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.
Disclaimer: The Utah Infrastructure Agency has been a client of Design Nine.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?"
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.
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.
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.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/13/2010 - 07:53
Save NC Broadband reports that the attempt to halt community-owned and municipal broadband in North Carolina met its final defeat this year. The effort to get a bill passed that would essentially prohibit municipalities from taking control of their own economic future dragged on through the entire NC legislative session, and someone could probably write a pretty good horror movie script from the saga. Opponents to the measure thought they had put a wooden stake through the heart of the bill several times, only to see it re-emerge. It's a good object lesson for communities: never give up, and always remember: incumbent providers don't vote, citizens vote.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/11/2010 - 15:43
The nDanville fiber network is almost three years old, and is beginning to get national recognition here. Design Nine has been working with the City of Danville on this effort since 2006. We did the early business and financial planning, vendor selection, and open access network design. More about nDanville is available on their Web site.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/08/2010 - 14:53
Fiber everywhere is the simple goal the national government of New Zealand has set. In ten years, the government intends to have a minimum of 100 megabit fiber connections to 75% of homes and businesses in the entire country. They are doing this by going open access. It's a very simple model. The government will help underwrite the cost of privately owned fiber, but only if the network owner/operator agrees to provide unrestricted dark fiber and/or Layer 2 transport to any service provider. It's a time--tested model already being used in places in the U.S. like Utah and the City of Palm Coast, Florida.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/08/2010 - 14:47
Dallas County, Texas lost its IT systems for three days when a broken water main flooded the basement of the building where all the county's servers are housed. The servers were fine--they are located on the fifth floor. But the UPS and other electrical equipment supplying power to those fifty floor servers were located in the basement, where water flooded in from the broken main.
This was a huge problem in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Many data centers were on upper floors of the flood-prone area, so the data equipment was fine. But what knocked out a lot of telecom centers was the fact that the back-up generators were all on the ground, or in other words, under water. When the power went off, the generators were not able to keep things running because they were flooded. Some may remember that one small ISP with its generators on an upper floor kept its Internet connection up during the entire flood. The intrepid group had spouses and wives bringing food in, and other friends and helpers were bringing diesel fuel to their building in fifty-five gallon drums.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/08/2010 - 08:51
Via the excellent Community Broadband Networks, the City of Chattanooga's Electric Power Board is going to roll out fiber-delivered Internet as part of the utility's triple play services (voice, video, and Internet). Customers will be able to purchase symmetric Internet access packages with speeds up to 150 megabit/second (again, symmetric). The importance of this kind of service can't be overstated, as it enables the delivery of business class services anyway in the electric utility service area. Chattanooga gets it--they want to keep the businesses they have and they want to attract new businesses, and they recognize that 21st century infrastructure is the way to do it. Cities and towns that keep ignoring the growth in community broadband projects are being left behind with respect to economic development, and it will become harder and harder to catch up.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 05/24/2010 - 13:48
The Australian, a major paper in Australia, has sold out the ad space on its iPad version of the newspaper. At least one paper intends to stay ahead of the news game and make the new medium work for its business. Good for them.
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