New England broadband provider FairPoint Communications has completed an upgrade and expansion of its network in Vermont. The expansion covers 25 towns in Vermont that will now be part of FairPoint’s 18,000 mile fiber optic network, which is the largest, fully-owned and managed fiber-based network in northern New England. In order to finance the project, FairPoint got partial funding through Phase II of the Federal Communication Commission’s Connect America Fund (CAF) grant program. The expansion will add or improve high-speed broadband access for more than 4,500 locations throughout Vermont. Much of the work on the project improved FairPoint’s last mile broadband capabilities in Vermont.
With fiber improvements, the company says expansion towns will now qualify for speeds of up to 15 Mbps. FairPoint’s completed work in Vermont comes shortly after the company announced a merger with Consolidated Communications, which will take over broadband and landline service in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Consolidated bought FairPoint for $1.5 billion in December. The deal effectively makes for a secondary sale of the network that FairPoint originally purchased from Verizon for $2.3 billion in 2007. The purchase of Verizon’s network in New England was a lot for FairPoint to take on, and the company went into bankruptcy in 2009 as a result of its debt load.
FairPoint eventually recovered but has faced worker strikes and other issues in the aftermath of its bankruptcy.
The merger is expected to be completed by mid-year.
The MP for Warrington North (Cheshire, England), Helen Jones, has claimed that many residents in the area should be paid a total of ?246,000 in compensation by ISPs because of the slow broadband speeds that local homes are alleged to endure. She wants Ofcom to take action. According to the Warrington Guardian, local residents are owned the money because of “poor broadband speeds” and this apparently stems from an Ofcom report, which allegedly “revealed that a total of ?246,000 in compensation to constituents” could be due and that’s partly because “the rolling out of fibre optic broadband in areas including Burtonwood, Winwick, Culcheth and Croft has been ‘slow’.”
Helen Jones, Warrington North MP, said:
“Discussions I have had with service providers over the years has resulted in some progress but the position is still far from satisfactory. Less than half of all UK broadband connections are superfast, calling into question the government target to provide super-fast speeds to 95 per cent of all UK premises by the end of this year. That is why I’m supporting the call by the [cross-party] British Infrastructure Group of MPs to introduce a comprehensive automatic compensation scheme that allows customers to be refunded for receiving unreasonably slow broadband download speeds.
Millions of properties across the country fail to meet the proposed minimum download speed of 10mb/s and could be eligible for receiving compensation from their providers.”
As usual there are a few problems with this claim and the approach being suggested. Firstly, the figure of ?246K does not appear to come from Ofcom. Instead it looks more likely to be derived from either the MP or newspaper’s own interpretation of data from the regulator’s consultation on a new Automatic Compensation System (here), except that consultation was based on compensating for a total loss of service and not slow speeds.
Elsewhere Helen’s second paragraph makes the mistake of conflating the results from broadband speed testing with the separate aspect of network availability. Put another way, around 55% of the UK still connects via a slow pure copper based ADSL broadband line and that’s despite “superfast broadband” networks (e.g. FTTC / DOCSIS / FTTP etc.) being estimated to cover around 92% of the country. The choice of connectivity solution that consumers make may thus have been overlooked or not given enough weight in the ?246,000 figure above, although it’s difficult to know without further clarification of what that total truly represents and precisely where it comes from.
Mind you the idea of compensating for slow speeds isn’t entirely without merit, although in today’s market it would be very difficult to deliver. Identifying responsibility for slow broadband speeds, which can also be caused by things like weak WiFi, poor home wiring or even remote Internet services (plus a plethora of other factors that may be outside of an ISPs ability to control), is not a simple task. On top of that the Government and local authorities would also need to take some responsibility for ensuring that everybody can actually access a truly superfast and reliable connection in the first place (particularly relevant for the final c.30% of UK premises where public investment is usually required to deliver an upgrade), which is yet to be achieved.
Consumer prices would also need to rise in order to cover the costs of such a system.
It’s worth pointing out that Ofcom’s Code of Practice for Broadband Speeds, which is sadly voluntary and doesn’t apply to all providers, allows you to exit your contract penalty free if your service speeds suffer a significant decline.
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Elizabeth Bowles will be on a mission April 21 when she flies to Washington, D.C., as a newly minted member of the federal Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee. She’s demanding technological equality for rural people.
The president and board chairman of Aristotle Inc. in Little Rock, Bowles was chosen Thursday by the Federal Communications Commission to join the panel, whose goal is to increase high-speed internet access nationwide and close the digital divide between urban and rural America.
“Rural broadband is critical in general and especially in Arkansas, which has a high rural population,” Bowles told Arkansas Business on Friday. “There are many unserved and underserved people in our state, and broadband is a huge economic driver.
We need to get broadband into the hands of those who can use it to benefit these rural communities.”
The assignment falls easily into Bowles’ wheelhouse. Her father, W. Dixon Bowles, was a co-founder of Aristotle, the digital media agency and wireless broadband internet service provider, and Elizabeth Bowles focused on technology as a young litigator in Washington before joining Aristotle as general counsel in 2000. Later, she became president and took her father’s seat as chairman after his death in 2010.
“I have a particular passion for broadband and the internet, and Aristotle is one of the few companies to be both a full-service digital agency and an internet service provider,” Bowles said. “It’s important to me that rural areas not get shortchanged. Most of Arkansas is rural, farming, and that’s a lot of what makes us who we are.”
Bowles, who has a two-year appointment to the committee, said that while most small towns and farms in the state have cellular access, and thus mobile broadband, they face huge business disadvantages by lacking fixed broadband service. “Mobile broadband serves a function, but the broadband uses available in urban areas — streaming, things to run a business — are often unavailable,” she said. “Businesses are reluctant to go into an area if it has only mobile broadband.” She called affordable fixed broadband access not a luxury, but a necessity.
And fixed broadband isn’t incidental to Aristotle’s success, though business considerations weren’t her priority in joining the committee, she said. Aristotle has been installing wireless fixed broadband systems east of Little Rock, and is planning to plunge deeper into the Delta. “It’s often hard to make the economics work for fiber deployment in less-populated areas,” Bowles said. “Every technology has strengths and weaknesses, and rural America’s broadband solution can’t rely on a single technology. We have to have a blended solution.”
However, the wireless fixed broadband that Aristotle offers is far cheaper, “about one-tenth the cost of fiber, and much faster to deploy,” Bowles said. “Unlike fiber or even mobile, we need only about 40 customers to make a business case to put in broadband.”
And that’s precisely what Aristotle has been doing in towns like Scott, England and Keo, all in Lonoke County, with a “deployment plan to keep moving east,” Bowles said, offering Humnoke, which has a population of about 300, as an example. “It has mobile broadband, but like other small towns it’s hard to make an economic case there for fiber deployment. The whole debate over fiber vs. DLS or cable broadband is not an ‘or,’ but an ‘and.’ The hybrid solution is open to all available technology as long as it provides the most cost-effective broadband as possible.”
Aristotle offers fixed wireless broadband, an “over-the-air replacement for physical wire.” Instead of coming through a coaxial cable or a fiber line into homes, broadband signals travel from an antenna array, and hundreds of customers within the radius of the antenna can receive it through home-based antennas.
That’s known as a point-to-multipoint system. Another process, point-to-point, sends a dedicated broadband signal from a single tower to a single user, offering much higher bandwidths. The top stories of the day, right to your inbox
Aristotle’s business plan calls for the company to triple both its network size and customer base within 36 months, and Bowles called that an achievable goal. “It’s also worth noting that we do not take subsidies. We’re paying for these systems ourselves.”
Bowles says she is a big believer in competition, and she has often finished first. She was first in her graduating class at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, then first in her class at Vanderbilt Law School. Arkansas bar exam? First in that too — “I was an egghead,” she jokes.
A competitive environment can foster success, she says. “In places where you see a 65 percent to 75 percent adoption rate in broadband, those places have multiple providers. There’s a reason that you see a Wendy’s next to a McDonald’s. Everybody makes more money if there’s competition.”
Other internet providers do not see it that way, she concedes, pointing to telecom survivors who are protective of the subsidies they often reap in installing broadband. That protective mindset is hampering access, she argues.
“In Arkansas, there have been 37 broadband bills introduced in the legislature, and every one has failed,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I am happy to be on the committee, because it is going to look at what state laws should be to promote access to broadband.”
Bowles drew support in her bid to join the committee from Sen. Tom Cotton and from U.S. Reps. French Hill, R-Little Rock, and Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro.
She is one of 29 members, including representatives from across the technology industry, government and academia.
Aristotle, she said, is the only fixed wireless provider represented. “I think they did a good job with the 29 people in getting a good cross-section of stakeholders,” Bowles said. “I’m expecting a full discussion of real issues and how to fix them.”