Slow news day in KC: Breaking!!! Eleventy! Google fiber crews mark utilities before digging!

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/23/2014 - 08:25

It must have been a really slow news day in Kansas City, where Google Fiber crews continue to install fiber in neighborhoods and install underground drops to homes. In what teeters perilously on the verge of parody, local TV station KMBC breathlessly reports on the horror of utility marking done by fiber crews prior to digging.


"....spraypaint markings--what sounds like the work of vandals...."

Oh, the horror of identifying utilities before actually, you know, digging things up. It sounds like Google crews are doing a terrific job, as the article cites more than 7,000 miles of installed fiber and a very small number of broken utilities. There were two gas lines hit, which caused some inconvenience, but if you put a shovel in the ground in public right of way for 7,000 miles, it is inevitable that occasionally something gets hit. What the news story fails to do is to really look at how well our Miss Utility really works. Like I say...it had to be a slow news day in Kansas City.

Apple, Amazon dominate tablet usage

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/23/2014 - 08:11

This report from Chitika Insights shows Apple tablets utterly dominate the Web use space, with 78% of the traffic coming from Apple tablets. Amazon is in second place with a little over 7%. Samsung is third, but Amazon's Kindle tablet traffic is growing while Samsung's traffic is shrinking.

The disparity between Apple users and every other tablet combined is a testament to Apple's tightly integrated hardware and software and the company's attention to the user experience.

The Cloud: Pay a fortune and own nothing

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/22/2014 - 10:06

More and more "stuff" is moving to the cloud. Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, and Amazon are just four of the biggest companies that are trying to get us to put everything in the cloud so we can pay a monthly fee to get to our "stuff." The problem with this is that from a customer perspective, the "cloud" does not scale up well from a pricing perspective.

In the "old days," by which I mean about three years ago, you made a one time purchase of a desktop or laptop computer, cobbled together some kind of local network for your business or home, and if you were really smart, bought one or two extra hard drives for backups and file sharing. A relatively substantial capital expenditure, but you had no recurring costs to use and to store you data and files.

Enter the cloud: You still get to buy a bunch of computers, laptops, and smartphones, but now you pay every month to use your own data. The revenue already being generated by cloud services is staggering, and will continue to grow for a while. But uncontrolled growth is, in the biological world, cancer. It eventually kills you...or in this case, wrecks your budget. All these $5, $10, and $20 per month cloud services add up. Small businesses that have to pay for cloud services on a per seat basis (or some other incremental use charges) can quickly max out their limited IT budgets.

The cloud is immensely useful, and like anyone else, I like being able to access my "stuff" wherever I am in the world. But it comes with a price, and one day the market growth is going to fall of a cliff. When that happens, expect many cloud services to go belly up--for anything in the cloud, you should be able to answer this question: "What happens if your cloud provider disappears?"

Verizon moves to symmetric service

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/22/2014 - 08:48

Back in the nineties, some crackpot (okay, me) claimed that symmetric broadband connections were going to be essential because content creation was going to occur everywhere, not just at the office or in denizens like Hollywood. And for the last twenty years, just about everyone who works at a cable or telephone company has outright scoffed at the notion and/or patted me on the head and told me to go back to the wilds of the Appalachians.

Verizon has just announced that they are rolling out symmetric FiOS connections.

....kinda brings a tear to my eye....

And I think the Washington Post, where the article appeared, is exactly right: it is community broadband efforts, where symmetric connections are readily available, that are creating pressure on the incumbents.

Try canceling your cable service

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/15/2014 - 14:04

A technology reporter got Comcast's attention after he posted a recording of his attempt to cancel his service with the cable giant. As a Comcast customer, I would say that their customer service has improved somewhat over the past fifteen years, especially if there is an outage issue, but yea, some of my interactions over pricing and billing are similar to this guy's experience.

Bill amendments threaten community economic development

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/15/2014 - 11:26

From a very knowledgeable source:


"I learned yesterday that there are some amendments that will likely be offered to an appropriations bill in Washington that can further erode local authority for munis. I want to let you know about it, in the hopes that you will spread the word and contact your D.C. Reps. The amendments are expected Today or Wednesday so it is important we call members ASAP.


Right now, it is thought that Rep Blackburn from Tennessee will offer it. It is rumored to be an amendment that either restricts the FCC from preempting state anti-muni laws or just bans them outright.


We need to stop this from passing to avoid a snow ball effect that can set back the drive for local authority.


It is especially critical that communities with networks or those working toward investment contact their Reps' D.C. offices and tell them that Congress should not restrict the FCC. We need to contact them ASAP to let them know that the amendment is bad for local economies, education, savings, etc. and that the FCC should not have its authority limited in any way at this time.


Please let them know the implications and consequences if this moves forward. Please pass this on so we can reach more people."

Gigabit: The word is changing telecom

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/15/2014 - 06:39

Fred Pilot over at Eldo Telecom has made a good point: that Gigabit fiber is changing the telecom landscape. More and more communities are making investments to bring Gig fiber to downtown areas, business parks, and schools, and a wave of CLECs are also making similar private sector investments. The Google Fiber initiative's primary contribution has been to legitimize Gig fiber. Prior to the Google project in Kansas City, those of us talking about Gigabit connectivity were often just looked at as kooks. Now Gig fiber is mainstream, as it should be. The focus on Gigabit services is putting pressure on the copper-based incumbents and creating new opportunities in both the private and public sector for new modern networks. And that is a good thing.

LEO Fitness Intelligence: More evidence that personal health management is about to explode

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/08/2014 - 10:32

This IndieGogo campaign has passed it goal to produce LEO, which is a wearable health monitoring device that gives you real time and stored data on your smartphone. Devices like this one are about to transform exercise and sports, with instant feedback on your workouts and exercise routines, including muscle activity, fatigue, heart rate, lactic acid, hydration, calories burned, and more.

Health apps: The next frontier

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/08/2014 - 08:20

More details continue to leak out about Apple's next release of the iPhone/iPad operations system (iOS 8). Apparently, the Health app will be able to use late model iPhone motion sensors to monitor the number of steps you take. This sounds simple, but today, if you want to do that, you have to buy a separate device to do that, and many of those electronic devices have awkward interfaces. You can buy a simple mechanical pedometer for a few dollars, but that analog device cannot provide the automated monitoring and tracking of your activity over time.

Apple, I think, is onto something big. Recall that the iPod was not the first music player by any measure. Dozens of awkwardly designed, low capacity, hard to use MP3 players were on the market when the iPod was announced. What Apple did was to create a device that was so easy to use that everyone wanted one. And that's where I think Apple is headed with its focus on health monitoring. It's going to make tracking your physical activity and your health data (e.g. respiration, heart rate, etc) so easy that everyone will want an Apple device.

As always, I worry about the privacy issues. Some or all of your private health data will end up in a cloud somewhere, making it accessible to third parties, insurance companies, the government, or hackers (or all of those entities). Time will tell if the health benefits will outweigh the negatives, but I look forward to having more health information under my direct control, instead of having to pay a health clinic for that information.

Death of TV: Part LXIV: ABC debuts on Apple TV

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 06/25/2014 - 07:17

And so it continues. While Comcast and Time Warner engage in the drowning man death hug, the content owners are finally beginning to read the writing on the wall. ABC is launching a channel on Apple TV, with live video, hourly news updates, and a variety of local content from some of the biggest urban markets in the country (e.g. WABC New York, WLS Chicago, KGO San Francisco...). All is proceeding as I envisioned years ago....cable TV's elbow is barely breathing, and the heart of cable TV may not even have a pulse. When the cable TV giants go down, and they will go down, they will go down hard.

The emerging revolution in health care....by Apple

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/20/2014 - 08:34

Some time this fall, Apple is likely to announce what has been called the "iWatch," although that may or may not actually be its name. There have probably been more rumors promulgated about this supposed product than any other Apple product ever. The latest rumor is that the watch will have "more than ten sensors," including a heart rate sensor and other health and fitness monitoring devices.

If the watch comes with even five sensors, it will trigger an massive change in health care, as patients and doctors will, for the first time, have inexpensive access to real time health and medical data that was previously only available in hospital rooms and the ICU. And even hospital monitoring equipment does not have what will be available via the iWatch--simple to understand and simple to interpret health information that is available both to the patient and the doctor.

Apple is poised to upend another industry and create a massive new market area providing software and related devices, just as it did with the music business.

Along with all the innovation, we will have huge issues with data privacy, as all this data will be stored in many places (computers, phones, tablets, the cloud, doctor offices, hospitals) with massive potential for security breaches. And insurance companies will be anxious to use the data to adjust health insurance rates, although there is the possibility that having excellent real time health data may, for some, push rates down rather than up.

One Soap to rule them all

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/19/2014 - 08:41

For many households, the WiFi router is probably an item regarded with a mixture of dread and fear. Once you get the thing configured properly, you generally tend to forget about it...except when the Internet stops working. Then the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) takes over the lizard part of your brain...and your first step is stare at the wretched device, hoping that somehow, the gods of the Internet will just magically get the Internet back on so you can continue sorting your Netflix DVD list and posting what you just ate to Facebook.

A new wireless home router called Soap started out as an Internet filtering device ("cleaning" the Internet for families), but as the product was developed, more features were added to provide a higher level of integration.

Unlike every other wireless router on the planet, Soap has a touchscreen interface to help simplify configuring it--no more really bad Web-based control screens that only a Unix geek could love. Soap also understands a wide variety of wireless protocols that allows it to talk to the rapidly expanding market of home automation devices. This may turn out to be its best feature if it works well.

I have been interested in the home automation market for a long time, and have always thought that the biggest challenge is integration and interface. If every device manufacturer makes buyers use a poorly designed one-off interface, homeowners will be quickly overwhelmed and frustrated at the effort involved in configuring and managing many different "smart" (or dumb) devices. If Soap delivers on the interface and configuration features, it will force massive changes in the wireless router market.

What does this have to do with fiber? Some Fiber To The Home equipment manufacturers are integrating WiFi routers into the fiber interface equipment. But the utility of a device like Soap far out-strips anything that can be built into a fiber interface.

FCC Chair Tom Wheeler argues for community-owned broadband

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/12/2014 - 08:48

The FCC has posted an article by Tom Wheeler, the FCC Chair. In it, Wheeler discusses the benefits that Chattanooga's municipal Gigabit fiber network has brought to the region, especially with respect to dramatic improvements in economic development and jobs creation. If you take the time to read it, the comments are just as interesting, as some folks local to Chattanooga argue with an ISP about the role of local government in telecom.

The fight over who controls broadband

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/10/2014 - 09:20

This article has a good short summary of the battle over broadband. There are many players, including the FCC, Congress, the incumbents, the states, and local communities. The incumbent cable and telephone providers want their monopoly/oligarchy status protected, preferably by legislation. The FCC has the difficult task of reconciling user interests with industry interests, and is mulling over the idea of redefining "broadband," which almost certainly won't turn out well. The definition of broadband is vague today but that vagueness has enabled a flood of innovation in telecommunications, with a myriad of new services and industry disruptions. Codifying "broadband" will likely produce a stifling of new services and businesses, and could damage local economic development if it becomes more difficult for communities to get the telecom infrastructure they need to retain existing businesses and to attract new ones.

Broadband is disrupting home security market

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/05/2014 - 16:17

This IndieGoGo project is just one of numerous home security systems that are disrupting the market. Companies like ADT have dominated it for decades, using old-fashioned telephone land lines to monitor in-home door, window, and fire sensors. But always-on broadband and Internet connectivity make it possible to do more with less, and a host of start-ups are slowly eating away at the over-priced big security firms.

Will Apple's HealthKit revolutionize health?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/03/2014 - 08:12

In San Francisco yesterday, Apple Computer announced that it was bringing both a new app ("Health") and a new developer interface for that app ("HealthKit") to the iPhone and the iPad. The app will give users a single place to store and track a wide variety of health-related information, including fitness activity, lab results, medications, and vital signs. The app is less important than the developer interface to the app, which will allow healthcare providers and healthcare services to push a wide variety of data into a single place, giving the user a single, integrated look at the state of their health.

While there have been much prognostication that Apple has "run out of steam" and has no innovation left in the company, this health-focused software takes the company in a whole new direction. The software Apple is releasing has the potential to make dramatic changes in the way health care is provided and the way we use and access health-related information. And most importantly, better information under our own control is likely to help contain health care costs over the long term.

But there is always a cost. Concentrating all this information in one place raises privacy and security issues, but I'd rather have all this information under my control than in a vast government database. Having said this, Apple will be storing all this information in iCloud for us. There is no free lunch here.....the convenience and information on one hand, the risk of mis-use on the other.

FCC may move to knock down state laws banning muni broadband

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 05/01/2014 - 09:39

FCC head Tom Wheeler says the FCC may move to preempt state laws that make it difficult or impossible for local governments to create competitive broadband networks.

It is good news that the FCC is beginning to more openly support competitive municipal projects, but we will have to wait and see if this actually has any real effect. There is going to be pushback from some states, and there will be vigorous lobbying by the incumbents at both the state and Federal level to stall this initiative.

"U-verse stinks"

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/24/2014 - 13:08

"U-verse stinks." That's not me, that's Netflix, according an article from Lightwave. Here's the interesting quote from Netflix:


"The surprising news is that AT&T fiber-based U-verse has lower performance than many DSL ISPs, such as Frontier, CenturyLink & Windstream..."

This was in a letter from the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, to stockholders. While this little spat between AT&T and Netflix is amusing, it highlights the vast divide between incumbent attitudes about what constitutes good service and what the customers of those incumbents regard as good service. The incumbents believe that good service is whatever they decide they want to give their monopoly-captive customers, while the customers think good service is being able to use Over The Top (OTT) services like Netflix without constant stuttering, re-buffering, and stalling out.

I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I was recently in a community that told me no one wants to live there anymore because of poor Internet service from the incumbent phone and cable companies. It's created an economic development crisis, because senior business managers that are being brought by existing companies in the town are choosing to live hours south of the community. And to make things worse, those same existing businesses are saying they can't expand and add jobs because their business Internet service won't support expansion.

Communities are at a crossroads: You can let the incumbent providers decide your economic development growth potential, or you can take control of your future and make some basic investments in competitive broadband infrastructure.

Death of TV: Part LXIII: Amazon announces Amazon Fire TV

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/03/2014 - 09:27

Amazon announced yesterday their "Fire TV" product, which is a $99 Internet to TV box that follows in the footsteps of Apple TV, Roku boxes, and Google Chromecast. All of these products connect directly to a late model TV and give you easy access to a wide variety of Internet-based content. The Amazon Fire offers Netflix, Hulu, NBA, AOL, Showtime, iHeart radio, Amazon Prime shows and movies, and Pandora, among other offerings. The box also gives you access to Amazon cloud storage for your own pictures and videos.

In terms of competing boxes, the Fire TV probably comes closest to the Apple TV box, which offers direct access to the iTunes store (movies, TV, music) and Apple's iCloud personal storage service.

I remain kind of ho-hum about all these devices, because I can access all the same stuff right on my computer at home, and simply watch the content on a large screen monitor. I have a hard time getting excited about a box that duplicates what I already have. But these boxes can deliver higher quality video, and if you have a large screen TV that you want to use for entertainment, these boxes deliver a lot of value. I dumped my cable subscription years ago, but even with Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu subscriptions, I just don't watch much TV...perhaps a couple of hours a week at most.

I see two significant things with this announcement. First, Amazon continues to deliver incredible value to its customers, and this box really ties together their other services like Prime video and cloud storage. This puts pressure on Apple, Google, and Microsoft to offer more and better products--always a very good thing. Second, it is getting easier and easier to cut the cable/satellite TV subscription. Comcast seems to have finally begun to agree with me that the old cable TV model is about dead, and is more focused on delivering improved Internet access to its customers. But a monopoly is a monopoly, and even if you save money in the short term by dumping your TV subscription, expect the cable companies to keep increasing their fees for Internet...because they can.

Apple buys Radio Shack

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/01/2014 - 08:42

In a surprise announcement this morning, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that the giant computer and phone maker has purchased the Radio Shack Corporation. Radio Shack has attracted a lot of attention recently for the company's clever "The eighties want their store back" ads that attempted to highlight Radio Shack's shift in marketing strategy. But industry analysts have been uncertain that the changes were enough to bring some momentum back to the company.

When interviewed about the move, Cook had some interesting comments. "With the continuing success of our Apple stores, we wanted to dramatically expand our retail footprint, and we've nearly exhausted the big city venues. Radio Shack's most valuable asset are the thousands of stores in smaller towns and cities. This gives us an opportunity to expand quickly."

Cook went on to reveal a stunning new product line that could dramatically alter Apple's future direction. Cook explained, "We kept looking at the huge success of Maker Spaces and of products like the Raspberry Pi single board computer. Personally, I just got tired of hearing there is no innovation left at Apple. So we said, "To hell with it, let's go for broke." We are renaming the Radio Shack stores as "Apple Shacks," and the flagship product is going to be a keystone item in an entirely new Apple product line aimed at Maker Spaces and experimenters: The Apple Pi."

Norman Feisterburger, Apple's new head of the Apple Shack line of business, provided more detail about the new product. "The Apple Pi is a single board computer designed for the huge surge in interest that Maker Spaces are bringing to the hobbyist market place. The Apple Pi comes with everything you need to get into programming, house control, media control, and "maker" projects. The board has HDMI, Ethernet, and USB interfaces, and comes with 32 Gig of storage space in a micro SD card. And best of all, the Apple Pi comes loaded with the command line version of Unix and the Mach kernel that runs on all Mac, iPad, and iPhone products. We're opening up the Mac platform to a whole new generation of "makers," and we expect that the Apple Pi will become the dominant platform for development in the "Internet of Things."

When asked about the cost of this new venture, Tim Cook brushed off the financing issues. "Radio Shack has been struggling for so long, we were able to pick up the whole company, including all the stores, for a little less than $7 billion. And to tell you the truth, we came up with the idea when an intern was cleaning out some filing cabinets in Steve Job's office and she found $14 billion stuffed in a bottom drawer in an assortment of international currencies. We looked at the cash and said to ourselves, "We are getting slammed in the press for not being innovative. What this calls is a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part!" So we all shouted, "Let's do it!" I got on the phone with the CEO of Radio Shack and we closed the deal in less than a week.

Cook indicated that the rebranding of the stores will take place on April 1st, 2014, and he also hinted that a Retina-based 12" iPhone may be released at the same time.

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