Broadband

Railroads and fiber: Part II: The Incumbents

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/27/2015 - 08:58

As I continue to read "A Great and Shining Road" about the building of the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s, I continue to be amazed at the number of parallels between that project and the effort to get fiber to homes and businesses today.

While the scale of the two projects is different (the railroad was going to span the continent, while fiber needs to be built within towns and cities), the *resistance* to the project is the same.

Some of the fiercest opposition to the proposed transcontinental railroad came from the incumbent railroads, who saw competition as a bad thing. The incumbents got newspapers to print mis-leading articles and they wined and dined legislators and told them there was no need for another railroad. One railroad magnate even grandly pronounced that there was no need for a transcontinental railroad because hardly anyone traveled between the East Coast and the West Coast.

Of course, there were few travelers because there was no easy way to get across the country--sailing around the tip of South America or traversing the Isthmus of Panama (death from yellow fever was common), or braving Indian attach going cross country were the only three options. Today, we have incumbent telecom providers saying the same thing: "No needs a Gig of bandwidth because no one is using a Gig of bandwidth."

Well, you can't use it if you don't have it.

Here we are, more than 150 years later, repeating history, fighting the naysayers and entrenching interests.

Of course, we know how things turned out for the "crazy" concept of a transcontinental railroad: it transformed the nation and unleashed decades of economic growth across the entire country.

Popular papers are available on the WideOpen site

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/18/2015 - 10:50

I have put some of my most popular papers over on the WideOpen Networks site. You can access them here.

Why fiber? The work from home problem

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/27/2015 - 11:00

We get asked all the time, "Why do I need a fiber connection at home? My Netflix works fine."

I was trying to do some work from home over the weekend, and I needed to move some relatively small files back and forth between my computer at home and a remote server. I was getting dial up speeds consistently for several hours. File transfers that would finish in a second or two at the office were taking many minutes--long enough that I had time to go do other things and then become more and more annoyed as I would check back and see the file transfer was still not complete.

Why so slow? I have a theory. It rained all weekend, and I think of lot of people (kids?) were streaming video, which can drag down the overall bandwidth and network responsiveness. Or it could be throttling of file transfers by the cable company in an effort to get me to pay extra for "business class" service.

Want to work from home? Want to run a business from home? We're designing and building networks that can deliver real business class services anywhere, making everyone more productive.

Comcast-TimeWarner merger is over

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/24/2015 - 07:53

Comcast has announced that it will give up trying to merge with TimeWarner Cable. The company has said that scrutiny from the Feds was a factor.

I never thought this was going to be important no matter how it turned out, because cable TV is dead. The body is still warm, but the rapid acceleration of Over The Top (OTT) alternatives to cable makes cable TV irrelevant. The cable giants already seem to understand this, and have been switching revenue streams to their Internet service for several years. Just like how my cable TV fees went up year after year by a few dollars, now my cable-delivered Internet goes up by a few dollars every year, even while the cost per Meg for Internet goes down (a primary expense for cable-delivered Internet).

TV is getting ever more interesting, and Netflix is leading the way. While HBO plowed new ground with non-network TV shows many years ago, Netflix is now producing some of the most interesting shows--Lillyhammer is just one example of the success of Netflix in producing high quality programming.

But despite the efforts of the cable network operators to increase Internet download bandwidth to their customers, their Achilles heel is the highly asymmetric service they offer that makes their "entertainment" service profoundly unsuitable for work from home and business from home activities.

The single biggest complaint we hear now is that "I can't work from home with my cable Internet connection." Whether we like the "always connected" business culture or not, the reality is that many of us are trying to get some work done from home at least part of the time, and the trend is accelerating. Meaningful business work from home requires symmetric bandwidth, and it is fiber that can deliver business class services. WideOpen Networks, our sister company, is now rolling out true community-owned Gigabit networks in the U.S. Want more information? Give Dave Sobotta a call at WideOpen: (540-552-2150).

No broadband? I'm selling the house!

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/27/2015 - 09:00

This is a hair-raising story that highlights how broadband is changing economic development....no one wants to live in an area with poor broadband.

Just months after buying a new home, the owner is putting the house on the market because everyone told him he could get broadband service once he moved in, and that just turned out not to be true.

If you want to keep young people in your community and you want to attract businesses and entrepreneurs, broadband--not "little broadband," but "big broadband" is now essential economic development infrastructure.

The Local Transport Provider: A new way of talking about open access

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 03/26/2015 - 13:15

I wrote this paper to help clarify what local open access networks actually do.

I have found that people continually confuse the local open access network with “service provider,” and thought that coming up with a new term might help.

Design Nine and WideOpen Networks will be at the Broadband Communities Annual Summit in Austin, Texas in April. Be sure to stop by our booth and say hello.

Best regards,
Andrew

How much "broadband" does a business need?

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 03/09/2015 - 14:06

The Blandin Foundation has a must-read letter from a relatively small business that illustrates very clearly the problem that "not enough broadband" has on economic development.

The whole letter lays out numerous problems, but this is one of the most striking:


"I find many candidates that are excited to raise a family in a rural community, but they do not want to live in the digital equivalence of the 1980’s."

This is the challenge rural communities face in a single sentence. How do you continue to attract and retain young workers as your broadband capacity falls farther and farther behind? Read the whole thing.

Open Access Explained, Part III: What the Local Transport Provider Does

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/25/2015 - 10:16

The local transport provider has several important roles and responsibilities in providing a high-quality experience for both providers and their customers. The LTP provides professional day-to-day management of the network, offloading that work from the service providers. Typical work activities include

Work from home: Neighborhoods are business districts, and fiber is the new road

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/19/2015 - 08:31

Dave Sobotta, our VP of Marketing, writes here about his experiences over the past thirty years. Much of that time, he has been working from home, making him one of the work from home pioneers.

Open Access Explained, Part II: The Local Transport Provider and Backhaul

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 02/13/2015 - 09:59

As we design and build Local Transport Networks for our community clients, we are frequently asked, "Where will the LTP get backhaul?"

LTPs do not need backhaul, because the LTP is not an Internet Service Provider. Put another way, the LTP is a broadband provider, not an Internet provider. Unfortunately, "Internet" and "broadband" are used interchangeably even though they are two different things. In the roads analogy, broadband is the single, high performance road network, and Internet is one of the trucks that use that road.

But that is not to say backhaul is not an issue, as the service providers using the LTP network still need backhaul. While many smaller/rural communities still lack competitive pricing on backhaul, the consolidation in the long haul business has really helped--we are seeing more and better backhaul options in rural areas of the U.S.

Introducing an LTP to a community often drives backhaul prices down and/or creates an opportunity for a long haul provider to open their fiber cable in that community. LTPs aggregate demand and help improve the business case for the long haul providers. We are working in two rural communities right now building new, modern LTP networks, and the existence of the LTP has brought about dramatic improvements in backhaul.

Open Access Explained, Part I: The Local Transport Provider, or LTP

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/12/2015 - 15:54

Open access networks unbundle the physical network from the services being carried over that network. We have become so used to having the network and service provided by the same company that it is sometimes a struggle to remember that that approach is only an artifact of very old technology. The copper twisted pair deployed for phone service was only capable of delivering that one thing: voice phone calls. And copper coaxial cable was only capable of delivering one thing: TV content. The fact that those two networks now include data services is kind of like the old joke about the talking dog--what the dog says is less interesting than the fact that it can talk at all.

With the development of fiber network technology and the concurrent development of the Internet (TCP/IP) protocols, it was no longer necessary to have a separate network for each service. Voice, Internet, and video--along with many other kinds of services--can be carried over a single high performance network. In fact, it is no longer necessary to have a separate network for each service provider. A modern fiber network can easily transport the services offered by many different providers; buyers can pick and choose what services they want, based on the cost and quality of each service.

Open access networks unbundle transport of the services from the services themselves. The network owner/operator is NOT a service provider. Instead, the network owner/operator using the open access business model is a Local Transport Provider, or LTP. LTPs deliver the data traffic of service providers from a common provider meet point on the network to the customer purchasing the service.

LTPs haul bits from point A to point B. An LTP does not have to have Internet backhaul (IP). It is a very simple business model that has network neutrality built in, as buyers of services can pick and choose from a wide variety of service providers and services, rather than being chained to the offerings of a single de facto monopoly provider.

Death of TV: Part LXX: The fat lady just sang!

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 01/07/2015 - 13:27

As the old saying goes, "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings." Dish Network just brought the fat lady out on the stage, and she is singing Sling TV. It's a new OTT (Over The Top) streaming video service that will include ESPN, Disney, CNN, TNT, and a bunch of other "channels," and I have "channels" in quotes because it is an archaic concept that dates back to the 1950s. But we know what it means.

Here is the money quote from the CEO of Sling TV:


"Millennials don't choose paid TV," said Roger Lynch, who was named CEO of Sling TV LLC. "So we designed a service based on how millennials consume content, with no contracts. You can come and go as you please."

If you are responsible for economic development in your community, ponder that statement. Or better yet, let me re-phrase it for you...."No one under 35 cares about cable TV." Or put another way, if you want young people to stay in or move to your community, you better have Internet capable of streaming multiple HD channels of "TV" over the Internet. It's a quality of life issue that you can't ignore.

Want help getting the right broadband infrastructure in your community? Give us a call (540-951-4400) and ask for Dave Sobotta. We would love to help.

Comcast must read this blog

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/09/2014 - 16:05

Comcast must be reading my stuff. I have been noting for years now that the cable HFC network is not meeting the needs of home-based workers. Via Lightwave, Comcast has announced a new service to improve connectivity. But it sure sounds like you can't get it unless your company buys corporate service from Comcast, as the article mentions "low" construction costs to get fiber to your place of business. So it will likely be of limited usefulness. I'm skeptical that very many businesses are going to switch their business Internet provider to support work from home.

Part II: Who needs a Gig?

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 11/21/2014 - 09:12

The incumbents love to ridicule Gig connections. AT&T sneered at the whole concept until Google announced they were going to do Gig fiber in Austin. About eight minutes later AT&T announced they had found a sudden need for Gig service in the Austin area (but nowhere else in the country...apparently Austin is "special" in AT&T's mind).

A colleague just sent me a screen shot that illuminates perfectly why a Gig of bandwidth might be occasionally useful. He had a hard drive crash, and being a smart guy, had everything backed up to offsite storage. The screen shot showed the time remaining to restore about 10% of his total file structure: one and a half days. If we multiply that by ten and assume that everything runs perfectly throughout the restore cycle (in my experience, a big IF), we are looking at about two weeks just to get your files back. Yea....AT&T is right...who needs a Gig?

The folly of avoiding shared broadband infrastructure

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/19/2014 - 09:22

The main four lane road near my home has been getting Yet Another Fiber Cable (YAFC). By my count, there are now five, count'em, five cables installed in the right of way on one side of the road or the other. All placed there within the past fifteen years, and includes the phone company, the cable company, and three private fiber providers. Why three private providers? The county has built three schools in a row, and they all want the school business. It is so profitable that three different companies are building private fiber and fighting for the business.

I am writing about this now because last week, the fiber contractors installing the conduit cut the electric power main cables not once but twice in two successive days, cutting off electric service to the grocery store and the bank, as well as several other businesses on the route. The grocery store was closed for two days, which has to be painful with respect to lost sales.

The tragedy here is that a single shared broadband infrastructure, built years ago, would have given the schools much more competitive pricing at much lower cost (in large part because only one set of conduit/fiber is installed instead of three). And on that shared fiber, the schools could have bid out their needs to a five or ten companies instead of just the three with enough spare cash to build completely duplicated fiber infrastructure.

But there's more. By having the schools put their business on the community-owned shared infrastructure, the whole community would benefit because the schools would have sharply expanded the total market, and the cost of telecom services would have come down for everyone. Instead, we have public right of way ruined by overbuilding (see the cut electric cables--at least in part because the right of way is crowded), schools paying too much for bandwidth and Internet, and everyone else along that route still stuck with poor service--despite hundreds of homes like mine near this route, there is no fiber to the home available.

Brain Gain: Worth a read

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/20/2014 - 14:48

I was fortunate enough to read an advance copy of Brain Gain: How Innovative cities create job growth in an age of disruption. The book does something which is too often overlooked: Making the case that broadband investments have to be thoughtfully linked to broader community and economic development goals. The book is written by the founders of the Intelligent Community Forum, Robert Bell, Louis Zacharilla, and John Jung. I have known these guys for years, and have served as a juror for the annual ICF "Intelligent Community" awards (Note: I don't get paid for that work).

In my experience, the communities that take the time to set a vision for the community are much more likely to see their broadband investments have a long term impact. If a community cannot answer the question, "What do we want the community to look like in ten or fifteen years?" then throwing some fiber in the ground is not likely to help much.

The book provides an insightful analysis of eighteen communities that have taken the time to ask the right questions about the future, have allocated the right funding and human resources to put the right infrastructure in place, and have given their efforts time to mature. There are a lot of good ideas and concepts in this book.

Why fiber? One business experience tells the whole story....

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 09/02/2014 - 12:29

If you are an elected official or an economic developer, everything you wanted to know about why high performance, affordable fiber networks are important is contained in this one story:


Brandon Schatz, CEO of SportsPhotos.com Inc., said he moved his business from Springfield, Missouri, to Kansas City, Kansas, in February 2013 to take advantage of Google Fiber.
“It was a very easy decision,” he said. “We’re trying to grow to hundreds and thousands of events. You can’t scale if your whole city isn’t fast enough.”
The service also is cheaper. In Springfield, he was paying $400 a month for 100-megabyte download speeds. Now, he pays $70 a month for Google Fiber’s 1-gigabit speeds, which are 100 times faster. He added the service is more reliable.

Here is the whole article.

G.fast: Not coming quickly to a neighborhood near you

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/25/2014 - 10:11

Here is a short article on the technical characteristics of G.fast, the "solution" that is supposedly going to allow the telephone companies to compete with the cable companies.

Don't want to click through and read it? Here is the short summary:

The article talks a lot about how great its working in Europe, but Europe is not the U.S. Cities are much denser generally in Europe, so more residences are going to be closer to the DSL switches. G.fast sounds good, but it does absolutely nothing for rural broadband, where distances from the DSL cabinet are measured in miles, not feet, and where the ancient copper cable plant can barely handle existing "little broadband" DSL, much less the very demanding G.fast. To get speeds of hundreds of megabits out of G.fast, you not only have to be close to the switch, the copper cable between your home and the switch has to be perfect, meaning brand new.

Hilariously, the article touts a test in Britain where they got 700 meg speed.....woohoo....wait for it....with a wopping 57 feet between the switch and the user. Fifty-seven feet.

That's all you have to remember about G.fast: 57 feet.

Fiber and Economic Development: Yes, there are positive impacts

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/30/2014 - 12:39

WideOpen Networks has a nice piece out about the impact of fiber on community economic development.

Slow news day in KC: Breaking!!! Eleventy! Google fiber crews mark utilities before digging!

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/23/2014 - 08:25

It must have been a really slow news day in Kansas City, where Google Fiber crews continue to install fiber in neighborhoods and install underground drops to homes. In what teeters perilously on the verge of parody, local TV station KMBC breathlessly reports on the horror of utility marking done by fiber crews prior to digging.


"....spraypaint markings--what sounds like the work of vandals...."

Oh, the horror of identifying utilities before actually, you know, digging things up. It sounds like Google crews are doing a terrific job, as the article cites more than 7,000 miles of installed fiber and a very small number of broken utilities. There were two gas lines hit, which caused some inconvenience, but if you put a shovel in the ground in public right of way for 7,000 miles, it is inevitable that occasionally something gets hit. What the news story fails to do is to really look at how well our Miss Utility really works. Like I say...it had to be a slow news day in Kansas City.

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