the unfulfilled promise of IPv6

Brent Finnegan -- May 9th, 2007

For almost a year, the local media and national trade mags have been touting Harrisonburg as “the city of the future.” We were told that Harrisonburg would be the first place on the continent to have city-wide “next gen” Internet system, known as IPv6, and that World Airwaves was going to set it up.

But now it seems there is good reason to question those claims.

The downtown area was originally supposed to have IPv6 service in September of 2006 (this was supposed to be “phase one” of three). Beta testing was said to have begun on August 30. But the deadline was pushed back, then pushed back again. Here we are ten months later, and everyone is saying the same stuff now that they were then.

Currently, no one has IPv6 service that I’m aware of.

Last summer, World Airwaves was awarded the “non-exclusive franchise contract” from the city to build the system. Among other things, the project entails erecting transmitters all over town to create a “wireless Internet cloud” that will cover the city. This project is using money from private investors; no local, state, or federal tax dollars are being used. Mark Bayliss, CEO of World Airwaves, never publicly disclosed a dollar amount, so the cost of the project is unknown. Bayliss is also CEO of Visual Link. Media reports jump back and forth, first saying World Airwaves is building the IPv6 system, then saying it’s Visual Link, then back to World Airwaves.

The lack of progress is obvious. Did World Airwaves bite off more than they could chew? Alex Phillips, owner of HighSpeedLink (HSL), was World Airwaves’ VP of Project Development. HSL was supposed to provide much of the infrastructure of the network, but Alex is no longer a part of the project. Now that HSL is out, World Airwaves needs a new partner. Allegedly, they’re teaming up with NTT, a Japan-based communications corporation. I’ve heard that SRI may also be lending a hand, though I’m not sure in what capacity.

World Airwaves has been largely unresponsive to inquiries from business owners and individuals wishing to sign up for the service. People want to know when it will be available, and how much it will cost, but new information has been scant. Some high tech companies moving into town weren’t even aware of the availability of IPv6 here “in the near future.” Several months ago, we were told it would be around $35 per month for DSL-speed service. Now I’m told they will be selling Tier 1 bandwidth for the much less-affordable price of $70 per meg.

The city’s Assistant Economic Director for Technology, Jim Barnes, has expressed his frustration with the lack of progress, saying that he wants the system operational (and affordable) as soon as possible. City Council has echoed those sentiments. Confidence in World Airwaves’ ability to finish the project is at an all-time low.

Some infrastructure has already been put in place, but if it’s more of the same, it seems unlikely that the entire city will have IPv6 coverage by the end of summer. Chances are good that World Airwaves will be given some strict deadlines by the city. If World Airwaves fails to adhere to them, the city would have to find another contractor to finish the job. The city may have another out in the contract. According to state records, World Airwaves LLC was canceled by the State Corporation Commission in December of last year (ID number S142299-9). World Airwaves Harrisonburg LLC still exists, but at this point it’s unclear to me which LLC the city has a contract with.

If this project fails, it could be egg on the faces of city council, the economic development office, and everyone who’s been touting the Shenandoah Valley as the “Silicon Valley of Virginia” (not to mention IPv6 advocates and the US government, which mandated a switch from IPv4 to IPv6 for all federal agencies by next year).

So far, a publicly-funded solution is not being considered, but has not been ruled out. Jim Barnes said he’s willing to meet with a small group of people to field questions and comments about the future of the project, but he would rather not do it online in a live blog where people can ask questions anonymously.

Expect more developments in this story in the coming weeks and months.

MikeFus contributed to this story

22 Responses to “the unfulfilled promise of IPv6”

  1. Crow says:

    “Here we are ten months later, and everyone is saying the same stuff now that they were then.”

    Reminds me of something about Iraq…..Hmmmmmm. I just can’t think of it….

  2. Drew Richard says:

    yeah…good call Crow…being a “townie” that goes to JMU I was soooo happy that we were going to be able to say that Harrisonburg has something great technology wise that Richmond, Northern VA, etc. don’t have…that was what…2 years ago since it was first announced…and now we’re still without any news…it’s really frustrating…plus if they can get it set up to stretch down south main to my townhouse I wouldn’t have to waste my money with NTC and let them steal my money. This is a huge thing that needs to be done ASAP.

  3. Bubby says:

    Hell, Verizon can’t even push DSL two miles out of town center…and if you need assistance for cable broadband you don’t get local CS, you get Orlando or Mombai. Perhaps Town Council and the BOS should start holding all of these telecom contractors accountable for their quality of service.

  4. David Miller says:

    That’s called communism

  5. MikeFus says:

    David has a point, although I would qualify that comment by saying it depends on how the telecom contractors are held accountable. I would say that the free market should allow the consumer to hold telecom companies accountable by choosing not to use their services. However, in many areas of Harrisonburg, the consumer doesn’t have those options, because there is really no choice of ISP.

    Verizon has refused to put any DSL equipment in their Harmony Heights CO because, according to them, there’s no space. This is a poor excuse because DSL equipment doesn’t take up much space at all, and can even be placed outside the physical CO structure if necessary. Even the rural area of Linville/Edom 4 miles north of town is serviced by a Verizon CO that has DSL equipment, but not the Park View/Harmony Heights area?

    Adelphia is more widely available, but also more expensive, and the startup costs for small businesses is prohibitive if they don’t already have cable close to their location. And for the $50+ residential customers pay, they get a measly 300kb upload speed, which is barely able to support VOIP service.

    Ntelos wireless may be an option if you can clearly see Massanutten peak and don’t have any summer foliage to block the signal. I’ve got a couple of friends on that service, and they say the speed and stability is fair to good, but the latency is really bad. Plus, and the startup costs are high (several hundred), and the setup process is a real pain.

    I’m just learning about the High Speed Link service that Alex offers. He claims much lower latency than the Ntelos flavor of wireless, and I’ve spoke with quite a few residential and commercial customers, none of which have anything negative to say. Again startup costs are relatively high compared to DSL or Cable broadband ($300). This is probably true for any wireless broadband service.

    So it appears those are the options for residents in Harrisonburg. I was honestly hoping that this citywide IPv6 project could turn into something that would give the other ISPs servicing Harrisonburg incentive to increase their level of service, their coverage areas, and perhaps even reduce their costs a bit. If the City Council can work to make that happen, then yeah – I’m all for action on their part to help hold other ISPs in the area accountable by creating a market for competition for subscribers’ dollars.

  6. finnegan says:

    The lack of progress here seems to me like a good example of how government regulation can be a positive thing.

    City Council is going with WA, because in theory, a private entity can get the job done more efficiently and for less money than the local government can. It’s my understanding that a public-run version was briefly discussed (set up like HEC) but not for long.

    Shentel is another name I’ve heard bandied about, but it’s all just talk at this point. WA still has the contract to set it up. Since it’s non-exclusive, I suppose some other company could come in and set it up regardless of WA’s status.

    Bubby wrote: “Perhaps Town Council and the BOS should start holding all of these telecom contractors accountable for their quality of service.”

    I think that’s what they’re getting ready to do.

  7. Bubby says:

    For the benefit of David Miller and others whom may not understand how telecom services operate: Cable companies (Adelphia/Comcast) receive an exclusive charter from municipalities to offer their services. In exchange for their monopoly position, they are required to meet service quality demands from our government.

    Phone companies have similar constraints at the state level. They are given protected markets in exchange for consumer protections.

  8. MikeFus says:

    Bubby – I’d be interested in any references you have to back up your explanation (not because I’m doubting what you’re saying, but for my own knowledge, as I learn more about how this works). Are there any websites you can point us to that contain official word on this?

    If this is the case as Bubby says – why is it the case?? What is the reasoning behind limiting the market to one service provider? And what exactly are the “consumer protections”? What recourse do consumers have when those protections are not met?

    Let me give you an example: I am aware of an Comcast subscriber. Whenever it rains (even just a little), he loses the “high end” of his signal, which knocks out his Internet connection (and he has VOIP service, so this also kills his phone), and he loses the upper end of his TV service, including HD channels. The outages typically last for up to several hours after it rains. Comcast typically responds to his calls by saying that they will dispatch a technician, typically in a few days. This, of course, is outrageous. Even when technicians do show up the same day (after no small amount of ranting on the phone by the subscriber), they have not been able to diagnose or fix the issue. It seems that Comcast is not living up to their end of the “consumer protection” bargain. But since there is no competition, why should they? The subscriber has nowhere to go, except to call and threaten to switch to satellite, which has most, if not all networks blacked out for our area by… who? Comcast (and the rest of the cable lobby)! What a racket!

  9. finnegan says:

    Barnes and city council would love to see lots of competition, but the reality is: that’s not the way the industry works. Comcast is by far the largest cable service provider in the US. Instead of competing with each other, telecom companies merge together.

  10. Bubby says:

    Mike: Harrisonburg doesn’t post it’s cable permit conditions online, but the City manager’s office can give you the details. Your horror story about Comcast service is common. At the least they should be required to maintain a local number and service representative. For our home, cable is the only option for broadband, Ntelos’ radio signal is attenuated, and the sat provider company is not taking new customers. Verizon doesn’t provide DSL to our neighborhood. Cable is it.

    In Blacksburg, Adelphia was so mismanaged the the Town Council fined them in breach of contract, and when that didn’t straighten them out, the Town threatened canceling their contract and re-bidding. The hearing was filled with angry subscribers. They eventually reached a consent order that mandated certain service and performance goals. I believe Christiansburg did end Charter Cable’s contract for gross mismanagement.

    Complaints should be directed to the City Manager, in writing.

  11. MikeFus says:

    Bubby – thanks for the additional information! This is very useful to know. I’ll encourage the subscriber I know to lodge a complaint with the City Manager.

  12. Guys, I’m not sure, but I think Roger Baker has stated in the past that the City has no franchise agreement with Adelphia/Comcast.

  13. Bubby says:

    Adelphia/Comcast cabling uses/requires the public utility easements, so they are subject to local control. In fact, hiring jack-leg linemen and installation contractors who damage other utilities is the single biggest problem with the cable companies.

  14. Public utility easements aren’t the same as being granted a franchise agreement…I won’t argue about their employees screwing up other utilities.

  15. David Miller says:

    Just a thought about monopolies that is best expressed in video.

  16. WAW given deadline by the City of Harrisonburg today in the DNR:

  17. JGFitzgerald says:

    Is this DNR story about governmental irrelevance to technological advances, or tech companies over-promising while hoping their clients don’t catch on, or mainstream media cluelessness about technology issues? We have a story written with a lack of tech expertise, interviewing only two people: the head of the company that hasn’t come through, and the city official who’s ceded the technology aspects of his job to someone else. This is almost funny — almost.

  18. finnegan says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Joe.

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