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Networking The Internet Wireless Networking

In Virginia, Delivering Broadband To the Customers Big Telecom Forgot 127

cheezitmike writes "A Washington Post story tells how former automotive engineer Paul Conlin just wanted to get broadband at his rural home in Fauquier County, Virginia, and ended up forming his own wireless ISP: 'Paul Conlin, the proprietor of Blaze Broadband, is not a typical telecom executive. He drives a red pickup and climbs roofs. When customers call tech support, he is the one who answers. Conlin delivers broadband to Fauquier County homes bypassed by Comcast and Verizon, bouncing wireless signals from antennas on barns, silos, water towers and cellphone poles.'"
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In Virginia, Delivering Broadband To the Customers Big Telecom Forgot

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  • by Wizarth ( 785742 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @12:16AM (#35500168) Homepage

    Sued by Comcast and Verizon for "unfair competition" in 3, 2, 1...

    • Re:Wait for it... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @12:23AM (#35500216)

      There's no revenue there. That's why they didn't run expensive stuff. The last mile, when it's rural, is the most expensive. That's why, in the US, there was a tax to subsidize rural phone after it worked for rural electric. Coops are a great idea when the fat cats are distracted by low-hanging fruit.

      • Re:Wait for it... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by plopez ( 54068 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:09AM (#35502142) Journal

        You are naive. The corps will not pay for the last mile but they will pay lawyers and lobbyists to crush competition. I think it was Pittsburgh that wanted to set up a city run wireless service when the big boys didn't show up to the party. The (mostly Republican) state legislature passed legislation preventing the plan after being bought.... um, I mean bribed.... um, I mean "incentive-ized" by the wireless companies.

        That's how the real world works.

        • It may have been due to the fact that it would not have been profitable, and thus subsidized by taxpayers who may have not wanted-- or even been able to use-- the wireless internet service. Regardless, Clear now has a presence.
          • Why does everything have to be profitable? Were the taxpayers who didn't want to pay for it forbidden from leaving if that $.000342 for every dollar of sales tax was too much for them?

            But you are right, I am sure that the big telecoms were thinking of the poor, overtaxed citizens who were not able to vote when they sued to shut it down. That's what corporations are known for, protecting the little man.
        • Last miles in cities are a lot different from last miles in broadband. No one wants to do free/cheap wifi in the middle of a city because it's, gasp, not cost effective. Long before the population density got high enough to support wifi, the population density got high enough to support "cheap" cable and DSL (good enough for almost everyone involved), and probably even good 3g (although its not as cheap). No one is stopping companies who can stand on their own from starting up city-wide wifi, but amazing

          • by plopez ( 54068 )

            If the private sector doesn't want to or can't provide an important service, why should the public sector be locked out? IIRC the city gov't repeatedly tried to interest the private sector, to no avail. This policy has implications since lack of access has impacts on businesses in the city and/or attracting new businesses. Some times the public good needs to be thought of as well. Instead of protecting a few corporations.

      • There's a local WISP called Digital Path [] that has gone the wireless route. Just like the guy in the article, they bounce WiFi around the hills with directional antennae and itty-bitty homebrew routers that run some micro-version of Linux on embedded-scale "servers" running on CF drives.

        Their focus is on outlying areas... Just East of the California Central Valley is the Sierra Nevada mountains and there are LOTS of customers that really appreciate having a few Mbits connection beamed in at a few hundred buc

    • Re:Wait for it... (Score:5, Informative)

      by schnikies79 ( 788746 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @12:34AM (#35500286)

      Verizon sued a local WISP service where I live (very rural southern Indiana), and they lost. That was around 2004. The company now covers the county.

      Verizon (now Frontier) put in DSL a few years later.

    • Re:Wait for it... (Score:5, Informative)

      by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @12:37AM (#35500306)
  • by Ironchew ( 1069966 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @12:17AM (#35500172)

    He'll figure out just how "expensive" broadband is when the telecoms tie him up in court. That is, if this ISP is large enough to affect the bigwigs.

    • Why is this legal?

      Having a monopolist sue for unfair competition? Who is the monopolist?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Why is any regulatory capture legal?

        Because 'utility' companies have bribed municipal and federal government for protectionism(IE: preventing society from voluntarily trading with people in the same industry). They have bribed government to restrict our ability to voluntarily associate with each other. They have utility 'rights'.

        • Except they call it 'campaign contributions' and 'lobbying.' Polite and legal, but in effect just regulated bribery. It doesn't matter if it's a wad of cash under the table or a vague promise of a large donation to politicians that do as the company would like, the end result is the same: The law is made to the whims of the highest bidder.
        • by mcvos ( 645701 )

          How is this legal? The bribery, the protectionism, and most of all suing fair competition? Aren't there any anti-trust laws in the US? In the EU they'd probably get a multi-million dollar fine (10 years later, because the EU moves glacially, but at least it makes the point that it should be illegal).

    • Why in gods' names would any telco waste money suing someone that's providing service in an area they aren't? Do you even think before you post, or is it all just knee-jerk reaction for you?

      • by compro01 ( 777531 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @12:55AM (#35500382)

        I'd love to know myself, as it has occurred at least twice. See here [] and here [].

        • Did the telecoms that sued already provide some form of broadband access in those regions? Because the area TFA is talking about doesn't have any form of broadband AT ALL.
        • by jonwil ( 467024 )

          I think the difference here is that this is a private company/individual providing service, not a local government.

          So unlike the other cited cases where governments and local authorities want to build out networks, the telcos cant make claims like "taxpayers money shouldn't be used to build broadband"

      • Do you even think before you post, or is it all just knee-jerk reaction for you?

        Nothing particular came to mind. [] As you mentioned a minute later:

        At least in America, there are no real monopolies to broadband, and this guy proves it. All you naysayers who complain about Comcast or other ISPs need to STFU and GTFO.

        You shouldn't brazenly accuse others of something you're obviously prone to.

        • That case has nothing to do with this one. It was a broadband provider suing a municipality to stop them from using taxpayers' money (including theirs, since the company paid taxes as did their employees) to build a competitor. So nice try, but it doesn't pass the smell test.

      • Why, that's simple. Greed and control.
        Now the big question is......
        Do you even think (or research anything) before you post, or is it all just knee-jerk reaction for you?

        • It's all knee jerk far far right wing wackoness. Look at this little exchange I had with him a bit ago. The best part was when he shut up after realizing what an idiot he was.


          • No, I "shut up" when I realized you were more interested in partisan finger pointing than in solving any actual problems (you still haven't given any reason why it's so important to focus on who ran up the debt; both major parties ran it up, which anyone who pays attention to the government would know).

            And anyone who would call me "far far right wing" hasn't been paying attention to any of my posts.

            • "Far right wing" means "anyone who disagrees with me".
              • Pretty much. Of course, by his own standard, he's just realized what an idiot he is because he didn't respond to my response. So there you go.

            • I'll give you another stab at the apple:

              I asked who ran up the debt. Please tell me how I said anything about it being 'the other guys fault', and or more seriously 'let us ignore it."

              Can you answer that in the context of that discussion?

        • OK, genius, go find one instance where this has happened. I'll wait.

          The only record of a broadband provider suing a potential competitor was TDS suing a local city to prevent them from launching a competing service using tax dollars. Do I have to spell out for you why that situation is drastically different and not at all comparable?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        By suing the guy they ensure that they will have no competition if they decide to work in the region in a distant future.

      • Because,
        1. If the newcomer gets established in that area, they might expand and start competing in adjacent areas.
        2. Just because the telco doesn't service that area now doesn't mean they won't in future, and they'd rather not have an incumbent with loyal customers already in place when that happens.
      • by badran ( 973386 )

        So that people in areas that do have service would not get the idea that it is cheaper to do it yourself.

      • I can think of a couple of reasons

        1: If the new upstart is succesfull they (and/or copycats) may spread into areas where the incumbent telcos do offer broadband.
        2: Just because a telco doesn't offer broadband in an area doesn't mean they aren't offering service at all. In the absence of broadband there is presumably money to be made from dialup.

      • Easy - it prevents them from moving into that market later. (Or more properly, from maximizing their margins when they do move in).

    • Have you ever bought anything from someone that produced it face to face? Because it really isn't about how 'expensive' it is, that's a given in the transaction - materials have cost. It's about the 'how much extra is this worth?'.

      This guy is looking to make a profit, no doubt, but doing so by providing a service where the big telecoms have said there is no profit to be made. I hope he does well, and I hope he makes his way to NoVA (Northern Virginia) 'cause I'll sign up just to support diversity - even

      • by Anonymous Coward
        This has happened in a few area's in australia. Telstra wouldn't put in Wireless infrastructure as it was not profitable. People lobby for years to get something in their area. Local company spends a few hundred thousand to get infrastructure in place and people sign up. telstra realise it is profitable and then puts up their own towers in competition and prices below what the other guy is charging. they run for a loss till little guy is bankrupt and then jacks up the price.
      • by sjwaste ( 780063 )
        Not to nitpick, but if you tell someone in Fauquier County that they're not in "NoVA" they get mad! I went to college in Harrisonburg, and even they self-identify with the Northern bit. So be careful. I'm a NJ native, so nobody likes me anyway.

        I don't know that I'd dump FiOS for a wireless ISP. I could do that now - there's a Clear tower like half a mile from my house. FiOS has been 100% reliable over the 2 years that I've had it here. Not an outage (literally, not one).

        I'm a Virginia-barred law
    • If they try such a thing, it should be thrown out on summary judgement, as Verizon and Comcast have already had an opportunity to serve those areas and chose not to. Therefore, they do not have standing.
  • by AlienIntelligence ( 1184493 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @12:23AM (#35500210)

    I, for one, welcome our red pickup driving, roof climbing overlords.


  • by Darinbob ( 1142669 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @12:33AM (#35500280)

    We were working on stuff like this using mesh wireless, which would have been a great option for those the big boys leave behind. It was possibly a bit early for its time, although a lot of competition was going for the line-of-sight option. Line-of-sight though isn't so good in many places. When we stopped making them we had a large number of smaller ISPs still interested, but the company was more interested in getting a big name telecom to purchase from us rather than a lot of tiny customers (always the snag, need to make money). What I'm finding interesting now is that in the intervening years it seems like mesh has taken off again.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      LoS can be improved, signals are more stable in inclement conditions, people get more clever with punching the signal through a rainstorm (etc etc)

    • Wasn't the Mesh idea part of the OLPC since it would be primarily used in areas without infastructure? And I believe they use this in Tibet as well.
  • by pcjunky ( 517872 ) <> on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @12:44AM (#35500336) Homepage

    Climb roofs and towers, run cables mount radios, answer tech support phone calls...done it all.

    Hard way to make a living, but very grateful customers. Two other WISPs in town could not make it.

    • Yep, this is how I get internet: radio on the roof pointing to a water tower 3 miles away that has a DS3 at the bottom of it. I've had it well over 5 years and the company that provides this has a large overlap with Verizon. However, I suspect that most who use this tech are like me: FIOS is not available to my street (in a semi-rural area) and Verizon has no plans to make it so.
  • I am a board member of a newly started association that are going to build fiber-optic network in rural Sweden. All members own their real estate and will be members of the association who will own the network. The projected cost for 150 members are around €2500 per connection for building the network and €30 per month and connection for operation (100Mbit with triple-play). The fiber-optic cables will only pass thru real estate owned by the members. I own around 430 acres of forrest so there is a

    • "I am a board member of a newly started association that are going to build fiber-optic network in rural Sweden."

      That is interesting.
      I seam to recall that Finland (with a similar low rural population density) was committed to providing broadband for all it's citizens. Has Sweden done the same and/or do you get any other support from the Swedish government?

      I would suggest broadband is as important for economic growth as a functioning road/rail network. I'm surprised so few governments are putting up pub
  • Don't you have to have physical access to a router or something? Also: Google said it was going to roll out 1 GB/S out in select locations. But I haven't heard anything further. I've chosen my place of residence based on high speed internet before, I might move again if I can get in to 1 GB/S Internet. That could be good for writing next generation video game P2P protocols. I have a theory on how to make 1 million players at the same time Fighter like Tekken with 1 GB/S Internet. I have the game and th
    • by Anonymous Coward

      One becomes an ISP by leasing a line and sharing it same way you share it in your house. It's a bit more complicated than that, but small ISPs are kinda like the smallest branches of a tree and you are the leaves. They need a trunk to support it.

    • How does one become an ISP?

      At the simplest level you buy a suitable internet connection (one that allows resale, large numbers of IPs etc) and then resell to customers over some kind of connection.

      Beyond this you get into multihoming and requesting your IP blocks directly from the RIR.

  • by GNUALMAFUERTE ( 697061 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <etreufamla>> on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @01:12AM (#35500470)


    Fauquier might be 45 miles from the White House, but many residents can't look at in their homes.

    They mean, right?

  • by mr_mischief ( 456295 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @01:22AM (#35500508) Journal

    I'm glad to see this guy doing this, but it's not exactly unprecedented. It was done on grain silos, grain elevators, water towers, leased space on other people's towers, and even on flagpoles all over rural Illinois and Missouri a decade ago. I worked for some ISPs that did this and did some of the server consulting work for more than one startup doing this, too. I wasn't the one climbing to do the radio work.

    The startup cost for the customer is still pretty high for this sort of thing, usually around $200 to $275. Then it's typically $50 to $70 per month for around 400k to 600k down and 128k up or 256k or 512k symmetric, depending on which company and how far you are from their towers.

    Frontier is putting 6Mbps DSL in lots of former Verizon territory in towns as small as 3,000 or 4,000 people. Only the really rural places will need this sort of thing in Frontier's areas soon, and it's much more expensive even with radio equipment to get the people on 80 and 120 acre or even larger plots miles from towns covered. That is, much more expensive compared to using the same radio towers closer in. It's still much cheaper than running new cables to all those customers.

    It's not a perfect solution, but when weighed against dialup in the countryside or having to move closer in and change your lifestyle just for decent Internet access, a lot of people who don't prize low latencies and high throughputs as much as your typical Slashdotter will be happy to have it.

    • The startup cost for the customer is still pretty high for this sort of thing, usually around $200 to $275. Then it's typically $50 to $70 per month for around 400k to 600k down and 128k up or 256k or 512k symmetric, depending on which company and how far you are from their towers.

      Speaking as a relatively happy customer of a local WISP in Lake County, CA [] I seem to now get about 1.25Mbps peak for $75/mo. (they have recently bumped up what you get for your money a bit.) Of course at peak time I tend to get about half of that because it's a bit oversubscribed, but they're trying to hang on to existence so it's hard to get upset. It cost me something like $325 for the install, but of course I own the hardware, which is a Mikrotik Routerboard in a nice external enclosure with a PoE inject

    • According to the article, blaze customers can get "up to 10mbs" of bandwidth, though they don't specifiy if that's up/down or split symmetrically. This probably reflects an improvement in the technology over the past decade. As long as the latency isn't horrible, this sounds quite competitive vs. aDSL, although aDSL is also much, much cheaper (at least in areas with a reasonably dense population). Of course, the whole point is that there's really no other option besides dial-up.
      • There were 6, 10, and even 20 Mbps radios ten years ago, but no home suer was paying for them. If you had a grain elevator or rock quarry out in the rolling country hills an needed a whole office online, it may be worth the cost. I he's getting those speeds to residential users now for anything less than hundreds of dollars a month, then more power to him and I'm thrilled for his customers. We actually cut costs quite a bit by using point-to-point 10 Mbps radios as short backhauls for the customers so we co

    • by guruevi ( 827432 )
      I used to live in an area like that and for those prices, WHERE DO I SIGN UP. I live in a city now, the startup cost are ~$200, the monthly cost is ~$75-120 and I get about 10M/512k which I can use 3M/128k sustained. I used to live in an apartment complex in this area that became an ISP by hiring a trunk and they got 10M/5M sustained for $30/month and has recently upgraded to 20M. Any random independent WISP/LocalISP WILL give you way better service (usually the oversubscription will be around 50-150:1) and
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have been working technical support for Sony Playstation for several years, and I have actually had the pleasure of speaking to one of his clients for troubleshooting support. From the way he was portrayed in conversation, the big-wigs definitely have something to be afraid of: a caring person willing to help.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      a caring person willing to help.

      "Caring and willing to help" doesn't generate the level of profit said big-wigs are after. They'll simply undercut him in a year or two with zero service. Let's see how loyal his customers will be then. They'll run as fast as they can to save 50c a month, while at the same time complaining how local businesses are dying and how horrible their new service is.

      • I think you should try reading the statements of some of his customers in the article. 50 cent discount? Seriously? Some of them WERE with the the big satellite providers, and it simply didn't work.
      • No they will run to get what is probablly a much better connection at a much lower price. Sure the customer service may be better from a local wireless based provider but it's hard to beat fixed connections for reliable high performance service and since the telephone charges are already paying for the wiring the extra charge for DSL can be relatively low and still make decent money for the telco.

  • by FatLittleMonkey ( 1341387 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @02:08AM (#35500704)

    'Paul Conlin, the proprietor of Blaze Broadband, is not a typical telecom executive. He drives a red pickup and climbs roofs. When customers call tech support, he is the one who answers.

    Yes, Virginians, there is a Santa Claus.

  • Recently, sold to one of the bigger boys. It was ... too much work, really. (bunch of "entitled" folks in community made life difficult)

    Don't regret doing it. There was NO chance of anyone in that area getting connected without our work. But - glad to be free of it.
  • Is it possible to build a own network in public places with Ad-Hoc what would start living like a Internet until all cells have turned connection off?

    What is my idea, is that someone sets WLAN connection ON and others can connect to it and start sharing the connection from own point.
    When there is enough users, you end up to situation where you have own dynamic network where every point is just growing the Ad-Hoc network.
    And every user could set up a own service (hub like on Diaspora) where to attach informa

  • by bradley13 ( 1118935 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @05:42AM (#35501440) Homepage

    "We are going to have to solve this problem creatively ourselves. "...fearful the county won't qualify for broadband infrastructure grants...[officials] are pushing to expand homegrown services such as Conlin's."

    That's what the free market is all about. Entrepreneurs will provide solutions far cheaper than the government ever could, and create jobs in the process. How about we just eliminate all of those broadband infrastructure grants, and let people like this build their businesses?

    • by tarogue ( 84626 )

      It's not cheaper and it created exactly 1 (one) job. Gov't could have put in cable lines and had FIOS put in creating a lot more than one job, at a much higher speed, for a much lower cost. Yes, taxes would go up, but so would quality of life; and you wouldn't have to rely on just one guy and his truck if something went wrong. What this guy has done is a short-term solution to a long term problem.

    • Cheaper than what? Did you read the article? WISPs aren't a panacea, $300 installation per customer and $80 a month for broadband speeds and latencies you'd find a decade ago. And it created maybe two jobs for the county. Having tried something like this on a small scale, it's not a solution that easily attracts investment, and having seen other WISPS operate, it often does not attract much entrepreneurial interest either, it becomes more about helping the community than earning money because the money

      • $300 installation per customer and $80 a month for broadband speeds and latencies you'd find a decade ago.

        He's offering 10 Mbps. While that was available "a decade ago", sadly it's still quite fast in most of the USA. It's faster than my DSL service, although my DSL includes voice and is cheaper.

    • by Sleepy ( 4551 )

      You are not being pragmatic. You are looking at this issue through the "filter" of partisan dogma, and then describing the problem and solution so it creates the fewest conflicts with your filter.

      Libertarian principles -only- work if you can get everyone else to play along.

      For example, Virginia could be competitive with rural South Korea and rural Japan without government support... IF you could convince rural South Korea and rural Japan to not ask their government to wire them up at high speed. In effect,

      • For example, Virginia could be competitive with rural South Korea and rural Japan without government support... IF you could convince rural South Korea and rural Japan to not ask their government to wire them up at high speed. In effect, they would be asking to get crappy rural Virginia bandwidth. Why would they ever do that?

        Only if they don't believe in taxing others to fund their broadband. Libertarianism is not a failed ideology just because others are socialist.

        • by Sleepy ( 4551 )

          Oh, great. And at the end of the day the moral high ground is unsustainable because your country loses it's economic footing.

          Ideology is just an excuse for lack of critical thinking on a per-issue basis.

  • Talk about an unbelievable chicken and egg problem, it seems this steps on a lot of toes!

    fir the while article

  • Comcast, Verizon, ATT... all could provide very affordable broadband to small remote communities and individual homes/farms, but as I said C*Os, politicians, and clerics are typically Luddites for profits/perks.

    Wave-making technology, economics, social change/innovation is against their personal ethics of greed/avarice...hubris.

    Is it 802.16 that might work for US re-motes? [] [] []

    • The "perfect last mile technology" is in the same boat as Fusion energy. Every few years something "groundbreaking" comes along (first it was private packet radio, then 802.11, power-line data, wireless mesh, wimax/4g, blah blah blah on and on and on. Yet all we see are incremental steps (not nearly enough to keep pace with data demand) and so the cost goes up (as it should.) What a shock, no miracle has happened to grant us all unlimited bandwidth for no upfront or over-time cost. I am so surprised it

      • I have worked telecommunications for ~30 years. Yes, last-mile technology is available. No, there is not a conspiracy.

        I am saying individual incompetence, greed/avarice... a/o hubris of C*Os, politicians, and clerics are the problem. No conspiracy, Yes individual hubris and greed, well they could just be stupid regurgitators of dogma for the elitist/plutocrats.

        Example: "To Big too fail" is still part of US, EU... economics, which will allow another major economic failure within a decade. I suspect, the Bi

  • by Michael Meissner ( 520083 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:20AM (#35502220)
    I live on a pond with 6 houses on the side of the pond I live on. Because there were so few houses, it was never economical to improve service. We never had cable. When I was a work at home programmer, we originally went with ISDN, and later T-1. Being a regulated service, the phone company has to provide it to anywhere they string wires, but it is not cheap. I recall it was an $1,800 installation cost just to prep the wires. After I parted company with Red Hat, we paid for it on our own ($400/month), but when the T-1 provider jumped the price to $700/month, we finally bailed. Fortunately, when we dropped the T-1, the lake had gotten a cell phone tower (that in fact helps pay for some of the lake improvements), and we were able to switch to cell phone networking for casual use. I did have to watch the bandwidth carefully, and not update my photo album from home in order to stay under the 5g limit Sprint charged. About 6 months after we switched to cell phone networking, one of the two towns that the lake straddles was getting Verizon FIOS, and fortunately that town government required the phone company to make FIOS to every house in town, even the houses on the ponds where access was more difficult. So all of us got FIOS. It would be nice the other town (the one I live in) would sign the paperwork so that I can get TV over FIOS to allow me to turn off my DISH TV satellite service.
  • The Canopy equipment is pricy. Why use it when you can get Ubiquiti NanoStations for $40-$80? Isn't Canopy 10x that price?

  • If you are interested in building a distributed mesh, please visit this site and add your location to the map. []

    From the site:

    Recent events related to net neutrality and censorship have us realizing that the internet is not as resistant to political attack as we had imagined. With the flick of a finger governments can seize domain names without oversight, with concealed effort Internet Service Providers are undermining the neutrality of the Internet.

    We are building a mesh network t

Logic is a pretty flower that smells bad.