there is a high probability that most users are not experiencing their ISPs advertised level of service.

Here is an example output:

Wave Tri Display

CPUC Revises Broadband Infrastructure Grant Rules To Increase Deployment Throughout California

SAN FRANCISCO, December 13, 2018 – The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), in its commitment to bridging the digital divide, today revised the rules for the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) Infrastructure Grant Account to increase broadband deployment in low income and unserved parts of the state.

Full Document is available under the Government Tab above.

FCC Small Cell Ruling Local Impact?

Governor Brown vetoed SB 649 which would have cleared the path for 5G small cell installation. Counties, Cities, and Town administrators worried if SB 649 became law, it would cap how much they could charge the telcos for use of public infrastructure. Now it has become a Federal administrative dictate.

Of course, what is worth noting is the majority of local authorities are working effectively with the telcos and the federal government to remove administrative hurdles and smooth the road to deployment. These new rules, which limit the power and influence of the local governments, are only directed at the troublemakers who demonstrate short-sighted ambitions in laying out a troublesome path for the telcos.

This is from telecom.com news article HERE.

It raises a question. What is the Gold County Broadband Consortia doing to smooth 5G installation in its area of responsibility, including Sierra, Nevada, Placer and El Dorado County? Question asked, waiting for an answer.

Even larger question is what are all the 14 California Utilities Commission Broadband Consortia doing to smooth 5G implementation? It is going to an economic challenge for the telcos to bring 5G to rural communities. Short-sighted administrative or greedy obstacles in the path will reduce the probability that those communities will ever see 5G.

Links to rural broadband consortia are in the right-hand column, ask the 5G question of the administrator and local policymakers.  Are they helping or hindering 5G implementation?  You might be surprised by the answer.

Breaking: Bright Fiber Sale Suspended until November, Public Utility Commission says

The state’s Public Utilities Commission has suspended the process of selling the Bright Fiber high-speed internet project to address issues and concerns raised by the public, a suspension scheduled to last until November, a commission spokesman said.

The suspension of an “advice letter,” which details the sale of Bright Fiber to Race Communications, occurred Wednesday — the same day a public comment period about the proposed transaction ended. Commission staff now will review issues and concerns raised in various letters it received.

Details HERE.