Submitted by acohill on Thu, 05/19/2005 - 10:13
If your community is looking at Broadband Over Powerlines (BPL) as a cheap way to get broadband out to neighborhoods or rural areas, you should read this article over at NewsForge, which says BPL still has some issues that have to be worked out.
Among the problems this article raises are relatively high costs, the need to deploy a fiber backbone to support neighborhood level BPL, and radio interference in frequencies used by public safety (fire, police, rescue).
In short, BPL is no shortcut, and may not even be a bargain, compared to other entry level broadband systems like wireless.
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.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 05/11/2005 - 10:49
This report [link no longer available] from a Utah resident highlights two of the best-known fiber projects in the country: iProvo and UTOPIA (hat tip to Dave Fletcher's weblog). The iProvo muni fiber is 100 times faster than cable modem and 250 times faster than DSL. In other words, it is world class service, of the kind that is common in lots of other countries. Utah gets the connection between broadband and economic development, and the state has the quality of life, especially outdoor sports like hiking and skiing, to be attractive to companies who want affordable housing costs and a great quality of life to go along with affordable broadband.
We're going to increasingly see a Digital Divide between states that get it and states that don't.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 05/11/2005 - 10:38
A muni fiber system in Utah's Salt Lake Valley installed to manage traffic throughout the region had an installed cost of $51 million and an expected ANNUAL payback of $179 million in savings.
The Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) uses the fiber to manage more than 50 major traffic corridors, coordinate signal changes on more than 600 traffic lights, provide traffic monitoring via video cameras, and hook up truck scales.
The system has provided significant reductions in commuting time (saving time and gas), and over the long term, will reduce the need to build more roads.
Utah got this one right--we need digital road systems to reduce the demand for our old, 20th century road systems. The article does not say, but let's hope they threw in some extra fiber for other uses. Traffic management could become the anchor tenant for fiber projects in many regions, with the transportation savings helping to fund the effort and leveraging the investment for wider community benefit.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/03/2005 - 08:25
Yesterday's Wall Street Journal (print edition, p. B8) had an article by Brian Steinberg about broadband and its effect on people's habits. According to Steinberg, broadband connections are now used by 48% of Internet users, the same number of people on dialup. This is a big jump from last fall, when data was suggesting that about 35% of Internet users were on broadband (the other 4% are probably using non-standard connections like satellite, cellphones, etc.).
As broadband use increases, traditional analog television is the big loser. Here's an interesting quote from Jeffery Godsick, the executive VP of 20th Century Fox:
"...TV is not their [the broadband users] primary way of finding out about movies or anything."
In a move that must frighten the pants off TV execs, movie studios are planning to release full screen movie trailers over the Internet. Now, you might ask what the big deal is; movie trailers have been available on the Internet for years. But these have been smaller files that play in small to medium size windows on your monitor. What's new is that these upcoming movie trailers are going to be close to DVD quality--massive files that are ready for viewing on big screen and HD monitors.
It's a test of the network, and of viewers--the movie studios, using the trailers, can study the distribution and performance costs of making these big files available, and they can see how many people make the effort to download them. The next step will be to make movies available for download, streaming, and/or sale.
The movie industry is slowing adapting to the new all digital, all IP converged model of entertainment. Apple has shown that you can make money with legal file downloads, and Apple has also shown that most people, when presented with a reasonable DRM (Digital Rights Management) system and fair prices, will download legally.
Within the next twelve months, we are going to see a breakout IP "TV" show become available only on the Internet.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 05/02/2005 - 14:58
CNet has an article that provides a good summary of some of the current issues surrounding community-financed broadband. On one side, you have the cable companies and telcos, determined to prevent communities from controlling their own destiny. On the other side, you have communities getting limited or no access to broadband services, with those towns and cities at a serious disadvantage in the global economy as 15 other countries have better broadband than the United States.
If the incumbents had their way fifty to seventy-five years ago, we'd have no paved roads, no clean water, no sewer services, no libraries, no sidewalks, no streetlights, and no plowed streets in winter. All of those services could be provided by the private sector. But we decided that for the common good, it was better to have local government provide those.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/28/2005 - 12:22
I'm a big fan of microduct and blown fiber, and Emtelle is one of the world leaders in the technology. I think it is an ideal solution for community and neighborhood fiber projects, as it works with both passive and active optical network equipment, it's easy to install, and easy to repair--essential qualities for community-managed systems. But it's always been hard to explain without actually seeing it. This movie on the Emtelle site is short and illustrates how it works end to end (you need a Flash player plug-in for your browser).
Note that I have no financial connection to Emtelle; I just think they make terrific products. Emtelle studies show that microduct systems are as much as 44% less expensive than traditional fiber cable. Microduct systems need fewer or no pedestals, no handholes or pullboxes, the duct requires no special handling (cheaper to install), and you typically spend less on fiber.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/25/2005 - 11:25
New York City has announced an ambitious plan to boost fiber capacity in the city and to make all public facilities "wireless friendly."
Here is a portion of the press release that illustrates New York understands the importance of broadband to small business. Major recommendations of the report include:
"Working with the private sector to enhance broadband access in all areas of the City is in keeping with the Mayor's commitment to support the members of the industrial and manufacturing sector, the majority of which are small businesses that do not have adequate high-speed Internet access," said EDC President Andrew M. Alper. "This plan delineates the steps the City should take to improve, enhance and ensure network reliability for the entire City."
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 04/20/2005 - 15:06
Ray Buzzard, of Dalton Utilities, spoke about the Dalton, Georgia community broadband project. Dalton's community fiber project, only about two years old, has already had very positive economic development effects by keeping hundreds of manufacturing jobs in the community. The high performance, low cost network persuaded some local manufacturers to stay in the community rather than moving elsewhere.
Local government was a key anchor tenant by making an early commitment to use the system.
Dalton adopted a retail business model, in which the utility sells services directly to customers (voice, video, data). They had to do this because they could not attract service providers with the low number of potential subscribers. The project has achieved a 45% take rate in less than two years, and 47% is their break even point--they expect to meet that before the end of 2005.
Some of the advice Buzzard had included:
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/19/2005 - 10:46
The Monday afternoon keynote was by Keith Wilson, the CEO of Dynamic City, which has the contract to design, build, and operate the Utah UTOPIA project (an 18 community fiber project serving 300,000 homes).
The U.S. has the most expensive broadband in the world; the per megabit cost of broadband in Japan is ninety cents. In Korea, it's $2.50. In the U.S., it averages $25-$30 per megabit, or thirty times higher than the lowest. Clearly, the current reliance on incumbents to provide broadband is not working.
Wilson identified four characteristics of a viable communitywide network:
A wholesale business model that allows for many service providers (as opposed to just one voice provider, one video on demand provider, etc.) reduces the risk for the network owner--if a service vendor fails or pulls out, the financial health of the network is less at risk.
Networks are like airports--a shared facility built by the community and used by multiple service providers (airlines) to offer a variety of services. Airports are good for communities because no airline would come to a community and build their own airport.
Communities need a "communications utility," and no less than the future of the community is at stake. A successful network must have widespread availability, must be affordable, and must offer customers choice. A closed network cannot offer all three, because the incumbent providers don't want competition. Private buildouts (the current situation with incumbents) capture the future of a community because no other provider will come, so the community becomes hostage to a single company.
If regulated monopolies have not worked in the past in terms of affordability and choice, why do we think unregulated monopolies (what we have now, in effect) will work better? What is best for a single company is not necessarily best for the businesses and residents of a community.
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:
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/18/2005 - 14:39
PacketFront is a vendor of network equipment designed specifically for community broadband projects. Matt Wenger, an expert in communitywide broadband and senior analyst for the company, gave the talk.
Wenger strongly advocated a services orientation for community broadband projects. His thesis throughout the talk was the current connection-based model used by the telcos and the cable companies discourages innovation and use of broadband.
Wenger spoke at length at the connection between broadband and economic development, and said, "If you don't have a broadband strategy, you don't have an economic development strategy." He went on to show the connection between small business job growth and the potential for broadband to increase small business jobs in the community.
Wenger had some good case studies that led to his proposition that a focus on services is most likely to be successful. He advocated letting a particular service (like VoIP or video on demand) determine bandwidth needs and quality of service, and those two factors in turn determine price. A wholesale model encourages innovation and service growth, and revenues go up for the network owner (the community) with a service-based model. Wenger illustrated how revenues tend to go down using a connection-based model.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/18/2005 - 14:27
Berge Ayvasian, a VP at the Yankee Group, a technology forecasting group, gave the morning keynote. Ayvasian had some interesting data: the Yankee Group projects that the number of households served by broadband will double over the next three years, from about 30 million to 60 million. Households served by community broadband projects are expected to grow by more than 600%, much faster than DSL growth (100%) or cable modem (75%). Cable is growing slowest because cable companies already have much of the market locked. up. Cable will still have at least twice as many household as DSL.
Ayvasian described the current duopoly problem correctly. The telcos and the cable companies that form the dupolopy in most communities believe they can make more money from existing customers, rather than by increasing the number of customers served. So they have little incentive to expand service coverage. But that businsess mode leaves communities at the mercy of the duopoly.
Ayvasian also mentioned a start up community effort in Fontana, California, where local leaders have declared, "Broadband is not an expense, it is an investment in the future." The Fontana project will use an open access, wholesale service model (the right approach).
Ayvasian also mentioned that other countries are moving fast. Ethiopia intends to have broadband available throughout the country by 2008, so I have a new slogan for communities: "Our town--almost as good as Ethiopia!"
In summary, Ayvasian proposed several principles that he said should drive broadband.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/18/2005 - 07:34
I'll be blogging at the Digital Cities conference for the next couple of days (Monday and Tuesday). The meeting is being held in Reston, Virginia, near D.C., and promises to be a lively meeting. Stay tuned.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/14/2005 - 08:05
Here is an excellent article [link no longer available] on how the telcos are strangling communities and denying them the economic development benefits that come from affordable broadband.
Some community broadband projects have now been around long enough for useful data to emerge. This article cites the St. Cloud, Florida effort, where local officials are saving residents and businesses millions of dollars on broadband. The officials there correctly note that that money, instead of being shipped out of the community and usually out of state, is now freed up and being put to work within St. Cloud--an enormous economic development benefit.
Here is the last paragraph of the article, which sums up the current situation:
These corporations say that they’re shutting down homegrown broadband efforts to safeguard the best interests of American free enterprise. But, as Dianah Neff, Philadelphia’s chief technology officer, asked in a recent column for ZDNet: “When was the last time they were elected to determine what is best for our communities? If they’re really concerned about what is important to all members of the community, why haven’t they built this type of network that meets community needs or approached a city to use their assets to build a high-speed, low-cost, ubiquitous network?”
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/12/2005 - 16:03
The Free Press has released three useful reports on broadband that ought to be required reading for any citizen's group trying to convince public officials and economic developers that something needs to be done.
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.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 03/29/2005 - 09:42
Central California is the location of yet another pointless fight over broadband. Forward-thinking public officials are trying to do something good for their businesses and citizens, and a predictable set of knee-jerk reactions to it pop up.
Fresno County wants to look at increasing the number of broadband access and service providers by building infrastructure and letting private sector companies use it to deliver those services. But the predictable hysteria about how government should not be in the service business has ensued. Last time I checked, the *only* thing governments do is provide services, so I'm not sure that's a very strong argument.
As Lawrence Lessig noted recently, public street lights did not put electric companies out of business. And I will further note that building public roads did not put construction companies and delivery services out of business.
Fresno wants to build broadband roads so that private sector companies can use those roads to deliver access and services. Now there are two ways to pursue that model. Fresno is going to buy access and services from the private sector and resell them to broadband customers. Customers like this because you get a single bill with everything on it, and you have a single point of contact for service and support.
The other way to do it is to let companies sell direct to customers. In this model, you may have several bills (e.g. one for access, one for VoIP, one for email services, etc.). And you have several different companies to deal with in terms of service and support.
Both approaches have some advantages and disadvantages--the former model looks better from a customer perspective for billing and support. The nonprofit network operator makes more money to cover expenses and to build out the network. But it's a more complex way of doing business, since the nonprofit operator has to be the middleman for everything.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 03/08/2005 - 06:46
According to most reports that I have seen, the Heartland Institute is an "astroturf" organization (the term refers to a group that has a hidden agenda--in other words, it's appearance is fake, like Astroturf).
I mention them because the Institute has been busy issuing reports saying that community broadband is bad for communities, and does so mostly by using scare tactics, suggesting that community investments "could" raise taxes, as one example. The problem is that there is no evidence that it does, and some data that suggests it lowers taxes because of increased economic development. That's what happened in Cedar Falls, Iowa. After they invested in fiber, they were able to lower taxes while nearby communities had to raise taxes.
Don't believe everything you read (even this column). The beauty of the Internet is that you have the option of doing your own research and developing your own sources of reliable information.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 02/28/2005 - 13:22
There are many advantages to working out of the home, but snow days are not one of them.
Normally, the neighborhood cable network is reasonably responsive during the day, because kids and parents are at work. I can get done what I need to do without waiting.
But with six inches of snow on the ground and more falling, schools and many businesses are closed, and apparently many people have headed for the Internet, completely bogging down the cable modem service. It's very pokey, with long waits for simple things like loading a Web page.
And that's a perfect example of why cable and DSL, over the long term, simply don't have what it takes to deliver broadband. If one snow day makes my neighborhood broadband service slow to a crawl, imagine what will happen as more and more users get on and do more and more high bandwidth stuff like Voice over IP and IP television.
We're thirteenth in the world in terms of broadband cacpacity and deployment, behind places like Finland, Norway, and South Korea. And here is where I remind you of my favorite suggestion for a community economic development slogan: "Our town--almost as good as South Korea." It is a pretty sad situation when it comes to that, and it has.
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