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North Carolina is still trying to outlaw community control of economic development

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.

Chattanooga Fiber and a city that gets it

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.

Is the cloud a force for political empowerment

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.

Bandwidth boost for southwestern Virginia

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.

New Hampshire governor stresses importance of broadband

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.

Isle of Jersey to get Gigabit to the home

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.

Burlington Telecom the new "proof" that community broadband does not work

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.

The next business park amenity: Videoconferencing

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.

nDanville community fiber expands health care, creates jobs

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.

Incumbent providers fight for mediocrity in telecom

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.

Danville, Virginia a 2011 Smart21 Intelligent Community

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.

Incumbents continue to try to stop competition

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.

Disclaimer: The Utah Infrastructure Agency has been a client of Design Nine.

West Virginia could go green in energy production

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/05/2010 - 08:05

Researchers have discovered a massive geothermal hotspot in West Virginia that could be used to generate green electric power. A review of previous data collected from a large number of oil and gas wells found that the temperatures had not been calculated correctly. Areas as hot as 200 degrees Centigrade were identified only five kilometers deep--shallow enough to tap for energy generation.

Pigeon beats "little" broadband

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/20/2010 - 07:16

Many parts of rural England, like many rural areas of the U.S., have "little" broadband speeds of just a few hundred kilobits, as opposed to "big" broadband delivered via fiber with a capacity of a hundred megabits or more. A speed test was recently conducted in Yorkshire, England. The goal was to download a 300 megabtye file by a "little" broadband connection and see if that was faster than sending it 120 kilometers by pigeon.

The pigeon won. They strapped a USB thumb drive to the pigeon and it flew the 120 kilometers in one quarter of the time needed to download the file. Silly? Sure, sort of. But it really shows why little broadband is not enough for rural America.

Wired West chooses governance structure

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/13/2010 - 13:47

WiredWest is a municipal broadband project that includes 47 towns working together to build and operate a last-mile, fiber-to-the-premises network for Western Massachusetts communities unserved and underserved by high-speed broadband. The WiredWest project covers 1,445 square miles; more than 27,000 households; 3,000 businesses; and dozens of community institutions.

This week WiredWest town delegates chose a preferred governance structure to be submitted for approval by individual towns. This critical project milestone keeps the WiredWest effort on track and positioned to serve residents and businesses once the Massachusetts Broadband Institute middle mile fiber project is ready.

Research on potential forms of governance was conducted by counsel and consultants with the assistance of WiredWest’s Steering Committee and delegates. Municipal counsel was provided with support from Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and Franklin County Council of Governments. David Shaw, of Kirton & McConkie assisted as project counsel for WiredWest. Shaw is one of the country’s most experienced attorneys in community broadband. Design Nine has provided overall guidance and planning services for the project, including feasibility studies, needs assessment, GIS mapping, financial modeling, business planning, and network design.

A public co-operative enables WiredWest to move forward legally, practically and financially. Work on other aspects of the project, including engineering, business planning and financing, is proceeding simultaneously over the next several months, to ensure WiredWest is positioned to secure financing and begin construction as soon as enough towns officially join the Co-operative.

Broadband: "...facilitating economic exchange and the general welfare"

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/23/2010 - 13:26

Pete Ashdown, writing in The Salt Lake Tribune, discusses the reasoning behind community-owned broadband, in the context of the Utopia project, one of the country's biggest community broadband efforts. Here is a key portion of the article:


These interests go against broad long-term goals that infrastructure serves — facilitating economic exchange and the general welfare. If every airline was required to build their own airport and every shipping company needed their own road, America would be on par with Somalia as an economic force.

Fiber optics technology has vast capacity that allows multiple service providers of Internet, television and telephone to provide service to homes and businesses. UTOPIA and other open fiber optic networks throughout the world have demonstrated that this model provides a level playing field for competition, which in turn drives down prices for the customer and motivates quality service.

If your home is connected with UTOPIA fiber, you can choose from a variety of providers. If you are connected with Qwest ADSL2, you can choose from Qwest. If you are connected with Comcast cable, you can choose from Comcast. If either of these two companies raises its rates unexpectedly or gives you lousy service, your options are slim to nil for switching.

Utopia and other open access projects like (e.g. nDanville, The Wired Road, Palm Coast FiberNET, and others) are driving down the cost of telecom for residents, businesses, and institutions in their service areas, and service providers--especially smaller ones--are signing up to offer services. Some pundits insist that the open access model is "unproven," but their recommendation is to stick with what has NOT worked--the traditional retail triple play model. Community-owned retail triple play creates a one time decrease in telecom costs but lacks the choice and competition among providers that provides steady decreases in the cost of services and a steady increase in the kind and type of services that go far beyond the triple play of voice, TV, and Internet.

Broadband equals economic development

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 08/11/2010 - 09:28

Here is a short note from an entrepreneur and venture capitalist in Florida who really gets the importance of broadband. He lists four critical reasons why broadband is important.

Here is a question for community leaders and planners: Look at the four categories listed above and ask this question: "Do we want a large telephone or cable company making the decision about what kind of infrastructure is available in our community for business, health care, education, and the environment?"

How smart is Boulder SmartGridCity?

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 08/06/2010 - 09:08

Here is an article that alleges that Boulder, Colorado's SmartGridCity project is in deep trouble. The article has a long laundry list of problems, but what jumped out at me is the list of so-called "partners." If you look at the SmartGridCity Partners page, you can see the root problem of this project is too many cooks. Just the administrative overhead of supporting this list of high priced consulting firms would sink any project. And the descriptions that accompany each partner reads like one of those buzz-phrase generators you find online. Here are a sampling of the buzz phrases:

So you have at least seven companies with seven proprietary and very likely incompatible technology "solutions" that are going to use taxpayer dollars to try to do a mash up of their stuff that will somehow save money. These kinds of efforts never work, in part because if you start with seven complex technologies, it is impossible to make them less complex by combining them. Fifty years of software development studies have shown this over and over again. It's not that different than Fred Brooks' mythical man month treatise, in which he showed that adding more workers to a software project already late just makes it later--in large part because adding more workers makes the development process more complex. The same principle is likely at work here. Adding more complex power management software to an already complex design makes it even more complex and, as study after study has shown, more error prone.

Here at Design Nine, we call ourselves "broadband architects" or "information architects." We work the way the traditional architect works--we do a clean, coherent high level design for our clients first, develop the financing and funding strategies needed to show the client how it will pay for itself, and then and only then do we go out to vendors.

My guess is that Smart Grid City ended up with seven or more "design" firms all trying to gain an advantage for their own stuff, and Boulder ended up with a mess. It's as if you wanted a house built, and instead of having an architect produce the design and supervise the construction, you told the plumber, the carpenters, the electrician, and the drywall guys to get together and come up with something. It's called "design by committee," and it is never pretty.

U.S. Broadband: Still almost as good as Latvia

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 08/03/2010 - 09:58

Via an Akamai report (registration is required to get the report), Latvia has moved up to fifth place in the average bandwidth rankings worldwide. The U.S. is down at number 22, with a net negative drop of about 1% in bandwidth over the last quarter and 2.5% drop in bandwidth over the past year. According to Akamai, the average broadband connection in the U.S. is about 3.8 megabits/second, which would reflect the fact that the cable companies dominate the broadband marketplace in the U.S.

It is worth noting that the FCC just set a new standard for the definition of "broadband," which is 4 megabits down and 1 megabit up. This reflects the continuing focus on broadband as an "entertainment" service (that's what some cable companies call it) rather than a business service. With more people and businesses trying to work out of the home, symmetric bandwidth has become essential to economic development. The continuing acceptance of a bigger pipe into homes and businesses and a much smaller pipe upstream reflects a lack of understanding about business and job needs for broadband services, which need the symmetric bandwidth.

India's $35 computer

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 07/23/2010 - 12:28

India has announced a $35 computer for students. The Linux-based machine is intended to give Indian students at all levels, starting in grade school, access to an affordable computer. I proposed a $100 computer twelve years ago--at that time, no one took it seriously, but I'm glad India thinks it's a good idea.

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