Friday, February 18, 2005

Rockville MD denied FIOS

This past Wednesday (2/16/05), I attended my final official meeting as a member of the Montgomery County Maryland Cable Communications Advisory Committee. I had served for four years, outlasting only one other member. I had requested another term but was turned down by the County Executive. I was not surprised.

During my term, I was responsible for numerous recommendations to the executive and the council that they didn't want to hear. For instance, I wrote a number of statements during the Comcast-AT&T transfer process recommending changes to the proposed franchise. (Most of my recommendations were ignored.) I wish I could have enjoyed the council's dismay when Comcast raised their rates shortly after the new franchise was approved. Although Comcast had promised that the rates would not rise "due to the merger" it was an empty promise and no one should've been surprised that Comcast could find other justifications to hike the rates.

Most recently, I authored a statement regarding Comcast email that included such recommendations that customers avoid relying on addresses and, for that matter, using Comcast email for anything of importance. Despite my departure, the committee has vowed to proceed with the email recommendations. The committee also promised to keep watch over another of my efforts - a "Citizens Guide to Cable Service in Montgomery County" that describes the major rights and responsibilities of cable customers. The guide was unanimously approved by the committee and is now in legal review by the County.

I'm somewhat less pleased with my attempts to establish performance requirements for cable service. At a later time, I'll try and write all this up but the end result of this was the creation of an adjuticatory commission that has the power to assess penalties of up to $1000 directly against the cable companies, payable to customers. Sounds great and while groundbreaking (no other cable locality has such powers or even touches upon internet regulation), a good degree of its claws were gutted during passage of the bill.

And the final sin I committed was to prepare a letter describing how Comcast provides community support in such a way as for politicians to personally benefit. I'm not saying money ends up on their pockets. But when a politician is, for example, invited to accept a check from Comcast on behalf of that politician's favorite charity or constituents, I see that as a problem. Especially when those same politicians are the same people who approve contracts between the county and Comcast.

So as I said, the Executive was undoubtedly happy to see my term come to an end. As for the one person who outlasted me, he is the Rockville representative (I was in an at-large seat) and is appointed by the City of Rockville, so the Executive had no say in his continuing service. Carry on the good work, Kernan and everyone else in the CCAC. It's a good committee and all the members are sincerely interested in doing the right thing. I enjoyed the time I spent working with all of them.

Ok, enough horn tooting. On to the meeting.

As usual, the status of Verizon FIOS was a hot topic and I again asked if the Verizon has started the franchise ball rolling. Verizon has permits to use the rights-of-way for fiber and can offer internet service but they must obtain a franchise agreement before rolling out video (TV) service. The short answer is no - Verizon has not made any official franchise overtures. According to Jane Lawton, MC Cable Office Administrator, it is expected that such a process would take about 4 months.

Rather than go through the whole meeting in order, I'll let rip the most surprising item first. The city of Rockville has not given permission for Verizon to install FIOS in the rights-of-way. Ouch! That's right - no FIOS for Rockville, the county seat and smack in the center of the county. Will the rest of MC get FIOS? It sure looks that way - in general - but the few parts (8, I believe) that are municipalities have the power to go their separate ways, and for now, that's what Rockville is doing.

Alas, I have no more time to blog today and will provide more details tomorrow about what's going on with Rockville and Verizon.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Testing E911 in Montgomery County MD

The following incidents took place over several days so but it's simpler to read them together:

Feb 1, 2005

My VoIP provider advertises E911 as part of the service, but I've been wondering exactly what E911 means. I've read of instances of VoIP going to the wrong PSAP (Public Service Access Point), where traditional phones send their 911 calls. And I've read that some VoIP phones go to the correct PSAP but to a different phone number to which you have to say "this is an emergency" after which they will take a message and manually give it to the 911 operator.

With this in mind, I contacted my local government (MCMD) and was sent to Battalion Chief Michael Prete who encouraged me to test my phone service (SunRocket). He said that no prior arrangements were necessary and to call any time of day or night: "Just make sure that the first thing out of your mouth is 'I am testing ...'"

So I called 911, identified my reason for calling, gave my address - and the 911 operator told me:
  • yes, my call went to the correct 911 center
  • yes, my number was answered by the very same person(s) answering landline-911 calls
  • no, my line did not identify the address
So the only difference is that I have to give my address when I dial 911.

As an aside, the 911 operator was very pleasant once I identified my purpose for the call. (Of course, she might not be so pleasant if 100 people call to test tonight.)

I friend of mine who uses SunRocket but from Prince William County, VA just told me that his E911 delivers the address and he recommended I contact SR. So I sent email to SR telling them the results of my test and asking if they could make sure my address is delivered via ALI.

30 minutes after sending my email to SunRocket, I got a call from an assistant of Joyce - one of the founders. (I had corresponded with Joyce a while back with some issues so I guess I'm on a short list.) She started out the conversation asking me how the service was and, of course, I mentioned that I had just sent email to SR about 911.

She said that SunRocket is supposed to deliver address information throughout the DC-MD-VA metro area and she would certainly notify the appropriate people to get it corrected. But that wasn't her reason for calling. She was looking for customers to speak with a reporter who was doing a story on them. Evidentally, they're not afraid to have customers speak out that have worked through problems with them.

A few hours later ... I received email from SR - they've tracked the problem (lack of address) to their provider of PSTN service - which is required to pass addresses on but evidentally wasn't doing it.

SunRocket says that their provider has opened a ticket for "further research and resolution" and that they (SR) are going to monitor it closely.

Feb 4, 2005

While fiddling around, I looked in my online outgoing call log and found that when I dialed 911, it appeared as 200-200-2003. That is, the area code was 200. I did some googling and found that area codes with equal 2nd and 3rd digits are reserved codes for purposes "where ease of remembering the number is important."

So it's probably just the way the underlying switching network maps 911 to the actual number of the PSAP.

Feb 8, 2005

Today, SunRocket told me that their provider has fixed the problem and asked me to try testing 911 again. I did and I'm pleased to report that:
  • my call went to the correct 911 center for my address
  • my call was answered by the very same person answering landline-911 calls
  • my call included my address which the dispatcher could see immediately

But this should be a cautionary tale: My provider had no idea 911 service wasn't working properly until I complained. And I never would have thought to test it until I started talking to others. (Never did I test my old POTS service.) In further communication with my VoIP provider, they observed that they do not support E911 throughout the US - it's an availability issue - but it is supported in the DC-MD-VA metro area. On the other hand, some VoIP providers don't support E911 at all, no matter where you may be in the US. So you should certainly keep this in mind when choosing a VoIP provider.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

New members for MCMD Cable committee/commission

  1. Montomery County is looking for 2 people to serve on the Cable Compliance Commission. The CCC adjudicates ccomplaints regarding all cable services including both TV and HSI. The CC will have jurisdiction over Verizon's similar services in the future.

  2. The County Executive has nominated 4 new members for the CCAC, an advisory committee for advising the county on telecomm-related matters. The new members are to be confirmed by the Council on 2/15/05. They are:
    • Grant Moy (Bethesda) - Litigation Attorney, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia

    • Franz Hespenheide (Gaithersburg) - Unemployed, self-described video addict

    • James Berard (Germantown) - Communications Director for the DNC Transportation Committee

    • Jay Boyar (Silver Spring) - Dean of College Life Services, Prince George's Community College
The story would not be complete without noting that the Exec chose not to renominate me for another term. 4 other members also resigned from the committee including 1 before the end of her term. The Executive opted not to fill the remaining 5 seats on the committee. So the committee now has 14 people. Given the rate at which people drop off and the requirement for a minimum of 13 members (19 maximum), I expect there will be another call for members this summer.