Submitted by acohill on Fri, 07/23/2004 - 08:30
There are still plenty of community leaders and elected officials who are not taking broadband seriously. Bluntly put, it's a critical economic development issue. Ignore it at your peril.
This article that summarizes recent growth in broadband use in the U.S. is a must read for economic developers. If your community is behind in broadband use compared to the general population, you have a serious problem that demands immediate and continuous attention.
Wondering how to get your community leaders more interested? How about taking one out to lunch next week and reviewing this data with them?
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/22/2004 - 09:23
I'm always amazed at how badly some Web sites perform. Here are two examples I found yesterday.
I visited the site of a national architecture/design firm that is well known. I could overlook the annoying Flash animation on the home page that made it virtually impossible to read anything (a product of the MTV generation, undoubtly, who believe that any image that remains on a screen for than ten seconds is "old fashioned"). But within two clicks, I found myself on a page that informed me that I was using an "antique" browser and that I needed to immediately upgrade to Explorer 6.0. Yes, the one that CERT, the national Internet security folks have said is a serious hazard that should not be used. It is supremely arrogant for a company to ridicule potential customers by telling them they have "antique" browsers (I was using the latest version of FireFox, which was released about three weeks ago--hardly "antique"). It costs almost nothing to design a Web site that works well on a variety of browsers. It is intellectually lazy not to do so, and from a business perspective, just plain foolish.
But wait--it gets better. This national firm also has a Web design division. When I clicked on that link, I was taken to the home page of one of these firms that buys up domain names and sits on them. Huh? You want me to hire you to do Web design but your own Web site link doesn't work? I'll pass on that.
We're moving a few blocks away next month, and I decided to see if I could DSL from Verizon. Verizon has finally adopted the strategy of most of the other phone companies, which is to price DSL at $30 to compete with the cable companies' Internet service, which tends to run $10-$15 more. I quickly got to a page that told me to enter my area code and phone number, and in a "few moments" it would tell me if I could get DSL service. I waited a "few moments," staring at a little blinking animation that was supposed to tell me something was happening. I gave up and went on to other work, but left the browser window open. About an hour later, I checked back....still blinking, still no indication of whether or not I could get DSL at the new house. Hmmm...think I'll stick with cable modem service a while longer.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/21/2004 - 09:11
In a widely reported story, Apple's iPod will be given to all Duke University freshman this fall.
The handheld computers will be loaded with course materials, lecture notes, and other university-related materials. While at Virginia Tech, I was involved with freshman orientation (providing information on university computers and networks), and I can tell you the incoming students get an enormous stack of paper, most of which is probably never read.
Someone probably did the math on the cost of duplicating what is certainly hundreds of thousands of pages of materials and the related cost of shipping, storing, organizing, collating, and distributing it. My guess is it came within a few bucks of buying iPods in bulk and putting all that stuff on them (it would take about 15 seconds over Firewire to load them).
One of the neat uses for an iPod in a university environment would be to provide audio tours for new students--how to use the library, how to find the dining hall, how to add and drop classes.....all sorts of stuff that students could quickly dial up and listen to.
My guess also is that they are shifting the cost of printing course materials to the students as well. Instead of printing class notes and lecture materials, they are preloading the files on the iPod, and students choose to print them, or not. It could be that Duke discovered they were actually saving money by giving out the handheld computers.
Of course, they also store and play music, which virtually guarantees that students will use them. It's a brilliant and innovative concept.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/19/2004 - 09:40
We just rented a beach house for a week, and the contract had a list of amenities. To my surprise, broadband Internet access, a computer, and WiFi comes with what is a very moderately priced beach rental.
It's one more signal that your region, to be competitive in the global economy, needs to be working with your local hospitality, recreation, and travel businesses to make sure they understand this is what travelers want and expect.
If your local businesspeople are saying they don't understand it or don't think it's worth it, then you have an education and training challenge to help them identify what they need and why they need it (they need to keep customers coming). And your region needs hotels, motels, restaurants, and recreation spots to have these services. It's no longer some esoteric marketing strategy....it's become part of the base services package, like electricity, water, and sewer.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/15/2004 - 13:26
We hear continually about the "problems" of the airlines. I had a few problems with an airline myself yesterday as thunderstorms buffeted the East Coast and snarled up traffic.
I was trying to leave Manchester, Vermont and get back to Roanoke, Virginia. Under normal conditions, the two leg journey (through Dulles in D.C.) takes just four hours. Yesterday, it took ten hours, mostly for no good reason.
Knowing the weather was causing problems, I showed up at the Manchester airport about four hours before my scheduled flight. At the ticket counter, United refused to book me on an earlier flight unless I paid $100 extra. I persisted, and I was told I could try standby for no extra fee, so I opted for that. I went through security and went up to the gate where the earlier flight was leaving, and discovered that the noon flight to Dulles was just getting loaded (four hours late...a bad sign).
I tried getting on, but the gate attendants refused to talk to several of us on later flights that wanted to get out. Talking among ourselves, we decided it was a lost cause, and a couple businesspeople left to go get some dinner. I lingered at the counter for another minute, and a different gate attendant walked up and asked if anyone else needed to go to D.C. I stepped up, and she said, "Oh, you need to go on this flight, because your flight is canceled." Huh? I'd been at this gate for nearly an hour, and no announcement had been made. When did they plan to tell me? She changed my ticket and put me on the plane, which had at least a dozen empty seats. They held the plane a bit longer, and filled all the seats. So far, so good, I figured...I'd get home tonight.
When I got to Dulles, I tried to repeat that. I went to the gate where an earlier Roanoke flight (late) was leaving. They had just started boarding, and I counted only about fifteen people getting on a fifty seat regional jet. Several of us tried to get rebooked on the flight, but the gate attendants ignored us. Finally the flight left, and I was able to get one of them to direct me to the gate where my flight was leaving.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/13/2004 - 06:39
State officials in New Hampshire have announced that they have "discovered" that chat, email, and other Internet services are "two way communication" and have decided that those services fall under the umbrella of a statute written in the early nineties (before the rise of the Internet) that taxes telelphone services.
New Hampshire, like many states, is facing budget shortfalls, so it is understandable they are looking for ways to increase revenues. But given the reliance of the Knowledge Economy on the Internet, it would be hard to find a tax that would do more to discourage the formation of businesses or the the growth of existing businesses. The size of the tax (7%) is especially daunting. Judging from the news coverage of the issue, it's a tempest in a teapot. It would appear that state legislators are not likely to let the bureacrats move forward with this.
A side issue, but an important one, is the fact that outside of perhaps AOL, I don't know of any service providers that are set up to monitor those "communications" uses. Technically, it is easy enough to do, but it would require additional equipment and billing software, and the cost of billing individually for email and chat (so that you could determine how much tax to pay) would be a nightmare. Most providers would probably opt for simply charging a flat monthly fee for email and chat, which is still more than they are doing now.
So the cost of accessing the Internet in New Hampshire would increase directly because of higher provider costs, and you would have the 7% tax on top of that. Not a recipe to compete in the global Knowledge Economy.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/13/2004 - 06:26
I would venture to guess that the majority of my readers have broadband access, either at the office, or at home, or both. If you are someone that has to use both, you know what the differences are--for those that have broadband at the office and at home, it is easy to forget how slow dialup really is.
When I travel, I often have to use dialup from a hotel, which usually means slow dialup--28k is not unusual. It is sobering to remind ourselves that a majority of U.S. Internet users are still on dialup (about 70%), as opposed to places like Singapore and South Korea, where virtually every home and business has broadband, often over fiber.
The advantage these other countries have is much higher population densities; broadband service providers can more easily make a business case for universal broadband service. Here in the U.S., the wide open spaces and the great quality of life it affords many of us also puts rural communities at a disadvantage when it comes to services.
This is an old story, dating back to the early part of the 20th century, when electricity, then telephone service became an issue exactly the way Internet access is now. Community-based solutions like coops were the answer then, and commmunity-based solutions are, I think, still better than waiting for a commercial company to be able to make a business case. And yes, one community-based solution is to help make the business case for commercial providers by supporting community network projects. A focus on rich local content and services (not dependent on broadband, but easily supplied over dialup lines) helps create a marketplace of buyers for Internet services.
Those buyers will attract private sector sellers of services, and we get the broadband we need to compete in the global Knowledge Economy.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/12/2004 - 06:32
The Roanoke airport deserves kudos for providing free WiFi access while bigger airports like Atlanta and Charlotte still don't offer this service. Like it or not, WiFi in public places is fast becoming just another amenity, like rest rooms, water fountains, and sidewalks.
Why don't airports like Atlanta and Charlotte have it yet? Probably because they are trying to figure out how to make a buck from it, and have doubtless been reviewing dozens of proposals offering to install the equipment for free in return for an exclusive (and extortionate) franchise. I've written before about the absurd day rates for WiFi, which average $10/day. Frequent travelers, who might be on the road ten days a month or more, are apparently expected to pay hundreds of dollars a month just to get fifteen or twenty minutes access per day.
The companies providing this access market it as "24 hours" of service, knowing full well no one is ever able to do that. I'll be in the Philadelphia airport today for about an hour--why would I pay for 24 hours of access.
Fee-based WiFi is not likely to grow rapidly until the WiFi companies agree to allow roaming. At that point, hundreds of thousands of existing WiFi users will happily pay $30-40/month for nationwide roaming service. In the meantime, most of us will skip the silly rates and look for futures-oriented places like the Roanoke Airport.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 07/09/2004 - 08:49
The owner of Budget Suites of America, Bob Bigleow, has had a secret operation at work for the past several years in Nevada, building a space hotel. Not surprisingly, one of his closest associates is Burt Rutan, owner and designer of SpaceShipOne, which flew into space just a couple of weeks ago.
Bigelow and Rutan together are creating synergy. Rutan's spaceships will attract a lot more paying customers if he has somewhere to take them, and Bigelow's space hotel needs an inexpensive (i.e. non-government controlled) spaceship to get folks to and from orbit.
Sound crazy? No, it's the global Knowledge Economy at work. The article is long, but well worth reading to the end, where Bigelow describes how he has cut costs ($200 million versus the $50 billion Nasa has spent) by shopping globally. Bigelow cited one example of a subsystem he needed; an American aerospace company wanted $100 million to design and build it. Instead, he bought it in Europe for $1.3 million.
Like it or not, we're at the dawn of a new age. No, it's not the Information Age; that was over 2 years ago. In the Knowledge Economy, as Bigelow is demonstrating, who you know is more important than what you know. Bigelow has been able to reach out globally, forge business relationships with firms in other countries, and design and build better and faster than NASA. NASA is stuck trying to make "old" relationships work; the government agency has had numerous failures and despite all the money it has spent, has not been able to advance its program.
What about your region? Are you still stuck trying to make "old," Manufacturing Economy relationships work? Are you helping your existing businesses learn to shop globally for the parts, products, and services they need to be competitive in a world market? Are you throwing away the rulebook and starting with a fresh sheet of paper to create your economic development strategy?
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/08/2004 - 11:11
An article in today's Wall Street Journal (B1) details the success of Hutchinson Technology, a company with four plants in southern Minnesota. Hutchinson manufactures most of the world's supply of the support arms used to hold the read/write head in hard drives. Most of its output is exported to Asia, where most hard drives are manufactured now.
Hutchinson relishes its remote location in rural Minnesota, and uses it as a competitive advantage. Hutchinson's products are highly sophisticated, and the company's leaders have considered moving some parts of the business closer to customers, but recognized it would also mean exporting their manufacturing processes and techniques. Their view is that they do not want to train workers in other countries on how they manufacture their products, as those workers could then quit and take that knowledge to other companies. Locating the business in rural Minnesota makes it much more difficult for brain drain and technology leaks to occur.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/08/2004 - 11:04
An article in today's Wall Street Journal (B1) discusses the growing trend, mostly among businesses, to take advantage of ability of VoIP to offer a choice of area codes. Area codes like 212 and 415 (New York and San Francisco) are very popular.
Some businesses are doing it to take advantage of the having a prestige area code. That's of limited value over the long term; as more businesses do it, your area code will have less and less meaning. But another reason some businesses are doing it is to give their customers a local phone number. If you had significant business in the San Francisco area, it is just good business to give customers a local phone number to call for service and sales.
Over the long term, area codes will become less and less meaningful as VoIP spreads and phone numbers become truly portable. What's even more likely is that phone numbers will disappear completely; VoIP actually maps phone numbers to an IP address, meaning that the phone number is just an extra and unnecessary step. Over time, IP addresses will be used instead of phone numbers.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/07/2004 - 09:21
The U.S. Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) issued an advisory last week warning about a major bug in Internet Explorer that allows remote Web sites to get access to your computer under certain circumstances. CERT has recommended switching to another browser, like the excellent Open Source (free) FireFox.
Apparently, many organizations and companies are not able to do so because they have built their Web sites to work only with Internet Explorer. Microsoft has encouraged this by building non-standard features into IE that offer some advantages to lazy developers who don't want to bother testing their Web applications with multiple browsers. Microsoft gambled that using their monopoly power to drive other browsers out of existence would give them even more control. It would have worked if they had been diligent about testing their own products for bugs and loopholes.
Unfortunately, it is almost a full time job to keep up with Microsoft-related security advisories on their various Web products; the MS web server, IIS, has been the subject of numerous security alerts.
Any time an organization creates a software dependency based on a monoculture environment (using a single piece of software or only the products of a single vendor), risks are incurred. And it really has nothing to do with Microsoft. It's only a small amount of additional work to make Web apps work with virtually all Web browsers, and for a business, it could mean picking up 4-5% more customers for little or no additional cost.
For internal business operations (e.g. a company intranet), it's just good planning to be able to switch easily between browsers, between database products, or between development tools. Your IT department may choose to focus most development on a single product line or platform, but should always have a a few projects or staff working on other platforms or in alternate development environments. In part, doing so is just research and development--sometime less expensive alternatives emerge, or better ways of doing things.
Beware of any IT manager or developer who claims that there is no need to look beyond your current software or IT vendor. It's lazy thinking that may be putting your organization or business at risk.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 07/02/2004 - 10:06
Delta Airlines has announced plans to use RFIDs (Radio Frequency ID) to track and manage luggage. Finally--a great use for RFIDs that has no privacy problems (unlike proposals to embed them in clothing so that we can be tracked 24 hours a day by the Gap). An RFID on a luggage tag will allow the airline to be able to tell where a piece of luggage is virtually in real time. If Delta does its homework on the staffing and management side, the airline should be able to dramatically cut the cost of dealing with lost luggage and make customers much happier at the same time--a win-win for new technology.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 07/02/2004 - 09:59
The Register reports that China continues to be the world's primary source of spam Web sites--hosting the Web sites that show up in all that email spam. The U.S. continues to be the source of most email spam.
Why China if most spammers are in the United States? It's getting harder and harder to find a U.S. based Web hosting firm that wants the headaches associated with the complaints and problems associated with spam Web sites. China, half a world a way and run by a communist government that tends to turn a blind eye towards things like respecting copyrights and other niceties of the free world, is happy to take spammers' money for hosting the sites.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/01/2004 - 09:07
In a troubling ruling, the 1st U.S. Court of Circuit Appeals has said it is okay to read other people's email while it is "stored" on a server. Yahoo! News reports on the legal case of Interloc, a company that read the email of its subscribers to find out what Amazon.com was sending to them, and why.
The ruling seems to rely on hairsplitting, rather than commonsense. Wiretapping of "live" communications has always been subject to rigorous oversight, but email is not "live" in the same sense that a phone conversation is. An email messages transits through several servers, and is stored, sometimes for long periods of time, on the email server used by a particular user. The courts are taking the view that it is okay to read the email while it is stored on a third party machine.
It is as if the court said it was okay to open and read a piece of mail while it is in the mailbox down the street from your house.
It is hard to understand how the judges could so easily trample what seems obvious--email is and should be considered private, and both commercial companies and law enforcement officers should be constrained from reading email without strict oversight.
Fortunately, there is a perfectly good solution to the conundrum--encryption. We have the tools today to encrypt email using public key encryption, and this ruling will hasten more widespread use of encryption for routine communications. Done properly, encryption of email can be nearly transparent, but will be very effective as a deterrent to casual snooping of the kind done by Interloc. Encryption is the equivalent of putting our email in a tamper-resistant envelope; it keeps most people out. Is it perfect? No--but then neither are envelopes, but we've used them for centuries without much fuss or worry.
Unfortunately, part of the problem here is the lack of interest in improving email clients. Most email clients are given away free, so there is little incentive to improve them or to make features like encryption easy to use. But it's a business issue for the private sector, and as the bigger companies demand it, easy to use encryption will spread.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/29/2004 - 08:33
The recently announced MeshCube is an immature product--the Web site needs more and better information--but it is the shape of things to come in the WiFi world. The MeshCube is three inches square. It can have two radios installed (one for local point to multipoint access--the typical hotspot use, and one for point to point longer distance access to an Internet feed). It can be powered by POE (Power Over Ethernet), meaning you don't have to run 120 VAC to it, just a simple low voltage Ethernet cable, making it easy to install outside.
The power requirements are so low it could also be powered by batteries and a solar panel, making it ideal for remote locations. The "mesh" part of MeshCube means that you can easily create a wiFi Zone (multiple access points) with just one or two Internet feeds; the MeshCubes talk to each other and can share Internet acess. This dramatically lowers the cost of a wide area WiFi zone. The software is based on Open Source, which keeps the price low.
The small size means these can be inobtrusively mounted throughout a downtown area; antenna design will vary according to needs, but even the larger WiFi antennas needed for point to point communications are small and barely noticeable on a rooftop. Communities, with a little help planning and laying out the network, could easily install their own WiFi zone covering a downtown area or a neighborhood. At a cost of about $300 per access point, self-help projects are easily fundable by passing the hat.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 06/28/2004 - 09:37
A ruling by the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology is an echo of the Bristol, Virginia decision that "any" means "any."
Airports, malls, and condo associations, among others, have been trying to limit the use of WiFi, primarily for financial reasons. The mall owner or airport authority wanted the revenue sharing from providing exclusive access to the facility from a single vendor. It's a form of bandwidth aggregation that does not always benefit consumers because not everyone benefits equally--the WiFi vendor and the property owner have a controlling interest in setting fees and keep all the profits. Bandwidth aggregation as a thinly veiled monopoly rarely benefits consumers.
Airports, as frequent travelers know well, are notorius for high access fees, averaging $10/day for a typical fifteen or twenty minute use as you pass through. The FCC ruling says the FCC alone can determine who may or may not deploy unlicensed WiFi services. It's a victory for consumers, and the FCC deserves a tip of the hat for doing so.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/25/2004 - 08:42
An article in The Register provides a nice synopsis of the worldwide trend for municipalities to offer public WiFi. It's happening most often in the big cities first, where businesspeople congregate in public spaces more and expect Internet access.
The new mesh network WiFi equipment is making it much easier to create WiFi zones at less cost (there are some very good Open Source mesh network WiFi solutions). Mesh networks provide some redundancy and eliminate the need to have wired connectivity at each access point.
If rural and smaller communities want to attract microenterprise businesses and entrepreneurs who are making relocation decisions based in part on lifestyle choices, WiFi zones throughout the downtown area in these smaller communities is one inexpensive way to help get on the short list of relocation sites. If two communities both have good schools, a slower pace of life, and good recreation options, the community that is planning for technology and offers WiFi zones is much more likely to appear attractive to a relocating business. Public WiFi is an indicator of a progressive community that understands the needs of business. How does your community rate?
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/25/2004 - 08:21
The City of Spokane has rolled out a new wireless zone that covers most of the major downtown area (more than 100 square blocks). Rather than leaving the growth of WiFi entirely to the private sector, which typically leaves lots of dead zones in an urban downtown, the city mapped its own antenna sites and was able to cover the entire area with just ten antennas--a much more efficient design that provides virtually 100% coverage.
The city estimated the cost as a very affordable "$50,000 to $75,000." Meter maids and police in the zone will use WiFi-enabled devices and laptops to improve their efficiency, which over the long term should pay back the entire investment. The city also made the investment to attract more businesses to the downtown area.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/24/2004 - 09:16
In a widely carried AP report, AT&T has announced it is getting out of local dial tone and long distance in several states, and may abandon most other states shortly. There are two things going on here, and only one of them was discussed in the article.
The article correctly notes that the proximate cause for the AT&T pullback is the FCC ruling that allows the local phone companies to charge higher wholesale rates for their antique copper telephone lines. AT&T has been leasing these in bulk to provide local dialtone. The higher rates make it unprofitable for AT&T to do so.
On the face of it, this looks bad for local communities, as there seems to be less competition, and puts the local phone companies back near their previous monopoly status for dialtone.
What was not covered well in the AP article is the fact that AT&T is making a major push for Voice over IP local and long distance services. The company has wisely decided to abandon the antique phone service market and concentrate on selling what is going to count in the future. It's a smart move.
Some of the phone companies are not standing still, however. SBC has announced it will spend billions on fiber to the neighborhood and fiber to the premises, although the latter will be done only in new neighborhoods for now. The new system will have the capacity for a single channel of HD TV--much higher capacity than existing DSL lines, but still not what will be needed in the future. But the fiber has the carrying capacity--SBC is reluctant to put in the electronics, probably because of cost and because they are trying to control access.
Communities getting these new systems may breathe a sigh of relief that they don't need to do that telecom planning after all, but their headaches are simply being deferred to the future. A monopoly is a monopoly, and it does not matter much if it is a legal monopoly (the old, pre-1996 approach) or a de facto marketplace monopoly.
Design Nine provides visionary broadband architecture and engineering services to our clients. We have over seventy years of staff experience with telecom and community broadband-more than any other company in the United States.
We have a full range of broadband and telecom planning, design, and project management services.
Free Fiber to the Home
Save NC Broadband
Blandin on Broadband
Intelligent Community Forum
FCC Broadband Blog
KGP Broadband Stimulus
Ars Technica Tech Policy
Bill St. Arnaud
Stop the Cap
Broadband Policy Watch
Lafayette Pro Fiber