Grants for Low-Income Apartments

There is one section of the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment  (BEAD) grants that cities should find interesting. These grants can be used for installing internet and Wi-Fi infrastructure or providing reduced-cost broadband within a multi-family residential building, with priority given to a residential building that has a substantial share of unserved households or is in a location in which the percentage of individuals with a household income that is at or below 150 percent of the poverty line applicable to a family of the size involved (as determined under section 673(2) of the Community Services Block Grant Act (42 U.S.C. 9902(2)) is higher than the national percentage of such individuals.

The BEAD grants are mostly aimed at solving the rural digital divide, but this is an open invitation for cities to seek grant funding to bring better broadband to low-income apartment complexes.

As is usual with most new laws, this one has one interesting incongruity. The BEAD grants establish a priority for States to follow – States should first use BEAD grants to bring broadband to unserved locations with broadband under 25/3 Mbps, then underserved locations with broadband slower than 100/20 Mbps, and finally to anchor institutions. My reading of the language is that serving low-income housing shares top priority along with rural unserved locations – the language says that grants can be used for unserved apartment buildings OR for low-income apartment buildings. This language seemingly gives low-income apartment buildings a higher priority than underserved locations. This language also implies that there is no speed requirement for low-income apartments to qualify for grant funding – the only requirement is the level of poverty.

It’s going to be interesting to see how States interpret this. States with big cities could see huge demand for broadband grants from cities that see this as the chance to solve the urban digital divide. I know that $42.5 billion is a lot of money, but it’s not going to stretch as far as Congress might have believed if every major city sees this as a chance to bring fiber to low-income neighborhoods.

The language is interesting in that it allows for bringing either Wi-Fi or reduced-cost broadband. The term Wi-Fi suggests what I call centralized Wi-Fi that floods hallways and common areas in apartment buildings. It’s a nice thing to have, but it is not the future-looking broadband that is needed for the next twenty years. I’d hate to see a lot of grants asking to install Wi-Fi instead of bringing real broadband to apartment units.

Bringing broadband to apartments will require an ISP. That could be almost anybody under the BEAD grants. Cities could be the ISP in a state that allows municipal ISPs. Cities could partner with the large incumbent ISPs or with smaller commercial ISPs. The most interesting idea is to partner with a non-profit ISP. It would even be possible for cities to hand these networks off to an urban cooperative. Anybody interested in the last two possibilities needs to be moving quickly to have the non-profit or cooperative formed by the time the grant requests are filed in a year.

A year is not a lot of time for cities to capitalize on this possibility. The specific apartments to be served should be identified. Somebody has to design and price out a technical solution. A city will have a better chance of winning funding if it has identified the ISP partner. And cities need to get active over the next few months to make sure that States build this option into the broadband plan that must be approved by the NTIA.

This $42.5 billion grant program is extraordinary in its size and scope – and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to solve persistent broadband gaps. Cities need to marshal their resources quickly to make this happen because there probably won’t be another funding program for a long time aimed at solving the urban digital divide.

Video Meetings are the New Normal

One of the big changes that came out of the pandemic will have a permanent impact on broadband networks. Holding online meetings on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, and other video platforms has become a daily part of business for many companies.

This article in the New York Times cites predictions that businesses will cut down on travel by 20% to 50%. This will have a huge impact over time on the airline and hotel industries. As a lifelong road warrior, I recall the relief every year when the school year started back in September and airports returned mostly to business travelers. It will be interesting in the future if airports really get more deserted during the business-only travel months.

But the real boon for businesses from less travel will be lower expenses and increased productivity. I can’t add up the number of times that I traveled somewhere for a one or two-hour meeting – something that has now fallen off my radar. We’re going to replace rushing to make a flight with the use of broadband.

What is interesting is how hard we tried in the past to make video conferencing into an everyday thing. Everybody of my age remembers these AT&T commercials from 1993 that predicted that video conferencing, working remotely, digital books, and GPS navigation would become a part of daily life. Most of the predictions made by these commercials became a reality much sooner than common video calling. Whole new industries have been built around digital books, and GPS is seemingly built into everything.

The business world fought against video conferencing. I recall a client from 20 years ago who had invested in an expensive video conference setup and insisted on either meeting in person or holding a video conference. I recall the hassle of having to rent a local video conferencing center to talk to this client – but even then, I could see how that expense was far better than spending time a wasted day in an airport and a night in a hotel.

I don’t know how typical my workday is, but I probably average 3 hours per day on video calls. I always hated long telephone calls, but I like the experience of seeing who I’m talking to. It’s enabled creating real bonds with clients and colleagues as I talk to them multiple times through video chat compared to an occasional live meeting.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the concept of broadband holding times to account for the fact that we are tying up broadband connections for hours with video chats or connecting to a work or school server. I’m not sure that we’ve fully grasped what this means for broadband networks. Most network engineers had metrics they used for estimating the amount of bandwidth required to serve a hundred or a thousand customers. That math goes out the door when a significant percentage of those customers are spending hours on video chats that use a small but continuous 2-way bandwidth connection.

We’re not likely to fully grasp what this means for another year until the pandemic is fully behind us, and companies settle into a new normal. I know I’m not going to be in airports in the future like I was in the past, and many people I’ve talked to feel the same way.

Amazon Sharing Your Broadband

Amazon launched its Sidewalk network in June. This is a local network established between Amazon devices in your home and around your neighborhood. This connects devices like the various kinds of Echo devices and Ring cameras. The network will also communicate with Tile devices used to keep track of things like keys and pets.

The network does not use your home WiFi, but instead establishes a new network using a combination of Bluetooth and 900 MHz LoRa signals. While Amazon won’t comment on future plans for this network, it would be a natural way for Amazon to create a smart home network that is apart and separate from WiFi.

Amazon automatically enabled newer Echo and Ring devices to act as bridges in the network. The network can then connect to any other smart home device that has the ability to communicate with the bridges. This doesn’t work with the first few generations of Amazon Echo devices but comes built into fourth-generation Echo and Dot devices. Specifically, the network enables the following kinds of connections:

  • Localized Bluetooth LE connections between the Sidewalk bridges and Sidewalk-enabled devices in your home;
  • Long-range Bluetooth LE and 900MHz connections between your Sidewalk bridges and Sidewalk-enabled devices outside of your home, including other people’s devices;
  • Long-range Bluetooth LE and 900MHz connections between your Sidewalk-enabled devices and Sidewalk bridges outside the home, including other people’s bridges.

The bridges on the network communicate with the Amazon cloud using your home broadband connection. Amazon says that it is limiting an individual connection to no more than 80 Kbps and is capping total data usage from any home at 500 MB of data per month.

If you have one of these devices in your home, this becomes another use of your monthly data. While half a gigabyte may not sound like a lot pf broadband, it is significant to people using cellular hotspots or other data plans with small data caps. This will be one more use of data that contributes to total home usage for anybody saddled with a broadband data cap.

In urban areas where there are a lot of such devices, this creates an interesting network. If you drop your keys while jogging or your dog wanders away, they can be located if connected to a Tile locator device. Amazon is touting the Sidewalk network as something that is good for everybody.

Amazon’s real plans have to be more than making Tile devices work better. The giant retailer probably has visions of selling a range of outdoor sensors that will work as long as homeowners or neighbors have a bridge device. In the future, you might buy an external sensor that makes its broadband connection through your neighbor’s Ring camera.

But this is also a bit troublesome. This creates a free mesh network for Amazon. Over time, it’s likely that many devices sold by the company will be capable of communicating with this network. The richest guy on the planet will have created an incredibly valuable network by taking small amounts of data from anybody using an Echo or Ring device. Users are able to disconnect bridges from the Sidewalk network, but devices are enabled automatically.

Amazon says data is safe on the network. Data is supposed protected by several layers of encryption, and Amazon plans to delete all data every 24 hours.

This reminds me of the WiFi network created by Comcast using home routers. Comcast swears that the network doesn’t use home broadband, but it’s unlikely that somebody would know it if it did. Amazon isn’t making such a claim and is brazenly using a small slice of people’s home broadband for free. Amazon is the only company that could currently pull this off since it has a huge number of Echo and Ring devices already in homes. But there is nothing stopping other smart home device makers from doing something similar and not even telling us about it.

Ireland’s Solution to the Rural Divide

The pandemic has given the whole world a pause to consider if we should return to business as usual when the pandemic is behind us. Ireland has a unique reaction and is something that could make sense here.

Ireland plans to provide incentives to lure people from cities back to smaller rural towns. Like much of the world, Ireland has seen decades of young people moving to cities to find work, leaving behind shrinking and aging rural towns. The government has announced a plan called “Our Rural Future” that will hopefully lure residents back to smaller towns.

An obvious key piece of this plan is making sure that rural towns have fiber broadband – something the country has been tackling for several years. The new plan is to fund the renovation of rural city centers and to create 400 rural working hubs. The government will give tax breaks to people and corporations that shift to working in the rural hub towns. The government also plans to relocate at least 20% of the 300,000 federal civil servants to the newly established hub towns.

The hope is to rebalance the economy throughout the country, so that rural areas share the same growth and prosperity as cities. The Irish government tried something similar in 2000 when it moved some government jobs out of Dublin.

This is an idea that we should consider here. Two-thirds of US counties have lost population since 2010, representing a huge shift of the population from rural America to cities and suburbs. Further, the population in a lot of rural counties is aging, since much of the lost population are younger residents looking for better-paying jobs.

The US has already started down a path to bring a lot of fiber to rural areas – something that is a key factor for making rural America a place to work. We’ve had recent grants like RDOF along with the new state and federal grants that should give a big boost to rural broadband. Even bigger would be an infrastructure plan to build tens of billions of dollars of fiber. We have one significant difference compared to Ireland’s plan. The US government is funding better broadband for the most rural places in the country, but not funding broadband upgrades for county seats. It is those towns across America that could thrive and grow with the right incentives. Ireland is creating the work hubs in small towns that are the equivalent to small county seats here.

There are enormous incentives for the US to consider something similar. If rural communities continue to lose population while continuing to age, we’re going to find rural economies dragging down the economy as a whole. Luring people out of cities can also help to cool off the torrid urban housing market that is making it nearly impossible for young families to afford homes. Pushing new housing construction to smaller communities here would spread our prosperity, much as Ireland is hoping for.

To do this in a big way would require the full support and funding from the federal government. However, individual communities can undertake a programs to lure urban residents. I wrote a blog some years back about how Independence, Oregon had a program to lure Portland residents to its lower cost of living and its fiber network.

As a nation, we only get a reset button once or twice per century, and this could be one of those times. Newspapers and the web are full of stories of people who used the pandemic year to reexamine their priorities, and there are seemingly millions of people willing to step off the urban treadmill if we make it easier for them to do so.

It seems kind of a shame to spend money on better rural broadband networks if we don’t also make a push to get people to use them. Perhaps some of this shift will happen naturally from people who have found a way to permanently work from home – something that is made easy with new fiber networks.

I’d love to hear from any communities that are actively using fiber to lure new residents.

Why Do We Give Grants to Huge ISPs?

The blog title is a rhetorical question because we all know why we give federal money to big ISPs – they are powerful companies that have a lot of lobbyists and that make a lot of contributions to politicians. But for some reason, the rest of us don’t talk enough about why giving money to the big ISPs is bad policy.

I could write a week’s worth of blogs detailing reasons why big ISPs don’t deserve grant funding. The public dislikes big ISPs and has rated them for two decades as having the worst customer service among all corporations and entities, disliked even more than insurance companies and the IRS. The public hates talking to big ISPs, because every call turns into a sales pitch to spend more money.

The big ISPs routinely deceive their customers. They routinely advertise special prices and then proceed to bill consumers more than what was promised. They have hidden fees and try to disguise their rates as taxes and fees. The big telcos unashamedly bill rural customers big fees for decrepit DSL that barely works. The telcos have known for over a decade that they can’t deliver what they are peddling.

Cable companies come across as better than the telcos only because their broadband technology is faster. But in every city, there are some neighborhoods where speeds are far slower than advertised speeds – neighborhoods where longstanding network problems never get fixed. I hear stories all of the time about repeated slowdowns and outages. About 30% of the folks we’ve surveyed during the pandemic have said that they couldn’t work from home due to problems with cable company upload speeds.

And then there are the big reasons. The big telcos created the rural broadband crisis. They made a decision decades ago to walk away from rural copper. They quietly cut back on all upgrades and maintenance and eliminated tens of thousands of rural technicians, meaning that customers routinely wait a week or longer to even see a technician.

What’s worse, the big telcos didn’t walk away from rural America honestly. They kept talking about how they could provide good service, to the point that the FCC awarded them $11 billion in the CAF II program to improve rural DSL – we paid them for what they should have routinely done by reinvesting the billions they have collected from rural customers. But rather than use the CAF II money to improve rural DSL, most of the money got pocketed to the benefit of stockholders.

While I think the decision to walk away from rural broadband was made in the boardroom – the worst consequences of the decision were implemented locally. That’s how giant companies work and is the primary reason we shouldn’t give money to big ISPs. Upper management puts pressure on regional vice presidents to improve the bottom line, and it’s the regional managers who quietly cut back on technicians and equipment. Rural broadband didn’t die from one big sweeping decision – it was murdered by thousands of small cutbacks by regional bureaucrats trying to earn better bonuses. I’ve talked to many rural technicians who tell me that their companies have taken away every tool they have for helping customers.

What does this all boil down to? If we give money to the big ISPs to build rural networks, they are going to pocket some of the money like they did with CAF II. But even if they use grant money to build decent rural networks, it’s hard to imagine them being good stewards of those networks. The networks will not get the needed future upgrades. There will never be enough technicians. And every year the problems will get a little worse until we look up in twenty years and see rural fiber networks owned by the big ISPs that are barely limping along. Meanwhile, we’ll see networks operated by cooperatives, small telcos, and municipalities that work perfectly, that offer good customer service, and that have responsive repair and maintenance.

I have a hard time thinking that there is a single policy person or politician in the country who honestly thinks that big ISPs will take care of rural America over time. They’ll take federal money and build the least they can get away with. Then, within only a few years they’ll start to nickel and dime the rural properties as they have always done.

I have to laugh when I hear somebody comparing current rural broadband grant programs to our effort a century ago for rural electrification. That electrification money went mostly to cooperatives and not to the big commercial corporations. We’ve lost track of that important fact when we use the electrification analogy. The government made the right decision by lending money to citzens to solve the electricity gap and didn’t give money to the big commercial electric companies that had already shunned rural America.

The main reason we shouldn’t give grants to big ISPs is that solving the rural broadband gap is too important to entrust to companies that we know will do a lousy job. There is nobody who thinks that the big telcos or cable companies will do the right thing in rural America over the long run if we’re dumb enough to fund them.

Frontier Faces a New Problem

Frontier recently emerged from bankruptcy and seemingly is ready to tackle some of its biggest problems. The company has been laden in heavy debt and unable to pursue an aggressive capital expansion program to build fiber. The company has been bleeding both broadband and cable customers over the last few years.

The company shed $10 billion of debt in bankruptcy and told the bankruptcy court that it intends to immediately start building fiber to kick-start the refreshed business. The industry analysts at MoffettNathanson have opined that a reinvigorated Frontier has a chance to improve performance and to achieve decent returns on capital investments. The analysts expect Frontier to stabilize its customer base by 2023 to 2024 and then begin growing customers and revenues.

However, after barely being out of bankruptcy, Frontier was hit by a lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission and the attorney generals of Arizona, California, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. The lawsuit alleges that Frontier knowingly advertises speeds that it knows it can’t deliver. The FTC suit says that “Since at least January 2015, thousands of consumers complained to Frontier and government agencies that the company failed to provide DSL Internet service at the speeds they were promised.”

This lawsuit should be a warning to many other ISPs. The suit specifically attacks the practice of advertising “up to” speeds that no customer can attain. The FTC acknowledges that Frontier says that they might not be able to deliver the advertised speeds to all locations and that speeds are not guaranteed. This aligns with other recent FTC actions where the FTC believes that warnings in the fine print can’t be used to offset significantly different claims in the main body of advertising. Essentially, the FTC says Frontier can’t claim speeds up to 25/3 Mbps when it knows that no customer in a service area can get close to that speed.

The FTC is partnering with states due to a recent court ruling that said that the FTC cannot impose monetary damages. States are allowed to do so, and as partners in the suits, these states will clearly be seeking monetary damages from Frontier.

Anybody that has lived or worked in rural America knows that the FTC and state claims are valid. I’ve worked with clients in Frontier territory where the company claims 25/3 Mbps in the FCC reporting – and according to the suit also in advertising to customers. When we’ve done speed tests in some counties where Frontier is an ISP, we often haven’t seen any customer achieving speeds greater than 10/1 Mbps, with many even slower than this.

It’s worth noting that the FCC allows ISPs to report advertised speeds in the FCC mapping, so according to the FCC, as long as an ISP is advertising a speed to customers, they can report that to the FCC. What this lawsuit says is quite different – it says that ISPs shouldn’t advertise speeds that can’t be delivered. This is something that I’ve always thought the FCC should implement, but they never have. In fact, in the ‘new’ broadband mapping the FCC is planning to introduce it is still allowing ISPs to report advertised speeds instead of an estimate of actual speeds.

While this lawsuit is against Frontier, they are not the only ISP in the country that is claiming speeds to customers and to the FCC that are faster than what can be delivered. In rural areas, we’ve seen this same issue with other large telcos and from numerous WISPs. I would have to think that if Frontier loses this suit that this might be a big warning for the rest of the rural broadband industry.

When the FCC opens up the new mapping to public comments, I predict the agency will be swamped with people complaining about the actual speeds compared to what is being advertised. Oddly, if the FCC sticks with the idea that reporting advertised speeds is okay, it will ignore such complaints – which is not going to make the public very happy.

This Time it’s Verizon

We occasionally get a good reminder of how poorly the large duopoly ISPs in the country treat their customers. The latest example comes from Verizon. The Washington Post reported how Verizon has been requiring customers to upgrade to more expensive data plans before being able to benefit from the $50 monthly discount offered by the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program.

The EBB program was funded with $3.2 billion from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act. The program provides up to a $50 discount off broadband bills to qualifying households. A household qualifies by being low-income and eligible for the FCC Lifeline program or has suffered a significant drop in household income due to the pandemic.

The EBB is a temporary plan that will last until the $3.2 billion is gone, at which point participants lose the $50 discount. We won’t know how long that will be until we get a count of the participants in the program, but I’ve seen several estimates that this might last for six to nine months.

The Washington Post article cites customers who called Verizon to ask for the EBB discount and were told that they could only get the discount if they first upgrade to a more expensive package. As an example, somebody paying $60 per month will be required to upgrade to $90 per month to get the discount. This likely means that over the next year that people who get the EBB discount will probably end up spending as much or more with Verizon than if they didn’t get the EBB discount.

As the article points out, this is likely not illegal on Verizon’s part, but it goes completely against the purpose of the EBB, which is to help out households who have had hard economic times during the pandemic. Many of the subscribers asking for the discount will be the same ones who have had trouble paying rent after losing a job due to the pandemic.

There is a huge list of ways that big duopoly ISPs have mistreated customers over the years, but this particular case might be the posterchild of ISP abuse. Somebody at the company figured out a way to gain a longer-term advantage for the company as part of a pandemic relief program.

I’m also willing to bet that this will turn out to be a story of how monopoly abuses come about. It’s extremely unlikely that an idea like this started in the Verizon Boardroom. Instead, I bet that somebody down the management chain saw this as an opportunity to increase bonuses as a reward for achieving a bunch of upsells. If that sounds familiar, it is exactly what happened at Well Fargo Bank a few years ago when employees were opening extra accounts for customers as a way to make higher bonuses.

This is how monopoly abuses occur – not from the boardroom, but from employees that take advantage of the market power of the company for personal gain. That personal gain could be in the form of bonuses, or maybe just in getting recognized to gain promotions. That’s the only way to explain away some of the amazing stories that have come out over the years from Comcast customer service. The chances are high that the folks who thought up this idea are in hot water at Verizon – not because they were doing the wrong thing, but because they were dumb enough to get caught and drive a story to the front page of the Washington Post.

These periodic headlines detailing monopoly behavior are always a good reminder for smaller ISPs to be careful because employees at smaller ISPs can undertake similar behavior if they see a personal gain from cheating. Most of my clients have eliminated the temptation for shenanigans by having simple products that are always at the same prices for customers. But when an ISP is willing to negotiate rates with customers there is too much chance of bad behavior by employees.

New NTIA Grants

This is the year for unusual and unexpected broadband grant opportunities. The NTIA released a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) on May 21 for a broadband grant program it is labeling as the Broadband Infrastructure Program. The NTIA will be awarding grants for up to $288 million, with the funding provided from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act.

This is an unusual grant program because the money is aimed entirely at public-private partnerships (PPPs). The applications must be submitted by a government entity, but the specific partner must be identified that will operate the broadband business. I can’t think of another grant program in the past that even favored PPPs, let alone one that is only available to PPPs. It’s going to be interesting to see if there are enough rural PPPs in existence to use all of the money.

The grants are holding to the firm definition that the money can only be used in places where speeds are less than 25/3 Mbps. This creates a huge dilemma if the NTIA is going to stick to the lousy FCC mapping data that incorrectly shows huge swaths of rural areas as having 25/3 Mbps broadband. One would hope that the NTIA will be open to accepting evidence that actual speeds are often far slower than what has been claimed by some telcos and WISPs. If not, it’s going to be hard to find rural areas that weren’t already covered by the RDOF grants.

The grants are like all current federal broadband grants and can’t be used where prior grants have already been awarded to an area but are not yet constructed. That’s going to create an interesting dilemma for some communities. There are some RDOF grant areas that are being heavily disputed, and which may not get awarded. The FCC also awarded grants to Viasat in last year’s incentive reverse auction and communities are rightfully upset that these places are not eligible to get fiber. There is growing concern about the pending RDOF awards made to Starlink.

The grants must propose an engineered business plan. The NTIA expects the engineering to be solid because they expect projects to be built within one year of grant awards. The NTIA can grant a one-year extension for construction in some circumstances. But this rapid construction expectation means the NTIA only wants to see applications from ‘shovel-ready’ projects. Any community thinking of pursuing these grants should be forming the needed partnership immediately.

The grant applications are due by August 17. The NTIA doesn’t expect to start making grant awards until at least November 29. The NOFO offers that the NTIA might award additional funding to approved projects if there is not enough demand for the funding.

The NTIA warns that it will likely not award money to small projects, and it expects awards to be between $5 million and $30 million. That’s understandable when you consider that the agency is going to have to process a lot of the grant requests quickly between August and November. Applicants would be wise to apply early.

While there is no statutory reason that NTIA cannot award 100% grants, they caution applicants that they will favor projects that contribute matching funds of 10% or more – the NTIA wants to see the commercial partners have some skin in the game. They also want these matching funds to be non-federal dollars, meaning the matching shouldn’t come from some other bucket of funding from the $1.9 trillion ARPA program.

This is probably the most unique federal broadband grant I can remember in that the funding is only available to public-private partnerships and no other business structure. Since the grants are only being awarded to the public member of the partnership, this also implies ownership of the network by local governments and some sort of ongoing participation in the business. It’s going to be interesting to see how partnerships are created to meet these grant requirements.

4G on the Moon

This blog is a little more lighthearted than my normal blog. An article in FierceWireless caught my eye talking about how Nokia plans to establish a 4G network on the Moon.

The primary purpose of the wireless technology will be to communicate between a base station and lunar rovers. 4G LTE is a mature and stable technology that can handle data transmission with ease – particularly in an environment where there won’t be any interference. While the initial communications will be limited to a base station and lunar rovers, the choice of 4G will make it easier to integrate future devices like sensors and astronaut cellphones into the network. NASA historically used proprietary communications gear, but it makes a lot more sense to use a communications platform that can easily communicate with a wide range of existing devices.

One challenge Nokia and NASA have to overcome on the moon is that the transmissions will be made between a low-sitting rover to a base station antenna that probably won’t be more than 3 – 5 meters off the ground. While there are no trees or other such obstacles on the moon, there are plenty of boulders and craters that will be a challenge for communications.

Nokia will have one benefit not available on earth – they can use the best spectrum band possible for the transmissions. They can establish wider data channels than are used on earth to accommodate more data within a transmission. Nobody has ever been handed a clean spectrum  slate to develop the perfect 4G system before, and Nokia engineers are probably having a good time with this.

The biggest challenge will be in designing a lightweight cellular base station that contains the core, the baseband, and the radios in a small box. All of the components must be hardened to work in wide-ranging temperatures on the moon, which can range from a high of 260 F in the daytime to minus 280 F in the dark.

Nokia engineers know they have to test, then retest the gear – there will be no easy repairs on the moon. The vision is that future lunar landings will touch down on the surface and then send off both manned and unmanned rovers to explore the moon’s surface. The 4G gear must survive the rigors of an earth launch, a moon landing, and the vibrations and jolts from rovers and still be guaranteed to always work in the desolate lunar environment

I have to admit that my first reaction to the article was, “Shouldn’t we be putting 5G on the moon?”. But then it struck me. There is no 5G anywhere in the world other than the marketing product that cellular carriers call 5G. Since there will be no easy upgrades in space, Nokia engineers are being honest in calling for 4G LTE. Honestly labeling this as 4G will remind future engineers and scientists about the technology being used. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if Nokia was as honest about the 5G in our terrestrial cellular networks?

Broadband Shorts for March 2021

Following are a few broadband topics that I found of interest but that are too short for individual blogs.

The End of Project Loon. The Google parent firm Alphabet has killed project Loon. This was the attempt to use a fleet of balloons to bring broadband to remote places. The project was started 9 years ago and spun off as a separate company two-and-a-half years ago.

It’s a little surprising because Loon had some successes. Loon had raised $219 million of equity from SoftBank in 2019. Loon was able to bring some broadband and cellular coverage to Puerto Rico after the devastating hurricanes. Loon was recently approved by the government of Kenya to bring broadband to remote areas. The company’s stated goal was to bring Internet access to a billion people.

There are likely a few contributing factors to the decision. One is the pending ascension of satellite broadband. Google also faced fierce pushback in places like India that didn’t want broadband fostered by a big US company. It was also likely coming clear that it’s hard to base a company on providing subsidized broadband – that means lining up a lot of governments to pay the subsidies.

Surprising Success of Telehealth. Parks Associates conducted a study that shows that 41% of all US households took part in a telehealth visit in 2020. Further, 29% of homes say they are likely to engage in telehealth in 2021. About half of all kids under 18 have a high degree of interest in permanently adopting telehealth.

The survey also showed overall high satisfaction with the technical performance of telehealth. This is somewhat surprising since the vast majority of medical professionals scrambled to institute telehealth last spring. A majority of medical practitioners also expressed satisfaction with telehealth – 65% of healthcare organizations rate the 2020 telehealth delivery as a success and 94% plan to continue offering telehealth services.

While this is only one survey when added to everything else being published about telehealth it looks like this is something that’s going to stick.

Popularity of Working from Home. Masergy, a supplier of managed SD-Wan software, undertook a survey that showed that about two-thirds of knowledge workers report being happier working from home. While employees were forced to work at home due to the pandemic, a lot of those working from home expressed a strong preference to never return to the office environment. Reasons given included increased productivity and the avoidance of the commute. Many of those working at home are comfortable with the idea of a hybrid schedule that puts them in the office occasionally, but mostly working from home.

From the employer’s perspective, the biggest challenge of 2020 has been security. But ISPs and software firms have developed solutions that seem to be working for most companies.

This has a lot of implications for both broadband and for corporations that employ knowledge workers. For ISPs, this means continued demand for upload bandwidth – something that I think cable companies were hoping would fade away with the end of the pandemic. This also puts pressure on employers, because workers that prefer working from home are going to migrate to corporations that embrace the idea – while ones that don’t might have trouble finding the best talent.

Really? There is a seller on eBay apparently successfully marketing 5G repellent cream. Without even mentioning the size of the jar, they are selling lotion for $36 under the brand name ‘5 Guard’.  I find this to be funny in that the 5G radiation that most scares some people is millimeter-wave spectrum. This spectrum can’t penetrate human skin more than perhaps a cell or two deep. I’m sure this isn’t the first G repellant – just the first one I ran across.