Content and services

The future of the Internet is fiber

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/20/2012 - 09:40

Here is an interesting statement from the Roku folks:

"Generally we recommend a network speed of at least 1.2 Mbps, but to view live events, like Major League Baseball games, you’ll want at least 3 Mbps. For HD viewing, we recommend 5 Mbps.”

Notice that they are saying a single channel of live HD requires AT LEAST 5 Meg of bandwidth. Roku does not say, "...up to 5 Meg," or "...5 meg when no one else in the neighborhood is sucking all the bandwidth down watching a movie." They are saying, "...if you want to watch live events in HD, you need 5 meg of bandwidth per stream." By per stream, that means if two of you in your home are watching two different live events, you need 5 Meg x 2 = 10 Meg of bandwidth. That will never happen over DSL, and even on cable networks where they are now advertising wildly inflated bandwidth promises ("...up to 15 meg with SuperIncredibleGinormousCableBoost technology...."), just a few people trying to watch an HD broadcast in the same neighborhood are going to slow things to a crawl.

It's worse for business. The ever-increasing cost of travel, coupled with much improved technology is pushing videoconferencing quickly into a "must have" business requirement. Our videoconferences with clients here at Design Nine often includes four different people in four different locations. Using the Roku standard for picture quality, each location would need 4 x 5 Meg = 20 Meg of each location. Just for a routine business meeting.

Within ten years, 90% of the homes and businesses in America will have fiber, and much of it will NOT be supplied from the incumbent telephone and cable companies.

Facebook gives away private postings

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/17/2012 - 11:28

Facebook is now going to give Politico every singe public AND PRIVATE Facebook posting that mentions the name of a Presidential candidate. Supposedly this will be done anonymously, but there is no way to opt out. So either you never discuss anything political anymore or mention a candidate's name in every single post to make the whole exercise worthless.

Death of TV: Part XXXIII -- Netflix just cuts out the studios

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/13/2011 - 17:26

Netflix, despite their clumsy handling of price changes, is not stupid. Somewhere along the way, they noticed they could pay outsized royalty fees to the studios every time someone streamed a TV show, or they could just produce their own TV shows and KEEP ALL THE MONEY.

Netflix has cut a deal with Fox to restart the cult favorite TV show Arrested Development, which has been off the air for almost five years. Fox is certainly getting a cut of the profits, but it is surely much less than if Netflix was not involved in financing the venture.

I talked to someone recently who was worried about the complexity of set top boxes needed for some IP TV services. The set top box is going the way of the dodo, and that's good news, because the boxes are a pain in the neck for both customers and IP TV providers.

The whole TV model is collapsing faster than even I imagined, and the cable companies don't have a strategy for saving their business.

Fuzebox: Poor billing practice

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 12/08/2011 - 10:16

Fuzebox is selling a videoconferencing service, and apparently business is so bad that they feel the need to bill customers that don't want their service. We signed up for a free trial some months ago, used it once, and decided it did not meet our needs. Some months after that, they started billing us a huge monthly charge. They claimed they sent out emails notifying us that they were converting the free trial to a paid subscription, but we never received anything. Nor did we receive any other email from them.

This practice is despicable, and I can't recommend this company.

Will Microsoft win the TV race?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/07/2011 - 09:48

Wired has an interesting article on the slow and steady approach Microsoft has taken with the Xbox. Wired describes the huge sales numbers for the Xbox over the Black Friday weekend, noting that it can't just be gamers buying a six year old design.

What has happened is that Microsoft has been able to sign a lot of content agreements so that you can use the Xbox to replace your TV, with lots of on-demand video from a wide variety of content providers.

The rest of the article, though, tries to shed some light on what Apple may or may not be doing without really providing any clarity. Apple is famously successful at keeping secrets, so no one really has any idea what one of Steve Jobs' last comments, about Apple's TV strategy, really means: "I finally cracked it."

Rumors have been flying around for months that Apple intends to roll out a "smart TV," as opposed to the Microsoft "smart box" strategy a la the Xbox. As I have maintained for years, whatever the hardware is, if you don't have content, customers won't buy.

I'm glad Xbox is doing well. Apple, Google, and others trying to break into the "TV" market need good, strong competition. The losers in this epic battle are going to be the cable companies, because analog TV is dead, dead, dead. And the cable firms have no strategy for making the transition to on-demand video. The TV market is cracking up before our eyes. Top notch shows like the CBS "Person of Interest" can be watched on demand on the CBS Web site. So why does CBS need to license its content to the cable companies?

Even IP TV is dying before it even catches on. The original concept of IP TV was (is) to emulate the channel line up packages of analog cable TV with a digital set top box that lets you "tune" (select) from a traditional channel line up. But why bother with that at all if the same content is available on demand, without the bother, complexity, and cost of a set top box? The simplicity and reduced cost of on-demand video versus the more expensive IP TV/set top box solution suggests IP TV is not going to be around long.

Modern broadband networks need fast, cheap bandwidth so that all forms of on-demand video can be supported, including the emerging heavy use of live HD video during the daytime by the business community.

Is social media harming the development of our youth?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/15/2011 - 12:09

A new study suggests that a slight majority of adults think social media is harmful to the social development of today's youth. With the ever-increasing use of social media by young people, Poll Position wanted to know if Americans think social media is helpful or harmful to the social development of today’s youth.

In a national telephone survey of registered voters, 53% said it is harmful, 20% said it is helpful in the social development of youth, 17% said it is not making a difference either way and 11% did not offer an opinion.

Men and women shared similar views on the question with 53% saying social media is harmful to the social development of young people.

Among men, 22% said it is helpful, 17% said it is not making a difference and 9% had no opinion.

Among women, 18% found social media helpful in the social development of young people, 17% said it is not making a difference, 13% did not have an opinion.

By a smaller margin than the national average, young people in the 18-29 year old age group found social media more harmful than helpful with 47% choosing harmful versus 35% who thought it was helpful to the social development of today’s youth. Sixteen percent said social media is not making a difference and 3% did not offer an opinion.

Anecdotally, I see a problem constantly with young people in the workforce who do not know how to communicate in an appropriate way. Many of the younger people I interact with simply won't pick up the phone to discuss a business issue, and instead rely on email, which is often a time-consuming way to identify a problem and propose a solution. I also see an over-reliance on texting and email for urgent information requests. Neither email nor texting is a synchronous communications medium. And when I'm in a business meeting, my attention is on the meeting, not on incoming texts and email. I rarely ever check email or texts during a meeting--if I'm with customers, it is just plain rude.

I have lost count of the number of times someone has emailed me for information that they need within an hour or two, and instead of calling me or talking to our receptionist to determine if I am available, they start sending ever more frantic emails--three or four in the space of an hour, demanding to know where I am and why I have not answered them.

There is a broader issue afoot here than arrested development of social skills, and that is our technology makes it more difficult to escape work. We are expected to read email, respond to texts, and answer phone calls in the evening and on weekends, just because we can. Our ubiquitous connectivity adds stress and strain to our lives. Let's all take a deep breath and slow down a bit.

Netflix kills Qwikster

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/10/2011 - 09:12

Netflix has announced that it has abandoned plans to split its business in two and make customers to two different sites, depending on whether they want to rent a DVD or watch something instantly via the Internet. It was actually much worse than that, as they were also going to make customers have two different and separate billing accounts. The invisible hand of the market, when left alone, usually fixes stupidity like this, and it did. The aborted Netflix split will be the fodder of business school case studies for a long time, ranking right behind the "New Coke" introduction as one of the dumbest business decisions ever.

Death of TV: Part XXXII -- "Okay"

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 10/06/2011 - 12:32

True story. I discussed the possibility of eliminating our family cable TV subscription and just sticking with Internet. The response was, and I quote exactly, "Okay. Can we get Hulu Plus?" That's the state of cable TV today. It doesn't even merit a 30 second discussion of its value.

Death of TV: Part XXXI

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/26/2011 - 13:40

According to the LA Times, eighteen years after the commercialization of the Internet, folks in Hollywood have determined that their might actually be something to that InterTubes things.

What brought about that revelation? A 40% decline in the sale of DVDs, a Hollywood cash cow, caught their attention, many many years after I and probably hundreds of other people predicted that Blockbuster was not going to turn out well. But after I read the article in its entirety, I came to the conclusion that the Hollywood moguls probably still don't really get it. The article goes on in some length to describe the horribly complicated schemes for trying to extract every last dollar from a movie. Boiled down, it tends to go something like this:

Nothing like a lack of respect for the customer. Here's an idea: Two months after the theatre run, make it available for 5 bucks on every streaming service on the planet. And watch the cash roll in.

Disintermediation and the Passafire Phenonmenon

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 09/25/2011 - 07:50

Passafire is a Savannah, Georgia based band with some roots on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Their most recent album, Start from Scratch, has zoomed to the top of the iTunes reggae charts to take the number two spot behind perennial number one Bob Marley. What is interesting about this is that the band does not have a contract with a major record label (and "record" is an anachronism these days). Passafire has their own Web site, sells CDs online, but relies primarily on iTunes for their music sales. Oh, yes, and they actually play music in affordable venues. In short, these guys love music, and are able to make a living doing it, because the middle man, the record labels, have been cut out.

Even ten years ago, the members of Passafire would all have been working day jobs and loading a beat up van on Friday and Saturday nights to play a few local gigs. It is only Apple, with its visionary iTunes music store, that has allowed the band to connect with millions of fans in a way that was impossible just a few years ago.

And while some moan about the loss of jobs due to disintermediation, what the whiners forget is that iTunes has created tens of thousands of new jobs, and I would bet that the net jobs in the music industry has increased, and is spread far more equitably around the country, starting with what must surely be thousands of jobs at Apple just running the iTunes store. Then you have all the musicians that can actually market to a worldwide audience via iTunes, increasing their income and for some of them, turning their love of music into a full time job.

Bring the disintermediation on; it creates more opportunity by decentralizing economic power. Next up: the disintermediation of the TV and telephone industries.

Facebook vs. Google+: Competition is a wonderful thing

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 09/23/2011 - 07:59

Facebook rolled out an updated interface and a bunch of new features yesterday, and I spent some time yesterday evening looking at what they had did. There is much buzz about a new music-sharing service, but to me, the most significant change is the addition of "lists," which is the equivalent of Google+ "circles." The concept is identical: you can group your friends and contacts into sets, and you can look at only what is going on in that set of contacts, rather than having to plow through every item that gets posted to your wall.

If you have lots of friends, this is a major improvement in usability. And it probably would not have happened if Google+ had not built a better mousetrap. Facebook was forced to respond, and they did. I have seen some grousing about how long it took Facebook to add the new feature, but as an old applications programmer, I'm impressed that Facebook rolled it out in just about three months, to 750 million users. That's good software and version control management.

Facebook has also changed the way you set your privacy options, and to me, it is also a big improvement--it's much easier to understand now who can see what.

New Coke and the death of Netflix, er, Qwikster

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 09/22/2011 - 09:06

Executives at Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta are probably breaking out the bubbly (2 liter bottles of Coke) and toasting themselves. No longer will the New Coke be considered the dumbest, most asinine product roll out in history. Netflix will now be a source of business case studies in MBA programs for the foreseeable future.

Not only did Netflix hike prices dramatically without warning customers or explaining their rationale in any, um, rational way. To "fix" the problem they created with the price hikes, the president of Netflix, Reed Hastings, wrote the most condescending letter in the history of commerce, managing simultaneously to look stupid, imply that his customers are stupid, AND make the problem much much worse by splitting Netflix in half and creating two completely separate services (Netflix for streaming, Qwikster for DVDs through the mail).

The split of Netflix into two completely separate companies requires customers to now have two bills, maintain two accounts, and completely destroys one of the best things about Netflix--the ability to browse the entire Netflix TV and movie catalogue and effortlessly move titles back and forth between your streaming queue and your DVD queue.

But I say, "Good for Netflix." Netflix has been the 800 pound gorilla in the living room of video on demand, and they just shot themselves, not in the foot, but in the head. Customers are already fleeing for the exits, and new video companies suddenly have marketplace opportunities that did not exist two weeks ago. Competition is a wonderful thing. We will all benefit with better service options, better pricing options, and more choice.

Cloud outage affects "millions"

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 09/09/2011 - 11:07

The San Diego power outage may be responsible for the Microsoft Office 365 service (a "cloud computing" offering) being down. Other Microsoft cloud services like Hotmail and Live were also affected. The company is not saying what actually caused the problem, but the article notes that as many as 365 million users were affected.

You can't put all your data eggs in one cloud basket. Cloud services are terrific when they work, but what is your plan B when they don't work? Community-owned broadband facilitates the growth of local cloud service offerings that allow businesses to host data nearby, where they could actually get physical access to the data if they needed it.

Is Google+ better than Facebook?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 09/07/2011 - 08:10

Rich Swier of Startup Florida has a nice short article on Google+ and why he thinks it is a big improvement over Facebook. Google+ is still mostly a geek/early adopter phenomenon, but is probably the only competing service that has any chance of unseating Facebook.

Swier makes the point (and I agree) that a key advantage of Google+ is the ability to designate certain content only for certain folks in your network--the "circles" concept. You can create circles and put friends and family in them, and then when you post stuff, you can tag which circle or circles it is for. So instead of blasting everything to everyone (the Facebook approach), Google+ allows targeted posting and cuts down on the dreck.

The death of cable TV: Part XXX

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 08/30/2011 - 14:32

I was driving to work this morning, listening to the news on the car radio. The local station used the CBS syndicated news feed, and during the news break, there was an ad for the CBS iPhone/iPad app that "delivered all the breaking news from CBS," or something like that.

If I can get news feeds and programming directly on my computer or mobile device, why do I need an overpriced cable TV subscription. Netflix and Hulu provide virtually all of the movie and TV show programming, and a few iPad apps fill out the requirement for breaking news.

Cable and satellite TV are dead.

The death of cable TV: Part XXIX

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 08/30/2011 - 14:28

I had a conversation last week with a new college grad who had just started a new job and had moved into a new apartment. The young woman had a couple of questions about her Internet connection, which she had purchased from the local phone company (DSL). I asked if she had considered a cable TV/cable modem package.

She said, "No, I never watch TV. I can get whatever I need from the Internet."

In a nutshell, the customer base of the cable TV industry is getting old and dying, and they don't have a plan to attract younger customers.

Groupon spells "bursting bubble"

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 08/17/2011 - 07:34

The Harvard Business Review says that Groupon is failing. The half price coupon service has apparently burned through nearly a billion dollars in venture capital and needs just a measly three-quarters of a billion to keep going. Apparently there were some VC folks and business managers who learned nothing during the dot-com era. Groupon apparently spent on growth without attending to a fundamental business requirement: you actually have to make money. So they outspent their revenue by a large margin in the naive belief there is no top to their market opportunity.

Skype HD video rolled out for Macs

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/08/2011 - 12:47

Skype has rolled out HD videoconferencing for Macs--it's been available on the Windows platform for a while. Here at Design Nine, we just upgraded our own business videoconferencing software to include multi-party video. We use Skype videoconferencing daily for internal communications in our three geographically distant locations, which saves us money on our landline phone bill. We use Go To Meeting for client meetings, and find the screen-sharing particularly productive when trying to discuss something like a spreadsheet financial model. If you are interested in making more use of IP video, don't scrimp on the Web cam. We have found that the better cameras, with integrated, high quality lenses and microphones perform much better--plan to spend $80 to $100. You won't regret it.

Required broadband comment: If you want to make good use of the HD quality, you'll need symmetric bandwidth of at least 1.5 megabits. What does that mean? It means it won't necessarily work as well with asymmetric services like DSL and cable modems.

The death of cable TV: Part XXVIII

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 08/03/2011 - 17:07

Here in Virginia, Roanoke County and the City of Salem are struggling with the same problem that many other localities in the country have: cable companies that won't renew franchise agreements. Comcast purchased an aging cable system from Adelphia a few years ago when Adelphia went bankrupt. At the time, Comcast promised the localities it would upgrade the old system so it could support improved Internet access. But the upgrade never happened, and so there is little competition, high prices, and poor service for broadband in Salem and parts of Roanoke County.

One of the problems that the cable companies have is that both their physical plant and their business model is obsolete. The fifty year old business model does not generate enough revenue to justify replacement of the old analog copper/coax infrastructure. So the companies are understandably reluctant to continue to make franchise payments and/or to make expensive upgrades.

To make matters worse, companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Apple are all eating away at the cable company customer base with better services that are not based on "500 channels and nothing to watch." If Apple, which has only been dabbling in streaming video, decides to throw the full weight of the company behind a serious streaming service, Amazon and Netflix will finally have some real competition. Apple did not build a 1 million square foot data center in North Carolina just so Apple users could back up their iPhoto baby pictures.

If the cable companies embraced the open access business model, they could turn things around very quickly, but so far, the cable industry has been unwilling to listen. Not so with some phone companies, who could also make a lot more money embracing open access; I've at least been able to have a conversation with some incumbents, but mid-level managers at the companies are still digging in their heels and refusing to change. So senior staff are stuck with a corporate culture that would rather have the company go bankrupt than change and prosper.

It's official: The DVD is dead

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 13:17

Apple released the latest version of its Macintosh operating system today (OS X Lion). The software is available only via a download right now, and you better have a good, high capacity broadband connection if you want it, as the download is four gigabytes. Apple also announced that it will sell a version of the software on a USB thumb drive next month. In other words, no DVD version, not now, not ever. Apple has consistently led the way in media, including the 3.5 inch floppy, the CD drive, the DVD drive, USB ports, and Firewire, among others. If Apple is dropping the DVD, expect other computer makers to follow.

But note also that this shift to encouraging downloads of major pieces of software also highlights the need for homes and businesses to have adequate and affordable broadband connections, or be left behind.

Even more interesting, new Macs come with the ability to install the latest operating system from an entirely blank hard drive--as long as you have an adequate Internet connection.

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