Submitted by acohill on Thu, 10/09/2008 - 16:18
The City of St. Paul is taking a serious look at fiber to the home as part of a community broadband effort for the city. A local group has started a Web site that has a lot of good information on it.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 10/09/2008 - 13:15
A lawsuit filed by the incumbent telephone company in Monticello, Minnesota sought to stop the city from building its own fiber to the home (FTTH) network. The project was designed as a public/private partnership, with Hiawatha Broadband Communications, another Minnesota telecom firm, signed up to operate the system and provide services.
Yesterday, the 10th District Court in Minnesota dismissed the case, finding that the city had the right to issue bonds for a telecom utility and that the city had the right to operate a telecom utility.
The Court went into some detail about the meaning of a "public convenience," as there is a Minnesota law on the books that gives municipalities the right to own and operate a "public convenience." Part of the lawsuit alleged that a fiber network was not a public convenience, but the court has said that it is.
This ruling applies only in Minnesota, but it still may have some influence in other states. Monticello was particularly lucky, as the case was resolved in less than a year. Courts have generally found in favor of municipalities, but the cases often drag on for years.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 10/08/2008 - 09:04
New Mexico continues to roar far ahead of the rest of the country with a wide ranging mix of game-changing economic development strategies. The state seems to be successfully attracting the brightest and best entrepreneurs and businesspeople in the country, and economic developers in the state are greasing the skids with investments in space, energy, and entertainment.
The latest news out of New Mexico is a firm called Hyperion Power Generation that has licensed nuclear power technology from Los Alamos National Labs. The company has designed a 30 megawatt nuclear power plant that can be delivered by tractor trailer--one tractor trailer--for the basic reactor component.
The system uses a form of nuclear fuel that self-limits the amount of heat generated, and the basic design is so safe that the technology has been licensed by the Federal government for unattended operation. The firm plans to manufacture 4,000 of the version 1 design, and expects to be able to deliver them in less than twelve months from receipt of an order.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 09/24/2008 - 10:28
Nigeria is using a high performance network for the national post office (1,500 locations) to jumpstart community broadband connectivity. A new national backbone will be built, using the post office needs as an anchor tenant. But the high performance network will be designed to support other community broadband and service needs.
This could work well in the U.S. at the regional and state level, and in fact, states like New Mexico are already studying just that--using state library, telemedicine, and research network needs to serve as the backbone for an open network available to businesses, residents, and service providers (Disclaimer: Design Nine was hired by the State of New Mexico to do that study).
Private, single use networks are expensive and often limit economic development potential, because a dedicated K12, health, or state agency network usually can't be shared with the private sector. By building a single high performance network like the one planned for Nigeria, several anchor tenants can help offset the cost and not only lower the cost of telecom for their own organization but for the whole community as well. Some places in the U.S. are planning these networks, including the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 09/16/2008 - 15:28
Zap electric cars will be built in Kentucky. They have been built in China, but the cost of hauling them from China has become too expensive. So manufacturing is moving closer to customers, and the Energy Economy is going to unfold much like this--getting energy and energy saving devices as close to customers as possible.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/29/2008 - 15:26
Aptera Motors just raised $24 million in funding. The company plans to build a super-efficient car. That makes Aptera at least the second new car company in California, following in the footsteps of Tesla Motors, which makes the super-fast Tesla electric sports car. The increase in gas prices is going to create tremendous new business and economic development opportunities for communities that are out talking to their businesses and studying how to leverage energy assets and broadband.
Submitted by acohill on Sat, 07/12/2008 - 08:54
Tennessee legislators have done a very simple and very smart thing. They have passed legislation that allows small electric cars with limited speed (e.g. up to 35 mph) travel on roads where the posted speed limit is 40 mph.
This may not sound like a big deal, but it is, as it opens the possibility for a lot more people to purchase small electric cars (think "golf carts with doors") and use them for around town commuting and errands. These small cars are inexpensive, economical to operate, and don't use a drop of gas. With the right attitude at state and Federal levels, they could contribute to a significant reduction in the use of imported oil over time. Every state should adopt a version of this law--according to the article, only three states (Tennessee, Montana, Washington) allow this use right now. At the Federal level, relaxed licensing and safety standards would also accelerate the use of alternative energy vehicles. A car that can only go 35 mph does not need to meet interstate highway safety standards.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 06/30/2008 - 08:34
We are beginning to see the broadband coop as one very viable form of governance for community broadband efforts. Coops are a great ownership and governance model because they firmly vest the enterprise in the community--every subscriber is also a shareholder in the enterprise, and shareholder/members are able to vote and select board members. The Ripton Broadband Coop serves rural customers in rural Vermont via wireless, using an open access, open service model. Two service providers are selling services on the network.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/13/2008 - 06:41
Once again, fairly small countries are far ahead of the U.S. in thinking about broadband. Malaysia has announced an ambitious but entirely doable plan to take fiber to major areas of the country, with the Federal government paying about 30% of the cost in a deal with the biggest telecom company in Malaysia. In the U.S., it would be the equivalent of the states making deals to write checks directly to the incumbent providers (which some states already do). The fiber system will have 100 megabit capacity, with a starter package of Internet access at 10 megabits.
The good news is that U.S. communities and regions still have the opportunity to surpass Malaysia. Malaysia's deal with the incumbent telecom will not increase competition and will not be likely to encourage the rollout of innovative new services. Open service networks like those in Europe are beginning to gather momentum here in the U.S., and open networks tend to lower prices and bring lots of new services to businesses and residents. Five or six years from now, Malaysian cities will be behind many broadband community efforts in the United States.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 04/30/2008 - 09:55
Graham Richards, the former Mayor of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, spoke at the Broadband Properties Summit about why Ft. Wayne pushed fiber to the home. Some of the services and benefits included:
A green affordable housing initiative cut monthly energy costs for lower income families, and the broadband network was used to monitor energy use.
The network enabled live video monitoring of latchkey children whose parents had to work. Parents could have high quality video chats with their children as soon as they arrived home in the afternoon.
Local schools were able to offer enhanced distance learning opportunities to their students, including afternoon and weekend mentoring with tutors (enabled by the fiber network).
Their vision was fiber everywhere: a community broadband network dedicated to equality of opportunity and universal access.
They began a pilot initiative to have the city use hybrid plug in vehicles to reduce fuel and transportation costs for city workers.
They set a goal of saving 5% of the city budget through IT/broadband and green strategies--helping to conserve taxpayers dollars.
While Richards was mayor, he was able to turn the economic growth of the city from a deep loss of jobs to a dramatic turnaround in jobs creation and new businesses, and he attributed it to setting a vision, sticking to it, and broadband.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/25/2008 - 13:32
Tempe, Arizona's foray into community and municipal wireless has not worked out as expected. Like many other communities that have tried the same thing and have also failed, Tempe tried to avoid spending any money. They simply granted an untested wireless firm access to city lightpoles and structures for wireless equipment. The private firm had to bear the entire cost of build out. The wireless system was also not seen as reliable as a wired system, and the wireless firm has not been able to attract many subscribers.
The lesson learned is that there is no free lunch for community broadband. Communities that spend very little are getting very little in return, and if all of the risk is left in the private sector, the private sector won't come or won't stay long. Another lesson is that building out without a solid business plan to attract customers is also a non-starter. The right approach is to target underserved areas and/or to be able to offer innovative services that are not already available from other providers.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 04/16/2008 - 08:10
"Free wireless" is beginning to look a lot like "free lunch" -- it may not be possible. The City of Hartford, Connecticut embarked two years ago on an ambitious plan to provide free wireless service to large portions of the city. After two years and $800,000, there is little to show.
The Hartford project appears to be having difficulties similar to other early community wireless efforts: unjustified optimism about the ability of wireless signals to penetrate apartment and office buildings filled with steel reinforcement, and the lack of a business plan that provides for long term sustainability of the system.
In some quarters, there have been pronouncements that private sector wireless is not working (i.e. public/private partnerships), and that the only way to go is an all muni free or very low fee system. But it is not the nature of the partnership that is the core issue--it is the nature of the business model, which can be public, private, or a public/private partnership. Any of those can work and work well with the right business model.
Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Community broadband and community wireless projects are going to be very important to the economic future of many U.S. towns and cities, but it is not who owns it that determines success, it is whether or not the owners have a sustainable business plan.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/14/2008 - 07:49
The undersea fiber cables that were cut a couple of months ago were the subject of numerous conspiracy theories, but satellite photos have revealed the culprits--cargo ships that were anchored in the wrong place. Sometimes Occam's Razor (the simplest explanation is the likeliest one) is exactly right.
The object lesson for communities is to plan for cable outages by making sure local networks have redundant cable paths. Sometimes this is quite expensive to do when just getting started with community telecom investments, so an alternative to a second fiber cable is a high capacity wireless link that can handle local traffic (perhaps with somewhat less throughput) while repairs are made.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 04/02/2008 - 08:18
In a just released Forbes survey, Blacksburg, Virginia is ranked tenth in the nation as one of the best small places to live and to work. If you live in a small community, it is worth spending some time reviewing the Forbes study. Of the nine factors they use to rank communities, four of the nine are related directly to quality of life. These factors are Culture and Leisure, Crime Rate, Educational Attainment, and Cost of Living.
Among the other factors, Cost of Doing Business is one that any community can work on quickly. Our work at Design Nine takes us to small communities throughout the United States, and one of the most glaring problems I see over and over again is the lack of good "Class A" office space in smaller towns and regions. Too many communities are still trying to bring retail back to Main Street, when they should be rehabbing storefronts and second floor space for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
When Norton, Virginia rehabbed an old downtown hotel for high tech start ups, including affordable fiber to the building, Main Street blossomed as the office workers in the building shopped and ate downtown. The spacious lobby of the building regularly hosts community dinners, weddings, and special events, so the investment does double duty--how many weddings have been held in the typical industrial park incubator building?
The biggest mistake a small community can make these days is to put too much emphasis on business and industrial parks far from traditional downtowns--by making modest investments in high quality office space in traditional downtowns, you get a much bigger community and economic development impact. And as always, fiber has to be part of the mix.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 03/24/2008 - 08:47
An Australian wireless ISP who has operated a WiMax network for more than a year unleashed a blistering attack on the protocol, calling it a "disaster" and that it "failed miserably." Unfortunately, the article provides little detail on exactly what frequencies were used (WiMax is a catch all term for the protocol, which can use several different chunks of frequency spectrum). The interesting thing about the comments is that the firm is planning to deploy more traditional WiFi as part of their wireless network. This article illustrates that wireless systems are not a panacea, and that they have to designed and engineered carefully to get good performance.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 03/24/2008 - 08:19
The City of Seattle, which selected the open access, open services model as a general direction for its municipal broadband effort last year, is planning to issue an RFP to actually select a fiber to the home vendor. City officials continue to be dismayed with the service offerings from the incumbent telephone and cable companies.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 03/20/2008 - 05:41
According to a New York Times article, Europe is pulling far ahead of the United States in high performance broadband deployment. European countries, led by Sweden, Denmark, Holland, and Finland, are adding 50,000 broadband lines a day.
In Europe, most countries have required the incumbent telecom firms to allow other broadband firms to lease their infrastructure, which has led to heavy competition and lower prices. While many of the new connections are still copper-based DSL, many places have gone to citywide fiber deployments. In Paris and Vienna, 100 megabit fiber connections are widely available.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 02/22/2008 - 07:55
This article [link no longer available] from a rural update New York paper illustrates the power of fiber. The Adirondack region of upstate New York has a regional community fiber backbone that is pulling companies to the region--a region that would not give a second thought without the community fiber.
Fiber is basic economic development infrastructure. It is not a luxury for business anymore, it is a necessity. Communities that have competitive fiber today, or even have a plan for getting some in the next twelve to eighteen months, have a distinct competitive edge over communities that do not.
Submitted by acohill on Sun, 02/10/2008 - 22:06
If you live in Paris and have the new 100 megabit fiber to the home service, it only takes about ten minutes to download a high quality version of a one hour TV show. Here in the U.S., the FCC has announced that more than 95% of the U.S. has broadband. The FCC defines "broadband" as "anything faster than 256 kilobits, or about 400 times slower than the current Parisian definition of broadband.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 02/04/2008 - 08:59
A group of economic development and technology organizations are holding a reverse job fair tomorrow (February 5th) in Blacksburg. A traditional job fair has employers at booths, and job seekers walk around looking for a job. In this reverse job fair, graduating students (mostly from Virginia Tech) are at tables, and the employers walk around.
This is an interesting idea born out of the understanding that many workers are now picking a location and lifestyle first and then looking for a job. The advantage to employers who attend is that there is a room full of prospective workers who are interested in living and working in the area.
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