Consumer Education

Crossing the Digital Divide – by Joseph Feigon

The “Digital Divide”…what is it?  How big is it?  Which side am I on?  These are important questions which can impact your education, job, economics general well-being.  

The Digital Divide is the gulf between individuals, households, businesses, and geographic areas in regards to access to, use of, and impact of information and communication technologies.  Simply put, the divide between those who have broadband and those who don’t.  There are many components of this divide, the most apparent in rural areas being lack of access.

Joseph Feigon is a technical wizard, and he is here to help you Cross the Digital Divide with his blog below.  Joe and his wife Mara moved to Mendocino county from San Francisco about eight years ago, and started building their own business:  business management/bookkeeping (Mara), and IT solutions for individuals and small businesses (Joseph).

Joe’s experience with telecommunications dates back to the era of divestiture, when he sold phone systems and voice processing platforms to small and large businesses alike.  As speed increased and fiber began to replace T-1 lines he moved into video and data.  He rode the Internet wave and helped individuals and businesses to connect and access the Internet to fulfill their personal and business goals.  He assisted several Bay area municipalities replace their aging PBX’s or Centrex systems with contemporary, VoIP based solutions to embrace exciting new technologies.  

In today’s world and “information overload” it takes effort to keep our digital literacy skills up to speed.  Joe is here to help us with his “Crossing the Digital Divide” columns. We are are grateful that he is sharing his knowledge with the residents of Mendocino County and viewers of the Broadband Alliance website.

You can also find Joe’s columns published weekly in the Laytonville Observer paper.  If you want to contact Joe, please use the Alliance contact request and we will pass your inquiry to Joe.

(NOTE: Joe is a resident of Laytonville, and some of his columns are specific to that area.  The ones included here are those columns that have a wider audience appeal)

Volume 1 – Crossing the Digital Divide (1/7/2016)
Volume 2 – Keep it Safe (1/14/2016)
Volume 3 – Here & There, Hardware and Backups (1/21/16)
Volume 4 – Rules of the Road (1/28/16)
Volume 5 – Free Stuff (2/16/16)
Volume 6 – Real Privacy (2/23/16)
Volume 7 – Your Net (3/4/16)
Volume 8 – Real Time Communications (3/10/16)
Volume 9 – Internet of Things
Volume 10 – Should I Fix it?
Volume 11 – Windows
Volume 12 – When to Turn What Off
Volume 13 – Two-factor Identification
Volume 14 – Shortcuts
Volume16 – plumbing
Volume 17 – Certifiable
Volume 18 – Cloud Cushions
Volume 19 – Oh No!
Volume 20 – Open Sesame
Volume 21 – Roaming
Volume 22 – Kate Wolf Festival
Volume 23 – Clean Power
Volume 25 – Chips
Volume 26 – Stress
Volume 27 – Mobile
Volume 28 – Really
Volume 30 – Bring it On
Volume 31 – Smile You’re On Video
Volume 32 – Little Things
Volume 33 – Option A
Volume 35 – Voice (Open Source)
Volume 36 – DDoS
Volume 37 – Hacks
Volume 38 – Readiness
Volume 39 Privacy
Volume 40 – Control
Volume 41 – Leaks (Bluetooth)
Volume 42 – Shopping
Volume 43 – Mind the Kids
Volume 45 – Teen Safety
Volume 46 – If Only
Volume 47 – Snippets
Volume 48 – TV-OD
Volume 49 – Replacements (Chromebooks)
Volume 50 – Gnu
Volume 51 – Check Please
Volume 52 – Check Point
Volume 53 – Tripod
Volume 54 – One Number (VoIP)
Volume 55 – Mac Attack
Volume 57 – Transparency
Volume 58 – iThings
Volume 59 – Numbness
Volume 60 – Beginnings

 

 

Broadband – Cable or Wireless?

The Mendocino Coast Broadband Alliance (MCBA) President Shirley Freriks recently submitted an article to the Fort Bragg Advocate News to discuss the topic of Cable or Wireless for home broadband connections.

MCBA letter to the editor

Broadband Alliance Fixed Wireless Tutorial

The Broadband Alliance Technology Chair, Brian Churm, included a “tutorial” presentation on Fixed Wireless technologies for general education at our Public Outreach meeting on April 3rd, 2015.  The notes from that tutorial are posted below.

Fixed Wireless Tutorial Notes

Wireless Internet 101

Wireless Internet 101 (pdf)

Wireless networks may appear to be magical, but are actually driving investment in fiber optic wires. This resource defines many terms, key points, common speeds, and offers insight into wireless technology and policy.

Source: Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Broadband, Business, and the Bottom Line

You can improve performance and profit with high speed Internet.

Today’s business is 24/7 via website and Smartphone.
Gone are the days of “Sorry, we are closed”.

  • Compete successfully for future sales growth using the online resources younger customers want and expect as their way to do business and communicate 24/7. By end 2011, an estimated 50% of the US population will use Smartphones. A recent study shows that already 27% of mobile subscribers are not going to physical stores.
  • Increase efficiency and profit with cost and time savings on overhead, administrative tasks, and physical space with off-site personnel who can work from home.
  • Save advertising dollars, increase marketing power, and target audience more effectively with exciting websites and social media networking, even to attract local customers.
  • Meet expectations of vendors, government agencies, and customers who demand communication online.
  • Improve customer relations with the ability to get direct feedback and respond quickly.
  • Save money, time and gas with online meetings through streaming, Skype, VOIP.

The Alliance is working for you

  • To provide affordable universal broadband access to homes and businesses to support economic viability, ensure health and safety, offer access to educational opportunities, attract new home buyers, and keep our kids in our communities.
  • To facilitate the building of a county-wide connectivity network to accommodate escalating future technology needs to replace the disappearing land line and dial up options.

You can be a broadband leader

  • Invest in the future growth of your business, your community, and the County by partnering with the Alliance to offer knowledge, time, and other contributions.
  • TOGETHER we can do it!

What Is Broadband?

The definition of broadband has changed. It has become more than just high speed Internet access. The term broadband now refers to the means of quickly transporting electronic information of all kinds quickly from one point to another. The broadband network is like a highway system and, in fact, follows our CALTRANS highway system. The big fat feeder pipes usually run down the main highway arteries and carry a lot of information capability. Then the smaller highways and roads are referred to as “middle mile” for the network distribution. The “last mile” gets the data from the road to a residence and back again. The critical measure is the data transfer connection speed for the data through the network. Dial-up is insufficient because it cannot move the data fast enough for the technology available so dial-up users have a hard time doing computer updates or receiving a picture or accessing most websites.

Just so you can get the picture, the estimated time to move 1 Gigabyte of information by dial-up is 3.5 days. True broadband is more than the National Broadband Plan minimums of 4 Mbps download speed and 1 Mbps upload speed. Cable and fiber connections qualify. New ADSL and some cellular connections make the grade. More detail is noted below. Unfortunately most of Mendocino County has less than true broadband, which is why the Broadband Alliance has formed to change that in the next few years.

Broadband is now an essential public infrastructure and cornerstone of community life. It is how you access the Internet and the Web — and more. For example, mobile telephone service is delivered over a broadband network using VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). Video conferencing over the broadband network through services like Skype saves business people time and money with video conferencing and allows friends and family to see each other while chatting. Utilities use broadband to monitor your electricity and gas. Fire, Police and Emergency Medical services use it to connect in the field. Hospitals, care centers, and pharmacies depend on broadband for patient services. Home health monitoring, security and other services use broadband.

Broadband will soon replace traditional dial tone as you know it. Large urban areas already have Comcast’s “Triple Play” or AT&T’s “U-verse” which bundles Internet, telephone and TV, and some areas in the County may also have this available. If you currently have cable for TV or use Direct TV, it may be possible to get high speed Internet with the same company.

Look at the “Fed Up with Dial-up? – what to do” page for suggestions on what to do until the real thing comes to you.

Also look at the page called “Internet set up from cell phone server” for a way to use a cellular phone signal to get higher speed Internet than dial-up.

Why Is Broadband Essential?

  • Emergency services & rural medicine cannot survive without broadband.
  • Education needs broadband to prepare our students.
  • Broadband access is crucial for economic development.
  • Current copper phone lines are being phased out.
  • Everything — including telephone — is moving to broadband.
  • Broadband is essential to economic survival of the County.
  • Small home businesses can flourish.

What Can You Do Right Now?

1. Get Involved! Offer your expertise for the steering committee and sub-committees – be a regional representative for your community. Contact us to find out more.

2. Become a Leadership Member and Supporter.  Contact us to find out more.

3. Consider a Tax-deductable Donation. BAMC is a volunteer effort; personal, business, and organization donations welcome. Donations are made through the Community Foundation of Mendocino County.

Comparison of Interim Connection Solutions

Fed up with Dial up? Interim Solutions

There are interim solutions for those who are fed up with slow dial up data transfer speeds of about 56kbps and need something faster. Such technologies, like DSL, WiFi (3G/4G wireless), or satellite may be available in your area. Below is a quick comparison of what they can provide:

DSL: DSL is a technology provided over your existing telephone lines. It is only available in a 2-3 mile radius from a point where AT&T or other carrier has deployed the service. Check with your local provider to see if your phone system has been upgraded to DSL. MCN offers this service to some locales on the coast and their website is: www.mcn.org. DSL speeds and prices vary from 384kbps to 3Mbps depending on the availability, package selected, and distance from the central office. Surfing the web and checking email can be done with 384kbps. For viewing videos or playing games online plus access to new services like NetFlix online one needs the higher rates. A few communities (Ukiah & Willits) in our county are already receiving a new upgraded version of DSL called ADSL2+ which is broadband quality and will reach speeds of 20Mbps.

WIRELESS: There are various companies within Mendocino County who can provide “direct wireless” which is residential and business DSL without the copper wires required for landline DSL. This can be done using a variety of antennas aimed at the service provider’s node on select hilltops which relay the signal. Technologies used are WiFi, WiMax, proprietary 900Mghz radios and even microwave antennas. Wireless solutions are typically more costly than landline DSL or Cable Modems, but provide similar performance for those who happen to be out of reach or not yet serviced by a major carrier.

CELLULAR MODEMS: Accessing high speed Internet connection through a cellular phone connection is yet another solution. US Cellular, AT&T, T-mobile, and Verizon offer a 3G Internet service in some areas, and other companies may as well. Marginal cell phone reception can be improved significantly by amplifiers and larger antennas designed to support cellular technology. Local offices will offer equipment recommendations and let you test to find out if there is enough signal strength for data access before needing to make the investment. There are also individuals and businesses in the area that specialize in providing cellular connections to homes & businesses. Look at the Using Your Cell Phone for Broadband in your Home page to get the particulars on how to do this from one person who did it successfully.

SATELLITE: Access to the Internet via satellite is another solution available if there is a clear view of the southern horizon where the satellite is. It does have a latency issue which means there is a delay in accessing information due to its travel 46,000 miles up and down to the satellite. This is typically less than one second and acceptable to most people browsing the Internet. Satellite is still advertised as 10 times faster than dial up even though it is not up to the National Broadband Plan standards. Satellite is traditionally somewhat pricey so one word of caution is to check on satellite caps or limits on how much can be used in a day. Heavy Internet users can incur significant cost penalties if they go over the limit so read the terms and conditions carefully.

The Broadband Alliance is offering these ideas to ease the pain of dial up for the short term with no guarantee that anything will work for an individual location but it is a place to start.

Please contact the Alliance at info@mendocinobroadband.org if you want to help the county-wide effort or if you are thinking of starting something locally in order to coordinate local and county efforts for mutual benefit.

Using Your Cell Phone for Broadband in Your Home

Broadband cellphone Internet set up – Offered by a willing party and not an official BAMC document. This is for Verizon but can be adapted to your carrier.

Verizon High Speed Internet Set up in Your Home – Courtesy of Rob Bergstrom

– There are NO cell phone minutes associated with a data plan. The data plan and associated modem is independent of time (minutes) but instead works on a data limit (5 GB for 59.99/month). You can be connected to the Internet night and day but if you don’t download/upload anything you won’t move towards your data cap. After you exceed 5 GB per month there is a per Mb fee.

I wanted to share our experiences with Verizon Wireless High Speed Internet Service in Alpine Peaks (Tahoe Area) . Last year when we moved to the neighborhood we explored options and weren’t thrilled about the cost, long term contract and variable speed of satellite options so we created a solution using Verizon’s EVDO data service. We do not get Verizon cellphone reception at our home and the modem does not work “as is” but with a simple antenna we are able to tie a modem into the tower above Tahoe City and boost the signal despite the fact that we have no line of sight to the tower.

ADVANTAGES of Verizon High Speed Internet:
1. No contract – it is month to month via Verizon if you procure your own modem.
2. Higher speed than satellite and no slowdown during peak times. We get 1.5 Mb/sec downstream and 0.6 Mb/sec upstream regardless of time of day or weather conditions (storms included). Latency is so low that we routinely do video conferencing from our setup without problems.
3. Low fixed up-front cost for equipment.
4. Modem and service works at other locations around the Lake (and country) with a laptop

DISADVANTAGES of Verizon High Speed Internet:
1. 5Gb per month limit – still pretty generous, even for our heavy usage.
2. A hour or two of legwork to procure equipment and install.

Everything you need to know about getting Verizon EVDO data service can be found at http://3gstore.com. I will outline below what we learned and executed to make the service work.
The basic equipment setup to make this work costs around $140. You own the equipment. The optional wireless router to convert this from a single computer account to whole home wireless solution costs an additional $85. I would be happy to test your location with my equipment before you make the investment if you are serious about pursuing this Internet option. Also feel free to contact me with questions.

WHAT YOU NEED:
1. Verizon EVDO USB modem
2. Verizon service contract ($60/month with 5GB/month limit + one time $35 activation fee)
3. Antenna, antenna adapter, and antenna extension cable if necessary
4. Wireless router (OPTIONAL)

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
Modem: The revA EVDO capable Verizon USB modem can be one of several models. Compliant models
include the Verizon USB720, USB727, USB760, UM150, UM175, UMW190. There isn’t a speed difference between these modems. You might want to purchase your modem used on ebay or craigslist. This enables you to get month to month Verizon service instead of signing a two year contract with Verizon which includes a modem for a nominal fee of $20-$50. I bought a used USB720 on ebay for $24 including shipping.

Antenna: There are several antennas available for use with these modems. I suggest using a directional Yagi antenna in Alpine Peaks to grab the signal originating from the Verizon tower towards Tahoe City (No line of Sight required!). I purchased my antenna here: http://3gstore.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=98&products_id=853.

Connecting Antenna to Modem: You will need an adapter ($13) and may need an extension cable ($20 for 10 feet) depending on your mounting solution to connect your antenna to your modem. See the link above to find the correct adapter.

Mounting Antenna:
Depending on the signal at your location you may be able to mount your antenna indoors or may want to mount on your outside wall, rain gutter, or roof. This will impact the length of the extension cable you need. My antenna works fine indoors but I mounted on my deck for convenience. You might want to mount the antenna with a simple bracket such as the one found here ($6): http://www.wlanparts.com/product/WMB/WMB_Antenna_Wall_Mount_Bracket.html

Wireless option:
If you decide build a wireless network in your home Cradlepoint routers are plug and play
with all Verizon USB EVDO modems. This also frees you from having to leave a computer on to have the Internet working and enables you to have multiple users (computers, iphones ect.) and maybe even share your connection with a close neighbor if you want to do so. The Cradlepoint CTR350 is probably the best value at $85. These can be found at: http://3gstore.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=35

Additional resources:
3g store homepage: http://3gstore.com/index.php?main_page=index
EVDO forums: http://www.evdoinfo.com
EVDO blog: http://evdotips.blogspot.com/