Where to find the next new business

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/13/2009 - 14:20

Smart economic developers should start advertising California. Businesses, engineers, scientists, and other business professionals are packing up and leaving the state. Many of them will be looking for the good quality of life in small towns and fiber to the home, so they can work from home and/or run their newly relocated business from home. And fiber in your local businesses parks will help attract the bigger firms moving from California.

Is California the new Detroit?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/29/2008 - 15:26

Aptera Motors just raised $24 million in funding. The company plans to build a super-efficient car. That makes Aptera at least the second new car company in California, following in the footsteps of Tesla Motors, which makes the super-fast Tesla electric sports car. The increase in gas prices is going to create tremendous new business and economic development opportunities for communities that are out talking to their businesses and studying how to leverage energy assets and broadband.

San Francisco, Earthlink say WiFi failing

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/03/2007 - 11:26

This article discusses the collapsing WiFi efforts in San Francisco, providing a real world data point that confirms what many of us have been saying for a long time: WiFi alone is not a complete solution for community broadband.

The deal between Earthlink and the city of San Franciso also confirms that there is no free lunch. Earthlink was going to build, own, and operate the free network on behalf of the City. The City part of the deal was to provide Earthlink with easements and access to city-owned light poles and other structures where the WiFi access points would be mounted. An Earthlink official who was asked about the effort said the project, ".... was not providing an acceptable rate of return." Earthlink's other free WiFi projects in Anaheim and Philadelphia are also struggling. The company expected to make money by selling faster wireless connections for a fee and by selling advertising provided by Google.

What we are seeing is that most people, when given a choice between mediocre wireless access and fee-based wireline services (e.g. fiber, DSL, cable), choose wireline services most of the time because the service quality is better.

Remember that this need not and should be an either/or debate: either our community does wireless or it does fiber. Communities need both, and should be planning and investing in properly structured public/private partnerships that really work. In the end, community investments in telecom infrastructure have to be linked to broader community and economic development goals. Few businesses are going to move to a community where the broadband "solution" is wireless only.

California reviews electronic voting

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 05/10/2007 - 08:42

The state of California has put together an extensive plan to review every voting system in use in the state. The work will use several groups of indepedent scientists with excellent credentials who will review both electronic voting systems and other, older voting systems, including paper-based balloting.

The state is serious about this; the plan includes the use of independent "red teams" that will work independently to try to break into the electronic systems. This is not likely to be very difficult, since you can go right to YouTube and watch a short video on how to break into some systems.

The tragedy here is that this kind of analysis and review should have been done before California spent a half billion tax dollars buying untested voting equipment. State and local officials in California and in every other state ignored the pleas of computer scientists and technology experts across the country and blindly wasted billions buying flawed equipment. Most of it will end up being replaced.

The good news: at least the problem is getting fixed before a massive vote fraud creats a constitutional crisis in a major election. Let's hope every state addresses this issue promptly.

California to invest $460 million on broadband

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/12/2006 - 11:50

According to this article, the state of California will make $460 million available for broadband in the state. $400 million is to speed up telemedicine uses, and will probably benefit hospitals the most, but the other $60 million is intended for accelerating broadband deployment. A broadband task force has been formed, but appears to be mostly industry insiders, who usually don't lobby for open service provider networks. What often comes out of these high level commissions and committees are special deals for business friends of legislators. Nonetheless, California gets some credit for at least recognizing the problem and putting some money behind it. It will be interesting to see what emerges in a year or two as the funds are disbursed.

Citywide WiFi projects are expensive experiments

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 06/12/2006 - 10:48

Citywide WiFi projects in Sacramento, California and St. Cloud, Florida are both having problems, supporting my long-standing contention that these efforts are risky. MobilePro, the company that got a city government contract to blanket the city with WiFi, is pulling out of the project entirely after the company and the city could not agree on how to finance the project. What's mind-boggling is how the company and the city agreed to move forward without a clear understanding of how the system would be paid for. Unfortunately, this is typical of "knee jerk" broadband projects that are promoted vigorously to local leaders who don't really understand enough about how community broadband should be operated. And very few vendors do, either. Wireless vendors just want to sell hardware, and so they don't really care very much if a business model is weak or nonexistent.

In St. Cloud, Florida, which got a lot of publicity when their citywide wireless effort was announced, is now having problems because they are finding out what some of us have known for a long time--WiFi is at best a bridge technology, not a long term solution. And you have to understand its limitations to make best use of it. The St. Cloud problems are largely technical ones at this time, with many residents not able to get a strong enough signal to use the free service. Residents are being advised by the City to buy a $170 signal booster. But many say they are going to stick with DSL.

One of the problems with WiFi is that it is can be lumped in the same category as DSL and cable modem services--that is too say, not exactly a bridge to the future. If you already have DSL or cable modem service, switching to WiFi is not likely to bring any real improvement to throughput, and it might even be less capable. Consumers are price sensitive to a point, but at this time, many people already understand the value of broadband, and are willing to pay for it in return for adequate performance. What St. Cloud is finding out is that residents won't necessarily switch to a free service that does not perform up to their expectations. So the city's money may have been wasted.

Loma Linda, California requires broadband infrastructure

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/17/2005 - 12:21

Loma Linda, California, a community of 20,000 people, may be the first town in the country to require broadband infrastructure in new housing. This article from the May, 2005 issue of Broadband Properties (scroll down to get the PDF file) details the ordinance that requires builders to install structured Ethernet (broadband) cabling in every living space in new homes, as well as run fiber to the homes in the development, and to provide neighborhood colocation space for network equipment (what I call an NSAP, or Neighborhood Service Access Point).

This kind of approach future-proofs the community and reduces the cost of broadband access. Builders install the neighborhood infrastructure and turn it over to the town when the development is complete, just as they turn over other infrastructure like streets, sidewalks, water, and sewer. The article cites a study that shows homes with fiber to the home (FTTH) sell for $4,000 to $14,000 more than the same home without broadband access. So the builders easily recoup the additional cost, and the increased value of the home provides tax benefits to the town (which helps pay for maintenance).

SpaceX gets Air Force contract

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 05/05/2005 - 10:54

Space Exploration Technologies, Inc., or SpaceX, has received a $100 million dollar Air Force contract to build and supply launch vehicles for the Defense Department. This could be a breakthrough for the emerging Space Economy, as the Department of Defense had apparently decided it can't keep all its launch eggs in the costly technology of the sixties (traditional booster rockets) and the now thirty year old Space Shuttle.

This could play out like some other hard to fund from the private sector projects that explode once government steps in and puts money on the table. The funding for SpaceX will likely attract venture capital to both SpaceX and to other fledgling space vehicle companies. The competition will keep innovation high and prices low, and will open space to nongovernment activities like tourism, although the FAA is meddling already with Virgin Galactic's plans to use new designs from Bert Rutan's Scaled Composites, which won the X Prize last year. The FAA is determined to make sure that space tourists know that space flight is "dangerous." Unless you have lived under a rock for the past thirty years, I don't think that needs a lot of explaining.

Most of the Wright Brother's early test pilots died in crashes, as did many others anxious for a joy ride in the new flying machines. If the FAA had been around then, the Wright Brothers never would have been able to cut through the red tape that would have been required for the Kitty Hawk flights, and we'd still be taking steamships across the ocean because flying through the air is "dangerous."

Keep an eye on the Space Economy. As it unfolds over the next thirty years, it will dwarf any previous economic boom in history, and make the dot-com bubble look like a an awfully small bubble.

Befuddled San Francisco officials

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 04/06/2005 - 10:07

The Internet continues to create earthquakes across the entire spectrum of society as established ways of doing things crumble under the unprecedented publishing capabilites of Internet-enabled information tools.

Elected officials, who have enjoyed a close relationship with mainstream media over the decades, are becoming increasing irrational over blogs. While the media has often had an adversarial relationship with elected leaders of one stripe or another, those elected leaders, the media, and political parties all have tended to play by a set of well-understood rules (I'm generalizing here--there are obvious exceptions).

But blogs have changed all that. Bloggers, publishing their own commentary for a worldwide audience (albeit often a small one), don't have to play by traditional rules. The blogosphere is creating an entirely new set of rules, and some politicians don't like it.

San Francisco leaders have introduced city legislation that would require bloggers to register with the city if they write about politics and candidates. What on earth are they thinking? Do they really think they can stifle criticism of city leaders and policies with this kind of heavy-handed approach?

To illustrate just how absurd this is, a transnational fight over publishing is brewing. Excerpts from a secret government hearing in Canada that allegedly is investigating fraud on the part of government officials has been published on a U.S. Web site, and Canadian leaders are seething because they can't do anything about it.

It's not at all clear who, if anyone, has committed a crime. The ban forbids publication. So the Canadian that passed the documents on may not have broken the law, and the American blog is not subject to Canadian law at all.

Ethics and the lack of them certainly play a role here, but it's always been difficult to legislate moral or ethical behavior.

Yet another pointless fight over broadband

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.

Northern California studies best practice in community networks

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/06/2005 - 14:45

The Redwood Technology Consortium has won a grant to collect data on the best practices of community networks around the country. The RTC represents technology interests for the North Coast region of California, centered in the Eureka area.

This is a great project. As I've often remarked, it's more about education than technology, and the RTC is doing right by trying to learn from other projects. Too many communities end up reinventing the wheel, and in the process, spending too much money and getting bad advice from local "experts" who typically have no experience in managing communitywide technology and telecom efforts.

The usual pattern is to appoint a local IT director from a school system, a corporation, or other large institution to head the project. But institutional networks operate under budget, staffing, and technical constraints very different from heterogeneous communitywide networks. Communitywide projects have to be approached in a very different way, with a heavy emphasis on education and relationship-building. Technology itself is also much less an issue for community projects, in the sense that there are now well-established tools and platforms for community portal sites, and for infrastructure development, the market is now mature, and the emphasis for infrastructure should be on tying communities needs and goals to the investments, rather than rushing out to buy a lot of "stuff."

The North Coast area is fortunate to have a Tech Council taking the lead on these issues. One of the problems with community investments in telecom and technology is that they typically fall across many public and private institutional boundaries, meaning that there is no one entity that has ownership in the same way, for example, that a town owns and manages public roads. It truly is a public/private enterprise, and tech councils are a great way to bring stakeholders together and to sustain the process.

A second state readies a spaceport

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 05/24/2004 - 19:49

California is following New Mexico in preparing a commercial spaceport. An article on describes the effort in the Mojave Desert, down in southern California.

At least four space transportation companies are located at the spaceport or are planning to use it, including Bert Rutan's Scaled Composites. Rutan's company is expected to win the $10 million dollar X prize for the first commercial sub-orbitals flights.

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