Content and services

If you still think broadband is not important....

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/08/2015 - 13:48

...consider this. Apple sold half a billion dollars in apps during the first week of January.

Think about that. Remember getting in your car and driving to the store to buy software? I do...vaguely. Everyone under thirty would have no idea what I was talking about.

Like it or not, the Internet is transforming the economy. One company (i.e. Apple) sold half a billion dollars of product in one week, and it was all delivered to customers who had broadband connections. No broadband, no sale.

This is a huge challenge for rural America. I just talked to a rural county where they estimate as many of 20% of households are still on dial up. I can pretty much guarantee no young people between the age of 18 and 30 live in any of those areas--they all left as soon as they could, and they probably left the county.

Rural America can't wait.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha....

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/08/2015 - 10:19

Excuse me for the headline....I could not stop laughing. Verizon's snazzy cloud service, eponymously named "Verizon Cloud," will be shut down "for up to" 48 hours. Granted, it is being done over a weekend, but suppose you are a retail business open on Saturday and Sunday? Do you close the store? What are they thinking?

There is only one possible explanation for a 48 hour shutdown, and that is a terrible, really awful, horrible technical design. Somebody screwed up bigtime, and now they have to fix it.

If you put stuff in the cloud, you have to treat it like you treat a hard drive: you have to assume that the cloud WILL crash and that you could lose everything. The cloud is not magic, and don't treat it that way.

Death of TV: Part LXX: The fat lady just sang!

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 01/07/2015 - 13:27

As the old saying goes, "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings." Dish Network just brought the fat lady out on the stage, and she is singing Sling TV. It's a new OTT (Over The Top) streaming video service that will include ESPN, Disney, CNN, TNT, and a bunch of other "channels," and I have "channels" in quotes because it is an archaic concept that dates back to the 1950s. But we know what it means.

Here is the money quote from the CEO of Sling TV:


"Millennials don't choose paid TV," said Roger Lynch, who was named CEO of Sling TV LLC. "So we designed a service based on how millennials consume content, with no contracts. You can come and go as you please."

If you are responsible for economic development in your community, ponder that statement. Or better yet, let me re-phrase it for you...."No one under 35 cares about cable TV." Or put another way, if you want young people to stay in or move to your community, you better have Internet capable of streaming multiple HD channels of "TV" over the Internet. It's a quality of life issue that you can't ignore.

Want help getting the right broadband infrastructure in your community? Give us a call (540-951-4400) and ask for Dave Sobotta. We would love to help.

Death of TV: Part LXVIII: Kids are cutting the cord

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/23/2014 - 15:43

New data suggests that the death of cable and satellite TV is being led by children. Kids don't care about watching the latest episode of a cartoon...reruns are just fine to keep them amused. Kids are growing up with on-demand services like Netflix and Hulu for their video fix. When they strike out on their own, the notion of buying a package of cable TV is going to seem quaint.

Sony irony and "The Interview"

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/23/2014 - 08:49

David Strom has a thoughtful analysis of the Sony hacking mess and the subsequent North Korean threats against the Sony movie "The Interview," where he points out several sad ironies in the two incidents.

Part II: Who needs a Gig?

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 11/21/2014 - 09:12

The incumbents love to ridicule Gig connections. AT&T sneered at the whole concept until Google announced they were going to do Gig fiber in Austin. About eight minutes later AT&T announced they had found a sudden need for Gig service in the Austin area (but nowhere else in the country...apparently Austin is "special" in AT&T's mind).

A colleague just sent me a screen shot that illuminates perfectly why a Gig of bandwidth might be occasionally useful. He had a hard drive crash, and being a smart guy, had everything backed up to offsite storage. The screen shot showed the time remaining to restore about 10% of his total file structure: one and a half days. If we multiply that by ten and assume that everything runs perfectly throughout the restore cycle (in my experience, a big IF), we are looking at about two weeks just to get your files back. Yea....AT&T is right...who needs a Gig?

HealthTap is a good example of what is coming

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 10/23/2014 - 08:19

HealthTap for the iPhone and iPad provide a good glimpse of why bandwidth is important and how healthcare is going to be changed by the Internet. The service provides access to tens of thousands of doctors and health care specialists, both on a pay as you go basis and a "concierge" subscription service. For $99/month you may be able to get HealthTap access to your own doctor, as well as other specialists.

It remains to be seen how successful HealthTap is in recruiting doctors, as the scheduling could be complex. But one way of looking at HealthTap and other software like it is to see it as the healthcare equivalent of Uber and Lyft, which have completely disrupted the taxi and limo business, to the dismay of the taxi/politician cartel, who like limited access, high licenses fees, and the revolving door of campaign contributions that keep competitors like Uber and Lyft out of major metro cities.

Death of TV, Part LXVII: Tablet TV, Aereo, and cutting the cable

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/25/2014 - 09:58

Tablet TV is a new venture that takes us back to the fifties, when everyone had a TV antenna on top of the house. Perhaps taking a hint from Aereo and its problems, Tablet TV has localized the Aereo concept. Where Aereo had thousands of centralized antennas that grabbed over the air digital TV signals in major markets, Tablet TV gives users an inexpensive, small box and antenna that grabs local over the air signals. The Tablet TV box then lets you watch your local TV stations on any WiFi-connected device in your house. It's a neat solution that will make it even easier to dump your cable or satellite subscription, because now you can buy the Tablet TV box and get all your local channels--including local and national news and live sporting events--the stuff that you can't get easily via online services like Hulu and Netflix.

Death of TV: Part LXV: The end of the beginning

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 08/07/2014 - 12:33

This is my sixty-fifth article about the death of TV, and I see now that we are at the end of the beginning. Why? ABC News recently began broadcasting a news channel on Apple TV, which is significant in its own right, but ABC has just announced that they are now including local news from Boston, Honolulu, and Albuquerque on that channel. One of the two things that keeps most people tied to their hideously antiquated cable and satellite subscriptions is access to local news (the other is live sports). With this new access to local news via the Apple/ABC partnership, it is going to be easier than ever for households to ditch the over-priced "TV" subscriptions.

The Cloud: Pay a fortune and own nothing

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/22/2014 - 10:06

More and more "stuff" is moving to the cloud. Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, and Amazon are just four of the biggest companies that are trying to get us to put everything in the cloud so we can pay a monthly fee to get to our "stuff." The problem with this is that from a customer perspective, the "cloud" does not scale up well from a pricing perspective.

In the "old days," by which I mean about three years ago, you made a one time purchase of a desktop or laptop computer, cobbled together some kind of local network for your business or home, and if you were really smart, bought one or two extra hard drives for backups and file sharing. A relatively substantial capital expenditure, but you had no recurring costs to use and to store you data and files.

Enter the cloud: You still get to buy a bunch of computers, laptops, and smartphones, but now you pay every month to use your own data. The revenue already being generated by cloud services is staggering, and will continue to grow for a while. But uncontrolled growth is, in the biological world, cancer. It eventually kills you...or in this case, wrecks your budget. All these $5, $10, and $20 per month cloud services add up. Small businesses that have to pay for cloud services on a per seat basis (or some other incremental use charges) can quickly max out their limited IT budgets.

The cloud is immensely useful, and like anyone else, I like being able to access my "stuff" wherever I am in the world. But it comes with a price, and one day the market growth is going to fall of a cliff. When that happens, expect many cloud services to go belly up--for anything in the cloud, you should be able to answer this question: "What happens if your cloud provider disappears?"

LEO Fitness Intelligence: More evidence that personal health management is about to explode

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/08/2014 - 10:32

This IndieGogo campaign has passed it goal to produce LEO, which is a wearable health monitoring device that gives you real time and stored data on your smartphone. Devices like this one are about to transform exercise and sports, with instant feedback on your workouts and exercise routines, including muscle activity, fatigue, heart rate, lactic acid, hydration, calories burned, and more.

Health apps: The next frontier

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/08/2014 - 08:20

More details continue to leak out about Apple's next release of the iPhone/iPad operations system (iOS 8). Apparently, the Health app will be able to use late model iPhone motion sensors to monitor the number of steps you take. This sounds simple, but today, if you want to do that, you have to buy a separate device to do that, and many of those electronic devices have awkward interfaces. You can buy a simple mechanical pedometer for a few dollars, but that analog device cannot provide the automated monitoring and tracking of your activity over time.

Apple, I think, is onto something big. Recall that the iPod was not the first music player by any measure. Dozens of awkwardly designed, low capacity, hard to use MP3 players were on the market when the iPod was announced. What Apple did was to create a device that was so easy to use that everyone wanted one. And that's where I think Apple is headed with its focus on health monitoring. It's going to make tracking your physical activity and your health data (e.g. respiration, heart rate, etc) so easy that everyone will want an Apple device.

As always, I worry about the privacy issues. Some or all of your private health data will end up in a cloud somewhere, making it accessible to third parties, insurance companies, the government, or hackers (or all of those entities). Time will tell if the health benefits will outweigh the negatives, but I look forward to having more health information under my direct control, instead of having to pay a health clinic for that information.

Death of TV: Part LXIV: ABC debuts on Apple TV

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 06/25/2014 - 07:17

And so it continues. While Comcast and Time Warner engage in the drowning man death hug, the content owners are finally beginning to read the writing on the wall. ABC is launching a channel on Apple TV, with live video, hourly news updates, and a variety of local content from some of the biggest urban markets in the country (e.g. WABC New York, WLS Chicago, KGO San Francisco...). All is proceeding as I envisioned years ago....cable TV's elbow is barely breathing, and the heart of cable TV may not even have a pulse. When the cable TV giants go down, and they will go down, they will go down hard.

The emerging revolution in health care....by Apple

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/20/2014 - 08:34

Some time this fall, Apple is likely to announce what has been called the "iWatch," although that may or may not actually be its name. There have probably been more rumors promulgated about this supposed product than any other Apple product ever. The latest rumor is that the watch will have "more than ten sensors," including a heart rate sensor and other health and fitness monitoring devices.

If the watch comes with even five sensors, it will trigger an massive change in health care, as patients and doctors will, for the first time, have inexpensive access to real time health and medical data that was previously only available in hospital rooms and the ICU. And even hospital monitoring equipment does not have what will be available via the iWatch--simple to understand and simple to interpret health information that is available both to the patient and the doctor.

Apple is poised to upend another industry and create a massive new market area providing software and related devices, just as it did with the music business.

Along with all the innovation, we will have huge issues with data privacy, as all this data will be stored in many places (computers, phones, tablets, the cloud, doctor offices, hospitals) with massive potential for security breaches. And insurance companies will be anxious to use the data to adjust health insurance rates, although there is the possibility that having excellent real time health data may, for some, push rates down rather than up.

Broadband is disrupting home security market

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/05/2014 - 16:17

This IndieGoGo project is just one of numerous home security systems that are disrupting the market. Companies like ADT have dominated it for decades, using old-fashioned telephone land lines to monitor in-home door, window, and fire sensors. But always-on broadband and Internet connectivity make it possible to do more with less, and a host of start-ups are slowly eating away at the over-priced big security firms.

Will Apple's HealthKit revolutionize health?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/03/2014 - 08:12

In San Francisco yesterday, Apple Computer announced that it was bringing both a new app ("Health") and a new developer interface for that app ("HealthKit") to the iPhone and the iPad. The app will give users a single place to store and track a wide variety of health-related information, including fitness activity, lab results, medications, and vital signs. The app is less important than the developer interface to the app, which will allow healthcare providers and healthcare services to push a wide variety of data into a single place, giving the user a single, integrated look at the state of their health.

While there have been much prognostication that Apple has "run out of steam" and has no innovation left in the company, this health-focused software takes the company in a whole new direction. The software Apple is releasing has the potential to make dramatic changes in the way health care is provided and the way we use and access health-related information. And most importantly, better information under our own control is likely to help contain health care costs over the long term.

But there is always a cost. Concentrating all this information in one place raises privacy and security issues, but I'd rather have all this information under my control than in a vast government database. Having said this, Apple will be storing all this information in iCloud for us. There is no free lunch here.....the convenience and information on one hand, the risk of mis-use on the other.

"U-verse stinks"

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/24/2014 - 13:08

"U-verse stinks." That's not me, that's Netflix, according an article from Lightwave. Here's the interesting quote from Netflix:


"The surprising news is that AT&T fiber-based U-verse has lower performance than many DSL ISPs, such as Frontier, CenturyLink & Windstream..."

This was in a letter from the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, to stockholders. While this little spat between AT&T and Netflix is amusing, it highlights the vast divide between incumbent attitudes about what constitutes good service and what the customers of those incumbents regard as good service. The incumbents believe that good service is whatever they decide they want to give their monopoly-captive customers, while the customers think good service is being able to use Over The Top (OTT) services like Netflix without constant stuttering, re-buffering, and stalling out.

I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I was recently in a community that told me no one wants to live there anymore because of poor Internet service from the incumbent phone and cable companies. It's created an economic development crisis, because senior business managers that are being brought by existing companies in the town are choosing to live hours south of the community. And to make things worse, those same existing businesses are saying they can't expand and add jobs because their business Internet service won't support expansion.

Communities are at a crossroads: You can let the incumbent providers decide your economic development growth potential, or you can take control of your future and make some basic investments in competitive broadband infrastructure.

Death of TV: Part LXIII: Amazon announces Amazon Fire TV

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/03/2014 - 09:27

Amazon announced yesterday their "Fire TV" product, which is a $99 Internet to TV box that follows in the footsteps of Apple TV, Roku boxes, and Google Chromecast. All of these products connect directly to a late model TV and give you easy access to a wide variety of Internet-based content. The Amazon Fire offers Netflix, Hulu, NBA, AOL, Showtime, iHeart radio, Amazon Prime shows and movies, and Pandora, among other offerings. The box also gives you access to Amazon cloud storage for your own pictures and videos.

In terms of competing boxes, the Fire TV probably comes closest to the Apple TV box, which offers direct access to the iTunes store (movies, TV, music) and Apple's iCloud personal storage service.

I remain kind of ho-hum about all these devices, because I can access all the same stuff right on my computer at home, and simply watch the content on a large screen monitor. I have a hard time getting excited about a box that duplicates what I already have. But these boxes can deliver higher quality video, and if you have a large screen TV that you want to use for entertainment, these boxes deliver a lot of value. I dumped my cable subscription years ago, but even with Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu subscriptions, I just don't watch much TV...perhaps a couple of hours a week at most.

I see two significant things with this announcement. First, Amazon continues to deliver incredible value to its customers, and this box really ties together their other services like Prime video and cloud storage. This puts pressure on Apple, Google, and Microsoft to offer more and better products--always a very good thing. Second, it is getting easier and easier to cut the cable/satellite TV subscription. Comcast seems to have finally begun to agree with me that the old cable TV model is about dead, and is more focused on delivering improved Internet access to its customers. But a monopoly is a monopoly, and even if you save money in the short term by dumping your TV subscription, expect the cable companies to keep increasing their fees for Internet...because they can.

Comcast wants to buy Time Warner

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/13/2014 - 10:39

Comcast and Time Warner have agreed to merge, with Comcast buying Time Warner. Although this merger has to be approved by Federal regulators, the article suggests that since the two companies don't have overlapping territories, it may well be approved.

The merger would combine Comcast's 22 million subscribers with Time Warner's 11 million subs, and Comcast has said it would sell off 3 million subscribers to keep the new company below 30 million customers. Supposedly that is some threshold that determines if the company will have too big an influence on the market.

This smells of desperation to me. Cable TV is dead, dead, dead, with Over The Top (OTT) services like Netflix and Hulu killing off cable and satellite TV. I was in a rural community for a week recently. There were three complaints:

  • The lack of bandwidth is killing our Main Street businesses.
  • No one can work from home because the bandwidth available is too limited.
  • We are having a hard time attracting families because services like Netflix and Hulu are unusuable, and the kids are revolting.

    Aside from the fact that copper-based coaxial cable is grossly inferior to fiber, the cable companies simply can't provide business class symmetric services over their "entertainment" networks in any sort of consistent way, and they know it. So they are going to merge to give them market clout on the content side, and they are going to continue to try to buy laws at the state level, like they just tried in Kansas.

    In less than ten years, most American homes will have fiber. It is as inevitable as flush toilets, which were once considered a luxury. And when the dust settles, the communities that introduced competition by creating shared digital road systems are going to be doing much better economically.

  • The Internet is making us anxious

    Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 10:40

    A new study suggests that being "connected" all the time takes a toll on our psyche. An experiment with hundreds of college students suggests that some cellphone users experience high levels of anxiety and lower academic performance because they cannot put the phone down.

    I see this in some meetings, where younger people are obsessively playing with their phones while most folks over forty are more engaged in the meeting and paying more attention to what is actually happening in the room.

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