Broadband

nDanville generating jobs

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/11/2010 - 15:43

The nDanville fiber network is almost three years old, and is beginning to get national recognition here. Design Nine has been working with the City of Danville on this effort since 2006. We did the early business and financial planning, vendor selection, and open access network design. More about nDanville is available on their Web site.

The Internet and broadband are not the same thing

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/08/2010 - 15:03

Jeff Daily of App-Rising makes an important point in this article that I have been writing about for some time: "broadband" and "the Internet" are not the same thing. Broadband is the network, the transport system, the road. The Internet is just one of many services that can be transported over that road. Unfortunately, legislators don't always understand the distinction, and many incumbents are happy to feed the confusion to get state and Federal rules designed to prop up their monopolies.

New Zealand goes all out for open access

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/08/2010 - 14:53

Fiber everywhere is the simple goal the national government of New Zealand has set. In ten years, the government intends to have a minimum of 100 megabit fiber connections to 75% of homes and businesses in the entire country. They are doing this by going open access. It's a very simple model. The government will help underwrite the cost of privately owned fiber, but only if the network owner/operator agrees to provide unrestricted dark fiber and/or Layer 2 transport to any service provider. It's a time--tested model already being used in places in the U.S. like Utah and the City of Palm Coast, Florida.

Chattanooga launches nation's fastest broadband

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/08/2010 - 08:51

Via the excellent Community Broadband Networks, the City of Chattanooga's Electric Power Board is going to roll out fiber-delivered Internet as part of the utility's triple play services (voice, video, and Internet). Customers will be able to purchase symmetric Internet access packages with speeds up to 150 megabit/second (again, symmetric). The importance of this kind of service can't be overstated, as it enables the delivery of business class services anyway in the electric utility service area. Chattanooga gets it--they want to keep the businesses they have and they want to attract new businesses, and they recognize that 21st century infrastructure is the way to do it. Cities and towns that keep ignoring the growth in community broadband projects are being left behind with respect to economic development, and it will become harder and harder to catch up.

The fight in North Carolina (and other states)

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 06/07/2010 - 08:21

The New America Foundation has an excellent summary of what has been going on in North Carolina. It should be of interest to anyone who thinks communities and regions have a right to determine their own economic future. The industry-financed fight in North Carolina may show up in any number of other states in the next couple of years as community broadband efforts not only mature but excel. The bad news for the last century incumbents is that more and more community broadband efforts are delivering world class broadband services at prices far below the monopoly providers, and worse, those networks are really starting to deliver on the economic benefits of increased business attraction and jobs creation.

AT&T iPhone, iPad service contract changes

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 06/02/2010 - 08:35

AT&T has announced changes to its U.S. data plans for iPhones and iPads. Most current iPhone users pay $30/month for an unlimited data plan. A bit pricey, but you know what you are paying every month, and you don't have to worry about surprise charges on your next month's bill (I've had an iPhone for two years).

Under the two new plans, there is no unlimited option for the iPhone. Instead, there are two plans that provide 200 Meg ($15/month) and 2 Gig ($25/month) of data. Overage charges are actually fairly priced, in my opinion, rather than some of the punitive charges we have seen from some cellular providers in the past.

iPad users have a choice of two similar plans, one that provides 250 Meg ($15/month) and an unlimited plan ($30/month). The big news is that AT&T will finally allow tethering, meaning you can use your iPhone as a cellular modem for your laptop while traveling. AT&T is going to charge an additional $20/month for this service. iPhone users have been waiting a long time for this, and I think the additional charge is fair. Tethering your laptop is going to use a lot more bandwidth than equivalent Web browsing and data on an iPhone. And the $20/month charge competes very favorably with the cost of buying a dedicated cellular modem service (these plans tend to run about $30/month).

I am ready to sign up for the tethering plan. Free WiFi services while traveling are often hard to find and if you do find one, performance is typically abysmal--slow when working, and often not working, especially in airports, where I most often want to try to get some work done.

AT&T is also promising easy to use tools to keep track of how much data you have used over the course of a month so that you can avoid overage charges. This is essential to keep from annoying customers. Mobile data access is increasing rapidly as more people have smartphones and pad computers, and the cellular providers have to do something to manage bandwidth. The big weakness of wireless broadband is that there is only so much spectrum to go around, and when demand uses up the bandwidth available from an access point, the wireless provider has only one option--a costly upgrade to the access point and/or adding more access points and more backhaul--all expensive.

Palm Coast FiberNET opens for business

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 05/14/2010 - 10:14

The City of Palm Coast, Florida formally opened its high performance fiber network on Tuesday. Design Nine provided the early phase planning, financial and business modeling, network architecture design, vendor evaluation, and equipment and contractor procurement. The open access network opened with two service providers and several business customers on day one.

Entire country of Australia goes open access

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 05/07/2010 - 13:19

Design Nine has been an advocate for open access for many years--long before it became fashionable. So it is nice to see that some places are finally figuring out that open access is the right way to do telecom. Via Ars Technica, the Australian government has announced a $38 billion (in U.S. dollars) plan to take fiber to most Australian homes and businesses. The government intends to operate it as a open access network, with private sector providers offering all the services. The article notes that the country has decided it will not impede economic development by allowing a single incumbent to make long term decision about how much broadband is enough.

Greenlight: Fastest, cheapest Internet access in North Carolina

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/23/2010 - 07:34

The City of Wilson, North Carolina has a city-owned fiber network called Greenlight that is offering 20 megabit symmetrical Internet access for $54.95 a month. I think this qualifies as the fastest and cheapest services in North Carolina. If you tried to buy that level of service via DSL or cable, you would pay several times that, if you could even get it.

But wait, there's more! They have symmetric service tiers all the way up to 100 megabits. Very few people would need that much, but as I have noted previously, Design Nine continues to talk to businesses who want their home-based workers to have symmetric connections of 20-50 megabits, primarily to support HD videoconferencing. So the City of Wilson has something very few other communities can offer in terms of business relocation--the ability to work from home or to run a business from home, with very affordable, high performance connections.

BPL pioneer Manassas throws in the towel

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/19/2010 - 08:39

One of the earliest deployments of broadband over power lines (BPL) was the City of Manassas, Virginia. But last week, the city voted to turn off the system. Manassas is an electric city, with its own electric utility department, which made it relatively easy for the city to try out the new technology several years ago. But the BPL service reached only a handful of households and businesses (a little over 500, or less than 4%) and was not able to compete with DSL and cable modem options.

The fundamental problem with BPL is that it is relatively expensive, and when you are finished with a BPL deployment, what you have is broadband over copper, with limited bandwidth and no easy way to upgrade. Kind of like DSL and cable modem services. Fiber becomes more compelling by the day, as the demand for capacity increases as video in all its forms becomes a more common application and as the cost of fiber networks continues to fall. Why spend a substantial portion of the cost of a fiber network on a very limited copper-based system?

The fundamental problem with BPL, from a community perspective, is that it does not enable economic development and jobs growth the same way that fiber does. If your economic development strategy is, "Come to our community, because we have anemic BPL," you are in trouble, because there are plenty of other communities competing with you that have already decided to go straight to fiber.

Interesting comment on community broadband

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 03/29/2010 - 15:34

Here is an interesting comment on the Lafayette, Louisiana fiber network.

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more to come, and much of those are things that I don't even envision myself. If we go back to the early days of electricity in the 1890s, I'm convinced that Thomas Edison never envisioned the microwave oven or the TV-- much less the computer. This fiber capability, this infrastructure, is in its infancy and that's why Lafayette is going to be on the front edge of that development.

$400 per month for telecom services

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 03/08/2010 - 14:37

This discusses the rising cost of telecom services in households. The article demonstrates that there is plenty of money for broadband out there, but it is hidden because it is not aggregated in a way that benefits residents and businesses. Lack of competition is one of the main issues that keeps costs high.
A single shared network that is designed to allow service providers to inexpensively deliver a wide variety of services offers more choice and lowers the cost of services.

"The biggest fight since electrification..."

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/05/2010 - 10:28

GovPro quotes me in a short article about the challenges faced by communities who want to take control of their economic future.

U.S. Broadband: Almost as good as Latvia!

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/25/2010 - 09:39

There's a slogan for you: U.S. Broadband--We're almost as good as Latvia! Kind of rolls right off the tongue. Here is a link to a list of the "top 10" broadband countries, and the U.S. is nowhere to be found. Grim news indeed for the country.

Wired Road adds service provider, extends fiber to the home

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/24/2010 - 09:23

The Wired Road community broadband network in southwest Virginia has added Nationsline as a service provider, and is starting a rural fiber to the home expansion project this spring. Grant, Virginia residents will get 100 megabit fiber connections and a community computing center in the historic Grange Hall in the small town.

The Wired Road is an open access, open services, Layer 3 network with three retail service providers and two wholesale providers with a mountainous service area of more than 1,000 square miles. The Wired Road is part of The Crooked Road country music territory, and Galax, in the heart of the network, is home to the world famous Fiddler's Convention. Downtown Galax has fiber connections to more than sixty buildings. Design Nine designed and built The Wired Road network.

What is Google up to?

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 02/12/2010 - 09:34

The Intertubes have been buzzing for the past couple of days with what is actually a very modest announcement from Google that the company wants to play around with community fiber. Google wants to find out what people do when they have a fast connection, and what kinds of services they might be able to give away or sell if everyone has those kinds of connections.

Based on the RFP application Google has released, I am guessing that they will do this in only two or three communities, meaning the odds of being selected are very long. What seems a bit odd is that there are plenty of community fiber projects in the country Google could partner with to do the very same thing at much less expense. But Google probably wants to be able to track activity at a finer level of granularity than they would be able to do on a public network. One benefit I already see is that just the announcement by Google has created some healthy interest in open access networks.

Want to read more about why open access works? Download my paper.

Portland City WiFi Being Dismantled

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 02/09/2010 - 14:40

The City of Portland, Oregon's municipal WiFi experiment is coming to an end. It was a public/private partnership between the City and a firm called MetroFi, which reportedly spent between $2 million and $3 million to build the network. But it never worked well, and residents reported it did not work well indoors. MetroFi went into bankruptcy in 2008, and the hundreds of antennas that were mounted on City property are now being removed.

It is yet another reminder that fiber always beats wireless. Wireless is expensive and has limited capacity, and in as Philadelphia found out in a similar project a few years back, wireless vendors always oversell the technical capacity of their products. In cities with lots of tall buildings filled with steel reinforcing bars, wireless signals don't travel very far.

Wireless has a role to play for mobile access and in rural areas where it will take a while to get fiber to every premise, but eventually, we will all have a fiber connection. As Portland has found out, wireless has a hard time competing with a wired connection.

New Hampshire towns demand right to control their economic future

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/04/2010 - 09:36

A coalition of New Hampshire towns and other interested parties are encouraging state legislators to give New Hampshire towns and cities the right to bond for telecommunications infrastructure. Unsurprisingly, the incumbent providers are not excited about the notion, even though largely rural New Hampshire has tens of thousands of residents still on dial-up and one of the providers is having severe financial difficulties. The towns see it as an issue of economic survival. Who wants to live in a rural community, no matter how great the quality of life, if there is no broadband or only "little" broadband?

The towns have correctly distinguished between "little" broadband (DSL, cable, wireless) and "big" broadband. They want big broadband, because that represents the future of economic development and the ability of these towns to retain existing businesses and to attract new ones. Here is an exquisite irony: a fiber cable manufacturer in rural New Hampshire can't get the bandwidth they need to do what they want to do to manage the plant properly.

In exchange for bonding authority, the towns have wisely agreed to only build open access community broadband networks, in which all services for businesses and residents would be sold by private sector providers. So in rural parts of the state where the incumbents are saying it is too expensive to build a private network, the towns are saying, "Okay, we get it. We will build a shared network and let you, Mr. Incumbent, use it to reach customers you can't afford to build to on your own."

Why would the incumbents be opposed to that? It opens them up to competition.

The third way: Why open access networks work

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 01/27/2010 - 16:35

I receive a lot of inquiries asking for help understanding open access. The broadband stimulus funding has raised awareness of this business model, and I have written a short paper explaining how it works and why. The PDF is attached to this article, or you can visit the Design Nine Web site to download it.

Are broadband investments peaking?

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/21/2010 - 10:19

A story in the Financial Times (registration may be required) suggests investments in broadband are peaking. The article is a little misleading, because it suggests that this is a sign of "maturation." Maybe. Maybe not.

Broadband investments are peaking because cable and telephone companies have spent a lot over the past decade upgrading their antiquated copper-based infrastructure, and in their view, there is not a lot left to do. Yes, fiber to the home deployments continue to grow, but large parts of the U.S. have been redlined by the incumbents as "too expensive" for fiber. So most of this investment has been focused on what the FCC calls "little broadband," not "big broadband." Big broadband requires fiber.

Small and medium-sized businesses stuck on DSL are already calling it "tomorrow's dial up" (an exact quote from an angry business person in West Virginia). To attract jobs and businesses, communities will have to make basic broadband infrastructure investments in "big broadband."

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Design Nine has been selected as a Broadband Properties / Broadband Communities top 100 company from 2008 to 2013.


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Designed by Design Nine, the nDanville fiber network has won the Intelligent Community Forum's Smart 21 award for 2010.

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