Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/27/2006 - 09:27
While at the Digital Cities conference in Reston, Virginia earlier this week, I was able to get some detailed information about Vasteras, Sweden, where they have implemented the kind of open service provider communitywide broadband I advocate for communities in this country. Vasteras is a medium-sized city of about 80,000 people. In past eighteen months, they have run fiber to 7000 homes, 23,000 apartments, and 2000 businesses.
The system is run as a completely open access network--any qualified service provider may offer services over the network, and they have eighty-six (86) service providers. There are several options for Internet access, starting at a full 3 megabit (symmetric--3 meg up and 3 meg down--not offered by any cable or DSL provider in the U.S.) for $15/month. You can get a full, symmetric 100 megabit service for $45/month (about what most of us pay for 1-2 megabit cable or DSL service).
The open access system uses a single community infrastructure that offers freedom of choice for subscribers (pick from 86 different services), increased competition, and much lower costs because service providers can sell services at lower prices because the cost of the infrastructure is shared across the entire community.
Robert Kjellberg, the Managing Director of the effort, said the system has created many new work at home opportunities, helped improve the delivery of local government services, provided new opportunities for distance learning, and that local schools have been able to make much greater use of the Internet for teaching. He said that every K12 student now has their own online portfolio of school projects.
The take rate for the network has been 50% among homeowners and 50% among businesses, and demand has been very strong. They continue to hook up new customers on a weekly basis.
Service providers have been very enthusiastic, and Telia, one of the incumbent providers, sells Internet access over the network for half the price that they charge for DSL in other communities. Kjellberg emphasized that the city does not sell any services and does not compete with the private sector--all services offered over the network come from private sector providers. The service providers pay a small portion of their revenue to the city, which is used to finance debt, expansion, and operations.
Here are some links to the project. Note that as of this day, a Swedish kronor (SEK) is worth about 13 cents USD, so you can take the Swedish service prices and divide by 7.4 to get the equivalent in US dollars.
Vasteras has won numerous awards for its network and has attracted worldwide attention because it has world class broadband at affordable prices. How about your community? Instead of just one or two highly restrictive and expensive broadband offerings, would it not be better to have homes and businesses choosing from 17 plans starting at $16/month?
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/10/2006 - 09:02
South Korea continues to be far more visionary than the United States when thinking about broadband and how it should be used. The city of Seoul, South Korea's largest city, has committed $830 million to the u-Seoul project. The 'u' stands for 'ubiquitious.'
The money will be used for a variety of projects, including high speed connections to all schools, government offices, and health facilities; high speed broadband for entertainment, culture, and sports facilities; and for public transportation and environmental monitoring.
While the Koreans are putting substantial investments into technology that will transform their economy, we are still debating whether broadband should be 200 kilobits/second (the FCC definition) or if we should jump things up to the 1-2 megabits/second favored by the telephone and cable companies (which is about 1% of South Korea's broadband target).
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 03/07/2006 - 10:43
I am not a big fan of me-too municipal wireless projects. Wireless technology remains in flux, with new equipment and systems coming online constantly. Interference and bandwidth issues have to be considered very carefully when designing these systems. And you have to know how you are going to pay for the network management and maintenance.
In other words, a community should not be planning a big wireless initiative just because "that's what they are doing in Philadelphia."
The city of Toronto has just announced a big wireless project, and they have an interesting approach to making the system pay for itself--VoIP.
The city wants to create competition for the cellular companies, and wireless VoIP could be just the thing. From a technical perspective, VoIP is clearly superior (think BetaMax). But wireless VoIP phones are not very appealing because they only work where there is a hotspot. And we want our phones to work everywhere.
So the cellular companies have an inferior voice/data combo (voice and EVDO data service) that works with an infrastructure already in place (think VHS). Wireless VoIP phones won't catch on unless they work, but how do build out the infrastructure when you don't have enough customers to pay the bills?
It's a classic chicken and egg problem.
But if local government steps in and helps with the infrastructure part, everybody wins. Suddenly, lots of people can use VoIP phones throughout the city, and competition drives voice prices down.
What would be great is if the city of Toronto allows multiple service providers to sell VoIP over the city network--that creates a win-win situation that creates jobs and opportunities in the private sector while those service providers pay small fees based on income to the city, which pays for the investment and maintenance.
Submitted by acohill on Sat, 02/25/2006 - 10:41
Here is my presentation from the morning keynote. Thanks for your interest. You can find more handouts and documents in the Library. If you are interested in the plastic microduct I passed around at the meeting, you can get more information about Emtelle FibreFlow here.
You can also visit the home page of Technology Futures for regular updates and technology news and what it means for communities.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 02/24/2006 - 17:09
I'm at the Pacific Community Network Association Annual Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. I gave the opening keynote this morning. I am really impressed with the energy and enthusiasm for broadband here. Folks up here understand better than many U.S. communities that broadband--affordable broadband--is essential to their communites. The province of British Columbia has hundreds of local community technology projects--active, vibrant efforts that are providing access, training, and services to hundreds of thousands of people in rural communities.
I'll be posting more over the next couple of days. Stay tuned.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/22/2006 - 14:32
Benedict College, in Columbia, South Carolina, is hosting a Technology Summit that is focused on how broadband and technology can improve and enhance life in urban neighborhoods and rural small communities. I'll be giving the opening keynote talk next Tuesday.
Out in Vancouver, British Columbia, a broad consortium of public groups, government, and businesses are hosting the 2006 Summit on Community Technology. Canada has committed substantial sums to improving broadband access in rural communities, and a hot topic at the meeting will be how to make best use of those funds. I'll be delivering the opening keynote at that meeting as well.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/17/2006 - 08:56
Northern Ireland is the first country in Europe to have 100% availability of broadband (typically DSL) to every home and business. Government investments helped get the job done.
But the real measure is impact. The CEO of the MJM Group, a highly specialized joinery firm in the country, had this to say:
"It would have been impossible to have achieved our export growth without broadband internet access which came to Rathfriland in 2004..."
A small northern Ireland company is expanding internationally because of broadband. What could firms in your area do with affordable broadband?
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 01/09/2006 - 10:23
This report says that Europe is starting to invest again in nuclear power [link no longer available]. Like the U.S., most of Europe stopped building nuclear power plants after the 1970s Three Mile Island disaster.
If you look strictly at deaths directly attributable to nuclear power and compare them to deaths from coal power, coal loses every time. There are mining disasters regularly, with the latest tragedy right here in Appalachia.
Nuclear's biggest problem was that during the sixties and seventies, every nuclear power plant designed was a one-off...that is, a custom design. It's like building cars by hand--expensive and increases the risk of problems. What we need is just one or two standard nuclear power plant designs that are well understood. Training and safety systems would be standardized, it would much easier to evaluate and test components, and the cost of off the shelf power plants would be much lower.
Nuclear power plants have virtually no emissions, do not generate acid rain or carbon dioxide, and don't require transporting large amounts of fuel (coal, oil, natural gas) across great distances. France generates 80% of its electricity from nuclear power, and has done so safely for more than twenty years. The U.S. needs to take another look at nuclear.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 12/02/2005 - 11:29
Here is a report from Denmark about how one group is trying to nurture and promote the growth of microbusinesses. Stick with the article to the end, and you will find a useful list of activities and projects that would apply in any community or region. Does your economic development game plan include these kinds of activities?
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 11/07/2005 - 12:08
EuroTelcoBlog has a story on Amsterdam's community fiber initiative.
The Dutch city has committed to running fiber to every home and business, and is starting with 40,000 homes, or about 10% of the city. So over the next seven to ten years, everyone in the city will have access to community-managed fiber and a wide variety of private sector services--in other words, competition and choice. This citation from the city-issued report shows how serious the city leaders are:
"This enables our city to compete with other European cities. The fiber network delivers to Amsterdam an innovative and freely accessible infrastructure, suitable to support growth in demand for the next 30 years or more. In this way we ensure a wide open marketplace for innovative service-providers and economic growth, as well as a fast track for the smarter and cheaper delivery of care, education and other public services."
The project is particularly interesting because of its organizational component. A stock corporation has been formed (something I've argued for for years), and the city holds one third of the stock, local housing corporations hold one third (probably the equivalent of our HUD-style housing efforts), and private investors hold one third. It is a public private partnership, and telcos and other telecom players could invest in and profit from the shared infrastructure. The private sector ownwership componenent neatly sidesteps the "unfair competition" issue tossed around so casually in the U.S.
For American towns, cities, and regions, this is the competition. And there is another message here as well. There is a lot of DSL in Europe, and Amsterdam has said, with this initiative, "We don't think DSL is good enough."
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 10/26/2005 - 10:43
Taiwan joins the growing list of countries that have nationwide strategies for providing some kind of broadband everywhere. The government has inked a $209 million dollar agreement with Intel to build an island-wide WiMax network.
Taiwan is much smaller than many U.S. states, but nonetheless, can you point to a single U.S. state that has put any significant funds behind a statewide broadband initiative?
Neither can I.
The odd thing is that states continue to dump tens and hundreds of millions of dollars into traditional economic development recruitment strategies to bring (typically) Manufacturing Economy businesses into a state, rather than attending to basic infrastructure improvements that would boost the opportunities of thousands or tens of thousands of smaller businesses. And keep in mind that all the job growth is in those small businesses (25 employees or less).
So state leaders dump millions into a single business and ignore all the businesses already in the state. And in Virginia, the state has had to sue some companies that took millions in incentives and then did not create jobs or move.
There are no technology problems. We have a lot of leadership problems, though, and the only thing that will fix that is an ongoing program to better educate our leaders on the issues and what we expect them to do.
Submitted by acohill on Sat, 10/15/2005 - 07:23
There is something both wierdly ironic and deeply depressing when American companies happily work with repressive regimes like China and now Myanmar, selling them Internet hardware and software for the express purpose of suppressing free speech (hat tip to Instapundit)
This report in the NY Times covers a deal between Myanmar (Burma) and Fortinet. Fortinet products are used by the Myanmar regime to block all sorts of topics related to freedom and democracy.
American companies have flourished precisely because this country has always supported free enterprise and free speech. To then build a business based on repressing those bedrock principles that led to the success of your company is wrong. The stockholders should be outraged, and the managers of the firm apparently have no principles at all.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 10/14/2005 - 14:50
Japan has announced a plan to roll out mobile Voice over IP services nationwide in less than two years, leaving the U.S. in dust. The new system will handle data speeds of 15 megabits/second, or 15-25 times faster than typical wired DSL and cable servie in the United States and nearly a thousand times faster than typical 3G cellphone data services.
Why are so many other countries so far ahead of the United States, and why are our local leaders so willing to let their communities languish without competitive technology?
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 09/29/2005 - 09:02
MIT's $100 dollar computer is beginning to take shape. The idea is to create a computer that is affordable for virtually everyone in the world, and does not have the power-hogging and environmental requirements that work fine in air conditioned homes and businesses but that are entirely unsuitable for use in rural villages without reliable electric power.
What baffles me is why this was not developed years ago by a major computer manufacturer. Those companies, with the exception of Apple, don't seem capable of thinking beyond the ends of their noses. They have decided consistently to ignore a market of several billion computer users to chase after a much smaller market of just a few hundred million users.
The $100 computer will unleash tremendous creativity, and will create incredible opportunities for developing and marketing software. Users of $100 computers will jump on Open Source software, but there will be plenty of room for commercial software as well, but priced quite differently than software is now. Instead of trying to sell, say, 50,000 copies of a piece of software for $100 (grossing $5,000,000), imagine selling 300 million copies of software for twenty-five cents (do the math). If there are, say, 3 billion computer users, going after 10% market share is not unreasonable.
One more thing....I wrote out the specs for this $100 computer almost eight years ago, and published it in the BEV Briefing Book. MIT's computer is eerily similar; perhaps great minds think alike. The original article is below as a PDF.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 09/07/2005 - 08:46
In a disturbing development, Yahoo! provided information to the communist Chinese government that was used to convict and imprison a journalist.
The Chinese government was angry because the journalist had merely expressed views about restrictions on the press in China that the government disliked.
This is so egregiously wrong that little needs to be said, other than it is clear that Yahoo! has absolutely no sense of right or wrong, and has decided that there is nothing more important than making money. Yahoo! cannot operate in China without the permission of the communist government, and so the company has decided to deal with the devil.
It also illustrates, unfortunately, my longstanding recommendation NOT to use free email and Web hosting services like Hotmail, Yahoo!, and Google. Your email becomes the property of someone else, and it can be used without your permission in legal proceedings.
If you need a personal or secondary email account, use a paid POP-based service where the mail is NOT stored on the service provider server after it has been downloaded. That is the only safe way to do it.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 08/31/2005 - 06:42
New Zealand Telecom has announced it will switch every phone in the country to the Internet-based VoIP system, starting in 2007. The company estimates it will take approximately five years to get every phone changed.
Voice over IP is moving rapidly, and the biggest benefit is reduced cost. A typical incumbent package of local and long distance calling in the U.S., using the old, 19th century phone system we currently have, cost between $40 and $50 on average. An equivalent VoIP package averages between $20 and $25. Savings are substantial for businesses with multiple phones. Another benefit is an increased set of services, like call forwarding and simultaneous ring, which are often included as part of the base package with VoIP offerings, but cost extra or are not available at all with the old 19th century phones.
Simultaneous ring is especially valuable for businesspeople who travel and/or have to be out of the office frequently. To set up the service, you enter two or more phone numbers (e.g. cellphone, home phone, etc.). Once the service is activated, when the primary phone number receives a call--typically your business phone number--all the phones you have listed will ring at the same time. The call is transferred to the first phone you pick up. It's a much more efficient version of call forwarding.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/15/2005 - 11:58
This article on Ethiopia's countrywide broadband project, which is four years old and beginning to deliver results, puts U.S. states to shame. Impoverished Ethiopia gets what many rural states and communities in the U.S. are still trying to understand. Here is the money quote from the Ethiopian prime minister:
Because we are poor, we can’t afford not to use ICT.
Exactly. Distressed rural and urban communities in the United States can't afford not to invest in IT. What is important about the Ethiopan effort is not what they did (the technology choices they made are tied to other infrastructure issues), but the fact that they recognized a problem, created a plan, funded a plan, and followed through.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 08/04/2005 - 08:57
While our FCC dithers about the best way to preserve legacy telephone and cable services, Singapore has pushed VoIP into the mainstream by creating a system for managing telephone numbers assigned to VoIP service providers. Singapore is not requiring VoIP providers to give subscribers access to emergency systems (911 services), but is offering incentives to those companies that do make the effort. This is much more sensible than the confusing and potentially punitive policy the FCC is trying to enforce.
And the FCC is not really the main problem. Our Congress just passed a huge roads appropriation bill, which is terrific. We're trying to fix our twentieth century highway system, while other countries are building twenty-first century highway systems.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/25/2005 - 09:59
Here is the second case of a person being arrested and charged for using someone else's wireless access. The perpetrator was caught deliberating cruising a residential neighborhood in the U.K. looking for open wireless access points (called wardriving).
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 07/22/2005 - 08:54
Cisco is beginning to draw attention on the 'net for its practice of selling network equipment to the Chinese Bureau of Public Security. This is the organization that beats up peaceful protesters, routinely engages in brutal physical torture, and is turning China's node of the Internet into a highly controlled state network, where typing a word like "freedom" on your personal Web site might get you a visit from the Bureau of Public Security.
Cisco is claiming they have not broken any laws, and that if they don't sell the equipment, someone else will.
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