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.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/28/2007 - 10:46
Japan continues to rocket past the U.S. when it comes to fiber deployment. Japanese businesses and residents can get fiber broadband connections in more than a third of the country, compared to less than 2% of the U.S. Japanese broadband customers also pay much less; a 50 megabit fiber connection in Japan sells for under $30 a month.
The fiber connections are enabling all kinds of new services, including telemedicine and telehealth applications. Japan is already well beyond the tired "triple play" that still gets most of the attention in the U.S. (voice, video, and data). An open, multi-service network can provide communities with access to innovative new services far beyond the old monopoly-style services we have today.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/30/2007 - 12:58
The city of Minneapolis negotiated a deal with the wireless provider US Internet last year to provide a citywide wireless system. As part of that deal, the city is receiving about a half a million dollars a year for ten years. The funds will be used to support community portals for neighborhoods in the city. Planning for those portals is taking place right now. It is a great idea, but the city left a lot of money on the table.
Over the next thirty years, the residents and businesses of Minneapolis (Minneapolis only, not St. Paul) will spend 8.4 billion dollars ($8,403,268,500.00) on telecom services, and so there is plenty of money to build not just wireless but the world's best, full integrated fiber and wireless system, to every home and business in the city. Over thirty years, such a city-managed multi-service open network, designed with end to end automated Layer 3 provisioning, could put nearly 600 million dollars in city coffers ($594,041,030.00). That's a bit more than the projected $11 million from wireless.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 10/11/2007 - 08:55
Internet access providers in the UK are being challenged on their broadband speeds, which their customers claim are not as advertised. An independent study showed that 62% of customers were getting less than half the advertised bandwidth that their provider had promised.
The article has an unintentionally humorous quote from a member of the commission studying the problem, who said, "...there were good technical reasons for the gulf between advertised and actual speeds." Yes, like the service providers have not bothered to provision their equipment to actually deliver the advertised bandwidth.
Network architecture is important, and communities looking at making investments have to make sure they pick the right network architecture. A properly designed Layer 3 multi-service, open access network can easily deliver advertised bandwidth to customers, and some communities in America are already moving to this architecture, and away from the older systems that have been used for the last fifteen years. Design Nine designs ONLY multi-service networks that can deliver advertised speeds, because if communities are going to make these investments, businesses and residents need to know they are going to get their money's worth, rather than empty promises from equipment vendors selling systems that can't deliver.
Submitted by acohill on Sun, 09/09/2007 - 16:39
Yet another muni WiFi project has foundered on the rocks of NoBusinessModel. WiFi vendors don't mind overselling the benefits of free WiFi, because their business model usually involves getting the local government to take all the risk. In some cases, local governments are putting up hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars for WiFi systems that have yet to prove themselves.
In other cases, the service provider may put up most of the equipment, but gets an exclusive franchise, meaning no competition and no service alternatives. The companies that thought free WiFi could be supported by ads are finding out that that is a tough business to be in.
Waukesha, Wisconsin can be added to the list ever growing list of cities that have had a wireless service provider pull out because there was no money in free WiFi. Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Houston have all had to pull back on wireless plans recently. St. Cloud, Florida has been trying to give away free WiFi service to residents with little success; residents have complained that the wireless system is slow and unreliable compared to fee-based copper systems (DSL and cable).
Wireless services have a place in every community. We all want our wireless devices (phones, iPhones, PDAs, etc.) to work wherever we are. But wireless by itself is an incomplete solution. With countries like Japan rapidly building out 100 megabit fiber systems, having only low speed wireless is not going to help a community's economic development future.
Submitted by acohill on Sun, 09/09/2007 - 16:24
This article talks about Japan's investment in broadband networks, including a nationwide fiber deployment with speeds of 100 megabits. The country has a built in advantage because of its small size; short distances between telephone switches and homes means DSL can run faster over existing copper cables--at speeds higher than is possible in most parts of the U.S. But the country regards copper as obsolete and sees DSL as a stopgap measure until fiber connections are ubiquitous.
As the 100 megabit connections become more common, new applications no one ever thought of are being rolled out. One example cited is using the high speed fiber to examine tissue samples remotely. Patients not near pathologists can now get a better diagnosis because the network can transmit very high quality images quickly, enabling doctors at remote facilities to make more accurate examinations.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/03/2007 - 11:26
This article discusses the collapsing WiFi efforts in San Francisco, providing a real world data point that confirms what many of us have been saying for a long time: WiFi alone is not a complete solution for community broadband.
The deal between Earthlink and the city of San Franciso also confirms that there is no free lunch. Earthlink was going to build, own, and operate the free network on behalf of the City. The City part of the deal was to provide Earthlink with easements and access to city-owned light poles and other structures where the WiFi access points would be mounted. An Earthlink official who was asked about the effort said the project, ".... was not providing an acceptable rate of return." Earthlink's other free WiFi projects in Anaheim and Philadelphia are also struggling. The company expected to make money by selling faster wireless connections for a fee and by selling advertising provided by Google.
What we are seeing is that most people, when given a choice between mediocre wireless access and fee-based wireline services (e.g. fiber, DSL, cable), choose wireline services most of the time because the service quality is better.
Remember that this need not and should be an either/or debate: either our community does wireless or it does fiber. Communities need both, and should be planning and investing in properly structured public/private partnerships that really work. In the end, community investments in telecom infrastructure have to be linked to broader community and economic development goals. Few businesses are going to move to a community where the broadband "solution" is wireless only.
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