Comcast launches Steampix to beat Netflix

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/23/2012 - 08:58

Comcast has announced its own streaming video service, called Steampix, to compete with Netflix. It only costs $4.99/month, but if you have Comcast's triple play package, you get it for free. Comcast, because it owns the network infrastructure, can dish out streaming video more efficiently and for much less cost than Netflix, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. But the fact that Comcast is doing this seems to me to be a tacit admission by the cable giant that a lot of people can't be bothered to watch "TV" anymore. I think it is time to start putting "TV" in quotes, because really, it refers to a technology that is long gone.

"My DSL is worthless on the weekends...."

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 02/21/2012 - 09:10

"My DSL is worthless on the weekends." Exact quote from someone I talked to yesterday. She lives in a rural part of Virginia, and DSL is her only broadband option. So many people are now routinely streaming bandwidth intensive video content that the local DSL Access Module (DSLAM) is overloaded and can't handle the demand. The local incumbent has a monopoly on broadband service, so there is no incentive to spend more to improve the backhaul from the DSL switch down the road from her house. Her service is better on weekdays because most of her neighbors travel to school or work during the day, and she does much of her work FROM HOME. But as the price of gas climbs past $5/gallon, living in a rural area and commuting long distances to work is going to become a luxury of the wealthy unless the bandwidth is there in rural communities and back roads to allow some folks to work from home. The rapidly rising cost of gasoline and the just as rapidly increasing demand for bandwidth on antiquated copper-based networks is about to create a perfect storm in rural communities that don't have a strategy for increasing the affordability and performance of broadband.

NC city saves $800,000 per year on power with broadband

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 02/14/2012 - 08:04

The city of Wilmington, North Carolina uses its fiber network to turn the lights off at sports parks at night. Cameras have been placed at every sports and recreation field, along with remote control light switches. A single city employee can quickly check the cameras to see if anyone is still at a field, and if not, a couple of mouse clicks turn off the lights. The city expects to save $800,000 per year on electricity costs. That will build a lot of fiber.

But wait...there's more! Here is the most interesting part: "...an employee can do this from home..." From home. Read that again: from home. And here is why we need fiber everywhere, not just at the city or county admin building. The technology enables more people to work more efficiently wherever they are, not just while they are in the office. If you want your employees to be able to access dozens of video streams from home, guess what? You need business class broadband throughout your community.

Broadband Communities Summit is offering discounted early bird registration

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/09/2012 - 14:53

The popular Broadband Communities Summit (April 24-26, Dallas, Texas) has an extensive track of speakers and sessions devoted entirely to open access and community broadband networks. Right now the conference is running an early bird registration special. A list of the Open Access sessions are below.

Business Planning and Open Access Networks

Open-access networks are built to support multiple providers that offer dozens or even hundreds of services. Instead of collecting revenue for two or three mostly low-margin services, network operators can accrue revenue directly or indirectly from every service offered to customers on the network. Though most of these will be niche services, many have high profit margins. This session will discuss key differences in open-access network architecture, introduce alternative business models and show how those business models can create attractive opportunities for service providers.

Modern Right of Way Management

A community’s rights of way constitute a valuable asset that it can use for economic development and revenue enhancement. Too often, city officials manage this asset in a reactive way, simply responding to requests from telecom providers and other utilities for right-of-way use. Find out how leading-edge communities proactively plan and manage right-of-way usage in order to attract ultra-broadband providers, encourage economic development and fully exploit their assets.

Case Studies: Success Stories for Open Access

The first open-access networks in the U.S. were launched into uncharted waters – no one knew whether or how they would work from a business or technical standpoint. Those starting out today can benefit from the experiences of the pioneers and choose strategies that have been proven successful.

Technology for Open Access

Though most fiber-to-the-premises networks can be configured to support multiple service providers, there are preferred ways to design networks specifically for open access. Learn about new technologies for all aspects of deployment and operation – ranging from conduits to optoelectronic equipment to solutions for network management and provisioning – that have been specifically designed to make open-access fiber networks cost-effective, manageable and easy to implement.

Open Access Fiber and Economic Development

Many of the middle-mile fiber networks being constructed today are open to multiple providers - some of them, though by no means all, because of requirements imposed by government funding. In this session, deployers and operators of middle-mile networks will share what they have learned, from both a technical and business standpoint, about making open access work in the middle mile.

Do it Yourself Fiber – Creative Approaches to Organizing, Financing and Building FTTH Networks in Rural Areas

Rural communities that have been bypassed by both private and public broadband programs are left to their own devices when it comes to obtaining broadband. Some are now proving adept at what might be termed do-it-yourself or “crowd-sourced” broadband strategies. This session will present case studies of rural coalitions – ECFiber in Vermont and B4RN in northern England – that rely heavily on local resources to raise capital, organize projects and even deploy fiber. Can these new models make FTTH practical and affordable in rural settings?

Apple now worth more than Google and Microsoft combined

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/09/2012 - 14:32

Apple's stock price is $494 at 2 PM today. Apple is now worth more than Microsoft and Google combined.

Where did the cash registers go?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/08/2012 - 16:07

Read this report of a recent visit to an Apple store and how technology is changing the customer experience. Apple has spent a lot of money to focus on helping customers, rather than just ringing up sales at an old-fashioned check out counter. And if you look at Apple's stock price, it is obviously paying off.

Design Nine-built network brings a new era to a rural community

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/08/2012 - 15:09

Those of us that have reasonably decent broadband connections at home and at work often forget there are still large parts of America that are still on dial-up. Design Nine just completed the first part of a USDA-funded Community Connect project in Grayson County, Virginia. Grayson County some of the most rugged terrain on the East Coast, and is home to Mount Rogers (elevation 5,729 ft), one of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River. The Wired Road received the USDA grant to help the rural community of Grant, Virginia get better access to broadband. No reasonably priced fiber was available near the community, so Design Nine engineered a complex, multi-point 300 megabit microwave link from Galax, Virginia, where The Wired Road has its main network site.

The project renovated the historic, 100 year old Grange Hall in Grant, which included major improvements to the building, as well as a radio tower, a fiber link from the tower to the Grange Hall, and the design and implementation of a ten seat computer lab designed specifically to support distance learning and business people who needed broadband access. The computer lab has been extremely popular, and is saving local residents time and money, as they no longer have to drive long distances to get broadband access.

The second phase of the project is nearing completion, and will bring fiber to the home connections to 100 homes in Grant. Network connectivity on the fiber network is being provided by the 300 megabit radio link, which is capable of supporting TV service in the future.

USB wall plate

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/08/2012 - 13:55

Now this is a good idea--a replacement AC outlet cover that includes two USB ports. There have been some replacement duplex outlets around for a while, but they require a little more work, as you have to re-wire them into the outlet box. This RCA wall plate is simple--unscrew the existing wall plate, replace it with this one, and you are done. You have two USB ports and 1 AC port. I will note that the replacement outlet devices preserve both AC outlets.

Clueless teens dumping Facebook for Twitter

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/31/2012 - 15:18

I had to read the first sentence of this article twice because I thought it must be a joke:

Teens, after being friended by parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles on Facebook, have moved to Twitter to get a little more privacy.

Trading Facebook for Twitter? Really?

Apparently those teens have not studied Twitter very carefully, as all tweets are entirely public; so public, in fact, that Twitter recently agreed to hand over all tweets to the Federal government and DHS, which now apparently monitors tweets for subversive activity. DHS recently denied two British tourists entry to the U.S. because of a couple of jokes they had posted on Twitter. Apparently re-posting a quote from the TV show Family Guy now marks you as a terrorist.

It may take a while longer, but I think people will eventually begin to understand that posting every trivial thought and picture from your life online is not the way to gain privacy.

"I think that Facebook is the biggest waste of time..."

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/31/2012 - 14:00

A guy named Jake Reilly dropped all electronic communication, including the phone, for ninety days, calling it "The Amish Project." This story is really interesting, as he ran into all sorts of logistical challenges, some of them amusing. For example, he'd meet a girl in a bar, she would give him her phone number, and he'd have to explain he could not call her. And the girl would think he was lying to avoid telling her he did not like her. To keep in touch with friends, he resorted to putting sticky notes in the elevator at work and leaving chalk messages on the sidewalk in front of their office or their home. Perhaps most telling, he realized that Facebook was an enormous drain on his time, and that by staying off it, he had a lot more time to actually visit people in person and talk face to face.

Read the whole thing.

Georgia Legislature: Let's drive businesses out of the state!

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 01/30/2012 - 15:39

Via MuniNetworks, some Georgia legislators are getting substantial campaign contributions from the incumbent telephone and cable providers to pass a law making it illegal for communities to create competitive broadband infrastructure. The big win in North Carolina last year, where the legislature did pass such a law, has spurred similar efforts in Georgia and South Carolina.

nDanville fiber spurs economic development, attracts commercial supercomputer

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/24/2012 - 10:49

The City of Danville, Virginia is beginning to see some big wins with their steady expansion of the City-owned open access fiber network. Back in the early 2000s, the City Utilities Department had begun installing fiber on City utility poles. Danville Utilities provides electric power throughout the City and large portions of three surrounding counties, with a total service area of nearly 500 square miles, and the fiber was an early smart grid initiative that provided the Utilities Department with better management of substations and power use.

In 2006, the City retained Design Nine to help develop a business plan and network architecture that would open the City fiber to commercial use. This led to the first municipal open access fiber network in the U.S. in 2007, and was arguably the first Gigabit municipal network; true Gigabit circuits were available on day one of operations--the nDanville network is active Ethernet.

Funded with revenue from anchor tenants like the City and the K12 schools, the network has expanded slowly, but from the beginning, the fiber network was part of a larger economic development strategy to re-invent the City, which had seen the loss of thousands of textile jobs in the late 90s. nDanville fiber has sharply reduced costs for connected businesses, especially in the medical community, and a commercial supercomputer facility is coming online in downtown Danville--the location determined in large part by where nDanville fiber is available.

The whole story is here.

SOPA and PIPA meet OPEN

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:48

The truly awful SOPA and PIPA bills have been stalled, but Rep. Darrell Issa of California has introduced OPEN, the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, in the House. OPEN has been written more narrowly to target only offshore counterfeit and bootleg sites, and does not give the Federal government the expansive powers to arbitrarily shut down any site; SOPA and PIPA managed to eliminate both due process and free speech in a single bill.

If you click through to this article to get more information, the interesting stuff is at the end, where writer indicates that the bigger picture is that Silicon Valley (i.e. Internet techies) are really in a war with Hollywood (i.e. 20th century film and TV distribution models). The Internet is enabling lots of competition with the traditional Hollywood film and TV studios and distribution companies, and SOPA and PIPA were going to help shut down any perceived competition.

I do not think it is quite that convenient a meme. Instead, I think Hollywood is at war with itself, and right now, the dinosaurs of that industry still have the upper hand. Movie and TV content producers and developers that embrace new distribution forms (which the dinosaurs don't like) have much to gain.

But as I have been saying for years, traditional TV is already dead. Hollywood is still in denial.

SmartFlix: Deconstructing education, one brick at a time

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/20/2012 - 10:49

I just stumbled across SmartFlix, which is the education and training version of NetFlix. You can rent a wide variety of training and education DVDs by mail, just like NetFlix. They have many different topics available, ranging from the mundane (cooking videos) to the more sophisticated and esoteric: welding, machine lathe operations, and knifemaking. A lot of the skill-related topics (e.g. welding, machining, etc.) used to be offered as courses in high school and community colleges, but some time in the past twenty years, most of those "live" classes were eliminated. And today, many U.S. manufacturers can't find anyone who knows how to weld or run a lathe.

Apple has just disrupted another industry

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/20/2012 - 09:53

Apple's announcement yesterday of an improved iBooks application for iPads and iPhones may seem like a kind of ho-hum sort of thing, but it is potentially as big a deal as the introduction of the iPod was a few years ago. Remember that there were all sorts of digital music players on the market prior to the introduction of the iPod; they were uniformly awful to use. The iPod set a very high bar for usability that resonated with customers.

The iBooks announcement was less about the bookshelf app itself than about the accompanying application called iBooks Author. Apple is giving this application away for free, and it sets a new standard for the ease of creation of ebooks. iBooks Author makes it much easier for textbook authors particularly to embed multimedia content in an ebook.

Apple has cleverly paved the way for the sale of millions of iPads that will replace conventional textbooks in both K12 schools and in higher education.

But while that is interesting and brilliant, it's not the real story.

The real story is that iBooks Author allows writers and teachers to create ebooks and sell them directly through the iBooks store without the services of a publisher. Uh oh. Text book publishing is extremely lucrative, with very high prices for the books, and very low royalties paid to the actual authors of the books. Now, text book authors can, albeit with a bit more work, cut out the publishers completely and reap much larger income by selling directly to students via Apple's iBooks service.

The future of the Internet is fiber

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/20/2012 - 09:40

Here is an interesting statement from the Roku folks:

"Generally we recommend a network speed of at least 1.2 Mbps, but to view live events, like Major League Baseball games, you’ll want at least 3 Mbps. For HD viewing, we recommend 5 Mbps.”

Notice that they are saying a single channel of live HD requires AT LEAST 5 Meg of bandwidth. Roku does not say, "...up to 5 Meg," or "...5 meg when no one else in the neighborhood is sucking all the bandwidth down watching a movie." They are saying, "...if you want to watch live events in HD, you need 5 meg of bandwidth per stream." By per stream, that means if two of you in your home are watching two different live events, you need 5 Meg x 2 = 10 Meg of bandwidth. That will never happen over DSL, and even on cable networks where they are now advertising wildly inflated bandwidth promises ("...up to 15 meg with SuperIncredibleGinormousCableBoost technology...."), just a few people trying to watch an HD broadcast in the same neighborhood are going to slow things to a crawl.

It's worse for business. The ever-increasing cost of travel, coupled with much improved technology is pushing videoconferencing quickly into a "must have" business requirement. Our videoconferences with clients here at Design Nine often includes four different people in four different locations. Using the Roku standard for picture quality, each location would need 4 x 5 Meg = 20 Meg of bandwidth...at each location. Just for a routine business meeting.

Within ten years, 90% of the homes and businesses in America will have fiber, and much of it will NOT be supplied from the incumbent telephone and cable companies.

Is distance learning a killer app?

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/19/2012 - 14:32

Design Nine recently brought up a new 300 megabit wireless link that feeds a community center and a rural fiber to the home effort (100 residences). The fiber to the home work is still underway, but the community center went online a couple of weeks ago, with both wireless access and a lab with ten fully equipped computers. Local residents of this very rural community have been flocking to the center. Many are bringing their laptops and just using the wireless link to the Internet, and many others are using the computers in the lab. What is interesting is the number of people that are using the bandwidth to take college courses online. Formerly, they were driving anywhere between 15 and 30 miles to get to a location where they could get broadband Internet access, and they are delighted to have broadband just minutes from their home. Some of them will be able to order fiber connections directly to the home as that construction work is finished, but in this economy, the ability to take college classes without driving long distances saves real money.

SOPA and PIPA: Get ready for the Net Police

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 01/18/2012 - 09:42

Major sites on the Internet are displaying either a black banner (e.g. Google) or are completely blacked out, meaning there is no access to site content today (e.g. Wikipedia). The two bills (SOPA is the House version, PIPA is the Senate version) are appallingly bad, as they toss due process out the window and give unelected bureaucrats the right to shut down any site in the U.S. without any actual proof of a copyright violation--all that is needed is an unfounded accusation. But wait! Like a Ginzu knife ad, there is more! If the site is hosted outside the U.S., and many, if not most of the actual counterfeit and bootleg content sites are, bureaucrats can order every single U.S. Web site to remove all links to the offending site.

Really? Really?

How?

This is what has been missing in the whole SOPA discussion: enforcement. If SOPA is passed, the Federal government will have to create a whole new bureaucracy--let's call it what is is, the U.S. Bureau of Net Police. The Net Police will be responsible for swooping down on bloggers, business Web sites, community network-supported discussion boards, and all sorts of other entirely innocent and useful Web sites and forcing them to remove links. How will they do this, you ask? Well, my guess is they will start with enormous fines, say $1,000/day for each offending link, and if you aren't quick enough, Net Police SWAT teams will show up, toss a few flash bang grenades through your door, confiscate anything that looks like computer, arrest you, and toss you in jail. All because your Quilting Club site accidentally linked to some offshore site selling bootleg fabric.

But don't worry...lawmakers have assured us that this is not the "intent" of the law. So what could go wrong?

Facebook gives away private postings

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/17/2012 - 11:28

Facebook is now going to give Politico every singe public AND PRIVATE Facebook posting that mentions the name of a Presidential candidate. Supposedly this will be done anonymously, but there is no way to opt out. So either you never discuss anything political anymore or mention a candidate's name in every single post to make the whole exercise worthless.

Open Access to be highlighted at Broadband Communities Summit in April

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/10/2012 - 08:58

Open Access networks will be a main highlight at the Broadband Communities Summit in April. This conference was formerly called "Broadband Properties Summit," but the focus of the conference has been widened considerably to include community-owned and municipal networks. In addition to a complete track on Open Access Networks, there is also a full track on Economic Development (in the context of telecommunications), which should be of interest to planners, developers, and local government officials.

More information is available here.

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