Content and services

Is everything going to look like Facebook?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/19/2015 - 09:01

LinkedIn has been slowly adjusting its interface to look and behave more like Facebook, and when I checked it this morning, it had changed again. It now looks almost exactly like Facebook.

On the one had, Facebook is a familiar interface, and I had always found LinkedIn features to be obscure (and I'm trying to be generous). LinkedIn started out as a kind of professional address book, and they just kept adding more stuff willy-nilly. At least they have now tried to bring some sanity to the design.

But do we really want everything everywhere to look like Facebook? Facebook has its own interface problems, starting with the infuriating "mouse around until some hidden feature appears" approach that Apple is in love with.

There is some strange and accelerating devolution of software going on that is being driven by the design constraints of smartphone and tablets. Desktop software, even Web-based software, is steadily being dumbed down (stupified?) so that it works on a 4" screen. I have two 23" monitors on my desktop here in the office, and Apple tells me to be happy with an interface designed to work well on the iPhone.

No thanks. But I fear that things are going to get much much worse.

There is still an AOL? Who knew?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/12/2015 - 09:23

I was surprised to hear that Verizon has purchased AOL. I occasionally get a message from someone who still has an AOL email account, but I can't remember the last time I actually went to aol.com...sometime in 1999?

Verizon seems to be trying to imitate the Comcast/NBC merger. Verizon says they are after the AOL OTT (Over The Top) content. Really? I have not met or heard anyone say, "Wow, that show on AOL was really great!"

Vertical integration may work in markets where Verizon/AT&T/Google/Comcast already have a de facto monopoly via their copper or fiber infrastructure, but I remain convinced that the future of entertainment is complete separation of content from infrastructure, which is the WideOpen Networks model.

The incumbents are still stuck on the notion that entertainment is the only thing their customers want, but on open networks, entertainment will be one of hundreds of services available. And on an open network, there will be many entertainment options, including lots of entertainment bundles from new content companies that are building packages specifically to meet consumer interests as opposed to building packages to tie consumers to a monopoly network.

Comcast-TimeWarner merger is over

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/24/2015 - 07:53

Comcast has announced that it will give up trying to merge with TimeWarner Cable. The company has said that scrutiny from the Feds was a factor.

I never thought this was going to be important no matter how it turned out, because cable TV is dead. The body is still warm, but the rapid acceleration of Over The Top (OTT) alternatives to cable makes cable TV irrelevant. The cable giants already seem to understand this, and have been switching revenue streams to their Internet service for several years. Just like how my cable TV fees went up year after year by a few dollars, now my cable-delivered Internet goes up by a few dollars every year, even while the cost per Meg for Internet goes down (a primary expense for cable-delivered Internet).

TV is getting ever more interesting, and Netflix is leading the way. While HBO plowed new ground with non-network TV shows many years ago, Netflix is now producing some of the most interesting shows--Lillyhammer is just one example of the success of Netflix in producing high quality programming.

But despite the efforts of the cable network operators to increase Internet download bandwidth to their customers, their Achilles heel is the highly asymmetric service they offer that makes their "entertainment" service profoundly unsuitable for work from home and business from home activities.

The single biggest complaint we hear now is that "I can't work from home with my cable Internet connection." Whether we like the "always connected" business culture or not, the reality is that many of us are trying to get some work done from home at least part of the time, and the trend is accelerating. Meaningful business work from home requires symmetric bandwidth, and it is fiber that can deliver business class services. WideOpen Networks, our sister company, is now rolling out true community-owned Gigabit networks in the U.S. Want more information? Give Dave Sobotta a call at WideOpen: (540-552-2150).

Death of TV: Part LXXII: 40% of homes now stream video over the Internet

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 03/12/2015 - 12:38

A new report from Nielsen, the TV tracking firm, shows that 40% of American homes are streaming video over the Internet. This represents a 10% year to year increase. At that rate, there will be few subscribers left on cable and satellite in five more years.

But wait! There's more! The amount of TV being watched live, unsurprisingly, is also down, which makes sense. If you have a Netflix and Hulu subscription, why worry about watching something at a particular time?

What does it mean for communities? Fiber is going to be very important as more and more programming comes over the Internet. Fiber in a community is not just about economic development--it is also about quality of life, and young professionals want to live in a place with great connectivity, not old-fashioned copper networks.

HBO and Apple announce partnership

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 03/09/2015 - 13:06

HBO and Apple announced today that HBO's streaming service will be available in the U.S. only via AppleTV and other Apple devices.

HBO is half of the holy grail of streaming video, with the other half live sports (i.e. ESPN). Cable TV is barely breathing....

Death of TV: Part LXXI: Millennnials ditch TV

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/19/2015 - 09:07

Young people in the 18 to 34 age group continue to ignore traditional cable and satellite TV packages in favor of Internet-based Over The Top (OTT) packages like Netflix and Hulu, among others. With ESPN and HBO joining the OTT revolution, cable and satellite TV are dead, dead, dead, as live sports and specialty programs (think HBO offerings like the hugely popular Sopranos) are now available without that bloated and over-priced cable TV subscription.

The cable companies response to losing market share has been to simply switch their tired old "annual rate increase" strategy to their Internet package, while trying to cram more bandwidth onto the creaky old 20th century copper coax cable.

We have a different strategy: Build modern fiber networks and operate them as a Local Transport Provider (LTP). We are separating the infrastructure from the services completely, which opens the local network up to multiple providers and hundreds of commodity and niche services--customers pick and choose the provider and the services they want. It's called shopping for the best product at the best price. Cable TV and telephone companies are offering the 1950s Soviet economy style of business: "One product, take it or leave it, and we'll tell you what you are going to pay us."

Old model: command economy run by the giant incumbent companies with mediocre service.

New model: free market economy where the customers decides what they want to buy and how much they want to pay.

How can we do that? It's simple. The key concept is the switch to understanding the local network as the Local Transport Provider, completely separate from the Service Provider. We are unbundling the network, completely and unequivocally, which was the original goal of the 1984 and 1996 Telecom Acts.

Trust me...it's finally here, and we are revolutionizing broadband.

Welcome to the world where the Local Transport Provider puts customers first.

The emerging revolution in health care

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/05/2015 - 09:21

Fourteen major U.S. hospitals are experimenting with trial programs using the Apple HealthKit tools, which provide health and fitness tracking on iPhones and iPads.

I recently upgraded to an iPhone 5S, which came with the Health app installed. The software will track an incredible variety of health and fitness factors. Some of the data requires manual entry and/or a separate health device (like a blood pressure monitor), but right out of the box, the app starts tracking the number of steps and distance traveled in a day, using the iPhone's built in motion sensor. The difference between my level of physical activity during the work week (sitting at a desk most of the day) and the weekend is an eyeopener, and has made me realize that I need to walk more--every day. It is also interesting how much exercise I get on travel days; while it feels like I spend the whole day sitting in an airplane, the distances I have to walk in airports is good news for my health. The realtime graphs turn exercise into a bit of a game, where it becomes a challenge to see if I can beat yesterday's distance/step numbers.

But this is the tip of the iceberg. As more Bluetooth-enabled health monitoring devices become available (e.g. a blood pressure cuff that can talk, via Bluetooth, directly to the iPhone), more and better kinds of data will be available, and this will improve early diagnosis of problems--and in turn, save enormous amounts of money--early treatment is almost always less expensive.

Broadband is still regarded by many as a kind of luxury...."who needs a Gig?" is a question I hear almost daily as Design Nine rebuilds the nation's broadband infrastructure, one community at a time. Broadband and the Internet are not just about Netflix, buying stuff from Amazon, and gaming. Just as the music industry was disrupted by the iPod and the Internet-enabled iTunes store, health care is about to see major disruptions, and those changes will benefit all of us....if we have the right kind of connectivity.

Design Nine helps communities build infrastructure for the future. Give us a call if you want to future-proof your community.

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.

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