Category: Rural Broadband Access

Another independent ISP provides broadband into rural UK communities

Article

County Broadband Bring 1Gbps FTTP Network to Rural Homes in Broughton | ISP Review

From the horse’s mouth

County Broadband

Home Page

Broughton Fibre FTTP Project

Home Page

Press Release

My Comments

County Broadband are a wireless ISP who are offering improved Internet service across most of rural Cambridgeshire and East Anglia in the UK. But they have decided to run a 1Gbps fibre-to-the-premises service in Broughton, Cambridgeshire as a proving ground for deploying this technology in rural villages.

This is similar to the efforts that Gigaclear, B4RN and other small-time rural ISPs are undertaking to enable real broadband expectations in other parts of rural England. In this case it is to provide a viable alternative to substandard ADSL service that may not have a chance of hitting the headline 2Mbps speed thanks to the typically decrepit telephony infrastructure that these areas end up with.

They are announcing the impending arrival of this service through a village hall meeting for the townsfolk on the 4th of August 2017. The ISPReview article raised issues about poor-quality service with BT Openreach saying on their Website that the local street cabinet was mad ready for fibre but this installation was found to be located 3 miles or 4.828 km away from Broughton, without the likelihood of delivering high-speed broadband to that town.

That article also said that, like what has happened in other British rural areas, larger companies would “wake up and smell the bacon” with the intent to service those areas because of the small-time operators offering next-generation Internet in to those areas thus leading to infrastructure-level competition. Of course, there is also the fact that as the town grows, more retail-level ISPs could be offering to use the infrastructure to service that neighbourhood along with mobile telephony providers using the same infrastructure to provide an improved cellular mobile telephony service for that area.

But I also see this as being of benefit to the householders and businesses who want to benefit from what a high-speed Internet connection offers. This is more so where small businesses see the cloud as a way of allowing them to grow up such as for a shop to move from the old cash register towards a fully-electronic POS system as part of “growing up”, or for the hospitality trade to benefit from offering high-speed Wi-Fi Internet as a marketable amenity.

For County Broadband to provide the FTTP fibre-optic infrastructure to Broughton as a proving ground could lead them to better paths for rural broadband improvement. This could mean something like more villages and small towns in East Anglia being wired for next-generation future-proof Internet and perhaps making that area an extension of the Silicon Fen.

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A local community and a council in the UK deliver FTTP to Cotwaldon

Articles

BT Openreach engineer setting up for real Internet in rural Staffordshire press picture courtesy of BT Regional Press Office

BT Openreach engineer setting up for real Internet in rural Staffordshire

Community, council and BT to deliver FTTP to Cotwalton | ThinkBroadband

Public Funding Props Up BT Community Fibre FTTP Broadband Upgrade | ISP Review

From the horse’s mouth

BT Openreach (BT Regional Press Office)

Press Release

My Comments

A typical UK postcode would covers a small neighbourhood represented by a street or something similar but it would typically cover a rural hamlet or small village.

What has just happened lately is that Cotwaldon, a small hamlet in Staffordshire which is represented by one postcode, was to benefit from improved next-generation broadband Internet thanks to a public-private partnership involving that community. This hamlet was able to only benefit from a very slow broadband Internet connection due to it being an ADSL service provided using a long telephone line which I suspect could be decrepit due to it being poorly maintained.

But what has happened lately was for a community partnership to allow households and businesses in that location to benefit from fibre-to-the-premises next-generation broadband. This was facilitated in a public-private manner through the BT Openreach Community Fibre Partnerships which also worked alongside the Superfast Staffordshire next-generation broadband effort funded by the Staffordshire County Council and the UK Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme.

There will be similar activities taking place around some of rural UK as part of the BT Openreach Community Fibre Partnerships as part of “opening up” their FTTP effort to be launched next year. This is with their vision of publicly-funded local broadband-rollout efforts engaging with them to facilitate the rollout of next-generation real broadband Internet in to rural communities.

The BT Openreach press release highlighted some usage scenarios where this technology was relevant to Cotwaldon and its peer communities. One of these affected small business which effectively drives these rural communities – a builder who wanted to use the Internet to communicate with their customers and partners. But there were use cases that affected personal lifestyles such as downloading or streaming AV content reliably, or using online storage services as a data backup facility especially with high-resolution photos.

It is anther effort that brings real broadband to rural communities who are likely to be treated as second-class citizens by the telecommunications industry.

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Congress attempts to restore competition to telephony and Internet in the USA

Article

Eshoo Pushes Bill to Prevent Protectionist State Broadband Laws | Broadband News & DSL Reports

My Comments

AT&T Touch-Tone phone - image courtesy of CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=936797

Is the US telecommunications industry heading back to the days of these phones?

An issue that I have been regularly covering is the reduction of competitive telephony and broadband service in the USA. This is thanks to incumbent “Baby Bell” telcos and cable-TV companies effectively paying state governments to pass legislation to proAhibit local governments from setting up their own broadband infrastructure to compete with these established providers.

The FCC had attempted to use its federal mandate to override these laws but these efforts were being struck down thanks to litigation instigated by these established companies. Again this was leading towards a telecommunications and Internet-service environment that is reminiscent of the “Ma Bell” era, with the price-gouging, poor customer service and onerous terms and conditions.

But Anna Eshoo, a Democrat who represents the Silicon-Valley area in the House of Representatives, had submitted a bill to Congress in order to assure the provision of infrastructure-level competition by local governments and communities. Here, this law – the Community Broadband Act of 2016 (PDF) would prohibit state governments from passing the telco-funded legislation that proscribes this infrastructure.

There is some doubt about the proposed legislation becoming law thanks to the US Congress also being subjected to lobbying and graft from big-business interests including the telecommunications and cable-TV cartels. But most of the US’s consumer-advocacy groups are behind the law in order to defend a competitive telecommunications and Internet market.

One major quote that was called out was the fact that the current situation is placing rural communities at a disadvantage because the “Baby Bells” or cable-TV companies wouldn’t either roll out decent-standard broadband or people in those areas would be paying monopoly prices for poor service.

As I have said before, the telecommunications and Internet-service market in the USA would need to be under strong surveillance in the context of antitrust and competition issues. This would include control over company mergers and acquisitions; and even the issue of whether legal action similar to what was initiated in 1974 with “Ma Bell” needs to take place with Comcast, AT&T and co.

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=936797

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Area-specific infrastructure rollouts could help improve broadband coverage

Elwood streetscape

A neighbourhood to be targeted by competitive Internet service

I have followed a fair bit of information about independent ISPs and infrastructure providers are providing or facilitating a high-quality broadband service in to areas where established providers aren’t caring about the standard of broadband Internet service.

Firstly, I have observed situations that have happened in the UK where small-time ISPs have rolled out next-generation infrastructure in to rural areas typically provisioned with old and decrepit telephony infrastructure so that they can benefit from real broadband service. Some of these providers like B4RN are community-owned co-operatives where the local community even put a hand to the plough and help with laying the infrastructure.

Even a broadband rollout in one of these buildings by a competitive operator could see another competitive rollout

Even a broadband rollout in one of these buildings by a competitive operator could see another competitive rollout

But in a lot of these situations, BT Openreach who is the incumbent infrastructure provider, have been forced to improve their game when it comes to rolling out the infrastructure in to rural areas.

Secondly, in urban and suburban areas, the situation may also require the existence of competitively-deployed infrastructure in order to assure proper coverage and access to next-generation broadband across these areas. This has happened in some Australian apartment blocks where TPG set up next-generation broadband in these buildings and this caused NBN to deploy their infrastructure in that building. The USA has also seen situations where the fact that a Google Fiber rollout was in the planning stage had “put the wind up” established “Baby Bell” telecommunications companies who then started rolling out next-generation broadband service in to the affected neighbourhoods.

This kind of competition can be approached in the form of “pits, poles and pipes” level where competitors legally have access to the same ductwork or poles or on a wires level where some of the fibre or copper wiring such as in-building wiring or street-to-building wiring can be used by competitors to provide their services.

The big question that will be raised from the success of these next-generation broadband rollouts where a competing service provider or infrastructure provider had established their footprint thus causing an incumbent service provider to roll out their infrastructure in to that area is whether this kind of rollout expedites the provisioning of this service or slows it down. This can be underscored where a small-time ISP, infrastructure provider, co-operative or developer undertakes this activity with a view to see full-area coverage with themselves wanting to reach out to neighbouring communities.

Some people would see this kind of competitive rollout as a form of “cherry-picking” where certain neighbourhoods are being provided with next-generation broadband while others aren’t even though entities based in that neighbourhood are instigating the coverage. On the other hand, the fact that a competing service is about to exist could be seen as a way to encourage the incumbent telco, ISP or infrastructure provider to get going and start rolling out broadband service in to the area covered by the competitor.

This behaviour may be seen when an operator starts work on a particular neighbourhood then rolls out the coverage to more of the surrounding neighbourhoods. They may also be tackling other neighbourhoods in a larger geographic area like a nation or a large urban area.

There is also the issue of whether a retail ISP could offer coverage across one or more competitively-laid infrastructures, which may be about assuring that they are accessible wherever a potential customer lives or works. Business users and potential data-centre builders may look at this in the context of implementing fail-safe Internet service to suit their needs.

Some issues that may be raised would include the number of people or businesses existing in an area to determine whether a competitive Internet service is sustainable and determining how much competition must exist in a particular area.

This situation has to be assessed whenever an area’s dynamics change. For example, an urban area becoming more dense may affect these dynamics as is a rural, regional or suburban area acquiring a significant source of employment or improved transport to a neighbouring urban area rich with employment or business opportunities.

In the latter situation, a significant employer or improved transport could attract more people living in the town and neighbouring towns along with more businesses and professionals servicing the town’s needs.

What really needs to be looked at is the possibility of area-specific rollouts as a way to increase the availability of real broadband in a town or other similar area. This is while a sustainable level of competition exists to assure households and businesses access to Internet service that represents real value for money.

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Why is New Zealand pushing forward with fibre-optic broadband?

Article New Zealand map

New Zealand reaps fibre benefits as copper-choked UK risks digital exclusion | Computer Weekly

My Comments

What is the broadband Internet scenario in New Zealand

Like Australia, UK and a lot of European countries, New Zealand started off with Telecom NZ which a telecommunications monopoly that was initially run as part of a government-run post / telephone / telegraph service. In order to assure competition, Telecom NZ was split in to an infrastructure entity called Chorus and a retail services entity called Spark in 2011, something that is very similar to how Openreach in the UK and NBN in Australia are operating.

Chorus provide a DSL-based wholesale broadband Internet service with the infrastructure being provided on an unbundled local-loop basis. There is the ability for these services to be sold with a classic dial-tone telephony service or as a “naked” or “dry-loop” service that doesn’t have this service.

They provide a fibre-copper next-generation broadband service for 91% of New Zealand’s households with a throughput of at least 10Mbps – could most of these services implement VDSL2 technology? But they are also providing fibre-to-the-premises in some cities with some services benefit from Gigabit throughput in a few neighbourhoods.

Vodafone New Zealand are providing competitive Internet service in some of New Zealand’s urban areas namely Kapiti, Wellington and Christchurch but this is based around cable-modem technology thanks to them taking over TelstraClear’s HFC cable service. But they want to make sure of a fibre backbone infrastructure throughout both of the islands. Citylink also provides their own infrastructure to Auckland and Wellighton central-business districts.

New Zealand’s main ISPs are Vodafone, Spark, CallPlus with Slingshot and Orcon, 2degrees, Trustpower and REANNZ.

Rural Broadband

New Zealand are approaching the rural broadband situation through use of fixed-wireless technology with Vodafone and Spark offering retail broadband to those markets. But Vodafone and Chorus are setting a goal of at least 5Mbps bandwidth to 86% of rural customers. This includes Chorus implementing fibre backbones to Vodafone’s mobile towers, and most of the schools, libraries and health providers in New Zealand’s rural districts. It also includes establishing more of the cabinets associated with FTTN fibre-copper service in to rural districts to “push out” the bandwidth coverage.

Chorus even started off a Gigatown competition where a town could be set up for Gigabit broadband as the norm in a similar manner to some of the “Gigacities” that are happening in the UK. The town that won the competition ended up being Dunedin.

Next-generation broadband effort

The New Zealand Government are behind the provisioning of fibre-to-the-premises in all of New Zealand’s main urban centres that have a population of at least 10000. This is being backed by Chorus and the local electricity utilities, with an initial goal of 75% but now 80% since 2015.

This has been achieved through having more of the FTTN (fibre-copper) areas converted towards FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises) along with placing the FTTN cabinets nearer more of the rural population areas – it could be feasible to benefit from decent cost-effective broadband down at that bach you use as a “bolt-hole”.

Why push ahead with fibre broadband?

An article that I read called out why New Zealand is pushing ahead with fibre-to-the-premises rather than “sweating out” copper infrastructure for their broadband infrastructure. This in in comparison with what Openreach is doing in the UK and, to some extent, NBN in Australia where they are preferring to deploy fibre-copper technology seeing it as being cheaper to deploy than fibre-to-the-premises.

Here, it called out the situation in the UK compared to what is happening in New Zealand where the UK central government along with Openreach haven’t been supporting innovation when it comes to providing Internet service.  They highlighted the fact that the Kiwi government were willing to risk more money with a view to see a prosperous country with the benefit of an increased tax base thanks to increased Internet bandwidth and the fact that it could draw more business there. They also were seeing a network that was also cheaper when it came to operational costs such as being more energy-efficient. They also underscored that cellular-technology mobile networks can benefit thanks to many smaller base stations (microcells and picocells) connected by fibre-optic backbones rather than few large towers for the same coverage.

Conclusion

Governments on a national, regional and local level need to support deployment of next-generation technology that can do the job properly. It also includes supporting and protecting a competitive Internet-service marketplace at the infrastructure and retail levels in a manner that empowers value-for-money and service differentiation.

The benefits that these governments can achieve include a stronger financial benefit including a GDP uptick courtesy of the newer technology and businesses wanting to set up shop in that country; along with a future-proof technology approach that answers many realities.

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Australia looks towards integrating Internet as a universal service

Article

Broadband router lights

Could broadband be considered part of the Universal Service Obligation in Australia?

Making Internet Access A Right, Not A Privilege | Gizmodo Australia

From the horse’s mouth

Productivity Commission

Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation (Inquiry Page)

My Comments

An issue that I have previously covered is the universal service obligation being extended to broadband Internet service. The universal service obligation is a minimum standard for providing telecommunications services across a country or other jurisdiction with it being funded through different paths like government funding and/or a levy on telecommunications services that are being provided with this funding subsidising financially-difficult service-provisioning scenarios such as rural areas. In some cases, it also includes having the jurisdiction’s welfare system cover the provision of these services to eligible disadvantaged people through a special benefit or subsidised services.

Some jurisdictions have started taking action towards this goal such as through establishing a minimum bandwidth for Internet services. Now Australia’s Productivity Commission are investigating the possibility of extending the Australian Universal Service Obligation beyond landline voice telephony to broadband Internet service of a minimum standard. This is due to a reality that most of the business that people engage in, especially the essential tasks like applying for jobs or government services, is being performed via Internet-based technologies rather than by voice phone calls.

The Productivity Commission’s goal is to make sure that a reasonable-standard broadband Internet service is accessible to all Australians. This includes assurance of access by people living in rural, regional or remote areas where it would normally be costly to provide proper broadband service; along with assuring access to these services by disabled people or those who have financial hardship.

They want to have a technology-neutral approach but with a minimum upload and download bandwidth. This also includes a minimum benchmark for assured reliability and data throughput. Like the original Universal Service Obligation, this extension to encompass broadband Internet service will be publicly funded in various ways.

A good question that can be raised is whether the Universal Service Obligation will cover fixed telephony and Internet services only or will be extended to mobile setups which can be considered by some as a “discretionary service”.

Personally, I would recommend that there is investigation regarding how other countries have approached Internet service as part of the Universal Service Obligation, including the kind of benefits that have been provided to disabled or disadvantaged users for this service by the nation’s welfare platform. As well, investigating the role of competition including at the infrastructure level in providing decent broadband Internet that is affordable and accessible for all.

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NBN now offers British-style infrastructure-upgrade programs

Article – From the horse’s mouth

NBN

Area Switch product page

My Comments

You may have seen some articles on HomeNetworking01.info about how various local entities in the UK have gone about bringing an underserved community like a rural area up to current Internet-service expectations.

Here, an entity that is either a community collective in the case of B4RN who are pushing out FTTP fibre broadband to Northern-England villages or a private company in the case of Gigaclear pushing FTTP fibre broadband to small towns and villages in the Home Counties has worked alongside local government and the local citizenry to achieve these goals.

Australia’s NBN have headed towards a mixed-technology approach similar to BT Openreach in the UK. But they have offered an “area-switch” technology upgrade that can affect areas ranging from an apartment block to a town or suburb. This can be co-ordinated by a representative group like a building’s owner-corporation, a neighbourhood association, a local council or even a state government.

This will allow a area covered by satellite or fixed-wireless NBN technology to be upgraded to a wired technology or allow a fibre-copper setup (FTTN, FTTB or HFC) setup to be upgraded to FTTP full-fibre technology.

Like the other rollouts, the areas concerned must be contiguous such as having all premises in a street or all units in a multi-premises development covered. Similarly, there will be a requirement to have the work performed when the area of concerned is being prepared for the NBN deployment or, in the case of a satellite or fixed-wireless upgrade, a neighbouring town is being equipped with a wired setup.

The main problem with the NBN approach is that it’s like BT Openreach offering a similar service in the UK – they could wrap communities around their thumbs by, for example, charging too much or delaying rollouts. The Australian Government need to look at what has been going on in the UK with the likes of B4RN, Gigaclear and Hyperoptic where these organisations have established their own infrastructure to answer broadband-service problems by compete with the established provider.

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Cable One pushes towards a Gigabit Arizona city

Article

Cable One Launches Gigabit Speeds in Arizona | Broadband News & DSL Reports

From the horse’s mouth

Cable One

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

In some areas, a small firm focuses on providing next-generation broadband to those areas, whether be FTTC fibre-copper (VDSL2), FTTP fibre-optic or HFC fibre-coaxial. This allows them to concentrate on enriching those areas’ Internet service and has been taking place mainly in rural UK.

Now this practice is taking place in some parts of the USA, especially Arizona, thanks to Cable One. Here they have rolled out in to Cottonwood and Clarkdale a DOCSIS 3.0 HFC service which can yield 1Gigabit/second downstream and 50 Megabit/second upstream. The cost of this service, known as Gigabit One, will be US$175/month with a 500Gb data plan, but will make sure it is able to be delivered across all of both towns. There are other plans being put up for this service including one that has a 2000Gb allowance.

It is the first of the cable-based firms to offer a Gigabit service and has been seen as a way to call those small towns “Gigabit cities”. But the idea of smaller companies focusing on smaller neighbourhoods allows them to concentrate on making sure that these neighbourhoods can benefit from current technology and may even allow larger businesses to set up shop there especially when they want to encourage telecommuting.

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B4RN video which describes how they brought real broadband to the country

Article

VIDEO How B4RN’s Community 1Gbps FTTP Broadband Network Began | ISPReview.co.uk

From the horse’s mouth

B4RN

Promo video – Click / Tap to play

Digging For The Future video – Click / Tap to play

My Comments

If you are wanting to know what B4RN is all about, have a look at these two videos which underscore this effort.

Here, it is about the local community preparing a local fibre-optic infrastructure to bring in Gigabit-class real broadband in to their rural area in the North of England. This was more so where BT Openreach were showing very little attention to the rural areas, with them claiming they would offer 95% coverage of the UK and rural communities questioning which areas will represent the 5% that will miss out.

There is an emphasis on the community-focused effort where everyone pitches in to prepare and lay down the infrastructure for this fibre-optic service. The second video, “Digging For The Future”, even had a glimpse at a network-speed-test screenshot where the application’s needle hit the maximum, showing that there is real high-speed broadband available here.

I would see this and the Gigaclear efforts as a point of encouragement for country dwellers who fear they are being treated like second-class citizens when it comes to next-generation broadband.

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Using school buses to provide Internet to poorer communities

Articles

Yellow school bus - Wikimedia Commons image courtesy of H, Michael Miley

These yellow school buses are being used not just for transporting schoolchildren but to provide Internet to poorer communities in the US

Wi-Fi-enabled school buses leave no child offline | PBS Newshour

Wi-Fi-Enabled Bus Connects Students in Poor Calif. Community | Education Week

What to do for kids with no internet at home? How about parking a wifi-enabled school bus near their trailer park? | Hechinger Report

How one of the poorest districts in the US pipes Wi-Fi to families – using school buses | The Register

My Comments

Coachella Valley in California is a rural community often associated with one of the trendiest rock music festivals in the USA. But when the musicians and fans pack up and leave this district, it reverts to having the attributes of a highly-disadvantaged rural community based primarily around trailer parks including lack of decent Internet access.

This is a situation that has been found to hold back secondary students who want to push on with their studies especially as today’s method of learning is focused towards online learning. One of many situations was that families were heading out to Starbucks or McDonalds or their schools’ parking lots to use the on-site Wi-Fi public-access Internet service. Another situation was a student staying back late at the school to complete an online assignment because their family couldn’t trust the Internet connection they had back at home.

But the Coachella Valley Unified School District have provided an innovative way of solving this problem by implementing in-vehicle Wi-Fi Internet connectivity in the school buses. Each bus implements a modem router connected to a mobile broadband service and dispersing the Internet access inside the bus and to 100 yards (91.44 metres) from the bus, similar to what some premium bus routes are doing. This network is set up for the school students to use through the use of particular software installed on the students’ tablets.

This setup would work when the vehicle is underway during a school-bus run but the school district wanted to run this setup with vehicles that are parked. They tried it out running the modem routers off the vehicle’s batteries alone but it could run for an hour with the batteries not providing enough juice to start the bus’s engine after that hour.

So one of the teachers put forward a solar-based solution to supply enough power from a roof-mounted solar panel array to run the modem router and in-vehicle network. Here, this didn’t put strain on the vehicle’s batteries thus avoiding the risk of losing the power needed to turn the engine over on a cold morning.

The buses would be parked in the trailer parks or near the communities so that students can wander down with their portable computing equipment to do the necessary study while under adult supervision. For example, if the community has a clubhouse or community hall, the bus would be near that facility.

There are further plans for the Coachella Valley Unified School District to take this concept further such as using donated or salvaged cars for the same purpose or even creating a community-access Wi-Fi Internet service. The usual remarks that I would most likely hear in relationship to enabling a disadvantaged community with real broadband is that such broadband services will end up being used for pornography viewing which would lead on to a downward family-abuse spiral.

Personally, I would also like to see the Coachella Valley Unified School District approach Google and others who roll out competitive broadband service to target the areas in the school district’s remit for competitive real-broadband service. Similarly, the school district could work toward helping the adults in their community by providing onsite public-access Internet facilities like an Internet café or Wi-Fi hotspot in these communities.

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