Broadband

Iowa says it will be first in broadband

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 11/22/2004 - 09:57

Iowa has what many other communities won't take the time to get--a clear, concise vision for the future. A consortium of Iowa communities and businesspeople have decided on a very simple goal--to have the best broadband infrastructure in the country.

Even better, based on the news article, they are doing it exactly the right way--with community investments in the transport layer (e.g. dark fiber) and leasing it to access and service providers who will deliver the services.

This approach is a win-win-win. Governments win because their investments are modest and manageable, and access fees provide a stable source of revenue to support the system. Private sector broadband providers win because they get access to more markets at lower cost, because the local governments are bearing part of the cost of infrastructure. Consumers win because the community investments expand the marketplace, create more competition, and lower the cost of broadband.

Don't forget that local government, schools, libraries, and health care providers are all users of broadband. Community investments lower costs for all users, public and private--don't discount the value of secondary savings from those initial public investments.

Philadelphia to fight ban on municipal wireless

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 11/22/2004 - 09:32

The City of Philadelphia has been much in the technology news lately because of its ambitious plans to offer wireless broadband throughout much of the city. It's now back in the news with its announcement that it will fight a statewide ban on municipalities offering Internet access and related services.

On the one hand, these legislative attempts to throttle community projects are almost always the handiwork of the incumbent phone companies, who typically are nonpartisan in their strategy--they give money to all legislators, who then too often pass bills favoring these companies. A cynic might view this as selling out the electorate.

On the other hand, I don't believe local governments ought to be in the service business for broadband. It's not the same as water or electricity, and the fact that the community has municipal water and/or electric service does not, in my opinion, necessarily justify going into the broadband business.

As I have said repeatedly, I view more it like roads. Communities build and maintain roads, but they don't own the cars and trucks (or the businesses) that use those roads.

I'm very much in favor of municipal and local government investments in broadband, ESPECIALLY in underserved communities, but I think the way to do it is to keep the delivery of access and services in the private sector, where jobs are created and taxes are paid. It's a little more work and effort at the outset to make sure you have the right business and administrative model, but over the long term, making the private sector a partner is going to have a much better outcome.

Historic meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 11/11/2004 - 10:13

I had the privilege of attending what I think was a historic and potentially revolutionary meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Tuesday. The provincial government had convened an all day conversation about the broadband needs of rural communities, and how to best get affordable broadband connections to those communities.

It was Garth Graham, one of the real pioneers of the community technology movement, who grabbed me after lunch and pointed out that as far as he knew, it was the first time ever that four different groups of people met in the same room to talk about rural broadband problems. Represented at the meeting were:

It was a remarkable meeting, with open, frank, and stimulating dialogue from all four groups. The fact that it happened, that so many people attended (over 50 people), and that there was such honest speaking, listening, and understanding, suggests that we have truly turned a corner in beginning to identify and actually implement community telecom solutions that have a chance of meeting both public needs (the common good) and private needs (increasing shareholder value).

The group agreed that more meetings were needed to hash out details, but there was remarkable consensus that the problem is largely one of policy, administration, and management, and that this is not a technology problem, in the sense that it is NOT a matter of just picking wireless, or fiber, or Gigabit Ethernet, or so on. All parties agreed that communities and regions need some new and yet to be determined entity to help with telecommunications issues (infrastructure, access, services, policy, regulation).

ADSL2+ increases the digital divide

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 11/01/2004 - 09:09

A flurry of articles like this are talking about ADSL2+, a new standard for DSL service over old copper phone lines. ADSL2+ is not only too long as an acronym, it offers too little, and ironically increases the digital divide, in my opinion.

In short, the new service will provide increased bandwidth over copper phone lines, but only if you are about one and a half miles from the telephone switch, as opposed to the three miles of the current DSL offering. ADSL2+ also will go further than the old three mile limitation, but only at low data rates--about four times dial up speeds.

So a few subscribers may get DSL service where they could not before, but only at much slower than "normal" DSL. And a few subscribers may get much faster service, but only if they are very close to the telephone central office. And it's important to remember that the distance rule of thumb is not line of sight, but cable feet; not only that, the ability to deliver DSL is highly dependent on the quality of the copper cable. In many rural areas, DSL just does not work on older cable plant, even inside the distance limits.

It's hard to see how this benefits anyone, even the phone company. It further segments their own customer base and prevents them from offering the same set of services to all customers. For example, some ADSL2+ customers might be able to get a single channel of high quality high defintion TV (HDTV), but others will not. How you market that is a mystery to me--"HDTV--it might work in your area, but maybe not!"

The phone companies are still very fixated on market share, rather than on offering good services in a competitive marketplace. So in their minds, anything that continues to allow them to lock customers up over copper is good, even if it's bad. Does that make sense to you? It doesn't to me either, but that's their strategy until they can figure out a way to justify running fiber to neighborhood.

County Administrator: Broadband is necessary

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 10/31/2004 - 09:27

In the Northern Neck of Virginia, broadband is being viewed (appropriately) as a critical economic development issue.

One of the most interesting items in the article is near the end, where an independent ISP that has been reselling DSL via Verizon infrastructure for some time is now in trouble. For a long time, Verizon said there was not enough business in the Northern Neck to justify the investment. So this independent firm sold DSL. Now that the market has been opened by its competitors, Verizon has stepped in and begun selling DSL for less that it charges for wholesale circuits to its competitors.

Verizon has every right to do that, and I don't think communities ought to waste time and effort trying to "get" telcos and cable companies to behave differently. They have to answer to shareholders, not the community.

But the article highlights clearly what communities are facing: a marketplace monopoly (rather than a regulated monopoly) in which the community has only one or two large broadband providers that are able to act in cartel-like behavior, setting prices and services options because of lack of competition. If affordable broadband is an economic development issue (and I think it is), then the community places its economic future in the hands of the big telecom providers unless the community itself makes some investments to level the playing field.

In the last paragraphk, the article quotes the county administrator of Westmoreland County, who worries about investing in the wrong technology. It's a valid concern, but it's not an excuse for doing nothing. And that issue is managed in two ways: communities need to plan for telecommunciations, just like they plan for everything else. Secondly, communities should invest in things that don't become obsolete quickly--telecom duct, fiber, tower sites, antnennas, and colocation facilities. Fear of the unknown (otherwise called ignorance) is putting the economic future of communities at risk. But ignorance is easily correctable--as I've said for nearly a decade--this is an education problem, not a technology problem.

New group forms around fiber to the home

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 10/27/2004 - 07:57

from a mailing list....

GROUP FORMS TO EDUCATE CONSUMERS AS FIBER-LINKED COMMUNITIES PROLIFERATE

With the number of communities linked with fiber-to-the-home rapidly growing, a new coalition has been formed to educate consumers about the benefits of optical access networks. Max R. Kipfer, founder and president of Fiber Optic Communities of the United States (FOCUS), said the group would "unite fiber-optic communities from urban, rural, and suburban settings with the aim of propelling America into the next generation of communication."

During a press briefing in Washington, FOCUS General Counsel Lawrence Freedman said one of the group's missions would be to promote the sharing of information and dissemination of strategies among communities seeking to connect homes and businesses with fiber-optic networks. "All of the best technology will be of no use if there's not the transactional structure and operative environment" that's needed, he said.

The press briefing featured presentations on fiber-optic deployments from representatives of the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA), a government effort to build a fiber-optic network covering 14 towns in Utah; Jackson (Tenn.) Energy Authority, which has built a fiber-optic network; and Brambleton Group LLC, which is installing fiber optics in its development in Loudoun County, Va.

Link Hoewing, assistant vice president at Verizon Communications, Inc., highlighted his company's plans to install fiber to the home in 100 central offices in nine states, passing 1 million homes, by year-end, and to pass 3 million by the end of 2005. Verizon has been expediting its deployment after receiving favorable regulatory decisions on fiber-related issues, he added.

Mike Render, president of Render Vanderslice and Associates, said fiber-to-the-home deployments had "taken off in the last six months," in large part due to Verizon but also due to several new "wired communities." There are now 217 communities in the U.S.

We've found the killer app

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/25/2004 - 07:58

All through the nineties, and especially during the dot-com silliness, hundreds if not thousands of companies talked about the "killer app." Usually those who claimed they had it were making some thinly veiled sales pitch for some proprietary piece of software that they believed would make them kings of the world.

I argued, at the time, that the killer app was email, and I still think I was right. Email is one of two things that virtually everyone does online. The other is search, and of course, the founders of Google, if not kings of the world, are now insanely rich.

But Google was never designed to be the killer app; no one was sure where search tools were going to go; they just happened. Alta Vista, the first search tool that tried to index the Web, was really started in large part to show off the power of DEC's processors, which weren't doing well in the marketplace. Alta Vista's early lead was squandered and DEC was bought out by Compaq, which killed the once powerful company, and Compaq was bought by HP. Ho hum.

Broadband connectivity has largely escaped the killer app disease, but in an odd kind of way. The broadband giants (i.e. telcos and cable companies) have pretty much failed to recognize that broadband is not that interesting unless you can do something with it. The big connectivity companies of the dot-com era (e.g. Global Crossing, UUNet, etc.) all collapsed because they utterly ignored the very sensible question, "What will people do with the bandwidth?" Consolidation in the cable business has been driven in large part by the enormous debt wracked up by cable companies trying to get broadband marketshare in advance of having even the slightest idea what people would do with it.

The killer app for broadband is going to be Voice over IP, or in simpler terms, telephone calls. We're already at a point where you can pretty much buy WORLDWIDE flat rate calling for under $40/month. Free point to point telephony software drives that cost down to zero.

We ought to stop calling the phone companies, well, phone companies. They aren't anymore, whether they like it or not. They have no choice but to become broadband companies, and just one of numerous services they offer happens to be dialtone.

In his remarks to the Voice on the Net conference in Boston on October 19th, FCC Chairman Michael Powell has called VoIP a "revolution." Powell went on to call for "bare DSL" access, meaning you can buy DSL service without being forced to buy bundled telephone service.

He went on to say something even more remarkable by outlining what he calls the Internet Consumer Freedoms:

  1. Freedom to Access Content: Consumers should have access to their choice of legal content;
  2. Freedom to Use Applications: Consumers should be able to run applications of their choice;
  3. Freedom to Attach Personal Devices: Consumers should be permitted to attach any devices they choose to the connection in their homes; and
  4. Freedom to Obtain Service Plan Information: Consumers should receive meaningful information regarding their service plans.

The Consumer Freedoms that Powell outlines are breathtakingly simple yet incredibly important. They underscore the need for communities and organizations to have a competitive marketplace for broadband services--monopoly providers have no incentive to meet Powell's requirements.

It is exciting that Powell has laid this out so plainly. What's going on? Well, another part of his remarks calls for exclusive Federal regulation of Voice over IP. If the alternative is a mish mash of fifty different sets of state rules that are likely heavily influenced by corporate contributions, that may be the right direction, as long as Federal regulation is as light as possible. It appears Powell understands this.

download Michael Powell VoIP remarks).
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BPL: Electric company says no to being ISP

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 10/22/2004 - 13:04

Here is an interesting article in the New York Times (registration required) about an experiment by Con Ed, the big New York City area electric provider, with Broadband Over Powerlines (BPL).

The BPL trial is not particularly noteworthy. I'll bet most of the electric utilities in the country have bought some equipment and are playing around with it. No, what's worth mentioning is that Con Ed has said, "Our aim is definitely not to become an Internet service provider."

Yes! That's exactly right. Con Ed has partnered with EarthLink, which will be the ISP. Con Ed is simply going to provide the transport layer, and the electric company is going to do what it does best, which is to go around and bury cable. They are doing what they know how to do, and will make a buck leasing their transport system (the electric lines) to someone else, who knows the Internet access business. Even better, Earthlink has not been trying to capture the content side of the broadband business, which the cable and telephone companies would like to do. Aside from a modest portal site, EarthLink is also sticking to the knitting.

If BPL becomes a force in the marketplace (and the jury is still out on the economics of that because of the amount of equipment needed to retrofit an electric service area), it will most likely succeed if the electric utilities do what Con Ed is doing--provide the transport layer and partner with others on access and service.

And thre is a lesson there for communities that want to jumpstart broadband--provide the transport layer and let the private sector deliver the access and services. Pay for the community investment by being the "carrier's carrier" and have just a few bulk customers (the access and service providers). It's a nice, clean business model that does not compete with the private sector and does not re-monopolize the marketplace (by creating a new public monopoly for broadband).

Broadband Over Powerlines (BPL) gets the green light

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/19/2004 - 12:56

BPL has the green light from the FCC. The NewsFactor has an article that goes into more detail. I have to agree with the conclusions the author makes--BPL is not likely to be a major factor for rural communities. Like DSL and cable modems, you have to have a critical mass of customers to justify the expense of the equipment. And it is not significantly less expensive to install than DSL or cable, so it won't have a big price advantage.

It may make a difference in some communities, but communities will have to continue to do the hard work of market creation through content and service offerings via a community network project, and ongoing training and education programs.

Like DSL and cable, BPL is another technology that potentially lets a single public or private company capture the entire broadband marketplace (unless the community makes some transport layer infrastructure investments to level the playing field). Once a single company has captured the marketplace, the community's economic future is now at the mercy of that company. Is that what you want?

RTC Conference wrap up

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 10/15/2004 - 08:51

I'm back from the Rural Telecommunications Congress Annual Conference in Spokane. It's the oldest and one of the only conferences focused on rural issues related to telecommunications and broadband.

There was a definite shift in energy, conversations, and presentations at the meeting. In past years, much of the discussions have focused on the "why" and the "if" of rural community investments in technology. This year, the conversation has shifted to "how." And it was not just me. Everyone I talked to agreed that the time of talking about doing something "in the future" is past. It's clear that limited funds are going to be available from state and Federal sources, so communities have to dig in, roll up their sleeves, and get going.

Vendor booths were crowded, and the vendors I talked to were pleased with the response they were getting to their products. One of the most exciting product lines I've seen in years is from PacketFront, a network equipment vendor that is designing their equipment specifically for use in open access networks. Network leader Cisco, by comparison, does not have an equivalent set of products.

Presentations were information-rich, with communities coming online and now being able to report their experiences in detail, rather than having to talk about future plans. All in all, it was a terrific meeting, and I can't wait for next year. As it has been for the past several years, this is my number one, must attend conference.

RTC Conference: What states can do about broadband deployment

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/12/2004 - 18:10

Bob Rowe, from the Montana Public Service Commission, is the first speaker in this session.

Rowe says that states have a role in assisting regional deployment of infrastructure and to coordinate facilities permitting.

Local governments have much potential, and can do training, form buying pools, encourage local government investments in infrastructure, and promote egovernment.

The FCC Section 706 Report from September, 2004 notes that the FCC defines broadband as 200 kilobits/second or faster, that the US still lags the rest of the world in broadband deployment, and that the FCC has a mission to encourage "reasonable and timely deployment."

Bill Gillis, from the Center to Bridge the Digital Divide, is the next speaker. Gillis says that we can learn from "innovation businesses."

He says that an innovation business is knowledge intensive, makes extensive use of technology, is creative and flexible with respect o workforce functions, has a global business perspective, and has entrepreneurial management.

Gillis says that states can facilitate exchange of ideas, help the last 30% of residents that do not have broadband service, can help prepare the workforce for the innovation economy, and provide flexible gap capital. Innovation businesses are driving demand for broadband in rural areas.

The final speaker is Al Hammond, from the Santa Clara School of Law and the Alliance for Public Technology.

Hammond says that large parts of rural America lack adequate broadband services, with smaller towns at a real disavantage--only 5% of towns of 10,000 population or less have broadband.

BPL (Broadband over Power Lines) is getting a lot of interest. There are more electric lines to homes and businesses than phone lines, so BPL potentially can be widely deployed. At least 5 companies are manufacturing BPL equipment.

25 million homes have no cable modem or DSL service, and satellite broadband is becoming more affordable, with Wild Blue, a new statellite company, will be offering Internet access for about $50/month. TV programming will also be available, unlike some other satellite broadband systems.

RTC Conference: Building Last (First) Mile Infrastructure

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/11/2004 - 19:23

The second speaker is James Baker, from central Pennsylvania, with the Council of Governments--an 11 county area with 300 local government entities of one kind or another. Most communities are under 2500 population, and many are under 1000. Generally a very low density area--20-40 households per square mile as an average.

Broadband services are expanding in the area. However, 98% of Pennsylvania urban areas have some form of broadband, but only 25% of rural areas have some kind of service. Providers view rural areas as not good markets.

The state of Pennsylvania has funded a GIS system that provides service maps for various kinds of services available (i.e. DSL, cable modem, etc). Good tool, but data quality varies, some limitations in granularity of data.

Wireless services were considered for expansion in one county by swapping tower space on an EMS tower with space on a commercially-owned tower in another part of the county. EMS would get better radio coverage, and residents and businesses would get more access and choice in broadband.

Murphy's Law kicked in...the six inch square antenna which was to be put on the county tower would require a $5000 engineering study to make sure it would not add significant wind loading to the 200' tower. No one would pay for the study, so the project got slowed down while a variety of funding sources were pursued. The ARC came to the rescue, but the $5000 grant application required almost the same amount of paperwork as a $150,000 grant.

After the engineering studies were done, it was discovered that the county did have legal control of the tower, and that has required additional effort. Testing by the service provider has shown that nearly the entire anticipated service area will be covered.

In the meantime, the government fiber project is using wireless to expand coverage beyond the ends of the fiber. Some nonprofits are getting service.

Issues include legal problems--one person, the county lawyer, has the power to stop these projects dead in their tracks. If the cable company expands service, the wireless provider may feel it is not worth it to continue expansion--it becomes very important for government to be able to move quickly to help private businesses.

RTC Conference: Building Last (First) Mile Infrastructure

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/11/2004 - 18:59

Dave Nelson is the first speaker, from Chelan County, WA. The PUDs in the state can provide wholesale broadband (not retail). Chelan decided to do a PON (Passive Optical Network) pilot project.

The project turned out well--high take rate, costs were close to estimates, and technology worked well. This led to a broader build out.

Take rates for the optical service is between 25% and 50%. By 2003 fiber had been placed by more than 3000 homes, and dial tone services were added to the network. In 2004, an additional 5000 drops are being added. Cable TV services are being studied--primarily a policy and administrative issue, not a technology issue.

By 2008, goal is to have 75% of county with fiber, or about 30,000 homes and businesses. This is an open access network with 12 ISPs offering access on the network. One provider offers fully E911 compliant telephone service. Television should be available in 2004; content and franchise issues have made this more difficult. Alcatel's B-PON system is being used.

The cable companies have been offered access to deliver programming, but so far, they have not been interested. Service providers pay the PUD for each port (Ethernet, phone line, etc) for which they deliver a service. PUD operates on a nonprofit basis. DSL and cable modem service is available in most areas of the county.

Take rates are ahead of projections. The PUD maintains the right of way and fiber distribution. The biggest problem is not being able to build out fast enough--"a million phone calls a day" about when fiber is getting past someone's house. The PUD had to design a real time Web site that shows construction progress on a daily basis to help ease the phone calls.

Wireless has been provided in some areas where it was going to be some time before fiber arrived. Customers have actually cried (true) when the fiber arrived, they were so happy. The PUD has a good relationship with the service providers (12!).

BPL pilot is also underway; there are some distance/repeater issues.

eRate disaggregates community buying power

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 10/08/2004 - 09:51

The papers have been full of stories this week about the suspension of eRate payments to schools and libraries. The FCC suspended the program because of chronic abuses by some recipients of the payments. That aside, let me point out some structural shortcomings of the effort.

Does WiFi work?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/05/2004 - 08:15

In the Telecomm Cities mailing list, Barry Drogin wrote:

The ugly thing here is that in the short term, these [WiFi] deployments will work,
just like shared-media Ethernet networks worked well in the 1980's. But at
some point, user density gets so high that the protocols break down. They
spend more time recovering from errors than they do transmitting good data.
For Ethernet, switches saved the day. But for wireless, that won't work.

I call cheap WiFi the "pizza lady" model. In the grocery store, a little old lady hands out little pieces of pizza, saying, "Try this, it's good!"

WiFi is way of getting dial up users to move at low cost to broadband. What I tell communities is that WiFi will sell fiber. As more and more users crowd on to WiFi, the bandwidth degrades, but by then, people are hooked on broadband, and can't live without the pizza, er, bandwidth.

So they are more willing to support community fiber projects.

WiFi is not THE solution. It is A solution. Fiber is also a solution. There is no one transport mechanism that will satisfy everything we want to do.

800 communities are building their own networks

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 09/23/2004 - 11:39

According to an article in USA Today, more than 800 communities in the United States are building their own networks. There is some fascinating stuff in this article, which highlights a high speed fiber network and MSAP (Multimedia Services Access Point) in Danville, Virginia.

A high speed fiber network and MSAP for the Danville area was first proposed by me in a 1999 document study I did for Virginia's Center for Innovative Technologies, which was encouraging Danville to "think big" as they designed and built a business incubator.

Here are some of the other highlights from the USA Today article.

"We used to have to beg businesses to locate here. Now our phones are ringing off the hook," Hamlin (Mayor of Danville) says, beaming.

"This was never a case of 'Build it and they will come,' " says Hamlin, the Danville mayor. "This was a case of, 'If you don't build it, you know they won't come.' "

...nDanville paves the way for a raft of possibilities: advanced college placement courses, home-based instruction, teacher-parent meetings via the Internet and videoconferencing galore.

"If you want to recruit high-tech, you have to be high-tech," says Locker, adding: "Nobody moves to Danville without first looking at the schools."

In the Knowledge Economy, as they have found out in Danville, it's more than just infrastructure that makes a difference. Good schools, quality of life, and support for entrepreneurs all contribute to success in economic development.

Towns unite for broadband

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/13/2004 - 15:32

Three communities around the country (Palo Alto, CA; Lafayette, LA; and the TriCities area of Illinois) have formed a "Sisters in Arms" network. Each community is interested in getting affordable, widely available broadband to their citizens and businesses, and the loosely formed coalition is trading information on the process, how to move forward, and how to deal with pushback from the incumbents.

There are two national organizations that I recommend to any community or region interested in this area: The Association For Community Networks (AFCN) and the Rural Telecommunications Congress (RTC). Both nonprofits have a sharp focus on getting better services to communities, and the members have a wealth of experience that they willingly share with other members.

Broadband saves $6000/month

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/13/2004 - 12:06

MuniWireless has a story about Scottsburg, Kentucky and the importance of broadband to the future of the community.

Scottsburg is a rural community of 6000 north of Louisville. The problem they were facing there is common to rural communities: a T1 line in metro Louisville cost $300/month, and in rural Scottsburg it was $1300/month--that's the difference between a thriving business sector and and an economic disaster.

A modest investment in wireless allows Scottsburg residents and businesses to get broadband for $35/month, and a full T1 (via wireless) costs only $200/month--cheaper than Louisville.

The school system estimates that it saves $6000/month in telecom costs (that's taxpayer dollars!), and several businesses have been able to stay open, including the local Chrysler dealership, where 60 mechanics who use laptops to repair cars were told by Chrysler to get better broadband or close down.

When the local garage needs broadband to stay open, the whole "value of broadband" issue is closed to debate. If your community still has elected officials and economic developers who are not taking this seriously, show them this article. Ask them if saving $6000/month in taxpayer funds is important, and if not, ask them to please explain why.

Broadband saves jobs and money. It's just that simple.

FCC says broadband use is up

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/13/2004 - 08:00

There is a good news/bad news quality to a set of FCC press releases that went out late last week. The good news is that broadband availability in the U.S. is up significantly. The FCC says the number of broadband lines has tripled from 2001 to 2003. Cable modems have about 75% of the marketplace, with DSL far behind with 15%. All other technologies (e.g. fiber, wireless, satellite) composed 10% of the marketplace.

Some of the bad news is that the FCC defines broadband as anything faster than 200 kilobits, a remarkably low bar compared to the rest of the world, which is typically measuring broadband in megabits. The FCC keeps the bar that low so that they can claim we all have lots of broadband.

More bad news is also masked...the FCC says only about 7% of U.S. zip codes have no high speed access. What they don't say is where those zip codes are, but it's a safe bet they represent a lot of rural households. Another telling statistic is that zip codes with four or more providers is up to 46%. Again, that does not represent rural areas.

To be fair, FCC chairman Michael Powell stated in a separate press release that "200 Kbs or even a 1 megabit connection is wholly inadequate for the demands of a growing number of consumers." Powell goes on to say that "information at the speed of light" (i.e. fiber connectivity) is what we really need. He mentions the goal of "universal and affordable access to all by the year 2007," but the Federal government does not really have a plan to get there, except to wait for the private sector to take care of it.

The numbers, to those that aren't out in rural communities (huge areas of the country, actually) look very good. But the reality is that communities that want univeral and affordable broadband will have to make some investments to get it. It's at least as important as roads, water and sewer, and communities routinely spend lots of money on those things.

Connected cities

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 09/10/2004 - 08:21

Over the past couple of weeks, three major cities in the U.S. have announced ambitious plans to extend connectivity of one kind or another. New York and Philadelphia are moving forward with plans to create wireless blankets over most of each city.

New York's plan is more ambitious. The city is looking at making virtually every lamppost available for WiFi and cellular telephone access. Part of what is driving this is money. Even at the modest fees the city says it will charge for the right to mount antennas, it represents new income to the municipal government. What is less clear is if the plan will succeed. Some elected officials and citizen groups have raised concerns about the amount of additional EMF radiation that will be propogated by the plan. Not everyone is keen to have 24 hour/day gigahertz frequency radiation emanating from an antenna just a few feet from their second floor apartment window.

Philadelphia's plan is to create a WiFi blanket throughout the core area of the city, to make the place tech friendly. Both cities will rely on the private sector to spend the money to do the work, and will simply put the ordinances and fee structure in place that will allow those companies to place antennas and equipment on public property.

The third city, Chicago, is planning to put 2000 remote control surveillance cameras throughout its neighborhoods and city streets, with the dual aim of curbing crime and providing better coverage of potential terrorist targets. The system will be tied directly into the 911 system, which will allow 911 operators to pull up real time video of a crime, fire, or accident in progress. In Chicago, some groups have raised concerns about the potential privacy issues related to such comprehensive surveillance. In the end, the city will probably have its way, as we have no constitutional guarantee to privacy in public places.

All these initiatives are mixed news for smaller and rural communities. On the one hand, these initiatives not only raise the bar for what kind of infrastructure is expected in our communities (i.e. WiFi blankets), but as this kind of infrastructure becomes commonplace, smaller communities especially lose any competitive advantage they may have had from early investments. That is to say, instead of touting public WiFi as an economic development advantage that other places do not have, public WiFi is now going to be increasingly seen as part of the base, required infrastructure--imagine trying to promote your community without a public sewer system in place.

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