Also in today's roundup: OpenVault reports COVID-19 Internet usage numbers; US House Democrats propose $86 billion broadband bill; ExteNet, Nokia help Cal.net reach rural Californians; and Google bails on Toronto smart city project.
New data from software and analytics company OpenVault shows just how much more people are relying on broadband during the COVID-19 crisis. In a report tracking broadband subscriber usage data points across the US and Europe, OpenVault confirmed that average consumption reached 402.5 GB at the end of Q1 2020, a 47% increase year-over-year. The data suggests that the pandemic has also accelerated the shift to faster speeds: The areas of sharpest growth during Q1 were "power users" and "extreme power users" in the 1 - 2 TB and up range. The percentage of gigabit-speed subscribers also saw a sharp 97% increase to 3.75% (from 1.9% end of Q1 2019). OpenVault says the growth seen in Q1 was what the company had previously predicted for all of 2020, not aware at the time that everything about human existence would change overnight. It further said that much of that growth concentrated in the last two weeks of the quarter, and that average monthly usage for April 2020 was over 440 GB.
With all that demand, it's a good thing the US and UK are fully equipped with enough broadband infrastructure to serve everyone, everywhere. Just kidding. Everything is still a mess. But COVID-19 continues to help put that mess front and center to be dealt with, or at least stared at. US House Democrats this week proposed an $86 billion bill to expand the nation's broadband infrastructure. If passed, it would provide $80 billion for underserved and rural areas; $1 billion to create a grant program for schools to enhance broadband and digital capabilities in distance learning; and an additional $5 billion in low-interest loans. Stipulations on the funding would require operators who receive it to provide at least one affordable option for subscribers.
Speaking of affordability, a new startup called Cuckoo Internet, announced this week that it has raised £470,000 (US$584,506) in seed funding. The service aims to disrupt the UK broadband market with higher speeds and simple pricing, offering one deal only and a one-month rolling contract. Or as it states on its homepage: "Broadband. No contract. No surprises. Forever." The service, founded by former treasury official Alexander Fitzgerald, aims to compete with big UK telcos and is set to launch this summer.
Nokia and ExteNet Systems announced this week an agreement to package and supply equipment and infrastructure to support a network buildout for wireless service provider Cal.net. Through this partnership, Cal.net will be able to deliver higher speeds of up to 100Mbit/s downlink and 20Mbit/s uplink for customers in rural and underserved regions in Northern California, where fiber rollout isn't an option. The new network will utilize the shared 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum band (previously only open to the US Navy and Department of Defense) and the joint approach may provide a roadmap for the companies to upgrade other wireless ISPs going forward.
Good old reliable Google has bailed on a much-hyped smart city project in Toronto. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the company said that the project, which was being developed under the Alphabet arm Sidewalk Labs, is being shuttered due to economic uncertainty from the coronavirus. However, the company had faced opposition from local activists since the project's inception in 2017, due to concern over how Google would treat people's data. Regardless, with Google out of the picture, the door is open for other operators to potentially step in with their own plans to pick up where they left off.
It faces an uphill climb, but Viasat is exploring a plan to build 300 low-earth orbit satellites that could deliver low-latency broadband service and qualify for the US Rural Digital Opportunities Fund.
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