Life at 100 Mb – How I Broke into the 1%

I always knew that someday I would make it into the 1%. I have been aiming to be a part of it since the day I arrived off the boat with just a suitcase in my hand. Unfortunately, I am not talking about my adjusted gross income,  which according to the IRS still puts me right amongst the riffraff, or for the true 1%, “rif et raf,” meaning  “one and all” in French.  But, now that I have 100Mb broadband speeds to my home, I can boldly claim to be part of the new 1% internet glitterati, which is almost as good.

100mb speed test result

100mb speed test result

If you don’t believe that internet speed is the new status symbol, replacing both the BMW and paid-off mortgage to let people know that you have arrived, just look at how the Washington liberal elite are making the National Broadband Plan their new priority. The current administration has looked at rural America, and seen how we fat cat country folk have been gorging ourselves on broadband, building “elite,” “premium” and “unnecessary” fiber optic networks to sparsely populated areas, while the more deserving cosmopolitans in the great cities of this nation languish on archaic, dilapidated copper networks that the Big Telecoms have not bothered to update since the 50’s. Consequently, city folk struggle to get 3Mb speeds in many cases. The average broadband connection in the United States is only 6.6 Mbps downstream, according to Akamai’s latest State of the Internet Report. To correct this gross injustice with some smart social engineering, the administration has declared, nay—decreed, that 100Mb speeds must be the goal for broadband to urban areas, but that 4Mb is good enough for simple rural folk. There may of course be political motivation behind this, due to the demographic distribution of where the current administration’s votes come from, but, regardless, it is clear that even at the very top of the Ivory Towers, they now recognize that to have arrived you must have 100Mb speeds.

It wasn’t easy for a poor immigrant like me to break into the 1%. Like many people in that other elite 1%, it may in the end have come down to a lot of luck, and being in the right place at the right time. The first thing I had to do was move to an area served by a rural telecom with the funding to build out their fiber optic network, and then unwittingly build a home so remote, so far away from the existing copper network, that the only option was to break out a strand from their main fiber backbone and bring it directly to my home. In this way my new house became the first in Idaho to have fiber to the home. This event was published in the Idaho State Journal back in 2006. At the time, I was cruising on the fastest available speed of 12Mb, which was unprecedented back then. A couple of weeks ago I ordered our newly available 100Mb speed package. But, although I now had that speed to the fiber optical network terminal on my home, my old reliable Linksys router simply could not handle the awesomeness of those speeds. The maximum output to my computer, Xbox and other direct-wired ethernet devices on my home network was only about  35Mb. As for the wireless devices like the Kindle and Droids, forget about it. Clearly the router was holding me back, so it had to go.

So, I consulted with my friend Jeremy Smith, who is also my neighbor and boss, and one of the few people I know in our small town who is a bigger internet geek than me. He showed me his Cisco E2000 router, which has the rare feature in a consumer-grade router of having Gigabit ports. I found a refurb model on Cisco’s website for only $39, so it was a no-brainer to upgrade to a new router. As an important side note, this E2000 is not Cisco/Linksys newest router—it’s an older model. They now have a lot of fancier ones with the ability to broadcast multiple guest networks at once and such, but they didn’t think to build Gig ports into them because, after all—who caters to the politically incorrect 1% anymore? But, the Gigabit ports are the key. If you are subscribing to higher speeds and not getting the full potential out of your internet—that is the first place you should look. Regular 10/100 ethernet grade ports will not get you to 100Mb. The second I plugged in my new Cisco Gig router into my network, I was able to get the full 100Mb download speeds to my wired devices. My upload speeds were only set to 5Mb on purpose, because that is the current residential upload offering here in Idaho, but in theory, over fiber, Direct Communications has the ability to deliver the full symmetrical 100Mb up and down.

My next dilemma was, now that I have arrived, what do I do with my 100 Mbps internet connection? I have faster speeds than 99% of the country—I need to do something important online. So, naturally, the first thing I did was take a screen shot of my speed test and post it to my brothers to make them jealous, because they still live in speed-deprived metropolises like San Francisco and Salt Lake City . I learned this trick from our customers on our corporate facebook page, who have shown me the importance of posting speed tests online. The thing about having obscenely fast speeds is that the speed, just like making even more money for the financial 1%, becomes an obsession—it becomes necessary to keep running speed tests just to make sure you are still in the 1%. So, that was also an obvious way to use my connection—run more speed tests and pat myself on the back each time.

The latest national report on bandwidth usage in the USA from network solutions provider Sandvine, says that the average household now uses about 52GB per month, or about 81 hours of streaming video, and that Netflix is responsible for 33 percent of all downstream traffic. As already stated, I have never wanted to be average, and over the past couple of years, I would estimate that I have been personally responsible for at least 2% of all download traffic in the USA due to my Netflix usage. We dropped out satellite years ago when we figured out Hulu was free and Netflix also had free streaming.  But, now that I am in the 1%, it’s time to step up my streaming video usage. Using my elitist training in statistics and standard normal distribution, I calculated that if the national average was 81 hours of streaming video, (guessing a generous standard deviation of 20 hours) to become part of the streaming 1%, I would only have to consume about 128 hours a month of streaming video. That is just over 4 hours a day, which really is not a lot of online video, especially by my family’s standards. I use that on my Kindle over breakfast.

So, I looked to become a little more exclusive, but even to be a one-in-a-million consumer, you only have to watch 178 hours a month, or 5.9 hours a day. Clearly, America is not watching enough online video—the bar is currently very low. Our baby alone is probably using that much up each day just watching Dora on Netflix. She is more like a one-in-a-billion consumer of internet media. This sounds good, but is probably not something to put in Parenting Magazine.  Perhaps to feel more like an elite 1%, we should do something more extreme, like put an internet-enabled TV in all of the bathrooms–luckily I already took the precaution of wiring our Jacuzzi tub with ethernet for just such an emergency.

Of course, the real advantage of more speed today is the number of devices you can connect and stream to at the same time. In my home we have an Xbox, a Wii, a Roku, two desktops, some laptops, a couple of smartphones, and a tablet. That’s only about 8 devices. I know people who have a lot more devices than that in their homes, especially if they have a lot of teenage kids. If the new primetime at home consists of Mom catching up on The Bachelor on her iPad as she runs on the treadmill, while Dad is watching reruns of Shark Week on Netflix, and the kids are on episode 103 of SpongeBob on the Xbox, that is going to require a very robust, constant feed. Family time is just not what it used to be when everybody was staring at the same screen, but multiple screens require multiple IP streams into the home, and that is where we as the 1% truly shine. I sometimes hear customers complain that they can’t watch Netflix and use their VOIP phone at the same time, and I can only shake my head in pity, because they are only subscribing to 1.5Mb speed. If I am to fulfill my responsibility as part of the 1%, I clearly need to invest in even more screens, and I need to keep them all streaming simultaneous, whether anybody is watching them or not.

I have noticed with the financial 1%, that it is difficult for them to fathom how regular folks live. After a while of being rich, they tend to assume that all people live the way they do. They will say things in conversation like: “I don’t understand why you are going camping for your family reunion. Why don’t you all just go on a cruise like a normal family?” Hopefully I will start to become that way with my elite internet service. For example, I already just assume that everyone watches ESPN3, Hulu, Netflix and orders new releases on Amazon Instant Video like I do, or at the very least make use of remote Slingbox at an undisclosed location. I question why the masses are still wasting their limited income on old-fashioned satellite, or worse—visiting that bacteria-infested Red Box. But, I recently tried to watch a BYU game on ESPN3 at a relative’s house in Salt Lake City using my remote access account, and it was an absolute nightmare—not even worth watching over their 4Mb internet connection. The resolution and quality adjusts to your internet speed, and this was so pixilated that I could barely make out the opposing teams colors. I am used to watching ESPN3 on the Xbox at home in full HD, with no buffering, and a crystal-clear picture even better than HD satellite, because they use more compression in their digital feed than our direct internet feed does.

I am probably never going to be in the financial 1%. In fact, I suspect  I don’t even know anybody who is part of that 1%. But, I am finding it’s not easy being part of any kind of 1%, and I’m beginning to feel a slight empathy for them because of our shared experience. There’s the taunts, the derision from co-workers, the protests and the whining from regular folks complaining about their lesser service, the threat of government redistribution of bandwidth hanging over our heads, and the boredom of having unlimited resources at your fingertips. I can’t even enjoy the mobile data on my cell phone anymore—it is ruined forever for me. How could I ever go back from 100Mb? I will never be able to move into a house without fiber again. My options for relocating are going to be extremely limited from now on. Sometimes I just miss the old fashioned phone—it is tiresome having to dress up for video-conferencing all the time. I’m trying to be a good representative of our elite super-broadband caste, but I don’t play games; I don’t look at porn; I don’t download or upload anything illegal. I don’t even Bit Torrent. I wonder what the proletariat would do with 100Mb? Even though it means I will just be one of the masses again, we are going to have to give 100 Mb to all of them someday. Hopefully by then I will have 1 Gig speeds.

The News-Examiner- Directcom to Offer First 100 Mbps Residential Broadband Service in Idaho

Published Sep 19, 2012, by The News-Examiner in Montpelier, Idaho.

Directcom in Idaho State Journal – “Bringing the cable home.”

Published in the  Idaho State Journal, Sep 12, 2012.

“Arbon Valley just became a lot less remote thanks to an upgrade of its phone system to fiber optics. Every resident in Arbon now is able to receive broadband access.” Click on the link below to read the article.

http://www.idahostatejournal.com/members/article_0c6e26ce-fca1-11e1-887a-001a4bcf887a.html

This story covers our completion of the Arbon fiber to the home project. Good job to all the techs who spent several years working through rain, snow and wind to bring fiber to the good folks in Arbon.

What We Did in 2011

2011- Although this year was one of increased uncertainty for the rural telecommunications industry, with the FCC and federal administration threatening to cut major funding sources for rural areas under the guise of the national broadband plan, Direct Communications as a company made some important strides forward to strengthen our company, get to know our customers better, improve our products and offerings, focus on our core business, improve our competitive position in the markets we serve, and acquire new customers and revenue sources.

Overall, 2011 was a very good year. Our employees and customers should feel satisfied that we made a real difference to our communities, and improved the quality of life in both Idaho and Utah during 2011. That is what makes even us in marketing sleep well at night. We spent the year expanding our fiber network to the vital institutions that serve your rural areas, like schools, hospitals, city, county and government buildings, doctors offices, libraries, small and large businesses, and of course, homes.

We were excited to upgrade to a new Metaswitch IP switch in our Idaho exchanges at the beginning of 2011. Direct Communications was the first telephone company in Idaho to implement a digital switch several years ago, and this new central switch replacement was another pioneering step for rural telecommunications in Idaho. The old digital switch was about the size of an average living room. The new switch is about the size of a small refrigerator. A major difference between the new one and the old switch, besides the size, is that this new switch was developed to take advantage of all the newest computer and internet advancements, especially in its ability to use IP protocol, to talk to modern electronic devices, like IP phones, computers, routers etc., and work on a fiber-optic network.

In Eagle Mountain, the year began with some great publicity as Direct Communications was awarded the 2010 Best Business of the Year by the Lehi Area Chamber of Commerce. http://blog.directcom.com/2011/01/19/direct-communications-awarded-2010-best-business-of-the-year/

After months of work, Direct Communications was able to open the doors to their new building on Campus Drive in Eagle Mountain in February, 2011.  Our grand opening was held in June, along with the ribbon cutting of the Eagle Mountain City business incubator program. The building has 8 “pods”, or office spaces, approximately 2500 square feet each.  Direct Communications houses four of the pods, Beyond Limits Physical Therapy occupies one pod, and the Eagle Mountain City incubator program has the remaining three pods.  After working in two separate areas for several years, Direct Communications was excited to have all of their employees at the same location. This new building signified an important coming-of-age for DCCV, which began as a start-up in the back of the fire station in 2006, and employees who remember all sharing a single bathroom and welcoming potential customers into the reception desk/storage area/stairwell, now had their own offices with hardwood trim—an unimaginable prospect 5 years ago. For more about the building see http://blog.directcom.com/2011/10/06/opening-ceremony-ribbon-cutting-for-new-direct-communications-building-in-eagle-mountain/

We began the year with a couple of new marketing initiatives to launch our new brand position and tagline of “faster streaming broadband” and started by giving away a year-long subscription to Netflix streaming to all new customers in January.  In February we gave away a Roku streaming media player to all new customers. In June, to coincide with Pony Express Days, we gave away a Wii to new customers, which enjoyed about the same success as the Xbox promotion the previous year. All of these device promotions were designed to migrate customers towards using streaming video as their primary entertainment source, because that not only increases the value of our service from a commodity to a premium product, but also, once they become dependent on their internet for video entertainment purposes, they are less likely to leave us for a wireless competitor. We conducted a couple of customer survey during the year, and found that 66% of our customers said they now use online streaming of video as their primary entertainment source.

Also during June, we announced new broadband speeds for all customers, with our basic speed starting at 8Mb, and our fastest speed on offer at 50Mb. This was designed around our main wireless competitors offerings, which had 7Mb as their top speed. Of course, by the end of the year they had also reacted and changed their packages to advertise 10Mb and 15Mb speeds.

After Pony Express Days we cut back on advertising until December, when we rolled out a Kindle Fire as a Christmas promotion, which emphasized making the internet fun—since the new Kindle could stream video, download apps, and play games. The Kindle promotion ended up being our most successful marketing campaign of 2011.

However, 2011 was an interesting year for marketing with the maturing of social media, which for the first time played an important part of our integrated marketing, and opened up a new target media market for us, since we could now target internet customers living only in Eagle Mountain and we began spending a significant portion of our advertising budget on facebook ads.

We began the year by splitting our facebook page into two separate pages for Idaho and Utah, to make it more relevant to each market. Acquiring fans was a slow process at the beginning, until we learned the only sure way to entice more customers to our page was with online promotions for facebook fans.  By the end of the year we had over 500 customers on our Eagle Mountain facebook page. See  http://blog.directcom.com/2011/06/14/first-winner-of-directcom-monthly-facebook-fan-contest/

Navigating social media has been a learning experience for us, and we have had to learn to take the good with the bad, as dissatisfied customers also like to use our page as a soapbox, but overall it has been a positive experience for both the company and our customers, and we actually implemented a lot of good suggestions made by customers on our page through our interactions this year.

We presented on the subject of social media at the annual Utah Rural Telephone Association meeting in St George.

Direct Communications Cedar Valley’s own Brenda Caldwell was named Utah Valley’s Raddest Receptionist by Utah Valley BusinessQ Magazine, and Brenda was featured in the Fall 2011 issue. http://blog.directcom.com/2011/09/29/directcoms-brenda-caldwell-named-utah-valleys-raddest-receptionist/

Probably the most significant change during 2011 was the sale of our wireless internet business to Digis, after being one of the first companies in southeast Idaho to offer wireless internet over 10 years ago. We made this decision primarily so that we could focus on our core business of growing our fiber optic network in Idaho and developing our wired internet products, including our cable and DSL technologies. The money from the sale would be reinvested into developing the products where we have a real competitive advantage. Read more about this move at: http://blog.directcom.com/2011/10/13/sale-of-wireless-internet-assets-to-digis/

Immediately after the sale of our wireless business, we launched the ESPN3 broadband channel for our high-speed customers in Idaho. 2011 turned out to be a great year to offer ESPN3, because BYU football, which many of our customers follow, went independent largely on an ESPN broadcasting contract, and so most of their games were streamed online on ESPN3 this year.

We were also kept very busy working with the three major national mobile phone providers to construct and deliver fiber optic service to most of the cell phone towers in the area, so that they could offer more data to their customers, and we also now wholesale broadband service to most of our competitors in the area. Without an extensive fiber optic network, our rural economy in Idaho would not be able to function in this information age. As our tagline claims, we are the future of broadband technology in the rural areas we serve.

DirectCom Lays Fiber-to-the Home in Arbon Valley

Fiber lights

Fiber optic cable connects the world.

Why is fiber optic cable being run to your home in Arbon?
We have been using fiber optics for our backbone network for a number of years—we  were one of the first companies in Idaho to use a digital switch, and helped build the first state-wide all fiber-optic sonnet loop, which ties the entire state of Idaho together into a network that goes back to the national backbone. However, not many telephone companies provide fiber all the way to the home yet—we were the first telephone company in Utah County to do that, so we thought it was time to offer it to our exchange here in Arbon.

Is it an expensive venture? How much does it cost to install fiber optics? Time? Labor?
Today, the price of the fiber optic cable has come to down the point where the cable itself isn’t any more expensive than the traditional copper, and of course at the same time, copper is increasingly expensive, with no hope of ever going down again, the way the world economy is headed. The real expense with fiber is in the electronics. The entire phone switch and head end must be upgraded to support the new fiber network, and on the customer end, the box (we call it a ONT, or optical network terminal) that fits onto the outside of the home, is very  expensive, because it’s a far more sophisticated system than the old copper devices. The great thing about this new ONT though, is that it supports the new technology that people are using more and more in their home, like home networks. Anybody who builds a house now will want to install CAT-5 network cable to each room, so they can network all their computers together, distribute their internet connection to each room, and many security, intercom and advanced entertainment systems all need network cable thesedays. On our ONT, there is a place you can plug your main Ethernet, or CAT-5 cable, right into the fiber-optic network, so you don’t have to use the old phone line or phone jacks. It’s engineered for the future. There is a little more labor involved in actually burying the fiber than there is with copper, which is just ploughed in directly, because fiber-optics must be run in conduit, but the long term benefits are clear and the investment profitable. Also, from what we have seen so far, there is less maintenance required on a fiber network than copper, so over time it will save us money.
 
What are the advantages of fiber optics? What changes would an average citizen see in their lives because of its use?
The most important factor is bandwidth. The fiber line running to a home from the main cable contains usually about 12 strands of fiber, but those 12 strands could probably carry all the information in Idaho. So, the capacity is huge—we have the ability to provide up to 100MB per second to each home. Fiber optics are the future of communications, and copper will someday max out on the bandwidth people will require. In the future, your telephone company will also be your cable company, and all media will be delivered as internet data. The advantage of this of course is that the possibilities for different content and the boundaries for broadcasting will be unlimited. Every person could someday broadcast their own TV station of our their home—just call up Grandma and say—change the channel to IP address such-and-such, and watch your grandchild blow out her birthday candles.

Fiber optics carry an all-digital signal, and is better suited to today’s digital communication devices. Also, there is no interference from electric lines or magnetic fields like you experience with copper, so the signal is clearer, which will result in a better conversation. There is no resistance in the fiber optic cable like metal lines have, so the signal can travel infinitely, because it’s light, not an electron flow, so we can now serve customers who live far away from the central phone office with products like DSL, which is vital in the rural areas. Fiber optics will open up whole new markets of people who previously were too far to pick up a DSL signal over copper. Ask all the farmers if they would like that. Having fiber to your home is a great modern feature that will increase the functionality and value of my home. Here in this little pocket in the hills, is a show-piece of the future.

How has communications in Arbon Valley changed over the last 100 years?
In our office in Rockland we still have the original little Rockland phone switch on display—the current president, Leonard May, used to sit at that switch as a child, which was housed in his family’s own home, and act as the operator, and manually change plugs around to switch the calls. An alarm would ring each time there was a call, and somebody in the family would have to wake up to connect the caller. He bought the company from his father in 1974, and from 300 local subscribers then, we now serve over 10,000 customers with a range of communications products from VOIP phones to DSL to cable TV.

 How many homes are hooked up to fiber optics in Idaho?
There aren’t any other phone companies in Idaho Falls, Blackfoot, Pocatello, or anywhere down to the Utah border, deploying fiber to the home yet. Direct Communications is leading the way, and we have hooked up several homes from Bear Lake to Rockland to fiber.

How is fiber optics installed?