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AT&T plans to use cell towers to bring internet access to thousands in rural South Carolina 0

AT&T plans to use cell towers to bring internet access to thousands in rural South Carolina

AT&T is planning to use cell towers across South Carolina to bring high-speed broadband to rural areas where internet access is slow to nonexistent. The telecom giant says it’s in the process of installing antennas capable of connecting thousands of people in sparsely populated corners of the state. Roughly 12,000 homes and businesses will have access to the new service by the end of the year.

The work covers some 20 counties in South Carolina under a Federal Communications Commission initiative to boost access in underserved areas. Company spokesman Daniel Hayes declined to say which areas would get service. AT&T is receiving $9.7 million a year from the government in return for connecting more than 30,000 customers here by the end of 2020.

Nationwide, the company is getting almost $428 million a year to extend access to 1.1 million customers in 18 states, the FCC says 1 . The federal subsidy, which was announced in 2015, is meant to boost investment in high-cost areas, where long distances and low density typically keep telecom companies away. In South Carolina, 38 percent of people in rural areas — nearly 605,000 in all — don’t have access to high-speed internet, FCC records show 2 , compared with 8 percent in urban areas.

The subsidized areas lack download speeds above 3 megabits per second, which is roughly equivalent to a DSL connection. Under the FCC program, they’ll be guaranteed a minimum of 10 Mbps, which is still slow by modern standards. Hayes said AT&T’s early tests have “easily” met that mark.

Hayes says the service will cost $60 a month, plus a one-time installation fee of $99, but discounts will be available for customers who buy other AT&T services. AT&T’s plan is to rely on its existing infrastructure and avoid laying new fiber by beaming signals from the cell towers it already has, a model known as fixed wireless. “Because of the wireless aspect of it and the greater ability to deliver that last-mile connection, it does help to overcome any obstacles that may be in the cost equation,” Hayes said. “This initial build, with it being infrastructure that we have in place with these towers, that comes from years of investment.” The idea is similar to satellite internet, with a receiver the size of a laptop installed outside. Unlike a signal beamed down from space, however, fixed wireless customers will need a clear line of sight to a tower, and they’ll need to be within a few miles.

Fixed wireless has emerged as a promising solution to the problem of the U.S.’s disconnected communities since it’s far cheaper than laying fiber cables that reach every home in America. The model is common in Western states, but it hasn’t been tried extensively in the Palmetto State. South Carolina has the third-lowest fixed wireless coverage in the country, ahead of only New Jersey and Hawaii, according to the research firm BroadbandNow 3 .

But it’s likely to spread, said Jim Stritzinger, the executive director of Connect South Carolina, which studies the state’s broadband networks.

Fixed wireless transmitters have become more effective and cheaper to install in recent years, making it a more practical solution. “It hasn’t been the technology of choice in South Carolina until recently,”Stritzinger said. “The cost of it has come way down, and the capability has gone way up.

The economics of fixed wireless have really changed in the last couple of years.” References ^ FCC says (apps.fcc.gov) ^ FCC records show (apps.fcc.gov) ^ BroadbandNow (broadbandnow.com)

Wales’ tech cities: Swansea and Cardiff lead chorus for tech jobs boom 0

Wales’ tech cities: Swansea and Cardiff lead chorus for tech jobs boom

Never mind Brexit, the two Welsh cities of Swansea and Cardiff are putting their tech credentials on the table. Our Celtic cousins in Wales are experiencing something of a tech jobs boom, with 103 new digital start-ups adding to the 117,470 tech workers in Swansea and Cardiff in the past year. Recent arrivals include AI start-up Amplyfi, which received a £400,000 unsecured loan from the Welsh government. ‘Last year, £4.6bn (68pc) of the UK’s tech investment was spent in regions outside the capital’ – RUTH JACOBS The traditional coal and steel industries of Wales were once the bedrock of the Welsh economy.

But now, according to Ruth Jacobs, managing director of Randstad business solutions, Cardiff and Swansea are two of the UK’s fastest-growing tech cities, due to investment in both graduate opportunities and the digital transformation of the country as a whole. Digital investment in the UK’s tech industry was estimated at £6.8bn in 2016. Putting the valleys in Silicon Valley In a recent review of Swansea and Cardiff by Randstad 1 , it was noted that the investment in the region has a symbiotic relationship with the education sector, with input from four major universities: Cardiff University, the University of South Wales, Cardiff Metropolitan University and Swansea University.

Jacobs said the universities provide a steady flow of IT-literate graduates to support the growing industry requirements. Swansea University was ranked 16th in the UK for graduate employment in the recent Times Higher Education World University Rankings. The digital staff requirements 2 in the tech sector are growing overall across the UK, adding to the existing 1.64m tech jobs.

Swansea and Cardiff are on track to becoming the leading tech employees, rivalling nearby Bristol. “Last year, £4.6bn (68pc) of the UK’s tech investment was spent in regions outside the capital,” Jacobs said. “Cardiff and Swansea have 17,470 tech jobs, and last year recorded 103 new tech and digital start-ups, such as Amplyfi, using artificial intelligence for data mining.” In terms of infrastructure, broadband connectivity across Wales is being bolstered as part of a Welsh government scheme to ensure ‘super-fast’ broadband, which will support investments not only in the cities but also across the south-east region. Development Bank of Wales is planning to support Welsh businesses with £1bn funding and unique investment projects such as the Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult 3  in Cardiff, launched in 2016. This investment aims to fund innovative regional projects.

On the strength of the Swansea University IT programme, Swansea Bay City Region has secured a £500m deal to turn the area into a digital super-hub. In terms of start-ups, TechHub Swansea 4  provides office space for tech entrepreneurs with networking and lunch-and-learn events as part of the working landscape. Cardiff has similar innovation support, with  Tramshed Tech  5 supporting its co-working community.

Additionally, the ease of booking desk space at the Indycube 6  tech hub, available across Wales, nurtures the community. The Alacrity Foundation 7 ,  Cardiff Start 8 and the launch of  Innovation Point 9 ’s Welsh technology accelerator programme – named ‘Digital Dozen’ – are three programmes all aimed at supporting tech growth. “Swansea and Cardiff have great road and rail links to both London and Bristol,” Jacobs said. “Swansea is three hours by train from London, and Cardiff just over two hours. As a lifestyle choice, both cities are a 30-minute drive from areas of outstanding national beauty like the Gower Peninsula and the Brecon Beacons. “The house prices are also under the UK average, at £185,639,” she added.

References ^ Randstad (www.randstad.co.uk) ^ digital staff requirements (www.randstad.co.uk) ^ Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult (csa.catapult.org.uk) ^ TechHub Swansea (swansea.techhub.com) ^ Tramshed Tech  (tramshedtech.net) ^ Indycube (indycube.cymru) ^ The Alacrity Foundation (www.alacrityfoundation.co.uk) ^ Cardiff Start (cardiffstart.com) ^ Innovation Point (www.innovationpoint.uk)

NBN to review pricing as part of image problem fix 0

NBN to review pricing as part of image problem fix

NBN chief executive Bill Morrow says a “land grab” by retail service providers chasing market share is misleading customers about the speeds they are paying for. The National Broadband Network (NBN) admits it has an image problem and is considering forcing telecommunication companies to guarantee a minimum level of service for customers as part of a review of its controversial pricing model to head off growing criticism about the project’s internet speeds 1 . NBN chief executive Bill Morrow said he was reviewing the pricing model for Australia’s $50 billion broadband network that could include measures to give disgruntled customers a better idea about the quality of the service they were paying for.

He said a “land grab” by retail service providers chasing market share 2 was misleading customers about the speeds they were paying for. “We have to take it seriously, it is causing reputational damage and it does need to get fixed and we are committed to working with the industry to get it fixed,” Mr Morrow, who will go on a charm offensive later this week to try and head off the NBN’s critics, told The Australian Financial Review . Mr Morrow said a review of the NBN’s pricing model 3 could include introducing “minimum assurance” standards for certain products, such as media streaming, to ensure customers were receiving a certain level of service. “What we are considering, and we are in consultation, is looking at a restructuring of the pricing mechanism,” Mr Morrow said. “I am sympathetic with the many smaller retailers, in particular, who say I am stuck in this price war and I can’t step up and raise my price to the end users. “So, we are thinking can we restructure the CVC (Connectivity Virtual Circuit charge) and the AVC (monthly access charge) to have a minimum assurance of a certain quality of product … do we introduce a media streaming product?” No pricing changes were imminent, but he said NBN Co was having initial discussions with broadband providers.

The CVC charge is the price NBN charges service providers for the bandwidth they want for their customers. The NBN lowered its its CVC charge $20 per megabit pers second to $15.25 in December last year. Under a new pricing model announced earlier this year, they will be able to achieve discounts based on how much CVC they purchase per end-user.

Telcos have complained that it was the NBN’s pricing mode that was driving up their prices. Mr Morrow is facing growing pressure to address complaints about the project, 4 which he said were centred around two areas: the slower-than-expected internet speeds experienced by some customers 5 and technical issues connecting premises to the network that were leaving some homes without broadband services for months. About 15 per cent of NBN customers have complained about their connections.

When asked if the NBN had an image problem, he said: “I do agree….it is partly our fault. It is partly taken out of context because 85 per cent of customers are fine with this. It is the 15 per cent that is a large number because of the volumes we are dealing with.

It is not just a lightly dissatisfied but a seriously dissatisfied service.” Mr Morrow argued that the number of complaints was rising as new network connections accelerated, but the overall percentage had fallen. It is activating about 40,000 to 50,000 new customers a week, which will increase sharply between now and the project’s completion date in 2020. The NBN has been swamped with complaints from customers about speeds that they say are lower than what they used to get on ADSL.

The industry has also come under attack for advertising “up to” internet speeds that are never reached. Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims said last week Telstra, Optus, TPG and Vocus could face legal action if they were found to have misled consumers about their NBN speeds Mr Morrow denied the slow speeds were created by its connectivity virtual circuit (CVC) charges making higher speed tiers unaffordable, but were the result of a price war by retailers which meant customers did not properly understand the type of service they had signed up for and whether the advertised speeds would be available at peak times. “Most of the marketing attention is on price, not what kind of speed you are going to get,” Mr Morrow said, adding that 75 per cent of customers did not know what speed they were on. “There is a land grab phenomena where retailers are chasing market share and classically during a land grab phase you get more discussion on price and less discussion about quality.” “Most of the retailers want to sort this too, but we want to educate consumers that when they talk to retailers, understand you have a choice and actually talk to them about how the speeds are going to work.” Despite the criticism, Mr Morrow said the NBN was “done pointing the finger” and he was working closely with retailers to address the issue. “We know the end user is more confused than ever about who does what and all they want is good broadband service.” He said NBN was working to address installation problems, particularly issues around an existing provider cutting off a customers’ service before they were connected to the NBN. He would not rule out slowing down new connections to “give people a better experience”, but said the 2020 deadline would not shift.

[email protected] reports.afr.com 6 References ^ about the project’s internet speeds (www.afr.com) ^ retail service providers chasing market share (www.afr.com) ^ review of the NBN’s pricing model (www.afr.com) ^ address complaints about the project, (www.afr.com) ^ slower-than-expected internet speeds experienced by some customers (www.afr.com) ^ reports.afr.com (reports.afr.com)