Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/23/2005 - 07:20
Add Florida to the list of states with bills pending to stop municipal and local government investments in telecom.
Across the country, legislators, prodded by the phone and cable companies, are trying to outlaw community investments in telecom. One of the problems is that the discussion is one-sided. There are few consumer and local government advocates getting involved in educating legislators about the benefits of local telecom investments.
Barry Moline, head of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, summed up the debate from the community perspective.
"Why should our communities' needs be based" on whether private companies will provide services?"
One of the red herring arguments being tossed around by the incumbents is the notion that tax money is being used to support these projects. I've been invovled in designing business models for community telecom projects for years, and I've yet to see one that counted on one cent of tax dollars. I've never even heard anyone suggest, even casually, that tax dollars ought to be used. And finally, these simply can't be financed with tax dollars. It doesn't work, and elected leaders know that.
Community telecom projects have to be designed from the ground up to be self-supporting, or they will fail. Services fees have to balance out with the cost of managing and maintaining the network. It's a complete fiction that tax dollars are being used to support these projects, and the incumbents know it. What's really sad is that these companies, instead of choosing to compete honestly and offer their customers the services they want, are instead refusing to provide those services and simultaneously trying to cut off the options of communities to get needed services.
Submitted by acohill on Sun, 02/20/2005 - 10:13
The New York Times (registration required) has a very biased article about Philadelphia's plan for citywide wireless broadband. The paper interviewed mainly opponents of the plan, and seemed to go to great lengths to interview those opponents, while trivializing successful community projects. Worth a read just to understand the anti-community sentiment out there.
It's unfortunate that the MSM (MainStream Media) is unwilling to make the effort to report both sides of the issue. I'm not arguing that the Times should be in favor of community technology projects, but rather that their reporting should strive to present both sides of the issue fairly.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/17/2005 - 08:37
The Indiana bill that would have restricted the rights of communities to invest in telecom has died in committee.
The Internet is providing an alternate channel for citizens and community leaders to deal with these issues. In the past, bills like this often got passed into law quietly before anyone even knew about them. Today, most legislatures post proposed legislation on the Internet, open to all to see, and lots of people have the opportunity to review this stuff before it is too late. It's a useful counterbalance to lobbyists.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 02/14/2005 - 15:42
Add Colorado to a growing list of states that have bills pending in the legislature that would take the right to determine their own future away from communities.
Like other states (are you starting to see a pattern here?), the Colorado bill would require communities that want to invest in broadband to ask the private sector first. That permission is not likely to be forthcoming, and according to the report, even if the private sector declines to offer broadband service, the community is still stuck.
There are some issues here that are worth reviewing.
First, the article talks about (some) broadband initiatives as a way to raise revenue. Some communities are seeing it this way, but they are crazy. It makes no sense at all to invest in public infrastructure as a hidden tax scheme. Why on earth would you spend money that way when using it as a tax collection mechanism makes the community less competitive from an economic development perspective? This is an education problem--community leaders need help understanding telecom is not a way to balance the local budget, but a way to create jobs and create an economic development engine.
Second, it is important to keep our eye on the ball. Hong Kong just announced it is rolling out Gigabit Ethernet to more than a million homes, beginning later this year. Meanwhile, I just got a flyer from Verizon touting DSL. The flyer explains how fast their 1.5 megabit service is because it actually permits 384 kilobit upload speeds. That's right...here is Verizon's math:
384,000 bits/second = 1.5 million bits/second
Huh? Meanwhile, in places like South Korea and Hong Kong, they are getting broadband service hundreds of times faster than we are getting here while our own legislators are trying as hard as they can to hold their own citizens and businesses back.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 02/11/2005 - 15:39
Dianah Neff, the CIO of the City of Philadelphia, has written an interesting article on municipalities and WiFi for CNet.
Philadelphia had ambitious plans to provide WiFi citywide until Verizon jumped into the discussion and got the Pennsylvania legislature to pass a law requiring municipalities to ask Verizon's permission before going into the service business (Philadelphia was exempted, but the whole debacle put the brakes on Philadelphia's effort).
Neff puts her finger on what I think is an essential truth in this whole dust up:
For all the money they've spent lobbying against municipal participation, they could have built the network themselves. The truth, of course, is that the incumbent local exchange carriers want unregulated monopolies over all telecommunications.
Bingo! The article is worth a careful read.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/09/2005 - 09:00
Run, don't walk, to the nearest store and pick up a copy of USA Today. If you live in a rural community and are involved with economic and community development issues, you need to read the cover story today.
Small towns in the Great Plains are finally starting to give up "elephant hunting" and instead are using an "economic gardening" strategy. This is exactly what I have been saying in our Knowledge Economy Roadshow for the past several years.
Elephant hunting refers to traditional industrial recruitment....trying to bag a big company with lots of jobs. But small rural communities are finally starting to realize that if that is the only strategy they have, it does not work any more.
What is working? Just what I've been recommending: recruit entrepreneurs and families, not businesses. In Kansas, they are giving away free land to families that move to town, and even making cash payments to help with down payments on mortgages. They are helping the head of the household to find a job. It is still economic development, but cast in an entirely different way.
You really need to read the entire article. These communities are getting results, and are beginning to turn things around.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/02/2005 - 10:52
A quote from the Governor of Maine's State of the State address:
...Tonight I am announcing 'Connect Maine,' a broad and aggressive telecommunications strategy for this state. Connect Maine will give nearly every Mainer the opportunity to plug into the global economy from their community. It will ensure that 90 percent of Maine communities have broadband access by 2010; 100 percent of Maine communities have quality wireless service by 2008; and Maine's education system has the technology infrastructure that leads the nation.
Efforts like this, and a similarly named effort in Kentucky (Connect Kentucky) are raising the bar for other states and regions with no plans and no long range goals.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 01/31/2005 - 08:42
Add Indiana to a growing list of states that have legislatures turning their backs on communities. Legislations is being considered there that would prohibit communities from providing telecom services.
Even though I think that communities ought to stay out of the service business and limit their investments to telecom infrastructure, I think that decision ought to be left to the community, and not be pre-empted by the state legislature.
This is a serious issue that is being co-opted by the incumbents, who are lobbying legislators vigorously. It's not that the legislators are necessarily bad people, it's just that they are only getting one side of the story, and are being unduly influenced.
The answer is education. Local communities and regions need to spend more time with their legislators explaining the issues, and in particular, explaining that there is more than one way for communities to invest. Taking the infrastructure only route is pro-competition, not anti-competition. Unfortunately, few lawmakers understand that. Only by preparing talking points and having local leaders take them out to lunch, or meeting them in their offices at the state capitol, is that situation likely to change.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/27/2005 - 07:56
Take rate is an industry term for the number of customers that agree to buy a service. Take rates are notoriously hard to predict, and historically, take rates for services like telephone and cable service have been very low (e.g. 10%, 15%), meaning it takes years to get most households connected to a new service.
The town of Nuenen, Holland recently installed a blown fiber to the home, open access network, and had a remarkable 96% take rate. This means that essentially, every household that is likely to be a customer became one as soon as the service became available.
This is the global competition.
While U.S. incumbents are gingerly sticking their toes in the waters of *real* high performance broadband by grandly promoting one or two trial projects, overseas, communities are just going ahead and doing what needs to be done. Nuenen's open access network means customers have a choice of providers for their services. Nuenen is proof that not only can it be done, but that there will be customers waiting when the duct goes by the house.
Emtelle, which provided the microduct for the project, has a short video and a four page description of the project. There is some sales stuff in both, but I believe microduct is an excellent approach to implementing community broadband networks.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/25/2005 - 13:54
Here is an excerpt from a brochure about a project in Southside Virginia, a rural area that has traditionally relied on tobacco as a primary engine of its economy. Furniture and textile manufacturing were also mainstays for jobs and development, but over the past twenty years, all three have declined sharply.
The low cost of living, combined with the proximity to Greensboro and the North Carolina Research Triangle, may make Southside one of the best places to work in America, once this infrastructure is in place.
Also included as a service will be MSAPs in some locations, which create very high performance community intranets that support next generation multimedia services. The MSAP concept was pioneered by me while I was Director of the Blacksburg Electronic Village. Blacksburg has had an MSAP in operation since 1999, and Danville, Virginia also has an MSAP.
Note the emphasis on leasing capacity to "all interested providers," which includes incumbents, who, if they are smart, will realize they can lower their costs by leasing instead of overbuilding.
The Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative (MBC), a non-profit cooperative with funding from the Economic Development Authority (EDA) and the Virginia Tobacco Commission (VTC), has contracted to deploy an advanced open-access wholesale broadband network in Southside Virginia. The RBI is a 700-mile fiber-optic network with 48 strands of dedicated fiber backbone, Synchronous Optical Network (SONET) architecture, dual rings with 13 OC-192 backbone sites and 65 satellite locations providing low speed & high speed interconnect facilities (OC-3, OC-12, OC-48, STS, VT). In addition to the turn-key implementation of the RBI, MBC has invested in building a new state of the art Network Operations Control Center (NOCC) in South Boston, Virginia.
The RBI network will connect four cities, 20 counties and 56 industrial parks providing access to nearly 700,000 citizens and more than 19,000 businesses throughout Southside Virginia. The goal of this project is to promote economic development opportunities for the region, attracting technologybased business and industry. Network construction begins in January 2005 and will be turned-up in phases. MBC plans to have the entire network fully operational by December 2006. MBC will be selling/leasing fiber and services on a wholesale basis to all interested providers.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/25/2005 - 13:47
Northern Illinois, which is surprisingly rural in nature despite being a relatively easy drive to Chicago, has grabbed hold of the future. Below is a press release announcing an ambitious regional project to get affordable, high capacity broadband throughout that area. In announcing the effort, an official connected with the effort said, "The communication infrastructure we're talking about will be as important as electricity, water."
Northern Illinois Technology Triangle Unlocks New Opportunities for Northern Illinois Communities
Rochelle Municipal Utilities announces plans for a multi-gigabit capacity fiber optic ring to serve local rural communities
Rochelle, IL - Today, Rochelle Mayor Chet Olson unveiled plans for a superior fiber-optic telecommunications network labeled the Northern Illinois Technology Triangle (NITT). The network will provide multi-gigabit capacity to the Northern Illinois region, connecting communities across Northern Illinois and opening new opportunities for growth in education, research and business.
The NITT is a joint venture between Rochelle Municipal Utilities (RMU) and the Illinois Municipal Broadband Communications Association (IMBCA). It will provide a looped broadband fiber network in a triangle along I-88 from Rock Falls to Naperville, with a section north to St. Charles, and from St. Charles along I-90 to Rockford, and then along I-39 from Rockford to Rochelle. The physical infrastructure will be implemented in three parts. IMBCA has already leased existing fiber along I-88 from Naperville west to Rock Falls and is now negotiating leases for existing fiber on I-90. Rochelle Municipal Utilities plans on installing the remaining leg of the triangle, from Rochelle to Rockford, where no fiber exits. The NITT is the first municipal utility fiber optic network consortium in Illinois.
Chet Olson, Rochelle's Mayor, said, "We're pleased to play a part in bringing about the Northern Illinois Technology Triangle. NITT is the beginning of a new era, not only for Rochelle, but for all communities in this region that choose to access this network. For my community, it means an opportunity to expand our economic base from manufacturing and rail service to technology services and support." The network ring is based upon fiber optic cable and will offer 33 (or more) wavelengths, each with the capacity to carry data at a rate up to 40 Gigabits per second. With just one Gigabit connection, a family can download their favorite DVD movie in less than one (1) minute, something which would normally take 13 days to download using a telephone dial-up connection.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 01/19/2005 - 21:04
The northern region of New Hamphsire is taking control of it's economic future by developing a technology master plan for the region, as reported by the AP.
One of the drivers of the project is the need to be competitive from an economic development perspective. Design Nine is providing the coordination and guidance for the effort.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/18/2005 - 20:05
SpaceShipOne won the $10 million X Prize by being the first private space vehicle to make a round trip to suborbital space twice in two weeks. But more money has been put up by hotel mogul Robert Bigelow. Fifty million is the next prize, for the first private spaceship to take five people to orbit twice in two weeks.
Bigelow wants bigger spacecraft to fill his space hotels. He's been working on the concept for years. What is really interesting is that much of the private development is being funded by Internet billionaires. Wired has the full article. The Internet is laying the seeds for the greatest economic expansion in the history of the world. When the Space Economy begins to kick in, about ten years from now, the business opportunities and new businesses it will create will dwarf the dot-com expansion. It will also be more solid, because unlike the dot-com companies, you won't be able to go to space with a business plan and a Web site. It will take solid, careful development work and a lot of sweat, tears, risk, and yes, even death. Space has been, is, and will continue to be a risky business. But it won't stop our children, who will have their eyes on the stars.
Submitted by acohill on Sat, 01/15/2005 - 07:57
The City Council of St. Paul, Minnesota has approved a study to consider the feasibility of citywide wireless broadband.
The three month study will look for "the common good" that might be gained from community-managed telecom infrastructure. This is, as far as I know, the first time the common good has been explicity acknowledged in this kind of study. It has been implicitly part of many other community telecom projects, but it's about time we started this particular conversation in more earnest.
What has dominated the discussion so far has been the "unfairness" of community telecom projects, all viewed through the lens of monopoly telecom providers. Using that yardstick, community water systems are "unfair" because someone might want to build their own, private water system. Public sanitation would be "unfair" because someone might want to get into the sewer business. Our legislators and government officials need to start thinking more clearly about these issues.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/14/2005 - 09:59
Texas has a foot in the emerging Space Economy with the announcement that Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon, is planning a spaceport facility in southwest Texas.
Bezos is from nearby New Mexico, and has been working on this project from Seattle for several years. The most interesting part of this story is that the Bezos ranch, near El Paso, is not really that far from southern New Mexico's spaceport. The two locations are likely to form a "space tech" corridor that will fuel growth in the region for decades.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/11/2005 - 20:51
USA Today has an article about Lafayette, Louisiana, which has been trying to put together a community fiber project for the past year. The southern Louisiana community has apparently been beaten down by BellSouth, which has vigorously opposed the deal.
BellSouth has claimed it is "unfair" for communities to offer a service the company could offer, even though it provides only DSL in the community, a pale shadow of the robust fiber network the city was planning.
At the risk of boring my regular readers, there are two ways to approach community telecom projects. One is to regard telecom infrastructure just like roads. Communities build the roads, but private companies (like BellSouth) deliver services (like dialtone or TV programming) to customers. The other approach is to regard telecom infrastructure like the municipal water or electric system, in which the city itself provides the customer services.
The latter is certainly more efficient, but given that many of our elected leaders still don't take any of this very seriously and given that we have a ridiculously complex regulatory environment, I think the former approach (a public/private partnership) is the only alternative.
Rightly or wrongly, communities that are trying to create public monopolies in this area are losing. The telecoms are outspending them and are buying whatever laws are needed to prevent community investments. But communities must invest to stay viable in the global economy, and Lafayette knows that. From the article:
"The future of Lafayette shouldn't be left to the whim of the big telecommunications companies, insists City Parish President Joey Durel. Installing fiber-optic cable, he credibly argues, is no different from laying down sidewalks or sewer lines.
In fact, the "triple play" plan mirrors the action Lafayette's city fathers took a century ago when they realized the private power companies were passing them by in favor of larger, more lucrative markets in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. To survive, they built their own municipal power system.
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.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/28/2004 - 12:07
Texas continues to be a leader in rolling out public WiFi. Several months ago, the state announced it was going to offer WiFi at highway rest stops. Now it will also offer it in some state parks. The reasons are shrewd--state officials have decided to invest to boost tourism among some very narrowly targeted groups that want more access while out in the parks, with birders and "snowbirds," the winter RV crowd among those mentioned.
The article also has some interesting stats on the deployment of WiFi, the costs, and who is using it.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/26/2004 - 09:27
About this time last year, Virginia Tech, right here in rural Appalachia, made world news with a dirt cheap supercomputer that ranked number 3 in the world in terms of speed and processing power.
The university did some thinking out of the box and discarded the conventional approach to building supercomputers (typically using a lot of custom hardware). Instead they bought 1100 off the shelf Macintoshes, wired them together with more off the shelf hardware, and wrote a small amount of software to turn the Macs into a monster supercomputer.
Since then, the university has swapped out all the older G4 processor-based machines for much smaller Macintosh Xserve industrial servers based on the much more powerful G5 processor. The floor space needed for the machine shrunk, the heat output was reduced, and speed was increased by 19%.
I remain convinced that a regional supercomputer facility should be regarded as essential economic development infrastructure. Microenterprise businesses and other small businesses increasingly need access to supercomputing facilities, and this is no different that sewer and water was forty years ago.
The good news is that putting a supercomputer together is pretty easy. Apple will build you a turnkey G5 cluster so you don't need a research university. And for a rural community seeking an edge in the global economy, I can't think of a better calling card. A modest supercomputer facility would not cost as much as a shell building, and would be a perfect complement to a business incubator.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/11/2004 - 19:23
The second speaker is James Baker, from central Pennsylvania, with the Council of Governments--an 11 county area with 300 local government entities of one kind or another. Most communities are under 2500 population, and many are under 1000. Generally a very low density area--20-40 households per square mile as an average.
Broadband services are expanding in the area. However, 98% of Pennsylvania urban areas have some form of broadband, but only 25% of rural areas have some kind of service. Providers view rural areas as not good markets.
The state of Pennsylvania has funded a GIS system that provides service maps for various kinds of services available (i.e. DSL, cable modem, etc). Good tool, but data quality varies, some limitations in granularity of data.
Wireless services were considered for expansion in one county by swapping tower space on an EMS tower with space on a commercially-owned tower in another part of the county. EMS would get better radio coverage, and residents and businesses would get more access and choice in broadband.
Murphy's Law kicked in...the six inch square antenna which was to be put on the county tower would require a $5000 engineering study to make sure it would not add significant wind loading to the 200' tower. No one would pay for the study, so the project got slowed down while a variety of funding sources were pursued. The ARC came to the rescue, but the $5000 grant application required almost the same amount of paperwork as a $150,000 grant.
After the engineering studies were done, it was discovered that the county did have legal control of the tower, and that has required additional effort. Testing by the service provider has shown that nearly the entire anticipated service area will be covered.
In the meantime, the government fiber project is using wireless to expand coverage beyond the ends of the fiber. Some nonprofits are getting service.
Issues include legal problems--one person, the county lawyer, has the power to stop these projects dead in their tracks. If the cable company expands service, the wireless provider may feel it is not worth it to continue expansion--it becomes very important for government to be able to move quickly to help private businesses.
Design Nine provides visionary broadband architecture and engineering services to our clients. We have over seventy years of staff experience with telecom and community broadband-more than any other company in the United States.
We have a full range of broadband and telecom planning, design, and project management services.
Free Fiber to the Home
Save NC Broadband
Blandin on Broadband
Intelligent Community Forum
FCC Broadband Blog
KGP Broadband Stimulus
Ars Technica Tech Policy
Bill St. Arnaud
Stop the Cap
Broadband Policy Watch
Lafayette Pro Fiber