The merger of Discovery Communications and Scripps Networks is almost complete. And with the merger comes yet another example of a major programming conglomerate deciding to bypass cable and go over the top (OTT) with a streaming bundle of their channels.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the new direct-to-consumer content bundle will cost "as little as" $6.00 a month and will include 19 channels from the new merged content company, including both live and archived content. The announcement comes just a few months after Disney announced its own package of streaming services that will include both archived and original content, including a new series based on the Star Wars universe. The new Disney service, which is said to not include ESPN content, is expected to debut in 2019.
As more and more programming conglomerates go over the top, it will be interesting to see the impact on consumer's interest in traditional pay TV packages. In case you're wondering, the NCTC master agreement for Discovery Communications urns through 12/31/2021 and the Scripps Networks deal goes until 9/30/2020.
On a 49-0 vote today, the Iowa Senate approved Senate File 2355 which authorizes a complete audit and appraisal of the Iowa Communications Network. The bill now moves to the Iowa House for consideration.
An earlier version of the bill would have (once again) directed state officials to try to sell the ICN. The final version approved this week instead orders State Auditor Mary Mosiman or an independent third party selected by her to conduct the audit and appraisal. This year's activity regarding the ICN was spurred by the disclosure that former ICN executive director Ric Lumbard had misspent $380,000 during his tenure.
The Des Moines Register has a good review of the legislation. CLICK HERE to read the article.
To read the complete text of SF 2355, CLICK HERE
City council members and city staff in Belmond, Iowa are sifting through the final report from their recent Community Broadband Engagement and Education Project. The study, conducted by SmartSource Consulting (the author of this blog) found strong support for the concept of a community-owned fiber network in the Wright County town of 2,376. Next steps in the broadband evaluation include a referendum followed by a detailed feasibility study with a preliminary design, cost estimate, and business case.
CLICK HERE to read a story about the report in the Belmond Independent.
The final report for Belmond is available at www.ourbroadbandfuture.com/belmond.html.
Due to speaker availability, we've made a modification to Day Two of the IAMU Broadband Conference.
The new session on March 22nd will be held at 9:30am in Salon C. During "WHY and HOW of Fixed Wireless Broadband", you'll hear from an IAMU member (Eric Lage, Reinbeck) that significantly changed its bottom line within the past 18 months by launching fixed wireless internet to underserved areas around their community. Also on the panel will be Ryan Malek of Router 12 Networks, who worked with Reinbeck to deploy their system and who operates a successful wireless ISP of his own; as well as Tom Gruba with Telrad, who would talk about how fixed 4G wireless can solve for line of sight issues.
For a revised version of the agenda, CLICK HERE (PDF). A detailed conference program will be provided during conference check in.
This week US News and World Report magazine confirmed what we all knew...Iowa is the best state in the nation! Except for one little detail...do the statistics bear out that statement, especially when it comes to broadband?
The article made quite a splash and led to lots of chest thumping by Iowa advocates in general and politicians in particular. Helping put Iowa over the top in the rankings was our #1 position in infrastructure. Iowa didn't rank particularly high in two of the three elements that were considered. We were #37 in Transportation and #5 in Energy. What made us #1, according to the magazine, was "Internet Access".
In acknowledging the honor for her state, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds gave credit in particular to Iowa's largest ISP.
“We are extremely proud that Iowa was recognized for leading the nation in access to ultra-fast broadband services,” said Governor Kim Reynolds. “As the U.S. News rankings indicate, the fact that Mediacom was willing to invest private capital to make gigabit speeds available throughout its entire Iowa service area has truly made a difference in the quality of life in hundreds of communities across our state.”
A look inside the stats...
ere were two subcategories under Internet Access that were considered. Iowa was #1 in "Ultra-Fast Internet Access", defined as the percentage of households who can get gigabit internet service. The magazine says 69.6% of Iowa households can get gigabit internet. At first glance that seems a ridiculous number, but if you drill into the statistics it starts to make sense (kind of) because of the omnipresence of Mediacom across the state.
Mediacom, which upgraded all of its CMTS's to DOCSIS 3.1 a little over a year ago, says it serves over 300 communities in Iowa, accounting for just short of 1 million households passed. According to 2017 US Census estimates, there are 1,242,601 households in Iowa. The math comes out to 80.5% of households served by Mediacom, more than the 69.6% in the magazine's rankings BEFORE counting other areas (Cedar Falls, Spencer) with gigabit availability. So, depending on the accuracy of Mediacom's reported numbers, that statistic may or may not be accurate.
Besides the potential fuzzy math, there's the issue of whether those households can actually GET a gigabit. Anecdotal evidence from customers in several Iowa communities indicates that perhaps not everyone can get a gig, or at least are told by Mediacom phone representatives that they cannot.
The statistic that doesn't seem to pass the smell test is US News and World Report's finding that 99.9% of Iowa households can get at least 25 Mbps download speeds. Again using 2017 Census estimates, that means that just 1,243 households in Iowa without access to broadband services. Really?
Apparently the esteemed publication (and the research institution that provided the data, McKinsey & Co.) need to get together with the FCC and compare notes. For example, check out the list of census block groups in a small corner of NE Iowa that are eligible for the CAF II Auction.
The FCC says these areas in Howard, Chickasaw, Winneskiek, and Allamakee Counties are eligible for CAF II funding because they are NOT CURRENTLY SERVED by at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds. So if only 4 out of 99 Iowa counties account for 1,892 underserved Iowans, how can the entire STATE only have 1,243? And that's not even the most concentrated area of underserved Iowans in the state.
Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable." - Mark Twain
It's clear that different data sources disagree about how many Iowans have access to what the FCC has defined as "broadband" (25 Mbps download by 3 Mbs upload). What's even clearer is that almost no one is taking reliability into account...except for the customer.
I've conducted broadband surveys in several Iowa communities over the past two years, and one common theme has emerged: reliability is a real problem. Making the problem worse is long response times to outages by the big providers. A representative of one of those providers told city officials in one of the study communities that they were proud that they had reduced their response times to less than 72 hours. Let that sink in for a moment. 72 HOURS. And you don't have to look hard to find stories from frustrated customers who say their broadband provider won't roll a truck to fix a problem unless they get enough complaints to justify the expense. Electric manager, imagine if you did that.
If you gave customers the choice between two providers; one that offers a rock-solid 25 Mbps with 99.99% up time, or another that offers a "gigabit" (which, of course, they can't deliver to the customers' devices) that goes on and off and takes 3 days to repair, which one do you think they'd pick?
Community-based providers should take heed. The "statistics" may favor your competitor but the "facts"-about reliability, customer service quality, and response times-all favor you. Make sure your customers understand those differences.
Nearly 20 educational workshops for manager, technicians, marketing, and customer service personnel are scheduled at this year's IAMU Broadband Conference on March 21st and 22nd in Des Moines.
Workshop sessions include important topics such as 5G, Smart Home technologies, organization tips, marketing and website design, social media, network virtualization, strategic planning, and more. CLICK HERE to download a PDF of the conference agenda.
We're also excited to welcome a diverse group of solutions providers to participate in our Vendor Show and Reception. As of today, exhibitors are:
We want to recognize our GOLD SPONSORS this year, ADTRAN and Calix. Thank you for being a part of our conference!
The presenting sponsor of the Broadband Conference is Power & Tel. Thanks to the P&T team for their continued strong support for Iowa's community-based broadband providers!
Two members of the Iowa House Government Oversight Committee think that selling the Iowa Communications Network (ICN) is a bad idea, despite the controversy over improper expenditures by it's now-fired director.
In a taping of Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press", Rep. Bobby Kauffman (R-Wilton) and Rep. Vicki Lensing (D-Iowa City) agreed that the valuable service the ICN provides to Iowa schools and other authorized users makes a sale problematic.
Then Rep. Kaufmann mentioned something that would be of interest to Broadband Bytes readers:
Kaufmann indicated leasing the fiber optic lines to cities or counties might be an option, so municipal utilities could use the network to serve far more local customers, “to be able to get fiber optic network out to rural Iowa.”
Allowing more authorized users of the ICN - including municipal utilities - has been somewhat of a third rail in Iowa politics over the years - touch it and you die. But if the ICN sale bill doesn't become law, Kauffman's comments may present an opening for municipal utilities seeking alternative middle mile options.
CLICK HERE to read a story about the comments from Radio Iowa.
Technicians at municipal broadband companies are strongly encouraged to participate in the Iowa Heartland SCTE Cable-Tec Games. This year's competition will be held on March 14, 2018 at Kirkwood Community College in Hiawatha.
The Games gives field technicians an opportunity to test their skills in a variety of areas:
Dave Schilling with Cedar Falls Utilities, the Iowa Heartland Board President, is hoping to assemble a "municipal all-star" team!
Last year's winner of the Iowa Games, Nathan Sidlinger of the Quad Cities, went on to finish in 3rd place overall at the International Cable-Tec Games in Denver.
Registration is FREE and open to both SCTE members and non-members. To register, visit the Iowa Heartland SCTE Events page by CLICKING HERE.
Senate File 2219, introduced by Senator Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale), would direct the Iowa Telecommunications and Technology Commission to issue an RFP for sale or lease of the Iowa Communications Network.
The bill, which has been assigned to the State Government committee in the Iowww.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2018/01/22/iowa-lawmakers-launch-investigation-into-iowa-communications-network-following-alleged-theft-cronyis/1055777001/wa Senate, is the second attempt to get the ICN off the state's books in 4 years and comes on the heels of the discovery that previous ICN Director Ric Lumbard had misspent almost $380,000 of state money.
In 2012-13, the state also attempted to sell the ICN. Only one entity-Iowa Network Services (Aureon) submitted bids for the fiber optic network, but those bids were rejected by Governor Terry Brandstad as being well below the value of the system.
The new attempt includes a carry-over stipulation from the last attempt at a sale: no public funds could be used to buy the ICN. That means a consortium of cities, counties, utilities, and other public entities would not be allowed to buy the ICN. There has been interest in such a joint project in the past since the ICN touches every county and many communities in the state. Allowing cities and utilities to access the ICN has always been a highly political topic and remains so in this attempt.
A new twist comes in paragraph 3f of the bill:
"The winning bidder selected pursuant to the request for proposals shall demonstrate a commitment to serving the citizens of this state and facilitating rural broadband service throughout the state at or above twenty-five megabits per second of download speed and three megabits per second of upload speed."
So it would appear that successful bidders will need to be retail internet providers or express a willingness to do so. Would that eliminate some bidders, such as middle mile network providers that maintain mostly wholesale services? Would it give a bidding advantage to companies such as Mediacom and CenturyLink that are already retail providers?
We'll keep track of SF2219 as it makes its way through the process and provide updates here on Broadband Bytes.
Having completed a municipal broadband utility feasibility study last year, the Vinton Communications Utility (VCU) is moving forward with its broadband plans by issuing an RFI for potential partnerships.
For the past several weeks, a working group consisting of Vinton Utility board members and interested community members have been meeting to develop a plan to move beyond the feasibility study toward the implementation of a community fiber network. The RFI is part of that effort and is designed to identify entities that potentially partner with VCU.
"Vinton Communications Utility (VCU) is seeking to gauge the interest of capable entities to contract or otherwise partner with the utility to provide cost-competitive, reliable, high-capacity, gigabit speed broadband (Required Services) to all Vinton residents, businesses, and anchor institutions through an area-wide fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network or similarly performing technology.
Voters in Vinton approved the creation of a broadband utility in November 2015 by 88% after two previous efforts failed to gather a majority. Last year, FARR Technologies conducted a feasibility study that estimated the cost of a fiber-to-the-premise network in Vinton at $8.9 million.
To read the VCU Request for Information, CLICK HERE.
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