The Beckville Network — DIY Fiber Innovation

By Russ Steele

Access to the VAST fiber optic network in Western Nevada County is . . . “what we need”

“I’m self-employed from a home office. Access to this broadband has improved my productivity immensely and reduced downtime. I often have to watch videos for research or shuttle large files to clients, and now I never have to worry about somebody else in the household (like my teenage son) using streaming services at the same time. We all get what we need.

Beckville Network Board Member

I learned about the innovative Beckville Network and it’s connection to the VAST fiber network in Nevada County from Peter Brown and Chelsea Walterscheid at the Sierra Business Council when Peter interviewed me for his Nevada County Broadband Strategic Plan Project. During the interview, he told me about a recent meeting he had with Mike McLaughlin, Beckville Network CEO. Mike is the lead innovator for the non-profit corporation that operates the network. 

Why a non-profit corporation? VAST will not provide service to an individual, only business or corporation. To gain access to the VAST fiber network required the formation of a formal business entity, in this case, a non-profit corporation.

I contacted Mike by email and he graciously agrees to an internet interview, which I have edited for length and clarity 

The Beckville Network is a fixed wireless network with a point of presence (POP) on the VAST Fiber network that follows Newtown Road west of Nevada City. The POP provides dedicated 200Mbps symmetrical access. From the POP the Corporation provides Wireless bi-directional services to 13 neighborhood households at speeds between 50 – 120 Mbps, with a latency of 12-15 ms, according to Mike.

Russ: How is the broadband distributed . . .?

Mike: “Our distribution is entirely fixed wireless. My house is the “main hub” and we have 2 other repeater sites, one is another member house, the other is on a members hilltop and is an entirely off-grid, solar powered, relay tower.”

Russ: Estimated start-up development costs and how was the development finances?

Mike: “We started up with 10 members for under $10,000. Joining members cover a share of the startup costs. We were able to bootstrap the network from the membership. “

Russ: The fee to join the network:

Mike: “The current fee is $500. This helps us buy all the necessary equipment and helps recoup some of the initial investment for the original members (who get paid back in lower cost service).” 

Russ: The average monthly user fees?

“$50-70. It is tiered based on when you joined and how many members we have. Our goal is $40-50/month once we have about 20 members.”

Russ: What is the growth potential?

Mike: “It’s limited by volunteer input.  Our goal right now is to get to 20 member households and then revisit our desire to continue growing. I believe this is a number where the monthly fees are low and the maintenance time and costs also stay low. One thing we have always had in mind was trying to inspire more local micro-ISPs and lend a hand where we can.”

Russ: What were the challenges in creating your non-profit corporation?  

Mike: “. . .There are definitely positives and negatives to the business entity. Doing it over again, I would at least consider a co-op model, especially if I wanted to try to grow it further. The non-profit was chosen primarily for the goodwill aspect, . .”

This project should inspire others to follow the Beckville Network model and learn from Mike’ experience. As he indicated above Mike is willing to help others form a micro-ISP. VAST has been very clear from the beginning they are not interested in working with individual users while providing access to businesses and corporations.

More of Nevada County can have access to a fiber optic network if they are willing to invest in the time and effort required to organize a neighborhood and create a corporate entity.  Mike and the Beckville Board of Directors have proven it can be done.  Let’s have less complaining about the lack of broadband access in Nevada County and more action!

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RCRC Commentary: Empower Local Communities to Close the Digital Divide

Greg Norton President and CEO of Rural County Representatives of California.

The deployment of broadband infrastructure supporting speed-of-commerce connectivity is among the most critical missing components needed to drive economic development in California’s rural communities. Broadband access is essential to connecting rural communities to the 21st century economy. Yet the barriers to deploying infrastructure continue to inhibit access in some of California’s most disadvantaged communities in both rural and urban areas.

The Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC) represents 36 of California’s 58 counties, covering approximately 56 percent of the state’s land mass. It is estimated that merely 47 percent of California’s rural households within this population area have access to high-speed broadband.

I recently had the opportunity to speak about this crisis on a panel before the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) titled “The Imperative of Digital Inclusion.” In their 2016-17 Annual Report, CETF identified internet access as a “21st Century Civil Right,” and the internet is now firmly established as an operational epicenter for business, government, education, information, and basic services.

Access to broadband provides multiple economic and social benefits to rural residents by allowing access to vital government services and resources. Broadband contributes to job creation, economic growth and business investment improves access to critical healthcare services, and expands access to educational resources and opportunities. Broadband access for farmers and ranchers would allow for improved stewardship of our natural resources through the use of technology to monitor and measure water and soil conditions and usage.

Local governments have joined forces in advocating for the acceleration of broadband deployment in California’s rural communities, and have outlined a number of key provisions. First, the technology deployed must be an appropriate fit for the area — high-speed fiber connections are imperative. Second, we must look to rural electrification as a model, and fund local municipalities to develop the infrastructure, and provide the services. Lastly, local governments should be empowered to step up as lead partners with the federal government to formulate and execute upon strategies that achieve broad-based access to high-speed services.

When high-speed connectivity is unavailable, too slow, or too expensive, it has a significant impact on the economic success and quality of life in these communities. As a result of the digital divide, rural communities are suffering, and struggle to tap basic resources including educational opportunities, medical care, economic and trade opportunities, and vital government services, including public safety.

We’re aware of the challenges involved in deploying adequate capacity across the broadband infrastructure in California’s rural communities. Rugged terrain, remote locations, and sparse populations are all factors that lead to increased deployment and maintenance costs. However, these challenges must be addressed in order to provide this fundamental socio-economic tool and resource to the residents within these communities. While technological advances such as 5G are beneficial to the overall industry, this type of innovation only serves to create a greater chasm between the haves and the have-nots. Priority should be focused on an equitable deployment of appropriate level services throughout the state, not on the next big thing for the fortunate few.

Community-driven broadband partnerships offer a solution. We can quickly resolve this problem by including local communities in the process of choosing the appropriate means to deliver the requisite broadband to ensure quality of life, business growth, and household capital formation. In partnership with the federal government, communities can choose the approach to delivering broadband best suited to their specific needs. Options could include innovative public-private partnerships, other government financing, or through the enforced requirement of leveraging infrastructure investments made with federal dollars by incumbent providers. The Federal Communications Commission has deployed and earmarked enormous amounts of capital to closing the urban-rural divide that exists with access to broadband. Despite these massive influxes of capital, too many rural communities remain without access.

It is imperative that ubiquitous middle-mile fiber optic cable technology is provided at the speed of commerce to allow small to medium-sized businesses to compete in the digital global marketplace, and attract economic development opportunities to California’s rural communities. Although we have made advancements in expanding broadband, there is more to do to ensure that universal access to broadband services is realized for all rural residents. Now is the time — we must allow local communities to develop high-speed solutions that fit their rural communities’ broadband infrastructure needs. Broadband is fundamentally necessary to a community’s economic health, quality of life, and opportunity at prosperity.

The source is HERE.

Comment:

The Federal funding to improve rural access to broadband is the Connect America II Fund, which is a 10-year program.  The telco 5G build-out is expected to take at least a decade. If the LEO satellite programs from SpaceX, Amazon, OneWeb, LeoSat, and Telesat are successful, space-based broadband will become available in 2021 which is only two years away. By 2024 there will be multiple broadband satellite companies competing for rural communities business. These companies are planning to provide 4G and 5G backhaul services at a lower cost than fiber, which has to deal with “rugged terrain, remote locations, and sparse populations.”  One of the obstacles to satellite broadband is the current CPUC and CETF policies which discriminate against satellite services. These are policies that were put in place due to the low speeds, long latency and high cost of geo-satellite broadband services.  LEO satellites latency is on par with cable networks and shared fiber services, and current speeds are equal to cable internet and on long distances exceed fiber speeds.  These policies need to be revisited and adjusted to match future broadband services. More in this issue in future posts.

Bridging The Digital Divide In Nevada County

The Union has the details HERE.

Race Communications’ mission is to “bridge the digital divide in California,” and this project has the potential to do just that for Nevada County. Local businesses are severely limited by what they can accomplish with copper internet speeds. Businesses and professionals looking to relocate to Nevada County won’t even consider doing business here without a fast, reliable internet connection. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is changing the way we do everything through the internet of things, requires the same. Technology is changing fast, and everyday activities increasingly rely on the internet. Our county and our local businesses will soon be at a severe disadvantage without fiber internet. We’re all glad it is finally here.

Nevada County High Speed Internet
The Green shading is the Race Communications coverage for Phase 1. 

FCC Pai on 5G Future at NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association Conference

Source: telecompetitor.com:

The interview also touched on 5G, where Pai suggested that a promising future for rural markets awaits. Bloomfield pressed Pai on the importance of wired networks, particularly fiber-based, to the future of 5G. Pai agreed and even took it a step further.

“I’ve consistently said that the 5G future isn’t necessarily a wireless one, it’s actually a wired one,” Pai said. “Part of our 5G fast plan, as I’ve called it at the FCC, that’s facilitating America’s superiority [for] 5G technology, involves modernizing our regulations to encourage much more fiber deployment.”

Bucking some conventional wisdom regarding the promise of 5G for rural markets, Pai says he actually sees a promising future there, with one catch though. That promise is largely a fixed 5G promise in Pai’s view, which can help complement carriers who can’t make a business case for fiber everywhere.

“Contrary to what some people have suggested, I actually think 5G has a very promising future in rural America and part of the reason is, in terms of the possibilities of fixed wireless, given the fiber penetration that some of your members have,” he said. “I think the ability of rural telecom carriers to think broadly about the future of these networks and how to extend this great fiber penetration you’ve got, there’s a huge amount of promise there.”

Pai also discussed spectrum management, where he pointed to the FCC’s efforts to make spectrum auctions more accommodating to smaller carriers by reducing the geographic size of spectrum licenses, and thus making spectrum more affordable. He pointed to the upcoming 3.5 GHz auction as an example and told the crowd to stay tuned.

“Stay tuned, there’s a lot of spectrum work yet to be done this year and next, and our hope is more of you will be able to participate,” he said.

Read the full article HERE.

5G in rural America is wishful thinking at mmWave bands. Microsoft Airband has more potential in forested rural regions. SpaceX Airband will be available long before we see 5G in rural America.

 

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.

IMG_1248
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

Bright Fiber Schedules Town Hall About High-Speed Internet Project

The Union:

Race Communications announced Wednesday that a town hall meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30 about the Bright Fiber high-speed internet project.

The town hall — at the Eric Rood Administrative Center, 950 Maidu Ave., Nevada City — will include a 10- to 15-minute presentation followed by a question-and-answer session, said Ally Hetland, with Race Communications, in an email.

“By now, you have heard that Race Communications has acquired Bright Fiber Network, and you’re probably wondering what that means for you as an advocate and supporter of the Bright Fiber project in western Nevada County,” a release states.

Race has said the project will bring a high-speed internet connection to almost 2,000 homes along Highway 174. The project’s completion is expected by May 2020.

Read the rest of The Union Article HERE.

If you plan to attend plan to attend register online: http://www.nvctownhall.eventbrite.com.