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.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 02/01/2008 - 17:27
Two fiber cables on the floor of the Mediterranean were cut, causing huge disruptions in Internet service to the Mideast and Asia. A fisherman's anchor apparently snapped the two cables, which were the primary and backup links to a major Internet exchange point in Egypt.
The problem highlights an increasingly important economic development issue in the U.S. More and more businesses, as they consider where to relocate business operations, are asking not only if there are two or more fiber cables serving a community. They also want to see diverse routes, or two completely different paths. Unfortunately, in a lot of places, there may be two cables, but they may both share the same right of way, meaning an errant backhoe would cut both of them with one swipe.
If your region wants to attract new businesses, you should be planning to address the need for redundant cables and diverse routes for those cables. It will give your region a key marketing edge if a) you already have that essential telecom infrastructure in place, or b) you can talk knowledgeably about the need and show a specific plan for achieving redundancy and diverse routes.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/31/2008 - 08:35
The City of Danville, Virginia has a backlog of businesses waiting to get connected to its brand new open multi-service network (also sometimes called an open service provider network). Two service providers are offering business services on the network, and a local provider is delighted with being able to offer fiber services to its existing customers.
Two years ago, the City decided to leverage its existing city fiber infrastructure to make it available everywhere, but with a special focus on being able to provide any level of bandwidth a business wanted, and the city's fiber infrastructure is able to deliver it. Danville has a very simple definition of broadband:
Broadband in Danville is any amount of bandwidth your business needs to be competitive in the global knowledge economy.
Notice there is no number attached to that definition; any time a community defines broadband as a specific number (e.g. broadband is 2 megabits, or ten megabits, etc.), from an economic development perspective, the community is telling some businesses, "Don't locate here because we don't have the capacity to serve you." It's no different than not having enough water or sewer capacity.
More information about the project is on the nDanville Web site. Disclaimer: Design Nine is providing broadband architecture and consulting services to the City of Danville for the project.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:48
Galen Updike, with the State of Arizona, opened the Digital Cities Expo this morning, and told of speaking to a woman who was trying to run a business out of her rural home.
She said, "You know, I can do without public water--I can have my own well. I can do without public sewer--I can put in my own septic system. I can do without a paved road to my house. I can even do without electricity--I can generate my own. But without Internet access, my business will fail."
And that story illustrates the relative importance of broadband with respect to economic development.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/18/2007 - 14:08
Here is an interesting analysis done by Stuart Mease, who works for the City of Roanoke, Virginia. Mease's job is trying to recruit young people to live and work in the Roanoke area. He has provided a cost of living comparison between Roanoke and some of the bigger towns and cities that are more likely to attract younger workers.
Roanoke compares very favorably; you can make less money and still live as well or better than you could in some bigger towns. Most smaller towns and cities would also fare very well with this kind of analysis, and could be an important factor when trying to convince a business to relocate to your area. The ability to pay lower salaries but still offer employees a great standard of living could be very attractive.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/18/2007 - 09:32
New studies of electronic voting machines in Ohio has led a top official there to call for a ban on the machines. The Ohio Secretary of State noted "critical security failures" on the machines that made it easy to tamper with vote counts.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 12/10/2007 - 09:05
The community of Nuenen, Holland has great news for those interested in multi--service open networks. The community broadband project, which had hoped for a 35% take rate, has seen much, much better results:
"The 'pitch' in Nuenen is not about 'bandwidth' 'fibre' or anything techie. Nuenen has an elderly community, consequently Ons Net aimed to appeal to a 75 year old woman who does not own a computer nor used the internet," he explained.
It is local services supporting security, home care, events on the local TV channel and improving the community that are attracting people.
In order to secure the necessary funds Ons Net was looking for an initial 35% sign-up rate. In fact it got closer to 85% and posted a £1m profit in its first year.
In Nuenen, residents get connected to a 100 megabit capacity fiber network, and buy individual services like Internet access, telephone service, and TV service. This is a fundamentally different business model that creates real competition among service providers and tends to lower service costs. Communities in the U.S. pursuing this approach include Palo Alto, California; Seattle, Washington; Gainesville, Florida; the 15 community MegaPOP project in Mississippi; Danville, Virginia; and The Wired Road project in southwestern Virginia. The last two communities are being assisted by Design Nine.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 12/10/2007 - 08:48
Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York, has called for universal access to broadband in the state. The text of his speech is here (note that you have to scroll down past the agriculture remarks to get to the broadband stuff).
Unfortunately, Spitzer seems comfortable relegating rural areas to second class status. He calls for a minimum of 100 megabit connectivity in urban areas, but says that just one-fifth of that (20 megabits) is fine for rural areas. Cable and DSL are not going to provide universal access in rural parts of New York, so Spitzer has apparently decided that rural areas will have to make do with wireless while the cities get fiber. Rural citizens and legislators in the state should be outraged that the governor is willing to choke their economic future so easily.
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