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.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/05/2011 - 14:37
When an FCC Commissioner takes the time to tell your state that what your legislators are doing is foolish, your state has a problem.
FCC Commissioner Clyburn had this to say yesterday:
“Not long after the National Broadband Plan was issued, I had the privilege to visit North Carolina and speak about the goals in the Plan, and the importance of our nation using every available tool to address the broadband divide. I believe now, as I did then, that no American citizen or community should be left behind in the digital age. However, I remain concerned that when cities and local governments are prohibited from investing directly in their own broadband networks, citizens may be denied the opportunity to connect with their nation and improve their lives. Local economies will suffer as a result, and the communities’ ability to effectively address education, health, public safety, and other social issues will be severely hampered. Regrettably, North Carolina isn’t the only state considering such legislation. My home state of South Carolina has similar legislation pending, and the state of Arkansas is contemplating a complete ban on publicly-owned broadband facilities. I fear that preventing local governments from investing in broadband is counter-productive and will impede the nation from accomplishing the Plan’s goal of providing broadband access to every American and community anchor institution.”
The only good thing about this flurry of anti-jobs legislation is that economic developers in the states adjacent to North Carolina, South Carolina, and Arkansas must be dancing a jig.
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 Tue, 03/29/2011 - 10:43
It is unfortunate, but the issue of broadband in this country is becoming a political issue, when it should be focused more on economic prosperity, jobs, and business development. Witness this headline from the always excellent Stop the Cap! blog:
House Republicans Sell Out North Carolina’s Broadband Future to Big Telecom
The headline is a little misleading, as a bunch of Democrats also voted for this awful bill. This highly political fight in North Carolina may be good for candidates in both parties with respect to fundraising, but deliberately voting to cripple the future economic development of rural communities is, well, bad for business. Literally.
Much confusion is being sown by incumbents who are not explaining the difference between the current "little broadband" networks (DSL, wireless, cable) and "big broadband" fiber networks that are being built by communities to retain existing businesses and attract new ones.
Big broadband, simply, is about jobs, now and in the future. There are very few businesses left that don't need affordable high capacity broadband. I have written before about the deli owner who was losing lunch business because credit card verification over his DSL line was taking too long. Why politicians of any party think it is a good idea to cripple economic development in their districts is a mystery.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/25/2011 - 10:09
Just when you thought you had heard it all, North Carolina legislators are about to pass a law declaring the state a broadband-free zone. An amendment to a very bad broadband bill will declare that "broadband" is any service that is "occasionally capable of achieving 768kbps downstream and 200kbps upstream." This is 1/5 of the feeble national goal of 4 megabits downstream and 1 megabit upstream. If there was ever a declaration of war against economic development, this is it. If it were 1920, it would the equivalent of outlawing paved roads, on the theory that "our daddies rode horses, and that's good enough." If it was 1930, it would be the equivalent of outlawing community sewer systems, on the theory that "I grew up using an outhouse, and that's good enough."
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 03/10/2011 - 14:55
I don't what is in the water in North Carolina, but some legislators seem determined to cripple the prosperity of towns and cities in the state. A bill to outlaw community-owned networks is working its way through the legislature, and the City of Asheville notes that the bill is so poorly worded that it would prevent the City from accepting money from the Google Fiber initiative and from Federal broadband grant programs like the the Department of Commerce broadband stimulus initiative. Muni Networks has more on the fight.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 03/09/2011 - 09:42
The North Carolina-based Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) filed a public comment to the FCC calling for more attention to community-owned broadband networks. MAIN's executive director, Wally Bowen, has been involved in community broadband initiatives since the early nineties, and is one of the true pioneers of the community broadband movement. Read the whole article.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/04/2011 - 09:43
Via Stop the Cap!, some North Carolina legislators seemed determined to kill jobs and economic growth in North Carolina's communities by banning community-owned broadband. The cable companies hope to succeed in getting this legislation passed in North Carolina. If they are successful there, they will surely move the same tactics to other states. It will be devastating if they are successful, as it will leave rural communities without the telecom infrastructure needed to attract businesses and jobs.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 02/18/2011 - 10:49
Via Stop the Cap!, a bill has been introduced in the North Carolina legislature to make it extremely difficult for communities to invest in broadband infrastructure. The article is excellent, with a detailed analysis of the issues, so I'm not going to try to summarize it here--just read the whole thing.
The bill is sponsored by a Republican legislator, but the ability of communities to decide their own economic future should not be a partisan issue, and I think both parties have a faulty perspective. Democrats tend to be friendlier towards community broadband, but too often, Democratic proposals focus on more regulation, which often has the unintended consequence of making it more difficult to get local projects started. Republicans, while they ought to be supporting free markets and competition, too often listen only to the incumbents, and get sucked into supporting things like this new NC legislation, which looks more like crony capitalism than free markets.
Banning communities from investing in broadband would be like banning water and sewer. Water, sewer, and broadband are and have become basic economic development infrastructure, and putting roadblocks up that keeps communities from attracting new jobs and retaining existing businesses makes no sense.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 02/15/2011 - 15:10
The City of Chattanooga, Tennessee was recently selected by the Intelligent Community Forum as one of the Top 7 Intelligent Communities worldwide for 2011. This article by Robert Bell of ICF provides some of the back story and the amazing success of Chattanooga over the past couple of decades.
By the late sixties, Chattanooga, once a thriving manufacturing town, had the dirtiest air in America and was beginning to lose jobs. Despite heavy investments in urban renewal in the eighties and nineties, the city was not attracting jobs. But over the past ten years, as the City-owned electric utility began to invest in fiber, companies and jobs started to follow, and the pay off has been huge. Chattanooga won a Volkswagen manufacturing plant in part because of the city's investment in fiber. The city fiber is also being used to provide Smart Grid electric metering, which will lower utility costs for businesses and residents.
Submitted by acohill on Sun, 02/06/2011 - 11:45
SandMonkey, a prominent Egyptian blogger who was briefly detained by Egyptian security forces, advocates that opponents of repressive regimes should store all their documents, writing, and information (e.g. email addresses and data on compatriots) on a cloud-based service located in a different country. That way, if a laptop is confiscated, there are no incriminating documents on it.
It's a fascinating view of an emerging technology, and of course, terrorists can do the same thing. As always, technology is politically neutral. But there is no doubt that bloggers and the technology of the Internet is changing politics, mostly for the good, by making it harder to hide graft, corruption, nepotism, and incompetence.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 01/31/2011 - 09:10
The Roanoke Times ran an article yesterday (Sunday) in the business section on two stimulus projects building fiber in the Blacksburg-Roanoke region. The two middle mile projects are not linked to any comprehensive last mile efforts, which is also the challenge for many stimulus-funded middle mile projects in other areas.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 01/10/2011 - 11:54
It is still rare to have a politician address the issue of broadband in any sensible way, but incoming Governor John Lynch just set the bar a little higher by noting that ubiquitous access to "big" broadband is essential to jobs growth and economic development. Here is what he has to say.
Today, however, infrastructure is more than roads and bridges. Our companies and citizens need access to high-speed Internet to compete in this economy. Through the federal stimulus, we are leveraging more than $66 million in federal and private funds to build an expanded broadband highway for New Hampshire. A project that will support 700 jobs, improve communications, and make it easier to connect all parts of our state to high-speed and affordable broadband. Let us build the information highway of the 21st century. Let us bring affordable broadband to all of New Hampshire.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 12/27/2010 - 11:23
The tiny Isle of Jersey will be getting Gigabit fiber to the home as part of an initiative by the incumbent Jersey Telecom to replace all copper-based services with fiber over the next five years. Maybe some U.S. incumbents should make a trip to Jersey (in the English Channel just off the coast of France) to learn how to construct a business case that allows dumping 100 year old copper technology for something a little newer.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/15/2010 - 15:40
More information about the financial problems of the city-owned Burlington Telecom (Burlington, Vermont) venture are emerging. Opponents of community broadband will be eager to hold this up as the latest "proof" that community-owned telecom does not work.
What is odd about arguing that communities should stay out of telecom is that the alternative being proposed is basically, "Stick with the 20th century business models that have failed utterly to meet broadband needs in the U.S." So some pioneer community broadband projects have had problems. Anyone remember Adelphia? Anyone remember the hundreds of other cable companies that have failed or been bought up because they were struggling financially?
The opponents of community broadband have nothing, nothing to offer except "stick with what we know has failed." As opposed to, "Let's try some new models and learn what works." It is a very feeble argument.
Projects like Burlington Telecom and Utopia (which is now back on track and so not mentioned so much anymore) are providing valuable best practice information for other community projects. What can be learned from the BT effort?
The BT auditors have said they don't see how BT can repay its debts, but they probably only did an analysis using the existing customer base. We run the numbers on community broadband ventures all the time, and modest increases in the customer base can make a big difference in paying off debt over ten or fifteen years. Auditors are not usually going to engage in speculative analysis, but it is incorrect to read too much into the audit conclusions. BT can overcome their problems with good, open management and a sharp focus on increasing their customer base.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/16/2010 - 13:45
Design Nine has its corporate headquarters at the Corporate Research Center here in Blacksburg. The CRC recently added a new amenity for its tenants: a state of the art videoconferencing meeting room. We've used the room to save money on travel, and it is something every business park should have. The system the CRC installed is very high quality, with a high quality remote control camera and a very large, wall-mounted flat panel TV. The combination of the high quality camera and large screen gives you a "you are there" experience that is well beyond the typical Skype or iChat software. And the CRC has excellent bandwidth out to the Internet, meaning a clean, crisp image. In a recent meeting, the party on the other side had very limited upstream bandwidth, and it was obvious--what we saw on our end was a very poor image with heavy pixelation.
Want more information? Download our attached handout on the technology business parks need to be competitive in a tough economic climate.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/16/2010 - 11:40
The nDanville fiber network, owned and operated by the City of Danville as an open access network, has helped a local dentist practice expand services to new locations, and has created jobs doing so. The affordable, high performance fiber has allowed the four office practice to have all dental records available at all four locations, reducing costs and making it easier for patients and the dentists.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 11/04/2010 - 08:46
Ars Technica reports on a running fight that Time-Warner has picked with the town of Wilson, North Carolina. It's a long, sad story that is worth a full read, but the bottom line is that the incumbents continue to try to force mediocre telecom services onto their customers in the name of "fairness." It is also why Design Nine typically recommends that community consider an open access network, where customers buy directly from private sector service providers rather than the local government. Open access does not guarantee that there won't be an incumbent challenge, but the open access business model makes it much harder for an incumbent to complain about "fairness," since the local government is not selling services, only private sector competitors to the incumbent.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 10/21/2010 - 15:52
The Intelligent Community Forum announced the Smart21 cities for 2010 today. Danville, Virginia was among those cities chosen, and one of only six U.S. cities selected for the honor. Design Nine has assisted with the planning and development of nDanville since the project started in 2006. nDanville is an open access network owned and operated by the City of Danville, but residential and business services are provided by private sector companies.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 10/20/2010 - 10:13
Stop the Cap! has an article about the incumbent fight to kill the nation's most successful open access network: Utopia. Utopia's open access network has thousands of subscribers and fifteen providers on the network, including three TV providers. I've actually had the opportunity to see the Utopia TV provider offerings, and the picture quality of an all digital TV channel delivered via fiber is incredible.
Has Utopia had problems? Some early financial issues developed because the first firm hired to manage the network made some decisions that have since been corrected. The management firm is long gone, and Utopia took network management and outside plant maintenance in-house almost two years ago, with excellent results. The incumbents in the area--Comcast and Qwest--have been invited repeatedly to come on the network and offer their service to their existing customers, but instead, the first seem to want to simply try to force the competition out.
The situation is unfortunate, but is being repeated in other areas of the country, where incumbents are choosing to try to force monopoly pricing onto communities instead of competing in the marketplace.
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