Broadband

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.

Verizon moves to symmetric service

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/22/2014 - 08:48

Back in the nineties, some crackpot (okay, me) claimed that symmetric broadband connections were going to be essential because content creation was going to occur everywhere, not just at the office or in denizens like Hollywood. And for the last twenty years, just about everyone who works at a cable or telephone company has outright scoffed at the notion and/or patted me on the head and told me to go back to the wilds of the Appalachians.

Verizon has just announced that they are rolling out symmetric FiOS connections.

....kinda brings a tear to my eye....

And I think the Washington Post, where the article appeared, is exactly right: it is community broadband efforts, where symmetric connections are readily available, that are creating pressure on the incumbents.

Try canceling your cable service

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/15/2014 - 14:04

A technology reporter got Comcast's attention after he posted a recording of his attempt to cancel his service with the cable giant. As a Comcast customer, I would say that their customer service has improved somewhat over the past fifteen years, especially if there is an outage issue, but yea, some of my interactions over pricing and billing are similar to this guy's experience.

Gigabit: The word is changing telecom

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/15/2014 - 06:39

Fred Pilot over at Eldo Telecom has made a good point: that Gigabit fiber is changing the telecom landscape. More and more communities are making investments to bring Gig fiber to downtown areas, business parks, and schools, and a wave of CLECs are also making similar private sector investments. The Google Fiber initiative's primary contribution has been to legitimize Gig fiber. Prior to the Google project in Kansas City, those of us talking about Gigabit connectivity were often just looked at as kooks. Now Gig fiber is mainstream, as it should be. The focus on Gigabit services is putting pressure on the copper-based incumbents and creating new opportunities in both the private and public sector for new modern networks. And that is a good thing.

One Soap to rule them all

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/19/2014 - 08:41

For many households, the WiFi router is probably an item regarded with a mixture of dread and fear. Once you get the thing configured properly, you generally tend to forget about it...except when the Internet stops working. Then the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) takes over the lizard part of your brain...and your first step is stare at the wretched device, hoping that somehow, the gods of the Internet will just magically get the Internet back on so you can continue sorting your Netflix DVD list and posting what you just ate to Facebook.

A new wireless home router called Soap started out as an Internet filtering device ("cleaning" the Internet for families), but as the product was developed, more features were added to provide a higher level of integration.

Unlike every other wireless router on the planet, Soap has a touchscreen interface to help simplify configuring it--no more really bad Web-based control screens that only a Unix geek could love. Soap also understands a wide variety of wireless protocols that allows it to talk to the rapidly expanding market of home automation devices. This may turn out to be its best feature if it works well.

I have been interested in the home automation market for a long time, and have always thought that the biggest challenge is integration and interface. If every device manufacturer makes buyers use a poorly designed one-off interface, homeowners will be quickly overwhelmed and frustrated at the effort involved in configuring and managing many different "smart" (or dumb) devices. If Soap delivers on the interface and configuration features, it will force massive changes in the wireless router market.

What does this have to do with fiber? Some Fiber To The Home equipment manufacturers are integrating WiFi routers into the fiber interface equipment. But the utility of a device like Soap far out-strips anything that can be built into a fiber interface.

FCC Chair Tom Wheeler argues for community-owned broadband

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/12/2014 - 08:48

The FCC has posted an article by Tom Wheeler, the FCC Chair. In it, Wheeler discusses the benefits that Chattanooga's municipal Gigabit fiber network has brought to the region, especially with respect to dramatic improvements in economic development and jobs creation. If you take the time to read it, the comments are just as interesting, as some folks local to Chattanooga argue with an ISP about the role of local government in telecom.

"U-verse stinks"

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/24/2014 - 13:08

"U-verse stinks." That's not me, that's Netflix, according an article from Lightwave. Here's the interesting quote from Netflix:


"The surprising news is that AT&T fiber-based U-verse has lower performance than many DSL ISPs, such as Frontier, CenturyLink & Windstream..."

This was in a letter from the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, to stockholders. While this little spat between AT&T and Netflix is amusing, it highlights the vast divide between incumbent attitudes about what constitutes good service and what the customers of those incumbents regard as good service. The incumbents believe that good service is whatever they decide they want to give their monopoly-captive customers, while the customers think good service is being able to use Over The Top (OTT) services like Netflix without constant stuttering, re-buffering, and stalling out.

I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I was recently in a community that told me no one wants to live there anymore because of poor Internet service from the incumbent phone and cable companies. It's created an economic development crisis, because senior business managers that are being brought by existing companies in the town are choosing to live hours south of the community. And to make things worse, those same existing businesses are saying they can't expand and add jobs because their business Internet service won't support expansion.

Communities are at a crossroads: You can let the incumbent providers decide your economic development growth potential, or you can take control of your future and make some basic investments in competitive broadband infrastructure.

Death of TV: Part LXIII: Amazon announces Amazon Fire TV

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/03/2014 - 09:27

Amazon announced yesterday their "Fire TV" product, which is a $99 Internet to TV box that follows in the footsteps of Apple TV, Roku boxes, and Google Chromecast. All of these products connect directly to a late model TV and give you easy access to a wide variety of Internet-based content. The Amazon Fire offers Netflix, Hulu, NBA, AOL, Showtime, iHeart radio, Amazon Prime shows and movies, and Pandora, among other offerings. The box also gives you access to Amazon cloud storage for your own pictures and videos.

In terms of competing boxes, the Fire TV probably comes closest to the Apple TV box, which offers direct access to the iTunes store (movies, TV, music) and Apple's iCloud personal storage service.

I remain kind of ho-hum about all these devices, because I can access all the same stuff right on my computer at home, and simply watch the content on a large screen monitor. I have a hard time getting excited about a box that duplicates what I already have. But these boxes can deliver higher quality video, and if you have a large screen TV that you want to use for entertainment, these boxes deliver a lot of value. I dumped my cable subscription years ago, but even with Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu subscriptions, I just don't watch much TV...perhaps a couple of hours a week at most.

I see two significant things with this announcement. First, Amazon continues to deliver incredible value to its customers, and this box really ties together their other services like Prime video and cloud storage. This puts pressure on Apple, Google, and Microsoft to offer more and better products--always a very good thing. Second, it is getting easier and easier to cut the cable/satellite TV subscription. Comcast seems to have finally begun to agree with me that the old cable TV model is about dead, and is more focused on delivering improved Internet access to its customers. But a monopoly is a monopoly, and even if you save money in the short term by dumping your TV subscription, expect the cable companies to keep increasing their fees for Internet...because they can.

Comcast wants to buy Time Warner

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/13/2014 - 10:39

Comcast and Time Warner have agreed to merge, with Comcast buying Time Warner. Although this merger has to be approved by Federal regulators, the article suggests that since the two companies don't have overlapping territories, it may well be approved.

The merger would combine Comcast's 22 million subscribers with Time Warner's 11 million subs, and Comcast has said it would sell off 3 million subscribers to keep the new company below 30 million customers. Supposedly that is some threshold that determines if the company will have too big an influence on the market.

This smells of desperation to me. Cable TV is dead, dead, dead, with Over The Top (OTT) services like Netflix and Hulu killing off cable and satellite TV. I was in a rural community for a week recently. There were three complaints:

  • The lack of bandwidth is killing our Main Street businesses.
  • No one can work from home because the bandwidth available is too limited.
  • We are having a hard time attracting families because services like Netflix and Hulu are unusuable, and the kids are revolting.

    Aside from the fact that copper-based coaxial cable is grossly inferior to fiber, the cable companies simply can't provide business class symmetric services over their "entertainment" networks in any sort of consistent way, and they know it. So they are going to merge to give them market clout on the content side, and they are going to continue to try to buy laws at the state level, like they just tried in Kansas.

    In less than ten years, most American homes will have fiber. It is as inevitable as flush toilets, which were once considered a luxury. And when the dust settles, the communities that introduced competition by creating shared digital road systems are going to be doing much better economically.

  • Health applications are going to be the killer app

    Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/12/2014 - 10:18

    In the nineties, as the Internet became more popular, there was a long-running and often tedious discussion of what the "killer app" was going to be that would make everyone get Internet access. I always thought the whole discussion was a waste of time, because it was obvious to me that at that time, email WAS the killer app. People signed up for Internet access because they recognized the value of email for business use, personal use, or both.

    There is a similar discussion underway for broadband and particularly broadband over fiber (i.e. fiber to the home). I think it will be health services and applications. The Internet has already begun to disrupt the way health services are delivered, but we have barely begun to see what is possible. Today, services like Fitnet provide personalized interactive work out sessions, along with related products like the Nike collaboration with Apple that tracks runners and joggers. Apple watchers suspect that the company is going to roll out sophisticated new apps for both iPhones and Macs.

    Other companies are preparing to offer doctor visits via HD webcam-enabled software, and if companies like Apple lower the cost of sensors that monitor your health (e.g. blood oxygen levels, heart rate, blood sugar and insulin levels) we could see significant changes in the way health care is provided.

    The most potential is for improvements in the management of chronic health problems like diabetes and heart disease, where the ability of low cost sensor to provide hourly and daily monitoring of key information could lead to early diagnosis and better treatment.

    Most of these services are going to require a broadband connection, and cutting out just one $80 copay for a doctor visit per month will easily cover the cost of a fiber connection to the residence. Communities with aging populations and/or are desirable retirement locations will want fiber everywhere to deliver health care services where they are needed.

    FCC net neutrality rules overturned....the Internet is not going to fill with tollgates

    Submitted by acohill on Wed, 01/15/2014 - 17:17

    This CNet article is one of the best summaries of the foofaraw over the FCC net neutrality reversal.

    I have always been a contrarian on this issue. The big fear is that if the incumbents are free to charge differential pricing for different kinds of content, content will get more expensive. The classic example, which is used in the article, is that Comcast or Verizon will charge subscribers $10 a month more to access Netflix or Youtube because those services use so much bandwidth.

    My response is "So? They are running a business. They should be able to charge whatever they want. If they price their service too high, a truly open market will introduce competition and they will a) lose customers, or b) lower prices."

    Now this is where some people will start grumbling about incumbent use of public right of way and the obligation of right of way users to be "fair."

    If Comcast raises their prices on their old-fashioned copper infrastructure, it might create the right market conditions for a new company to lay fiber...in the right of way...and provide a better service at lower cost. Net Neutrality, as currently conceived, benefits the incumbents more than it hurts them by discouraging "true" pricing and thereby limiting competition. I suspect that the incumbents find it useful street theatre to complain about net neutrality but actually like it. It keeps the riff-raff start ups out of their markets.

    Palm Coast FiberNET providing big benefits

    Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/10/2013 - 13:48

    MuniNetworks reports on the success of the City of Palm Coast's FiberNET project. The all fiber City-owned network is operated as a multi-service, multi-provider open network, and is delivering substantial savings to both public and private entities and businesses connected to the network. The project is in the black, and FiberNET is expected to pay back all of the initial City investment in less than six years. Design Nine provided the network design, the financial planning, and the project management for the City of Palm Coast.

    nDanville has a waiting list for fiber connections

    Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/26/2013 - 13:58

    nDanville, the first muni multi-service open network in the U.S., has waiting list for fiber connections, and a growing list of new jobs and businesses that are being drawn to the community because of the low cost, high performance fiber infrastructure. Design Nine helped the City plan and design the network, and the investment is beginning to pay off as manufacturers keep moving to the fiber-connected business parks.

    New Hampshire FastRoads adding customers

    Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/26/2013 - 13:51

    FastRoads is a Gigabit network designed and built by Design Nine for New Hampshire FastRoads LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Monadnock Economic Development Corporation. One of the surprises, as we add more customers, is the unexpected demand for the 50 Meg Internet service, which is turning out to be higher than expected. On the FastRoads network, every connection is a Gigabit circuit capable of delivering multiple services from several different providers.

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