WiFimobile is the new bookmobile

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/30/2016 - 13:54

Google has helped to fund some middle school buses in Caldwell County, North Carolina with WiFi so that the kids can get some school work done while traveling back and forth to school.

While this is an interesting experiment, the reason behind it is the abysmal state of broadband access in rural America, where whole families have to drive to McDonalds or the local library so mom and pop can get their email and shop, and so the kids can do their homework.

Everywhere I go these days in rural areas, the number one complaint is coming from the mothers of K12 children. Mom is dead tired from trying to manage access to Internet for her children. Stop in a rural McDonalds after 3 PM, and I can almost guarantee you will spot some vans in the parking lot with mom in the drivers seat and two or three kids bent over laptops or tablets trying to get their homework done.

Rural libraries are groaning under the strain of demand for Internet access, and they have to strictly manage time limits on the use of library computers. As the school systems put more and more textbooks and resources online, the problem becomes more acute for families with poor Internet access.

The horror of ordering Internet service

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/10/2016 - 09:13

I just spent 40 minutes trying to help a friend order Internet service for a new home in rural North Carolina. They knew that there was no cable service, but did not know who the telephone company was for the area.

I thought this would be easy.

I tried four different companies: Windstream, AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink. Verizon's site was the worst, as they make it very clear that they don't want to sell you any copper-based services. I spent many minutes clicking around on their site trying to figure out how to order DSL, without much luck. When you do finally find the DSL page, the only "order" button is for FiOS. No matter what page you land on on the Verizon site, it's all FiOS, all the time, along with lots of add-on services they want you to buy to fluff up your bill.

One thing that was interesting: on one of the pages I landed on trying to get to the DSL information, the first thing you see is a full page of information about cellular data plans. So Verizon wants to sell you a cellular data plan or FiOS, and anything else....not so much. I did eventually find the link to check an address for service, and of course, they had none for my friend's home.

The other three providers were pretty much the same. AT&T winds some sort of prize for the most obscure service names: You can order U-verse or Gigapower. Snap quiz: Which one is fiber and which one is DSL? Answer: Good luck figuring that out. Finally found the "check address" dialog, and of course, no service. But great news! AT&T is happy to sell you satellite TV and a cellular data plan.

When you go to Windstream, you get a really bad version of Yahoo! News as their front page. CenturyLink actually easily had the best site, with a well-designed front page that made it relatively easy to figure out what plans are available and their cost. But no service in my friend's area.

Despite record profits and high prices, all four companies seem determined to clutter up their own site with ads and "up sell" items, which are probably enormously profitable. But trying to order plain old telephone or Internet service is an exercise in frustration. If I have trouble, I can only imagine the teeth-grinding and keyboard pounding that a typical potential customer goes through to just get some very simple information.

Next step for my friend: She is going to contact some neighbors to find out who the telephone company is. So much for the power of the Internet.

The myth of meet-me boxes and expensive drops

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/18/2016 - 15:30

We are working with a medium-sized city to design a new open access Gigabit fiber network, and the local telephone company is claiming that the connection from the street to the office building (in the downtown area) is "the most expensive part of reaching the customer."

So they are pushing for "meet-me" boxes outside of the downtown buildings, which would terminate fiber from the buildings into a fiber patch panel, and calling this open access.

Well, it is, after a fashion, but meet-me boxes favor the companies that already have fiber in the street or the alley. Any competitive provider that does not already have that advantage would have to spend a lot more money to get their fiber to the meet-me box. So the phone company cleverly "supports" open access by touting a solution that gives them a huge competitive advantage and effectively locks out most competition.

In fact, it is worse than that, because in this city there is a second provider that also has some fiber downtown, and they also like the meet-me box solution. Of course they do. The two companies would get an effective lock on the business market downtown and would be able to maintain their existing cartel-like pricing.

So this brings us to the notion that the fiber cable between the street and the building is the "most expensive part" of the network. It is not. As a general rule of thumb, it represents between 20% and 35% of the cost of a new build, and could be even less than 20% if the drop is made from a pole in the right of way to the side of the building (could be as low as 5% to 10% of the total build cost).

The incumbents are really stuck on "owning the customer." But the world is changing.

How about G.Fast for the rest of us?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 02/02/2016 - 08:54

Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent are touting improvements in G.Fast, claiming 11 Gig speeds on copper. But when you read the fine print, that's on pristine brand new copper cable in the lab.....and....wait for it....over a distance of 150 feet.

Rural local loop copper is measured in tens of thousands of feet. Call me when they are getting 100 Meg speeds over ten thousand feet of fifty year old rural local loop copper with cracked, worn insulation that is letting water in every time it rains, and I'll get a bit more excited.

Colorado communities strike back at the Empire

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 11/08/2015 - 09:14

Forty-four Colorado communities passed referendums that give those the communities the right to build their own broadband infrastructure.

Colorado is one of those states that had a legislature pass a law forbidding local community investment in broadband unless a public referendum was voted on. At the time (ten years ago) the incumbents probably figured that was a bar too high for those towns and counties to jump over.

But after a decade of poor and slow service, the referendums passed easily. As < a href="">Gigi Sohn of the FCC noted recently, communities are going to have to build their own modern networks. And so they are.

Why wireless won't replace fiber...

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/19/2015 - 14:12

All wireless "unlimited data" plans come with an expiration date. Once a cellular company's sales targets for new customer has been met, they change the "unlimited data" plan.

In this example, it is Sprint which has announced that once you use your monthly "unlimited" allotment of 23 Gig of data, you get throttled.

Exhibit Number One in the Museum of Why Wireless Won't Replace Fiber is data caps. If wireless was so wonderful, the cellular companies would not have to put data caps on their service. But the data caps PROVE that the wireless infrastructure can't handle the demand. If it could, they would not be doing this bait and switch.

Network shaping

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 09/09/2015 - 10:05

I had a call recently from a vendor trying to sell us "user controlled network shaping." I asked him who would want to do that, and he really could not answer the question. He just kept repeating how great it would be when users could configure the network to meet their needs.

I have seen a number of articles recently about "network shaping," and many of them make the pitch that this will be great for customers. I've never thought, "My copper-based phone service would be so much better if I could shape and control the bandwidth allocated for dial tone to my premises."

Very few telecom users care about the network...they care about the service. No one ever called the phone company and ordered three hundred feet of twisted pair, or called the cable company and asked for five hundred and twenty-five feet of coax with a DOCSIS 3 interface.

Users want to be able to choose among a variety of competitively-priced services. Users want to customize and select their services, but they don't want to customize the network. The future is in complete separation of transport and services. All the problems we have now are because transport and services are bundled together, so we get inferior transport (inferior bandwidth) because that's the only way to get the service.

As the Local Transport Provider (LTP) model becomes more common, the benefits will become more apparent. And for those that continue to insist that this is some esoteric and untested approach, it might be worth actually talking to LTP networks that have been in operation in the U.S. for years, like nDanville and The WiredRoad.

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 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,

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.

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