The Return of the BLOG

It is incredible that we have been so busy with work these past couple of years that we have had no time to keep up with our Converge Communications blog.  We have been incredibly fortunate that these past few years have been so busy when so many other people have been struggling.

The big project that Converge has been working on is the creation of the Warm Springs Telecommunications Company (WST).  For many years, Converge has been the telecommunications consultants for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Oregon.  It is the largest land based tribe in the state, with 5000 tribal members living on 1000 square miles.   Land mass ranges from the mountain tops of Jefferson and wooded back side of Mt Hood, to high dessert and even the river basins of the Deschutes River.   While it is tribal lands, it is also convergent to the recreational playgrounds of Oregon.  From skiing on Mt Hood Meadows, hiking Jefferson or fishing and rafting on the Deschutes, the beautiful land of the reservation is on the periphery of a lot of activities.   It is also a difficult place to serve with telecommunications.

After a needs assessment and strategic plan finished in 2006, Warm Springs was asked to help implement some of the ideas of the plan.  Numero Uno was to bring public safety radio to help with all the incredibly police and fire needs.   The second, which is what I will tell you about now, is to bring basic telephone service and broadband Internet to the residents, businesses and government agencies that have been underserved and even UN-served.   Less than 30% of tribal members had access to broadband and only about 63% had even a basic land line telephone.   People have mobile phones, but with one tower serving 1000 Sq Miles, you can imagine how it is incredibly limited in service for most people.

After years and years of applying for and receiving grant dollars for planning this new company, (from the federal Rural Utility Service and Economic Development Agency) we finally had a business plan and a basic engineering design in place when the ARRA Broadband Stimulus grant program was announced in 2010.   Finally, on the second round of applying (which is a story itself!) we were awarded a grant/loan of $5.4million and a smaller $200K technical assistance grant to build out this new company.

We broke ground on our new facility in April, 2011, and last January, 2012, we held our grand opening ceremony!   After remodeling a very old, asbestos and rat ridden facility on the Reservation, Warm Springs Telecom is now in business with about 400 customers.   Many who have never had telephone service in their lives.

Imagine that!  Still, in America, we have communities of people who have never been served with plain old telephone service (POTS)!   Never mind having broadband….

-Marsha Spellman-

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For Smartphones, it’s Goliath v. Goliath

There is an emerging battle  in the telecommunications industry and it is centered around the exponentially growing sales of the smartphone. A smartphone is a mobile phone built on a mobile computing platform, with more advanced computing ability and connectivity than a regular cellular device. The computing platform essentially gives the user a functioning mini-laptop that not only can take calls, but can give directions, play games and browse the internet from nearly any location that a phone would receive cell service. The two goliaths in the battle for smartphone supremacy are Apple and Samsung. The research firm IDC estimates that Apple controls  23.5% of the market share while Samsung controls 22.8%  with both companies having shipped just under 100 million units in 2011. That growth is outstanding when considering that the smartphone market was barely existent just five years ago.

Although both companies are promoting similar products, their strategies lie at the opposite end of the spectrum. Apple offers only one phone, the iphone, with a focus on design and profitability over sales. The prices are set in a very specific range and their retails stores are tightly controlled. Samsung, on the other hand, has diversified their product options to provide a phone and package for each individual budget and price range.

One phone in particular, the Droid, seems to be the chosen phone to compete head to head against the iphone. As a newly adorned smartphone user, it seems like the war over smartphone market shares will be won in the social sphere. Just one month ago, a close friend of mine purchased an iphone and in the following weeks, because of his constant praise, four others purchased the same phone. One of the main desires for smartphone customers is interactivity with their friends and loved ones so if Apple or Samsung can obtain a clear majority of the market, then that may be enough to push the entire smartphone community in their direction. As to which company will be victorious, that is still to be decided but one thing is for certain, once you have purchased a smartphone, you can’t return to a world of regular phones.

-Scott Gilmore-

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A Decent Proposal

T-Mobile has recently urged the FCC to make all LTE bands operating in the 700Mhz spectrum fully interoperable. Currently, AT&T’s devices use the lower part of the band (704-746MHz), while Verizon’s use the upper part (746-787MHz). This makes it impossible to use an AT&T device on Verizon’s network and vice versa, since the devices are all tuned to use their specific carrier’s spectrum. T-Mobile’s proposal would force all carriers to create products that could operate throughout the entire 700MHz spectrum and hence be fully interoperable.

The benefits of this, according to T-Mobile, would be to motivate roaming and increase the stability of our public safety network. An added interoperability aspect would allow companies, specifically T-Mobile and Metro PCS,  to secure roaming agreements with other networks in areas where it lacks sufficient spectrum. The request came in response to a recent commitment made by the FCC in relation to AT&T’s acquisition of 700 MHz spectrum from Qualcomm Inc. T-Mobile claims that the regulation would make mobile networks more competitive and the consumers would benefit from this competition, which is a concept that the FCC strives to uphold in the sphere of mobile communication.

Another key component of this regulation would be increased efficiency of the Nation Wide public safety service FirstNet. According to Michael Baum of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, “FirstNet is intended to provide a nationwide broadband network for emergency first responders based on a set of common standards to ensure interoperability across public safety and police agencies at state, local, and federal levels”.

T-Mobile explains, “Without interoperability across the entire 700 MHz band, FirstNet will be unable to fulfill its obligations. Like commercial carriers in other bands, it will be problematic for FirstNet to include a large number of multiple band classes in its equipment, limiting interoperability with all 700 MHz licensees. Unless there is interoperability across the entire 700 MHz band, public-safety entities will be limited in the carriers with whom they can potentially share infrastructure, roam, and enter into usage and lease agreements.”

Opponents of the regulation, including AT&T and Verizon, claim that the FCC does not have the authority to mandate an interoperable network and that the regulation would incur significant development costs to their companies as well as delay the new development of LTE.

The FCC is slated to make a ruling on the issue in the next week.

For additional information on this topic check out these sites:

Fierce Wireless

Mobile Burn


-Scott Gilmore-

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AT&T Takes Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Recent AT&T company policies to slow users data speeds after they have used 3 gigabytes of data in one month were reversed this Thursday. After an onslaught of negative press in the realm of social media, AT&T has decided to honor its grandfathered unlimited data usage contracts but have since stopped selling unlimited data plans. Consumers on unlimited plans had reported significantly lower data speeds once they had reached the 3 gigabytes per month point in their usage, which caused the backlash.

Although the reduced data speeds are an outrage to most clients, they are a boon to start ups like Onavo Mobile Ltd who have created a program to shrink file size. This 20-person company has made an application that compresses consumer’s downloads so that they use less data and in turn stay under their allotted data cap. Chief Executive Officer Guy Rosen claims that their daily download rates have risen hundreds of percent. The recent AT&T policy reversal will not affect the success of Onavo as a majority of smart phone users will still be concerned with controlling their data uses, especially as the demand for spectrum grows.

Why has there been so much focus on data use and data speed lately? Data use has been increasing exponentially since the advent of the smart phone and wireless computing. As this use increases, so does the need of available spectrum to handle all of the demand. Companies such as AT&T have a limited amount of spectrum to supply their customers. In order to make room for everyone, AT&T has tried a variety of plans and policies, including slowing data speeds for use of over 3 gigabytes. It’s not just AT&T who is facing this problem. Three of the four major wireless carriers have throttled user’s connections in an attempt to increase spectrum availability.

We are currently entering a new wireless frontier, where the potential for constant connection and seamless interaction becomes more realistic. Companies will continue to make mistakes as we continue to traverse this new landscape, but as with all successful enterprises, their missteps will help guide the way to a brighter future.

-Scott Gilmore-

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Google +, A Ghost Town

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal compared Google’s social network to a virtual “ghost town”. A study by World Wide Data indicated that the average minutes per visitor to social media sites had Facebook at 405 minutes per visitor and Google + at only 3. For a site that relies on user input to remain afloat, this is a very ominous sign.

Google execs have a different view of the story, claiming that since it’s launch in June, 90 million users have registered. When compared to Faebook’s 845 million monthly active users, this is a paltry sum. Brian Solis, an analyst at the social media advisory firm Altimeter Group claims, “Nobody wants another social network right now.”

In a virtual world that is oversaturated with social sites, this statement couldn’t be more true. The main appeal to Facebook isn’t its ease of use, which seems to be getting more complicated by the update, nor is it the various apps or functions. The main appeal of Facebook is that everyone you know is on it. Facebook streamlines all of your connections into one place and allows you to easily contact anyone you desire with the click of a button. Google + will never be a viable social network option until they either catch up to Facebook’s users, or re-identify themselves as a different kind of social networking service. Until they are able to do that, Google + will be inhabited only by the ghosts of what could have been.

-Scott Gilmore-

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Converge In The Press

Here is a compilation of articles featuring the recent Warm Springs Telecom ribbon cutting ceremony on the Warm Springs Reservation.

Cascade Business News

Tribal Telecom Begins New Service for Warm Springs Reservation

Jan 12, 2012

Warm Springs Telecom will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new tribal telecom company’s central office and customer service center on Friday, January 27 at 11:30am, followed by an afternoon of activities and food for the community to celebrate the newest tribal telecom company in the United States. The WST office is located at 4202 Holliday Street, Warm Springs (on the Warm Springs Reservation).

After more than five years of planning, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Oregon is now the 9th tribal telecom company in the country. Like many tribes across the United States, members of the tribal nation have been underserved by the telecom companies serving the community. Rather than waiting for improvements, the Tribes decided to take control of their telecom future and build their own company that will offer basic land-line wired telephone service and broadband, high-speed Internet access.

“Telecommunications is a critical infrastructure that we can’t continue to live without,” says WST Board Chair Sylvester “Sal” Sahme. “Education, jobs, healthcare and economic development all rely on having sophisticated telecommunications. We can’t afford to lag further behind other Americans. We needed to do this and build out this new company to serve our people and bring us into future. This is an exciting day for our Tribes.”

WST Operations Manager, Jose Matanane, formerly the General Manager for tribally owned Fort Mojave Telecom, told people at a recent meeting that, “when I started at Ft. Mojave, we had many of the same problems as Warm Springs now has, including very high unemployment. Not only did the tribal telco create jobs, but it created opportunities for tribal members and businesses to use the network to expand their personal businesses and the Tribe to do further economic development. The unemployment rate has gone down at Ft. Mojave as the phone company built out its network. “

WSTC will build a state-of-the-art fiber and fixed wireless network and eventually serve everyone on the Reservation with telephone and broadband. As it also has received its federal Eligible Telecommunications Carrier certification (ETC), the company will also be able to offer eligible Tribal members telephone services for $1/month.

Located in Central Oregon, the 1,000 square mile Reservation of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs is home to the Wasco, Paiute and Warm Springs Tribes. 5,000 members and others live on the very rural Reservation. The Tribes have historically relied on timber harvest and hydro-generation as revenue sources. The launch of this new tribal enterprise positions the Tribes to become a leader in advanced telecommunications services.

Under the aegis of Warm Springs Ventures, the economic development corporation of the Tribes, tribal leaders has been working on this project for more than 5 years. Jeff Anspach, CEO of Warm Springs Telecom explained, “One of Ventures’ roles on the reservation is to provide a greenhouse for tribal startups. In this capacity we are able to provide administrative support to the Telco in the pre-operational phase of its development until it can stand on its own two feet.”

After receiving planning dollars from federal agencies, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and the Economic Development Administration (EDA), Warm Springs Telecom received $5.6 million from the ARRA Broadband Stimulus Fund in 2010, also from RUS. This enabled the years of planning to come to fruition as the new tribally owned company will soon offer services to individuals, tribal agencies and businesses.

“Access to broadband will help small businesses improve operations, strengthen distribution channels, increase efficiencies, and gain access to the global marketplace,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Vicki Walker. “In short, this project will stimulate economic development and is a terrific example of how President Obama has made it a priority to grow jobs in rural America.”

The creation of the Warm Springs Telecom represents the goals of the stimulus money released by the Obama administration. With extremely high unemployment on the Reservation, the creation of this company is an economic development engine that has created jobs employing tribal members. Money has also flowed to other local companies, including Steele and Associates Architects of Bend, who designed the new company’s central office and customer service center; general contractor, Kirby Nagelhout, and the numerous subcontractors needed for the construction of the building; and Bridge City Furniture of Portland, who furnished the building with funds from this award.

The Warm Springs Telecommunications Company (WSTC) is a tribally chartered enterprise whose mission is to bring advanced broadband services to the Warm Springs Reservation, including voice and broadband Internet access.

The Madras Pioneer

Holly M. Gill

February 01, 2012

With a major broadband project nearing completion on the reservation, the Warm Springs community marked the grand opening of Warm Springs Telecom’s central office on Friday, with a day-long celebration.

“The tribes have just now entered the 21st century,” said Jeff Anspach, chief executive officer of Warm Springs Telecommunications Co., noting that the project opens the reservation for business opportunities.

“It fills me with joy and apprehension,” he said, explaining that he’s excited that the infrastructure is nearly in place, but apprehensive about how the completed project will be received.

“We absolutely need support from all of you,” said Anspach. “We want to make it an example for the rest of Indian country to follow.”

The celebration was the culmination of a decade of work to bring wireless communication to the reservation.

In August 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development announced that Warm Springs would receive over $5.4 million from funds authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Eight months later, the tribes broke ground on the project, which included upgrades to the reservation’s existing wireless tower, construction of four new towers, and remodeling of a former housing factory to house Warm Springs Telecom and Warm Springs Construction Enterprise.

Located on Holliday Street in the Warm Springs Industrial Site, the newly remodeled 8,932-square-foot building now houses the Warm Springs Telecom’s data communications center and office space.

“We’re bringing broadband coverage to 1,000 square miles,” said Jose Matanane, operations manager for Warm Springs Telecom.

Matanane, who managed another tribally-owned telecommunication company on the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation before accepting the local position eight months ago, expects to serve about 900 subscribers when all the towers are up and running.

The towers, which will be shared with public safety and phone service, will improve band width, connection speeds, and download speeds for the reservation’s 5,000 or so residents.

Starting with opening prayers at 11 a.m., the event included a welcome by Sal Sahme, chairman of the Warm Springs Telecommunications Board, luncheon, numerous speakers, and a ribbon-cutting by Miss Warm Springs Chloe Suppah.

Special guest speaker Dallas Tonsager, under secretary for USDA Rural Development, said that his agency has been charged with building rural facilities, including electrical, water and communication systems.

“Rural America has special challenges,” he said. “Tribal America has very special challenges. This project looks like it’s going to benefit virtually every member of Warm Springs.

Dr. Mark O’Hollaren, vice president of Oregon Health and Science University, which provides outreach to the tribes, was on hand to congratulate the tribes on their new telecom.

“This could do much more for the health of your community than I think you realize,” he said, noting that it would encourage economic development and education.

Comparing the reservation to a human body, O’Hollaren said, “Indian culture is the heart of the body here on the reservation, but you can’t get along without the nervous system. The nervous system is communication.”

With broadband service across the reservation, the tribes gain access to “the world’s learning,” he said. “It may seem distant from health, but I think, in fact, it’s central to improving the health of your community.”

Anspach applauded the Tribal Council’s unwaivering support for the project. “This is a really good example of the definition of ‘doing,'” he said.

Warm Springs gets broadband

Residents, officials dedicate new telecommunications headquarters

By Rachael Rees / The Bulletin

Published: January 30. 2012 4:00AM PST

WARM SPRINGS — Ten years ago, only homes in certain areas on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation had telephone service.

But within months, many will have access to high-speed Internet, allowing them to access YouTube, Facebook and Netflix.

Community members and government officials gathered Friday to celebrate the start of a new era with a ribbon cutting at the Warm Springs Telecommunications Co., the ninth tribally owned telecom company in the United States.

Time-honored tradition blended with the 21st centuryas residents performed ceremonial dances and blessed with prayers the new building on Holliday Street that will provide the reservation with new telephone and Internet service.

The telecommunications company will create the infrastructure to help build businesses that can generate revenue and income, said Sal Sahme, director of business and economic development for the Confederated Tribes of Warms Springs — everything from tourism to Web-based companies operating out of homes.

“It will create the stepping stone to those other kinds of expanded businesses,” he said.

Warm Springs Telecom expects to start providing high-speed Internet to area residents in late February, and telephone services by the end of March, said Gabriel Walker, its sales and marketing coordinator.

Walker said towers have been built on Eagle Butte, which will serve the more rural areas of the community, and Miller Flat, which will serve the central area.

Tribal members began planning a new telephone company 10 years ago, and phone service has improved since then, but Warm Springs Telecom will expand it to areas that still do not have it, he said.

Jeannie Brisbois, of Warm Springs, said the slow and unreliable Internet service has made her job at the vehicle pool a struggle for years.

“You’re in the middle of something and then the service stops on you or stalls, and then you lose it,” she said. “It’s time-consuming and frustrating.”

Brisbois, 51, said she hopes the new services will allow more people to experience the Internet, and also bring revenue to the tribes and help create jobs.

“I’m excited about faster Internet speeds so people can message each other and look up things without having to wait and wait and wait,” she said.

For the past 10 years, members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs represented other Oregon tribes in statewide efforts to obtain broadband services, said Christopher Tamarin, telecommunications strategist for the Oregon Business Development Department.

“They’ve been engaged in this whole effort to expand the availability of broadband services throughout the state,” he said. “Tribal lands are traditionally underserved areas, so this is a milestone.”

Adam Haas, general manager for Warm Springs Telecom, said $5.4 million in grants and loans from the federal government, along with $750,000 from the Warm Springs tribes, helped pay for the project.

While the service will only serve the community initially, Haas said he hopes that one daya fiber-optic ring will surround the reservation, along with fiber optics leading from the reservation to Madras.

The Internet has become the global platform for business and communications, Tamarin said. Broadband Internet access is viewed as essential infrastructure for economic activity, much like roads, bridges and water systems.

“Twenty-five years ago, to be credible in business you had to be in the Yellow Pages,” he said. “Today, if you’re gong to be credible you have to have a presence on the Internet.”

Tamarin said the next step will be to have tribal members embrace and use the technology.

“Now the question is, what are they going to do with it, and what’s it going to produce?” he said.

Dallas Tonsager, undersecretary for the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Rural Development agency, said the services will help improve economic development, education and health care, and it will provide a way for the tribes to share their culture with other communities.

“You think about what broadband does for people everywhere, every day,” said Tonsager, who is based in Washington, D.C. “People in their homes have Internet access and email access and communications access and business people can purchase and sell and develop new businesses.”

This is one of those very basic things that everybody should have, said Tonsager, whose agency provided the $5.4 million for the project from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Currently, the agency has 300 projects under way to bring broadband to rural areas across the country, he said, but Warm Springs Telecom is one of the first to be built.

“I think what this really does is set a great example for tribal leadership, for community leadership on reservations, that maybe they, too, can take up the cause and help their community.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7818,

Warm Springs Telecom Open for Business

One-Third of Tribeal Members Don’t Have Phone Access

By Shanna Mendiola, KTVZ.COM

POSTED: 6:05 pm PST January 27, 2012

UPDATED: 6:41 pm PST January 27, 2012

WARM SPRINGS, Ore.A breakthrough celebrated Friday in Warm Springs: Access to phone and internet service will now be widely available for tribal members thanks to their very own, tribally owned telecommunications company.

Warm Springs Telecom opened their doors Friday in a grand opening ceremony.

After five years of planning, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs became the ninth tribe to start up their own telecommunications company.

Warm Springs leaders say it’s a big step in connecting them beyond the reservation and improving their economy.

“I get to give back to my people here on the reservation,” said Gabriel Walkier, a tribal member and now sales and marketing coordinator for Warm Springs Telecom.

“Having the ability to come back and work for the people for the reservation and bring back the experience I’ve had off the reservation,” Walker said.

About one-third of people living on the Warm Springs Reservation don’t have access to phone or Internet service. Now, everyone will get access to basic telephone service and broadband, high-speed Internet.

“I’m an entrepreneur, and I would like to use the access to the Internet, and I’m also sure a lot of people would feel the same way,” said James Greely, a Warm Springs tribal member.

“I am really excited for the Internet,” said reservation resident Amanda Frank. “I have been waiting to use the Internet for the past five years, to do some homework and other business stuff, and I haven’t been able to do it.”

The tribe received planning dollars for the project from federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Officials with the USDA say the move is important, to be competitive in the world.

“The president spoke the other night (in his State of the Union address) about building an America that lasts, and economy that lasts for America,” said Dallas Tonsager the USDA’s undersecretary for rural development

“I think this is a fundamental part of that.”

Walker said, “Before that, there was no sort of broadband Internet out here on the reservation. And now, since we’re able to bring it fully here, reaching out parts where no ones ever had it, the broadband is going to be major for them, so they can connect, like I said, back to the world.”

Work to start connecting the area to the service starts this week, and Warm Springs Telecom hopes to get everyone connected to phone and Internet service within a year.

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Warm Springs Telecom Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Light the fireworks and start up the band!   The time has come.  After nearly a decade of work, countless hours spent preparing grant applications and a myriad of other trials and tribulations…we have finally made it!

On Friday, January 27th, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs is hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially open the Warm Springs Telecom facilities. After years of planning, the ceremony and community open house will be held at WST’s new headquarters at 4202 Holiday St. in Warm Springs, Oregon, on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.  The event will start with a traditional Washat ceremony at 11:00 followed by speakers, the ribbon cutting, tours of the new facilities and a chance to meet the staff of this, the 9th tribally owned telecom company in the United States.

As a project funded by a large ($5.6 million) award from Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Stimulus funds, the festivities will be attended by speaker Undersecretary of State, Dallas Tonsager, attending from Washington, DC.    In addition, with the new company providing a great new broadband connection to this rural and very underserved community, Dr. Mark O’Holleran, VP from Oregon Health and Sciences University (the Oregon medical school), will also be addressing the group regarding the opportunities this company will now afford residents and critical facilities with new telemedicine diagnosis and treatment options.

In addition, speakers will include representatives from Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkeley and Cheryl Myers, Director of Economic Development Outreach, from Governor Kitzhaber’s office.  The ceremony is meant to give residents a chance to tour the new facility, meet our staff and find out about all of the new services that we will be offering to the community.

The Warm Springs Telco is not just another business. This represents the 9th tribally owned telecom company in the United States.  Like most tribes in the US, the people of Warm Springs were not being served adequately by their assigned local providers.   With telecommunications becoming more and more a critical infrastructure, it was clear that the people of Warm Springs were losing out.   As a tribal sovereign nation, the Tribes of Warm Springs realized that for its people to get the type of telecommunications services that most non-tribal Americans take for granted, including BASIC telephone service, and Broadband Internet, it had to create this company to upgrade this critical infrastructure for economic development, job creation, educational opportunities and new telemedicine programs.

Converge Communications has been the Tribes’ telecommunications consultants for many years.   It has been hard work…from getting grants to planning, engineering, regulatory work, project management and everything that goes into creating this new telco.  This Grand Openingis an exciting time for the Converge Staff.  But this ribbon cutting ceremony is being held not only to recognize how far we have come but also to celebrate the bright future that is in store for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the new Warm Springs Telecom – its customers and employees.    Bringing this tribal nation into the telecom age.

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AT&T Raises Rates + Data Ceilings

AT&T has recently reconfigured its data plans to increase both the cost and data ceiling.  The minimum priced plan has increased from $15 for 200 MB to $20 for 300 MB and the larger plan’s data ceiling has grown from 4g to 5g. To put this perspective, 1g equals 1,000 MB. These increases will not affect already subscribed members, who are able to keep their current data rates. This price hike is in response to a failed T-Mobile acquisition compounded with a dire need for more spectrum to support the amount of data consumers are using.  To remain competitive in this already saturated cellular market, modern companies are in urgent need of enough spectrum to provide competitive speeds in face of the growing data use by smart phones. The new plan has also raised the data overage cap, to help customers avoid costly overage fees which often times leads to defections to other carriers.

Who does this rate hike affect?  Me.  As a consumer who is just now approaching the smart phone industry, these new rates will directly affect my decisions as to which plan to use. I have been purposefully ignoring the obvious benefits of the all knowing smart phones, claiming all I need from my cellular device is the ability to call and receive messages. As I watch my friends look up directions, check their finances, search the web and in general have a mini computer at their disposal, I know that the time is drawing near when I must have one of my own. These new rate hikes, in theory, would be a benefit if I desire to use a lot of data. The data ceilings are higher and you are able to get up to 5g of data, compared to 4g with their previous plan. Knowing myself, I will not be able to come close to that amount of data use. This means that the new hike will in effect, just tack on another $5 to may bill for data I may or may not use, although it may help in avoiding overage fees. Will $5 be enough to push me towards another service provider? Probably not, but it may be just enough to push back my purchase of a new smart phone for a few more months.

As the race for smart phone supremacy heats up, with new phones and plans appearing and becoming obsolete almost daily, AT&T is trying to make room for the increasing demand for data. The true question is: Will they be able to make room for new customers without pushing their current ones away?

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National Tribal Telecom Association Meeting

Last week, Marsha traveled to New Mexico to attend a meeting of the National Tribal Telecom Association (NTTA). This group represents the nine tribally owned telecommunications companies in the US, including the brand new, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs’ company, Warm Springs Telecom (WST). Primarily, the association is a political organization that represents the interests of the nine tribal telecom companies, including Warm Springs Telecom, at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as well as recognizing the interests of the more than 500 tribes that don’t have their own tribal telcos.

Tribal lands are the most underserved in the country.  While most of America has about 95% telephone service available, most tribes have about 60-65% of their population served by a telephone company.   Significantly fewer members have access to broadband.   Tribal telecom companies and tribal lands have special needs and the NTTA is the only organization that is representing the needs of tribal telecommunications.   It also works with the National Congress of American Indians and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, to educate them on positions regarding changing telecommunications policy and the impact on tribal nations.

The biggest change to telephone regulations addressed by the NTTA this session is the proposed change to how rural companies will be subsidized to equalize the cost of telecom service for all Americans.  Since the creation of the Telecom Act of 1934, there has been a Universal Service Fund that helps rural America to have affordable telephone access.   The FCC is now moving from funding rural companies from the cost of each telephone line, to the cost of providing a subsidy for each broadband line, changing the USF to the CAF – the  Connect America Fund. While the change is inevitable, these changes present many challenges.

To assure that tribal telcos are not left in the dust, The NTTA has proposed that in the reorganization of the USF to the CAF, the FCC should create a particular pool of money designated for tribal telcos.   This money would be used to bring some level of equality to the tribes that have been ignored and underserved by the telephone companies that were to bring service to these lands.   With the help of the NTTA and the filings that they have made, we hope that the FCC will recognize the special needs of tribes, and this time, help fund the subsidies that tribal companies, including Warm Springs Telecom, need to enable better services for tribal lands.

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Race For The Future

Social networking is growing at an exponentially increasing rate. A mere eight years ago, social networking sites such as Myspace and Facebook were kindergartners on the gigantic playground that is the internet. Now, nearly a decade later, these sites have not only grown, they practically own the whole school yard.  With Myspace’s revenue and relevance slowly depreciating, it seems that Facebook has a firm grip on the world’s social networking generation. Though true in life and the schoolyard,  when you are the top dog, there will always be those who challenge you.

Several months ago, Google released its archetype, Google+, to compete with Facebook in the social networking arena.  Some of the intriguing features that Google+ offers are the ability to share specific information with people placed into unique groups.  Google+ also has the backing of Google’s inordinately large reach on the web. which includes the support of a  29 billion dollar company. Although Facebook is still the dominant force on the internet, analysts say that Google+ may become a serious threat in the future if they are able to get out of the beta phases.

With competition for the web’s social networking users heating up, so is the focus on privacy issues within the companies. Both Facebook and Google have come under fire for “data mining”, which is the gathering of information to better target users for advertisements or supplements for their online profiles.  Although this is an important issue, it hasn’t slowed down the growth of Facebook in relation to younger users. In fact, Facebook has added over 150 million new users since the beginning of 2011. This could be because these privacy issues are more relevant to the older generations who have not grown up in the age of shared information and hence are more protective of their privacy.

Another prevalent concern with social networking sites is the effect of having all of your information readily available for potential employers or others to search.  In a time where job security and availability is at a half century low, competition can be rigid. There is a underlying fear that the information you share online can come back and haunt you when applying for jobs or other positions.  Many users have switched to using pseudonyms in an attempt to ward of unwanted searches on their names or internet activity.

Personally, the privacy issues are not a big concern of mine when dealing with social networking services. As a child of the information age, complete transparency with your information and interests seems to be the newest form of security. Being entirely open and honest with the vast entity that is the internet entitles you a freedom that doesn’t come with endlessly protecting your information. Am I saying I want a webcam following me around 24 seven? No. But I am proud of what I am doing with my life and feel no need to hide it away.

So what will make the social networking services of our present become the ones of our future? Full integration. The service that finds a way to integrate all aspects of someone’s internet lifestyle, including music player, sports interests, social connections and entertainment will hold the key to our future. Our society is moving ferociously towards the one stop lifestyle; movie rentals combined with shopping and coffee; mega marts where you can buy anything from hand guns to hand soap. We don’t have time to visit a variety of different sites, we want it all in once place.  The service that integrates all of our desires into one click of a button will win the users and hence the race for our future.

-Scott Gilmore-

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