Broadband

The future of the Internet is fiber

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/20/2012 - 09:40

Here is an interesting statement from the Roku folks:

"Generally we recommend a network speed of at least 1.2 Mbps, but to view live events, like Major League Baseball games, you’ll want at least 3 Mbps. For HD viewing, we recommend 5 Mbps.”

Notice that they are saying a single channel of live HD requires AT LEAST 5 Meg of bandwidth. Roku does not say, "...up to 5 Meg," or "...5 meg when no one else in the neighborhood is sucking all the bandwidth down watching a movie." They are saying, "...if you want to watch live events in HD, you need 5 meg of bandwidth per stream." By per stream, that means if two of you in your home are watching two different live events, you need 5 Meg x 2 = 10 Meg of bandwidth. That will never happen over DSL, and even on cable networks where they are now advertising wildly inflated bandwidth promises ("...up to 15 meg with SuperIncredibleGinormousCableBoost technology...."), just a few people trying to watch an HD broadcast in the same neighborhood are going to slow things to a crawl.

It's worse for business. The ever-increasing cost of travel, coupled with much improved technology is pushing videoconferencing quickly into a "must have" business requirement. Our videoconferences with clients here at Design Nine often includes four different people in four different locations. Using the Roku standard for picture quality, each location would need 4 x 5 Meg = 20 Meg of bandwidth...at each location. Just for a routine business meeting.

Within ten years, 90% of the homes and businesses in America will have fiber, and much of it will NOT be supplied from the incumbent telephone and cable companies.

Is distance learning a killer app?

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/19/2012 - 14:32

Design Nine recently brought up a new 300 megabit wireless link that feeds a community center and a rural fiber to the home effort (100 residences). The fiber to the home work is still underway, but the community center went online a couple of weeks ago, with both wireless access and a lab with ten fully equipped computers. Local residents of this very rural community have been flocking to the center. Many are bringing their laptops and just using the wireless link to the Internet, and many others are using the computers in the lab. What is interesting is the number of people that are using the bandwidth to take college courses online. Formerly, they were driving anywhere between 15 and 30 miles to get to a location where they could get broadband Internet access, and they are delighted to have broadband just minutes from their home. Some of them will be able to order fiber connections directly to the home as that construction work is finished, but in this economy, the ability to take college classes without driving long distances saves real money.

There's just not enough capacity there

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 12/23/2011 - 15:36

The always insightful Eldo Telecom points to a news item that quotes a telecom analyst who tried to use the much ballyhooed LTE for several months as his primary broadband connection. He gave up and went back to a landline, partly because of the cost and partly because of performance. The money quote is, "There's just not enough capacity there."

NY Times: "The New Digital Divide"

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/07/2011 - 09:56

The New York Times has an excellent article on the now almost two decades old digital divide problem. Where the digital divide was once "who has dial up access and who doesn't," it is now "who has real high speed access and who doesn't?"

The article does a good job of outlining the challenges that face communities, including the citizens and businesses that find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide. Of particular note is this:


"...it is hard to get a college degree from a remote location using wireless. Few people would start a business using only a wireless connection."

Fiber is the long term technology solution for both wired business and residential access as well as improved wireless and mobility access; what everyone forgets is that wireless networks have to move data and voice traffic onto the wired network, and robust open access fiber networks make wireless networks work better and makes wireless less expensive..

Is the telecom lobby killing municipal and community broadband?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/08/2011 - 09:01

The Atlantic Cities has a very well researched article on the recent vote for muni broadband in Longmont, Colorado and the broader push by some of the incumbents to lobby for state laws that effectively outlaw community broadband projects and indirectly grant the incumbents a monopoly on telecom. Read the whole thing.

Muni Networks mailing list

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/02/2011 - 08:49

Muni Networks has an excellent weekly email that summarizes their coverage of community broadband issues during the week. There is a link up on the right hand top of the home page to subscribe.

Longmont, Colorado votes YES on community broadband

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/02/2011 - 08:46

The citizens and the City of Longmont, Colorado have been engaged in a long running battle with the incumbent providers over the right of the City to build its own broadband infrastructure. In a referendum held on Tuesday, it appears that by a two to one margin, the referendum has passed. Chris Mitchell at Muni Networks has an excellent summary of the effort.

Job growth demands business class broadband

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 10/07/2011 - 08:12

If you look at the jobs report released today, it underscores what I have been saying for a decade: neighborhoods are the new business district. CNBC summarizes the September jobs data; the manufacturing sector LOST jobs, but if you go to the household survey, job creation was in the black (modestly).

What does this mean? It means more people are working from home, and that means they need business class broadband, not an "entertainment service," as my cable company quaintly calls our home Internet service.

Rinse and repeat as needed until elected officials get the message:

Neighborhoods are business districts, and business districts need competitive and affordable telecom service options.

Death of TV: Part XXXII -- "Okay"

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 10/06/2011 - 12:32

True story. I discussed the possibility of eliminating our family cable TV subscription and just sticking with Internet. The response was, and I quote exactly, "Okay. Can we get Hulu Plus?" That's the state of cable TV today. It doesn't even merit a 30 second discussion of its value.

Why broadband still matters

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 10/05/2011 - 08:09

Now that the broadband stimulus money has been distributed, and the Google fiber initiative has taken root in the two Kansas Cities, a lot of communities seem to have lost interest in broadband initiatives. The cable companies have done a fairly good job of keeping up with demand, and the telephone companies continue to cling to their share of the broadband market by competing on price rather than on bandwidth.

But this apparent "Remain calm! All is well" approach is the calm before the storm. And the storm is coming to us in a huge cloud. In the past week, Amazon and Apple have rolled out new cloud-based initiatives that will stream content everywhere, all the time. If cloud storage seems like a gimmick, it is not. It is the answer to the utter uselessness of trying to keep all our media content, personal and business, on local hard drives. Music, pictures, movies, and what we used to quaintly call "TV" are driving this problem. Even though you can buy a two terabyte hard drive for $150, you can fill it faster than lickety-split with purchased video. And then you have to figure out how to back it up. Backing it up with a second drive is a good start, but suppose your house or business burns down? Both drives are gone, as is all your data.

Add to that the fact that everyone now wants everything available on every computing device they own, which typically comprises, for many people, FOUR devices: a smartphone, a laptop, a tablet, and a desktop computer. And the portable devices will never have enough storage to keep everything on the device itself. So the cloud is not a typical IT solution in search of a question. We know what the question is, and the cloud is the answer. But streaming everything to everyone all the time is going to create, over the next several years, exponential increases in demand for bandwidth. And that's when the copper-based DSL and cable modem networks will run out of steam.

Communities that have not made plans to ensure a modern fiber-based infrastructure that also supports ubiquitous wireless mobility access will be at a severe disadvantage from an economic development perspective.

Oh, and one more thing. There is another sleeper in the battle for streaming content....Rhapsody (the music service) just bought Napster to try to fight Spotify. Spotify is a streaming music service that is huge in Europe but only recently began operations in the U.S. So the music industry is still undergoing a massive reorganization that is focused on streaming any song ever recorded to anyone, at any time, anywhere. And it is going to be a battle of Titans, with Apple, Amazon, Rhapsody, Spotify, and even tiny Microsoft with its Zune music service all going head to head.

Net-Workshop real time report

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/19/2011 - 14:18

I'm tweeting the Net-Workshop (9/19/11) in real time if you want to follow it (@designnine). Net-Workshop is a one day meeting of community broadband leaders from around the country.

The death of cable TV: Part XXIX

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 08/30/2011 - 14:28

I had a conversation last week with a new college grad who had just started a new job and had moved into a new apartment. The young woman had a couple of questions about her Internet connection, which she had purchased from the local phone company (DSL). I asked if she had considered a cable TV/cable modem package.

She said, "No, I never watch TV. I can get whatever I need from the Internet."

In a nutshell, the customer base of the cable TV industry is getting old and dying, and they don't have a plan to attract younger customers.

NSA Network Best Practice Tips

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 08/30/2011 - 13:34

The National Security Agency has released a very nice set of tips for managing desktop computers and home and small office network devices like routers and wireless base stations. Here is the link, and I have attached it to this article.

Why tweets move faster than earthquakes

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 08/23/2011 - 14:41

From the always funny xkcd....the whole East Coast was shaking from an earthquake centered in Virginia. Here is a picture of some of the damage in D.C.

WiredWest now officially a municipal coop

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 08/23/2011 - 13:30

Design Nine has been working for the 47 towns that make up the WiredWest region of western Massachusetts since early 2010. Last week, 22 of those towns officially formed a municipal coop, as allowed by state law. This is the first step towards the WiredWest vision of fiber everywhere in western Massachusetts.

Design Nine helped the WiredWest steering committee with financial planning, organizational and governance planning, network architecture, and funding strategies.

The death of cable TV: Part XXVIII

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 08/03/2011 - 17:07

Here in Virginia, Roanoke County and the City of Salem are struggling with the same problem that many other localities in the country have: cable companies that won't renew franchise agreements. Comcast purchased an aging cable system from Adelphia a few years ago when Adelphia went bankrupt. At the time, Comcast promised the localities it would upgrade the old system so it could support improved Internet access. But the upgrade never happened, and so there is little competition, high prices, and poor service for broadband in Salem and parts of Roanoke County.

One of the problems that the cable companies have is that both their physical plant and their business model is obsolete. The fifty year old business model does not generate enough revenue to justify replacement of the old analog copper/coax infrastructure. So the companies are understandably reluctant to continue to make franchise payments and/or to make expensive upgrades.

To make matters worse, companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Apple are all eating away at the cable company customer base with better services that are not based on "500 channels and nothing to watch." If Apple, which has only been dabbling in streaming video, decides to throw the full weight of the company behind a serious streaming service, Amazon and Netflix will finally have some real competition. Apple did not build a 1 million square foot data center in North Carolina just so Apple users could back up their iPhoto baby pictures.

If the cable companies embraced the open access business model, they could turn things around very quickly, but so far, the cable industry has been unwilling to listen. Not so with some phone companies, who could also make a lot more money embracing open access; I've at least been able to have a conversation with some incumbents, but mid-level managers at the companies are still digging in their heels and refusing to change. So senior staff are stuck with a corporate culture that would rather have the company go bankrupt than change and prosper.

USF reform may not have desired impact

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 07/31/2011 - 10:26

Eldo Telecom has an excellent critique of the proposed USF reform. My concern with any USF reform is that it should allow community-owned broadband efforts access to USF funds. There is no reason why a community that builds its own open access infrastructure should be forced to channel their portion of USF funds to legacy networks.

"Zombie broadband," and why community broadband is a zombie killer

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/25/2011 - 10:17

Stephen Hardy, an editor at Lightwave, calls our aging DSL and cable modem networks "zombie broadband," as in "...it is the broadband everyone wishes would die, but won't." I think we need a Twitter hashtag anytime we talk about these obsolete technologies: #zombiebroadband

Verizon: Video is crushing our networks

Submitted by acohill on Sat, 07/23/2011 - 10:57

In an interview about smartphone sales, the COO of Verizon had this to say:


Later in the CNBC interview, McAdam discusses Verizon's switch to tiered data plans for smartphones, noting that streaming video is the main reason they dropped unlimited data plans:

"We just converted over to tiered pricing, data tiered pricing, because we see a huge wave of video coming. That's going to take a lot more capacity in the individual networks, and so I think for a lot of customers that won't be an issue from a revenue perspective. But, for the heavy users, we do see the revenue go up significantly."

"...a huge wave of video..."

And that huge wave is also engulfing existing landline networks, not just cellular. It's why AT&T just called DSL "obsolete." With airline tickets for business travel now routinely topping $1,000, almost any business can recover the cost of a $3,000 or $4,000 HD videoconferencing system in just a couple of months.

Fiber everywhere isn't just about making it easier to watch a Netflix movie in the evening, as some elected officials stubbornly maintain, it's about enabling commerce and supporting economic development.

Forbes to rural communities: "Don't bother"

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/21/2011 - 08:33

Connected Planet comments on a Forbes blogger has ignited a rich discussion online by saying that broadband in rural areas is a waste of time and money.

It really is about roads--digital roads. Many rural communities will not survive without improved access to affordable, high performance broadband infrastructure. The Forbes article fails utterly to differentiate between what we call "little broadband," meaning DSL, cable modem, and wireless, and "big broadband," which is fiber to customer, starting at 100 megabit capacity and now moving quickly to Gigabit.

The incumbents use a circular argument to "prove" rural areas don't need big broadband by claiming that they don't see any of their customers using it, but how can you use it if you don't have it. For the past eighteen years, anytime broadband capacity has been increased, customers find new ways to use it that pushes the limits of that technology. AT&T recently indicated that their smartphone customers use as much as 1000x more bandwidth than "dumb" cellphone customers, and nationally, cell tower saturation is above 70%. When that number hits 80%, the network is at full capacity because of demand spikes.

As the interstate highway system was built out, rural communities that were bypassed often withered away. Rural towns face the same prospect as more and more business activities are conducted via high capacity broadband: if the rural town does not have affordable access to competitively priced broadband services, businesses will leave and new businesses will not move there. The good news is that, unlike the interstate highway system, high performance broadband is much less expensive and every rural community can have the equivalent of an exit off the interstate.

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