Internet Task Force update

3/18/2016

Big Canoe POA Broadband Assessment Status

In November of 2014, the POA formed an Internet Task Force to address the problems of low internet quality and speed. The group performed significant work in documenting actual performance across Big Canoe, encouraging existing providers to improve performance and chart a going-forward path for further analysis of options. To that end, the POA commissioned a consultant to report on Big Canoe's current internet status and recommend a future path. That work was recently completed. This status report is to document where we are today. It is also the start of CanoeConnect--a campaign to inform property owners of the importance of upgrading internet service and options for doing so. You may obtain additional information at canoeconnect.bigcanoepoa.org.

Background

Civitium was retained by the Big Canoe POA to document the current state of infrastructure and communications services throughout the community; estimate the capital costs, operating expenditures, revenue and overall business case for establishing a fiber network inside Big Canoe; identify potential partners; research possible financing sources and options; and make decisions about the best path forward to achieve intermediate and long-term goals related to high speed internet. The company also offered use of a web based survey tool for interaction with Big Canoe owners. You can participate at http://canoeconnect.bigcanoepoa.org.
As expected, we confirmed that internet access as currently provided by Windstream and TDS is failing to meet community needs. The vast majority of homes have broadband speeds < 6 Mbps. While there are a small number of homes with much better service, this is an anomaly. Recently both ISP's have embarked on an improvement project which potentially doubles download speeds at an increased cost. Unfortunately, this program is limited to a fraction of our community. Neither TDS or Windstream have shared plans for any broader improvements. In addition, the boost in performance is far below what our peers in the urban areas have grown accustomed to, or what we believe is required. Neither TDS or Windstream have any plans for fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) inside Big Canoe.
The speed that data is transferred over the internet is referred to as bandwidth. High speed transfers are called broadband. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines broadband as at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed (data coming into our home from the Internet) and 3 Mbps upload speed (data sent from your home over the internet). Download speeds are important when transferring large files or streaming video. Upload speeds are important if you are backing up large files, sending large amounts of data such as digital photographs or using two way video services.
The FCC reports "Broadband deployment in the United States--especially in rural areas--is failing to keep pace with today's advanced, high quality voice, data, graphics and video offerings...53% of all rural Americans lack access to 25/3 Mbps." Currently in Big Canoe, only a fraction have access to even this level of broadband.. Although some homes can approach broadband speeds, Big Canoe's average speed, as reported in a December, 2014 survey, is less than 25% of the FCC Broadband definition.
 
These speeds fail to meet the demands of many current property owners and prospective buyers. Limitations in available bandwidth impact property owners who work from home, those wishing to stream videos and parents using the internet to provide resources for home schooling. Stopgap measures, mentioned earlier, by current providers have allowed a select few property owners to achieve faster speeds if they are in close proximity to upgraded switches. Another option recently developed by a property owner involves the replacement of the standard router and some additional software that manages internet traffic more efficiently. The approach has provided service improvements without actually increasing the bandwidth. Remaining customers have no hope of achieving higher speeds over existing lines. Our two current providers have not indicated any desire to make the investment to upgrade their services to a competitive level throughout our community.
Failure to provide adequate broadband impacts the community in two important ways:
  1. Home owner frustration at inability to effectively work from home, stream movies, use multiple devices simultaneously, back up/restore using cloud services;
  2. Negatively impacts sales and property values.

Why do we need better Internet service?

A recent report by Cisco (a major manufacturer of network equipment) states that internet traffic has increased greater than five times in the last five years. Streaming video (Netflix/Hulu etc.) users have increased 52% year-to-year. The amount of content delivered will increase seven and a half times by 2019 and will be sixty-four times greater than what was available just ten years ago. If action is not taken Big Canoe property owners will be excluded from participating in the fast growing trend of content being delivered via the Internet. Most of us remember when our TV choices were limited to the three major networks. Now we have hundreds of channels available on cable and that content is gradually moving to the Internet. Without reliable broadband connections, watching streaming video can be a frustrating experience. New televisions are also moving to 4K and 8K technology. Watching these streams is simply not possible at current internet speed levels at Big Canoe.
In addition to the large increase in streaming entertainment data, other important applications will either be unavailable or severely degraded if reliable broadband speeds are not provided. System software downloads to support our personal computers, i.e. Windows 10, and application upgrades, are becoming very large, requiring inordinate amounts of time on a slow connection. For example, the Windows 10 download can take two hours or more at 3 Mbps but less than ten minutes at 50 Mbps.
Medical care is also moving to the internet. Many areas in the US already have access to virtual house calls. Using your computer with video capabilities, you can speak directly with a healthcare professional and they evaluate your condition to determine whether an office visit is necessary. This requires a reliable video link. These virtual doctor visits are gaining in popularity, and an increasing number of insurance companies and health care providers tout telehealth’s potential to deliver cost savings, efficiency, and convenience without compromising quality. Our current offerings will not provide the speeds necessary for these remote physician interactions.
In addition, many companies are providing even more sophisticated medical care in the home using internet connected devices for measuring blood pressure, glucose levels, temperature and other important information. For patients with diabetes, hypertension, COPD and other chronic diseases this can result in better management of your condition and fewer trips to the doctor or hospital. Given the remote nature of Big Canoe, more and more of our residents may elect to conduct virtual visits with their doctors for noncritical medical issues. It is vital that the community have a reliable internet infrastructure that will sustain this growing need.
Another rapidly growing use of the internet is the delivery of educational content, sometimes called distance learning. This is important both for parents wanting to home school their children and adults wanting to continue to continue to experience lifelong learning. Broadband connections allow for interactive audio and video between educators and students, A report by AARP has discussed the importance of broadband internet for older adults, and includes working from home, telehealth, personal fulfillment and social connectedness as some of the important benefits.

Next Steps

This leaves the property owners of Big Canoe with a choice to continue with the current providers and maintain status quo or to invest in the infrastructure to provide service that will meet both current and future needs. . While numerous technologies currently exist for providing internet service (DSL, cable, satellite and fiber optics), it is clear that fiber to the home (FTTH) is best choice to improve our service now and provide capabilities to keep pace with the rapid growth of the Internet. One consultant's report has stated: "It is absolutely clear that fiber optics is the superior option for fixed broadband access, and will remain so, even as the electronics that produce the light waves are eclipsed by more innovative and/or cost efficient options."
All property owners will be affected by this decision. It is obvious for internet users, but even property owners who do not use or do not intend to use the internet will have their property values impacted. There is also a lowered possibility of selling their home as prospects seek communities with broadband internet access. Mike Rhodes, Director of Sales, Big Canoe Realty, states “we have lost sales of Big Canoe properties due to the lack of broadband internet.” Bent Tree has high speed internet via overhead poles and sellers advertise that they have broadband internet service.
A University of Colorado report based on half a million real estate transactions states that access to fiber has an impact of 3.1% on the price of the home. The $175,000 median priced home in the USA is impacted by $5,437. This is equivalent to a fireplace or half a bathroom. Big Canoe homes have a median price of $400,000 so the impact amounts to $12,000. The total assessed Big Canoe property impact is $30M. The same report states that homes which have 1Gbps internet access had a transaction price 7.1% higher than similar homes with 25Mbps or less connectivity.
With the completion of the Civitium analysis, the POA Internet Task Force has begun Phase 2 of this project. This phase involves the preparation of a Request for Information [RFI] to solicit partners to develop a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) system throughout the community. The RFI document includes instructions for respondents, description of the selection process, evaluation criteria, executive summary, background information, response format, glossary of terms, and terms and conditions. During this phase it is important to understand that your Task Force is acutely aware of costs, and has been working diligently throughout this project to develop an affordable, permanent solution at or below existing rates.  You may obtain the latest information on the task force progress at canoeconnect.bigcanoepoa.org.