Frequently Asked Questions
What about speed?
Speed on the Internet is an elusive topic to discuss. The first and most important speed is “perceived speed”, a term we use to describe whether you think your connection is fast or not. Do you stream a full HD Amazon prime movie without hesitation or buffering? Well that’s fast, right? How about if you have a house full of teenagers, all online, consuming bandwidth? How much is enough? Do you like to play online games? A fellow recently had a speed problem. He was connecting wirelessly to his Internet connection, and playing an online game involving aircraft in war scenarios. The graphics were amazing, and bandwidth intensive. Simply taking the computer off of the wifi, and connecting a CAT5 cable between his laptop and his Internet service gave him the full bandwidth available. The game got much better!
What if you have a computer, and it gets a virus that slows things down? Do you blame the virus or the Internet?
Speed can be discussed in technical terms, but let’s start with a perception definition. For our purposes, we know what “fast” is. To complicate matters, there is an upload and download speed. Most of us use very little upload speed and enormous amounts of download speed. For example, when you ‘surf the net’, you click a link for the next page. That link follows a path, called the OSI model, and becomes a packet of binary data going out the wire, to the web server. The packet is quite small; however, the return page could be a two hour movie, or complex web page with lots of graphics. It’s for this reason that satellites “sort of “ work. The upload speeds are terribly slow, and downloads are reasonable. However, satellite services suffers from latency, or sluggishness between your mouse click and the arrival of the resulting page. Satellite service contracts often have bandwidth caps, or monthly limits to help the company even out their service distribution. Hit the cap and you get forcibly slowed to an un-useable crawl.
Are you a content producer, or content consumer? If the former, you will need a fast upload. For the rest of us content consumers, we need a decent speed. What’s decent? DSL? Not really; not anymore. It works, but suffers from saturation as the total speed can be shared and loaded.
Are you trying to video chat or video conference? Running a business? Skype? Accessing a large database to maintain your shopping cart/e-commerce solution? You need speed!
What kind of connection is best for WV?
The answer to this question is simple on one hand and complicated by technology on the other. The best connection, in terms of speed, hands down, is fiber directly to the computer. The amount of speed you can achieve with fiber is virtually unlimited. However, this is the most expensive solution in rural areas because of the cost to string fiber. So, here’s a bottom line answer to Internet in West Virginia. The “best” solution is a combination of fiber and inexpensive, special purpose radios, built for point to point communication.
Why won’t the telecoms bring me better Internet?
Cost. The costs are mostly the labor needed to overcome our mountainous terrain. Simply put, the telecom companies invest heavily in labor, pole attachment fees, and somewhat in the fiber itself, to string fiber optic cable. Whether fiber or other wire, the media is relatively inexpensive. Labor is the biggest price, followed by the licensing, pole attachment fees, and other ancillary costs. There is simply not enough return on investment for the telecom company to justify the expense of running a wire or fiber, when our population density is sparse. To be competitive, a company needs to offer service at $30-$90/month, right? Well, if it costs hundreds of thousands to bring on the four or five families living up sleepy holler… Do the math. You won’t be seeing fiber in this lifetime; there’s simply not enough potential customers in the rural areas.
How much will it cost?
Again, a simple question with no real answer. Competition is a good thing, sure. So, having more than one provider brings competition and ultimately lower prices. However, for much of our state, and especially our three counties, there is either no Internet, overpriced and under-performing satellite, or Frontier with DSL, discussed elsewhere. A co-op is a promising idea, with costs shared amongst many people.
What about SpaceX, or Internet over Power Lines?
SpaceX is undertaking an ambitious program to launch 12,000 low earth orbit satellites to provide world wide internet service. The idea is awesome. When will it materialize? How expensive is it to launch a rocket? The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
Internet over power lines is another great idea that fails when loaded. The power lines carry current and are exposed, making them become essentially, antennas, and therefore susceptible to interference. If you have Internet over power lines, you need lots of filtering devices to clean up the signals and “noise” caused by all the other things in your house, like microwaves and other appliances. Even so, the speeds just are not what we really want or need. Works, but it’s not practical.
What happens if all of these companies emerge at the same time? Won’t your efforts be for naught?
This is the great “what if question” that needs to be unpacked. Do you even have Internet service? Is it affordable? If this broadband effort brings competition, how can this be anything but good? If the broadband committee is successful, and you get one service provider, then this must be better than nothing, right? If at the same time, some satellite company, or TV white space company offers you a broadband package, well great! You will then have choices. Until then, how about working with your local folks who want to make broadband a reality for our community?
What about Frontier and “high speed” Internet?
In rural areas, Frontier’s “high speed” Internet offering is DSL, or digital subscriber line. DSL is useful technology, because it encodes data across your existing copper phone lines. The problem in WV is many of our rural areas have old copper lines, with questionable quality, certainly aged, and poor maintenance. A very thin piece of copper will make an analog (old timey) phone work just fine. But step up the voltage to encode data, as is the case with DSL, and the copper lines need to be well maintained, short in length, and we just don’t have that here. The broadband survey is replete with complaints from residents who contacted their telecom, only to be told it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to string a new wire to their house! Yep, labor is expensive.
What is CCRBDC trying to do?
We like to use the airport analogy. As a public/private partnership in the form of a co-op and non-profit, we can access funding not available to commercial entities. The issue of connectivity is front and center with the US Congressmen and Senators, so the federal government is investing. Millions. Our goal is to create the infrastructure, like building an airport, and then leasing the lines/fiber/radios to service providers. This way, we use public funds to build the connection backbone, and stay out of the telecom business. The telecoms won’t spend their money to build the connection backbone because it does not meet their ROI (return on investment) objectives. Ok, then. We will build it, using a combination of taxpayer grants, and let the telecoms use this backbone, much like a roadway, or terminal at an airport, to offer the people services.
What are the steps?
1. Form committee of concerned citizens. Check.
2. Write a grant proposal. Check.
3. Get a grant. Check.
4. Write a Request for Proposal (RFP) to hire a company to properly document the need. This document is a necessary step to pave the way for future progress. Is it silly to tell us we need better Internet? Of course! Is it necessary in the government funding process? Yes. Check.
5. Receive proposals. Check.
6. Thoroughly consider the proposals, vet the vendors, and choose one. Check.
7. Participate with the vendor, supervise their progress, and approve their final product. Check.
8. Take the Feasibility Study and use it to acquire additional funding for a Design and Implementation process. Working.
So, for the last almost two years, with public input, the CCRBDC has been regularly meeting (open to the public) and working with the community, the vendor, and the three Counties to develop a quality Feasibility Study. Is this a plan? No. It is merely a high quality document, detailing the need for broadband in our communities and an overview of the next steps to bringing better Internet to the people. This is a huge project in terms of the business, topography, cultural, and technology hurdles.
When will I get a better connection at my house?
A fair question. Realistically, this process will take five or more years to see widespread adoption. Some folks, especially in unserved or underserved areas, with optimal topography, may see a pilot program, and sooner, rather than later, connectivity efforts. Getting everyone connected in three rural, impoverished and mountainous counties, is a massive undertaking; a worthy effort to be sure, but a monumental one no doubt.