Loras Herrig, the long-time city administrator in Bellevue, Iowa who guided the development of a fiber-to-the-home network, has resigned. Herrig's resignation was submitted on May 12th. He had been out of the office for several weeks with health issues and cited health concerns as the primary reason for leaving.
“It was just time,” Herrig said. “I’ve had some health issues. And I had a long discussion with my family and we decided it was the right time to move on.” -Loras Herrig, as quoted in the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald
The newspaper article about Herrig's resignation also referenced some issues between Herrig and some recently elected city council members as another reason for his departure.
CLICK HERE for the article in the Telegraph-Herald.
A new study published by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) lists Mediacom as the lowest-rated large provider in terms of both internet service and cable TV.
Overall, the results were not encouraging for any large MSO. Verizon's FIOS came out on top of the ISP rankings, but only with a score of 70 out of 100. If any municipal ISP's were included in the study, those results were not shown in the report.
"According to users, most aspects of ISPs are getting worse," the ACSI said. "Courtesy and helpfulness of staff has waned to 76 and in-store service is slower (74). Bills are more difficult to understand (-3 percent to 71), and customers aren’t happy with the variety of plans available (-3 percent to 64)." - 2018 ACSI
Here's the ISP chart. Of particular interest is the fact that Mediacom's ratings fell by 9% despite the launch of gigabit service.
And the pay TV provider rankings
To read more about the report and to access a PDF of the full study, CLICK HERE to read the story at DSL Reports.
With so much hype in the industry about "5G" and "millimeter wave" wireless, it makes you wonder: how would this new technology work? Well, Verizon has just released a video that demonstrates how they are using millimeter wave fixed wireless in a test market, and it's pretty interesting.
Obviously the video was produced by the Verizon marketing department as a way to get people excited about 5G, so take it with a grain of salt. But it's still a pretty interesting explanation about what Verizon has discovered about the properties of millimeter wave wireless in its test environment.
The list of virtual cable operators, or vMVPD's, continues to grow, offering consumers increasing choices for over-the-top viewing. One of the latest that I've been trying out is called TikiLive.
First of all, thanks to Doug Dawson at CCG Consulting, author of the excellent Pots and Pans blog (read it...it's awesome), for the heads-up on TikiLive, which I had never heard of. I've been playing with it for a few days now and here's the bottom line: there's a lot of content (80 or so channels) for not a lot of money (about $30 a month). It's fairly no-frills service, with no cloud DVR or much in the way of on-demand content. But it does have most of the major satellite programming that the average consumer is looking for, including the major ESPN channels. And to provide broadcast network programming, they are carrying the affiliates out of New York City.
If you're interested, here's a video of me demonstrating the service on my living room TV.
Recently, a member of the Municipal Broadband group on Facebook (check it out!) pointed out a website entitled "Broadband Boondoggles: A Map of Failed Taxpayer-Funded Networks". (url is www.munibroadbandfailures.com). Markers on the map of the US show communities that have municipal broadband projects. By clicking on one of the markers, you get an explanation of why the websites authors, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance Foundation, thinks that city's broadband is a boondoggle.
So, what does it have to say about some of the municipal broadband utilities that we are most familiar with? Let's start with Cedar Falls Utilties.
I particularly love the line "Despite the enormous cost of the Cedar Falls broadband network to the public, the project remains largely incomplete after 20 years of development." They also don't seem to get the "year started" right.
The fun continues. Here's the entry for another of Iowa's successful municipal broadband projects, Spencer Municipal Utilities.
One indication of the care (or lack therof) the authors took to create their boondoggle map is the fact that they have a marker on the map for Webster City that misses the city's actual location by about 100 miles. Details, details.
The Institute for Local Smuninetworks.org/elf Reliance's broadband team (https://muninetworks.org/) has taken great care over the years to count false claims such as the ones propogated on this website. CLICK HERE to check out some of their fact checking efforts.
Like most anti-municipal broadband efforts over the years, this website uses colorful and misleading language to paint the least flattering picture possible. Debt, necessary to build any public infrastructure, is referred to as "budget-busting" , "crushing", and "drowning in debt". They also continually refer to "taxpayer funded" networks that in fact are only secured by revenue from the telecom utility itself.
So, what is the Taxpayer Protection Alliance Foundation? Without spending a tremendous amount of time researching the group, it appears that they are supported by various anti-government groups and activists and have, at least in past years, accepted donations from large telecommunications carriers. From their website:
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance Foundation (TPAF) is a non-profit non-partisan organization dedicated to educating the public through research, investigative reporting, and analysis about the effects of excessive taxation and spending by all levels of government. TPAF will also educate the public about government transparency and openness in the United States and around the world. Through blogs, commentaries, special spending alerts, and media appearances, TPAF will publish timely exposés of government waste, fraud, and abuse. Recognizing the importance of reaching people through traditional and new media, TPA will utilize use blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and user-generated videos to reach out to taxpayers and government officials.
While the group promises to "educate the public about government transparency and openness", they don't bother to reveal much about their own financial backing.
The problem with groups such as this and the junk studies they produce is that while they cannot change the facts through their falsehoods, they can create an impression among some decision makers that municipal broadband is risky. That impression can slow momentum toward solving broadband deficits in communities through municipal participation in solutions. The real danger is that this static drowns out the positive story that American's community-owned broadband networks have to tell.
When Windstream decided to accept federal funding under the FCC's CAF-II program, it was clearly not going to be sufficient to expand fiber networks to all underserved rural areas. Instead, the company has been using fixed wireless technology to fill in those gaps.
As THIS STORY in Fierce Wireless points out, Windstream has been using Radwin fixed wireless equipment to cover 9,000 households in Oklahoma and another 200 in Argyle, Iowa, and unincorporated town in the southeast corner of the state. They are apparently planning to use similar fixed wireless technology to reach an additional 34 communities in Iowa with 6,500 households through next year.
Windstream is offering a 25 Mbps package for $50 a month in those areas, with up to 100 Mbps speeds available at $70 a month. While those speed levels and prices seem very competitive, the line-of-sight nature of fixed wireless will limit reach in some areas. Also, there's no word on whether Windstream plans to retire its copper network in these areas - something that other large carriers have announced that they plan to do.
CenturyLink has shuttered it's own IPTV service, Prism, that was offered in some of its larger cities. However, to fill their customer's needs for video services, they are apparently ready to partner with other OTT cable providers.
According to THIS ARTICLE at Fierce Cable, CenturyLink will explore options for bundles using "virtual MVPD's" such as Sling Television, Sony Playstation Vue, Fubo, or others. No specifics on when they might begin offering these services or where.
Some of these vMVPD's have already worked out deals with the National Cable Television Cooperative that allow broadband providers to offer these services, although in most cases the cable company isn't allowed to bundle those services on their bill.
Last fall, advocates of a municipal broadband utility in Decorah, Iowa suffered a setback. The City had engaged Uptown Services to prepare a feasibility study for a fiber-to-the-home network in the northeast Iowa city of 8,127. The final report, handed to the City in the fall of 2017, reached the conclusion that a city-owned network was not feasible. The study drew criticism for a lack of detail (it consisted of a slide deck without accompanying narrative or spreadsheets showing detailed financial data). The study also did not attempt to identify a "break even" rate of penetration that is usually present in feasibility studies; it just reached a conclusion about what Decorah's take rates would likely be and advised that it wasn't feasible at those rates.
Undaunted, city leaders and the Decorah Fast Fiber citizen group have continued efforts to keep moving the project forward. Volunteers have taken the Uptown Services study apart and reconstructed the financial data needed for a better evaluation. The City is seeking consultants to provide a clearer measure of likely take rates and a business plan that could be financed. The Fast Fiber group continues to advocate through social media, pointing out that while Decorah's efforts seem to have stalled other cities in Iowa (Charles City, New Hampton, Vinton, and with its recent referendum Pella) are all moving forward.
Complicating the municipal telecommunications efforts in Decorah was the recent referendum to establish a municipal ELECTRIC utility and negotiate a purchase of Alliant Energy assets in the community. The vote was painfully close, but the official canvass found municipalization losing by 5 votes out of 2,765 votes cast. The group supporting the electric utility vote has indicated that they will ask for a recount.
On Tuesday, May 1, voters in Pella overwhelmingly approve the creation of the municipal telecommunications utility. 92% of the people who voted said yes to the referendum, with 8% voting no. Turnout was low, which is not unusual for a special election - especially one held in the midst of preparations for the annual Tulip Time festival.
Pella’s vote was the fourth telecom referendum in Iowa in the past 30 months. And while 92% seems like a high number, it was bested in Adair in 2017 (100%) and Decorah in 2015 (94%). Vinton’s referendum in 2015 generated “only” 88% voter approval, but it was the 4th attempt.
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