Colorado communities strike back at the Empire

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 11/08/2015 - 09:14

Forty-four Colorado communities passed referendums that give those the communities the right to build their own broadband infrastructure.

Colorado is one of those states that had a legislature pass a law forbidding local community investment in broadband unless a public referendum was voted on. At the time (ten years ago) the incumbents probably figured that was a bar too high for those towns and counties to jump over.

But after a decade of poor and slow service, the referendums passed easily. As < a href="">Gigi Sohn of the FCC noted recently, communities are going to have to build their own modern networks. And so they are.

Death of TV: Part LXXIV: The networks start to jump ship

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 10/22/2015 - 15:48

Just as Apple is about to roll out the next version of its Apple TV box, the company has announced that CBS and NBC will be making much of their channel content available via Apple TV.

The networks are realizing that the future is on the Internet, not on cable and satellite. I do not believe that over time we will spend much less on content than we do now on a household basis. But instead of writing an $85/month check to TimeWarner or Comcast, we will be buying our entertainment in smaller bits and pieces. We might spend $30/month for Apple's package of TV, and we might end up spending another $9/month for a Netflix streaming subscription, and another $30/month for on demand and pay per view content.

We won't spend a lot less, but we will be much more satisfied with the money we are spending.

Why wireless won't replace fiber...

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/19/2015 - 14:12

All wireless "unlimited data" plans come with an expiration date. Once a cellular company's sales targets for new customer has been met, they change the "unlimited data" plan.

In this example, it is Sprint which has announced that once you use your monthly "unlimited" allotment of 23 Gig of data, you get throttled.

Exhibit Number One in the Museum of Why Wireless Won't Replace Fiber is data caps. If wireless was so wonderful, the cellular companies would not have to put data caps on their service. But the data caps PROVE that the wireless infrastructure can't handle the demand. If it could, they would not be doing this bait and switch.

A pox on LinkedIn marketing trolls

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 10/16/2015 - 09:55

I would say that now, about half my LinkedIn invitations are coming from marketing trolls who obviously want to sell me something. I deleted three invitations this morning, from an insurance rep, a CPA, and a car repair shop. I don't know of any of these people.

LinkedIn seemed like a reasonably modest "good idea" when it started, but I can't say I have ever used it for its supposed intended use--networking.

Here is the problem. You can accept an invitation from almost anyone, but you will quickly be inundated with LinkedIn messages asking for a minute of your time, and there are only so many minutes you can give away to LinkedIn contacts you don't know.

If you are very careful about who you accept as a LinkedIn contact, then you are using LinkedIn to stay in touch with people you pretty much already you already have their contact information and don't need LinkedIn at all.

It's a mess.

The decline of the Internet

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 10/07/2015 - 10:13

LinkedIn can't seem to decide what it wants to be. A while back, it added Facebook-like features that everyone (including me) used for a while, but it takes time to sit on LinkedIn and read everyone's posts. Over time, the traffic on the groups has declined to the point where it is nearly non-existent. I know that some very large LinkedIn groups have a lot more postings, but my view is that if you have lots of time to write and respond to stuff on LinkedIn, you are probably not doing your job.

I got a message from someone today, and when I tried to reply, I found that LinkedIn had again changed its interface, and unless I missed it (entirely possible), there is now an instant message style interface. It took me ten minutes of clicking around a bunch of mostly blank screens before I was able to respond to the message request.

The new interface was (is) obviously buggy. So like many other Internet-based services, as these companies fiddle with the interface and the features, the software just becomes harder to use.

Once Skype was purchased by Microsoft, we noticed a gradual and steady decline in the quality of the software. As an example, we used to use the file transfer feature all the time (i.e. several times a day). We are back to emailing files around or putting them on the shared server (both less convenient) because the Skype file transfer fails so often we now just ignore it--if you can't predict when it will work and when it will fail, it is useless.

Apple has similar problems. In their desired to make all their Mac apps "the same" on the Mac and on iPads/iPhones, they have not only removed features, screwed up a wonderful interface, and introduced bugs. And they don't really seem to care very much. Steve Jobs has to be spinning in his grave.

Porsche say "No!" to Google and Android

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/06/2015 - 08:11

Carmaker Porsche has chosen to go with Apple's CarPlay and will not support Android in its 2017 car models.

Google apparently wanted a complete and constant data dump from every car, all the time. Apple was not making that kind of requirement in its CarPlay licensing.

As Internet-based technology matures, I am glad to see that some companies are recognizing that privacy is still more important than technology. Kudos to Apple and Porsche for respecting their customers.

Did the Internet just jump the shark? Is Peeple real?

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/05/2015 - 10:52

So certain portions of the InnerTubes are all abuzz over this supposed new app and service called Peeple.

It is hard to know where to start, as there are layers of fear, loathing, intrigue, and suspicion swirling around this new service. The fact that it already has a page on should tell you something.

In short, Peeple is being described as "Yelp for people." So instead of posting a review about the restaurant where you just had dinner, you can post a review about your boss, your mother-in-law, the roommate that cheated you out of the last month's rent...anyone you like or don't like.

This has to be the worst idea of all time, and part of the reason some people suspect the whole thing is a hoax is because the core concept is so horrifying--is there anyone who thinks this could turn out well? Apparently the two founders do; they have a background in corporate HR, so you can sort of imagine that being able to easily check up on prospective hires might have some appeal.

But right now, the app and the underlying service seems to be vaporware, and there is much discussion that the November date for a beta version seems unrealistic.

I'm a bit jealous, as this would make a great April Fool's joke, but it is October, not April, and there are reports that they have raised several million dollars in venture capital.

One ring to control them all

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 10/02/2015 - 08:06

It is hard to know whether to make a joke about this or to herald it as another great leap forward in technology. Apple has apparently obtained a patent for a ring that can be used to control and interact with your iPhone.

If this sounds like a smaller version of the Apple Watch, you are right. The patent application mentions a microphone, sensors, camera, and perhaps even a display.

Now if this thing will talk to Google's brain implant that is going turn us all into "god-like" (their phrase, not mine) robots, well then, we are getting somewhere!

Selfies kill more people than sharks

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 09/23/2015 - 12:34

Apparently it is more dangerous to take a selfie than to swim in shark-infested waters. More people are dying from self-inflicted accidents while taking a selfie than from shark attacks.

Folks, put down the selfie stick and try to acquire some situational awareness.

Nothing works anymore

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 09/22/2015 - 07:41

Skype was a great piece of software until Microsoft bought the company. We have been using Skype chat and video for years; it is a very effective and efficient way of managing a company with employees located all over the country.

But once Microsoft started "fixing" it, it slowly became less reliable, with file transfers now so unreliable that we rarely use that feature anymore.

Yesterday, there a major Skype problem that affected many users. It was cleared up after a few hours, but in the meantime we tried to switch to Google chat/video. Two of us spent about twenty minutes trying to connect to each other and finally gave up--and we both have existing Google accounts. Google's minimalist interface design is so obscure that we simply could not tell if something was broken or if we were missing some hidden button somewhere.

In the office, this led to a water cooler discussion about how nothing seems to work anymore. The mad rush to connect everything to everything via "the cloud" has led to dumbing down of features, complicated log in sequences, too many userid/passwords to remember, erratic performance, and long delays because former desktop only apps now have to shove everything through the cloud.

Xkcd, as usual, identifies the mounting problem in one simple graphic.

Are ad blockers the death of the Web?

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/21/2015 - 16:03

Pundits all over the InnerTubes are predicting that Apple's support of ad blockers is the death of ad-supported Web sites. Maybe so, maybe not. But I have not heard anyone discuss the inverse: the proliferation of ads was killing ad-supported Web sites.

The increase in ads has been a kind of drip-drip-drip....barely noticeable until it seemed to reach a preference cascade for me. Some Web sites had so many ads popping up, over, under and around the content that the site was pretty much unusable on smaller devices like a smartphone or small tablet. So I reluctantly stopped going to those sites unless I was on a desktop.

So it is not really about ad blockers at all. It is really about how content--good content--is going to be supported in the future if there are fewer ads.

The other thing I don't see much discussion of is the supply and demand problem. That is, if there is an infinite supply of ads and ad space (on the Web, this is pretty much true), then the value of placing any single ad approaches zero--basic economics.

What the ad blockers may accomplish could be a return to sanity, with fewer ad spaces on Web sites, and advertisers willing to pay more to get access to that more limited space.

Death of TV: Part LXXIII: 21% of homes using Internet for TV

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/21/2015 - 10:52

A new report from TDG says that 21% of U.S. homes are now using Internet set top boxes for TV content. This is a 63% increase just in the past year. In the important 25-44 year old age group, the penetration rate is 29%, which matches closely an earlier report that 30% of young people have never had a cable TV or satellite TV subscription.

Network shaping

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 09/09/2015 - 10:05

I had a call recently from a vendor trying to sell us "user controlled network shaping." I asked him who would want to do that, and he really could not answer the question. He just kept repeating how great it would be when users could configure the network to meet their needs.

I have seen a number of articles recently about "network shaping," and many of them make the pitch that this will be great for customers. I've never thought, "My copper-based phone service would be so much better if I could shape and control the bandwidth allocated for dial tone to my premises."

Very few telecom users care about the network...they care about the service. No one ever called the phone company and ordered three hundred feet of twisted pair, or called the cable company and asked for five hundred and twenty-five feet of coax with a DOCSIS 3 interface.

Users want to be able to choose among a variety of competitively-priced services. Users want to customize and select their services, but they don't want to customize the network. The future is in complete separation of transport and services. All the problems we have now are because transport and services are bundled together, so we get inferior transport (inferior bandwidth) because that's the only way to get the service.

As the Local Transport Provider (LTP) model becomes more common, the benefits will become more apparent. And for those that continue to insist that this is some esoteric and untested approach, it might be worth actually talking to LTP networks that have been in operation in the U.S. for years, like nDanville and The WiredRoad.

Trying to make money on the Internet

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 09/08/2015 - 07:35

As sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (and many many others) try to create shareholder value, the pressure on users of those sites continues to increase. But as always, it is as much about time as it is about utility.

While we use things like Twitter and LinkedIn as part of our marketing strategy for Design Nine and WideOpen Networks, we have low expectations. There is only so much time that any one person can spend on these sites. For example, LinkedIn has done a fair job of aggregating useful information, but it's the proverbial "drinking from a fire hose." You could easily spend many hours a day just reading postings on LinkedIn, and if you have take your job and your work seriously, you just aren't going to do that.

When LinkedIn first introduced the Facebook-style interface, a lot of people began posting, but over time, I watched the frequency of those postings decline until there is very little new content being added in the half dozen or so groups I joined on LinkedIn. Busy, productive people don't have time to "hang out" on Google Hangouts, LinkedIn groups, Twitter feeds, and the myriad of other Web sites clamoring for attention. It's a race to the bottom.

Railroads and fiber: Part II: The Incumbents

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/27/2015 - 08:58

As I continue to read "A Great and Shining Road" about the building of the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s, I continue to be amazed at the number of parallels between that project and the effort to get fiber to homes and businesses today.

While the scale of the two projects is different (the railroad was going to span the continent, while fiber needs to be built within towns and cities), the *resistance* to the project is the same.

Some of the fiercest opposition to the proposed transcontinental railroad came from the incumbent railroads, who saw competition as a bad thing. The incumbents got newspapers to print mis-leading articles and they wined and dined legislators and told them there was no need for another railroad. One railroad magnate even grandly pronounced that there was no need for a transcontinental railroad because hardly anyone traveled between the East Coast and the West Coast.

Of course, there were few travelers because there was no easy way to get across the country--sailing around the tip of South America or traversing the Isthmus of Panama (death from yellow fever was common), or braving Indian attach going cross country were the only three options. Today, we have incumbent telecom providers saying the same thing: "No needs a Gig of bandwidth because no one is using a Gig of bandwidth."

Well, you can't use it if you don't have it.

Here we are, more than 150 years later, repeating history, fighting the naysayers and entrenching interests.

Of course, we know how things turned out for the "crazy" concept of a transcontinental railroad: it transformed the nation and unleashed decades of economic growth across the entire country.

Internet of Things, Part III: Encryption slows down HomeKit use

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/23/2015 - 07:52

Vendors who want to roll out home security devices using Apple's HomeKit are complaining. Using the HomeKit API allows customers to control the devices (with many more applications than home security) from their iPhone or iPad.

Apple is requiring a very high level of encryption for HomeKit-enabled devices to prevent hackers from taking over these devices. If the HomeKit-enabled device controls your front door lock or the entire house alarm system, a complex encryption algorithm is a good idea.

The problem is that the very low power "smart" devices have limited processing power to handle the complex encryption, so there is a time lag between the time you send a command or query from your iPhone and the time you get a response. These things are normal developmental problems, but I find it ironic (though not surprising) that home security vendors are blaming Apple for making sure the vendor devices are safe and secure.

Internet of Things, Part II: Hacked vehicles

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/22/2015 - 09:29

The Internet of Things (IoT) continues to roll along merrily, with manufacturers sticking a WiFi chip and a poorly designed single purpose Web server into anything with electricity. That is not so bad. What is bad is the complete and utter disregard for testing for security.

Wired has an article about two guys who showed the magazine that they could remotely take control of a Jeep Cherokee, while it was being driven at highway speed, and do things like honk the horn, turn the wipers on and off, or disable the transmission, among many other functions. In the demonstration, the hackers nearly caused an accident when they disabled the transmission, as the Jeep was no longer in control of the driver, who was barely able to steer it onto the side of the highway without power.

Is this unique to Jeeps? Apparently not, as the article mentions similar shortcomings with Fords and Toyotas.

With the Chinese hack of Federal personnel records (millions of them), it is not a stretch to imagine that taking control of just a few thousand automobiles in the U.S., on major highways during rush hour, could cripple the entire transportation system. But hey! Your iPhone syncs nicely with the car music system, so we got that going for us.

Railroads and fiber: Repeating history

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/21/2015 - 10:09

I've been reading "A Great and Shining Road," by John Williams. It tells the story of the development of the transcontinental railroad, and has much detail in the beginning about the development of rail transportation in the U.S., as it started on the east coast.

The parallels to the last decade of development of fiber networks is remarkable. There was fierce opposition to the railroads from the entrenched canal and toll road owners and operators. It was difficult to get financing for the newfangled railroads because wealthy investors did not want to take any risks; they wanted to stick with the tried and true "old" transportation systems.

Fiber is the transportation system of the 21st century, but it is still seen as a risky investment by many. How is it a transportation system? Here is just one example: music. Music used to require physical roads to deliver records/CDs to customers. Today, music is *transported* by fiber networks directly to customers.

If you substitute the cable and phone companies for the toll road/canal owners of the railroad era, there is an amazing overlap in the issues of economic development, entrenched interests, investment capital, and community infrastructure.

In the end, railroads unleashed a long period of rapid economic growth, but the railroad visionaries had to overcome resistance from many sectors of the government and the economy.

Nest releases home security camera

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/19/2015 - 08:39

Nest, the thermostat people, have been busy branching out by developing (or buying) other home gadgets like smoke detectors and security cameras. The company recently announced the Nest Cam, an Internet of Things (IoT) security camera.

Home security services used to be an expensive service that required steep monthly fees and a landline (and these days, the landline probably costs more than the security service). But lately, every geek with a couple of friends is hoping to catch fire in a bottle with an Internet-based security camera.

I think there is a lot of growth in this area, largely because you can now buy a good security camera with a live Internet feed for under $100. But what caught my eye in the article linked above was at the bottom of the story. Nest is owned by Google, and Nest's user agreement specifies that Nest will share data with Google. Nice. That Internet camera that seems so cool will be sending a video feed to Google, where AI software will be analyzing everything you do so Google can better target ads for you.

And don't even get me started on the hacking implications of having third party access to devices that show you what is going on in your house. There are going to be some spectacular hacks of Internet of Things devices before most people start paying attention and asking themselves if they really want to put a bunch of Internet gadgets in their home.

Popular papers are available on the WideOpen site

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/18/2015 - 10:50

I have put some of my most popular papers over on the WideOpen Networks site. You can access them here.

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