Kitty Hawk and Mojave, California: SpaceShipOne wins the X Prize

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/04/2004 - 12:00

Bert Rutan's SpaceShipOne won the $10 million X Prize by sending a ship into suborbital space twice in two weeks. The second of two successful flights took place today, and Mojave, California will likely become a historical milestone alongside Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Outsourcing and economic development

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/04/2004 - 09:07

An op-ed piece in the NY Times (registration required) provides another data point to show that outsourcing jobs to other countries is not the national crisis the mainstream media has tried to make it.

The author provides data that shows the U.S., as other studies have suggested, is actually showing net gains from outsourcing. That is, outsourcing low pay, low skills jobs creates other business opportunities that more than offset the direct job loss.

As the author notes, this data is not a great comfort to a region that has lost those jobs. Factory floor workers who have had their jobs outsourced need training and help to be able to compete for the higher wage, higher skill jobs that are being created.

For rural communities, it's another indicator that business as usual just won't work. The Old Economy jobs being lost cannot be replaced by more aggressive industrial recruitment, better brochures, or a new logo--all things I've seen promoted as "proof" of a revitalized local economic development program.

What does work? Here are some things that are important in the Knowledge Economy:

AT&T slashes residential VoIP prices

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 10/01/2004 - 08:46

In an indication that the company intends to provide still competition to the regional telephone companies, AT&T has cut their CallVantage VoIP service price by 25%, from $40/month to $30/month.

CallVantage, which works only if you have broadband service, provides local and long distance service nationwide for a flat $30 a month--the lowest call plan we've ever seen, including those offered by some of the cellphone providers.

When you add up how much money the residents and businesses of a community are stuffing in envelopes every month for phone service, it turns out it is a lot of money. Broadband, despite the cost, can produce savings in other areas, like phone service. Anything that helps keep a community more of its money (i.e. broadband) is a very good thing.

RadioShark brings timeshifting to your desktop

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 09/29/2004 - 14:59

Griffin's RadioShark is another piece of the convergence puzzle falling into place.

The RadioShark is an AM/FM tuner that plugs into your computer via a USB port. You can listen to broadcast radio in real time through your computer speakers, but of course, an old-fashioned analog radio would do that as well.

The RadioShark comes with software that allows you to record broadcasts and listen to them later. So if you can't listen to Al Franken or Rush Limbaugh at work, your computer can record those and play them back later.

For iPod fans (both Mac and Windows iPod owners), the software is fully integrated with iTunes, so you can transfer the recorded broadcasts to your iPod effortlessly and take them with you.

What I'd like to see is an integrated AM/FM/TV tuner that does all this. You can buy the TV tuner and record television programs on your hard drive, and the RadioShark does the same for radio. But I want fewer devices that do more. It's only a matter of time before someone combines these functions into one simple box.

Who do you know?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 09/29/2004 - 11:08

Following up on the new Book of the Month (The Hidden Power of Social Networks), here are some of the conclusions from the book, and they may surprise you.

I've been collaborating with Rick Smyre of Communities of the Future on capacity-building needs for organizations and communities, and one of the key concepts we have identified is "learning webs."

A learning web is a small group of people who have a strong trust relationship and who are committed to helping each other learn about and stay current with new ideas, concepts, and information that may be important to individuals in the group.

Do you have a learning web? What about your personal relationship network? Do you have a small group of people with whom you are comfortable asking for help? What about your community? One of the things you can do to help your community get connected with the Knowledge Economy is to help form learning webs centered around economic development, civic affairs, and local governance.

How work gets done: Social networks in practice

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 09/28/2004 - 16:57

The Hidden Power of Social Networks (by Rob Cross and Andrew Parker) is the Book of the Month.

In the Manufacturing Economy (1850 to 1950), where you were located mattered because stuff was heavy. Being near an airport, a highway, or a river was a key part of an economic development strategy. In the Information Economy (1950 to 2000), what you had mattered. What kind of technology you had--computers, networking equipment--often created a competitive edge, especially in the last ten years of that era.

In the Knowledge Economy, many goods and services are weightless--software, music, and videos can be delivered over the Internet, among many other services and products. Location is less important, and if you don't already the computers and networking stuff, your business is dead or nearly so. So what counts in the Knowledge Economy?

In the Knowledge Economy, we are awash in an ocean of information. We can't possibly absorb all of it. It flows into our computers in an ever-increasing torrent. It is now impossible to master any field of study; there is simply too much to know. Collaboration is fast becoming not just a nice thing to do, but a business and organizational necessity. To survive and prosper, you have to have a trusted network of associates, peers, and colleagues to whom you can direct questions and get answers.

In the Knowledge Economy, who you know is what matters, not where you are or what kind of technology you have.

Having said that, developing and maintaining a network of reliable colleagues is hard work--but with a big payoff. This book delves into why these networks are effective, how to set them up, and how to maintain them. It is thoughtful and well-written, and mildly academic in style, but the chapters are short and to the point. Reading this book won't put you to sleep. I think it is well worth a read.

For past Books of the Month, visit this page.

Light poles are worth $7,666

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/27/2004 - 08:51

The New York Times (registration required) has an interesting article on municipal WiFi and the role of local government in jumpstarting broadband access.

One nugget buried in the second page of the article is that the City of New York got $23 million in return for access to 3000 lightpoles in the city. Wireless providers will place antennas and small equipment boxes on the lightpoles. This means the value of the lightpoles is an astounding $7,666! I suspect the leases are probably for ten years, which brings the value down to $767 per year, that that still illustrates the potential for a pro-active local government to self-finance the transport layer of a modern telecommunications infrastructure in a community.

The Knowledge Economy pharmaceutical company

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/27/2004 - 08:10

I met a scientist and researcher a few days ago who is putting together a pharmaceutical startup in a very rural community. He owns several patents and putting together an operation to manufacture and market the new drugs. Size of the company? Approximately ten highly paid scientists, researchers, and marketers. Virtually all other operations will be outsourced.

This businessperson chose where he lives based on two criteria: great quality of life and the availability of broadband.

This story is being repeated over and over again across the country. Here's the question for rural communities: Do your economic development efforts (marketing, services, Web site) provide the information that businesspeople like this one want to make a relocation decision? How do you assess "success" in your economic development efforts? Do you have a formula that considers the value of microenterprises in your community? For example, are you still just counting heads as a measure of success?

By that, I mean if you don't have a way of considering the financial impact of ten scientist/researcher jobs on your community compared to ten factory floor jobs, you are in trouble (my guess is that one scientist/consultant/professional job could be worth as much as ten factory floor jobs).

Virgin Galactic to build commercial spaceships

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/27/2004 - 08:02

I've been writing for some time about the emerging Space Economy. Almost ten years ago, Virgin Atlantic, the big British media and airline company, registered "Virgin Galactic" as a trademark.

Virgin Galactic is now a real company, and has signed a contract with Mojave Aerospace, the company that owns the rights to SpaceShipOne, which is likely to win the X prize in the next couple of weeks by flying two suborbital flights in less than two weeks.

Why is the Space Economy important? The equipment, services, and support systems needed for space are not likely to be provided by $1/hour workers in Asia. Knowledge Economy companies all over the United States are likely to benefit from the high technology systems that will be needed--if they can compete successfully with other smart Knowledge Economy companies worldwide.

The changing shape of the news

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 09/24/2004 - 08:51

Andrew Sullivan, in Time magazine, illustrates perfectly the changing landscape of writing, journalism, and more generally, the power of the Web that we now all have in our hands. Here is the most instructive quote from the article.

"Ten years ago I edited a money-losing magazine, The New Republic, which had 100,000 subscribers. Two weeks ago on my four-year-old blog,, I had 100,000 readers in one day alone. After four years of blogging, I haven't lost a cent and have eked out a small salary. And I don't even have an editor! Technology did this. And it's a big deal most people have yet to understand."

Not all of us are going to be bloggers. The really successful ones have a passion for something and are also great writers. But we are all users of content, and these new information channels, applied on a community level, will get good and useful information to us about our communities quickly and easily.

We also need to make sure that our children continue to learn the difference between truth and falsehoods, the difference between sarcasm and thoughtful commentary, and the difference between typing and writing (hat tip to Truman Capote). These are exciting times, and we still have much to do, but the technology, used appropriately, can make our communities truly great places.

Philly plans world's largest mesh WiFi network

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 09/23/2004 - 14:37

Back in the early winter of this year, I wrote about the potential of a new generation of WiFi mesh network software and hardware to make it much easier to design and provision community wireless networks.

Philadelphia, which has been in the news recently for their announcement that they were looking at WiFi, has now released more details about their plans, which will include using mesh WiFi equipment to create a wireless blanket over most of the city (135 square miles). Only between 8 and 16 antennas will be needed per square mile.

Mesh networks are less expensive and are designed to be easy to deploy. Mesh networks also are fault tolerant. In a properly designed mesh, you can lost some antennas and equipment and most users will still be able to stay connected to the network.

Record companies making a fortune

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 09/23/2004 - 14:23

According to this article in the UK Independent, the record companies are making a killing from online music sales. The paper says that of the average ninety-nine cent cost of a downloaded song, the record companies are taking sixty-two cents, or apparently almost double what they made on a CD. Not only that, their distribution costs have fallen to virtually zero.

Meanwhile, the same record companies have been prosecuting grandmothers and 14 year olds, claiming online music was killing the business.

The online stores are making a paltry four cents, which will cause most of them to go out of business, says the paper. And the artists? Well, apparently the artists, who actually create the product, aren't making a penny more. That's why many artists, like this one, don't even bother to sigh with a record company. They cut their own CDs, make a lot of live appearances, and sell their CDs online and at their concerts. It's a living, apparently. Jah Works has been around since at least '96.

For music lovers, as more bands forgo the record scene, it's likely more music with more variety will be available over the long term.

800 communities are building their own networks

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 09/23/2004 - 11:39

According to an article in USA Today, more than 800 communities in the United States are building their own networks. There is some fascinating stuff in this article, which highlights a high speed fiber network and MSAP (Multimedia Services Access Point) in Danville, Virginia.

A high speed fiber network and MSAP for the Danville area was first proposed by me in a 1999 document study I did for Virginia's Center for Innovative Technologies, which was encouraging Danville to "think big" as they designed and built a business incubator.

Here are some of the other highlights from the USA Today article.

"We used to have to beg businesses to locate here. Now our phones are ringing off the hook," Hamlin (Mayor of Danville) says, beaming.

"This was never a case of 'Build it and they will come,' " says Hamlin, the Danville mayor. "This was a case of, 'If you don't build it, you know they won't come.' "

...nDanville paves the way for a raft of possibilities: advanced college placement courses, home-based instruction, teacher-parent meetings via the Internet and videoconferencing galore.

"If you want to recruit high-tech, you have to be high-tech," says Locker, adding: "Nobody moves to Danville without first looking at the schools."

In the Knowledge Economy, as they have found out in Danville, it's more than just infrastructure that makes a difference. Good schools, quality of life, and support for entrepreneurs all contribute to success in economic development.

Is your community open for business?

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/20/2004 - 06:01

I visit a lot of rural communities. Most of them are trying to chart a path for themselves in the Knowledge Economy. But there is still a lot of stovepipe thinking going on. Economic developers are rarely talking to town planners. Town planners are rarely talking to business people. Hardly anyone is talking to work at home businesspeople.

No one cares about broadband. Let me repeat that. Businesspeople that are engaged in the new economy don't care about broadband. What they care about is being able to meet their customers needs and expectations. Broadband is needed to do that, but broadband is not really an issue for them--what they are able to do with it is an issue.

What I'm trying to say is that broadband is simply one part of a bigger picture for communities, and the bigger picture, for the entrepreneurial, microenterprise businessperson (remember that small businesses are creating 75% of new jobs), is that they need a bunch of amenities and services in a community to be able to meet their customer needs and expectations. It's never just one thing (like broadband).

What are some of those things? Here's my list:

I found your life...

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/20/2004 - 05:52

In the "old days," (I find myself saying that a lot recently, and I'm usually talking about six or seven years ago), if you lost a roll of film, it might, at best, have 36 pictures on it, and no one would bother to spend the money to have them developed.

Losing your "roll of film" these days means misplacing a memory card the size of a postage stamp, with quite possibly hundreds of pictures on it. There is at least one person who has done this, and is now the subject of an entirely fictional online life, called I Found Some of Your Life.

The writing is pretty good, actually. And the fact that something like this is even possible demonstrates how much the world really has changed. Anyone can be a writer and publisher--anyone. Like the bloggers that broke the story on the CBS memos, it's a dramatic redistribution of power away from the "old" media conglomerates and toward a much more equitable and egalitarian model. Of course, it's also now easier to publish complete falsehoods, but as CBS found out, to its chagrin, if the falsehood is important in some way, someone, somewhere, will let the world know.

Wired says Idaho is hot

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/13/2004 - 19:52

A few years back, Idaho set its eyes firmly on the future, and the effort is beginning to have a major impact in the rural state. Idaho is not only not on the way to anywhere, it does not come to mind quickly as a hotbed of technology companies and entrepreneurs.

But it is. Wired's story is worth a read to see what can happen when a region sets a vision for the future and sticks to it long enough to see results. Idaho did not go after the quick fix. The state took its time, invested patiently, and kept it's eye on the ball.

Towns unite for broadband

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/13/2004 - 15:32

Three communities around the country (Palo Alto, CA; Lafayette, LA; and the TriCities area of Illinois) have formed a "Sisters in Arms" network. Each community is interested in getting affordable, widely available broadband to their citizens and businesses, and the loosely formed coalition is trading information on the process, how to move forward, and how to deal with pushback from the incumbents.

There are two national organizations that I recommend to any community or region interested in this area: The Association For Community Networks (AFCN) and the Rural Telecommunications Congress (RTC). Both nonprofits have a sharp focus on getting better services to communities, and the members have a wealth of experience that they willingly share with other members.

Broadband saves $6000/month

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/13/2004 - 12:06

MuniWireless has a story about Scottsburg, Kentucky and the importance of broadband to the future of the community.

Scottsburg is a rural community of 6000 north of Louisville. The problem they were facing there is common to rural communities: a T1 line in metro Louisville cost $300/month, and in rural Scottsburg it was $1300/month--that's the difference between a thriving business sector and and an economic disaster.

A modest investment in wireless allows Scottsburg residents and businesses to get broadband for $35/month, and a full T1 (via wireless) costs only $200/month--cheaper than Louisville.

The school system estimates that it saves $6000/month in telecom costs (that's taxpayer dollars!), and several businesses have been able to stay open, including the local Chrysler dealership, where 60 mechanics who use laptops to repair cars were told by Chrysler to get better broadband or close down.

When the local garage needs broadband to stay open, the whole "value of broadband" issue is closed to debate. If your community still has elected officials and economic developers who are not taking this seriously, show them this article. Ask them if saving $6000/month in taxpayer funds is important, and if not, ask them to please explain why.

Broadband saves jobs and money. It's just that simple.

FCC says broadband use is up

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/13/2004 - 08:00

There is a good news/bad news quality to a set of FCC press releases that went out late last week. The good news is that broadband availability in the U.S. is up significantly. The FCC says the number of broadband lines has tripled from 2001 to 2003. Cable modems have about 75% of the marketplace, with DSL far behind with 15%. All other technologies (e.g. fiber, wireless, satellite) composed 10% of the marketplace.

Some of the bad news is that the FCC defines broadband as anything faster than 200 kilobits, a remarkably low bar compared to the rest of the world, which is typically measuring broadband in megabits. The FCC keeps the bar that low so that they can claim we all have lots of broadband.

More bad news is also masked...the FCC says only about 7% of U.S. zip codes have no high speed access. What they don't say is where those zip codes are, but it's a safe bet they represent a lot of rural households. Another telling statistic is that zip codes with four or more providers is up to 46%. Again, that does not represent rural areas.

To be fair, FCC chairman Michael Powell stated in a separate press release that "200 Kbs or even a 1 megabit connection is wholly inadequate for the demands of a growing number of consumers." Powell goes on to say that "information at the speed of light" (i.e. fiber connectivity) is what we really need. He mentions the goal of "universal and affordable access to all by the year 2007," but the Federal government does not really have a plan to get there, except to wait for the private sector to take care of it.

The numbers, to those that aren't out in rural communities (huge areas of the country, actually) look very good. But the reality is that communities that want univeral and affordable broadband will have to make some investments to get it. It's at least as important as roads, water and sewer, and communities routinely spend lots of money on those things.

Connected cities

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 09/10/2004 - 08:21

Over the past couple of weeks, three major cities in the U.S. have announced ambitious plans to extend connectivity of one kind or another. New York and Philadelphia are moving forward with plans to create wireless blankets over most of each city.

New York's plan is more ambitious. The city is looking at making virtually every lamppost available for WiFi and cellular telephone access. Part of what is driving this is money. Even at the modest fees the city says it will charge for the right to mount antennas, it represents new income to the municipal government. What is less clear is if the plan will succeed. Some elected officials and citizen groups have raised concerns about the amount of additional EMF radiation that will be propogated by the plan. Not everyone is keen to have 24 hour/day gigahertz frequency radiation emanating from an antenna just a few feet from their second floor apartment window.

Philadelphia's plan is to create a WiFi blanket throughout the core area of the city, to make the place tech friendly. Both cities will rely on the private sector to spend the money to do the work, and will simply put the ordinances and fee structure in place that will allow those companies to place antennas and equipment on public property.

The third city, Chicago, is planning to put 2000 remote control surveillance cameras throughout its neighborhoods and city streets, with the dual aim of curbing crime and providing better coverage of potential terrorist targets. The system will be tied directly into the 911 system, which will allow 911 operators to pull up real time video of a crime, fire, or accident in progress. In Chicago, some groups have raised concerns about the potential privacy issues related to such comprehensive surveillance. In the end, the city will probably have its way, as we have no constitutional guarantee to privacy in public places.

All these initiatives are mixed news for smaller and rural communities. On the one hand, these initiatives not only raise the bar for what kind of infrastructure is expected in our communities (i.e. WiFi blankets), but as this kind of infrastructure becomes commonplace, smaller communities especially lose any competitive advantage they may have had from early investments. That is to say, instead of touting public WiFi as an economic development advantage that other places do not have, public WiFi is now going to be increasingly seen as part of the base, required infrastructure--imagine trying to promote your community without a public sewer system in place.

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