Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/08/2012 - 15:09
Those of us that have reasonably decent broadband connections at home and at work often forget there are still large parts of America that are still on dial-up. Design Nine just completed the first part of a USDA-funded Community Connect project in Grayson County, Virginia. Grayson County some of the most rugged terrain on the East Coast, and is home to Mount Rogers (elevation 5,729 ft), one of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River. The Wired Road received the USDA grant to help the rural community of Grant, Virginia get better access to broadband. No reasonably priced fiber was available near the community, so Design Nine engineered a complex, multi-point 300 megabit microwave link from Galax, Virginia, where The Wired Road has its main network site.
The project renovated the historic, 100 year old Grange Hall in Grant, which included major improvements to the building, as well as a radio tower, a fiber link from the tower to the Grange Hall, and the design and implementation of a ten seat computer lab designed specifically to support distance learning and business people who needed broadband access. The computer lab has been extremely popular, and is saving local residents time and money, as they no longer have to drive long distances to get broadband access.
The second phase of the project is nearing completion, and will bring fiber to the home connections to 100 homes in Grant. Network connectivity on the fiber network is being provided by the 300 megabit radio link, which is capable of supporting TV service in the future.
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.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/29/2011 - 10:26
Business Insider lists the Roanoke, Virginia area as one of twenty smaller areas of the country that could become a high tech "Silicon Valley" type of region. The factors used to create the list are instructive:
The Roanoke-Blacksburg region has the best fit on the fourth item, with Virginia Tech as a powerhouse for engineering and computer science, and many other good schools like Roanoke College, Radford University, and Hollins College, along with two community colleges with strong technology programs.
Note that the first item listed is broadband access. While the Roanoke region has moderately good availability, choice is limited and prices are high due to lack of competition. So how does one of the listed regions break out and surge ahead, given that all of them already have met the article's minimum qualifications? Here's my list:
How does your region compare to this list of twenty? What would it take to get onto the list? What would it take to break out?
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.
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.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 10/28/2011 - 08:38
Danville, Virginia is a Smart21 Intelligent Community for 2012. The Intelligent Community Forum announced the top 21 communities this week, and next year seven of those communities will be selected for the Smart7 category. Design Nine has been assisting Danville with the design and development of their City-owned open access fiber network since 2006. nDanville subscribers have access to 100 meg, Gigabit, and 10Gig transport and a choice of private sector services. nDanville is beginning construction of Fiber To The Home (FTTH), which will include a triple-play voice/TV/Internet offering.
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.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 08/18/2011 - 08:53
Back in 2006, with the help of Design Nine, the City of Danville made the decision to open their city-owned fiber for commercial use. The first customers were connected in 2007. The self-funded project has grown slowly, has spent carefully, and manages more than one hundred and fifty miles of fiber with just two dedicated staff. The City had an early advantage because Danville is an electric city--they own many of the utility poles, and electric utility line crews have done much of the construction and maintenance work. Some specialized work, like fiber splicing, is still outsourced.
This article in Virginia Business highlights the slow but steady changes that the municipally-owned fiber have brought to the community.
nDanville's early focus has been on serving businesses, and every lot in all five business parks in the area are passed by nDanville fiber. Many other commercial areas of the City are also passed by nDanville fiber, and all the substations in the 500 square mile electric service area are managed with nDanville fiber. But the project has just announced their first fiber to the home initiative, starting with a 250 home pilot project.
The City of Danville, which once had the highest unemployment in Virginia, now looks like the best place for a technology business in the Commonwealth. What other Virginia community can offer:
City leaders have taken the slow and steady approach on a wide variety of economic revitalization initiatives, but it is fiber that has, quite literally, connected the dots for Danville.
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 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 Mon, 05/23/2011 - 08:29
Governor Perdue of North Carolina has indicated that she will not veto the anti-community, anti-economic development, anti-jobs, anti-rural anti-broadband bill recently passed by the North Carolina legislature. Instead, she will signal her "displeasure" by allowing it to become law without signing it.
This may not be the end of the world, but it is certainly a catastrophe, first and foremost for rural communities in North Carolina, who have been thrown under the bus by their own representatives, and second for other states and rural communities in the U.S. Expect that the incumbents, emboldened by this success in North Carolina, will try to purchase more laws in other states.
For those that remain unconvinced this is a problem, read this letter from a major North Carolina high tech software firm (the hugely successful Red Hat Linux). Here is the bottom line from the article:
"...One of the most difficult and expensive line-items in this multi-million dollar project was securing a broadband link to the site in rural Chatham County. I spent more than two years begging Time Warner to sell me a service that costs 50x more than it should, and that's after I agreed to pay 100% of the installation costs for more than a mile of fiber. .... Community broadband initiatives reach more people faster, at lower costs, leading to better economic development. Take it from me: had I been able to spend the time and money on community broadband that I spent in my commercial negotiations, there would be more jobs in Chatham County today."
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, 05/18/2011 - 08:23
If it seems like I am writing a lot about the situation in North Carolina, it is because the broadband fight there has national implications. This short article from DSLReports does a good job a summarizing just how awful the situation is. Right now, only the Governor can stop it, as the legislature (both houses) has passed this monstrosity.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/17/2011 - 11:14
Via Stop the Cap!, some Lithuanian broadband customers are getting bandwidth increases that can range has high as 300 megabits, up from the current 100/40 bandwidth for the Premium plan. There is no price increase for the improved performance.
Since the U.S. Broadband Plan targets 4 meg as entirely adequate, we can imagine a catchy slogan: American broadband! 1/75 as good as Lithuania!
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/17/2011 - 10:10
The dire situation in North Carolina with H129 (effectively bans community investments in broadband infrastructure) continues to attract national attention. Well known legal expert Lawrence Lessig has issued a plea to petition the governor to veto the bill.
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, 04/08/2011 - 12:34
WiredWest, the consortium of 47 towns in western Massachusetts that has been developing an ambitious plan to take fiber to every home and business that requests service in the WiredWest region, has released a powerful and superbly produced and edited video that makes a strong case that "little broadband" is not adequate today and will not be adequate in the future, and that the lack of big broadband is already affecting the region's ability to attract jobs and maintain adequate levels of economic growth. Watch the whole thing, and the entire North Carolina legislature should be locked in a room and made to watch it. Disclosure: WiredWest is a client of Design Nine.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 04/06/2011 - 09:48
There is a significant push nationwide to simply let the cellphone companies "solve" the rural broadband problem by rolling out "little broadband" cellular data services in rural areas and proclaiming, "Job done!" This story from the Daily Yonder illustrates, unfortunately, it's not going to be that simple.
Customer service problems aside, the structural issue is that cellular wireless simply does not have now, nor will it ever have, enough bandwidth to support everything people want to do. Verizon is now having the same iPhone data/bandwidth problems that AT&T had when the latter company first rolled out the very capable iPhone four years ago. And AT&T has now moved to bandwidth-limited contracts because the company simply can't keep up with demand. Wireless broadband is very important in rural areas as a bridge technology to get homes and businesses off dial-up and onto something better. But like other "little broadband" technologies like DSL and cable modem services, WiFi/WiMax/cellular wireless networks can't do it all. Wireless networks are needed for mobile access, and fiber is needed for jobs and economic development.
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