Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/18/2007 - 07:35
Verizon wants to be deregulated in Virginia for phone service. The company asserts that there is ample competition and that the company should no longer be forced to charge set prices for certain services.
What struck me was the note in the article that the company submitted 2,400 pages of "documentation" to prove its case. If the situation is as obvious as the company asserts, why so much paper? The article leaves some questions unresolved. For example, some phone users get service from a third party like AT&T but that service comes in over Verizon lines. My guess is that in its request, Verizon is counting AT&T as a competitor, but if deregulation occurs, Verizon could raise the rates on its wholesale access to the point that it is no longer profitable for companies like AT&T to do business. This is exactly what happened when price controls were lifted for DSL; across the country, virtually all the third party DSL providers, who had really created the market when the phone companies avoided it, went out of business, leaving the field to the incumbents.
Should Verizon be unleashed? It is likely to be a painful pill in the short term, but partial regulation (of some companies and not others) creates market irregularities that keep communities chained to old technology. In the long term, the best answer is open service provider networks that let any company use the community's digital roads to sell goods and services (and no, the government won't be competing with the private sector). Verizon, among others, could use those community digital roads to keep existing customers and to attract new ones. And prices would go down across the board.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/05/2007 - 08:08
Getting fiber to the premise (FTTP) is always a challenge. In many communities, there is not space available on aging telephone poles, or the incumbents try to charge exorbitant make-ready fees to hang a thin fiber cable. Trenching is an alternative, but that can be more expensive and disruptive. CableRunner now offers an interesting alternative, which is to use existing sewer and stormwater drain infrastructure to run fiber through neighborhoods and into homes.
CableRunner's highly automated technology to mount fiber cables and junction boxes to the sides of sewer and drain pipes was pioneered in Vienna, Austria, where they have been doing this successfully for fifteen years. Vienna has a major project underway right now to provide fiber to every home and business in the city, and many of the cable routes are through existing infrastructure. Paris is also beginning to do the same thing
And there is one more thing. Vienna's project is an Open Service Provider Network (OSPN) that will offer the city's residents and businesses a wide choice of services with multiple providers in most service categories. It is just one more reminder of the global competition today: a city taking fiber to every home and business using an open access model. Vienna's goal is to be the best connected city in the world.
What is your community's telecommunications goals?
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/20/2006 - 10:09
I think there are some interesting new job opportunities that are going to emerge in the next ten years, and one would hope K12 schools and colleges start now with new and revised curriculums to meet demand.
The first hot job is going to language specialist. Linguists who can speak at least four languages and ideally six or more are going to be able to write their own ticket in the work world, and will be able to command high dollar salaries. As the world economy continues to heat up, more and more businesses are going to be able to grow only by expanding into international markets, where they will have to be able to speak languages other than English. If six languages sounds like a lot, it really is not. Once you get past three, it is pretty easy. Languages that are going to be important include Chinese, Japanese, and Russian, among others.
The other hot job is going to be information manager. Traditionally, "information management" has been relegated to IT departments, where geeks build complicated databases and systems that usually require users to cram information into often convoluted and rigid formats, because that is the way IT people think. The new information manager will NOT be part of an IT department, but will work alongside business managers, salespeople, and project team members to keep information flowing between team members and clients. The information manager will have a high degree of skill using a wide variety of information tools, and will be able to craft custom solutions for individual projects using lots of off the shelf applications and judicious (and limited) use of scripts and small amounts of programming. This job will be the antithesis of the IT department approach to information management.
How about your local schools? Are they looking ten to twenty years ahead and trying to identify where job demand is going to create opportunities and needs? If not, why not?
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/12/2006 - 11:50
According to this article, the state of California will make $460 million available for broadband in the state. $400 million is to speed up telemedicine uses, and will probably benefit hospitals the most, but the other $60 million is intended for accelerating broadband deployment. A broadband task force has been formed, but appears to be mostly industry insiders, who usually don't lobby for open service provider networks. What often comes out of these high level commissions and committees are special deals for business friends of legislators. Nonetheless, California gets some credit for at least recognizing the problem and putting some money behind it. It will be interesting to see what emerges in a year or two as the funds are disbursed.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/12/2006 - 09:34
BusinessWeek has an article on outsourcing that has some useful insights in it. The good: Outsourcing does not always save time or money. As many of knew when the outsourcing craze began to heat up, it is a lot of work to manage workers on the other side of the world who are 10 or 12 hours out of sync with your own office hours. In India, where IT outsourcing has helped fuel the economy, rapidly rising salaries and very high turnover (often above 50% a year) is driving U.S. businesses away. Some of that work is coming back to the United States, and there are opportunities in low cost of living rural areas to capitalize--if you have a tech-savvy workforce and affordable broadband.
The bad news is that even though some outsourcing is moving out of India, some jobs are being moved to other low wage countries. What that means for the U.S. is that IT salaries are flat, and are likely to stay flat for some time. But I have maintained that many IT jobs have been priced too high for years--an artifact of the rapid growth in IT in the nineties. Some adjustments are not necessarily bad. But overall, we are in a world economy, like it or not, and your community is competing with other countries, not just the next county or the next state. And no matter how much local leaders may not see that or deny it, it is a fact. Every community in America has to be looking over its shoulder at the world economy now. We aren't in Kansas anymore.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 11/17/2006 - 11:02
Charleston, South Carolina's very successful Digital Corridor program is worth careful study. Ernest Andrade, the manager of the program, understands that economic development today is about making and nurturing relationships, not water and sewer. Here is a short excerpt from Andrade's article that summarizes where economic development should be focused today:
"Three key pieces of statistical data reinforce an argument that communities should spend more of their economic development resources on business formation. First, approximately 80% of all job creation occurs from within the community; second, a majority of the businesses being formed today have five or fewer employees; and third, there is an inverse relationship between high wage, knowledge-based companies and their physical space requirements."
It is the last item that is particularly worthy of careful analysis: high wage knowledge companies don't need a lot of real estate. They don't need vast tracts of empty land. They often don't even want to be in business parks. They often want to be in rehabbed downtown lofts, close to other small businesses, and close to good restaurants, where the deals are so often made. They want to be close to good coffee shops so they can meet casually with co-workers and clients. They want to be near vibrant and active downtown areas.
Charleston is a shining example of what is possible in community revitalization, and if you have never visited the city, it would be worth it to pack up all your economic developers and spend a couple of days there. Give Andrade a call and talk to him while you are there.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/07/2006 - 07:53
In a victory for personal privacy, a German court has ruled that if a customer requests it, an Internet Service Provider (ISP) must delete the IP log data that shows what a customer has been doing on the Internet and when. In the U.S., unfortunately, we are headed in the other direction, with the Federal government anxious to make ISPs responsible for retaining such information--forever! It is a huge and costly burden, with little justification, since most of us will never commit a crime that might require such data, and in my opinion, it is intrusive and an invasion of privacy.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 10/26/2006 - 10:01
The magazine Killer App has a must read article on how fiber infrastructure has turned the rust belt economy of Wales (abandoned coal mines and steel mills) into a global powerhouse. The key: a steady investment in fiber over a period of years turned into a magnet for Knowledge Economy businesses looking for a reliable workforce, reasonable cost of living, and affordable broadband.
Oh, and there was one more thing. Wales had excellent electrical power because of the former demands of the steel mills. The region was able to attract large data centers because Wales had an unbeatable one-two punch: world class fiber infrastructure AND reliable electric power.
Finally, Wales has adopted an open access model, meaning they did not try to create a new government monopoly on telecom services. Instead, they are encouraging competition among service providers to ensure a rich variety of services that can meet any business need as well as keeping prices low (because of competition).
This is an article you may want to print out and send to every local elected official and economic developer--especially those that think telecom is somebody else's problem. It is an excellent case study of a region that pulled its economy out of a nose dive and successfully created economic prosperity.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/16/2006 - 07:21
Microsoft's MSN search and news site is trying to avoid Google's fate in Belgium, where a court told the search company to stop filching newspaper articles from the Web sites owned by the newspapers. Google would show the first few paragraphs of an article, and then provide a link to the rest of the article, claiming fair use. But of course, there were ads on the Google page and so Google was benefiting from someone else's copyrighted content. The Belgian courts told the company to cut it out. So Microsoft, which apparently does the same thing, is negotiating with the newspapers over the issue. The obvious solution is to share ad revenue with the papers. Less money for the search sites, but then, they would be doing things fairly and legally, which should not be difficult concepts.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 09/29/2006 - 06:28
As I wrote recently, a lot of my readers just think that the whole Space Economy thing is a litte goofy. But Virgin Galactic has rolled out images of its new sub-orbital space ship, and is already booking seats. Two hundred thousand dollars gets you a two and one half hour trip to the edge of space--about 68 miles above the earth. Pasengers will be weightless long enough to get queasy and/or enjoy the view; the ship will have plenty of windows. Test flights of the system will begin in 2008, and passengers will be lifting off in 2009. And New Mexico's Space Economy is roaring along, and the whole state's economy is being lifted--no pun intended.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/25/2006 - 09:38
When I first began writing about spaceports two years ago, I got a lot of eyerolling in response. Some economic developers really questioned whether this was something to take seriously. But in just two short years, New Mexico is well on the way to turning the entire economy of the state around.
New Mexico's first commercial space launch will take place this week. Big deal, you say? Nine more are already scheduled for the next year, and the Space Economy is already pumping millions into the state economy. Virgin Galactic plans to use the spaceport for commercial flights that will provide space tourism opportunities in comfortable spaceplanes built by Bert Rutan.
The space stuff is fun, but it is not really the point. A few years ago, by nearly every measure, New Mexico was one of the poorest states in the country. By taking a look at their assets, they determined the one thing they had plenty of--wide open, flat spaces--was good for space industries. They then picked up the ball and ran with it, investing consistently and staying on track, even though a lot of people doubted them. And it is now beginning to pay off.
How about your region? Have you identified your strategic assets and built a plan around a *future* economy--space, energy, knowledge, agriculture? Are you executing consistently, with thoughtful, year after year investments to make the right things happen? If not, why not?
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 09/06/2006 - 06:45
Henrico County, Virginia, has garnered national attention for its program of giving laptops to kids once they reach sixth grade. But if the school system is not prepared to truly transform the teaching and learning process, the results may not be what we expect. In this article, at least one mother made her daughter give the laptop back because it had become a time waster for the girl and her grades had dropped.
It is easy to blame it on kids spending too much time chatting and goofing off on online Web sites, but those are only symptoms of the real problem. I can take some of the blame for all this, as the Blacksburg Electronic Village project helped our county schools become the first school system in the country to have broadband to every school and to become the first school system in the country to have broadband in every classroom. Since then I have worked on many other K12 technology projects--all with the best of intentions, but the results have been mixed at best.
Teaching kids is a complext process that requires years of experience, and you can't just drop a few computers into the middle of a centuries old way of doing things and expect magical results. I have learned that the hard way. In my experience, it is school administrators that are most often at fault. They are eager to win grants and push technology into the classroom; it looks good to parents and to elected leaders that decide school budgets.
But those same administrators are often much less enthusiastic about actually rolling up their sleeves, working side by side with teachers, and trying to figure out what changes need to be made to really leverage the promise of all this technology. And there is what I call the "five percent problem." Dump a bunch of technology into a school, and under any circumstances, you will have about five percent of teachers who are motivated to dig in and do amazing things with the stuff. Those "five percent" projects become the poster children for technology in the classroom. They are used to say, "See what great stuff all this is!"
But those five percenters are the exception, not the rule. Most teachers need a lot of help and support from the top down to get comparable results, and it usually is not there. So while computer manufacturers make money selling computers to schools, our kids are still learning the same old way. If your school district wants money for technology efforts, ask some hard questions about how administrators intend to support teachers with good tech support, appropriate learning resources, and assistance with curriculum changes.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 08/29/2006 - 19:11
Swedish-Finnish telecom company TeliaSonera has started selling hybrid phones that will automatically make phone calls via the Internet when in range of a WiFi hotspot, and use the normal cellphone network when not in a hotspot. Some other dual mode phones have been available, but this is the first phone (manufactured by Samsung) that will switch automatically between the two. The firm is targeting in home use first, which is clever, because we make a lot of calls from home. If you have a wireless router in your house, the phone will automatically make VoIP calls, saving money.
Devices like this illustrate the need to design communitywide broadband networks that offer BOTH fiber and wireless connectivity. We are going to want and need both, and communities should plan and design for both.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 08/17/2006 - 08:46
A consortium of communities in Michigan figured out that building their own fiber network would save them millions in taxpayer funds, but if you read the article, you get the distinct impression that Verizon believes the purpose of government is to ensure that Verizon never has any competition.
Apparently, Verizon believes government should never try to save money and never try to do things differently if there is any impact on Verizon's bottom line.
The clue that something is amiss is the huge costs savings the local governments gain from building an entirely new network--an expensive undertaking. Verizon, in many areas of the country, has chosen not to invest in new infrastructure, effectively forcing communities and businesses to continue to pay high prices for old, 19th century copper technology.
Done right, community fiber systems can not only save taxpayer dollars but also be a huge boon for businesses, who could get access to less expensive voice and data services from competitive providers.
In the studies that Design Nine has been doing for communities, when you look at the forty year expected life of fiber, the multi-million dollar cost of a fiber system is a fraction (typically less than 5%) of what business and government will pay for telecom over that same time period. And it's a lot less expensive than water and sewer projects, which communities build and manage routinely.
Who do you want deciding the economic future of your community? You, or Verizon?
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 08/17/2006 - 08:27
Here is a story about a woman who the the Director of R&D for a high tech multimedia firm. She lives in Winthrop, Washington, and sleeps in a teepee. Now I know many of you will probably stop reading right there, but this article highlights a growing trend and the power of fiber to change rural communities. From the article, here is a description of Winthrop:
It's more than three hours by car to the nearest freeway exit, two hours to movie theaters and shopping malls. It's a place where, as late as 2001, folks in certain canyons were struggling to get phone service. Four hours from Seattle, a century-wide gap in telecommunications.
No more. These days, fiber-optic cables run like a river down the valley. Microwave towers beam data from peak to peak.
Jokingly, I ask Evans if she can get streaming video in her teepee.
Seriously, she replies, "Of course! . . . Six megabits per second."
Another interesting nugget in the article is the fact that call centers that moved overseas are already coming back. Where are they going? To rural communities WITH FIBER. Rural communities offer workers with excellent work ethics, stable wages, and low cost of doing business. But these days, call centers need the lowest possible telecommunications costs, and they also need to be able to hook a call center into their worldwide VoIP phone systems. Fiber delivers. And it should be a cautionary warning to communities that are hitching their wagon to wireless while thinking that all their broadband problems are solved. Wireless does not provide the bandwidth, security, or reliability that businesses want and need for mission critical services like VoIP.
Farther down in the story, a company in Winthrop had to pay $400,000 out of pocket to get access to fiber for their business because there was no community infrastructure. It's a wonder the firm stayed at all. What kept the firm in tiny Winthrop? Quality of life.
It's a twofer: Rural communities that have the right quality of life and fiber have a bright future. It is important to note the emphasis on the RIGHT quality of life. Every community thinks it has great quality of life, but the amenities, services, schools, and recreational opportunities have to appeal to the kind of people you want to attract to the community, not just folks that have lived in your town all their lives. And there is often a disconnect between the two groups and just what constitutes quality of life. Take a look at the Open for Business handout Design Nine has in its Resources section.
Read the whole article; it is worth the time.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 08/10/2006 - 11:46
Here is a very short article about the falling price of DSL service in the U.S. Usually, when prices fall, it is a possible indicator that people are not buying enough of whatever is for sale, or that they supplier has "too much" of something. In the case of DSL, both is probably true. The phone companies have been investing heavily in upgrading their local phone systems to handle DSL, but with limited success, apparently, or they would not be cutting prices.
Part of the problem is that the cable companies beat them to the punch several years ago. The cable companies got an early start not because they really believed the Internet thing was going to catch on, but because digital cable systems let them sell a lot more TV. It really did not cost much (relatively) to build systems that could also deliver Internet service. So a majority of broadband users in the U.S. have cable modem service rather than DSL. And it is often difficult to get your computer working with a new ISP, so most people tend to want to avoid switching unless there is a really compelling reason. And a $4.27 price differential is not enough, it seems, to get people to switch from cable to DSL.
Anedotally, almost everywhere I visit in the U.S., people tell me that cable modem service is faster, more reliable, and tends to have better service than DSL provided by the phone companies.
But the sad news is in the last paragraph of the article. While many communities are happy just to any broadband Internet service delivered over slow, last century copper systems, broadband prices in Japan also continue to drop. Service providers there are offering 100 megabit fiber service for $25.90 a month--less than we are paying for copper broadband 100-200 times slower.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 08/09/2006 - 12:18
Ireland's research and higher education network, HEAnet, is getting configurable lightpaths. What are configurable lightpaths? It means that ordinary network users can configure a single wavelength of light on a fiber network from their computer or server to another computer or server on the same network (the computers could be hundreds or thousands of miles apart). A single lightpath can provide many gigabits of bandwidth with very little network delay, because the photons have a single path (lightpath) through the network. Much of the pioneering work was done in Canada and in Chicago, and a similar project has been underway in North America, called Starlight. Starlight already has fiber across the Atlantic and Pacific, and more schools, universities, and research labs are joining the effort.
This new kind of network system (it is entirely compatible with the Internet) is starting the same way the original Internet started, with schools and universities. It is already moving out into industry, with companies like Cisco developing off the shelf equipment to implement lightpath networks.
Lightpaths are one more reason for communities to start investing in fiber, now. Old-fashioned copper cable modem, telephone, and DSL networks don't support lightpaths and never will. Do you want your schools and businesses to be left behind?
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 08/01/2006 - 09:54
The City of Boston has decided to develop an open access wireless network for the city. This project might actually succeed where many other communitywide wireless projects have struggled. Boston has decided to do some things differently.
The choice of an Open Access Network (OAN) or Open Service Provider Network (OSPN) (two terms that mean the same thing) means that local government officials are not going to try to guess winners and losers in the Internet services marketplace. A fundamental weakness of giving the keys of a communitywide broadband system to a single company means that a handful of local government officials have to be very smart, indeed, to project (typically) eight or ten years into the future and be sure that just one or two private firms will market, sell, and manage services over the community network perfectly.
I am not that smart. I would much rather build a digital road system and let any qualified firm sell services, at whatever prices they choose, and let buyers in the marketplace decide who has the best prices and services. That way, local or regional governments don't have to have the responsibility of picking winners and losers.
An Open Service Provider Network also lets local and regional governments neatly sidestep the thorny issue of creating a de facto public monopoly for services. By using public money to build a network and then selecting just a handful of service providers, there is created a potentially difficult legal challenge from other service providers who want to offer services in the community but have not been "blessed" by local government. An OSPN network lets any qualified provider come in and sell on an equal footing, and takes the government competition issue off the table.
An OSPN system encourages competition, which leads to lower prices for telecom services. When government picks the service providers, competition is diminished, and everyone, even local government, ends up paying more for services.
Finally, when managed correctly, an OSPN network encourages innovation by lowering the barriers for entry into a new marketplace. The current bandwidth model we use everywhere now discourages rolling out new and experimental services by creating up front (and often very expensive) fixed bandwidth charges before even a single customer is subscribed to the service. A correctly designed OSPN system should price the cost of transport based on the services offered along with other factors like time of day, Quality of Service needed, and yes, bandwidth. But transport charges in an OSPN network should be tied to revenue, which encourages innovation. If a service provider has few customers, network use fees are low. If the service is popular, network use fees go up in proportion to revenue. This also means that the network operator has income proportional to network use, unlike the bandwidth model which punishes network use.
Boston is to be commended for this approach, although I still remain skeptical of communitywide wireless. So far, use of these systems has been light for a variety of technology and economic reasons, but that is the subject of another article.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/26/2006 - 09:58
Prepare to be depressed. French Telecom has just announced that it is rolling out fiber service in major cities with download speeds of 2.5 Gigabits/second and upload speeds of 1.2 Gigabits/second. The cost? Seventy Euros, or about $85 US.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., the heads of the major telecoms are patting us on the head and telling us we don't need superhighways to our homes, that DSL sidwalks are just fine. A typical DSL connection in the U.S. is about two thousand times slower than the Gigabit service being rolled out in France.
This article is in French, but you can see the speeds discussed in the second paragraph.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/26/2006 - 09:23
A three year old Philadelphia project to turn waste into gas, oil, and minerals has been so successful that the EPA and private investors are putting money behind expansion of the effort. One of the new sites will be in Missouri, near a turkey processing plant. The energy recycling plant will turn 200 tons of turkey guts into 10 tons of gas and 600 barrels of oil. The gas is used to power the plant, which is 85% efficient.
This looks like a free lunch because you get three for one; you reduce the amount of waste going into landfills, you get local production of energy products, and you reduce reliance on foreign oil.
The system uses exactly the same processes the earth uses to turn organic matter into oil, but while that takes millions of years for the earth to do it, using heat and pressure in the right amounts lets the energy plant accomplish the same thing in a few hours. The system is owned by Changing World Technologies, and while this has been tried before, the company developed a new approach that makes it much more efficient in terms of the amount of energy required for the conversion process.
This is just one more examply why the notion of running out oil--as a crisis--is looking at things from the wrong end of the telescope--it is an opportunity. How about your region? Do you have companies with significant waste streams of organic matter? Why not compete directly with the Middle East and become an oil and gas producer? It will reduce the strain on your landfill, create jobs, generate taxes, and diversify your local economy.
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