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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 03/17/2014 - 09:00
I was in a rural community recently that is already in crisis because of poor broadband service. What they told me is that new hires for businesses in the town simply won't live there. Instead, they are locating their families about an hour and a half away and enduring two to three hours of commuting each day to work.
What are the issues? The kids can't do their schoolwork at home because of poor connectivity. The stay at home spouse can't effectively use online shopping to support living in a rural area with limited bricks and mortar stores. The kids feel cut off because social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest, and many others run slowly or not at all. Families can't use services like Hulu and Netflix and there are no video stores left. Home-based workers and home-based business development is completely stalled out because the very poor quality DSL and cable modem services in the area simply won't support two way video (e.g. Skype, GoToMeeting, Webex), moving large files back and forth, and efficient access to cloud-based services.
I still have some economic developers who look at the Netflix stats (video on demand services are using over a third of all the bandwidth in the U.S. on nights and weekends) and don't see the connection to economic development. But if you can't attract workers to your community, you also are going to have problems attracting businesses to your community. It's all one problem.
The businesses that were already in the community were screaming for more bandwidth and desperate for both more than one service provider and more than one cable path out of town. Redundancy has become a huge issue even for small and medium sized businesses as more and more business data is moved in real time between the businesses and off-site servers (i.e. the "cloud").
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/13/2014 - 10:39
Comcast and Time Warner have agreed to merge, with Comcast buying Time Warner. Although this merger has to be approved by Federal regulators, the article suggests that since the two companies don't have overlapping territories, it may well be approved.
The merger would combine Comcast's 22 million subscribers with Time Warner's 11 million subs, and Comcast has said it would sell off 3 million subscribers to keep the new company below 30 million customers. Supposedly that is some threshold that determines if the company will have too big an influence on the market.
This smells of desperation to me. Cable TV is dead, dead, dead, with Over The Top (OTT) services like Netflix and Hulu killing off cable and satellite TV. I was in a rural community for a week recently. There were three complaints:
Aside from the fact that copper-based coaxial cable is grossly inferior to fiber, the cable companies simply can't provide business class symmetric services over their "entertainment" networks in any sort of consistent way, and they know it. So they are going to merge to give them market clout on the content side, and they are going to continue to try to buy laws at the state level, like they just tried in Kansas.
In less than ten years, most American homes will have fiber. It is as inevitable as flush toilets, which were once considered a luxury. And when the dust settles, the communities that introduced competition by creating shared digital road systems are going to be doing much better economically.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/12/2014 - 13:43
Broadband Communities magazine has a story that should be required reading for every community wondering if there is linkage between Gigabit fiber and economic development. Lafayette's municipal Gigabit fiber network has brought Hollywood special effects jobs to the community, more than a hundred, because the high performance Gigabit network lets Pixel Magic move the computer files back and forth between Lafayette and California quickly.
Pixel Magic brought jobs to Lafayette because the local economic developers created a 3D visualization facility (Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise, or LITE) that was designed specifically as an economic hub. LITE has been a huge success that has attracted several new companies to Lafayette. You don't think of Gulf Coast Louisiana as a high tech destination, but the combination of Gig fiber and a broad economic development vision has been successful.
Lafayette's success also demonstrates that you can't rely on the Field of Dreams model: "If we build it, businesses will come." Lafayette has been successful because they linked their fiber network to a carefully thought out economic development strategy. Be sure to read the whole article. It's an eye-opener for those arguing that communities should not be investing in fiber.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/12/2014 - 10:18
In the nineties, as the Internet became more popular, there was a long-running and often tedious discussion of what the "killer app" was going to be that would make everyone get Internet access. I always thought the whole discussion was a waste of time, because it was obvious to me that at that time, email WAS the killer app. People signed up for Internet access because they recognized the value of email for business use, personal use, or both.
There is a similar discussion underway for broadband and particularly broadband over fiber (i.e. fiber to the home). I think it will be health services and applications. The Internet has already begun to disrupt the way health services are delivered, but we have barely begun to see what is possible. Today, services like Fitnet provide personalized interactive work out sessions, along with related products like the Nike collaboration with Apple that tracks runners and joggers. Apple watchers suspect that the company is going to roll out sophisticated new apps for both iPhones and Macs.
Other companies are preparing to offer doctor visits via HD webcam-enabled software, and if companies like Apple lower the cost of sensors that monitor your health (e.g. blood oxygen levels, heart rate, blood sugar and insulin levels) we could see significant changes in the way health care is provided.
The most potential is for improvements in the management of chronic health problems like diabetes and heart disease, where the ability of low cost sensor to provide hourly and daily monitoring of key information could lead to early diagnosis and better treatment.
Most of these services are going to require a broadband connection, and cutting out just one $80 copay for a doctor visit per month will easily cover the cost of a fiber connection to the residence. Communities with aging populations and/or are desirable retirement locations will want fiber everywhere to deliver health care services where they are needed.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/06/2014 - 10:22
An old friend of mine once remarked, "In Texas, we have the best laws money can buy." Apparently, folks in Kansas can make the same statement, as a blatantly anti-muni broadband bill was introduced in the legislature last week. The bill was so stringent that it would have made the Kansas City/Google deal impossible, which is a good example of a public/private partnership that brings a lot of benefit to the residents and businesses of the city.
But the Internet exploded, and the bill has been tabled for the time being." You do have to give Kansas Senator Julia Lynn some credit for honesty, as she remarked, ""I visited with industry representatives, and they have agreed to spend some time gathering input before we move forward with a public hearing," she said."
At least she is not shy about admitting that the incumbents are telling her what to do, rather than the citizens that she supposedly represents.
These kinds of bills are going to continue to pop up, because the incumbents have been successful in states like North Carolina, where a slightly less stringent bill was passed about three years ago.
I remain an optimist in spite of these attacks on communities, because there are ways to get Gigabit networks into communities even if the state legislature has made it difficult to do so. Over at WideOpen Networks, we're already well on the way to solving this problem for good.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 01/29/2014 - 11:03
A couple of weeks ago, a U.S. Appeals Court told the FCC that their net neutrality rule was invalid. This has caused a huge debate among broadband industry folks about what comes next. The court ruling hinges on the way the FCC categorizes services like TV, phone, and Internet as either a "telecommunications service" or an "information service." To make things even more complicated, the FCC definition of "common carrier" also factors into the rules.
I have read at least two dozen opinions about what all this means, and I have yet to see even one address what I think is the core problem: the FCC is trying to make rules about Internet use based on two definitions (information service, telecommunications service) developed decades ago when cable TV was based on a technology completely different from voice telephone service.
When we can deliver literally hundreds of services from competing providers over a single fiber strand to a customer, why are we trying to make rules based on outmoded and antiquated service classifications.
I have always been a contrarian with respect to net neutrality; despite protests from the incumbents over the FCC's net neutrality rules, I have always thought the incumbents were the biggest beneficiary of net neutrality, as it makes it more difficult to build a business case for a competitive network in a community. There is going to be some pain associated with migrating away from the current de facto incumbent monopolies that exist in most communities today. Better to get it over with sooner rather than later, and get more businesses and residents connected to a truly competitive fiber network, rather than trying to prop up the incumbents.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/16/2014 - 15:22
The Blackphone is a smartphone based on the Android OS, but with additional layers of security and encryption, giving Blackphone users secure use of email, messaging, and voice telephony.
It maybe that Snowden's leak of NSA data collection may turn out to have a silver lining, as we may see a market for these kinds of devices develop much faster than anyone would have thought.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 01/15/2014 - 17:17
This CNet article is one of the best summaries of the foofaraw over the FCC net neutrality reversal.
I have always been a contrarian on this issue. The big fear is that if the incumbents are free to charge differential pricing for different kinds of content, content will get more expensive. The classic example, which is used in the article, is that Comcast or Verizon will charge subscribers $10 a month more to access Netflix or Youtube because those services use so much bandwidth.
My response is "So? They are running a business. They should be able to charge whatever they want. If they price their service too high, a truly open market will introduce competition and they will a) lose customers, or b) lower prices."
Now this is where some people will start grumbling about incumbent use of public right of way and the obligation of right of way users to be "fair."
If Comcast raises their prices on their old-fashioned copper infrastructure, it might create the right market conditions for a new company to lay fiber...in the right of way...and provide a better service at lower cost. Net Neutrality, as currently conceived, benefits the incumbents more than it hurts them by discouraging "true" pricing and thereby limiting competition. I suspect that the incumbents find it useful street theatre to complain about net neutrality but actually like it. It keeps the riff-raff start ups out of their markets.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/14/2014 - 15:12
Google has purchased Nest, a maker of innovative thermostats and smoke detectors. The purchase is apparently for $3.2 billion.....which seems like an awful lot of money for a niche manufacturer of a niche product: "smart" thermostats. One has to wonder what Google has in mind for the technology it has just bought.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/14/2014 - 08:35
An article in the Wall Street Journal details a new business in Toronto that has placed WiFi sensors in major shopping and nightlife districts of the city. The sensors grab WiFi data from passing smartphones and builds profiles of what people are doing and where they are going. The data is sold to local businesses, who also allow the sensors to be placed inside their businesses. It is an interesting innovation, but has some troubling prospects for privacy. As we carry around our smartphones, tablets, and laptops, the MAC addresses in each of them provide a unique identifier for this kind of data collection. Once this kind of data is known to exist, it can be subpoenaed for civil and criminal investigations. And the government could use it as part of an investigation into your habits and whereabouts.
Maybe an Indiegogo-funded Faraday cage wallet for smartphones would be a good idea.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 10:40
A new study suggests that being "connected" all the time takes a toll on our psyche. An experiment with hundreds of college students suggests that some cellphone users experience high levels of anxiety and lower academic performance because they cannot put the phone down.
I see this in some meetings, where younger people are obsessively playing with their phones while most folks over forty are more engaged in the meeting and paying more attention to what is actually happening in the room.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/10/2013 - 13:48
MuniNetworks reports on the success of the City of Palm Coast's FiberNET project. The all fiber City-owned network is operated as a multi-service, multi-provider open network, and is delivering substantial savings to both public and private entities and businesses connected to the network. The project is in the black, and FiberNET is expected to pay back all of the initial City investment in less than six years. Design Nine provided the network design, the financial planning, and the project management for the City of Palm Coast.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 12/06/2013 - 10:18
My hat is off to Microsoft for their extremely aggressive efforts to encrypt customer data. In the wake of the Snowden leaks that revealed NSA collecting data from companies like Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, and others, Microsoft has correctly recognized the serious impact that data collection could have on the company's bottom line, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Like most companies providing Internet-based services, the marketplace is global, and international customers are not going to be particularly happy that the NSA is collecting their email, text messages, and documents. Here is a snippet of what is being done, directly from Microsoft:
In light of these allegations, we’ve decided to take immediate and coordinated action in three areas:
I never bought into the idea that these companies were actively cooperating with the NSA. It's just too easy to capture data streams from, say, a Microsoft data center somewhere else in the network.
There was a time when heavy encryption was processor-intensive and therefore expensive to do, but processing power is so cheap now it can be added without much cost or effort, and in the future, we will see nearly every personal and business communication that traverses the public Internet will be encrypted. It's just good business.
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