Tag Archives: broadband

Urban networks showed strain but generally held up as Californians began sheltering in place

by Steve Blum • ,

https://haasinstitute.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/haas_broadband_042417-singles.pdf

Most broadband networks in urban California managed the load well as covid–19 shelter in place orders began taking effect, according to speed data analysed by BroadbandNow, a broadband sales website. The underlying data came from Measurement Lab, an open source Internet monitoring project that includes universities, foundations and major tech corporations among its members.

BroadbandNow compared the median download speed in the 200 largest U.S. cities (34 of which are in California) during the week of 15 to 21 March 2020 to the median speed range for the prior weeks of 2020. That’s the week that began with Bay Area counties imposing lockdowns and ended with a statewide quarantine order from governor Gavin Newsom.

Broadband speeds in 21 cities, mostly in southern and central California, stayed within 2020 ranges. The 13 that saw decreases were evenly split between the north and south.

San Jose, which along with Fremont had the slowest median speed, ran 38% under its prior 2020 range, the second worst in the state. Oxnard was hit the hardest in California, with a 42% drop in median Internet service speeds, which was also the second worst in the U.S.

I’m not reading too much into these numbers yet. The week of 15–21 March was an uneven scramble of lockdown orders and efforts to comply. The following week’s data, when all Californians were under more or less the same regime, will be more telling.

City                           Median download speed (Mbps) 15–21 March 2020% Below prior 2020 median range
Oxnard44–42%
San Jose29–38%
Irvine54–20%
Torrance49–15%
San Diego44–13%
Moreno Valley30–12%
Sacramento31–11%
Hayward51–10%
Santa Rosa59–10%
San Francisco38–8%
Oakland53–7%
Huntington Beach82–4%
Glendale53–2%
Anaheim48In range
Bakersfield31In range
Chula Vista40In range
Corona52In range
Escondido44In range
Fontana38In range
Fremont24In range
Fresno34In range
Garden Grove42In range
Lancaster64In range
Long Beach41In range
Los Angeles41In range
Modesto34In range
Oceanside45In range
Palmdale59In range
Riverside40In range
Salinas53In range
San Bernardino45In range
Santa Ana30In range
Stockton38In range
Whittier53In range

Source: BroadbandNow

California’s mountain counties get failing broadband grades, urban areas top the report card

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

California broadband infrastructure report card map 24mar2020 625

The worst broadband infrastructure in California is, not surprisingly, found in mountain counties at the north end of the state. Trinity and Siskiyou counties both get “F” grades for broadband infrastructure, with a numerical score of dead zero. Sierra County likewise gets an “F”, with a numerical score of 0.03 that’s effectively zero. It is also the county with the highest percentage of population – 88% – without any access to wireline broadband service. It’s a serious problem for rural residents as business, education, health care and education move almost exclusively online during the covid–19 lockdown.

As the map above and the tables below show, the best broadband infrastructure in California can be found in San Francisco and Alameda County, and in Los Angeles and Orange counties, and it generally gets worse the farther you get from those two hubs.

The Worst

County            Broadband Report Card GradeGPAPercent of Population at Zero service
TrinityF0.0083%
SiskiyouF0.0017%
HumboldtF0.0115%
MariposaF0.0124%
ModocF0.0150%
LassenF0.0256%
SierraF0.0388%
AlpineF0.0483%
PlumasF0.1335%
InyoF0.1716%

The Best

County            Broadband Report Card GradeGPAPercent of Population at Zero service
AlamedaB-2.773%
San FranciscoB-2.731%
San MateoC+2.631%
Contra CostaC+2.401%
SacramentoC+2.302%
Santa ClaraC+2.273%
Los AngelesC2.091%
OrangeC1.973%
San JoaquinC-1.895%
StanislausC-1.884%

The grades are based on a methodology I first developed in 2013 for the East Bay Broadband Consortium, and have since been updating on a statewide basis for the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and other such regional organisations. It uses the broadband speed and technology claims that Internet service providers submit to the California Public Utilities Commission and Federal Communications Commission every year – the most recent data set is current as of 31 December 2018. The underlying data are not very accurate, but it is precise in the sense that companies tend to be consistent about the way they exaggerate coverage. That makes it useful for comparative purposes, which is what the California Broadband Infrastructure Report Card is all about.

The best broadband infrastructure in California is found in the Bay Area and Sacramento, and the Los Angeles/Orange County core. Those two counties straddle California’s “C” average. The large share of the state’s population those counties represent means what’s available to people there is going to look a lot like what’s available to the average Californian.

San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties also made the top 10 due to upgrades by AT&T, which claims to have built fiber to the premise systems in about 16% of the census blocks (but not necessarily throughout whole census blocks) in those two counties, and Vast Network’s middle mile fiber infrastructure, which runs through a lot of census blocks but isn’t available to homes or most businesses. It’s similar story in Fresno County. The grades reflect infrastructure deployments rather than service availability, so for a lot of Central Valley communities it’s water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.

California Broadband Infrastructure Report Card, 24 March 2020
Central Coast Broadband Consortium wireline broadband availability analysis (22 March 2020 revision), per 31 December 2018 data
Central Coast Broadband Consortium Broadband Infrastructure Grading Methodology, 20 March 2020
Achieving Ubiquitous Broadband Coverage in the Monterey Bay Region, Monterey Bay Economic Partnership, November 2018

California’s broadband gaps affect millions as corona virus lockdown continues

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

San benito pole route 13apr2019

At least 1.5 million Californians – 4% of the state’s population – cannot get wireline broadband in their homes, as the second week of the corona virus lock down begins. That’s what the most recently published broadband availability reports filed with the California Public Utilities Commission show. Nearly twice that many – 2.8 million people, 8% of the population – don’t have access to primary wireline service that delivers 100 Mbps download/20 Mbps upload speeds, the minimum service level needed for in-home work, education, health care and entertainment. The dead spots are disproportionately found in rural communities.

That’s the top line result from the number crunching I’ve been doing, as part of the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s (CCBC) efforts over the past few days. Like other regional broadband consortia around California, the CCBC is working to identify broadband access gaps and resources to fill them for the 40 million Californians ordered to stay at home. The raw data are the broadband service claims filed by primary wireline Internet service providers – the companies that own the copper and fiber – as of 31 December 2018, which is the most recent data set available. I ran the data for the 58 counties in California, with breakouts for cities, unincorporated communities (AKA census designated places) and tribal areas – it’s pretty much as easy to do it for all 58 counties as it is to do it for one (or the CCBC’s three – San Benito, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties).

The analysis includes:

  • Infrastructure grade (A, B, C, D, F). The grading methodology is here.
  • Median household income estimates.
  • Population, percentage of population, number of housing units and percentage of housing units, as of 2019 estimates, with zero access to wireline broadband service.
  • Population, percentage of population, number of housing units and percentage of housing units able to access primary wireline broadband service at 6 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload, 10 Mbps/1 Mbps, 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, 100 Mbps/20 Mbps, 1,000 Mbps/500 Mbps.

The data is not particularly accurate, as is widely acknowledged, but it is precise in the sense that the inaccuracies tend to be consistent across a provider’s data set. It is sufficiently precise for the purpose of comparing one place to another, and for generally assessing broadband availability in a given county, city or other area. I’ll be writing more about it in the coming days, and welcome any ideas or critiques.

Central Coast Broadband Consortium wireline broadband availability analysis (22 March 2020 revision), per 31 December 2018 data
Central Coast Broadband Consortium Broadband Infrastructure Grading Methodology, 20 March 2020
Achieving Ubiquitous Broadband Coverage in the Monterey Bay Region, Monterey Bay Economic Partnership, November 2018

Fixed, mobile North American broadband speeds will more than double by 2023, Cisco study says

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Cisco forecast 2018 2023

More and more people around the world will have access to faster and faster broadband connections, with speeds for fixed and mobile service doubling and tripling by 2023, due in large part to increased global deployment of fiber to the premise and 5G technology, according to a white paper recently published by Cisco. Although North America will continue to beat world broadband speed averages, the U.S. will not be among the leaders in advanced infrastructure deployment.

Cisco’s research indicates that the average North American mobile broadband connection in 2018 ran at 22 Mbps, and that will nearly triple to 58 Mbps by 2023. 5G networks will own a large share of that increase, but the U.S. won’t earn a podium spot…

The top three 5G countries in terms of percent of devices and connections share on 5G will be China (20.7%), Japan (20.6%), and United Kingdom (19.5%), by 2023.

Globally, fixed broadband speeds will also jump, particularly in countries that, unlike the U.S., are focused on making fiber infrastructure ubiquitous…

The global average broadband speed continues to grow and will more than double from 2018 to 2023, from 45.9 Mbps to 110.4 Mbps…Several factors influence the fixed broadband-speed forecast, including the deployment and adoption of Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH), high-speed DSL, and cable broadband adoption, as well as overall broadband penetration. Among the countries covered by this study, Japan, South Korea, and Sweden lead in terms of broadband speed largely because of their wide deployment of FTTH.

North America’s average fixed broadband download speed will be comfortably above the global average at 142 Mbps by 2023, according to the white paper. That only earns us second place on the world league table, though. Asia will still be tops at 157 Mbps, and higher growth rates – 30% annually or better – in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa mean that the gap between U.S. broadband speeds and those in the developing world will continue to close.

4K is the video, and consequently broadband, standard in 2020

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Samsung booth ces 8jan2020

Fears that Internet routers and switches will melt under an onslaught of 8K-enabled cord cutters can be put aside for a few years, according to projections released by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). But the number of U.S. households with 4K screens will continue to grow rapidly, and that will be problematic enough for broadband service providers: 25 Mbps download speeds will be the minimum needed to serve the typical U.S. home.

8K is a big screen technology. According to Steve Koenig, CTA’s vice president of research, those sets are in the 70-inch and up range, which is more limited market – not everybody wants something that big in the living room (although the same could have been said about 40-inch to 50-inch screens a few years ago). He projects half a million 8K screen shipped into the U.S. market in 2020, which is a drop in the bucket, particularly considering that many, if not most, of those will be used for commercial and industrial applications.

On the other hand, CTA’s projections show 4K sets hitting a steady state shipment rate in the upper 20 million annual unit range for the next three years, climbing to 32 million by 2023. Using the same, back of the envelope calculations that I used a couple of years ago, that means that about half of U.S. homes have 4K screens now, and that share will climb to at least three quarters by the end of 2021. We’re to the point where 4K resolution is the market standard, and it’ll soon be almost as hard to buy anything less as it is to find a black and white TV set now.

4K video needs a steady 15 Mbps stream to function in real time, and to have a fighting chance of getting that bit rate consistently requires service specced at 25 Mbps download speeds or better. That’s the minimum set for rural homes by the federal agriculture department, and it’s the FCC’s de facto minimum as well.

California’s pitiful 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up standard has to change too.

Caltrans floats “Dig Smart” ideas to put more broadband conduit in the ground

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

California’s department of transportation, AKA Caltrans, is a step closer to actively collaborating with broadband service providers and local governments to put more conduit in California’s thousands of miles of state highways and make it available. It published a Dig Smart white paper that summarises “dig once” policies that have already been adopted by cities and other states. Those policies are intended to ease the way for telecoms companies to install conduit when road construction or utility excavation projects happen, and to encourage them to take advantage of the opportunity.

The white paper doesn’t offer any hard recommendations, but it does outline policies “which may be investigated” by Caltrans as it moves ahead with implementing a law – assembly bill 1549 – which was passed four years ago…

  • Resource Sharing
    • State [departments of transportation] make agreements with service providers to exchange the use of right-of-way
      or existing conduit infrastructure for the use of fiber optic services
  • Joint-Trench Agreements
    • Require providers of broadband services and other utilities to install infrastructure at the same time, in the same trench, or in the same conduit, and share the cost of installing the infrastructure
  • Moratorium on excavation to preserve new roadway construction and encourage utility coordination planning
  • Encourage the use of trenchless technologies, such as:
    • Horizontal Directional Drilling: A trenchless method of installing underground pipes,
      conduits and cables along a prescribed bore path by using a surface-launched drilling rig
    • Micro-Trenching: Digging a small trench just inches under the road surface along the
      curb line to install fiber optic lines
  • Information Sharing
    • Provide access to fiber, conduit and projects maps
    • Notify telecommunication companies of projects where broadband infrastructure can be
      installed
  • Reduce permitting costs and wait time for projects which implement coordinated utility planning

If you’re interested in the topic, the white paper provides an interesting overview of dig once programs at the state, local and federal levels. There’s no timeline for adopting a comprehensive dig once, or dig smart, policy, but the agency is moving in that direction. Caltrans is often criticised for being slow to change, but the flip side is that once its gets moving, it moves relentlessly.

I serve on Caltrans’ conduit task force, and I advocated for and helped to draft AB 1549. I’m involved and proud of it. Take it for what it’s worth.

Apple’s rumored move to ARM-based Macs aims for a world of continuous connectivity

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Technological tipping points are easy see in the rearview mirror – do you remember what the world was like before the iPhone? – but hard to spot in advance. One might be on the way. A well respected analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo, who works for TF Securities, predicts that Apple will start using ARM-based chips it designs and makes itself in Macintosh computers.

According to a story on Apple Insider by Malcom Owen

Kuo forecasts that Apple will be using a 5-nanometer process at the core of its new products 12 to 18 months’ time. As part of this, Kuo believes there will be a “new 1H21 Mac equipped with the own-design processor”…

Shifting over to an ARM-based chip would also give some context to Apple’s decision to move away from supporting 32-bit apps in macOS Catalina, as well as Apple’s work on Catalyst. In theory, this could allow Apple to use the same chips in the Mac as it does in iPhones and iPads, reducing its overall costs and enabling apps to be more usable throughout the entire Apple ecosystem.

It would be the first time a major personal computer maker abandons processors built on Intel’s 40 year old x86 architecture, and switches to chips based on ARM designs. Other hardware companies have dabbled with ARM-based servers and PCs – like Blackberry and Palm dipped their toes into the pre-iPhone smartphone market – but if he’s right, Apple will be the first to 1. shift an entire line of mainstream computers off of Intel and onto ARM, and 2. build a complete smartphone-tablet-computer-consumer device ecosystem around a single chip architecture.

There’s a broadband angle to this move, too. If the Apple device universe collapses into a single, integrated hardware and operating system platform, with the only distinction between devices being form factor and peripheral functions like sensors and telephone network access, then its value will be maximised by giving those devices seamless access to a common set of data, content, applications and services via persistent and ubiquitous connectivity.

It’s one thing to rely on file and data syncing across a family of products, as Apple does now, but it’s quite another to build a costly lineup of hardware, software and content on top of the assumption that connectivity can be taken for granted anywhere you go.

FCC asks for limited net neutrality comments, but Rosenworcel says “make noise”

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The Federal Communications Commission will tweak its network neutrality rules, such as they are, to answer objections made by the federal appeals court based in Washington, D.C. last year. That court – aka the D.C. circuit – largely upheld the FCC’s 2017 repeal of network neutrality rules, but sent a few bits back to the agency for more work and threw out a blanket preemption of state and local regulations.

In a notice issued earlier this week, the FCC asked for comments on the public safety, lifeline and pole attachment issues flagged by the D.C. circuit. The FCC has to figure out how to square its declaration that broadband isn’t a telecommunications service with its utility pole regulations that, seemingly, limit attachment privileges to telecoms companies. It’s looking for public comment on, among other things, whether “broadband-only providers” will still have “access to poles”.

Limited or not, commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a democrat, said network neutrality advocates should respond to the FCC’s request for comments

Today, the FCC is seeking comment on how best to move forward. My advice? The American public should raise their voices and let Washington know how important an open internet is for every piece of our civic and commercial lives. The agency wrongfully gave broadband providers the power to block websites, throttle services, and censor online content. The fight for an open internet is not over. It’s time to make noise.”

The FCC’s authority over utility pole attachments doesn’t extend to California, or to other states that have established their own regulations. The California Public Utilities Commission will have to sort those issues out here.

California also has its own network neutrality rules. Those are on hold until all the federal court challenges are settled. It’s a done deal at the appellate level, but the organisations that challenged the FCC’s net neutrality repeal can make a final appeal to the federal supreme court. The deadline for doing that is still several weeks away.

Pai offers net neutrality rules custom made for AT&T’s, Comcast’s business models

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Pai shapiro 1 ces 7jan2020

Ajit Pai’s three-year delayed debut at CES as Federal Communications Commission chair last week was a friendly, and at times lighthearted, conversation with Gary Shapiro, the CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which produces the show. Pai used the opportunity to float what he seems to thinks are consensus network neutrality rules. What he’s really proposing is to cement major ISPs and mobile carriers’ monopoly model business plans into federal law.

Shapiro led off by asking Pai about the FCC’s decision to scrap network neutrality rules two years ago. Pai endorsed net neutrality legislation. But of a sort…

Let’s focus on the things that we can actually agree on, those core principles of an open internet that we all agree upon – no blocking, no throttling, no anticompetitive conduct, transparency – I’ve just described in five seconds a bill that should sail through congress, but this has become more of a political issue than a policy one.

He left a couple of items off the list, at least the list that net neutrality advocates keep: paid prioritisation and zero rating. Those are two related practices that big, monopoly model Internet service providers – AT&T and Comcast, for example – and mobile carriers dearly want to hold onto.

When an ISP zero rates particular content, it doesn’t count the bytes consumed against a user’s monthly data cap. Paid prioritisation happens when an ISP creates a fast lane for content it owns – say, AT&T sending you Road Runner cartoons that it owns faster than Disney movies that it doesn’t – or charges the owner a fee for the same treatment.

Both practices create a hierarchy of content, as a result of an ISP’s ability to manipulate data streams to suit its bottom line. There’s not a meaningful difference between deliberately speeding some content up, versus deliberately slowing – throttling – other content down. Limiting legislation to a carefully wordsmithed consensus allows telcos and cable companies to write U.S. telecoms policy, and lock in privileges for decades to come.

Newsom’s broadband budget language doesn’t translate to infrastructure

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

San benito pole route 13apr2019

Broadband references are sprinkled into California governor Gavin Newsom’s state budget proposal but, taken at face value, he’s focused on shifting money from hard capital infrastructure projects to soft programs and annual operating budgets.

Although tagged as an infrastructure investment in Newsom’s budget summary, his “Broadband for All” initiative is about operations, comprising four elements: mapping, education spending, “optimising” existing resources and “prioritising connectivity across executive actions and policies”.

The California Public Utilities Commission already has a fine mapping program, which Newsom wisely intends to expand. It’s the brightest broadband item in his budget. If the CPUC is allowed to combine availability data with comprehensive network maps, inventories of state owned facilities and construction cost data, and make it public, then independent broadband infrastructure projects become more feasible.

Feasible, but not funded.

Consistent with past practice, Newsom proposes to spend $261 million on broadband facilities and information technology acquisitions for schools over the next five years, which is praiseworthy (as are many other items in the $153 billion budget) but has rarely improved broadband infrastructure that’s directly available to consumers and businesses. Keeping broadband top of mind in state government is likewise a good thing, and when agencies look outward and cooperate with private sector telecoms companies – Caltrans’ dig once program is a good example – the general public benefits. More often, though, connectivity improvements are limited to meeting agencies’ internal IT needs. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

It’s Newsom’s third bullet point – “optimising use of existing resources” – that threatens to divert what little money California spends on general broadband infrastructure development to other purposes. As his budget summary explains…

Informed by GIS-based mapping, the state will review existing fund sources available for broadband adoption and activities. This review will include the California Teleconnect Fund, the California Advanced Services Fund [CASF], and federal funding opportunities to maximize the return on existing investments. In total, these funds provide approximately $900 million over the next five years that can be targeted to critical broadband activities statewide.

The California Teleconnect Fund subsidises broadband service for schools and other organisations. Federal broadband funds are speculative at best – so far, California is shut out of the federal agriculture department’s newest broadband infrastructure subsidy program.

What’s left is CASF. Which holds the only money – somewhere around $300 million – that California earmarks for general broadband infrastructure construction. Which isn’t specifically listed as one of California’s “critical broadband activities”.

Adoption – digital literacy and broadband subscriber acquisition programs – gets a mention. Schools are in for a lot of love. Libraries and state IT departments get a nod too. Broadband for businesses and consumers? Nada.

Schools and community programs are wildly popular; government operations are Sacramento’s core business. Subsides for independent broadband infrastructure are neither, and are opposed by monopoly model incumbents who pay lawmakers millions of dollars to pay attention. Newsom’s budget offers no challenge to that status quo.