Farmer’s Tan and Washington Broadband

It’s been a lovely Easter weekend, our first to hit 70 degrees this year. I managed to plant some flowers, but that is all I’ve done to prepare for spring. I do, however, have a great start on my farmer’s tan.

In the “Who Knew?” department is this tidbit of information: The Washington State Department of Commerce has a five year program, the Washington State Broadband Office. (Yes, it was news to me, and I keep track of these things.) If you click on Mapping, you can view their interactive map which will tell you if you have broadband in your area and who the providers are. There are also tools for communities who want inital or better access to broadband for their areas, including grants for training.  They even have a Twitter feed!

If you aren’t in Washington, try looking up a “broadband office” for your state. It most likely will be part of the Commerce department.

Broadband, at Last!

As of noon today, all three houses on the farm were hooked up to high-speed DSL. We’ve been waiting for a decade for this and today it finally happened. It’s almost unbelievable.

Frontier, a smaller telco company, recently bought all the rural telephone lines across the nation from Verizon, with the ideal of providing fiber broadband to every one of their customers. Then they started rewiring every area that was still without a connection. They installed new equipment, hired new, locally-based customer service representatives, and started contacting customers, letting them know that broadband was coming.

Frontier has discovered that rural broadband can be profitable. Once the capital cost of the initial equipment and wiring is covered, the return on investment can be quite good, providing management maintains a handle on costs. Distance will diminish profits somewhat but does not eliminate them. In a down market, Frontier is growing and hiring, simply by providing services to rural areas.

The adoption rate around here, I’m sure, is going to be high. A number of neighbors called me, asking if it was really true that we were going to get a high-speed connection. They wanted to sign up right away. Then, the techs who came to install my system said they already had 200 requests for new connections that weekend.

Today, I dropped some of the last squash to be harvested at The Neighbor’s house. She, in the few days she’s had broadband, has discovered online gaming. She took the pumpkin and carnival squash from my hands and, without even setting them down, went back to slaying the enemy’s cavalry before they overran her castle. Apparently, she said, there is no pause. I have an indelible image in my mind of her hacking at the enemy troops while cradling squash in her left arm. Truly, she’s a bonafide rural geek.

Wild, Wild West – Part 2

Today, a link to a Missoula news story flipped across my twitter feed. It announces a new fiber cable broadband system covering 300 miles across both the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal areas. In combining this new system with existing networks, most of the state from the Rockies to Idaho will be wired. This means that by 2013, Western Montana is going to have quite an extensive broadband capability across an huge area that also provides beautiful scenary, lots of land, and a motivated workforce. Now that’s a recipe for a robust economy!

So, how does Washington State compare? Not well. We may have the fastest speed in the U.S. (Ephrata, at 27Mbps download), but very little of the state has any coverage at all. Many areas within an hour’s drive of the big Microsoft campus are shockingly underserved.

Tsk,tsk,tsk…

The Wild, Wild West

Sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find something like this: Wyoming Town Creates Broadband Bonanza. It’s a good thing, too, because the latest report shows that rural areas without broadband could be in a sorry state, economically: 

“While broadband will not bring immediate economic transformation to rural America, regions that lack broadband will be crippled.” – Sharon Strover, Researcher, University of Texas

Eureka!

Here I am in Eureka Montana, enjoying amazing broadband connectivity from my little cabin in the woods. I’m absolutely floored by this. This corner of the West has broadband and excellent speed to go with it. Who knew?

Cell phone coverage, on the other hand, is completely non-existant. The only provider out here is Verizon. AT&T, apparently, pulled their towers from this region and left their customers without coverage. When you say T-mobile, everyone here says, “Who?” So, my phone is useless.

But I can Skype! I think I’ll go download a movie now. Hee hee…

If Vermont can do it…

…why can’t we? Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont has said Internet access is a necessity, and he has pledged to bring broadband to every last mile of the state by 2013. How can fiber optic companies reach the remotest areas of the state without breaking the bank? They are using draft horses.

Yes, and being successful at it. See Draft horses bring fiber optics to remote locations. They are laying lines in the most remote places and by 2013, everyone in Vermont will have access.

<rant alert> I live less than an hour’s drive from the main Microsoft campus, 52 minutes from downtown Seattle, yet have no broadband available – no cable, no DSL, no cellular wifi. There are no plans for at least the next several years in this state to bring broadband to rural spaces. We’ve been cherry-picked as less-than-desirable by access providers. I almost feel as though farming is a pre-existing condition to them. <end of rant>

The Open Internet and Rural Broadband

On April 8th, (yes, that was just this last Friday during the big budget debate) the House passed   H. J. RES. 37 concerning the openess of the internet. This is what the bill says, in its entirelty: 

    Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission relating to the matter of preserving the open Internet and broadband industry practices (Report and Order FCC 10-201, adopted by the Commission on December 21, 2010), and such rule shall have no force or effect.

So, what does that mean? Here is the text of Report and Order FCC 10-201. It is concerned with the limitiations that internet service providers are allowed to place on users and content. It significantly curtails “the ability of broadband providers to favor or disfavor Internet traffic to the detriment of innovation, investment, competition, public discourse, and end users.” In other words, it keeps the internet open and accessible. H. J. RES. 37 would kill the FCC’s ability to keep the internet neutral.

The Senate version is S.J.RES.6. and has not been passed yet. Need I mention that this may indeed be the perfect time to contact your Senator to ensure that this resolution not be passed?

In other congressional news, a new bill, HR 1083 – Rural Broadband Initiative Act, introduced March 15th, amends the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 to establish in the Department of Agriculture (USDA) the Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives. Is the USDA the right department to handle rural broadband? Truly, I don’t know, but somebody needs to ensure that broadband reaches us. Frankly, rural broadband is not going to happen if we merely encourage private enterprise to provide it. It’s going to take another act like the ones that brought electricity and telephones to every house in the country.

The bill I really like is Maria Cantwell’s S.74: Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection Act of 2011. It ensures net neutrality by amending the Communications Act of 1934 which regulates common carriers. Someone has to because corporations won’t.

What Really Works

Tabasco, apparently, doesn’t. The horses decided that they didn’t mind some chile marinade and started in on the fencing again. We tried some commercial products and they didn’t fare much better. The Neighbor, then, had a brilliant idea of using deer repellent. Hey, an herbivore is an herbivore, right?

It worked perfectly. It has to be reapplied after it rains, but it sure keeps the horses away from the fencing. Lovely!

Today, I had a nice chat with a delightful representative at Frontier, which is the small company that bought all the rural telephone land lines from Verizon. Their idea has been to bring broadband into the areas that were underserved by Verizon. So far, they’ve added close to 200,000 new DSL customers just by updating the wiring. They are within a mile and a half and I have all my fingers crossed, hoping they get here soon.

I know that there are more rural geeks out there, those who believe in the benefits of high tech and yet love the country life. I’d like to hear from you. What are your rural aspirations? Do you believe online gaming and agriculture can exist together? (Farmville, anyone?) I’d really like to know what you think.

Fair Access Policy and Tabasco Fencing

I did something unprecedented yesterday: I took a VoIP call over the satellite connection and it actually worked. There was a substantial delay which made a multi-person conference…interesting, to say the least. But it worked.

Well, it worked until the Fair Access Policy kicked in (about 20 minutes). The FAP limits all users to 300Mb per day. Yes, that’s Mb, not Gb. When it comes to the cutting edge technologies that most geeks love to do online, this is a rediculous limit. I can answer email, use my IM, surf the web, download a few mp3s, and watch a YouTube video or two. Other activities, such as online gaming, downloading video of any serious length, backing up my system online, using VoIP for any length of time, or any of the other things that require serious bandwidth, are completely out of the question.

When I reach the FAP limit, the connection slows to a crawl, about 20K, for the rest of the day. For those who work at home like me, this almost guarantees that the work day is over. (It takes 5 minutes to open an email at those speeds.) This means that I have to be quite careful about what I do to ensure that I can get through the day.

I have two options, neither of which is particularly appetizing. I can save the higher bandwidth items for late night downloading, between midnight and 4 am, or pay $100 for 500Mb per day. I’m not wild about either. Who wants to do work at 3 in the morning?

And now, for something completely different…

Earlier today, the draft horses decided that the main posts holding the majority of the fence in place needed to be trimmed. They took it upon themselves to chew the heck out of them. So, the Sister and I decided that we needed to dissuade such behaviour. At first, we tried a corn oil/black pepper concoction. Sunny hated it but Meme (aptly named since everything is about her) thought that the pepper gave the post a lovely marinade and licked the whole thing before continuing her woody feast. We had to try something more persuasive: Tobasco! We broke into (okay, we have a key) the Neighbor’s house and stole some of the pungent stuff. (Yeah, we’ll be replacing it.) It took Meme quite a bit of pole tasting before discovering that it was no longer quite right. There was then hesitation, followed by some lip curling, and then a lot of lip licking. If looks could insult, we would both have been soundly belittled. As of tonight, the post still stands, whole and complete, and the Belgians are out in the far shelter, pouting.

Through all this, the quarter horse watched in boredom, saying, “Really? A fence post for dinner? You’ve got to be kidding.”