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Federal programs designed to expand broadband internet access took a hit recently. The FCC has been mapping high-speed internet availability, and last week, the definition of high-speed was changed.

The previous definition was 200 kilobits per second. That isn’t fast enough to handle modern web tasks like watching videos. The new standard is 4 megabits per second. One megabit is 1024 kilobits, so the new high-speed is about 20 times faster than the old high-speed.

With the redefinition, many Americans–including lots of Kentuckians–are now no longer considered to have high-speed access. As CNN reports, bringing people with connections between 200 kbps and 4 mbps up to speed will not be easy.

Between 14 million and 24 million Americans still lack access to broadband internet, and “immediate prospects for deployment to them are bleak,” said the U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday.

This newly pessimistic stance contradicted previous statements by the FCC, which had said that high-speed internet service was being made available to all Americans in a timely fashion.

The article goes on to mention that service providers say it isn’t economically feasible to lay broadband cables in rural areas. The revenue from normal rates isn’t enough to finance the extra infrastructure. Some industry analysts have speculated that ISPs need commercial customers in rural areas. The higher bills paid by businesses would make expansion more cost-effective. Others, however, argue that broadband should be a utility, and should be subsidized to a degree.

Still others are looking for ways to expand access without laying miles of cable. This could include satellite and long-range (as in longer range than your home router) wireless. Some of this technology is at work in parts of Kentucky. I talked with the people behind it two years ago.

(via The Rural Blog)

David Kirkpatrick,  author of The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World is coming to Louisville. He will speak tomorrow evening at 7 at the main library. WFPL’s Rick Howlett interviewed Kirkpatrick about the book, and you can listen to the interview here.

Kirkpatrick is not to be confused with Ben Mezrich, whose scandalous (and partially made-up) Facebook book was released last year. Mezrich’s book is the basis for the upcoming Facebook movie, directed by David Fincher.

The U.S. Government has awarded more than one billion dollars to improve broadband access and service. (PDF report) The money came in the form of loans and grants and went to 68 projects in 31 states, including Kentucky and Indiana.

The projects were of three types:

1. Thirteen last-mile remote projects ($161 million) will provide broadband service to households and other end users located at least 50 miles from the nearest nonrural area. These represent 19 percent of the awards and 15 percent of the total dollars awarded.

2. Forty-nine last-mile non-remote projects ($739 million) will provide broadband service to households and other end users in rural areas located less than 50 miles from the nearest nonrural area. These represent 72 percent of the awards and 69 percent of the total dollars awarded.

3. Six middle-mile projects ($167 million) will provide necessary “backbone” services such as interoffice transport, backhaul, Internet connectivity, or special access to rural areas. These represent 9 percent of the awards and 16 percent of the total dollars awarded.

And here is a chart for how the money was distributed:

Two projects in Indiana and one in Kentucky received funding. In Kentucky, about 80 million dollars (roughly half loan and half grant) will go to Mountain RTCC:

Mountain RTCC will deploy a fiber cable-based broadband network in Morgan, Menifee, Wolfe, and Elliott Counties of Kentucky. This network will provide over 20 Mbps bandwidth to end users. Mountain RTCC will bring affordable broadband access to these counties to enhance economic development and workforce training.

The Rural Utility Service says the projects “will bring broadband service to 529,249 households, 92,754 businesses, and 3,332 anchor institutions across more than 172,000 square miles.”

These community anchors, such as schools, libraries, healthcare providers, colleges, and critical community facilities, provide essential services for the safety, health, education, and well-being of residents. Without the BIP funding, such services would be cost-prohibitive in some communities. These projects also overlap with 19 Tribal lands. Last Mile Middle Total Non-remote Mile

The Round One awards will create approximately 5,000 immediate and direct jobs. Although it is difficult to calculate, the estimated number of jobs that will be created will bring long-term economic development opportunities to each 20 rural community where a broadband project is implemented.

The government’s mission to expand broadband access to rural areas could hit a bump in some areas. There are parts of the country where internet access is scarce and where residents don’t need or can’t afford computers. Before technology can benefit these areas, parts of the population will need to learn how to use computers.

That’s according to the Rural Blog:

As the government looks to bring more high-speed Internet access to rural America, computer literacy programs may be needed in some areas to increase adoption of computers, much less the Internet. Many rural communities have computer-literacy programs for adults; one that gets good reviews from its clients is in Aubrey, Tex., Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe of the Denton Record-Chronicle reports. “About 57 percent of rural Texas households have a computer with some kind of Internet access, according to 2009 data compiled by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration,” she writes. That number jumps to 63 percent when considering households that have access somewhere like a library or at work. “Across the rural United States, slightly less than half of all adults 55 and older report being able to go online.”

Data from the accurately-named broadband speed testing site speedtest.net has been released. Ookla is the company behind the site, and they discuss the data on their website. While no Kentucky cities made the top ten list for speed, the commonwealth’s average broadband speed is a bit higher than other parts of the south, and much of the mountain west.

This data may skew toward urban speeds, as broadband access is still low in many rural areas in Kentucky. GigaOM has a breakdown:

Mike Apgar, co-founder and managing partner of three-year-old Ookla, said the indexes will measure broadband speeds, ping times and jitter. His goal is to move the testing beyond the tech-savvy market (we use it!), so as to get a better sense of how broadband speeds really play out across the world. The FCC is encouraging consumers to use the sites (Ookla also runs a site that tests jitter and packet loss at pingtest.net) as part of its nationwide testing goals, and many of Ookla’s ISP customers also offer the test to their customers and host Ookla’s servers.

Providing tests for ISPs is actually most of Ookla’s business. The next plank of the business strategy is the index data: Ookla hopes to provide the information for free to academic researchers, but it also plans to charge ISPs, analysts and governments for it. Ookla has no debt or venture capital, and is profitable.

How do you know your way around Louisville? If you travel by car, you may know the which streets, highways and interstates to take to get from point A to point B. These same routes, however, don’t necessarily work if you’re traveling on a bicycle. Many streets are unsafe for cycling during certain hours, and unskilled cyclists or discourteous drivers can make existing traffic issues even worse.

Ride the City’s Louisville map lets you chart a bike route that avoids major thoroughfares and utilizes bike lanes when they are available. I’ve tested a few paths and it looks like the routes are slightly longer–but likely safer–than those generated by Google Maps. Unfortunately, if you’re trying to get to Indiana, Ride the City will only guide you to the Second Street Bridge. Once you cross the bridge, you’re on your own.

As demand for tobacco wanes, farmers who grow it are looking for new crops.

The Rural Blog reports highlights a report on the hardships of diversifying crops from Mallory Bilger in The Spencer Magnet:

Bilger’s example is the Deutsch family, which has farmed in the county for more than 100 years and has now given up on tobacco.  “Sandi admitted that preparing a farm to raise alternative crops can take years,” Bilger writes. “She and George have refocused their efforts on fruit and vegetable production and are also looking to turn their 200-acre farm into an agritourism attraction, or, more simply, a teaching farm.”

Some former tobacco farmers are turning to a different vice…wine. And even though people aren’t smoking as much of it, tobacco still has its uses, many of them beneficial to science.

After reports surfaced that the FCC’s broadband speeds may skew low, the commission has switched speed test providers.

Now the FCC has announced that it is doing additional broadband speed testing research, and it will use a British company named SamKnows to conduct the tests.

SamKnows uses a different broadband speed testing methodology than comScore. While comScore’s testing uses software on a user’s computer, SamKnows uses a proprietary hardware device called a “White Box” that connects directly to a user’s broadband connection. The FCC is planning to divulge additional details about SamKnows’ methodology in a public filing.

In broadband news, there are more applicants than grants available in the second round of broadband stimulus funding.

Multichannel News says:

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration in the Commerce Department has received 867 applications for the second round of the federal broadband stimulus. Those applications represent $11 billion in requests, or just over four dollars in requests for every dollar in available funding.

Another 261 applications were for $1.7 billion in grant money for adoption projects including training, education and equipment, and 261 applications for $922 million were for public computer centers.

NTIA has about $2.6 billion left from the $4.7 billion for broadband grants set aside in the stimulus package. The USDA is handing out another $2.5 billion in broadband grants and loans.

(via)

The FCC is taking a survey of broadband speeds, citing evidence that speeds are slower than providers advertise.

Well, comScore–the research firm that provided the FCC’s data–may not have used the best methods for gathering broadband speed data, making connections appear slower than they actually are.

Netforcast has uncovered several errors in comScore’s testing methodology that create lower broadband speed results. Those errors include the fact that most broadband connections are shared via wi-fi, with many systems and devices within a home accessing a broadband connection simultaneously. If one of those systems is using the broadband connection at the same time as comScore’s testing, a lower speed would result due to the sharing of the broadband connection. comScore’s tests do not compensate for this variable.

The comScore testing also “severely limits the accuracy of its results” because it only uses a single TCP connection for each test. Netforcast contends that most speed testing services use multiple TCP connections.

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