Economic development

The next business park amenity: Videoconferencing

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/16/2010 - 13:45

Design Nine has its corporate headquarters at the Corporate Research Center here in Blacksburg. The CRC recently added a new amenity for its tenants: a state of the art videoconferencing meeting room. We've used the room to save money on travel, and it is something every business park should have. The system the CRC installed is very high quality, with a high quality remote control camera and a very large, wall-mounted flat panel TV. The combination of the high quality camera and large screen gives you a "you are there" experience that is well beyond the typical Skype or iChat software. And the CRC has excellent bandwidth out to the Internet, meaning a clean, crisp image. In a recent meeting, the party on the other side had very limited upstream bandwidth, and it was obvious--what we saw on our end was a very poor image with heavy pixelation.

Want more information? Download our attached handout on the technology business parks need to be competitive in a tough economic climate.

nDanville community fiber expands health care, creates jobs

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/16/2010 - 11:40

The nDanville fiber network, owned and operated by the City of Danville as an open access network, has helped a local dentist practice expand services to new locations, and has created jobs doing so. The affordable, high performance fiber has allowed the four office practice to have all dental records available at all four locations, reducing costs and making it easier for patients and the dentists.

Danville, Virginia a 2011 Smart21 Intelligent Community

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 10/21/2010 - 15:52

The Intelligent Community Forum announced the Smart21 cities for 2010 today. Danville, Virginia was among those cities chosen, and one of only six U.S. cities selected for the honor. Design Nine has assisted with the planning and development of nDanville since the project started in 2006. nDanville is an open access network owned and operated by the City of Danville, but residential and business services are provided by private sector companies.

Facebook security problems

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/19/2010 - 15:55

The Wall Street Journal has an article about issues with the way third party Facebook apps (e.g. FarmVille, HoldEm Poker, others) are grabbing personal information even though they are not supposed to be doing so. Facebook officials said they are clamping down to ensure that the 500 million Facebook users are protected.

Broadband: "...facilitating economic exchange and the general welfare"

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/23/2010 - 13:26

Pete Ashdown, writing in The Salt Lake Tribune, discusses the reasoning behind community-owned broadband, in the context of the Utopia project, one of the country's biggest community broadband efforts. Here is a key portion of the article:


These interests go against broad long-term goals that infrastructure serves — facilitating economic exchange and the general welfare. If every airline was required to build their own airport and every shipping company needed their own road, America would be on par with Somalia as an economic force.

Fiber optics technology has vast capacity that allows multiple service providers of Internet, television and telephone to provide service to homes and businesses. UTOPIA and other open fiber optic networks throughout the world have demonstrated that this model provides a level playing field for competition, which in turn drives down prices for the customer and motivates quality service.

If your home is connected with UTOPIA fiber, you can choose from a variety of providers. If you are connected with Qwest ADSL2, you can choose from Qwest. If you are connected with Comcast cable, you can choose from Comcast. If either of these two companies raises its rates unexpectedly or gives you lousy service, your options are slim to nil for switching.

Utopia and other open access projects like (e.g. nDanville, The Wired Road, Palm Coast FiberNET, and others) are driving down the cost of telecom for residents, businesses, and institutions in their service areas, and service providers--especially smaller ones--are signing up to offer services. Some pundits insist that the open access model is "unproven," but their recommendation is to stick with what has NOT worked--the traditional retail triple play model. Community-owned retail triple play creates a one time decrease in telecom costs but lacks the choice and competition among providers that provides steady decreases in the cost of services and a steady increase in the kind and type of services that go far beyond the triple play of voice, TV, and Internet.

Broadband equals economic development

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 08/11/2010 - 09:28

Here is a short note from an entrepreneur and venture capitalist in Florida who really gets the importance of broadband. He lists four critical reasons why broadband is important.

Here is a question for community leaders and planners: Look at the four categories listed above and ask this question: "Do we want a large telephone or cable company making the decision about what kind of infrastructure is available in our community for business, health care, education, and the environment?"

Fiber brings the data centers

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/22/2010 - 10:20

I had a conversation earlier this week with a well-connected business person who is in the business of building data centers. The two top criteria his firm uses to identify communities in which to locate data centers is power and fiber. What he told me is that for the size of data center he typically builds (50,000 to 100,000 square feet) they are looking for power from two separate sub-stations, and that power from two separate grids is even better. Few communities get fed from two grids, but it is more likely to be able to get power to some industrial/commercial sites from two different sub-stations. Even though these data centers have backup generators on-site, the 15 to 30 megawatts these facility use make dual feeds desirable.

Power is something all communities have, and if extra capacity is needed, it can usually be added easily if the funds are available to support new transmission lines and/or new transformers. Note that the lead time on large power transformers is one year or more, so a strategy of "If someone wants extra power, we'll just build it," may not be leading with your best foot forward, as they may move your community off the short list in favor of communities that have already addressed power.

So that leaves fiber as a key discriminator in relocation decisions. Planning and building local fiber infrastructure can take six to 12 months at a minimum, so if you want to attract data centers, you want open access fiber assets already in place and ready to use.

Some data points: the massive Google data center in rural Washington state was placed there because fiber assets were already in place. The fact that cheap power was available was a secondary consideration. Danville, Virginia won a new, large data center recently because they had both fiber in place and reliable power. Fiber gives communities a competitive edge for business attraction.

Why broadband matters: It's the jobs

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/22/2010 - 15:14

I just left a meeting in which a frustrated local business owner talked about the problems he is having purchasing adequate bandwidth to support a new service his company has developed in the past six months. Bottom line: He's faced with packing up the business and moving the the 100+ employees to northern Virginia if he can't solve his bandwidth problem. The fundamental issue is that because of a lack of open access infrastructure to his building, he has to buy bandwidth at extremely high prices from one of two incumbent providers.

nDanville generating jobs

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/11/2010 - 15:43

The nDanville fiber network is almost three years old, and is beginning to get national recognition here. Design Nine has been working with the City of Danville on this effort since 2006. We did the early business and financial planning, vendor selection, and open access network design. More about nDanville is available on their Web site.

Work from home opportunities continue to increase

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 05/09/2010 - 11:01

DirecTV recently announced it was bringing more jobs to southwest Virginia, but these are not traditional jobs. Instead, these are work from home jobs. The company is establishing a virtual call center. Congressman Rick Boucher made a sweep through the region last month to announce the new job opportunities, which amount to 100 new jobs. DirecTV already employs more than 1100 home-based workers, and other major firms like Apple have been making heavy use of home-based workers for several years.

What does this mean for economic development? Several things jump out:

Fiber brings a textile mill back to life

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/05/2010 - 09:23

I was in Danville, Virginia last week, and was reminded of the changes that fiber is bringing to that community, which has experienced some of the highest unemployment in the state over the last decade. The White Mill building had been considered a white elephant for years--once a showpiece textile manufacturing plant--but closed for years and a visible sign of Danville's proud past and uncertain future. The White Mill building is being converted into a massive commercial data center with 500,000 square feet of server space.

What I saw last week is still a work in progress, but what a difference a few months make. The formerly forlorn industrial site has been cleaned up, the interior renovations are well under way, and the property values of empty downtown storefronts has probably been quietly soaring. The White Mill building is walking distance from Danville's Main Street, and the 400 high tech jobs the project is bringing will bring Main Street back to life, as those workers will be getting coffee in the mornings, buying lunch every day, doing a little shopping, and meeting after work for a beverage.

What was it that brought a data center to Danville. It's simple, and takes just two words.

Community fiber.

Not a promise of fiber if a company shows up, not a plan for fiber, not a feasibility study, but fiber--in the ground and on poles, owned by the community, ready to use, and open access. Danville bet big back in 2006 when it made the decision to invest scarce community resources on open fiber, but now it's looking like one of the best decisions the city ever made.

Disclosure: Design Nine has been advising the City since 2006 on broadband.

Intelligent Community Smart 7 awards announced

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/21/2010 - 16:08

The Intelligent Community Forum announced their Smart Seven communities for 2010 yesterday.

One of Design Nine's projects, nDanville, was one of the ICF's Smart 21 communities this year, and got a mention for its success in attracting new jobs by building community fiber.

Broadband helps job seekers

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/21/2010 - 09:55

A new study by the Phoenix Center indicates that job seekers with access to broadband are more likely to find jobs. The study says it best to have broadband access, but even those still stuck on dial-up do better in their job searches than those with no Internet access at all.

The cost of broadband at home (averaging between $25 and $40 a month) also highlights the importance of libraries and public computing centers for job seekers. If you are out of work, you may have to cut out luxuries like broadband at home, so you need to a place to go to do your online job searches.

Design Nine's nDanville network selected for Intelligent Community award

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/19/2009 - 07:35

The Design Nine-designed open access network nDanville has been selected by the Intelligent Community Forum as one of the Smart21 communities for 2010. This international award looks not only at technology but how communities integrate technology into their community and economic development plans. Danville, Virginia's nDanville network was the first municipal open access, open services network in the United States, and has been connecting business customers since 2007. The community has successfully attracted new businesses and jobs because of the high performance network, including a $400 million data center that will be placed in what was formerly one of the largest textile mills in the country (the mill closed years ago with the loss of thousands of jobs).

The City of Danville Utilities Department took the lead in the effort, and has installed more than 100 miles of fiber throughout the City, and has taken fiber to every single business park and every single lot in each park, and has run fiber in the downtown area, including the historic Tobacco Warehouse District, which has fiber to renovated tobacco warehouse commercial buildings, apartments, and condos.

All services on the nDanville network are provided by private sector service providers, and businesses have a choice of 100 megabit Layer 3 service-oriented connections and Gigabit point to point connections.

You can't build kitchen cabinets on dial up

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 10/09/2009 - 09:10

Ski season is right around the corner in New England, and I just spent three days working with a group of communities in a very rural part of New England on broadband issues. Like many rural communities, large portions of this region are both unserved (still on dial up) and underserved (poor quality DSL or cable modem). Complicating the problem is a telephone infrastructure that is in poor condition, meaning erratic DSL service and extremely slow dial up.

I kept meeting people that were trying to work part time or full time from home, but were extremely frustrated because they either had only dial up at home or very slow DSL. Cable service was available in only a few small areas because of the rural nature of the region. What it means, practically, is that the incumbent telecom companies are controlling growth and land use in the region, not the local governments. I heard story after story about business location decisions made entirely on the basis of where there was broadband availability. While many of the stories were from professional people, including a software developer, a real estate property manager, and a financial consultant, the most interesting story came from a custom cabinet maker, who had located his business in a downtown retail area because it was the only place where there was broadband service.

You might wonder why a woodworker needs broadband, but this craftsman designs all his work on the computer and sends the finished drawings to a firm with computerized cutting machines that cuts all the various parts and pieces of the cabinets out and ships them back to the cabinetmaker for assembly and installation. You can't exchange CAD drawings over dial up. And even cable and DSL are barely adequate; for this kind of engineering design work, you need symmetric bandwidth so that you can upload the drawings.

Local leaders need help understanding that zoning, land use, energy conservation, and business growth are increasingly out of their control because the telecom companies (and where they offer broadband) are driving all these decisions.

Community fiber brings jobs--work from home jobs

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 09/17/2009 - 08:32

Powell, Wyoming's community-owned citywide fiber network is up and running, and the town is starting to get phone calls from businesses interested in taking advantage of the affordable broadband and the fact that every home has a high performance fiber connection.

Powell community leaders report a Denver firm is visiting to discuss bringing 100 work from home jobs to the community. Here is the money quote:

"The citywide fiber optic network absolutely drove the decision...."

Why fiber cable route diversity and redundancy are important

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/29/2009 - 14:27

A submarine cable serving several African countries has been damaged. The cable is the only Internet route out of several west African nations, putting the entire country into a virtual Internet blackout, with slow, expensive satellite links the only way for data to move in and out of the countries. Here in the U.S., some counties and states are bigger than these countries, and route diversity is now a serious issue for relocating businesses.

The coming boom in server farms

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 05/24/2009 - 11:01

Here is a story about the state of North Carolina trying to entice Apple to place a 100 job server farm in the state. With unemployment in North Carolina nudging 11%, state officials are smart to try to attract Knowledge Economy businesses, and server farms are a growth industry. The massive amounts of data being stored "online" have to reside in a physical place, and the companies that are making a business out of this (e.g. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and many smaller firms) have several requirements.

They have to spread these data centers out for security reasons--fires, floods, and terrorism can happen almost anywhere, so no reputable firm wants to store all its data in one place. So they have multiple data centers, each storing complete copies of all the data. Second, spreading the centers out helps speed data to and from its destination. Different data centers will deliver data to customers based on customer location.

When picking sites for these server farms, these companies are, of course, looking for tax benefits, but your community won't get on the short list unless you have local fiber, good fiber routes out to major Internet switchpoints, and reliable electric power.

All things that are relatively easy to get started on if you want businesses of the future.

Broadband Properties: Fiber and economic development

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 05/01/2009 - 10:18

I am back from three days at the Broadband Properties annual conference. As more communities make investments in broadband infrastructure, we are beginning to get some interesting data back on the economic impact.

In Anson, Indiana, a developer is putting duct and fiber to 1790 homes and 9 million square feet of commercial and retail space--all part of a master planned community. The investment has brought an Amazon distribution center and 1200 jobs to the community.

In Orlando, Florida, the Lake Nona planned community is building one of the nation's largest set of medical facilities, with more than 5 million square feet of specialty clinics, hospitals, and medical facilities. One million square feet of retail is planned, and 5400 housing units are being built. There will be fiber to every single premise.

In the rural Hill Country near Austin, Texas, the local telephone coop is building fiber to the home, and says that the initiative has retained 150 jobs and added 200 new jobs. The coop works closely with local economic developers, who are pushing hard to get the right telecom infrastructure to be able to meet any business need.

Economic developers in other parts of the country need to be asking: "How do our regions compare with these kinds of projects? How will we convince companies to come to our region when these other communities have world class telecom infrastructure?"

Rural broadband is creating job opportunities

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/24/2009 - 12:49

From Beaumont, Texas, an interesting article with some good anecdotal data about newly emerging job opportunities where high performance, affordable broadband is available in rural areas. And where it is not, people are actually renting commercial office space to do jobs that could be done from home--a very sad state of affairs. Nationwide, millions of new jobs could open up in rural communities if the right kind of affordable broadband is available.

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Designed by Design Nine, the nDanville fiber network has won the Intelligent Community Forum's Smart 21 award for 2010.

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