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One of the problems that the cable companies have is that both their physical plant and their business model is obsolete.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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 13:24
The CEO of AT&T has stated that DSL is "obsolete." In a speech on Tuesday in Los Angeles, Randall Stephenson said the telephone giant invested in DSL in the nineties to compete with the cable companies. AT&T is now concentrating on wireless and it's fiber to neighborhood offering called Uverse. Uverse continues to use copper from a neighborhood cabinet to the premises, making it less capable than fiber to the premises.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 13:17
Apple released the latest version of its Macintosh operating system today (OS X Lion). The software is available only via a download right now, and you better have a good, high capacity broadband connection if you want it, as the download is four gigabytes. Apple also announced that it will sell a version of the software on a USB thumb drive next month. In other words, no DVD version, not now, not ever. Apple has consistently led the way in media, including the 3.5 inch floppy, the CD drive, the DVD drive, USB ports, and Firewire, among others. If Apple is dropping the DVD, expect other computer makers to follow.
But note also that this shift to encouraging downloads of major pieces of software also highlights the need for homes and businesses to have adequate and affordable broadband connections, or be left behind.
Even more interesting, new Macs come with the ability to install the latest operating system from an entirely blank hard drive--as long as you have an adequate Internet connection.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 07/15/2011 - 10:47
Long time readers of this blog know that I have a running joke about comparing the state of U.S. broadband infrastructure to other countries. The latest insult is Northern Balochistan (part of Pakistan), which is getting a 1,100 kilometre fiber build. Meanwhile, our rather measly national goal is 4 meg down, 1 meg up, which won't support work and business from home applications and is barely adequate for Netflix.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/17/2011 - 09:44
Here is an article about the City of Danville open access network (called nDanville). nDanville started as an open access network in late 2007, so it is in its fourth year. It was the first municipal open access effort in the United States, and has been quietly cutting costs for Internet and VoIP phone service by as much 80% for businesses and institutions using providers on the nDanville fiber network. It has also been bringing jobs and businesses to the community. One of the major economic developments in which nDanville played a key role was the re-purposing of the "White Mill" building. Just a couple of blocks from downtown, the White Mill building was once one of the largest textile plants in the country. But it was closed years ago, and the multi-story building sat empty until it was purchased last year. It is undergoing a complete renovation as a high tech data center, and access to nDanville fiber was crucial to closing the deal. nDanville has also helped attract a specialty PC manufacturer to the community, and more broadly, just about every business using providers on the nDanville network have enjoyed substantially lower costs for VPNs, Internet access, and voice services. The local hospital recently switched to an IP TV provider on nDanville and is enjoying substantial monthly savings from the switch.
nDanville is operated with a staff of two people as part of the City Utilities department. All services to businesses and residents are provided by private sector providers that use nDanville to transport those services over a high performance active Ethernet fiber network. nDanville offers standard 100 megabit, Gigabit, and 10Gigabit connections. Design Nine provided the City with the original business, financial, and technical planning with the network, and continues to assist the City with the project.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/09/2011 - 09:00
Tennessee legislators just passed a law making it illegal to transmit an image that could "..frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress" to someone who sees it." And the person who suffers "emotional distress" does not have to be the person you sent it to. Suppose you send out a picture of a cat hanging desperately from the branch of tree to a friend. That friend forwards it on. Twenty forwards later, some cat lover sees it and is emotionally distressed that the poor cat is in danger. They look at the original sender of the email, report it to Tennessee law enforcement, and bingo, you are put in jail for a year and fined $2500 (you would have to be a resident of Tennessee).
Who writes comes up with these laws? Did they even think to ask a lawyer who specializes in constitutional law for an opinion?
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/03/2011 - 08:45
Cisco, the world's largest manufacturer of active Ethernet equipment, says that the historical trend of broadband data demand doubling every two years is continuing. The company expects the typical bandwidth need for fixed point broadband access (e.g. DSL, fiber, cable) to increase from 7 megabits now to 28 megabits by 2015. This paints a grim future for PON networks, which typically are designed to provide about 30 megabits of bandwidth to the home, meaning most PON networks will be obsolete in just three years. I think this is one of the reasons Verizon put a moratorium on extending their FiOS (PON) networks: they realized they were painting themselves into a corner with respect to bandwidth.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 05/19/2011 - 13:07
The nDanville Medical Network has won the Intelligent Community Forum Founders Award. The Medical Network is part of the larger nDanville fiber initiative, which was the first municipal open access network in the United States; the network began adding its first customers in 2007. Medical customers on the network have averaged 30% less cost for connections while being able to double the amount bandwidth, for a total overall cost reduction of more than 50%. The high performance fiber has enabled transmission of CT and other medical imaging scans between the hospital and the medical imaging center in another part of the city.nDanville is a client of Design Nine.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 04/27/2011 - 09:26
Broadband Properties has published its March/April 2011 in parallel with the Broadband Properties 2011 conference in Dallas. My article on "worst practice" in community broadband networks can be found on page 122 of the magazine, and is available online in the electronic edition.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 04/20/2011 - 10:31
Here is another excellent piece from The Daily Yonder about the sad state of rural broadband. The article has a short, well illustrated analysis of the gap between rural broadband speeds and the rest of the country, taken from new data released by the federal government. Here is a summary of the very bad news:
From an economic development perspective, this is a slow motion catastrophe, as young people will leave rural areas without adequate broadband, and entrepreneurs and the self-employed will NOT move to rural areas with inadequate "little broadband."
Meanwhile, legislators in North Carolina are throwing their rural constituents under the bus of broadband crony capitalism, with incumbents determined to protect their monopoly position in the marketplace at all costs.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/14/2011 - 08:09
The usually excellent Stop the Cap! has a report on the truly awful anti-broadband bill making its way through the North Carolina legislature, but they lost me when they started blaming "free markets" as the problem. Uh, no, the problem is crony capitalism, where the incumbents spread campaign donations liberally to representatives of both parties, to obtain the best laws money can buy. That's not free markets.
When Stop the Cap! indicts "free markets" as the problem, the incumbents win, because that's the line the incumbents use to confuse the issue. Most incumbent telecom providers are, in fact, utterly opposed to free markets, because they lose their de facto monopoly status in a free market.
This distinction is absolutely critical to winning the debate. Community broadband efforts are going to lose every time if the community broadband pitch is "we don't like free markets." Community broadband is all about free markets and competition, real competition, of the kind we see in open access projects like Utopia with seventeen (17) providers on the network--that's an open market, and that's what communities want and need.
The proper response to "It's important to let the free market prevail..." in a discussion about telecom is to agree. "Yes, we agree completely. We fully support free markets. We want buyers of telecom services to be able to buy from a wide variety of telecom providers, not just one or two acting as a local cartel."
The "free markets" argument is a red herring. Community broadband advocates need to vigorously applaud free markets, then point out where they don't exist.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/01/2011 - 08:36
Mountain View, CA (4/1/11)
The head of Google's Fiber Initiative, Milo Medin, announced today that all 1,100 cities that applied for Google fiber will be included in a second round of fiber buildouts by the search giant. Unlike Kansas City, which is getting Google fiber on very favorable terms, the other 1,099 cities will be required to sign a more restrictive contract with Google before the company will start constructing fiber. Among the terms in the contract:
Google indicated that the company has no intention of forcing any community to agree to accept the wide range of services and infrastructure enhancements, so it has developed a special one step process that gives each community a democratic process for choosing participation. A voter referendum would be put on the ballot at the next local election which will state, "We agree to disband our local government, including all elected and appointed officials, and replace them with Google Fiber Initiative staff: YES/NO." If the referendum is passed, then and only then will Google build fiber infrastructure in the community.
In the press conference announcing this on April 1st, Google officials conceded that the program "might not be a good fit for every community that applied."
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 03/30/2011 - 16:43
It was an easy decision. Kansas City is an electric city, so they own the poles. So no costly and long dragged out pole surveys, no make ready and no pole attachment fees, and the ability to take fiber anywhere in the electric service area at very low cost.
I'm sure that Kansas City also offered to hang all the fiber using their electric utility crews and buckets trucks.
No mystery here....it's a smart choice.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 03/30/2011 - 08:48
I have always had the feeling that becoming an Amazon customer is a bit like joining the Borg: resistance is futile. But Amazon really does believe in customer service, and is particularly good at identifying trends and then developing services to meet the new market demand. Amazon is beginning a big push for their Cloud Drive service, which lets you upload files to an Amazon server and then access them from anywhere. In concept, it is no different that the file storage Apple has offered first via dotMac and now via MobileMe. But Apple has never paid much attention to MobileMe, and my own experience with MobileMe has been decidely mixed. MobileMe and Cloud Drive are both essentially virtual hard drives, and they differ from the backup services like Carbonite because backup services are not designed to provide routine access to your files. On the other hand, the backup services provide more tools to make sure everything gets backup regularly. Some people are going to use both, and some might settle for the virtual hard drive approach to save money.
As I've been writing recently, cloud services are only as good as your broadband connection. The interesting thing about cloud-based virtual hard drives is that the big companies have no real advantage over a small firm with servers closer to customers. If I was starting a business, I'd be looking at something very different from the massive data centers Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft are building. I'd be looking at putting servers and services on community broadband networks and getting my cloud services as close as possible to my customers. Why? By doing so, I can provide better services at lower cost than the big guys.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/25/2011 - 09:38
Via Fred Pilot at Eldo Telecom, Geoff Daily makes the argument that "all broadband is fiber." Geoff has it exactly right. Just yesterday, I met with a community leader who asked, appropriately, "What if we spend all this money on fiber and wireless turns out to be cheaper and better?"
Daily reminds us that all wireless networks eventually dump their traffic onto fiber networks in order to work properly. If wireless were the solution, the backhaul for wireless networks would be wireless, not fiber. And we can take that even further, as the "little broadband" solutions of DSL and cable modem would not work at all if they did not aggregate their traffic onto fiber cables.
Fiber is the future of economic development in America's communities. Economic developers and community leaders that ignore the importance of affordable, high performance broadband availability are putting their community's economic future at great risk.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 03/17/2011 - 10:15
The old TV empires are crumbling fast, and Netflix is speeding their demise. It just outbid all the other networks for a new original, uh, "TV" series called
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