New Mexico, International, Pennsylvania, Virginia, California, Louisiana, Texas, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Kansas, Colorado, Florida, Arizona, Maryland, Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina, North Dakota, Iowa, Georgia, New York, Nebraska, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, Utah, Washington, Washington, D.C., Vermont, Massachusetts, Oregon, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Tennessee, Wyoming

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.

Municipal broadband saved in North Carolina

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.

nDanville generating jobs

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.

New Zealand goes all out for open access

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.

Don't put your back-up power in the basement

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.

Chattanooga launches nation's fastest broadband

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.

Newspaper sells out iPad ad space

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.

North Carolina broadband battle rages on

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 05/21/2010 - 08:29

The broadband battle rages on in North Carolina, with more and more people starting to realize that the state and NC communities needs flexibility in addressing economic development problems.

Palm Coast FiberNET opens for business

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 05/14/2010 - 10:14

The City of Palm Coast, Florida formally opened its high performance fiber network on Tuesday. Design Nine provided the early phase planning, financial and business modeling, network architecture design, vendor evaluation, and equipment and contractor procurement. The open access network opened with two service providers and several business customers on day one.

Work from home opportunities continue to increase

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 05/09/2010 - 11:01

DirecTV recently announced it was bringing more jobs to southwest Virginia, but these are not traditional jobs. Instead, these are work from home jobs. The company is establishing a virtual call center. Congressman Rick Boucher made a sweep through the region last month to announce the new job opportunities, which amount to 100 new jobs. DirecTV already employs more than 1100 home-based workers, and other major firms like Apple have been making heavy use of home-based workers for several years.

What does this mean for economic development? Several things jump out:

Entire country of Australia goes open access

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 05/07/2010 - 13:19

Design Nine has been an advocate for open access for many years--long before it became fashionable. So it is nice to see that some places are finally figuring out that open access is the right way to do telecom. Via Ars Technica, the Australian government has announced a $38 billion (in U.S. dollars) plan to take fiber to most Australian homes and businesses. The government intends to operate it as a open access network, with private sector providers offering all the services. The article notes that the country has decided it will not impede economic development by allowing a single incumbent to make long term decision about how much broadband is enough.

Broadband fight continues in North Carolina

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 05/05/2010 - 09:08

A knock down, drag out fight over the right of communities to control their economic future continues in North Carolina. Via Save NC Broadband, the City of Salisbury, North Carolina is struggling to put a stop to a state legislature proposal to ban community investments in broadband. The cable companies in North Carolina are encouraging the ban, and as the editorial notes in the link above, this is really about the right of communities to determine their own future. As is often the case, using a roads analogy helps put it in perspective: "... That's like letting one or two asphalt companies determine the future of North Carolina's roads."

Communities need modern digital road systems that will help retain existing businesses and assist with attracting new ones. It almost beggars belief that NC legislators want to cripple economic development and drive businesses into neighboring states like Virginia, where community fiber projects like nDanville have brought more than 550 new high tech jobs to Danville, Virginia in the past year. Danville's open access network does not compete with the private sector because all services are being offered by private sector companies, which creates a win-win situation. The City of Danville has lowered the cost of offering high performance broadband and created new business opportunities for private sector firms. This "third way" approach to broadband is a win-win approach to community broadband that neatly balances public and private interests.

Greenlight: Fastest, cheapest Internet access in North Carolina

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/23/2010 - 07:34

The City of Wilson, North Carolina has a city-owned fiber network called Greenlight that is offering 20 megabit symmetrical Internet access for $54.95 a month. I think this qualifies as the fastest and cheapest services in North Carolina. If you tried to buy that level of service via DSL or cable, you would pay several times that, if you could even get it.

But wait, there's more! They have symmetric service tiers all the way up to 100 megabits. Very few people would need that much, but as I have noted previously, Design Nine continues to talk to businesses who want their home-based workers to have symmetric connections of 20-50 megabits, primarily to support HD videoconferencing. So the City of Wilson has something very few other communities can offer in terms of business relocation--the ability to work from home or to run a business from home, with very affordable, high performance connections.

BPL pioneer Manassas throws in the towel

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/19/2010 - 08:39

One of the earliest deployments of broadband over power lines (BPL) was the City of Manassas, Virginia. But last week, the city voted to turn off the system. Manassas is an electric city, with its own electric utility department, which made it relatively easy for the city to try out the new technology several years ago. But the BPL service reached only a handful of households and businesses (a little over 500, or less than 4%) and was not able to compete with DSL and cable modem options.

The fundamental problem with BPL is that it is relatively expensive, and when you are finished with a BPL deployment, what you have is broadband over copper, with limited bandwidth and no easy way to upgrade. Kind of like DSL and cable modem services. Fiber becomes more compelling by the day, as the demand for capacity increases as video in all its forms becomes a more common application and as the cost of fiber networks continues to fall. Why spend a substantial portion of the cost of a fiber network on a very limited copper-based system?

The fundamental problem with BPL, from a community perspective, is that it does not enable economic development and jobs growth the same way that fiber does. If your economic development strategy is, "Come to our community, because we have anemic BPL," you are in trouble, because there are plenty of other communities competing with you that have already decided to go straight to fiber.

Interesting comment on community broadband

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 03/29/2010 - 15:34

Here is an interesting comment on the Lafayette, Louisiana fiber network.

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more to come, and much of those are things that I don't even envision myself. If we go back to the early days of electricity in the 1890s, I'm convinced that Thomas Edison never envisioned the microwave oven or the TV-- much less the computer. This fiber capability, this infrastructure, is in its infancy and that's why Lafayette is going to be on the front edge of that development.

Fiber brings a textile mill back to life

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/05/2010 - 09:23

I was in Danville, Virginia last week, and was reminded of the changes that fiber is bringing to that community, which has experienced some of the highest unemployment in the state over the last decade. The White Mill building had been considered a white elephant for years--once a showpiece textile manufacturing plant--but closed for years and a visible sign of Danville's proud past and uncertain future. The White Mill building is being converted into a massive commercial data center with 500,000 square feet of server space.

What I saw last week is still a work in progress, but what a difference a few months make. The formerly forlorn industrial site has been cleaned up, the interior renovations are well under way, and the property values of empty downtown storefronts has probably been quietly soaring. The White Mill building is walking distance from Danville's Main Street, and the 400 high tech jobs the project is bringing will bring Main Street back to life, as those workers will be getting coffee in the mornings, buying lunch every day, doing a little shopping, and meeting after work for a beverage.

What was it that brought a data center to Danville. It's simple, and takes just two words.

Community fiber.

Not a promise of fiber if a company shows up, not a plan for fiber, not a feasibility study, but fiber--in the ground and on poles, owned by the community, ready to use, and open access. Danville bet big back in 2006 when it made the decision to invest scarce community resources on open fiber, but now it's looking like one of the best decisions the city ever made.

Disclosure: Design Nine has been advising the City since 2006 on broadband.

U.S. Broadband: Almost as good as Latvia!

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/25/2010 - 09:39

There's a slogan for you: U.S. Broadband--We're almost as good as Latvia! Kind of rolls right off the tongue. Here is a link to a list of the "top 10" broadband countries, and the U.S. is nowhere to be found. Grim news indeed for the country.

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