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.

What is the experience of Starlink users in my area?

Some Starlink users share their near real-time performance data on a webpage at https://starlinkstatus.space. You can learn more about that page including how to share your data at https://blog.tomevslin.com/2021/09/now-available-worldwide-and-local-current-starlink-performance.html.

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.” 2022. 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 20223 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

Now Available – Worldwide and Local Current Starlink Performance

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

Revised 10/30/21

  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, which began a year ago and has not yet ended, Starlink has delivered speeds which average between over 100 megabits per second (Mbps) for download and streaming, 10 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. Latency has improved during the Beta but, so far, upload and download speeds have not changed.

  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 northern sky. 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. Even with no obstructions, there are occasionally Zoom-freezing blips but it most people have found it more than adequate for work-at-home, especially compared to DSL

  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. It is 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. As of September 30, 20121 they had 1657 satellites in orbit – each satellite circles the earth every ninety minutes. 1429 of these satellites are operational and the remainder are being positioned for service. Up until May of 2021, Starlink was launching 60 new satellites approximately every two weeks on SpaceX reusable rockets. However, only 54 satellites have been launched since then and launches are not scheduled to resume until December of 2021.  

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

The best broadband service is the broadband service you can get now. There is a huge waiting list for Starlink and new signups in Vermont are being quoted delivery dates from between early to mid to 2022 to late 2022 depending upon location.

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. See Starlink Beta vs. Fiber.

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. See Starlink or Your Local WISP for Broadband Service.

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 2022 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. Ordering requires a $99 deposit but it the deposit is fully refundable in case you have a better option sooner.

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 six 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 six 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.

You can track the experience of two Vermont users at https://starlinkstatus.space/stations. These users are uploading performance data from their Starlink installations every 15 minutes. See Now Available – Worldwide and Local Current Starlink Performance.

  1. How do I know if Starlink will work at my house, especially given the trees in my yard?

There is a free app available for download from Starlink which will help you tell if you have a good location for the Starlink dish. See How to Find Out Free If Starlink Will Work at Your House. The website https://satellitemap.space/# shows in real time what satellites your dish would be able to see given your location but does not take obstacles into account. See Another Free Way to Tell if Starlink Broadband Will Work at Your Location.

    19. How do I order Starlink?

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

    20. 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. New orderers in Vermont are being quoted availability dates between early and late 2022 depending on location. 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.

March 01, 2021

Your DNS May be Leading You Astray

Or at least spying on you.

A dangerous aspect of the #newnormal is increased web attacks aimed at individuals. We make good targets sitting at home online for most of the day with no corporate IT geeks to protect us. Even worse our children are online most of the day – although they may be more tech savvy than their elders.

What’s a DNS and why is it dangerous?

A Domain Name Server (DNS) converts a name like blog.tomevslin.com to an IP address – a string of numbers like 104.18.139.190. It’s very similar to the way we used to use phonebooks to get phone numbers from names. When you type a URL like blog.tomevslin.com into your browser, the browser sends the text of that URL to a DNS which responds with the IP address. The browser then sends a message to that IP address which eventually sends a response to your IP address.

A malicious DNS can send back the wrong address – very similar to tricking you into driving into a dangerous neighborhood. For example, you type in www.mybank.com; the DNS server sends back the address of a site in Moldavia which has a login sequence which was copied from your bank. You faithfully give your name and password. It immediately signs into your real bank account and moves some money out before you even realize there is anything wrong. It may then change the password of your account so you’ll lose more time before reporting a problem.

Another example: you type in www.facebook.com but the evil DNS sends you to a site in Turkmenistan. You get a page that looks like Facebook with a popup over it saying “Facebook needs you to install a new gidget to proceed”. You click OK. The site promptly installs a virus on your computer or locks your files or does something else nefarious.

Less dangerous but still very annoying, your DNS knows the name of every site you visit. That’s valuable information. The operators of a DNS aren’t doing anything illegal when they sell that data or use it to target you with ads. Both happen all the time.

The wrong DNS service can also slow down your browsing. A complex webpage such as you get from almost every site you visit contains dozens if not hundreds of names which must be resolved, one for every picture, for example. If the DNS lookup process is slow, so is page loading even if you have plenty of bandwidth.

Who decides what DNS I use?

Back when you were in the office, the good geeks did that for you. Although you can control this choice (see below for how), by default your ISP makes this decision for you. When you attach your home router to a modem from your ISP, the ISP tells the router the IP address of a DNS to use to resolve domain names. When you are away from home and you logon to the free WiFi in Joe’s Bar and Grill – which will be reopening soon – Joe’s WiFi service by default will decide where your domain name queries are sent. Joe may be able to get internet service more cheaply if he doesn’t ask many questions, which he doesn’t know how to ask anyway, about who is providing the DNS. Next thing you know your web pages are coming from Moldavia or Turkmenistan. The fancy hotel you’re staying in with high-priced WiFi may generously provide their own DNS. They don’t want to misdirect you; they just want to know all about you.

So how do I protect myself?

The good news is that you can protect yourself; the bad news is that it’s complicated and the method differs operating system by operating system and router by router. First you choose what DNS to use (that’s not too bad); then you tell your computer and/or router to honor your choice.

Choosing a DNS

First, second, and third considerations are safety; then comes privacy; and finally speed. Domain name service is usually free to individuals. If you’re a commercial operation or you want your domain name service to actively protect you rather than just refraining from betraying you, you will end up paying something. I’ll just talk about the three most widely used free public domain name services here. They all spread their DNS over multiple data centers for redundancy and speed.

Google Public DNS is probably the most widely used. It lives at IP address 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4. Many ISPs, including Starlink, instruct their customers’ routers to send queries here by default. Google has a specific policy which says it only keeps a list of who resolved what names for 48 hours for debugging purposes and, unlike its search service, does not sell this data or use it for targeting. After 48 hours, it only keeps aggregate data, which it definitely mines.

OpenDNS at 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220 is owned by Cisco. By default it blocks some sites which it believes are used for phishing. This can be a help if you accidentally click a bad link or sometimes an annoyance if you really want to go to the site for some reason or the blacklist is wrong. I cannot find a specific privacy statement for the service. The general Cisco privacy statement would allow them to use and share information about what sites you visit.

Cloudflare 1.1.1.1 at 1.1.1.1 and 1.0.0.1 is my personal favorite. They hire KPMG to audit and assure they aren’t keeping, using, or selling personal data. They claim to be the fastest DNS and do seem to be from my monitoring. They don’t block anything, something I like but you may not.

Specifying your DNS

This is the yucky part (fun for a nerd). You don’t need to open an account with any of these providers to use their service. Even when they don’t mine your data in any way, their hosting businesses benefit by having your queries go their datacenters – that’s why they’re free. You do have to tell your computer – and possibly your router – to go to the IP addresses I gave with each service for domain name resolution. The first address is where the computer goes first; the second is backup in case it doesn’t get an answer.

If your computer is going to travel and connect to any WiFi or ethernet outside your house, it is critical that you specify what DNS you want your computer to use and not let it default to the DNS offered by Joe’s. How you do that differs by operating system. There’s a good rundown for Windows 10 on Windows Central. If you’re running Linux, you already know how to do this. For a Mac, follow the instructions given on the web site of the DNS provider you’ve chosen.

If you have specified a DNS address for all your home computers, they will use that away or at home despite what your ISP may have told your home router to do. Your SmartTV, tablets, smartphonw when connected to home WiFi, and other home devices will do what the router tells them to do. To protect these as well as  guests who sign onto your WiFi, you should also change the primary and secondary DNS addresses in your router. You’ll find the instructions for this by searching your router’s model number and “DNS”.

Good luck – don’t let a DNS mislead you.

February 25, 2021

Reopen Democracy Post the Pandemic

Government by decree cannot become the new normal.

There are things we tolerate during an emergency which we wouldn’t think of tolerating in normal times. Who would’ve dreamed 12 months ago that states could bar visitors from out of state, that governors could close stores and restaurants by decree, that anyone could tell us whom we can and cannot have to dinner?

The hospitals were filling up fast and the death rate was high; doctors didn’t yet know how to treat the new disease; we haven’t had a pandemic since the Spanish Flu. Our legislatures are ponderous and fractious and not designed for fast action even when it’s clearly needed. Although there have certainly been cases of overreach, swift executive action was justified.

There is legitimate disagreement after the fact on how helpful shutdowns and mandates were.  The virus was kept under good control here in Vermont where the rules were strict even at the cost of our tourist business. New York had some of the strictest early mandates – and was the most severely affected state on a population-adjusted basis in the first round of the pandemic. Texas stayed open in the second round and California shut down tight; both states had about the same experience this winter. Any analysis is complicated because what was mandated and what people did are different: not all Californians stayed home because they were told to; not all Texans went to discos because they were allowed to.

What we didn’t know last spring justified unprecedented executive action; that can’t be judged by hindsight. We will work to bring the economy back and build a new and different tomorrow.

But that new tomorrow must not include further suspension of democracy every time the wheels of constitutional government grind slow.

“Let’s declare climate change to be a national health emergency. Then Biden won’t be hampered by Congress in addressing it.”  People who are otherwise reasonable say this. They are saying they want a dictatorship because they can’t get what they want in a democracy.

“Let’s declare racism a national health emergency.” Same idea. Our constitution stands in the way of banning free speech, even hurtful free speech. Voters don’t want preferences for any ethnic group, not even in California where a pro-preferences referendum was voted down by the same voters who crumped Trump in that state. No problem; declare an emergency. Racism must be addressed – democratically.

It’s incredible to me that many of those who are in favor of unfettered “emergency” executive power are among those who are most appalled at the threat the last President was to democracy as he tried to cling to power. Ruling by emergency decree is a time-tested way of imposing dictatorship. It is quite possible that the next president will again be someone you disagree with. Why would you want to give him or her unlimited power?

Yes, we need to elect a congress and state legislatures which do their job of passing laws (and budgets) on a timely basis. No, we must not let “emergency rule” crush democracy just because democracy is inconvenient.

February 23, 2021

Starlink or Your Local WISP for Broadband Service

A tale of two dishes.

Dishy
Starlink dish
Globalnetdish
GlobalNet dish

Last week someone on our local online Front Porch Forum asked advice on whether they should use Starlink, Elon Musk’s new low earth orbit satellite (LEOS) service, or GlobalNet, a local wireless ISP (WISP). I have experience with both so answered. This specific answer applies directly to people in Stowe, VT and to GlobalNet, but it may be of interest to you if you also have a choice between a local WISP and Starlink. If Starlink is your only option for broadband and you can afford it, you should order it ASAP.

I said that I would recommend either one of them over DSL from Consolidated (our local telco), which I am about to cancel. Our DSL can’t handle even 2Mbps on upload or get better than 20Mbp on download. Many peoples DSL is even worse because they are further from where the copper meets the fiber. Like many Vermonters, I cannot get cable or fiber to the home right now.

Location:

To use GlobalNet from Stowe, you need to be able to see their transmitter on top of Mt. Mansfield.

To use Starlink from around here, you need a view of the northwest sky.

This may be all you need to know to choose between them.

Availability:

GlobalNet will install within weeks of getting an order.

There is a wait for Starlink. Someone I know in Morrisville has been told by Starlink that it will be summer at the earliest before they can get service, but this may be different in Stowe. You can find out your wait time on the Starlink site if you try to order.

Price and speed:

GlobalNet has plans ranging from $29.95/mo to $84.95/mo. The low end is extremely slow but 30Mbps down and about 15Mbps up is $59.95. There is a $149 install fee and a one-year minimum contract required for the first year. No penalty for discontinuing after the first year. GlobalNet owns the dish and radio and you must give them back at the end of your contract (no reason why you would want to keep them). GlobalNet does not supply a router, so you need to buy your own. About $50 for the simplest.

Starlink is $99/mo for a plan that provides speeds between 50-150Mbps down and 20-40Mbps up with higher speeds promised. Initial equipment costs $499 (almost $600 with tax and shipping). In this case you are buying the equipment which you will have no use for if you later switch to another service. It does come with a very simple router which you will want to replace if you’re a nerd like me who wants to do complicated stuff. There is no contract and there is a 30-day no fault return policy.

Neither service currently limits the amount of data you can transfer. Latency is not a problem for either one. Both are more than suitable for multiple video stream, VoIP, Zooming, and most gaming.

Reliability:

 GlobalNet is affected by very heavy rain or wet snow. There was a period last month when service was degraded for a couple of days by ice on their antenna. Sometimes quality seems to dip for a while but those have been getting much less frequent.

Starlink is still building and testing their service. I am using it for lots of Zoom calls but there are short intervals - 5-15 seconds once or twice an hour - when I freeze. These could be due to a branch in the field of view of my dish or the service itself. There have been a few longer outages as they predicted during their beta test, but the beta test is now over. The service has not been affected by weather and the dish is heated so it sheds snow.

Installation:

GlobalNet does this for you including running wire into your house and connecting a router.

Starlink is "self-installing". The dish does aim itself, but you've got to figure a way to get the wire through your wall. You can see the dish aiming itself at the right part of the sky in this video.

Service:

You can call GlobalNet and a knowledgeable person in Vermont answers during business hours. They usually return messages left in off hours. GlobalNet service techs who do installation and fix onsite problems are courteous and competent.

You can file an online ticket with Starlink. They respond but right now are only helping with installation problems. They have no techs making service calls. There is an active Starlink community on Reddit and you can find answers for some questions there.

Other:

GlobalNet is a Vermont small business.  They’ve been around since the dialup days and have steadily improved. I like to deal with local businesses.

Starlink is a service of SpaceX, one of Elon Musk’s companies. There is a technology excitement about his products, even the ones without wheels.

Both services are less likely to be knocked out in a storm than anything on telephone poles. That only helps, of course, if you have standby power. GlobalNet is vulnerable to a power failure on Mt. Mansfield but there are backup generators there. Starlink would keep operating even if there were no power anywhere in Vermont. Its fleet of over 1000 satellites, with about 60 new ones added each two weeks, is highly redundant and not affected by terrestrial disasters.

See also:

Starlink Broadband Access: Game-Changer for Rural Broadband

Starlink Broadband Service - More on the Beta plus Exciting Video

Starlink Broadband Passes “Better Than Nothing” Beta Test

WCAX video on Starlink

VPR audio on Starlink

Seven Days on Starlink

February 18, 2021

Where Does the Untargeted Stimulus Relief Money Go?

Hint: Bitcoin is up 1350% since last March

BitcoinMost US stock market indices are also at record highs. Mass speculation is driving dizzying ups and downs in stocks like GameStop out of any correlation with the worth of the companies involved. There’s too much money sloshing around!

Relief for people put out of work by the virus or the lockdowns it caused is and was a very good thing. Extending unemployment because of the special circumstances made sense, although paying bonus unemployment has kept some people from rejoining the labor force.

Sending out checks to people who were not affected by the pandemic was a bad idea the first time around and is an even worse idea now. Many people who were able to switch to work from home are better off financially because they don’t have commuting expense. Most of us are spending less because we don’t eat out, travel for fun, or go to events. As you can see below, the US savings rate has sky-rocketed during the pandemic even though Americans are also paying down debt.

Savings

Isn’t all that saving and debt paying a good thing? Well, it would be if we as a people weren’t borrowing many times that amount to give relief both to those who need it and those who don’t. It would be if much of the “relief” money wasn’t ending up in bubble assets. Moreover, some of the savings are going to disappear when inflated stocks and perhaps Bitcoin plummet.

Some economists say it was and is a good idea to just shovel money into the economy so demand doesn’t plummet. But, at the same time we gave out heaps of money indiscriminately, we closed much of the local economy.  Money can’t be spent in closed stores and restaurants. Certainly the extra money helped Amazon – its sales for 2020 were $386 billion, up 38% from 2018. Their net profit did even better: up 84%. Where else were people who didn’t need stimulus money going to spend it other than buying from Amazon, buying Bitcoin, and playing the stock market.

We’re not out of the pandemic yet. We do need more money for vaccination, for treatment, to track cases and mutations, and to help those who are still being kept out of work. We do need to rebuild our infrastructure. We do need to get broadband everywhere and make sure that even the poorest households can afford access. What we don’t need – but are getting anyway – is more checks to people who don’t need relief. Trust me, Jeff Bezos is doing fine.

For unwise stimulus to the rich and rich corporations see: Flying Elephants Aren’t Pretty

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