Submitted by acohill on Mon, 02/23/2009 - 08:55
The folks at Handshake 2.0 have reminded me that it was exactly thirteen years ago that Blacksburg made the cover of USA Weekend, a widely circulated Sunday supplement. The Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV) project was just a little more than two years old. We had turned on Internet access in October, 1993, and became the first general purpose ISP in the world. Long lines at the BEV office were common for the next several years as people eagerly registered to get Internet access. As Director, I had to work in uncharted territory; in the early days of the project, nearly everyone thought we were crazy because we claimed that in the near future, every household would have a computer, which seemed far-fetched enough at the time--a good 386 PC still cost several thousand dollars. But even goofier, we claimed that all those computers would be hooked to the "Internet," which we affectionately call today "the Intertubes."
The BEV project had a lot of firsts. We had the first residential broadband in the world, with half a dozen apartment complexes offering real Ethernet connections in every bedroom in 1994. It created a massive change in living preferences in Blacksburg, as students, faculty, and professionals tried to move to those early adopter apartment complexes. My group ran the community broadband network, which included the first business park to offer Ethernet/Internet access as an amenity, the first library in the world to offer free public Internet access, the first school system with broadband to every school and to every classroom, and arguably the first e-commerce in the world. In Blacksburg in 1995 you could order groceries online, and the local florist shop taking flower orders from all over the world. The Town of Blacksburg was the first local government online, starting with a Gopher site that quickly transitioned to the Web.
What was interesting was how many people told us the stuff we said was coming would never happen. Real estate agents told me repeatedly that they would never put home listings online, but a local Blacksburg firm eventually did just that and almost immediately sold a house--the first first house in the world sold via the Web. I met with local banks and urged them to put account access online. They listened solemnly and all came to back to a second meeting and told me that they had spoken with their IT folks and had been assured that it was "impossible" to put bank accounts online--not only was it technically infeasible but it was too big a security risk.
Today, I still have a sense of deja vu as I work with communities and economic developers on broadband issues. We are rapidly moving beyond "broadband = Internet" and towards a much more interesting and robust vision of broadband as a high performance network capable of delivering not just one or three or four services but hundreds. The telcos and cable companies were big skeptics of the Internet back in the nineties, and today they still remain deeply skeptical of the expansion of the network beyond just delivering the Web and a bit of email. Some smaller phone companies, especially in the mid-West and south, have really stepped up and are aggressively pursuing this new vision. And communities and regions like Danville, The Wired Road, and the The Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority are building public/private partnerships to create the next generation broadband networks--successors of the Blacksburg Electronic Village.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 02/17/2009 - 10:07
Danny Choo guestblogs at BoingBoing about getting a SECOND 100 megabit fiber connection at his home in Japan. Why get a second connection? He's using it run a server, and the cost is only $11/month for the first year of service. The second year, the price goes up to a whopping $52 per month. One interesting tidbit if you read through the photo gallery--Japanese building codes require telecom conduit to be installed in homes and apartments during construction, so that fiber cables can be pulled quickly and easily into the premise. How many localities or states in the U.S. require this "Internet ready" approach (which adds only a few hundred dollars to the cost of a new home)?
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 02/09/2009 - 10:38
Lafayette, Louisiana's "third pipe" community broadband network has started signing up customers. Lafayette fought and won a difficult battle against an incumbent lawsuit that tried to stop the community broadband effort, but the city ultimately prevailed in court. The most significant part of the community broadband network is that it offers much higher bandwidth and symmetric bandwidth, which will enable and support small business telecom services and a wide array of work from home and home-based businesses.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/23/2009 - 17:35
Ireland plans to spend hundreds of millions on 100% broadband access for the country. An extensive wireless network will be deployed to reach rural towns and homes that currently lack any broadband options.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/13/2009 - 14:20
Smart economic developers should start advertising immediately....in California. Businesses, engineers, scientists, and other business professionals are packing up and leaving the state. Many of them will be looking for the good quality of life in small towns and fiber to the home, so they can work from home and/or run their newly relocated business from home. And fiber in your local businesses parks will help attract the bigger firms moving from California.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 01/12/2009 - 08:48
Wales has apparently been following what Nigeria has been doing with broadband--using post offices as anchor tenants to bring "big broadband" connections into small towns.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/02/2008 - 08:15
The provincial government of Ontario is spending millions to help rural communities get high speed broadband. They have a nice slogan: "Turning miles into milliseconds." And that is really what it is about; rural communities have traditionally been isolated because of distance--many miles to major population centers and jobs. Broadband is the 21st century equivalent of the interstate highway, getting people closer to jobs, businesses, and economic development opportunities. The provincial government is providing a one-third match for the telecom investments, which is a big incentive for communities to get organized, raise awareness, and get started.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 11/10/2008 - 09:10
This article warns that usable bandwidth in the UK will actually decline in the next several years without a major push to get homes and businesses connected with fiber. As more and more business and residential activities rely on broadband delivery (e.g. telepresence, gaming, movie and TV downloads), current copper-based and wireless systems will not be able to meet demand.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 11/10/2008 - 08:53
Up in New Hampshire, a new electric vehicle is undergoing road tests. New Hampshire is not normally counted as one of the big auto-producing states, but the move to electric vehicles is likely to bring some new players into the field. As a side issue, the government might have more impact by giving a few million dollars to every firm in the U.S. working on electric vehicle technology rather than trying to bail out the high cost Detroit manufacturers.
Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway two wheel electric vehicle, is now road-testing a small electric car powered by batteries, with a Stirling engine that recharges the batteries as needed and can also run the heater and defroster. The Stirling engine runs on almost any kind of combustible fuel, including gas, diesel fuel, and biofuels. Kamen has stayed away from the more complicated hybrid designs that use both a gas engine and an electric motor to propel the car. In Kamen's design, the electric motor does all the propulsion, just like Chevrolet's Volt design.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/20/2008 - 14:29
The Blandin Foundation is hosting their annual Broadband Conference - Connected Communities: Making the Net Work for Minnesota on December 3 - 4, 2008 in Eden Prairie.
This year the Blandin Foundation will also be hosting a Minnesota Intelligent Communities Award. The Blandin Foundation along with DEED will be partnering with the national Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) to recognize the top Intelligent Communities in Minnesota. Conference Highlights include:
Note that I will be doing an extensive "Planning for Broadband" workshop just before the conference. If you want a thorough introduction to the challenges and opportunities of creating a community broadband project, my workshop will cover financing, technology, infrastructure, operations, and management.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/20/2008 - 09:32
Here is a brief video report on the broadband fiber network already in use in Danville, Virginia. The system has been operational for 10 months, and all services on the network are offered by private sector service providers (Disclaimer: Design Nine has helped Danville design and deploy the network).
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 10/17/2008 - 16:27
A firm in Japan is rolling out gigabit broadband services to residential customers for $60/month. Back in April, FCC Commissioner Deborah Tate gave a talk and noted that the 100 megabit fiber connections in Japan were already showing signs of "congestion." The GigE service ought to improve throughput.
Meanwhile, we still have lots of people in the U.S. talking about DSL (at around 1 megabit) as "broadband."
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.
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