Why Are Some Homes In Eagle Mountain Still On Copper Instead Of Fiber?

“What is the holdup?“ asked Eagle Mountain resident Don Mallicoat recently on Facebook. This is an excellent question, which many customers in Eagle Mountain who are still on DSL (copper) connections, are probably asking. Why are some homes in Eagle Mountain still on copper, while most are being served with fiber to the home? What is preventing Direct Communications from taking fiber to every home today?

The very short answer is simply: money, and the sheer cost of the citywide upgrade.

The slightly more expanded answer is specifically: cash flow.

The more complex answer, that requires some real explanation, is government regulation of our industry, and how the business model of rural telecom works.

Firstly, let’s be clear—we wish we already had fiber to every home in Eagle Mountain. If we could wave a magic wand, we would make that happen today. Our research and data shows that fiber customers are more satisfied with their service, irrespective of the bandwidth package to which they are subscribing. Further, our data indicates that fiber customers cost less in maintenance and customer support. Our goal is to upgrade every home to fiber as quickly as possible because it is better for our customers, the community, and us.

When Directcom purchased the previously city-owned network from Eagle Mountain City in 2006, the number of houses with fiber to the home was 0.

The number of homes in Eagle Mountain with fiber to the home is now several thousand. So, we have made progress, but yes, there are still neighborhoods we need to convert from DSL to Fiber.

The company has already upgraded about half of the older subdivisions from copper to fiber; however, due to simple budget constraints, we cannot run it to everyone at once. Over the past few years, Directcom has been able to upgrade about 300 older homes a year to fiber, while at the same time kept up with fiber construction to all new subdivisions. During 2013 the company upgraded Cedar Trails, Sage Valley, and the Eagle Landing subdivisions from Copper to Fiber lines. During 2014 we are upgrading Pioneer and Mountain View. By the end of 2014 we should be completely done with the city center upgrade.

Since 2006, we have invested about $24 million into network assets. (This is public information that can be can be sought from the State Tax Commission.) This should give some perspective into the cost of building a modern fiber network. Where does all that money come from? Not from your internet bill, but keep reading, and we will answer that later.

Some background: Direct Communications bought the former Eagle Mountain Telecom in 2006, after the city had tried for many years to sell off its telephone network. The cost of building and maintaining a telephone network was driving the city slowly towards bankruptcy, and Direct Communications, a private telecom provider with a business model that works for remote areas, stepped up and offered a solution for residents of Eagle Mountain, and Directcom paid off the Municipal Bonds which had financed the City’s network. Direct Communications originally bought the network from the City for $6.3 million, and every year since then we have invested significant resources into upgrading the network plant to fiber optic lines, and upgrading switches, electronics and equipment to power the fiber.

So, what is preventing us from upgrading all the homes to fiber in the same year?

Like all businesses, we work within certain constraints. Our available budget is one constraint. Acquiring capital is a major constraint. For us, and most small businesses, managing cash flow is a major constraint. A small company can easily go bankrupt by growing too fast and not having the cash flow to keep up with growth, because of the time lag between investment and recovery on that investment. That lag needs to be financed. Most fast-growing startups must be fueled by outside investment capital, especially those with high construction costs like communications networks. Without this, they would not have the cash flow to even pay their employees because of this time lag. Directcom, essentially still a startup, must finance most of its network growth and upgrades through borrowing from banks and government entities devoted to lending to rural institutions. Borrowing the millions of dollars needed for upgrades is not easy, and very tight government regulation of our industry makes it especially challenging to acquire financing. Put simply, we just can’t get our hands on the huge amount of money needed to do all the upgrades at once.

An important piece of this puzzle is to understand that end consumers themselves could never pay for the real cost of bringing fiber to their homes under pure market forces in a community this size. Clear evidence to demonstrate this claim is that there no other wireline provider in Eagle Mountain.   However, rest assured, Eagle Mountain citizens, that we are truly the only provider who really loves you, because we are here with you and working diligently to bring fiber optic connectivity to every home and business. This is our only market, and Direct Communications Cedar Valley has no interest outside of Eagle Mountain. You are our only customers.

We should mention the need to build and scale the network in a technologically sound way.  Switching everyone all at once would drastically impact our network, resulting in months or years of chaos and a bad consumer experience for everyone in Eagle Mountain until we stabilized everything again.   We want to build it well, not just for today but for decades to come.  That along with identifying trouble/aged areas in the network is the primary determinant in where to upgrade and how to improve the network. The upgrades have to be carried out in a manageable fashion that will fit within capabilities, and our financing model.

Direct Communications makes their investment in fiber construction back over several decades. We borrow to build the network, and then during those decades of cost recovery, an FCC program pays a specified rate of return, which provides the incentive to invest in remote areas, and allows us to pay back the debt. Without this program, Eagle Mountain would not have a fiber network at all, and we would not have a viable business model. (Also worth noting is that there is a several year gap between when we put fiber into the ground and when it is allowed to start being recovered on under the FCC program.) Of course, along with this federal cost recovery program, comes federal regulation—a lot of it. In spite of the very real and genuine challenges resulting from cash constraints, burdensome government regulations, and ever increasing network demands, we are excited about the accelerated deployment of fiber to the homes that we’re pursuing in order to continue providing premier internet experiences for our customers now, and to prepare for the way people will use the internet in the future.   It is often trendy to trash government regulation and by no means are we fans of a great deal of it, but in rural communities where there is no viable business model for the deployment of fiber networks the model of a regulated monopoly makes the most economic and social sense.  It ensures a provider of a business model that incents investment and then a statewide regulatory authority regulates the monopoly to protect the consumers who have no other choice where to go for wireline services.

So, we will continue to slowly but steadily upgrade from copper to fiber as the business model allows. If you are already on fiber, know that you are enjoying the most advanced broadband technology available anywhere in the world.  If you are one of the customers still on copper, try to console yourself with the fact that you do have fiber to your neighborhood or street node. Only the last few feet through your yard to your home are actually still copper lines. We currently deploy the latest VDSL equipment to maximize the copper technology, and you can choose 20Mb DSL speeds, which is enough to stream about 3 Netflix movies at the same time. We are currently looking at increasing that copper offering to a 30Mb download to tide you over until we get fiber to your home. Someday every home in Eagle Mountain will have fiber all the way to the home, and the happiest people of all will probably be the employees of Direct Communications, your local broadband provider.

(Special thanks to Kip Wilson, General Manager, and Michael Parrish, Accounting Manager, for their contributions to this article.)

No Contract Required

 

Be free.

Be free.

FACT:  Direct Communications in Eagle Mountain does not require a contract or term commitment . 

Any new customer may sign up for Directcom Broadband service without a contract. If you prefer the freedom of no contract, or month-to-month service, all that is required is a simple $75 broadband installation fee. However, new customers who commit to an easy 6-month contract term with their service, can enjoy  free installation, a 30-day no risk guarantee, and the peace of mind of knowing that they can cancel service anytime, with just a $25 early termination fee. What we find is almost 99% of customers in Eagle Mountain prefer service with a contract and $0 upfront, so we continue to offer that option. 

Contrary to some claims by our competitors, we actually have never required a contact for internet customers. New customers could always choose to forgo a contract term. However, very few people ever chose to sign up without a contract because we have always offered free installation with a term commitment. We do this because a term commitment lowers our risk, or cost, of installing our premium service. Our installation is very customer-friendly, thorough, customized, and  hands-on: we do all the work for you and no technical knowledge on your part is needed to activate your service. We send a local tech to your house, who mounts the fiber electronics on your home, runs Ethernet cable inside to your network hub, router, or a location of your choice, then activates your home router, sets up your home wireless router with security if you desire, and he will not leave until you are satisfied that your new fiber internet connection, and the connection to all the devices in your home, is working to your satisfaction. We follow up with a satisfaction survey. In the old days we required a $185 broadband installation fee if new customers did not want to sign a 1-year commitment up front. This was largely dictated by FCC requirements for telecommunications and broadband companies like us. Recently, these regulations have changed to give us more leeway in deciding how to set contract and installation terms.

Since early 2013, our policy for new internet customer installs has been that no contract is required, and we only require a $75 broadband installation fee if a new customer wants to be free of any commitment.

For customers who know they will be in their homes for a while, and are willing to sign a 6-month commitment, we will continue to offer FREE installation. Plus, we of course will also give you the first month free if you are using our refer-a-friend program, or in other words, if you were referred by a friend.

One qualifier, which will probably never change since it is set by the State of Utah Government, is that regulated telecoms like us must charge a $25 phone activation fee for new accounts. This has always existed as part of the Utah State Public Utilities regulation. This is separate from broadband installation fees.

Why are we doing away with contracts?

Over the past couple of years, some of our non-customers in annual focus groups have told us that they didn’t like contracts. Many people did not want to sign long-term commitments various reasons—some did not feel secure in their employment, and feared they might not be able to pay for service in a few months; many said they were looking to move out of Eagle Mountain sometime in the coming year; others said they just don’t like contracts as a matter of principle. We agree—people should stay with us because we offer the best, most reliable service in Eagle Mountain, and not because we have them locked into a contract. However, until recently, our hands were essentially tied because of NECA and FCC regulation.

In  June of 2012, we tested this feedback from non-customers, and during Pony Express Days, instead of offering a sweet electronic toy like an Xbox as a promotion, which would also require long term commitments, we simply offered free installation with no contract and no obligation, and a couple of months of free service so they could demo our superior internet product risk free. While the number of new customers taking advantage of this promo was not quite as high as the years we offered a free Xbox or Wii, the results were still good, and, even more encouraging, as we tracked these customers over the next following months, we found they were just as likely to stay with us than people who had signed a contract. They stayed because they liked the service and found it to be better than any competitors service in Eagle Mountain. This is what we want.

So, we decided to make this no-contract offer our general policy, with a few adjustments. We want to make it easy for people to switch to us. We want to be easy to do business with. We hope that a $75 install charge, with no contract required, would be low enough for most homeowners in Eagle Mountain to afford without requiring anyone to go without shoes for the month. $75 does not nearly cover our cost for an install—we have to pay for the tech, the truck roll, and most expensive, the new fiber electronics to be installed on the home. Together these amount to several hundred dollars. However, we feel confident that once a customer has experienced our faster streaming fiber optic broadband, they will never go back to a wireless internet service provider. Our customers tell us: You simply can’t go back from fiber.

In the past, in order to make it financially viable to give away free electronics as a promotion, like an Xbox, Wii, AppleTV or Kindle Fire, we have with  special promotions asked new customers to sign 2-year contracts to get a fantastic free promo item. Many people who previously said they disliked contracts suddenly didn’t mind them as much. They get a free Xbox, and we get a new customer while lowering our risk–it’s a win-win. In the past couple of years, as the general public has become more tech savvy and educated, the very idea of fiber has become more powerful than any promotion or toy we could offer, so we have limited our promotions and relied simply on our premium value proposition. So, contacts associated with promos are a thing of the past too.

Of course, we expect most people will still choose the no upfront cost, free install, with one month free, that comes with a 6-month commitment. This is not a promo—this is our everyday pricing. But, for Eagle Mountain residents who don’t like contracts, this $75 upfront option is built for you, and we hope to see you soon. Haven’t you ever wanted to know what your internet experience could be over fiber optic cable? Try it—you will like it.

Direct Communications Sponsors Frontier Middle School Hope Squad Program

Eagle Mountain, Utah, November 2013:

Direct Communications, Eagle Mountain’s local fiber broadband company, donated $1000 to Frontier Middle School this month, to sponsor the launch of the new Frontier Middle School Hope Squad Program. This program was designed to help combat and prevent bullying at the school.

Diane Bradshaw of Direct Communications, presents Jeff Clark, School Counselor for Frontier Middle School , with a donation for $1000.

Diane Bradshaw of Direct Communications, presents Jeff Clark, School Counselor for Frontier Middle School , with a donation for $1000.

A survey was presented to the students asking them to identify 3 students at the school whom they felt they could talk to if they needed help or had an issue. The school counselors then chose the 30 kids whose names popped up most frequently. (10 students for each grade level.) These students will make up the new Hope Squad. School counselors will train them how to respond and handle a situation, such as another student telling them they are considering suicide. The counselors are then notified, and will be able to handle the situation appropriately.

Mary Finely, School Counselor A-D, Frontier Middle School stated:

“Direct communication has made a more than generous donation to our school to help support the Hope Squad.  This is a team of students who are trained to be the listening ears for their peers and alert counselors of anything that could be considered a harmful activity. This donation helps us to sustain a safe atmosphere that is felt by all students in the community. Frontier Middle School recognizes the well-rounded support of Direct Communications for all of our students and thanks them for their generous support.”

Diane Bradshaw, local Office Manager and Community Representative for Direct Communications, said that she was very pleased that the company donation to the school this year was going towards such an important cause as preventing bullying. “We are very impressed that Frontier is taking such a proactive approach to making their school a safe environment, because bullying has been an issue on many parents minds in Eagle Mountain recently. It feels good to know the money will be used to helping making life a little better for all of our kids.”

Jeff Clark, School Counselor, Frontier Middle School said:

“We are grateful for Direct Communications generous donation to Hope Squad which will help spread the word to our students at Frontier Middle School that they are never alone, there’s people that care, and there’s always Hope.”

Jeff Clark further explained that The Hope Squad is a district wide program that will hopefully soon trickle down throughout the state. “Your donation of $1000 will go directly to the Hope Squad program and assist in preventing suicide and bullying at Frontier Middle School.  Hope Squad allows students to share personal information with their peers in a safe environment so they can get the necessary help they need.  The money will be used for our program fees, such as enrollment, shirts, banners and other signage.”

Pony Express Days Smart TV Winner Announced

Paul Talbot-TV prize winner, with Ben Hayes, Directcom account manager.

Paul Talbot-TV prize winner, with Ben Hayes, Directcom account manager.

Paul Talbot of Eagle Mountain, Utah, was the winner of the 2013 Direct Communications Pony Express Day Smart TV giveaway. Each year we give away an internet-enabled, or “Smart” TV to a current customer in Eagle Mountain, as part of our Pony Express Day celebrations. The winner is drawn on Saturday afternoon at our booth at Nolan Park. Thank you to everyone who participated  this year–perhaps next year will be your lucky year. We wish we could give a smart TV away to every one of our customers, to encourage all of our customers to stream as much video as humanly possible, because we find that the more our customers stream video, the more they like and value their Direct Communications service.

Why? We don’t cap your service. This is vital for really being able to enjoy HD streaming. All of our wireless competitors are now capping data, or throttling speeds if their customers download too much. Even Comcast is capping data,[i]  which is wonderful news for independents like us, because we can claim to be the only provider to offer unlimited data with no caps.

Online video has become more prevalent, more sophisticated and more bandwidth-intensive.  In 2012, video streaming sales surpassed hard media sales for the first time ever.[1] Netflix says on their website that HD video will use 2.3 GB per hour. A Verizon 4G customer could use up their monthly data allotment on a single HD movie. Netflix is beginning to roll out 3D streaming video and SuperHD quality, and soon we will be streaming Ulta HD, which has four times the resolution of current HD. Ultimately, in a future of video streaming, we as fiber providers with unlimited bandwidth are going to become the entertainment partner in your home.

Two years ago, a customer poll showed that two-thirds of our customers were streaming online video, after several years of us giving away streaming devices like Xbox’s, Wiis, Rokus, Apple TVs, Kindle Fires, or free year-long subscriptions to Netflix with our broadband service. We recently completed our 2013 annual customer satisfaction survey, and found that almost 99% of our customers are now streaming video, with 75.5% reporting that they are streaming video every day. This is good news for our customers, who are saving money on entertainment every month by using their broadband connection to access video rather than paying for satellite, and getting better-quality entertainment on demand, and it is good news for us as a service provider. So go ahead–watch as much as you want to–we won’t cap you.


[1]  IHS Screen Digest Broadband Media Market Insight report

DirectCom is now a Netflix SuperHD Partner

Netflix SuperHD - from https://signup.netflix.com/superhd

Netflix SuperHD – from https://signup.netflix.com/superhd

Direct Communications faster streaming broadband just got even better.

Directcom is pleased to announce that our broadband service is now Netflix Super HD enabled.

This means that Directcom customers will now automatically be able to  watch movies and TV shows in Super HD on a supported device if your connection is fast enough. ( At least 8Mb/s download for best quality.) Super HD delivers the best Netflix picture quality yet, even better than regular HD, because of better encoding technology and an incredibly clear, smooth 1080p picture with less compression.

Super HD is only available via Internet Providers that are part of the Netflix Open Connect network. Our move onto the Open Connect Network was made technically possible by Netflix co-locating their servers in Syringa Networks main Central Office in Boise, Idaho this week. Each night, Netflix updates these servers with their highest demand content. Direct Communications, as an owner-partner of Syringa Networks, is now part of the Netflix Open Connect network.

What this does is move the Netflix content closer to the end customer.

Ron Asche, Engineering Manager for Syringa Networks explained the benefits by saying, “Bringing the Netflix content on Net has resulted in a drop in content latency and an enhanced user experience for Syringa Networks customers.  Additionally, having the content on our network enables Syringa Networks customers access to Netflix SuperHD and 3D content.”

Jeremy Smith, General Manager for Directcom in Idaho, says most importantly this will result in faster loading for customers while accessing Netflix content on our network. “There should be less buffering, and less waiting for the interface to load, because the customer won’t have to travel all over the internet to choose or stream a movie—it’s right here on our fiber network in Idaho.”

Faster streaming broadband means no buffering when watching online video.

Faster streaming broadband means no buffering when watching online video.

When Netflix first announced their Super HD network opportunity several months ago, Direct Communications attempted to sign up individually with Netflix as an Open Connect partner, but was unsuccessful at that time because Netflix required a larger customer count threshold before they would deploy their servers into the network. Fortunately , the combined customer numbers of all the Idaho independents together meant Netflix was willing to partner with Syringa Networks to deploy servers locally here on the Syringa regional network in Idaho, so all Direct Communications customers in Idaho can now benefit from being on the Netflix Open Connect network.

In addition to Super HD, Netflix is experimenting with 3D video, which will also only be available to customers of ISPs like Direct Communications who are on the Open Connect network.

Netflix now offers Super HD streaming on the following devices:

•Sony PlayStation 3

•Apple TV with 1080p

•Roku with 1080p*

•Nintendo Wii U

•Windows 8 App

•TiVo Premiere DVR

•Blu-Ray Players, Smart TV’s, Home Theaters, and Streaming Players with existing Netflix 1080p support*

Hopefully more devices will be coming soon, since , most notably, the Xbox is currently missing from this list.

To stream titles in Super HD, your Internet Provider needs to be connected to the Netflix Open Connect network. You can find Super HD titles by looking for the Super HD logo, on the movie description page on a compatible device.

At time of press, only DirectCom customers in southeast Idaho are Netflix SuperHD enabled. This feature is not yet active in Eagle Mountain.

Requirements to view in Super HD
from (http://support.unblock-us.com/customer/portal/articles/973404-netflix-super-hd)

– Your Netflix Bandwidth Settings

Your Netflix bandwidth preferences must be set to “Best Quality” otherwise you will not receive it. To find out how to check and change your Netflix bandwidth settings please see this support article.

– Your Internet Connection

Super HD requires an Internet connection speed of at least 6Mb/s, and 8Mb/s to view the highest available video quality. Please ensure you test your speed as detailed here. Some other factors will also affect your ability to stream in Super HD; wireless connections from your device to your router, traffic shaping by your ISP at peak hours – sadly these sort of factors lay out of our control.

PLEASE NOTE: The Adaptive Bit-rate streaming algorithm that Netflix uses to stream in Super HD, should always ramp up to the highest bit rate encode available to you that fits in the resolution you’ve set on your device. This means that if your device is not set to 1080p you will NOT see super HD.

Please be aware that some Super HD eligable Roku devices do not currently display the Super HD logo (http://support.netflix.com/en/node/8731#gsc.tab=0)

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.

Are There Any Limitations To DSL Service?

While we offer 100 Mbps to customers with fiber to the home, our current limit on DSL is 20Mbps. Customers often ask why can’t we push out 100 Mb to their home over copper lines, like we can provide over our fiber optic lines.  We are also sometimes asked by DSL customers why they may not always be seeing the full 20Mb they are allocated on our servers. This article is an attempt to answer these questions, by explaining what some of the factors affecting DSL service are.

Many of the limitations associated with regular DSL service lie simply in the physics or nature of metals.

Copper is of course a metal, and although the data being sent over the line is a digital signal, it still travels electronically as a wave over the metal line. However, a real wire is always a more superior way to deliver data than wireless, for obvious reasons. Any kid who has picked up a tin can with a string attached to it knows that.

Distance

Signals degrade over long distances. That is just a law of nature. Copper is a good conductor, but it’s not a perfect conductor. Inside any metal line, there is resistance as the electronic waves travel through the metal. Because of this fact, there is a limit to how far DSL can travel from the main telephone switch. Usually it can only go 2 or 3 miles at the most before you need to build another office to repeat that signal. A regular analog telephone conversation can be pushed out much further, because signal degradation is not as critical, but to deliver internet data , with the digital packets being sent in very precise, technical ways, any kind of interference, loss of signal or degradation is going to cause problems.

The wonderful thing about  fiber optic cable is that it overcomes many of the limitations of metal. Fiber carries an all-digital signal, so 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 transfer over great distances. 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 broadband, 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.

Anyway, with that said, it is possible that in an all copper network, homes closer to the main office would probably get better DSL signal than homes very far away from the office. In Eagle Mountain, this is not usually a problem—we have fiber to all of the neighborhood nodes or DSLAMs (digital subscriber line access multiplexer, pronounced dee-slam). About half of the homes in Eagle Mountain now have fiber to the home, but even where the final loop from the DSLAM to the home is still copper, that is just a very short little section of copper, so distance doesn’t often come into play. But, in our more rural exchange areas in Idaho, where a farm might be 15 or 20 miles from our central office, without fiber opics, that home could not get DSL. Homes at the edge of our range of 2 or 3 miles from the DSLAM are not going to be able to get our full 12Mb or 20Mb that we offer on DSL, but they might get a portion of that.

 Signal Frequency

Did you know that DSL (which stands for Digital Subscriber Line) was originally developed to deliver video over a telephone line? Back in the 1980’s, the telephone companies were looking for ways to use the extra bandwidth that was unused in their copper lines. A typical copper telephone line has about 1100KHz of bandwidth frequency available. The plain old telephone service was only using a fraction of that frequency—a maximum of 3.5KHz. We already had this fantastic network laid to each home, and so thought we could use all the extra space in the line to deliver television digitally to the customer. (Telephone companies are still looking for cost-effective to do this in 2012.) Anyway, luckily for telephone companies, a fantastic thing came along in the mid 90’s called the Internet. Suddenly, a real customer need developed for DSL—we could use that extra frequency to deliver data to connect people to other computers all over the world. DSL as we know it exploded into various different specs to deliver data more effectively. So, the DSL signals travels on the same line as the telephone signal, but at higher frequencies, and it takes up a lot more of the bandwidth in the line. (This is why we still hand out those DSL filters, so you won’t  hear the high-frequency noise of the DSL waves on your telephone.) However, there is still a technical bandwidth limit on just how much you can fit through the line at once, due to the nature of waves.

Wire Gauge

Very simply put: the larger the copper wire, the more physical space there is available to pump signal through. While gauge is rarely a problem with lines that we have installed ourselves, we have run into problems in houses or neighborhoods where a builder, developer or homeowner originally laid the line themselves. Let’s face it—developers and contractors like to cut costs wherever they can, and unfortunately some home builders didn’t always have the customers future bandwidth needs in mind when they laid the telephone line to the home. We do what we can once we take ownership of these lines to overcome these problems, but often they are hidden, since these lines have been buried for years, and there were no maps or records of what is in the ground in some older neighborhoods.

Splices

A splice happens when you join two lines. Splices are done by humans, and so aren’t always perfect. Thus, the more splices in a line, the less effectively it delivers data. In Eagle Mountain, there may still be some older homes with lines containing  splices made a long time ago by people who were not as well trained as our techs are today. We correct these when we find them, but if you are not getting your full bandwidth (say you are only getting 15 Mb when you signed up for 20Mb) a faulty splice somewhere near your home could be the problem.

Condition of the Loop

A loop refers to the last portion of the copper line between a neighborhood node and the homes. As already stated, some end loops are in better condition than others, depending on how they were constructed.

The Cloud/Internet

Many times, people will assume that their home broadband service is being slow, when in fact the bottleneck or slow speeds are somewhere else in the world. When you are sitting at your home computer, and you connect to a remote internet site, your connection to that computer, or server is taking various routes around the world, with a single request for a download being passed through ten, twenty, or more, different companies and ISPs. (Internet Service Provider.) There really is no way to know what routes your request has taken. The server hosting the website is usually in another state–maybe even in another country. The internet is simply millions of computers, servers and routers connecting, and who knows what condition their lines are in. The server you are reading from might only be connected to their local ISP with a 1.5Mb T1, or even worse. You, and us as your local broadband provider, have absolutely no control over what happens in the cloud. Even if you are on a 100Mb connection from your home to the telephone switch, if you are busy talking to a web server that is only connected to the internet by a 1.5Mb connection, the fastest speed you are going to transfer data from that website is 1.5Mb. All you can control is how much speed you subscribe to at home from your local ISP—give yourself the best chance to have a good experience online.

Bottlenecks

The limitations associated with delivering broadband is not only the physical line—the real limitation is the processing power of the routers, servers, or electronics at each end. When you connect to a remote server, the speed at which you can talk to that computer depends on how many conversations that server (or site) can handle at once. Even companies like Facebook, who invest millions of dollars on server farms to host their sites, have times when their service crashes, or slow days because the electronics on their end can’t handle the number of connection requests coming from people all over the world. There may be a bottleneck in the backbone somewhere along the line too—not enough fiber connections or processing power on some remote router on a particular line between Las Vegas and Seattle that some upper tier carrier has subscribed to.

Customer Internal/Home Network

Although customers hate it when their ISP claims the problem is inside their home, the reality is, for a majority of connection problems and trouble tickets, the problem is either user error, or faulty or incorrectly networked equipment inside the home. The usual suspects for slow speeds are modems and wireless routers. No matter what the manufactures claim, cheap consumer grade switches and routers, especially when they are broadcasting a wireless signal, do not always deliver the speeds they claim. To get the best out of your home router, wire each device to your router with a CAT5 ethernet cable. This will make a huge difference to your speeds. A more expensive router with more processing power will also make a difference, especially if you are connecting multiple devices simultaneously and each kid is trying to stream Netflix on a different device.

Despite any of these limitations, DSL is still a premium product, and after fiber, absolutely the best way to deliver consistent broadband data to any home. In Eagle Mountain we recently upgraded from ADSL2+ to VDSL so that we could crank up both the download and upload speeds to copper customers, and the technology to distribute DSL will keep improving, opening the way for more bandwidth. Potential customers often ask us when we are going to install fiber to their home, and they say they will switch to our service once fiber is there. The irony to this, however, is that often once the fiber is installed, they usually end up requesting either our 8Mb, 14Mb, or 20Mb service—all of which are currently available on regular DSL service. Only our 30Mb and 50Mb speeds are exclusive to fiber to the home customers.

Winners of Directcom Monthly Facebook Fan Contest

Chris Gibbons of Eagle Mountain receives his Apple TV from Brenda Swift of Direct Communications .

Chris Gibbons  became the first lucky winner of Direct Communications monthly facebook fan contest in Eagle Mountain. The prize for February was a new Apple TV media player.

On hearing about his prize, Chris simply stated on our facebook page: “Sweet, thank you!”

To win the prize for February, facebook fans of Direct Communications had to answer the question: “What was the price Direct Communications paid the City to purchase Eagle Mountain Telecom back in 2006?” (Official answer- $6.3 million) The first customer to reply to the post with the correct answer in the comment field was chosen as the winner.

The goal with these monthly giveaways is to encourage participation on our facebook page, and also try motivate more customers to sign up as facebook fans. Each month during 2011, we will be awarding a prize to a customer on facebook, both in Idaho and Utah. We now have separate facebook pages for Idaho and Utah customers so that we can be more relevant with our updates and responses.

Kathy Barkdull of Idaho--winner of our Idaho February facebook contest, with her new ROKU streaming media player. She will be watching online video in style.

As marketing director of Direct Communications, I am excited about these new social media tools like facebook, which are a very useful way to communicate with our customers. Not only is it instantaneous, but also interactive, which is really a revolution for mass communications. I also like the fact that customers opt into this communication–they are pulling a feed from us because they want to keep up to date with their service, instead of us just pushing out information into cyberspace blindly. We clearly need and want more customers as facebook fans.

Our February facebook fan contest for our Idaho customers asked them to reply to this post: “Comment on this post with your customer testimonial: “Why I choose Direct Communications.” Our marketing committee chose a winner at the end of the month, which was  Kathy Barkdull,  for her testimonial: “We started with Direct Communications because no one else would bring a phone line to our remote area. But we stay with Direct because of the great service and the opportunity to have state of the art technology and have the ability to live in the country 20 miles from the nearest town.”

Our Eagle Mountain customers are extremely active, involved customers. They like to be part of the service process and want to know what their ISP is doing. One new use for facebook has been the ability to notify customers of internet outages, and the progress of fixes in real time, even while the customers’ home internet service was down. Most of our customers already have smart phones, often with a facebook app installed, and many have used that mobile connection to voice their opinions and suggestions during outages. This interactive process has resulted in some improvements in how we notify customers. For example, several customers on facebook asked for a more effective notification of scheduled nighttime maintenance outages, because they were working nightshift remotely using their internet. As a result of this feedback, we started a scheduled outages mailing list that people who needed to know could subscribe to.

Social media is simply proving a long-standing concept of marketing, that the more touch points and open lines of communication you have with your customers, the better off your operation will be in the long run.

This Apple TV giveaway was the first time the company had attempted to use facebook to host a contest of this sort, and was a learning experience. As soon as the question was posted, about 14 responses came in within the first 20 seconds. Identifying a winner was tricky, because with each refresh, a different person was shown as being the first to respond. Once a minute had passed, facebook again reordered those responses. A few customers suggested that because they were on different facebook servers, the time wasn’t synched and different people we shown as being first depending on which server they were on a the time. In the end, I chose a winner based on the response that I saw first, and not whom facebook put at the top after a minute had passed, and all the responses were listed as being posted “1 minute ago.” We also decided to award consolation prizes to two other winners, Mike Jeide and Daniel Strong, who both had legitimate and popular claims to being first, especially since they were showing up at the top. We offered them both 6-month Netflix gift subscriptions. Daniel suggested: “I think this is a fun idea to have giveaways like this and there are always going to be issues with the first time of anything. Maybe next time around wait like 10 – 20 minutes and then give it to the first correct answer. But until next time, congrats Chris.”

Jackie Candland suggested: “Maybe in the future…do a drawing from the first 10 answers.”

So, if anyone else is looking to do a quick-response contest on facebook—consider these factors and suggestions—it’s not an exact science, and we probably won’t try a quick-draw contest again.

We currently have a little over 600 facebook fans on our corporate fan pages. Considering how connected and tech savvy our customers in that market are, we would like to have a lot more, because most of our customers probably have active facebook accounts. Like us on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/directcom.eaglemtn for your chance to win next month. Only current customers are eligible to win, and only customers who are facebook fans of directcom will be able to post comments, so join our community.

Congratulations to Todd Ferreira, the winner of March's Roku.

In March in Eagle Mountain, we held a customer testimonial contest. This was a chance to gather some good comments we could use for marketing purposes, as well as keep the judging purely subjective, after the difficulties in February with the quick-post contest. We received about 20 great testimonials, with praise for our service like:

Samuel Schwendiman:

  •  I chose and keep choosing Direct Communications because of their seamless stream ability. We are always streaming Netflix or Hulu and have never had a problem with bandwidth or buffering. Sometimes my girl is watching something on my iPod Touch and my wife is watching something different on the laptop and it works great. We’ve never had any problems.
    Carol Murray Cahoon:
  •  I use Direct Communications because the sound is crystal clear through the phone. I never have to worry about losing internet or phone service even when the wind blows so strong here. My family loves playing online games and streaming video through our xbox. I couldn’t ask for a better service than Direct Communications.

  • Todd Ferreira:
    I chose Direct Communications because after 6 months of dealing with [wireless ISP] and their dropped calls, dropped Internet, phone calls cutting out, and terrible technical support, I was fed up. Since switching from [wireless ISP] to Direct Communications the phone calls are crystal clear, the Internet is lightning fast ( even at 3mbs) and the support group at Direct Communications is GREAT! Thanks for the service.

Again, this was a difficult month to choose a winner, so we turned it over to a marketing committee for a vote, and they choose Todd Ferreira as the winner of March’s Roku for his comment.

Sandra Allen-early morning sunrise over Bear Lake, from my front yard.

In April we asked customers to submit original  photos of the local scenery or community for our annual phone directory publication, but didn’t receive any submissions from Eagle Mountain customers that met with the qualifications needed for print purposes. However, on our Idaho fan page, we carried the competition over two months–April and May, and received several good pictures from residents in our phone exchanges. We chose Sandra Allen as the winner of our Idaho May facebook customer contest, for her original photo submissions of scenes around Bear Lake.

In May in Eagle Mountain, our contest was a push to get customers to refer their friends to our page. We posted the following on our page: May 2011 Facebook contest: Refer your friends in Eagle Mountain to our fan page. Post a comment on our wall saying: “My friends list yourselves here.” Tell each of your referrals to comment once on your original post by saying “I live in Eagle Mountain and I love Direct Communications”. Person with the most new friends (comments) listed under your post wins a Wii.”

Congratulations to April Butterfield Simister--the winner of our May Facebook fan contest. Ben Hayes presents April with her Wii for referring the most friends to our Facebook page.

The winner, April Simister,  referred 44 friends, the runner up, 34 friends. That month we added nearly 100 new fans to our page, which was our most successful monthly contest to date.