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.

There's just not enough capacity there

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 12/23/2011 - 15:36

The always insightful Eldo Telecom points to a news item that quotes a telecom analyst who tried to use the much ballyhooed LTE for several months as his primary broadband connection. He gave up and went back to a landline, partly because of the cost and partly because of performance. The money quote is, "There's just not enough capacity there."

Death of TV: Part XXXIII -- Netflix just cuts out the studios

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/13/2011 - 17:26

Netflix, despite their clumsy handling of price changes, is not stupid. Somewhere along the way, they noticed they could pay outsized royalty fees to the studios every time someone streamed a TV show, or they could just produce their own TV shows and KEEP ALL THE MONEY.

Netflix has cut a deal with Fox to restart the cult favorite TV show Arrested Development, which has been off the air for almost five years. Fox is certainly getting a cut of the profits, but it is surely much less than if Netflix was not involved in financing the venture.

I talked to someone recently who was worried about the complexity of set top boxes needed for some IP TV services. The set top box is going the way of the dodo, and that's good news, because the boxes are a pain in the neck for both customers and IP TV providers.

The whole TV model is collapsing faster than even I imagined, and the cable companies don't have a strategy for saving their business.

Fuzebox: Poor billing practice

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 12/08/2011 - 10:16

Fuzebox is selling a videoconferencing service, and apparently business is so bad that they feel the need to bill customers that don't want their service. We signed up for a free trial some months ago, used it once, and decided it did not meet our needs. Some months after that, they started billing us a huge monthly charge. They claimed they sent out emails notifying us that they were converting the free trial to a paid subscription, but we never received anything. Nor did we receive any other email from them.

This practice is despicable, and I can't recommend this company.

NY Times: "The New Digital Divide"

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/07/2011 - 09:56

The New York Times has an excellent article on the now almost two decades old digital divide problem. Where the digital divide was once "who has dial up access and who doesn't," it is now "who has real high speed access and who doesn't?"

The article does a good job of outlining the challenges that face communities, including the citizens and businesses that find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide. Of particular note is this:


"...it is hard to get a college degree from a remote location using wireless. Few people would start a business using only a wireless connection."

Fiber is the long term technology solution for both wired business and residential access as well as improved wireless and mobility access; what everyone forgets is that wireless networks have to move data and voice traffic onto the wired network, and robust open access fiber networks make wireless networks work better and makes wireless less expensive..

Will Microsoft win the TV race?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/07/2011 - 09:48

Wired has an interesting article on the slow and steady approach Microsoft has taken with the Xbox. Wired describes the huge sales numbers for the Xbox over the Black Friday weekend, noting that it can't just be gamers buying a six year old design.

What has happened is that Microsoft has been able to sign a lot of content agreements so that you can use the Xbox to replace your TV, with lots of on-demand video from a wide variety of content providers.

The rest of the article, though, tries to shed some light on what Apple may or may not be doing without really providing any clarity. Apple is famously successful at keeping secrets, so no one really has any idea what one of Steve Jobs' last comments, about Apple's TV strategy, really means: "I finally cracked it."

Rumors have been flying around for months that Apple intends to roll out a "smart TV," as opposed to the Microsoft "smart box" strategy a la the Xbox. As I have maintained for years, whatever the hardware is, if you don't have content, customers won't buy.

I'm glad Xbox is doing well. Apple, Google, and others trying to break into the "TV" market need good, strong competition. The losers in this epic battle are going to be the cable companies, because analog TV is dead, dead, dead. And the cable firms have no strategy for making the transition to on-demand video. The TV market is cracking up before our eyes. Top notch shows like the CBS "Person of Interest" can be watched on demand on the CBS Web site. So why does CBS need to license its content to the cable companies?

Even IP TV is dying before it even catches on. The original concept of IP TV was (is) to emulate the channel line up packages of analog cable TV with a digital set top box that lets you "tune" (select) from a traditional channel line up. But why bother with that at all if the same content is available on demand, without the bother, complexity, and cost of a set top box? The simplicity and reduced cost of on-demand video versus the more expensive IP TV/set top box solution suggests IP TV is not going to be around long.

Modern broadband networks need fast, cheap bandwidth so that all forms of on-demand video can be supported, including the emerging heavy use of live HD video during the daytime by the business community.

Dumbest smartphone app ever?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/30/2011 - 08:59

Folks at Dartmouth and the University of Bologna (Italy) have developed a smartphone app that uses the phone's camera to determine if, as you walk down the street, you are about to be run over by a car. This is expected to save the lives of many Darwin Award candidates who walk while texting.

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Design Nine has been selected as a Broadband Properties / Broadband Communities top 100 company from 2008 to 2013.


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