May 06, 2021

General Assembly Refusing to Spend Any RESCUE Money on Broadband Affordabilty

More today on WDEV

The Vermont General Assembly is on the verge of squandering an enormous opportunity to get all Vermonters regardless of location or income online now with the high quality broadband they need to thrive in the post-pandemic world. The greatest obstacle to a family accessing adequate broadband in Vermont is affordability. So far the legislature has declined to address either short or long term affordability while allocating $150 million of federal Rescue money for broadband buildout. There are literally only a few days left for the legislature to remedy this grave mistake.

I'll be on WDEV (96.1 FM, 550 AM) in VT with Bill Sayre at 11AM today (May 6, 2021) discussing this impending failure by our state government and the last chances to remedy it. Streaming at https://wdevradio.com/stream/. It's a callin so you can question and opine as well.

May 03, 2021

More Unlimited Data is an Oxymoron

It started with having to upgrade my “unlimited” plan to increase the data limit. We’re on the road, and the WiFi at Wisconsin State Fair RV Park is almost but not quite good enough for serious Zooms (about 1.5 Mbps up and down with phenomenally good latency). Zooming using my Verizon Wireless (VZW) MiFi hotspot is high quality but burns many precious bits.

I only wanted to increase the “unlimited” limits for the hotspot but the VZW website wouldn’t do that without also putting our phones, which aren’t using too much data, on new, more expensive plans for a total $40/mo increase. I clicked CHAT. The transcript below is verbatim, REALLY.

Verizon

Hey . I'm the Verizon Digital Assistant. Ask me a question! If I can't help, I can connect you with a live chat agent.

Please note that we may monitor or retain this chat.

You can also start with one of these popular topics:

    • View your bill
    • Make a payment
    • Manage my account
    • View data usage
    • View My Plan

Me I need to speak to an agent.

Verizon One moment, and I'll get someone who can help you.

We received your message and we'll connect you with the next available agent.

The estimated wait time is a minute or less. Please keep in mind in order to hold your place in the agent queue you will need to keep this chat window active otherwise your session could be ended.

Verizon Agent

Hi there! Welcome to Verizon messaging team. I am more than glad to assist you today. How may I help you?

Me I want more data for my mifi device but dont need more for the phones. how can I just select unlimited plus for that device and leave the others as is? 

Verizon Agent

Oh, thank you so much for reaching us about this. I'll be more than happy to assist you with that.

[ 5 min delay]

Verizon Agent

Allow me to pull up your account first so that I can assist you further and with whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?

Me Tom Evslin

Verizon Agent

Hi Tom, Very nice to meet you

[7 min]

Verizon Agent

I have now the account pulled up and currently checking on it with regard to your concern.

Verizon Agent

Tom, I do have here the best offer that you can choose. I highly suggest our Do More Unlimited [sic] Plan not for all of the device, it's just for the device you are using. We can go ahead and discuss it.

Me what r the details? Thank you

Verizon Agent

You are most welcome.

[10 min]

Verizon Agent

Let me send you a link for your reference so that you can check it more detailed.

Me ok

Verizon Agent

One moment

[8 min]

Verizon Agent

Thank you for your patience. I have tried to process to change a new plan for your request, However, it wont allow to continue the process since it prompt me to select the plan change to all of the lines associated. The good thing of that is you can pay more less of the charges that you are paying right now.

Me what will be the difference in monthly charges and in data allowance?

Verizon Agent

Great question. Let me check on it. [Like he/she/they didn’t think I’d ask]

[10 min]

Verizon Agent

Hi thank you for your patience. I will be sending you a sample qoute of the plan that i am referring to. To what email address I can send? 

Me: [redacted]

[5 min. good thing I’m multitasking too]

Verizon Agent

Thank you so much. one moment, I will be sending now.

Verizon Agent

Please let me know if you receive

Me: i did receive it. You told me it would be less. In fact it is $40 more. Nothing in what you sent me says what I am getting for that $40

Verizon Agent

Let me check another plan. One moment please.

[15 min]

Me this is a long moment. r u still there?

Icon

 

Not Delivered

No further communication from VZW. Not a happy camper, I did upgrade. When we get home, we’ll get a new carrier.

But their time is almost up.

1) I expect that I’ll at least be able to pay for zoomable wifi by the night in most places a year from now.

Tvdish2) Elon Musk promised that I’ll be able to take my Starlink dish with me by the end of the year like this camper is doing with his satellite TV.

Elon also implied there’ll even be a version (I’m sure it’ll be a new dish) that will work in trucks and RVs while in motion. I’m not going to need much cellular data.

April 29, 2021

Jailbreak

BetaBitVermont coated our rented RV in ice to prevent our departure. No way. We’ve been quarantined. We’re double vaxxed and timed out. We were outta there as soon as the RV extension thawed enough for it to retract. Did feel very bad about Ben, our faithful Covid dog; but he’s with our dog-person house sitter and has playdates lined up.

Crossing the NY State line was a big deal; haven’t left Vermont for 14 months. Driving an underpowered vehicle with small tires and rudimentary suspension takes getting used to.

Medriving

First night was too cold to put water in the RV so we stayed in a hotel; another 14-month first. Whoops; couldn’t sign on to Marriott wifi on my computer even though Mary could sign on with hers. Why? Because I took my own advice. Specified that my computer MUST always use the Cloudflare DNS specifically to protect myself against rogue DNS servers while travelling (this isn’t a nerd post so don’t worry if this sounds like gobbledygook). Turns out at least Marriott and probably other venues use their own DNS server to get you signed in. Had to undo my protection to go back on the road.

Second night Niagara, NY. Hooking up the water and electric only took five minutes to my delight. Furnace worked. The Falls themselves, which we’d only seen before from the air, were spectacular. We only wore our masks indoors and in crowds; most people did the same.

Marybridal

Travel for me has always been about communication ever since I used to take a wallplate off to connect my 1200 baud modem to the phone line. The WiFi at KOA (Campgrounds of America) was good enough for Zoom but email started bouncing back because various spam filters didn’t like the IP address of the RV park. Who knows what evil hackers parked here before us. Had to use my Verizon MiFi device to create a hotspot.

Cooking toast in the stove top set off the smoke detector even with fans on and the windows open; so I redeployed it to the sock drawer. Emptying the black water and grey water tanks into a foul pipe in the ground not as bad as I thought it might be. But still a few drips. Yuck (picture deleted).

It’s good to be back on the road.

April 21, 2021

Testimony Today on a Rescue Program for Vermont Families Who Can't Afford Broadband

The VT House Committee on Energy and Technology will be taking testimony on broadband subsidies today (4/21) starting a 9AM streamable live or later from https://www.youtube.com/.../UClq5iwB1tbE.../featured.
 
Their original broadband bill, H360, did not have subsidies but they may well be added in the Senate , and so I think the committee is wisely preparing itself on this subject. I'll be testifying in favor of emergency low-income subsidies to get all Vermont families across broadband gulch followed by a long-term program of requiring ISPs that accept Rescue funding for building networks to offer low-income plans on those networks.
 
This plan also includes a Broadband Corps, whose development is already underway, to make sure families know what service and aid is available to them, assure that they do get hooked up, and provide basic computer literacy.
 
My testimony will be probably start at around 10AM.

April 19, 2021

The Next Few Weeks Will Decide Whether Broadband is Affordable for All Vermonters

There is enormous opportunity; never has Vermont had to decide so quickly what to do with so much money. Never than in this almost post-pandemic world has there been such urgency to bring Vermonters stranded on the wrong side of broadband gulch the internet connections to the world they need. The urgency won’t go away but the opportunity can disappear if we don’t act quickly and decisively. Decisions that the legislature makes in the next few weeks will shape Vermont’s future for the decade to come.

There is general agreement that the vast bulk of federal dollars available for broadband should go to building long-term infrastructure – even while there is disagreement over who should build that infrastructure and what should be built where. There is time to solve those disagreements. There is also general agreement that it will take at least four or five years for this buildout to be completed. Those proposing to do the buildouts are not promising that the new services constructed will be affordable. In most rural parts of the state, usable broadband access is so expensive today that low-income people simply can’t afford it. Solving the access problem doesn’t solve the affordability problem.

There is serious disagreement over whether a small share of these Rescue dollars should be used for what seems like the short-term purpose of subsidizing low-income people so that they can access broadband NOW from their homes rather than from the parking lot of McDonalds. Shouldn’t all the dollars be spent, serious people ask, meeting our long-term needs? If we subsidize service now when we have federal dollars available, what happens to the subsidies and/or the state budget when the subsidies run out

Serious questions deserve a serious answer. These questions must be answered quickly because, if no funds are allocated to the problem of making broadband universally affordable before this legislature adjourns in May, far too many Vermonters will remain offline for at least another year. In fact, it’s worse than that because, if all the Rescue money is allocated to other projects, the opportunity to use it to close the broadband gap will be lost for the foreseeable future.

Answer 1: Closing the broadband gap is a one- time problem if, at the end of the gap closing, every Vermont family which needs to study from home, get medical attention at home, and work from home lives in a connected home. The health and economics and prospects of connected families will increase; unconnected families are trapped as if they’d been cut off by a flood. Before the pandemic we learned in school, went to the doctor’s office or emergency room for medical problems, and worked away from home. In the new world we must be able to do all these things from home as well. That need isn’t going away. We could even be locked down again by some vaccine-resistant variant or new disease.

Answer 2: Many of the dollars spent connecting homes to services already available will only have to be spent once. Connecting a home to the fiber already going by it is expensive; but it only needs to be done once. Other connections such as a dish for wireless will provide many years of connectivity before fiber is available at the end of the road.

Answer 3. The hundreds of millions in one-time construction dollars can be used to assure that subsidies are not needed into perpetuity by requiring that ISPs who build new networks with Rescue money offer low-income plans on these new networks immediately and eventually on any other networks they have in Vermont. This requirement will assure that, unlike previous projects done with public money, we don’t end up with networks which only some Vermonters can afford to use.

The Vermont Senate Finance Committee has H.360, the broadband bill, in its hands. They have listened to proposals on affordable access as well as many different plans for allocating the long-term construction dollars. It’s a good time to email the Senators below and urge them to assure that a small fraction of the dollars available be used to close the broadband affordability gap now. They will know why you are talking about if you reference the proposals made by Sen. Brock.

April 12, 2021

Federal Rescue Funds Can Immediately Rescue Low-Income Vermont Families from Broadband Gap

But the rescue needs your help!

IncarYou may have seen the TV footage last week of the Vermont high school student who has to use the WiFi in the McDonald’s parking lot to do her homework because she can’t get adequate broadband at home. What we don’t see are the people too sick to go to the doctor who can’t benefit from telemedicine because they can’t afford broadband or the people who’ve lost their jobs because they don’t have the Internet they need to work from home.

Governor Scott proposes spending $250 million of Rescue funds on connectivity infrastructure. “However,” as his proposal says: “the step of building the infrastructure alone does not address income inequality and digital literacy barriers to using the Internet.” The buildout he is proposing doesn’t reach many Vermont addresses for at least four years.

There are more low-income Vermonters who can’t afford access to very good broadband which is already available in their neighborhood than are living in the areas of the state shown as “unserved”. There is no aid for them in the Governor’s proposal or the House-passed broadband bill even though they could be connected almost immediately. Moreover, thanks to new technology like low earth orbit satellites (not SLOW like the old satellite services) and 5G, whose deployment is just beginning in Vermont, even families in the “unserved” areas can get connected – if they can afford the setup and monthly costs.

Vermont can give all low-income families regardless of location an opportunity to get online this year if we allocate $26.5 million, about 10% of the total connectivity funds, to an initiative , which is currently being considered by the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Randy Brock, who supports the initiative, says: “…broadband is useless unless it is affordable, especially for those of limited means.” 

Your help is needed to encourage Senate Finance to add this initiative to the telecom bills it is considering this week!

There are four parts to the proposal which provide for affordable broadband now and in the future:

$6 million in initial service grants to help families who cannot afford one-time setup charges which can run as high as $600 for broadband service;

$15.5 million in subsidies to the neediest to assure that they don’t have to pay more than $25/month;

$5m for a Broadband Corps to help families find the best Internet service at their location, get the aid they qualify for, and actually get connected;

A requirement (also suggested by the Governor) that those who build new infrastructure with Rescue money be required to offer low-income plans so that, as the buildout happens, Internet will be affordable everywhere in Vermont without government subsidy.

Mary and I are working with a co-founded a short-term (we hope) non-profit called Broadband Equity NOW!, both to do preparatory work for the Broadband Corp so it can be “shovel ready” if approved by the legislature and to urge the legislature and the administration to use a small part of the flood of Rescue money to immediately rescue families from the broadband gap. After Irene, we built a lot of temporary bridges so people could get home; then we did the long-term construction to replace the broken infrastructure. The pandemic has left too many Vermont families stranded offline; we need to help get them online now.

I am asking your help: if you are a Vermonter, please email or call at least one of the members of Senate Finance listed below. A Broadband Corps is already in one of the bills they are considering. Please ask them to add the small amount of funding needed to give all Vermont families the opportunity to get online now; they’ll know what you’re talking about if you call it the Broadband Equity NOW! proposal. If you can, please ask your friends to do the same.

Thank you.

• Sen. Ann Cummings, Chair; (D) Washington; acummings@leg.state.vt.us (802) 223-6043
• Sen. Mark A. MacDonald, Vice Chair (D) Orange; mmacdonald@leg.state.vt.us (802) 433-5867 senatormark@aol.com
• Sen. Christopher A. Pearson, (P/D) Chittenden; CPearson@leg.state.vt.us (802) 860-3933
• Sen. Randy Brock (R) Franklin; rbrock@leg.state.vt.us (802) 868-2300
• Sen. Michael Sirotkin (D) Chittenden; msirotkin@leg.state.vt.us (802) 999-4360
• Sen. Christopher Bray, (D) Addison; cbray@leg.state.vt.us
• Sen. Ruth Hardy (D) Addison; rhardy@leg.state.vt.us (802) 989-5278

April 05, 2021

Broadband Equity NOW!

NEWS RELEASE:

New Technology and Federal Rescue Money Make It Possible to Give all Vermont Families Access to the Broadband They Need Now

Vermont Children Shouldn’t Have to Study in the Parking Lot of McDonalds

Thanks to years of building and new technology, fast broadband is now physically available almost everywhere in Vermont; but availability is no help to those families who can’t afford service. Federal Rescue money can and must be used to solve the immediate affordability problem, according to testimony to be delivered to the Senate Finance Committee tomorrow by former Vermont Stimulus Czar Tom Evslin testifying on behalf of the nonprofit Broadband Equity NOW!

SENATORS WILL BE TALKING BROADBAND THIS WEEK.

********ZOOM NEWS CONFERENCE WITH SENATOR RANDY BROCK (R-Franklin County) and Tom Evslin from the Nonprofit Broadband Equity NOW!*********

Date: Monday, April 5, 2021

Time: 12 Noon  (ZOOM DETAILS BELOW)

Senator Randy Brock (R, Franklin County) introduced S.118 which allocates money for infrastructure buildout in Vermont and includes a Broadband Corps to help Vermonters get connected. He says: “The pandemic has shown all of us how critical it is to provide universal broadband to every corner of Vermont.  It’s essential for economic development, education, and healthcare.  But broadband is useless unless it is affordable, especially for those of limited means.” 

Evslin will urge legislators to pass a three part Broadband Equity program using $27 million of Rescue funds available from the federal government to assure that all Vermont families, regardless of income or location, have an immediate opportunity to install the broadband they need.

  1. 1. Appropriate money to subsidize both the install cost and some of the monthly costs of using broadband for low-income Vermonters living in areas where the cost of broadband is currently high.
  2. 2. Establish and fund a Broadband Corps to assist low-income Vermonters find the best ISP to serve them now, access whatever aid they qualify for, and assure that they actually do get service.
  3. 3. Require that all internet infrastructure built with federal rescue dollars which flow through the state includes a low-income rate for a service adequate for full participation in the new online Vermont.

Broadband Equity NOW! (BEN) is coordinating preliminary activities by the Community College of Vermont, Vermont Tech, CAP agencies, United Way of NW VT, Vermont 211, Equal Access Broadband and others to assure that the Broadband Corps is “shovel ready”, if approved by the legislature, along with the needed temporary subsidies.

Paul Dragon, CEO of The Champaign Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, says: “At CVOEO access to services and care is the most important thing we do. If we do not increase accessible, low-cost broadband, we cannot further our efforts to educate our Head Start students, create new businesses through our micro-business development program, educate and advocate in our housing programs or increase food access in the Champlain Valley. Without improving access for all populations, public health disparities and economic gaps will persist, widen and deepen. Access to broadband is a social justice and public health issue.”

Tuesday is the first day of testimony in Senate Finance Committee on S.118 and H.360 which is the House bill about broadband construction funds.  Evslin says “the planned expansion should happen but even the most optimistic plans for building fiber optic networks leave families at the end of the road waiting at least another five years for service.  A student entering high school today whose family doesn’t have broadband may still not have service when she graduates. She will not get a full education. She will not be prepared for the online workplace she’ll soon be entering. Her family needs the opportunity to get connected now.”

According to BEN as many as 50,000 Vermont families don’t have the broadband they need because they either can’t afford it or don’t know how to get hooked up and what low-cost plans are available to them. Some of them live in areas where ISPs have affordable low-income plans. They only need help from the Broadband Corps to find a provider and demonstrate their eligibility. Others live in places where hookups can range from $100 to $600 and where monthly charges for acceptable service can be up to $125/month. They need financial help to get online now.

Over 10,000 Vermonters are reportedly on the waiting list for Starlink which is far faster than the broadband many Vermonters depend on today and is more than sufficient to support Zooming, streaming video, and phone service. The wait for Starlink service may be as much as six months. BEN’s proposal includes subsidies for low income families connecting to Starlink or other new services at the end-of-the-road where those services are the fastest way to get broadband although the majority of families to be subsidized are in the territories of existing ISPs.

As Dr. Fauci said about vaccines, the best broadband you can get is the broadband you can get now. Broadband equity is the foundation for building a new and better Vermont. “We have the money and opportunity to act now to achieve universal broadband availability,” says Evslin. “Not acting would be unjust and irresponsible!”

-30-

Broadband Equity NOW! Is a special purpose Vermont nonprofit.  It is providing seed funding and organization for the Broadband Corps so it can be “shovel ready” by August 1, 2021 if further funded by the legislature and is coordinating with CCV, VTC, United Way, Vermont 211, VT Community Foundation, Equal Access Broadband, Capstone, and others for Corps training and support.

ZOOM NEWS CONFERENCE INFORMATION. PLEASE JOIN AND FEEL FREE TO ASK QUESTIONS.

Topic: Affordable Broadband for all Vermonters in Fiscal Year 2022
Time: Apr 5, 2021 12:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting

https://zoom.us/j/93550530064?pwd=WElaK2NPWERUQWZpTWtQRlNoNnp6UT09

Meeting ID: 935 5053 0064
Passcode: 905069
One tap mobile
+16465588656,,93550530064#,,,,*905069# US (New York)
+13017158592,,93550530064#,,,,*905069# US (Washington DC)

Meeting ID: 935 5053 0064
Passcode: 905069
Find your local number: https://zoom.us/u/acWcMT7c8d

For more information contact: Stephanie Gorin 518-572-9288

March 22, 2021

How to Find Out Free If Starlink Will Work at Your House

There’s an app for that.

Screenshot_20210321-142620_Starlink (002)Starlink low earth orbit satellite (LEOS) broadband service is for those of us in rural areas who don’t have cable or fiber providers at our address. It’s fast: now close to 200 megabits per second (Mbps) download; 20-40Mbps upload; and latency under 50ms.  Can stream multiple hi-res videos simultaneously if you, your spouse, and kids can’t agree on what to watch; supports phone calling and video conferencing. It’s available for ordering with a wait across most but not all of the United States as well as many other parts of the world. It only works if its satellite dish has a clear view of the high northern sky.

Do I have a clear view of the sky?

Download the free Starlink app from the Apple Store or Google Play. Open it up. Choose the check for obstructions option. A few hints:

  1. It does need to know your location so give the app that permission on a one-time basis when it asks.
  2. It is using your camera to look at the sky. You should hold the camera knee high where you intend to put the dish. You must see what it sees. If you don’t want to have to lie on your back under the phone, put the camera in selfie mode. Any kid could’ve told me that, but I had no kids handy and there was snow on the ground.
  3. You won’t see anything if the sky is bright above you. Check for obstacles on a cloudy day.
  4. Get your head out of the way. I took this screen shot on a bright day so didn’t even see myself.
  5. To get the full field, rotate the phone so you’ve looked both when it is lengthwise away from you and has its side to you.
  6. No obstacles means no obstacles. Even one branch in the view can cause dropouts when using the service and satellites duck behind the branch. The best spot may be on your roof.

Can I order in my area?

You can order in Vermont and in Key West but not in San Diego. It all depends on where you are in relation to the satellites planned for this year. Simple way to find out is go to Starlink.com and put in your address. Bad news is when it says “Starlink is not yet available in your area…”. Good news is when it goes right to the order page and asks for your $99 deposit.

When will I get Starlink?

Most people who are ordering currently are told “mid to late 2021.” The dishes are being delivered constantly but Starlink is gating how many go to each area to keep the service quality high. I haven’t heard of anyone being given a date in 2022 but I do know that there are a large and growing number of orders. Before shipment, you get an email asking you to pay the balance of your $499 plus shipping plus local sales tax. Mine came within a week of paying that balance.

See also:

Another Free Way to Tell if Starlink Broadband Will Work at Your Location

Vermont Starlink FAQs

Starlink or Your Local WISP for Broadband Service

Starlink Broadband Access: Game-Changer for Rural Broadband

Starlink Beta vs. Fiber

March 15, 2021

Lessons from the Last Stimulus

Don’t miss the opportunity to use big bucks for big change.

BidendouglasBack when this picture was taken, VP Biden was running the stimulus program for the Obama Administration and I was stimulus czar in Vermont. The other two people in the picture are Vermont Governor Jim Douglas and Heidi Tringe who worked in the Douglas Administration and had worked at the White House. We were there, of course, to advance Vermont interests.

Partly because of this visit, Vermont utilities applying en masse received the largest grant on a per capita basis of any state from the stimulus funds in the energy bucket. That money got spent to install smart meters everywhere in the state. Unlike some stimulus-funded efforts, this one was completed, although, to be honest we haven’t gotten all the benefits from smart meters we hoped we would. A lot of money was also awarded for broadband in Vermont but the FCC, which was doing the awarding, didn’t pay much attention to input from states. The money did improve Vermont’s middle mile IP connectivity but did not bring all the consumer connectivity for either wireless or broadband which was promised.

We did not leverage the money to make significant structural change. We used too much of it to cover short-term problems or even to start programs which later had no good funding source. As the recession lifted, we had made no significant dent in crumbling bridges, an educational system with escalating costs and shrinking student populations, the rapidly rising cost of healthcare, our declining population, abandoned farms, and the cost of living in Vermont and we still have more than 10% of residences with no access to quality broadband. The flood of money came like a thunderstorm in the desert and seemed to disappear into the sand.

Last time most money for infrastructure improvement other than highway bypassed the states and was awarded directly by Washington agencies which knew nothing about local conditions or local providers. I tried to leverage highway funds by mandating that fiber for communication be part of stimulus funded road projects. Both the FCC and Federal Highway Administration said “You can’t combine programs.” No why. No appeal. And we didn’t want to turn down the money.

Then there was the ridiculous restriction that programs had to be “shovel ready”. The Obama Administration hadn’t been in office long enough to know that nothing is shovel ready. Permitting for major projects can take 20 years. No relief on that front either. But most of the money had to be spent fast or it would be redistributed to other states.

That was then and this is now. We can do better.

This time much of the money is coming directly to the government of the state of Vermont and municipal governments. Although all the rules aren’t written, we will apparently have more control of how the money is spent. The $1.35 billion in Corona Virus Relief Fund money includes $113 million for infrastructure including broadband and $197 million for municipalities.

There’s enough money there if used as leverage for private funds so that we can finally have high quality broadband available at every E911 address in Vermont within a year. We can assure that all Vermonters, either in areas currently served or areas currently unserved, can afford the broadband they need to learn at home, work from home, and benefit from telemedicine. Some people say that this will take at least four years, but that’s only because they are looking at plans made before the new money and new technology expanded possibilities. It’s time to think big.

Universal broadband is the infrastructure upon which we should use stimulus funds to reinvent education, health care delivery, work patterns, energy use, and transportation. In order to say that work from home is an option for every Vermonter (and would-be Vermonter) who can find work which can be done at home, we must also be able to say that every Vermonter can Zoom from home. We will want to take the best of what teachers and students have learned about remote learning and use it to supplement – not replace – in person instruction. Every student must be able to participate. We can help control health care costs with telemedicine – so long as telemedicine is available to every Vermonter.

With the coming high percentage of people working all or part time at home, peak traffic loads, peak mass transit usage, and peak electrical demand flatten out. We do need to build our electric grid to reflect distributed generation, an increasing mix of renewables, and the shutdown of Vermont Yankee and to make us resilient in a way Texas and California aren’t in the face of natural disasters. We are getting enough money to allow us to restructure so that future energy costs and environmental impact will be lower, education dollars spent more effectively, and better health care delivered at lower cost.

To make these good things happen, we must have broadband equity – adequate broadband and the tools to use it at every E911 address and affordable to all regardless of income level. A broadband plan which accomplishes this objective in two years is the bedrock on which we can construct a new and even better Vermont using stimulus money.

This is an opportunity we – and America – can’t miss. Our children will have to pay these borrowed stimulus dollars back. That will not be a burden if we invest those dollars wisely so that they earn their own return.

See also Vermont Starlink FAQs

Confessions of a Stimulator

 

March 04, 2021

Vermont Starlink FAQs

  1. What is Starlink?

Starlink is a very high-speed low latency space-based broadband access service designed for use in rural areas worldwide which lack adequate terrestrial broadband infrastructure. The company Starlink, which offers the service, is a subsidiary of SpaceX, the private for-profit space launch company founded by Elon Musk.

  1. What speeds does Starlink offer?

During the Beta test Starlink has consistently delivered speeds between 75-100 megabits per second (Mbps) for download and streaming, 20-25 Mbps for upload, and latency of around 40 milliseconds (ms). All these well exceed the State of Vermont’s minimum standards. Starlink says these speeds will improve as they add satellites and upgrade technology, but best to judge by what is demonstrated today.

  1. Do streaming to multiple devices simultaneously, teleconferencing, and VoIP work over Starlink?

Yes.

  1. How can a satellite service have low latency? Older satellite services like HughesNet are unusable for Zooming, phone calls, or even much web browsing.

The old satellite services used geostationary satellites, which must be 22,000 miles from earth. Even at the speed of light, it takes a relatively long time for a signal to get there and back, hence the latency. Starlink uses low earth orbit satellites (LEOS), which are only a couple of hundred miles high. The travel time for the signal is not significant.

  1. What does Starlink cost?

$499 for the initial kit including a WiFi router and everything you need for a ground installation (close to $600 when you add Vermont tax and shipping). $99/month with no minimum commitment or contract. 30-day money back guarantee on everything. There are currently no data caps. There are no higher or lower speed plans currently available.

  1. Where in Vermont is Starlink available?

It is available everywhere in Vermont although there is currently a waiting period which varies by location. It is designed for use at “the end of the road” since all the required infrastructure is in the sky. Starlink cannot be used where it is not possible to get an unobstructed view of the high sky from west to north to east. The mountains around you probably won’t matter unless you’re in a very narrow valley; the trees in your yard can be a problem.

  1. How does Starlink get installed?

It is self-installing. Out of the box, Starlink can be set on the ground where there is a clear view of the high sky. In Vermont it doesn’t need to see the southern sky. The dish has a motor and positions itself correctly for its location (see video). You do have to find a way to put a single wire through your wall which then carries both signal and power to the dish. At extra cost, you can buy kits for no-holes roof mounting or pole mounting. You use a smartphone app to set up your WiFi network.

  1. Is paid installation available from Starlink?

No.

  1. What happens if the dish is covered by snow or ice?

Doesn’t happen, even in Vermont. The dish is heated.

  1. How reliable is Starlink?

Beta users generally reported good reliability. There were times when the service was deliberately taken down for adjustment. That shouldn’t happen once the beta test is over. It is sensitive to obstructions like tree limbs which typically cause 5-15 second outages (you freeze on Zoom). Choosing a good location for the dish is critical.

  1. Does Starlink degrade in bad weather?

Not noticeably. Unlike satellite TV or service from wireless ISPs, where the radio signals travel almost horizontally, the Starlink signal is going almost straight up so is through the weather in just a few miles. TBD how much it would be affected by a thunderstorm directly overhead.

Starlink is far more reliable than any terrestrial service in a weather emergency so long as you have backup power at your location. The satellites are far above the weather which may topple telephone poles or bring down the lines. They are solar powered so remain in operation indefinitely, unlike the towers of cellular operators and wireless ISPs (WISPs) which can run out of fuel for their generators in a prolonged emergency.

  1. Is Starlink service likely to degrade or have data caps added as more users are added to the system?

Probably not. So far Starlink is limiting the number of new signups to the number of people in each area they can serve without degrading service. They have over 1000 satellites in orbit today – each satellite circles the earth every ninety minutes. 700 of these satellites are operational and the remainder are being positioned for service. Starlink launches 60 new satellites approximately every two weeks on SpaceX reusable rockets.

  1. When is Starlink the best choice for broadband in Vermont?

Dr. Fauci says the best vaccine is the one you can get now. The same is true of broadband service.

If fiber runs by your house and you can have it installed NOW at a reasonable price, it is probably the best option for you.

If you can get enough bandwidth for your needs NOW from a wireless ISP at less cost than Starlink, you may want to do that even though you won’t get the same speed you’ll get with Starlink.

If you don’t currently have cable or excellent wireless ISP service and neither a fiber build or wireless ISP tower is firmly scheduled for this summer for your location and you can afford it and you can see enough of the sky, you ought to order Starlink. It is certainly better quality than DSL from Consolidated if you have that option.

The Starlink service is about on a par today with what you might get from a cable company unless they are suppling fiber. It is about the same cost as fiber plans offering similar speeds – although this may be more speed than you need.

14.Is Starlink an opportunity for Vermont?

Starlink is an opportunity which many Vermonters are already taking advantage of on their own either because they have no other broadband service available or because they’re not satisfied with their existing choices. Starlink is being used in locations which are shown on the most current maps from the Department of Public Service as having no service available which meets the State’s minimum standards. Many more Vermonters are on the waiting list for Starlink

Without Starlink, there is no way to get broadband access NOW in places where it is most needed. With Starlink, the problem of accessibility becomes a problem of affordability

.

  1. Is a subsidy from the State needed to bring Starlink infrastructure to unserved parts of Vermont?

No. The common infrastructure for Starlink is the satellites SpaceX is launching and the Starlink-built ground stations around the world. Your dish and associated electronics don’t depend on any terrestrial infrastructure in the State.

From a public policy point of view, it may well be desirable for the State to subsidize the one-time costs of hookup to services which are available now including Starlink where no other high-quality services are available.

  1. The legislature has authorized towns to form and join Communications Union Districts (CUDs) in order to bring broadband access to the places which don’t have it. Will Starlink make it impossible for the CUDs to perform their mission?

No. The mission of the CUDs is to bring broadband to unserved Vermonters. Prior to the advent of services like Starlink, it was assumed that this meant bringing fiber to every home. CUDs other than ECFiber, which is already in operation, are not promising to get fiber to end-of-the-road locations which most need broadband for at least four years and even then at a very high infrastructure cost – often estimated at more than $3000 per house and escalating the less dense the neighborhood is.

The CUD mission of highspeed broadband everywhere in Vermont is made easier – and achievable sooner – with the option of using Starlink. CUDs can expand fiber out from the hubs without asking those at the end of the road to wait four years or more.

The CUD mission should not be limited to fiber as a solution. Starlink is a useful option for accomplishing the connectivity mission NOW. Those now ordering Starlink now are not waiting for fiber to reach them. If fiber does come to their neighborhoods at a reasonable cost and/or offers better service than Starlink, they can and will switch to the fiber provider. If fiber is not able to offer them better price performance, there is no point in building out the infrastructure.

  1. How do we know Starlink works in Vermont?

News stories on WCAX, in Seven Days, and on VPR cite successful installations. Reports on Stowe Front Porch Forum indicate generally good results. There is a very large Starlink community on Reddit where successes and failures are discussed. Many of these users are in climates more extreme than Vermont.

NEK Broadband, a communications union district in the Northeast Kingdom, is taking a survey of user experience with Starlink in Vermont. The results will be made public. If you have installed Starlink, it would be helpful if you could take a couple of minutes to complete this survey about your experience with the service: https://bit.ly/3aydnBZ . In addition, if you have friends in Vermont who have also installed Starlink, please consider bringing this survey to their attention by forwarding the link. 

  1. How do I order Starlink?

www.starlink.com. You must make a $99 refundable deposit with your order.

  1. How soon will an order be fulfilled?

This depends on your address; Starlink is rationing fulfillment to make sure the service is not locally overburdened. Starlink will give you an indication of availability before you put your deposit down.

These FAQs were prepared by Jock Gill of Peacham and Tom Evslin of Stowe. They are accurate as of this date to the best of our knowledge. Neither of us have any financial interest in nor business connection with Starlink or any affiliated company. For more information see the official Starlink FAQs at https://www.starlink.com/faq.

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