Submitted by acohill on Wed, 08/03/2011 - 17:07
Here in Virginia, Roanoke County and the City of Salem are struggling with the same problem that many other localities in the country have: cable companies that won't renew franchise agreements. Comcast purchased an aging cable system from Adelphia a few years ago when Adelphia went bankrupt. At the time, Comcast promised the localities it would upgrade the old system so it could support improved Internet access. But the upgrade never happened, and so there is little competition, high prices, and poor service for broadband in Salem and parts of Roanoke County.
One of the problems that the cable companies have is that both their physical plant and their business model is obsolete. The fifty year old business model does not generate enough revenue to justify replacement of the old analog copper/coax infrastructure. So the companies are understandably reluctant to continue to make franchise payments and/or to make expensive upgrades.
To make matters worse, companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Apple are all eating away at the cable company customer base with better services that are not based on "500 channels and nothing to watch." If Apple, which has only been dabbling in streaming video, decides to throw the full weight of the company behind a serious streaming service, Amazon and Netflix will finally have some real competition. Apple did not build a 1 million square foot data center in North Carolina just so Apple users could back up their iPhoto baby pictures.
If the cable companies embraced the open access business model, they could turn things around very quickly, but so far, the cable industry has been unwilling to listen. Not so with some phone companies, who could also make a lot more money embracing open access; I've at least been able to have a conversation with some incumbents, but mid-level managers at the companies are still digging in their heels and refusing to change. So senior staff are stuck with a corporate culture that would rather have the company go bankrupt than change and prosper.
Submitted by acohill on Sun, 07/31/2011 - 10:26
Eldo Telecom has an excellent critique of the proposed USF reform. My concern with any USF reform is that it should allow community-owned broadband efforts access to USF funds. There is no reason why a community that builds its own open access infrastructure should be forced to channel their portion of USF funds to legacy networks.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/25/2011 - 10:17
Stephen Hardy, an editor at Lightwave, calls our aging DSL and cable modem networks "zombie broadband," as in "...it is the broadband everyone wishes would die, but won't." I think we need a Twitter hashtag anytime we talk about these obsolete technologies: #zombiebroadband
Submitted by acohill on Sat, 07/23/2011 - 10:57
In an interview about smartphone sales, the COO of Verizon had this to say:
Later in the CNBC interview, McAdam discusses Verizon's switch to tiered data plans for smartphones, noting that streaming video is the main reason they dropped unlimited data plans:
"We just converted over to tiered pricing, data tiered pricing, because we see a huge wave of video coming. That's going to take a lot more capacity in the individual networks, and so I think for a lot of customers that won't be an issue from a revenue perspective. But, for the heavy users, we do see the revenue go up significantly."
"...a huge wave of video..."
And that huge wave is also engulfing existing landline networks, not just cellular. It's why AT&T just called DSL "obsolete." With airline tickets for business travel now routinely topping $1,000, almost any business can recover the cost of a $3,000 or $4,000 HD videoconferencing system in just a couple of months.
Fiber everywhere isn't just about making it easier to watch a Netflix movie in the evening, as some elected officials stubbornly maintain, it's about enabling commerce and supporting economic development.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 07/22/2011 - 13:14
Byte has an article with some detail about Amazon's 9" tablet that will supposedly be released this fall (just in time for Christmas shopping season). Amazon has some pieces in place that Apple does not, including free 3G wireless connectivity (from the Kindle platform) and Amazon's well-tested and already popular cloud storage could give Apple's untested cloud storage trouble. Apple has done very well by bundling lots of well-integrated apps and services, and Amazon may be the one company ready to compete. That's good for everyone, as it will make Apple work harder and be more responsive to customers.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/21/2011 - 14:23
Apple has passed Nokia to become the world's biggest smartphone vendor. Nokia was very late to the game in releasing smartphones, as was RIM, the maker of the Blackberry. Apple has now passed both companies in total shipments.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/21/2011 - 08:33
Connected Planet comments on a Forbes blogger has ignited a rich discussion online by saying that broadband in rural areas is a waste of time and money.
It really is about roads--digital roads. Many rural communities will not survive without improved access to affordable, high performance broadband infrastructure. The Forbes article fails utterly to differentiate between what we call "little broadband," meaning DSL, cable modem, and wireless, and "big broadband," which is fiber to customer, starting at 100 megabit capacity and now moving quickly to Gigabit.
The incumbents use a circular argument to "prove" rural areas don't need big broadband by claiming that they don't see any of their customers using it, but how can you use it if you don't have it. For the past eighteen years, anytime broadband capacity has been increased, customers find new ways to use it that pushes the limits of that technology. AT&T recently indicated that their smartphone customers use as much as 1000x more bandwidth than "dumb" cellphone customers, and nationally, cell tower saturation is above 70%. When that number hits 80%, the network is at full capacity because of demand spikes.
As the interstate highway system was built out, rural communities that were bypassed often withered away. Rural towns face the same prospect as more and more business activities are conducted via high capacity broadband: if the rural town does not have affordable access to competitively priced broadband services, businesses will leave and new businesses will not move there. The good news is that, unlike the interstate highway system, high performance broadband is much less expensive and every rural community can have the equivalent of an exit off the interstate.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 13:24
The CEO of AT&T has stated that DSL is "obsolete." In a speech on Tuesday in Los Angeles, Randall Stephenson said the telephone giant invested in DSL in the nineties to compete with the cable companies. AT&T is now concentrating on wireless and it's fiber to neighborhood offering called Uverse. Uverse continues to use copper from a neighborhood cabinet to the premises, making it less capable than fiber to the premises.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 13:17
Apple released the latest version of its Macintosh operating system today (OS X Lion). The software is available only via a download right now, and you better have a good, high capacity broadband connection if you want it, as the download is four gigabytes. Apple also announced that it will sell a version of the software on a USB thumb drive next month. In other words, no DVD version, not now, not ever. Apple has consistently led the way in media, including the 3.5 inch floppy, the CD drive, the DVD drive, USB ports, and Firewire, among others. If Apple is dropping the DVD, expect other computer makers to follow.
But note also that this shift to encouraging downloads of major pieces of software also highlights the need for homes and businesses to have adequate and affordable broadband connections, or be left behind.
Even more interesting, new Macs come with the ability to install the latest operating system from an entirely blank hard drive--as long as you have an adequate Internet connection.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 07/15/2011 - 10:47
Long time readers of this blog know that I have a running joke about comparing the state of U.S. broadband infrastructure to other countries. The latest insult is Northern Balochistan (part of Pakistan), which is getting a 1,100 kilometre fiber build. Meanwhile, our rather measly national goal is 4 meg down, 1 meg up, which won't support work and business from home applications and is barely adequate for Netflix.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/14/2011 - 09:54
Netflix has raised prices. I got my notice via email yesterday. They have unbundled streaming from the traditional DVD via mail, and you now can buy one service, the other, or both. The DVD service is still more expensive than streaming, which suggests that the cost of mailing DVDs remains significant compared to the cost of buying bandwidth to drag streaming content across the Internet. The pricing change also suggests that many customers have largely transitioned away from DVDs to streaming content, and Netflix is giving those customers, that don't care about getting DVDs, a break on price.
Services like Netflix, Roku, and Hulu are going to continue to put tremendous pressure on the providers of "little broadband:" the DSL, cable, and wireless providers. These old systems are running out capacity, and it's a race to the bottom for these firms. They can keep trying to upgrade the old systems, but the more they spend, the faster their customers use up the bandwidth.
Don't believe that? Take a look at the cellular data services market. AT&T and Verizon have abandoned their unlimited data plans and have put bandwidth caps on their services because they can't keep up with customer bandwidth usage otherwise. This makes the concept that rural communities will all get their broadband via the cellular providers rather silly, unless you subscribe to the notion that rural folks should be relegated to what amounts to the 21st century version of dial-up.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/14/2011 - 08:32
I just got an invite to Google+, the new Facebook-like offering from Google. So I created an account, and at first glance, I would say Facebook and LinkedIn have a lot to worry about. Note, however, that Google has a very mixed track record of success outside search and mapping. Anyone remember Orkut? It never caught on the U.S., although it has been successful in some other countries like India. If Google can do a better job of supporting business-oriented uses of Google+, both Facebook and LinkedIn will have to work very hard to keep their customer base.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/11/2011 - 12:39
User satisfaction with most gadgets tends to decrease after about 13 weeks of use, but a new study by a University of Missouri researcher shows that people like their iPads MORE after that period of time--more than when they first bought it.
iPad use patterns are also different from traditional laptop and desktop computers, with use of iPads peaking in the evening, unlike other computers. The iPad and similar tablet devices are going to create additional strains on existing antiquated copper-based broadband infrastructure as users use the devices to watch movies, play interactive games, and browse bandwidth-heavy multimedia news sites.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/11/2011 - 08:30
Found on the Internet...I nearly spit out my coffee when I saw this....
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/21/2011 - 08:51
I spent twelve years working at a major research university, so I have a pretty good idea how some kinds of research works: Identify an area no one knows much about (so no one can refute anything you say), like "Internet addiction." Then run some inexpensive study that turns up some really scarifying outcome ("Too much Internet causes brain shrinkage!!"). Hedge your bets by indicating "we don't really know what this means." Then announce that you really need a lot more money for a really big study that will take years and scads of grad students.
And no, I'm not making this up.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 06/20/2011 - 13:47
Take a look at this blood pressure cuff that connects directly to an iPod Touch, an iPhone, or an iPad. The data is stored and displayed on your own device, but the data is also sent to the manufacturer (Withings), where it can be shared with a health care professional. I'm not too excited about sharing my health information with a software firm, but what is important is that many of the standard diagnostic tools available to health care professionals are about to make managing your own health much easier, as well as giving you the tools to give your doctor much better information about your health. Doctors may be subscribing high blood pressure medicine based on just a few BP readings taken days apart, in the office, where the "white coat" effect on blood pressure is well known (your blood pressure is typically higher in the doctor's office, where you may be nervous about negative results). Compare that approach to health care to being able to easily take daily BP readings over a period of weeks or months to give a much better look at overall blood pressure. Couple this cuff with devices that reads blood sugar, heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and some other blood tests, and it will be possible to spend much less on doctor visits while actually getting better diagnoses.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/17/2011 - 09:44
Here is an article about the City of Danville open access network (called nDanville). nDanville started as an open access network in late 2007, so it is in its fourth year. It was the first municipal open access effort in the United States, and has been quietly cutting costs for Internet and VoIP phone service by as much 80% for businesses and institutions using providers on the nDanville fiber network. It has also been bringing jobs and businesses to the community. One of the major economic developments in which nDanville played a key role was the re-purposing of the "White Mill" building. Just a couple of blocks from downtown, the White Mill building was once one of the largest textile plants in the country. But it was closed years ago, and the multi-story building sat empty until it was purchased last year. It is undergoing a complete renovation as a high tech data center, and access to nDanville fiber was crucial to closing the deal. nDanville has also helped attract a specialty PC manufacturer to the community, and more broadly, just about every business using providers on the nDanville network have enjoyed substantially lower costs for VPNs, Internet access, and voice services. The local hospital recently switched to an IP TV provider on nDanville and is enjoying substantial monthly savings from the switch.
nDanville is operated with a staff of two people as part of the City Utilities department. All services to businesses and residents are provided by private sector providers that use nDanville to transport those services over a high performance active Ethernet fiber network. nDanville offers standard 100 megabit, Gigabit, and 10Gigabit connections. Design Nine provided the City with the original business, financial, and technical planning with the network, and continues to assist the City with the project.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 06/15/2011 - 09:19
With the price for copper hitting $4/pound, the biggest copper mine in the world is hanging on poles in the U.S. Copper thieves are actually knocking over poles to steal the copper cable in Antioch, California, but copper theft is a problem all over the U.S. The high price of copper and the steadily decreasing price of fiber makes fiber less expensive in new construction, and of course, with fiber, you have the added benefit of being able to expand capacity as needed.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/14/2011 - 15:50
Facebook growth has fallen dramatically, signaling that nearly everyone who is likely to have a Facebook account has one. The U.S., Canada, Russia, Britain, Norway, and Russia all posted lower numbers of new users and higher numbers of closed accounts. Like the blogging bubble of a few years ago, a lot of people have tried Facebook and have found they don't have much use for it. That's not meant as a criticism--I use Facebook for family stuff and like it--but it is a reality of online services going all the way back to the early growth of email. No online service can sustain double digit growth forever, and AOL learned this the hard way. What will be interesting to watch is if Facebook can institute internal cost and staff controls that keep the company in the black as their subscriber base stabilizes.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 06/13/2011 - 08:33
Art Brodsky has an interesting article about the T-Mobile/AT&T wireless merger. Brodsky illuminates a wide range of interlocking business relationships that are helping to push the merger forward, even though it would create what amounts to a duopoly in the cellular business, with AT&T and Verizon having about 80% of the U.S. market locked up.
What's next? Why, expect that in about two years, Verizon and AT&T will begin discussing a merger, because it will be so much better for their customers if they don't have to shop around and have to deal with the time-consuming research required when you have choice. And don't forget that in the landline business, AT&T and Verizon also own a majority of the U.S. market for phone and leased lines.
I was working for AT&T both before and after the 1984 break up, and there was nothing efficient about a company with a million employees. Prices for services were artificially high and there was no incentive to innovate. Even a duopoly is bad for customers, as whoever the two firms that own the duopoly market are, once they have driven out any competition, what's left is simply making it uninteresting to switch to the other provider. And this is best done by keeping prices at both firms high and relatively equal. Lots of profit and low customer churn.
The biggest loser is rural America, which needs high performance, affordable broadband to keep rural communities economically viable. What is troubling is the willingness of rural legislators to vote for laws and mergers that go against the interests of their own constituents.
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