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Virginia Gov. McDonnell Signs Telemedicine Reimbursement Legislation

in Broadband Updates/Broadband's Impact/National Broadband Plan by

The Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband plan seeks to promote telemedicine, but the national health care bill recently-passed by Congress fails to include support for it.

However, last week Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) signed SB 675, a health insurance bill that mandates coverage for telemedicine services.

It requires insurers to cover all telemedicine services, making Virginia the 14th state to enact such legislation. According to the American Telemedicine Association, 23 states currently allow for Medicaid reimbursement, while California, Hawaii, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Texas have telemedicine legislation pending.

The rural state of Wyoming has no telemedicine legislation pending, and is one of the few states that does not allow for Medicaid reimbursement, either.

Eight States Win Broadband Funds From Agriculture Department

in Broadband Stimulus/Broadband Updates/Broadband's Impact/States by

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2010 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Tuesday announced broadband infrastructure projects to give rural residents in eight states access to better economic and educational opportunities.

Funding is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the loan, grant or loan plus grant agreement, according to the department. A complete list of recent Recovery Act broadband award recipients by state is below:

Alaska
• Copper Valley Wireless: The Cordova, Alaska, Microwave Project; $1,747,796 loan and $1,747,795 grant. The funding will extend middle-mile connectivity from Naked Island to Cordova.

Arizona
• Tohono O’odham Utility Authority: The Fiber Route – Middle Mile Project; $3,565,900 loan and $3,565,900 grant. The funding will enable high-speed DSL services throughout the reservation with Fiber-to-the-Premises and fixed wireless broadband in certain areas.

Illinois
• Norlight Telecommunications: The Rural High-Speed Ethernet Network – Southern Illinois Project; $14,230,375 loan, $8,538,224 grant and $5,692,151 of private investment. The funding will provide more than 1,600 miles of middle-mile fiber-optic network throughout 24 southern counties to deliver high-speed Ethernet connectivity.

Kansas
• South Central Telephone Association: The Lake City & Sun City Rural Fiber-to-the-House (FTTH) Project; $871,200 grant, and $3,550,800 of private investment. The funding will provide FTTH broadband service to all unserved establishments in the telephone exchanges of Lake and Sun City.

• Madison Telephone: The Madison-Lamont Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) Project; $3,519,750 loan, $3,519,750 grant and $763,634 of private investment. The funding will provide FTTP last-mile broadband service to exchange areas, including the Kansas telephone exchanges of Madison and Lamont.

• J.B.N. Telephone Company: The West Cluster Plus Barnes Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) Project; $5,489,250 loan, $5,489,250 grant, and $3,697,619 of private investment. The funding will provide FTTP broadband service throughout seven western exchanges (West Cluster) and the Barnes exchange (Barnes).

Minnesota
• Northeast Service Cooperative: The Northeast Minnesota Middle Mile Project; $21,749,110 loan and $21,749,110 grant. The funding will provide middle-mile, dark fiber, wavelength services to private-sector providers in rural areas of northeast Minnesota.

• Minnesota Valley Television Improvement Corporation: The Minnesota Wireless Expansion Project; $562,776 loan and $562,776 grant, and $281,388 of private investment. The funding will provide a two-way broadband internet network to unserved and underserved areas of west central and south central Minnesota, providing 34 additional wireless (WiMAX) access points.

North Dakota
• Dakota Central Telecom 1 (DCT1): The Dakota Central Telecom l Project; $2,252,250 grant, and $2,499,597 of private investment. The funding will provide Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband services to households, businesses and key community organizations in portions of the Streeter and Gackle exchanges that are currently unserved.

Oklahoma
• Pioneer Long Distance: The Western Oklahoma Wireless Project; $1,819,349 loan and $1,783,322 grant. The funding will provide wireless broadband service to unserved and underserved rural areas in western Oklahoma.

• Panhandle Telephone Cooperative: The Western Oklahoma Broadband Infrastructure Development Project; $3,366,188 loan, $10,098,562 grant, and $23,297,597 of private investment. The funding will provide a broadband infrastructure to rural areas within the western Oklahoma panhandle area.

Texas
• Wes-Tex Telephone Cooperative: The Western Texas Broadband Infrastructure Development Project; $16,891,875 loan, $16,891,875 grant and $28,417,425 of private investment. The funding will provide a broadband infrastructure to increase Internet availability and access speeds in rural areas of western Texas.

Rural Utilities Service Unveils $310 Million in Stimulus Funds for 14 Projects

in Broadband Stimulus/Broadband Updates/Broadband's Impact/States by

WASHINGTON, January 26, 2010 – The Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service is doling out $310 million in broadband stimulus funds, department Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Monday.

The monies will be spread throughout 14 projects seeking to bring speedy Internet connections to rural communities in the United States in an effort to lift and grow their economies.

“The awards for these broadband projects will support anchor institutions – such as libraries, public buildings and community centers – that are necessary for the viability of rural communities,” Vilsack said.

For example, a $2 million grant, $2 million loan and $2 million in leveraged funds will go to the BEK Communications Cooperative in Burleigh County, N.D. The company plans to expand the existing system to offer fiber-to-the-premises service to about 540 homes and other parts of the community.

The existing system provides service to 53 percent of the population in the area, according to RUS, and among the current users, 22 percent derive household income from the Internet. The RUS said the expansion is expected to stimulate economic growth by bringing on new users.

As of last week, NTIA had awarded approximately $200 million in grants for 15 projects.

Applications for the next and final round of broadband funding are due by March 15.

Here is a list of the 14 projects by state that Vilsack announced yesterday and described by RUS:

Alaska

Southwestern Alaska, United Utilities is receiving a $43.9 million grant and a $44 million loan. The funding will provide middle mile connectivity to 65 communities.

Alabama

Butler, Butler Telephone Co. is receiving at $3.8 million grant. The funding will provide high speed DSL broadband service to remote, unserved households within its rural service territory.

California

San Joaquin, Tranquillity, and Fresno, Audeamus are getting a $2.7 million grant and $2.7 million loan. The proposed project is a fiber-based broadband infrastructure for the unserved and underserved communities in this service area. A last-mile project, it will provide access to approximately 1,500 households, local businesses and other institutions.

Iowa

Meriden and Archer, C-M-L Telephone Cooperative Association, is getting a $1.5 million grant and $1.5 million loan along with $1.5 million in matching funds. Funding will provide services via a fiber optic network to rural communities with high speed internet exceeding 20 Mbps.

Bennett, Delmar, and Lowden, F & B Communications are receiving a $1.6 million grant and $1.6 million loan. Funding will provide services via high speed fiber optic network with speeds exceeding 20Mbps.

Springbrook, LaMotte Telephone Co. is receiving a $187,815 grant and a $187,815 loan. The funding will provide services from a 300-foot tower and Wi-Max installation for wireless broadband service in the surrounding area.

Kansas (1 percent of the network is to be built in Nebraska)

Western Kansas, Rural Telephone Service Co. is getting a $49.5 million grant and a $51 million loan. Funding will provide service in an area 99.5 percent unserved/underserved and provide a rural infrastructure required for economic stability, education and healthcare. The company is a cooperative and RUS partner on 32 other projects. It leads a team of seven companies with this shovel-ready project.

Tennessee (1 percent of the network is to be built in Kentucky)

Northern Tennessee, North Central Telephone Cooperative is getting a $24.7 million grant and a $24.9 million loan. The funding will provide the necessary infrastructure to provide advanced voice, video, and data services that exceed 20Mbps to remote and rural communities in the service area.

Louisiana

Morehouse Parish, Northeast Louisiana Telephone Co., is receiving a $4.3 million grant and a $8 million loan. Funding will provide an active ethernet system with symmetrical speeds of 20 Mbps. The system will be using buried fiber to the premise.

Missouri

Ralls County, Ralls County Electric Cooperative is receiving a $9.5 million grant and a $9.5 million loan. Funding for this project will provide a fiber optic network to residential and commercial members and the underserved safety and anchor agencies in the service area. This is a State of Missouri demonstration project and non-proprietary data will be shared.

North Dakota

Burleigh County; BEK Communications Cooperative, is receiving $1.9 million grant and $2 million loan along with $2 million in leveraged funds.

Traill County; Halstad Telephone Co. will receive a $2 million grant and a $2 million loan plus $10,000 in leveraged funds. The funding will provide fiber-to-the premises broadband service to unserved homes and businesses in Traill County.

Oregon

Marion County, Gervais telephone Co. will receive a $314,430 grant and $314,430 loan. This project extends Gervais Telephone’s existing fiber network by building out from the nearest fiber splice point through the funded service area. This project will provide broadband connectivity to residential and business end users, as well as to four anchor institutions.

Virginia

Alleghany County, NTELOS Telephone is receiving an $8 million grant and $8 million loan. The funds will provide broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved homes, businesses and critical community institutions in this rural county. A fiber-based project, it will enable work-from-home jobs and foster economic development, and improve health, education and public safety services to the county citizens.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s Incredible Silicon Valley Wi-Fi Adventure

in Wireless by

SAN JOSE, November 6 – It was Kevin Martin’s day to suck up praise from Silicon Valley.

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission – for about two more months – came to the Wireless Communications Association’s annual conference here on Thursday to be feted by many Googlers, including company co-founder Larry Page.

Google had billions of dollars’ worth of reasons to be thankful to Martin. In a hat-trick of decisions on Election Day, Martin shephered a Google-led initiative to make use of the vacant “white spaces” on the television dial through the political shoals of the traditionally broadcaster-friendly FCC.

Also on Tuesday, the agency’s five commissioners unanimously voted to approve the merger of Clearwire and Sprint Nextel, aided by investment from – you guessed it – Google (plus Intel, Bright House Networks, Comcast and Time Warner).

The clean merger of the old Clearwire and the wireless carrier Sprint Nextel took a rocket docket through the FCC. It required no divestiture of assets, as is generally par for the course. Announced on May 7, the merger was approved on November 4, or 181 days later.

By contrast, Comcast and Time Warner had to cool their heels for 404 days before they could accept a condition-riddled division of the assets of failed cable operators Adelphia, in July 2006.

Even AT&T, which once seemed like the favored son of the Martin FCC, was forced to wait 269 days before it could consummate its relations with BellSouth, and 273 days for the merger of SBC Communications and the old AT&T.

In the third significant decision at Tuesday’s FCC meeting, Verizon Communications got the blessing to gobble up wireless competitor Alltel – a merger announced on June 5 – but Verizon had to “voluntarily divest” itself of spectrum assets in 100 markets.

The wireless association’s conference here on Thursday was a celebration of all things Google-ish, with a keynote by Larry Page, a joint press conference by Page and Martin, and a VIP-only reception hosted by Google, TechNet and the wireless association.

In his keynote, Page got right to the point. “I really want to applaud the chairman and the FCC for doing the right thing, and one of the most important things that they can do and that happened in technology in a long time,” he said, speaking about the white spaces decision.

On Tuesday, the FCC approved an order by its Office of Engineering and Technology – powerfully pushed by Google and a collection of other high-tech companies including Microsoft, Motorola, Phillips and others – to allow wireless devices to transmit internet signals in the radio-frequencies unused by television stations.

Each city has dozens of such vacant channels. In San Jose, 26 of the 49 stations between channels 2 and 51 are occupied by broadcasters, leaving 23 potentially available for transmitting broadband, Wi-Fi style, according the Media Tracker of the Center for Public Integrity.

Google’s Page wasn’t clear on any company plans to flood the market with devices that that can take advantage of all those vacant broadcast channels. Nor was he clear – other than the fact that he was very, very excited – on how or whether the company would leverage its spectrum investment in the new Clearwire with its work on Wi-Fi.

“We are an investor in the Clearwire thing, so we are excited about that,” Page said. “They have tremendous [spectrum holdings]. We are absolutely excited about devices that use that spectrum.”

But Page did suggest that the accidental success of Wi-Fi would likely set the stage for a new flowering of white spaces devices.

“We use Wi-Fi all the time to connect to the Internet,” Page said.  “At Google, everyone is connecting to laptops. We have Ethernet cables, but we don’t even plug them in, because the Wi-Fi is so good.”

In his speech, Page called Wi-Fi – which utilizes spectrum in the 2.4 Gigahertz (GHz) range – a fortunate accident. He called it “bad spectrum that was useless, and so it was put in this unlicensed regime. Wi-Fi came along, and great engineers got a hold of it, and it is basically used for all of our internet connections.”

Kevin Martin chimed in. He pointed out that “wireless microphones are not licensed” and that “many did not go through certification, the way they were originally supposed to.”

The fact that wireless microphones are able to operate without disrupting broadcast television demonstrated, Martin said, the validity of the Silicon Valley argument in favor of opening the broadcast band up for experimentation and innovation.

The propagation characteristics of 2.4 GHz spectrum aren’t great. “Wi-Fi goes through two walls and then it stops,” Page said. The white spaces between channels 2 and 51, by contrast, operate in relatively low frequencies, from 54 Megahertz (MHz) to 698 MHz.

These lower frequencies will allow for cheaper deployment than Wi-Fi, and “a new wireless broadband alternative that reaches millions,” according to Google’s “White Spaces: Access for the Future” document bandied about the conference here.

The Google report cites an analysis prepared by the New America Foundation’s Wireless Future Program showing that the amount of vacant white spaces after the DTV transition varies from 82 percent of the broadcast band in less-populated markets like Fargo, North Dakota, to 30 percent of the band in densely-populated Trenton, New Jersey.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt is Chairman of the New America Foundation, and the think tank has received donations from Schmidt, but not from Google or Google.org, the search giant’s non-profit affiliate.

What plans does Google have for all of this new white spaces spectrum? In a separate presentation at a companion conference here sponsored jointly by the FCC and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, Daniel Conrad of Google’s strategic partnership division said, “Getting to this spectrum, which is unused, allows you to hit great range [that] allows you to even get indoors with your network.”

Conrad noted that Google, which operates a public Wi-Fi network in its home city of Mountain View, Calif., can’t use the network inside buildings.

“Not that Google has some grand master plan for what will happen with this spectrum,” said Conrad. “We are happy to see the support of the [FCC] to open it up and to allow anyone to bring whatever business model they want to this space” – provided, of course, that that business model calls for an unlicensed use of the frequencies.

Martin, for his part, said he decided to act now on white spaces because the transition to digital television was nearly complete. “There were two things that were important in my thinking,” Martin said in the joint press conference with Google’s Page. “Utilizing the white spaces prior to the DTV transition, because you were going to be moving the broadcasters around, was going to affect consumers.”

Martin also said that that he was confident that white spaces devices submitted by technology companies met technical requirements for non-interference with broadcast television.

The Martin-feting continued all day. At the Google-TechNet cocktail hour, Google Vice President Doug Garland told him, “We have been so appreciative of your leadership in so many ways.”

Martin, his days at the FCC clearly numbered, sounded relieved to get outside the Beltway. “It is helpful for us to come out to Silicon Valley and get an appreciation” for innovation.

Correction

Editor’s Note: The original version of this article incorrectly reported that the New America Foundation had received funding from Google. New America Foundation Vice President Michael Calabrese said that neither Google nor Google.org had ever given funding to the think tank.

CWA Publishes State-by-State Download Speeds. How About Carrier-by-Carrier Speeds?

in Expert Opinion by

Blog Entries

August 15 – The Communications Workers of America’s Speed Matters blog this week published its state-by-state report on download speeds in the United States.

According to the report, the median download speed for the nation was 2.3 Megabits per second (Mbps), which it compared to median download speeds in Japan (63 Mbps), South Korea (49 Mbps), Finland (21 Mbps), France (17 Mbps) and Canada (7.6 Mbps). The median upload speed for the United States was 425 Kilobits per second (Kbps), which the report notes is “far too slow for patient monitoring or to transmit large files such as medical records.”

The CWA report was prepared based upon 229,000 tests in the United States from May 2007 to May 2008 – a truly impressive total.

BroadbandCensus.com is also taking speed tests as part our effort to map out broadband availability, competition, speeds, prices and service quality. While we have collected thousand of speed test results since we launched our web site in January 2008, we are still far short of the numbers of Speed Matters.

The new Speed Matters total tests compares with 80,000 speed tests taken from September 2006 to May 2007 and used in CWA’s July 2007 report.

The July 2007 report found a median download speed of 1.97 Mbps, and a median upload speed of 371 Kbps. The slight improvement from 2007 to 2008 means that “at this rate, it will take the United States more than 100 years to catch up with current Internet speeds in Japan,” according to the August 2008 report.

This current CWA report broke its current totals down state-by-state, from California, with 22,000 tests, to North Dakota, with 231 such tests. It used median download and median upload speeds to rank the states.

In terms of downloads, the top ten states in the CWA report were: Rhode Island (6.8 Mbps), Delaware (6.7 Mbps), New Jersey (5.8 Mbps), Virginia (5.0 Mbps), Massachusetts (4.6 Mbps), New York (4.1 Mbps), Florida (4.0), Maryland (4.0 Mbps), Georgia (3.0 Mbps), and the state of Washington (3.0 Mbps).

The internet company Akamai has also produced a state-by-state report about download speeds, ranking the percentage of states with greater than 5 Mbps for the first quarter of 2008. Five of CWA’s top-10 download states also made Akamai’s top-10 list: Delaware (1st place, at 60 percent), Rhode Island (2nd, at 42 percent), New York (3rd, at 36 percent), Massachusetts (8th, at 29 percent) and Maryland (9th, at 27 percent).

The remaining top-10 Akamai states were: Nevada (4th, at 34 percent), Oklahoma (5th, at 33 percent), Connecticut (6th, at 32 percent), New Hampshire (7th, at 30 percent), and the District of Columbia (10th, at 27 percent).

In terms of measuring broadband availability, competition, speeds, prices and service quality, BroadbandCensus.com believes that the next crucial step is to break those speed totals down not only by geography, but also by carrier.

In other words, it is good to know the difference between the download speeds in Connecticut and in California. But it would be great to know the difference between the actual download speeds of Verizon Communications, AT&T, Comcast, etc., within different locations in Connecticut and in California.

That’s what BroadbandCensus.com is currently working on. We don’t have enough data to have a reasonable gauge of carrier-specific data on a state-by-state, or county-by-county, or ZIP code-by-ZIP code basis.

But based on the results from those of you who have Taken the Broadband Census and speed test, we do have preliminary data about carrier-specific download speeds and upload speeds. We also can gauge the difference between carriers’ promised speeds and their actual speeds. This information is based, again, upon the bottom-up, or “crowdsourcing,” of information by those of you who have Taken the Broadband Census!

We’re putting together a report based on this information as part of partnership with the Pew Internet & American Life Project. That report will be released later this year.

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