International

Is Yahoo! Communist?

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.

New Zealand phones go all IP

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.

U.S. Communities: Almost as good as Ethiopia

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.

Singapore mainstreams VoIP

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.

U.K. arrest for wireless theft

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).

Cisco aids Chinese "Public Security"

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.

Fiber to the home in Asia

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/14/2005 - 14:40

A private report by Informa Telecoms & Media shows that Asian countries are deploying fiber to the home faster than ever. In Japan, there are now about 2.5 million homes and businesses with fiber connections, and 10 million are expected by 2010. FTTH connections in the U.S total probably well under half a million, and that may be wildly optimistic. NTT, just one of several Japanese fiber providers, charges about $60 a month for a 100 megabit fiber connection, compared to around $45 a month in the United States for a copper-based "broadband" connection with an average speed of 1-2 megabits.

In South Korea, Korea Telecom (KT) has stated that copper "lacked the stability" for Internet-based television broadcasting, and has chosen to provide "guaranteed" 100 megabit fiber connections to customers. KT has also stated they are replacing DSL with fiber.

Here in the United States, we are fiddling with trying to shove a few megabits of data over copper electric lines and hailing it as "broadband." How much longer are we going to remain asleep as a country before we realize that broadband is a critical economic development issue, and that we can't afford to keep investing in twenty year old copper technology?

New Zealand builds MSAPs

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/13/2005 - 11:44

The city of Wellington, New Zealand has created an MSAP service they call CityLink. It is exactly the MSAP concept, and like Blacksburg, which began offering MSAP service in 1999, ISPs have flocked to it because it lowers costs and enables them to provide better services.

British Columbia builds MSAPs

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/13/2005 - 11:29

BC.NET, a project of the British Columbia provincial government, is deploying what they call Transit Exchange Hubs in communities throughout the province.

The Transit Exchange Hub is similar in concept to the MSAP (Multimedia Services Access Point), which I designed and implemented in 1999 as part of the Blacksburg Electronic Village. Both the Hubs and the MSAP build on a standard piece of Internet systems architecture called a NAP, or Network Access Point. What NAPs do is allow different networks (remember that the Internet is a network of networks, not a single contiguous thing) to exchange data.

What is different about the MSAP/Transit Exchange approach is that it pushes the NAP down into communities and regions. The benefits can be dramatic--network performance can increase substantially and the cost of intracommunity network traffic can go down significantly. So MSAPs reduce costs and improve network performance. For local applications that are sensitive to time delays like videoconferencing, voice telephone calls, or gaming, the MSAP can be critical to performance and usability by keeping local data local and not requiring Internet Service Providers to haul large amounts of data across their very expensive Internet backbone connections.

Spain says yes to fiber

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/05/2005 - 13:12

The province of Catalonia, in Spain, along with a consortium of 782 towns and cities located in the province, have agreed to invest $542 million in a province-wide, redundant fiber network that will connect all the partner towns and cities.

Meanwhile, in the United States, many of our elected leaders are trying to pass laws making this kind of investment illegal.

Motto for the week: Our state--not really as good as Catalonia, but we have great dial-up.

Are phone companies wrecking America?

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/23/2005 - 10:54

Are the phone companies wrecking the U.S. economy by spending hundreds of millions of dollars to buy legislation that prevents America's businesses from competing in the global marketplace?

James Carlini, writing in ePrairie, says yes. He wonders why the phone companies are putting millions into the pockets of lobbyists while simultaneously claiming they can't afford to upgrade their networks. He also points out that is not just the phone companies. The cable companies have also been pouring millions into the pockets of politicians to try to get laws passed that force businesses and communities to use only the old, copper-based telephone and cable systems, while the rest of the world is going straight to fiber.

Carlini says there is something wrong when twice as many South Koreans have broadband than U.S. citizens. Worse yet, Americans are paying, on average, about twice as much as South Koreans, and getting inferior connections that are slower. So we pay more and get less.

South Korea builds a Digital Media City

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 06/20/2005 - 09:59

I write a lot about what is happening in other countries, but some of my citations are just statistics--useful to a point, but sometimes you want more detail. Here is some great information about a single project in South Korea that probably dwarfs many other technology park efforts in the United States, and an indicator of how serious some other countries are about passing the U.S. in technology.

This Digital Media City project appears to be well-focused and well-financed, and is not just a local effort--read down the page to see the "Rental Housing for Foreigners." The project is planning from the ground up to attract overseas investment, and to make sure the right kind of housing is available. How about business parks in your area? Does your plan address the needs of international firms to this degree?

This is the competition.

America still has an edge in the Global Economy

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/16/2005 - 10:15

Although I think U.S. communities have to work much harder on their economic development because of overseas competition that simply did not exist even fifteen years ago, we still have a valuable edge. This blog reprints an op-ed piece on some of the problems businesspeople in India face. Red tape, bureaucratic foot-dragging, costly permits, intrusive rent control, and antiquated labor laws make it very difficult to start a business in India.

By contrast, it is dead simple in the United States, and usually just involves paying a small fee to register your business with the local government. I don't think it is coincidental that the low barriers to starting a business track nicely with the fact that as many as 90% of new jobs in the U.S. are created by small businesses.

Afgahnistan beats the US in TV

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/07/2005 - 08:44

Afghanistan has converted successfuly to a new countrywide all digital television system, while the FCC dithers in the U.S. with a myriad of mostly irrelevant and/or conflicting regulations on the U.S. television industry.

I wrote recently that Ethiopia has a countrywide plan for broadband, unlike the United States. Not only do we NOT have enough elected and appointed leaders taking this seriously, we actually have politicians introducing laws forbidding states and communities from dealing sensibly with this new public infrastructure. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) has introduced a bill in Congress that would give the telcos the ability to shut down municipal projects nationwide. This would be exactly the same as introducing a bill in 1950 forbidding communities from investing in public water and sewer projects, with exactly the same devastating effect on economic development.

While the rest of the world, even places like Afghanistan and Ethiopia, "get" that technology investments are critical to their future, some of our leaders seem determined to cripple the future of communities.

New Zealand invests in broadband

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/17/2005 - 09:16

New Zealand, which is a country smaller than most U.S. states, is investing heavily in broadband, with a budget in the tens of millions of dollars. While too many state legislators (14 states at last count) are trying to limit broadband, we've got countries that are going in the opposite direction.

We don't really have a broadband problem in the United States, we have a leadership problem. When our elected leaders are more interested in maintaining a Manufacturing Economy status quo, rather than helping their own communities and states compete in the global Knowledge Economy, that's not a technology problem, it is an education problem. We need to be helping our leaders understand the issues affecting economic development, and in particular, why we need to be looking at what is happening in other countries. It's not sufficient just to complain that they are not doing their job--we need to roll up our sleeves and help them understand what our communities need, and why.

Holland and the iPod tax

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/29/2005 - 08:56

The Register reports on a new law enacted in Holland that can charitably only be described as "stupid." In a misguided effort to prop up the ailing music industry, the Netherlands has decided to impose a per megabyte tax on all hard drive-based music players, with the proceeds going to the music industry.

This means, according to the article, that the 60 gigabyte model of the iPod would have a tax of $235! According to the Register, Germany also has a tax on computer hard drives, and as they get bigger, the hard drive tax could exceed the base cost of the computer (that is, the tax will be several thousand dollars).

There are so many things wrong with this approach that it is hard to know where to begin. In the first place, the Holland law assumes that all music stored on portable music players is stolen, when in fact only a very small percentage is. So music lovers have to pay royalties twice--once when they buy the music, and again when they buy the music player. It's a windfall for the music industry, since only a small part of royalties actually go to the artist. It forces the music player retailers to become tax collectors, which is always a bad idea. And it will simply drive the purchase of music players out of the country. Holland is an easy drive from a half dozen other countries, and it's barely an afternoon trip to take the train to France, pick up an iPod, and go home.

The music industry does not have a "right" to make money. As markets and technologies change, businesses have to change too. This business of using laws to protect monopolies hurts communities and whole countries, as innovation and new products are simply driven elsewhere. It's a global economy, and Dutch lawmakers are naive in extreme to believe this law will work. It will only hurt the country's economic development as businesses see their customers go elsewhere, and not just for iPods. While they are across the border, they are likely to shop for other items as well.

Digital Cities: Japan Broadband Case Study

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/19/2005 - 10:04

Scott Wilkinson, a VP for Hitachi Telecom, gave a talk about broadband in Japan. The typical broadband fiber connection in Japan is 100 megabits/second, and typically costs about $58/month; costs have dropped 66% in the past four years. Most broadband connections in Japan are data only, so the "triple play" is not a big consideration. The connections support video on demand, which is very popular, but there is no broadcast television content. The connections work very well for video on demand, with near real time viewing (i.e. no long wait to download before viewing).

Fiber To The Home (FTTH) is growing rapidly in Japan, and the big loser is cable modem service. The electric companies in Japan are NOT offering Broadband over Powerline (BPL), but instead are selling fiber service, which should be a clue to communities that think BPL is the way to go.

ADSL is seen as a problem in Japan, even though it has a high subscriber base. ADSL and VDSL are both available and offer much higher data rates than typical DSL services in the U.S., but the distance senstivity is a big issue, as subscribers just a few blocks away from each other can end up with very different levels of service.

The typical range of applications in Japan are very similar to the applications and services in the U.S., but the Japanese service providers have found that when people are given more bandwidth, they use it, which refutes the telco argument that no one has a need for high bandwidth connections. One of the trends is more work from home and from remote locations; the high bandwidth supports high quality videoconferencing and actually often provides a better level of service than is available in some business offices. So affordable broadband has become an engine for new kinds of work opportunities.

Services in Japan are driving demand, not connections. As more services ae available, more people sign up for high speed connections. The installation fee for fiber averages $150, so that can be a source of funding to help pay for community fiber builds. Fiber systems in Japan are profitable, with fees distributed this way:

3.5 Gigabits is the new target

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 04/13/2005 - 13:09

When I tell people that the target for broadband ought to be 155 megabits or better, many scoff at me, even though I have plenty of information that shows we need that much for the things we all want to be doing in less than a decade.

Unfortunately, the FCC continues to prop up the incumbent telephone and cable companies by calling broadband anything faster than 256 kilobits. This allows the incumbents to tell poorly informed elected leaders and economic developers in our communities that cable modem and DSL service offerings exceed Federal government recommendations by a wide margin, when in fact the 1-3 megabit throughput of DSL and cable modems is woefully inadequate. Not knowing anything else about the issue, many leaders decide they don't need to do anything, since the community "already has broadband."

It's video that will drive much of the bandwidth needs, and with high definition (HD) programming becoming more common, you need, depending on whom you ask, somewhere between 3-8 megabits for a single HD video stream. With the average American household having 3.68 televisions, you have to design your network to support four of those video streams simultaneously, or somewhere around 40-50 megabits/second just to watch TV. And you have to be able to handle approximately a 3x "burst" capacity when you decide to watch a video downloaded via the Internet.

But my figure of 155 megabits is still setting the bar awfully low. Our Canadian (CANARIE) friends are already doing advanced testing of immersive, multi-party videoconferencing with enhanced audio services called High Definition Ultra-Videoconferencing. The system uses 3.5 gigabits/second in each direction--or about 22 times more bandwidth than my recommendation of 155 megabits/second.

Of course, it takes an all fiber system to do this. Fiber continues to be the best futureproofing a community can undertake, as it can handle whatever bandwidth needs we want to throw at it, just by swapping out the electronics at the ends.

South Korea, again

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 04/03/2005 - 19:25

For a sobering look at the future, this article on South Korea is a wake-up for anyone who thinks the United States is technology savvy.

New technology does not get tested in the U.S. anymore; instead, software and hardware firms go to South Korea, where virtually every household and business has broadband, most cellphones also have data connections, and everyone is jacked in. Massive government spending on a national fiber grid has dramatically accelerated the use of broadband, and it's affordable throughout the country.

Granted, South Korea's small size gives it some advantages. But the mystery is why our elected and appointed officials seem content to do nothing or worse, hand the keys to the future of our communities over to a a few big companies determined to keep us well behind the rest of the world.

West Virginia jumps to the head of the nation

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/25/2005 - 11:49

West Virginia, just a few miles away from Blacksburg, has jumped to first in the nation with respect to intelligent, pro-community thinking about broadband.

The state legislature, unlike more than a dozen other states trying to cripple the ability of communities to promote economic development and to support existing businesses, is saying, "We don't want to do that."

Not only that, the state seems ready to give communities the tools they need to chart their own future. This article [link no longer available] has the details.

Here is evidence of West Virginia's sophisticated thinking:

David Levine, director of technology and transformation with the West Virginia Development Office, said creating a cohesive fiber optic network could create a competitive advantage and could help keep technologically inclined West Virginians from leaving the state to find work. "People will be able to work where they live," he said."

The bill would explicitly give communities the right to issue bonds to pay for telecommunications infrastructure--just as communities have done safely and securely for decades for other improvements like water, sewer, and schools. It would also explicitly give communities the right to act as a service provider.

A Verizon representative expressed skepticism over the bill. What a surprise--a phone company opposes competition. It's almost funny to see Verizon on the short end of the stick. I don't think they have expressed dismay in other states when last minute bills popped up that opposed community telecom projects. This second article notes that Ireland went from 18% unemployment to 3% unemployment because of an intense focus on telecom investments to support communities and open access networks. Ireland, which is about the size of West Virginia, has constructed a fiber ring connecting 123 towns and cities. Any service provider can use the network to deliver services.

Here's another quote that shows West Virginia legislators "get it."

Committee Chairman John Unger, D-Berkeley, said he and others did consult with Verizon, Adelphia and other companies, but he made no apologies for not releasing the bill to them before it came out of his committee.

"The special interest groups think they ought to see the legislation before the legislators see it," he said. "That's where everybody's got it backwards around here. They've got it backwards, because they think that the special interest group ought to draft the legislation and then show it to the Legislature, and that's not the way it should be."

The bigger question is why are so many legislators in other states falling for the contorted and misleading information being provided by the telcos and cable companies? And if Ireland has been successful in promoting economic development by building open access networks, why are our legislators seemingly dead set against it (except in West Virginia)?

So here's a slogan for you: "Our state--almost as good as Ireland and West Virginia."

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