April 2008 Archives

This past Sunday night I hit a new high on my Verizon Wireless connection: 2.8Mbps.

My browser had crashed while more than sixty tabs were open. Normally I'd dread this situation as while I can restore my last session when restarting my browser, opening a whole bunch of tabs simultaneously is usually not a fun experience on slower connections.

But since it was Sunday night I decided to give it a go and couldn't have been more impressed by the performance.

Speeds never dropped below 1Mbps, and for more than half the time it was up over 2Mbps.

Everything opened up smoothly and quickly. It was exhilarating to see how far wireless has come.

The flipside to this though is that during week I've also seen how far it still has to go.

In the daytime hours, weekday performance never hits 2Mbps and tops 1Mbps far less than half the time. Typical speeds tend to be in the 500-750Kbps range, which is acceptable for most uses of the Internet.

But sometimes, and seemingly increasingly often recently, speeds drop below 500Kbps, at which point your experience using the Internet does begin to degrade rapidly. Especially frustrating are times when speeds don't even hit 200Kbps, which does happen with some frequency during times of peak usage.

Overall, I continue to be both impressed and satisfied the service Verizon Wireless delivers.

And so far this month, my usage hasn't even topped 1GB as I haven't had the time to watch Internet TV wirelessly while traveling, so at least for now I don't need to live in fear of topping 5GB and incurring those overage charges I wrote about here.

Complexity Prevents Change, Increases Opportunity

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Last week after attending the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, I hightailed it back to DC to participate in the Spring 2008 Leadership Forum for the American Democracy Institute on Friday. The event gathered together dozens of young leaders who share a center left viewpoint on the world.

While aligned to fight against the conservative machine I didn't get the sense that these were people who were purists when it comes to liberal dogma. Instead most of the people I talked to seemed to fit within the progressive centrist or pragmatic progressive school of thought to which I belong.

My goal there was to network and spread the good word about the potential for using broadband to further whatever goals need to be set out for our country. But the politics isn't what caught my attention so much as the complexity of everything.

I'm not referring to the complexity of the event but instead of the challenges our country faces. For example, in one session we discussed how ideas can grow from the drawing board to affecting real action, exploring the specific example of pay-as-you-go auto insurance, which postulates that if we only had to pay insurance when we drove it'd create a system that would ultimately encourage people to drive less.

It was daunting to think about how complex the thoughts behind this idea are as well as the challenges it faces on the road to becoming standard practice, all so we can reduce demand for oil by a tiny fraction.

I found my head spinning while at the Expo in San Francisco as well. Going into the belly of the beast, it's remarkable how complex the process of developing applications is. I can't even tell you how many acronyms and jargon I encountered that to the layperson might as well have been written in Sanskrit.

And in talking with developers I repeatedly came across the theme that while the push to Web 2.0, which focuses on standardizing information so it can be shared across applications, is making some things easier, there are still so many variables like disparities in connectivity that developing applications can seem impossibly complex.

So we've got huge complex problems that require deep nuanced solutions, and increasingly sophisticated technologies that can solve many problems but require tremendous expertise to be developed.

Yet despite all this complexity, there's tremendous opportunity to be found if we can find ways to unite these two sides, leveraging sophisticated technology to solve complex problems.

And the people I met on the political side seem ready to embrace these possibilities. I continued to be impressed by the number of people I met who understand the need to start running government more like a business and to find solutions through the use of technology.

On the other side, I'm not yet sure if developers have embraced the challenge of solving real-world problems. The vast majority of what I saw at the Expo were self-referential technologies, applications that make social networking easy for everyone, that make applications easier to develop and distribute, that make sharing files with friends drag-and-drop simple.

What I don't understand is why developers continue to try and create new iterations of basic concepts that already exist in a dozen different forms. Instead, why not focus more of that creative energy on developing applications that truly innovate in providing new features and functionality, especially that which can help further the good of society rather than simply making life slightly easier for the narrow niche of tech-drunk early adopters.

I know this was the Web 2.0 Expo so I shouldn't have expected to find those applications that can change society, but even still I can't avoid feeling impassioned about the potential for innovation in the use of broadband to help solve the many complex problems we face as a society.

But in order to do that we've got to establish a more robust dialog between the people who are trying to change government and the developers who can make the applications to help accomplish these goals.

We need to set our sights on bettering society through the use of technology rather than looking at technology as an end unto itself.

The biggest thing I took away from this event in DC is that there's an urgent need to change the way government runs, and there's a dedicated group of young leaders setting out to accomplish that goal.

And within this dynamic I believe there's unlimited potential for applications developers to innovate in finding broadband-enabled solutions to our many problems, if only we can all see past the complexity to grasp the bigger picture that through broadband lies the potential a better tomorrow if only we can all work together to achieve it.

There’s constant talk among advocates for fiber about the need for America to realize its 100Mbps future as quickly as possible. While I’ve long been an advocate for fiber, I’ve also questioned what can really be done with all that bandwidth given the fact that the vast majority of what’s on the Internet today can work with far less. Back when the FTTH Council put out a call for a 100Mbps Nation, I responded writing about the possibilities of a 5Mbps Nation where everyone has and is actively using a robust, symmetrical 5Mbps connection.

The simple truth is that outside of P2P applications, high-end videoconferencing, and some home video security products like the SafetyBlanket, there isn’t much out there today that demands 100Mbps connectivity.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be in the future. And I’ve long considered it part of my role as an advocate for fiber to try and inspire applications developers to start thinking about what’s possible in a full fiber future as networks are going into place that will feature this level of connectivity, such as in communities like Lafayette, LA.

So to that end, I set out last week in San Francisco at the Web 2.0 Expo to pose this question to developers: how would a world where 100Mbps is ubiquitous change what you are and can be doing with the applications you’re building?

I think my favorite initial reaction was from Danny Kolke, founder of Etelos, a company that provides a platform that makes developing, distributing, and customizing applications easier than ever. His first response to the potential of a 100Mbps future was, “Holy cow!”

He continued on to postulate that their “apps on a plane” technology they were promoting at the Expo, which allows web apps to eschew the need for connectivity and run as desktop applications, wouldn’t have been necessary as a world with ubiquitous 100Mbps is one where you’re likely never not connected. So here’s an example of how more bandwidth would allow developers to not have to focus as much energy on how to deliver apps in an environment where bandwidth is restricted.

Also interesting was Kolke’s somewhat worried observation about how all this bandwidth will likely lead to a new wave of networked technologies that will all demand more and more power. I tried arguing for the possibilities of how the use of broadband can reduce our overall energy consumption--as I wrote about recently here--but I can’t deny the premise of his concerns. And it made me wonder: will the new demands broadband-enabled technology creates for energy outweigh the savings its use can bring about, especially as we move into a world of 100Mbps to the home?

I’ve long stood by the observation that part of the biggest challenge of advocating for a 100Mbps future is that no applications developers are thinking about building applications for that kind of a bandwidth-rich environment. And while that generally held true at the Expo, where many of the people I spoke to seemed to have no idea that full fiber networks were taking hold in this country, I’m happy to report that at least one developer when posed this question immediately shared that that’s precisely the future they’re building towards.

That developer was Aaron Fulkerson of MindTouch (who I wrote about here). He and his team come from the world of distributed computing and hardcore research, so nothing excites them more than the thought of being able to operate in a world where bandwidth constraints go away. As we chatted briefly about the possibilities, Fulkerson began discussing the potential for a future where the wikis their platform enables are no longer stored in a server in the sky but instead the application could “literally exist within the network leveraging the storage of the individual machines of our users.”

He also touched on the economic potential of being able as an application developer to distribute applications from your basement. That’s long been a promise of the Internet but not as yet much of a reality due to bandwidth constraints. But in a world where 100Mbps is ubiquitous, there’s potential for servers to be located anywhere, meaning those entrepreneurs building the next Google in their garage could actually be delivering their apps right from that garage.

Michael Hughes from xtranormal (who I wrote about here) and a handful of others cited the ability for them to expand their applications into really high resolutions with that much bandwidth available. So no longer would xtranormal’s 3D movies be limited to YouTube-sized windows, but instead users could be creating, sharing, and viewing fullscreen videos, which is something he was quite enthused about.

While everyone was excited about the potential of 100Mbps, some struck a cautionary note. While at the SixApart evening reception I got to chatting with one of their programmers who’s first name was Graham but last name remains a mystery due to his lack of business cards. During an extended conversation on the subject he shared that one double-edged aspect of having that much bandwidth is that it may allow people to get away with using sloppier code since they won’t have to worry about squeezing everything down so much, but at the same time the challenge is that once something goes wrong in an application with that much bandwidth it’s likely to go really wrong.

The highlight of that evening for me came later on when I hit up the party at Rearden Labs and had the tremendous opportunity to chat with Steve Perlman. Listing all of his exploits in the tech world requires far more words than I have room for here, but suffice it to say he’s a true tech pioneer, one of the most effusively brilliant people I’ve ever met, and seemingly an incredibly nice guy on top of everything else.

His response to my question covered a lot of technical ground but the gist of it was that everything you use the Internet for today was designed with T-1 speeds in mind. And we’re not just talking about applications, even basic building blocks like the codecs that are used to compress video have been built for an era of bandwidth scarcity. So in his estimation taking full advantage of 100Mbps means having to basically reinvent everything that’s online. Alongside this he also observed that with that much bandwidth other bottlenecks will appear, with things like processing power now becoming a limitation.

But in talking about all this, he began alluding to his belief that broadband as we know it today is already reaching an inflection point. With speeds above 5Mbps and especially once they reach 10Mbps he sees the opportunity to enable revolutionary experiences that can already go above and beyond the expectations of the Internet of today without having to wait around for 100Mbps to show up.

In particular, the work his team at Rearden Labs is doing to enable a new era in motion capture is being built with this new era of abundant bandwidth in mind. While they were frustratingly tightlipped about what they were actually working on, I do know that it’s impact will range from movies to games to potentially interpersonal communication, allowing each of us to have our own digital avatar that’s mapped to our face to represent us in online worlds when communicating with others.

In the end, the responses I got were a mixed bag. On the one hand I confirmed that there isn’t much today that really needs 100Mbps and most developers are still focused on building bandwidth-light rather than bandwidth-intensive applications. But on the other there are some developers who have already set their sights on building applications that can take advantage of a big broadband future.

So overall I have to say I am encouraged. People are beginning to understand that this potential future is fast becoming a reality, and I’m confident that eventually we will have many applications that demand the capacity of fiber.

I’m going to continue asking applications developers this question, and I’d like to encourage any that are reading this post to add a comment about how a world where 100Mbps would impact the work that they’re doing. Because if nothing else, I’m a strong proponent for the school of thought that if we don’t dream big about the possibilities, they’ll never become a reality. So let’s think big and figure out what’s possible in a full fiber future.

OK, so this title might be a little melodramatic, but I can say that one of the most noteworthy things I saw on the show floor was from Germany: an organization called Berlin Partner GmbH.

Now Berlin Partner is not an applications developer. Instead it's a program set up by the government over there to attract high tech companies to set up shop in the region.

Their pitch to developers is that Berlin is the perfect place geographically and economically to seed their plans for European expansion, with some of the lowest rents of any major city in Europe, a fact that surprised me until I learned that after the Berlin Wall came down the city was left with more space than tenants.

But this initiative is about far more than saying, "Hey, our city's great, come visit." To help incentivize investment, Berlin Partners offers applications developers a full range of assistance, from grants to get set up and started, to access to financial institutions ready and willing to loan money, to tax advice, to filling some of the administrative needs of a startup.

Basically my sense is that they'll do just about everything you need to make opening an office in Berlin a breeze.

This excited me on multiple levels.

For one, it's an opportunity for US applications developers to expand into Europe, which is something that most of the big Internet companies are already doing but many of the smaller developers have stayed US-focused, so hopefully something like this will allow them to branch out and expand the size of their potential market.

For two, it's a tremendous example of how government can be proactive in attracting those applications developers that can help drive tremendous economic growth in an area. It's not that what they're doing is necessarily new; I'm sure many analogous programs exist in the US. But what seems different is how coordinated they are. It's not just one program here and one there, it's about stitching them all together to form a compelling package.

I'd suggest that for any community that wants to try and attract either US-based or international developers to come in and set up shop, that you take a look at what Berlin's doing as it can provide a model for how to do this right.

I say this with confidence as their booth seemed full for as long as I was at the show, and when I asked them they said the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

And here's the thing that's really exciting: they weren't even making that strong of a pitch regarding the connectivity available in Berlin. I'm not 100% what the status of things are over there--as neither was the gentleman I was speaking with--but I do know that any community with a full fiber network should at a minimum be on an equal playing field with any other community in the world.

So imagine if you're a community with robust connectivity and you begin implementing plans to attract and nurture broadband applications developers. Needless to say, communities that are proactive on these fronts are likely setting themselves up on a powder keg of economic development that's aching to go off.

Be Your Own Spielberg - In 3D

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One of the coolest apps I've seen so far is from a company called xtranormal.

What they're inventing is a way for the average user to create a 3D movie in mere minutes.

I got a quick walkthrough of their soon-to-launch private beta and was quite impressed.

You start by picking whether you want one or two "actors" then you pick the character for each actor then you're able to create a dialog by entering text that they system can translate into speaking and inserting motions, like movement and facial expressions. You can play a bit with the camera angles, otherwise they've got an intelligent system that'll do that work for you. Within minutes you've created a 3D movie that's surprisingly professional-looking and ready to be published to the Internet and shared with the world.

For examples of what can be done, check out their homepage.

This is most definitely a broadband application as this entire movie-making process occurs within your browser, so no need for downloading and installing special software.

Beyond the cool factor and ease of use, what impressed me most was thinking about the various ways this could be used beyond simply making goofy videos to amuse friends.

For example, they're already in talks with some schools about incorporating their solution into the curriculum as a way for students to be creative, using this broadband-enabled tool as a way to show they understand and can synthesize a particular subject.

There's also potential for small businesses to use something like this to create mini-movies with a little flair for marketing and educational purposes.

Looking longer term, as we chatted about where this core platform can go, it sounds like the sky's the limit. Things like allowing users to create their own sound effects, tapping into the larger developer community to create new characters and backgrounds, introducing all sorts of new animations...once the basics work there'll be no end to how they can expand its functionality.

I'm excited to see what this application will be able to deliver once it's all grown up, and I'm confident this company will last as the gentleman I spoke to--Michael Hughes--was laser-focused on the one thing Web 2.0 companies are often guilty of ignoring: how to start generating revenue.

While their plans on how to do so haven't yet crystallized, it'll likely include some form of micropayment by users to use the system and host videos, and once the audience is there a strong focus on branded elements and other sponsorship opportunities for advertisers.

Reporting From the Web 2.0 Expo: Meet MindTouch

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I'm writing from the show floor of the Web 2.0 Expo, and I’m officially surrounded by broadband applications! It's pretty exciting: a decent-sized exhibit hall filled with the applications that make broadband work.

While here I’m going to write up short profiles of some of the more interesting companies I come across, not trying to get into deep details but instead providing an overview of what they do and why what they’re doing excites me.

First up, a company called MindTouch.

MindTouch’s claim to fame is the most robust wiki platform around, which they call the MindTouch Deki Wiki. The term “wiki” first gained prominence with Wikipedia.org, an online encyclopedia where anyone can edit and add content. The idea is that by allowing users to become contributors you can realize more robust entries.

Mindtouch’s Deki Wiki takes that to the next level, providing a platform for wiki-powered internal collaboration between groups of people. Anyone can download their free, open source software, set it up on a server, and create/manage their own wikis. There’s also a free hosted version, but in talking with their CEO/founder Aaron Fulkerson, he shared that most deployments end up behind the firewall for internal enterprise use.

Their vision goes far beyond basic text wikis, though. In talking it through with Aaron, he shared their excitement about Deki Wiki’s ability to serve as “the connective tissue of an enterprise.”

The challenge, Aaron shares, is that there are so many cool Web 2.0 enterprise apps coming online, but enterprise IT departments are often becoming frustrated and overwhelmed by requests to troubleshoot software they have no control over, that different parts of the company are adopting at different times in different ways for different purposes.

With Deki Wiki, not only can it serve as a central repository for text but also applications, where multiple applications can be integrated and launched from a central wiki. So instead of having these apps spread all across a business, they can all be pulled together into one place, making them both more accessible and easier to manage.

In demoing the app, Aaron showed us a wiki he put together back when those fires were raging across southern California. He was quickly able to pull in a number of resources around the web onto a single page, which was so effective it got picked up by the New York Times and became the default place for many to find info about the fires.

I’m not sure I’ve done enough to describe how cool what MindTouch is doing potentially is, so I’m in talks with their PR person to pull Aaron into a videochat sometime next month where we can get the lowdown right from the source.

But go check out their site now, and if you’re already a user share a comment about how you’re using it and what you think, and if you have any questions, add them as comments as well and I’ll be sure to get the appropriate answers the next time I have the opportunity to chat with Aaron.

Applications for Getting Green Through Broadband

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Building on my post from yesterday about broadband being the best way to save the environment, here's a link to a great article on Wired.com that includes "7 Tools for a Green Wired Life."

I highly recommend clicking through to this for anyone interested in interesting uses of broadband and/or anyone wanting to find practical ways to improve their impact on the environment.

You Want Apps? I'll Give You Apps

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Webware.com is a leading site covering the rise of Internet applications. Each year they put their mission to a vote and compile a list of the top 100 applications as decided by their readers.

This year not only have they announced the top 100, but they've got an interesting way to browse them available here.

On this page in the upper right hand corner you can select a category and then pick a specific application within that category. Or in the middle of the header you can just scroll through the apps one at a time.

What's interesting is that as you select the app or scroll through them, the header stays the same but the body of the page goes to the actual webpage of that app.

It's a unique way to quickly be able to see the sites of all these different apps.

It's not perfect, though. For one, on their main webpage for the list you can click on the different apps and be taken to another page on Webware.com that gives a brief explanation of what the site does and why it's great. But on this other page, there's no explanation, and unfortunately it's not always obvious from the different websites what a particular application is all about.

Making this even more challenging is that the categories and applications names aren't all that prominent in the upper right hand corner.

What's interesting about this is that we're still facing some significant challenges when it comes to making applications accessible to the general public, and that while there is the start of some experimenting going on that nothing's really proven itself to be a game-changer yet.

We've got all these wonderful applications that do amazing things, but first you have to find them, then you have to figure out what they do, then you have to determine how to get the app to do these things, and so on.

Broadband applications still require too much time and effort to figure out how to use and aren't geared enough towards seamlessly fitting into the lives of the average joe.

Having all this functionality is great, but not being able to understand why it's great isn't. And I'm a firm believer that whoever figures out this puzzle stands to benefit greatly in the digital economy.

Broadband is the Best Way to Save Environment

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It was Earth Day this past weekend, the day on which we celebrate Mother Nature and get ourselves charged up about doing more to protect her.

Our impact on this planet is more apparent today than ever. Flowers are losing their smell because of air pollution from cars and planes. Land is eroding away rapidly in areas where forests have been clearcut. The ice caps are melting, the sea level rising. And there's a landfill the size of Texas swirling in the Pacific Ocean.

The world seems to be waking up that something needs to be done. The status quo is no longer acceptable. What we need is to leverage new technology to affect real change.

But here's where there's a disconnect. It seems like the vast majority of the efforts to curb our polluting of this planet are focused on establishing alternative energy sources, like ethanol, or hydrogen, or wind and solar.

While I obviously support these efforts, we're not doing near enough to not only talk about but actually implementing aggressive measures to curb our consumption of energy.

We need to acknowledge that our energy consumption patterns are unsustainable, regardless of the technology we invent to create new energy. What's needed is a dramatic reduction in the amount of energy we use.

The problem, of course, is that people don't want to be restricted in what they can do. Most conservation efforts are about doing less and making choices that may not be your first in order to sacrifice for the environment. Let's be realistic: until we can tie the effects of pollution more directly to how they impact individual people's lives, they're not going to be all that willing/interested in changing how they live their lives.

But there is another way: the universal use of broadband and broadband-enabled technologies to introduce new efficiencies and opportunities into society.

Now, this isn't a new thought. There's a terrific list of the ways in which broadband can help save the environment on NextGenWeb's site.

But like most things, there's more talk about the possibilities of broadband than action. And making matters worse in the near-term is that in some areas the use of broadband and information technology has made things worse rather than better.

For example, remember the promise of the paperless office? While the use of computers and the internet was once touted as an end to the need for paper, the reality is that we're using more paper today than ever (except in my "office" where I've been paper-free for years).

But that doesn't mean we can't realize the potential of that promise. The key is we must make the collective decision that something has to be done, and then, based on some fundamental principles, start working through ways in which we can replace our environmentally harmful activities with the use of broadband.

Here are some basic principles to get us started down this road:

Think Before You Print
I'd argue that 9 times out of 10 you're printing something out of habit, because it's more comfortable to read or edit, or because words feel more real and secure when they're printed onto paper. I'd be willing to bet that if we got everyone to take the simple step of pausing for a moment before printing to think about whether we really need that information on paper we could probably reduce the amount of paper we use by half.

No More Paper Forms
I know we're not at the point where everyone's online and aware of what resources can be found therein, but there's no reason we shouldn't be pursuing all efforts to get rid of paper forms in favor of electronic ones. The goal should be to never again have to fill out a printed form as that would have an incredible impact on our consumption of paper.

Shop Online Till You Drop
While most everyone's shopping online a little bit today, why not take it to the next level? Imagine the number of trips to the store that'd be saved if you were set up to have all the essentials delivered to your front door on a regular basis. I'm talking about everything from toilet paper to cat food to books, movies, and music to groceries to clothes to sporting equipment, etc., etc. Anything we buy on a regular basis the environment's better off if it's delivered to our door (plus it saves us time!). Anything we buy that we don't need to make sure it fits beforehand is better bought online since it'll give you more options to choose from than can be fit into a bricks-and-mortar store. And hopefully over time we'll increase our sophistication for buying things that do need to fit you, perhaps by creating a virtual avatar with your measurements that clothes could be hung on virtually. Taking all this into consideration, just think about how many trips to the store can be saved if only we adopted ecommerce en masse.

Why Go to the Office or School?
Working and learning from home hold tremendous opportunities. Even if you're not doing it every day, staying home a day a week means that each week you're using less energy than you were before taking advantage of broadband's ability to allow you to work from home. But we haven't really pushed for this as something everyone should be allowed to do. Some companies have adopted telework policies, but many others haven't. Some individuals are allowed to, but most aren't. Telework is a great example of how just because broadband can enable something doesn't mean that'll have any impact on the environment if no one's taking advantage of it.

Think Before You Travel
With the advent of robust videoconferencing technologies, the need for travel has been reduced, so much so that everyone should be thinking before they travel about whether or not that trip is truly necessary. This isn't about ending business trips as there are some forms of interpersonal relationships that can only be built in person, but instead to simply say that we should try to move away from traveling being the default to using videocalling as the default, and have traveling be the exception.

Make Your House Smart
Unfortunately I'm not sure if we're yet at the point where making your home smart and energy efficient is a straightforward solution other than buying more energy efficient appliances, using energy efficient building materials, and exploring alternative energy sources. Broadband holds the promise of being able to regulate and therefore reduce your use of electricity. But we need to be making a bigger push to equip all homes with smarter technologies that reduce demand for energy.

There are likely a million and one more things I could include in this list, but the point is that the only way we're going to make significant headway in improving the state of this planet's environment is through not only the discovery of new energy sources but through reducing our demand for that energy.

And the best way to do that is to exploit the revolutionary power of broadband to find new solutions that don't just ask people to curb their habits but instead offers compelling alternatives that offer greater opportunities while demanding less energy.

Why I'm Now Living In Fear of Metered Bandwidth

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Now I know the Great Broadband Debate has hit the mainstream: I just read one of the better articles I've seen on the pressure high bandwidth use is putting on existing broadband service delivery models in, of all places, the USA Today.

But reading through this article sent a chill down my spine as I learned about Verizon's newly instituted wireless broadband policies.

When I signed up for Verizon Wireless they clearly stated their 5GB monthly transfer limit that if exceeded gave them the right to slow down my service as low as 200Kbps.

Back in March, after I canceled my cable TV service and found my Verizon Wireless modem delivering 1Mbps+ speeds on a regular basis, I started watching a lot of Internet TV over my wireless connection. This led me to quickly reach my 5GB limit, as I recounted here.

Well according to Verizon's new wireless offering, going over that 5GB cap on their higher end service now will result in a fifty cent charge for each additional MB.

When I looked back over my last month's usage, I found that I'd hit 5.6GB, or 600MB over my monthly allotment. Luckily that was either before this new policy was initiated or I'm fortunate enough to have the original terms of my contract still apply as otherwise I'd be on the hook for an extra $300 on top of the $60 it costs for a month of service.


And 600MB really isn't all that much data. I've chewed through more than that in a single day; heck, even a single afternoon.

I respect that Verizon has a legitimate right to establish a business model that allows it to make a profit, but I'm extremely concerned that if this is the best value that new metered systems can deliver then we're in trouble if our goal is to get everyone on the network and using it to a great degree.

I'm going to be confirming the status of the terms of my contract, and if I'm now living under this new regime, it's needless to say that my perception of how I should use my wireless connection will change dramatically. No longer will I see it as a ready alternative to wireline for any and all usage. Instead, it'll only be for times when I'm traveling and even then I won't be able to rely on it as heavily to watch Internet video as I had once hoped I could.

I can't express how disappointed I'm going to be if this is the case as I've been telling everyone how great Verizon Wireless is and how they'd be foolish not to get it. Now? I'm not so sure. The value proposition has certainly changed, and while I applaud Verizon's transparency I can't deny that this change was not for the better.

Internet2 Gets Social, Holds Conference near DC

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Internet2, the ultra-high bandwidth network that connects universities and research entities across the country, has been pushing to expand its reach through its K20 Initiative, which aims to get K-12 schools, museums, zoos, and other cultural institutions connected onto the network.

By connecting to Internet2, schools gain access to what is essentially a separate, closed Internet that can supply nearly limitless bandwidth to support educational efforts and experimentation with broadband-intensive applications.

But as I always say, having the network isn't enough; you need tools in place to help people figure out how to use that network. And Internet2 seems to be listening as last week they launched a social networking site for school faculty, administrators, and students called Muse.

The intent of the site is pretty straightforward: give Internet2's users a place to share what they're doing, learn what others are doing, and find new opportunities for collaboration between schools.

While the implementation of the site doesn't yet contain anything all that new in terms of features, it's exciting to start perusing through it and realizing that everyone who's created a profile on the site is an innovator dedicated to furthering the pursuit of educational opportunity through the proper use of broadband-enabled technology.

Even more exciting is that the true value of a social network isn't found in its bells and whistles, it's in the impact it has on the ability of users to communicate and collaborate with each other. And when you connect dedicated thought leaders with huge broadband pipes and get everyone working for the common good of better education for all...needless to say something good is bound to come out of this.

And if you want to learn more about the good that's coming out of Internet2 you can check out their conference that's happening this week in Arlington, VA. If you can't make it physically there, they will be streaming live video from many of the sessions that can be watched from anywhere. To see the schedule of "netcasts" click here.

Video from Net Neutrality Hearing...

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Not sure even I can sit through all this, but I've found a site with video from today's FCC hearing at Stanford about network management here.

It is fascinating stuff, just somewhat dry, it takes a while to get through, and I'm not sure if much was said that hasn't already been said a thousand times.

But hey: it's an example of using broadband to talk about broadband, and I can't pass up an opportunity to share something like this.

Net Neutrality Redux: Progress or Regression?

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Yesterday at Stanford the FCC held it's second outside-the-beltway hearing on net neutrality generally and Comcast's treatment of P2P traffic specifically. I'm torn on whether or not I'd call it a successful step in the right direction.

On the one hand I'm a supporter of Chairman Martin's push for greater transparency as a solution to the problem of network operators managing traffic on their network. He reiterated this stance and it makes a lot of sense: force network operators to disclose how they're shaping traffic, and then have the market decide what it finds acceptable. Now I don't think this is the ultimate, final, and only solution, but it's an essential piece to the larger puzzle of where Internet regulation must go.

I was also somewhat heartened by reading FreePress policy director Ben Scott's remarks, which can be found here. Firstly, he acknowledged right upfront that he's not advocating for the end of network management and the beginning of a regime where all bits must be treated equally. I also like how he tried putting this debate into the larger context of the many issues that need to be addressed, some of which relate to net neutrality, some of which don't.

That said, I found it kind of odd that he specifically separated network management from net neutrality; it was almost as if he's acknowledging that "net neutrality" isn't a specific, concrete issue but rather an issue painted with broad strokes that's much more akin to an argument for free speech rather than anything having to do with proper network management practices.

At the same time, I grew frustrated in reading through this that while Mr. Scott makes an impassioned call to action he doesn't share any specifics as to what that action should be. Making matters worse is that while he acknowledges that net neutrality should not mean the end of network management if you read through the language in the net neutrality bills that have been put forth to date, it's so vague as to call into question all sorts of valid network management practices.

But the thing that frustrated me the most about these hearings was that no incumbent sent a representative to state their case. I understand they wanted to avoid getting beat up on a high profile stage, but by deferring on the opportunity to state the valid points of their case I worry that the overly broad message of net neutrality will pick back up steam in an election year when it's less likely than ever that we'll actually be able to have a reasoned debate through which we can find a solution that addresses the interests of all parties involved.

The key for me in all this is that we mustn't forget that net neutrality is only one facet to the Great Broadband Debate. We've still got to figure out how to get more broadband into rural areas, faster and cheaper broadband everywhere, more people using broadband, and that's just scratching the surface of big-picture ideals.

We can't let net neutrality slow us down from having productive conversations about all of these issues.

Don't get me wrong, we do need to address net neutrality in a way that protects consumer interests while not jeopardizing the ability of network operators to invest and innovate in their networks.

I made an attempt to push the debate forward by devoting an entire week to the topic of net neutrality back in February. You can read those posts here.

But there's obviously still a lot to be said, many more issues to be explored, and workable solutions still to be found, so I'll do my best to keep you informed on what's happening, why it matters, and how we might find a way past the rhetoric and towards real solutions that can help move our country forward more aggressively into the 21st century.

One thought that's stuck with me from my trip to Lafayette occurred near the end of my time there as I communed over drinks with Cajuns.

As we were chatting they pointed to a big warehouse-looking building located near the downtown strip, identifying it as the location of a new video production facility.

Normally when I hear about something like this I begin thinking about what kinds of cool things they must be producing inside, but for some reason this time my mind wandered to begin thinking about how this might impact local economic development.

First off someone had to buy or lease the building. Then they needed to refurbish it, hopefully using local labor. Then they needed to stock it with the tools of their trade, some of which you figure must have been purchased locally. Then they needed to staff it, which either means creating jobs for locals or bringing in more creative talent to the area. So by coming into Lafayette, this facility has put money into local pockets, created new jobs, and added to the tax base. But that's not all...

To keep the building up and running you figure they must rely on local goods and services, everything from morning biscuits to janitorial work to office supplies and beyond. And the salaries being paid to workers therein should find their way into Lafayette's local economy as they stroll over to a bar after work to buy a drink or eat at any of the area's amazing restaurants. But this goes even further...

What really excited me about this line of thought is the realization of how powerful it can be to think about video production as a manufacturing business of sorts. In manufacturing you leverage local assets to create something new that either adds value to the local economy or is sold elsewhere to bring revenue into the community. The same principles hold for video: it's created using local assets and then either adds value to the local community or brings in dollars from other communities. But it gets better still...

In truth, video production may be more attractive than traditional manufacturing. Not only does it create higher quality jobs it does so by creating a product that doesn't necessarily require a lot of raw materials to produce and that can be distributed cheaply, quickly, and broadly. It's not like you're building widgets that need to be physically shipped, stored, and then sold. Video can be stored and sent digitally, taking up no space and requiring little to no cost or energy to deliver it to a global audience.

Which brings us to broadband. The simple truth is that without it video production stays stuck in the 20th century, with videos that have to be stored and distributed on physical media. But with robust broadband availability, video production becomes a remarkably effective tool for 21st century economic development.

And it's about more than just being able to easily distribute videos. In this report by the New Zealand Institute they detail how the availability of robust broadband impacts their country's digital media industry. Their conclusions were that it is essential as having big enough pipes means things like being able to send videos more quickly which gives them more time to work on creating better video. For New Zealand alone, the benefits of big broadband connectivity to their digital media economy was pegged at $600 million New Zealand dollars every year.

And I'm pretty sure I remember hearing that the big video production facility that moved into Lafayette did so in part because of their fiber-powered connectivity.

Long story short, digital media production is one of the cornerstones of the 21st century economy that can be very beneficial to local economies. But in order to create the best environment for attracting and supporting that talent your community needs copious amounts of bandwidth.

Retailers Struggling; Broadband's the Answer

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Yesterday I read this New York Times article about how the global financial crisis is beginning to hit retailers of all shapes and sizes in the US, driving some to bankruptcy.

The main reasons behind this are the usual--a weak dollar and economy has made goods more expensive and consumers less willing to buy them--but I also learned something new about how retail stores work.

To operate a store you're constantly in debt because you need to first buy the goods so you can stock the shelves to give customers something to buy. Now stores are faced with the double whammy of customers who are holding off on making purchases due to economic uncertainty and banks that are either unwilling or unable to make the cheap credit available that's needed to stock shelves with goods.

The first thing that sprung to mind in reading all this is how much more efficient e-commerce can be for retailers. No more stocking shelves and waiting for people to show up. In fact, in some instances it may be possible to not buy a good from the wholesaler until after the customer has purchased it, creating a just-in-time delivery model that reduces or even eliminates the need to invest in and store massive inventories.

Now I know that e-commerce is not necessarily the ultimate answer for everyone. Many consumers are still wary of giving out their personal information online, and many others prefer to physically touch a good before purchasing it.

But the truth of the matter is that with these retailers closing hundreds of stores there'll be fewer and fewer opportunities for people to go to the store and check something out before buying it. This will undoubtedly be especially true in rural areas as I'd imagine that's where most of these stores will be closing and in those areas the opportunity to go into a store is already limited.

That's why broadband and the use of e-commerce should become especially vital to maintaining the opportunities for people in rural areas to purchase the goods they want and need.

By retailers and consumers continuing to embrace e-commerce in greater ways, our economy can find new avenues for maintaining consumer spending levels while improving the efficiency and economics of the retail industry.

And if we're going to survive this oncoming recession, I'd argue the best way to do so is to look to the Internet to find new ways to shift the paradigm and overcome the limitations of 20th century retail.

Why Lafayette Can Be That Shining City on the Hill

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During my week in Lafayette a message I attempted to leave behind is that building a full fiber network isn’t enough; it’s as, if not more, important to focus on getting the community engaged with the use of broadband.

While I feel this is true for all communities regardless of whether or not they’re deploying a muni-fiber network, I believe it’s especially true for communities that are making this investment and want to make the most of it.

Along these lines, I shared on more than one occasion that I have yet to find a fiber community that’s taking full advantage of what their full fiber network makes possible. Quite simply: there is no shining city on the hill for fiber.

But I also expressed my strong and growing belief that Lafayette has the potential to be that city, and not just for fiber but for broadband as a whole, to show the world how society can be revolutionized through the use of the Internet.

The reason why I think this, though, has little to do with the full fiber network they’re deploying. Instead, it’s about their history, their culture, and the many wonderful people I met on my travels.

First off, it’s important to understand a bit of their history. From the very beginning, Cajun’s have had to be survivors, first as outcasts, then settling down to make a life for themselves in the wilderness of southern Louisiana, to more recently when the oil crash of the 1980s wiped out their local economy, forcing everyone without deep local roots and anyone with a college degree to look elsewhere for quality jobs. Even those who stayed often ended up having to commute to places like Atlanta to find work.

Today while Lafayette stands poised to take a big step into the 21st century and establish itself as the center of technological progress in Louisiana, there’s still a strong sense that they must never again allow themselves to be pushed to the brink of economic failure. It’s this energy that (I hope) will drive them forward to embrace the possibilities of broadband to make their community better, confident in the fact that through the use of broadband they can establish their path to a more prosperous tomorrow.

Secondly, the strength of their culture is equally important. Being Cajun is what unites people down there. It’s amazing how many people I met during my travels who have family roots in the area that go back hundreds of years. This is a people who knows their neighbors, who gets together with their extended families on a regular basis--whether it’s to roast a hog or boil up some crawfish--who not only knows about but cares for the people around them.

The advantage found herein is that all we need to do is inspire a subset of their population on the wonders of broadband and the message should be able to disseminate throughout the community. In a culture like this, where people still talk to each other, imagine what can happen if we get all the young people engaged with how to use broadband to better their community. Ultimately what better way is there to spread the good word about broadband than through the interpersonal relationships of a close-knit community?

But what this all ultimately comes down to for me are the people themselves. This isn’t about any sort of overarching cultural mindset but instead the steady string of dynamic individuals I met during my time in Lafayette. For a community that twenty years ago couldn’t provide good jobs to college graduates, it now boasts a remarkable array of technology professionals. Whether you want to build a website, market it, develop an application, or learn new computer skills, I met experts in all these areas and beyond. The simple truth is that Lafayette has the creative talent, ingenuity, and power of conviction to harness the full potential of broadband.

Equally important are the quality of its leaders. I continue to be impressed by the practicality and energy of City-Parish President Joey Durel. It’s inspirational to meet a politician like him who doesn’t think anything like a politician. He’s not running for reelection; he’s focused on running government to the best of his ability. And the better I get to know Terry Huval, who heads up LUS and is leading their fiber deployment, the stronger the sense I have that he’s just the kind of good-hearted, pragmatic leader a project like this needs to succeed.

In the end, I know I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of discovering all the great people who call Lafayette home, and I’m looking forward to continuing this process through many more trips there in the future.

Lafayette is a unique and special community that I can’t wait to continue exploring, but for now I’ll end this coverage with the following charge to the people of Lafayette:

Your community is poised to take a bold step into the 21st century.

But your investment in a new network means nothing if no one uses it.

Your community can become that shining city on the hill for fiber and the use of broadband.

But only if you leverage the strength of your history, culture, and people to make the most of what’s possible.

If done right, Lafayette can guarantee its economic prosperity for the next 100 years.

But it’s going to take hard work to do so, not just building the network but getting the community ready to use it.

Cajuns know that through hard work great things can be achieved.

So set the goal to be great, make the commitment to do what it takes, and anything is possible.

TechSouth has come and gone but I wanted to share some of the things I saw while walking the show floor with my focus as always on all things broadband.

First off, there were a lot of companies offering businesses all forms of Internet services, from connectivity to hosting to data recovery to web design. Of course it’s a technology show so that’s not surprising but it’s also a good sign that there’s great demand for these services, meaning more and more businesses are engaging with the digital age. And beyond that, all this competition is driving greater investment in innovation as evidenced by the introduction of fabric computing by Abacus, as highlighted yesterday.

Second, Internet-enabled video security must be in the midst of booming as there were at least four companies selling some form of it, including Active Solutions, a manufacturer of cameras with an emphasis on wireless connectivity; a couple of more traditional systems integrators; and GOSN, makers of the SafetyBlanket. The thing about cameras is that they’re a tremendous example of why having lots of bandwidth is important because the less you have the less you can see ultimately meaning the less effective security can be.

Third, there were a couple of unique projects aimed at the oil industry, which has long dominated this areas economy.

One project is just that, a project rather than a company. Called the Ubiquitous Computing and Monitoring System, it’s a joint effort by the Department of Energy, state of Louisiana, and a number of colleges to develop a system for monitoring the pressure of undersea oil reservoirs using sensors that feed data wirelessly into a grid computing system that crunches the numbers into visual representations, which can help avoid problems and find new opportunities underground.

The other project is a new offering from MedXcel, is in the midst of introducing telemedicine services where they’ll locate medical diagnostic equipment on offshore oil rigs and leverage wireless connectivity to allow for patients to be diagnosed remotely. While installing this equipment on those rigs won’t be cheap, the cost savings could be huge as today seeing a doctor means getting on a helicopter to be flown back to shore, even if those chest pains you’re feeling are nothing more than heartburn.

Staying in the medical arena, another exhibitor was SurgiSys. My understanding of what they do is prepare healthcare providers to get accreditation and prepare their systems to take greater advantage of the digital age, ultimately allowing results from tests like echo ultrasound and carotid intervention to be viewed over the Internet from anywhere by doctors. Their emphasis didn’t seem overly broadband-centric, but in many ways it felt like what they do would be perfect for a healthcare system to prepare themselves for using teleradiology services, even though their focus is more on internal distribution today.

The highlight of the show for me was learning about the Academy of Information Technology at Carenco High School, who were exhibiting there. It’s a special four-year “school within a school” program that students apply for before entering high school and once accepted go through a separate track over their four years that focuses more heavily first on teaching the basics of a computer then moving up to web design and computer programming. At the end of the four years, they’re either ready to go on to more advanced courses in college or they can go directly into the workforce as the training they’ve received qualifies them for some really well-paying jobs.

In reading about them online I’ve learned that they’re the outgrowth of a much larger program called the National Academy Foundation which helps academies like this get started in high schools across the country.

I couldn’t be more excited about having found out about these programs as I’ve long lamented the lack of job skills training in high school and the fact that Carenco High has entire classes of students engaged with learning about computers and the Internet suggests that Lafayette will have a steady stream of young, inspired innovators at their disposal to help build and drive the economic engine of broadband-powered development in this area.

All in all, while I wasn’t overwhelmed with an array of cool broadband-based technologies at TechSouth, there were definitely some interesting things to find and a heavy sense of anticipation for what next year might bring as Lafayette continues on its path to becoming the digital center of Louisiana.

LUS Fiber Already Having An Impact

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One of the biggest challenges with broadband deployment is balancing public and private interests. Private companies are interested in profit, not necessarily what’s good for the public. The decisions they make about where and how much to invest in their capacity to deliver better service do not always reflect local interests.

That was the case here in Lafayette. The people of this town saw the incumbents investing in New Orleans and Baton Rouge to bring bigger, better broadband and TV services but not Lafayette. When Lafayette began pushing for better service they were told they didn’t need it. I’ve learned in my short time here that the best way to get a Cajun to do something is tell them they don’t want it or can’t have it, and thus LUS Fiber was born.

One of the more remarkable things that has happened as a result of of this decision is that new investment into Lafayette’s broadband ecosystem has already begun flowing into the community and they haven’t even lit up their first customer yet.

Case in point, since announcing the LUS Fiber project, Cox Communications, the incumbent cable company, has upgraded its infrastructure in a significant way, building a brand new $15 million facility and installing more fiber into their network. In talking with people it seems like these upgrades have had a significant impact on improving the picture quality of their TV service and it’s allowed Cox to offer more HD channels.

Additionally during a pair of luncheon addresses by Cox at TechSouth, where they were the top sponsor, they itemized the investments they’ve been making in the community, like a new community computer center and other local programs.

So simply the threat of muni-fiber has spurred the incumbent cable company to get off the sidelines and start investing more heavily in Lafayette.

But this is about far more than cajoling the incumbents to start investing; it’s about bringing new opportunity to Lafayette to further its capacity as a 21st century community.

Perhaps the most impressive example of this was unveiled on the show floor by Abacus Marketing Resources: the first deployment of Liquid Computing’s fabric computing solution with a broadband services provider in the country in the Abacus Data Exchange. Let’s try to put the significance of this into perspective.

Abacus is an innovative and advanced wholesaler of business-class access to LUS’s fiber network. With the opening of their Data Exchange powered by fabric computing they’ll be offering a wide range of business continuity services as well as tremendous opportunities for applications developers and anyone in need of storage.

I mentioned that this is the first deployment of Liquid’s fabric computing solution with a broadband services provider. Before now their system was only in use as super-powerful data crunchers in government agencies and a few private companies.

To give a sense for how much power they have, at LITE (the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise, which I wrote about here) they have a data center in a fairly large room stuffed with racks of servers supplying the massive computing power 3D visualization demands. In talking with one of their tech gurus, who was being introduced to the technology at Abacus’s booth, I learned that with fabric computing he’d be able to replace almost that entire room full of racks with only three of Liquid’s setups, which would roughly take up two refrigerators’ worth of space.

In addition to computing power, the Liquid system is also conscious of its power consumption. I didn’t get any specific numbers regarding savings but I do know that Abacus was seeking out the most eco-friendly solution on the market and that was one big reason for why they chose Liquid.

But ultimately what I found most compelling about the solution is that unlike traditional arrangements where setting up a server to host your storage or application can take time and changing the characteristics, capacity, and performance of that server just doesn’t happen easily, what fabric computing allows you to do is essentially create servers with the specs you need for whatever applications you have on-the-fly. That means you can access computing power and storage as you need it, even if it’s only for a limited time, like when running trials for some new software.

At this time I won’t even attempt to explain how they pull this off as I’m going to be profiling their solution in greater depth later this month. In the meantime, I can report that despite the fact there were at least five other exhibitors offering some form of business continuity services, all of the buzz and a constant stream of people were around Abacus’s booth.

And even more exciting is how this investment has inspired the local tech community. I can not tell you how wide the eyes are of many of those who walked away from Abacus’s booth. In particular some of the younger innovators specifically talked about how they never thought that they’d have access to this much power in their own backyard, suggesting that this investment will help encourage local talent to stay local when they set out to create the next Google.

They understand that by combining this computing power with the connectivity of LUS’s full fiber project Lafayette tops any other city in the state and arguably the entire country. And because of this combination, I see great things in Lafayette’s future as a hub of innovation in the development of broadband applications.

The thing is, without LUS Fiber, there is no Abacus and therefore no Liquid fabric computing bringing new opportunity. Without LUS Fiber, there’s almost certainly less buy-in from Cox to invest aggressively in the community.

So already, before the first customer is lit up, LUS Fiber is having an impact, spurring investment, and improving the opportunities for this community’s broadband ecosystem as one of the greatest in the nation.

Joost is an Internet TV platform that delivers high quality video using P2P technology.

Unlike BitTorrent, a P2P technology primarily concerned with the downloading of large files, Joost leverages P2P to deliver instant-on video, creating a TV-like experience over the Internet.

Joost's founders were some of the same people behind the multi-billion dollar success of Skype, the P2P chat/voice/videocalling communications platform. It was easily the most hyped product over a year or two ago, promising to have a YouTube-like impact on the delivery of high quality content.

Only they ran into a problem: not enough bandwidth.

P2P delivery systems rely on the bandwidth of its users to distribute content. So once you've downloaded a piece of video your computer essentially becomes a server helping distribute that video back out to other users.

Because of this P2P is very reliant on having robust upload capacity in order to send data back out from users after they've downloaded it. And this challenge was even more acute for Joost as it attempts to enable that instant-on experience that is much more sensitive to latency than the typical BitTorrent where users know it's going to take a while to download a large file like a high quality, full-length movie so they'll just turn it on and walk away.

As it turns out, despite its huge promise to introduce a new paradigm for P2P delivery, America just doesn't have enough bandwidth.

There are many other reasons cited for their disappointing performance, as listed in this article and the articles linked therein, but the underlying one really seemed to be that without sufficient bandwidth they can't deliver the level of service their technology holds the potential to enable.

Color me officially frustrated that the US's lack of big bandwidth connectivity, especially upstream, and the lagging adoption among the mainstream public has now clearly led to constraining innovation on the Internet.

I and others often talk about the ability to greater capacity to drive greater innovation. Now here we clearly see an example where the opposite is true as well: the less bandwidth you have the less innovation you'll realize.

(Lots more to come from Lafayette, but taking a brief break after three straight nights of not enough sleep, too much fun, a string of speeches, and meeting a ton of great people...and I haven't even mentioned the food!)

One of the more interesting themes I've heard now from multiple people during my travels so far in Lafayette is that while the majority of residents have gotten behind the deployment of a full fiber network, they don't really understand why fiber's such a great thing.

When the vote came to pass to invest and take the risk in deploying fiber, there was widespread support for the initiative, but driving that was more of a sense of "well, if fiber's the best, we should have fiber" rather than simply "fiber's the best."

Many factors seem to have played into this somewhat blind acceptance of fiber.

For one, no one likes the incumbents. There's a strong sense here that Cox, BellSouth, and the like were investing in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, which form a triangle in south central Louisiana with Lafayette, but not in Lafayette. Basically Lafayette was being left behind.

For two, these Cajuns take pride in their community. If they're going to set out on a municipal broadband project, they're going to do it right and get the best network they can. These are people who move boldly not meekly, and there's no more bold decision than deploying a full fiber network.

As I'm an advocate for fiber-powered broadband, Lafayette's ability to embrace fiber without a strong understanding of what it actually means is inspiring. It can sometimes be hard to get people who do understand technology to buy into the need for fiber. At the same time I do also find it slightly worrying.

Lafayette Utility System is building one of the most advanced networks in the country, a network that will reach every home within the city, but most of the people I've spoken to who aren't involved directly in the project don't know how great it is.

For example, the gentleman I spoke to over the weekend about rural healthcare that I wrote about yesterday had no idea that Lafayette's new fiber network was going to be one of the most powerful in the country. And he's a young professional who's in school learning about telemedicine, so if he doesn't know about this than it's unlikely older residents who are less tech savvy have any idea what's going on.

And that concerns me. What good is a fiber network if nobody knows about it?

Now I'm not assessing blame. I mean the network's not even built yet; it's still another 8 months until they light up their first customer.

But I'm hoping that during my time here I can help inspire a greater understanding among Lafayette's leaders and its citizens about the urgent importance of actively pursuing initiatives now that rely on broadband to revolutionize society before deployment's complete. Building the network's not enough; to extract its full value as much if not more attention needs to be placed on actually using the network.

After a thankfully uneventful trip to Lafayette, LA on Saturday I went out on the town with some local friends to enjoy the nightlife of this great city.

While listening to some terrific bluesy rock at a quintessentially Cajun outdoor bar called the Blue Moon Guesthouse, which ingeniously also serves as the city's only hostel, I had the opportunity to meet and chat with the locals.

One conversation in particular piqued my interest. It was with a gentleman who's in the midst of finishing up his MBA in healthcare administration. His current job has him helping run a healthcare facility in Lafayette that cares for people who can't stay in the hospital any longer but still need some level of managed care.

I could sense his passion for what he did, and found it exciting when we began talking telemedicine as he had obviously been reading about and researching the topic, though I was slightly disappointed when he referred to it as still a thing of the future, not because telemedicine has no merit but because at least in his experiences with healthcare, it's an industry that doesn't always embrace new technological opportunities as readily as some.

But as we continued to talk, we came upon another string of thought. He began discussing the rapidly oncoming healthcare crunch, where the number of medical professionals we're graduating as a country is being far outstripped by the growing number of Baby Boomers whose healthcare needs are increasing as they age.

He lamented what he sees as an inevitable shortage of trained medical professionals, especially as its impact will undoubtedly be felt first in rural areas, a reality made even more stark in a largely rural state like Louisiana.

He then admitted that the only answer to this problem, other than a mass exodus from rural to urban areas, is the use of telemedicine technologies. Whether it's being able to consult a doctor from your home or a regional health facility being able to tap expertise from elsewhere to read the results of radiological exams, there's simply no other way rural areas will be able to maintain a high level of access to healthcare providers without the use of telemedicine.

But that then gets back to one of the biggest disconnects in broadband: on the one hand, some say rural areas are too expensive to reach or that the people who live there don't really want broadband; on the other, you can argue that no communities need and could benefit more from the use of broadband than those in rural areas.

In talking with him, my resolve has been steeled that solving the rural broadband dilemma must be a key part to any national broadband strategy if we are to have any hope of supporting and maintaining our rural areas. It's my belief that much of the strength of America can be found in rural areas, so I will not accept the proposition that rural communities should be left to wither on the sidelines of the broadband revolution.

That's all from me for now. I'm off to enjoy what I'm sure will be another tremendous day in Lafayette. You can look forward to more installments of my adventures here all throughout the rest of this week.

And for anyone reading who's anywhere near Lafayette, LA, I encourage you to come on over to the Cajundome to catch the region's leading technology show: TechSouth. I'm going to be presenting on the possibilities of broadband applications both Tuesday and Wednesday morning and Tuesday evening I'm going to have the great pleasure of addressing the City-Parish Council about why I find fiber exciting. So if you're in the area, come stop on by!

Lots of exciting things happening in the world of broadband so it's time for another App-Rising.com Article RoundUp!

Convert Your Paper to iPaper
Scribd.com is a site with a nifty way of enabling any format document to be viewed on a website (see below for example). The significance of this link is that they've started a program through which you can mail in any paper documents you have and they'll scan and upload them as iPaper for free. They plan on making their money from advertising as any documents they scan have to be made available on their website. Transferring paper documents into digital formats can be a real pain and quite expensive, so if you have need to do this not only can you get it done for free but afterwards your documents will be able to be shared easily with anyone in the world.

DC Capitol Region if Major High-Tech Hub
Wow, who knew? It's not like I didn't realize there are a number of high tech jobs in the area, I just never thought of DC and it's surrounding areas as being centers for high tech jobs. What's most heartening about this study for me is this stat:

"Venture capital investments in the D.C. capital region totaled $1.2 billion in 2007, up $91.1 million from 2006. This would make the combined region the 5th ranked cyberstate by this metric."

When I first started talking to applications developers in the DC region a couple years ago I repeatedly heard tales of woe regarding the lack of VC money available in the area. To see that it's jumped by a factor of a 100 is great news. Now it's time for me to figure out where all that money's going as there must be some great things going on near me that I still have to learn about.

Experts Say Demand-Side Policies Needed to Close the Broadband Gap
Though this is a new article it details a panel from back in January at the State of the Net conference. It highlights one of the most important aspects to the Great Broadband Debate: the need to get more people doing more things online. I've been beating the drum about that message for at least a year, so it's gratifying to see that the debate is now turning to include this vitally important area. The only challenge now is making sure people understand that getting everyone online is important to the future of the Internet and our country, and that it's not a matter of trying to line the pocketbooks of major network operators by creating more customers for them, even if that is a likely result.

Apple passes Wal-Mart, now #1 music retailer in US
Now here's a bellwether of how far the Internet's progressed as the leading online distributor of music--Apple's iTunes--has taken the top spot from the leading retailer of music. Could this be a sign of things to come for video?

The Trouble with Bandwidth Caps in Canada

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It’s been interesting to watch telecommunications evolve in Canada. In some areas it’s almost like we’re able to watch the challenges that we’re talking about facing in the US already being played out up north of the border.

Take bandwidth caps, for example. In the US they’re pretty common in the wireless space but basically all talk and little action on the wireline side. Some broadband providers are cutting off access to their heaviest users but actually including a specific number as part of their service offerings is still unheard of it.

Yet Rogers in Canada already cites specific caps for all its packages, as found in this article. They range from 2GB up to 95GB, with an overage charge for each additional GB costing anywhere from $5 to $1.25.

While I applaud Rogers’ transparency, I find the actual caps themselves rather troubling.

For me, the next generation of the Internet is all about video, whether it’s watching, sharing, broadcasting, or anything in between, broadband enables video in all its wondrous forms.

But let’s think this through for a moment.

A DVD movie takes up roughly 5GB. And an HD movie on Blu-ray 25GB. Both of these numbers can be reduced through compression, but ultimately a smaller file size does mean lower quality. So if someday the Internet is going to be able to support the delivery of HD video to the living room, that 25GB should still be in play.

Comparing that against Rogers’ top tier and you see that if a subscriber to that service downloaded 4 HD movies in a month they’d have gone over their cap.

Then for each additional movie downloaded they’d incur an additional $30 just for the transfer, not counting what it costs to buy the movie itself. And that’s given the lowest possible overage rates!

With these kinds of economics, there’s no way online distribution will overtake on-disc.

Rogers does promise to cap any overage charges at $25, but that’s still a significant increase to someone’s monthly rates plus as more users begin relying on the Internet to watch HD video it wouldn’t surprise me if this cap on the cap begins creeping upwards.

I’m really torn on all this. I understand that there’s a cost for network operators associated with customers using more bandwidth and I support efforts to insure the economics of broadband stay viable.

But at the same time from a consumer perspective I can’t help but think that these caps and overage charges may curb usage of more bandwidth-intensive applications, and that worries me as I’m working hard on encouraging their adoption and use.

Fully metered bandwidth sounded like a possibility for me a while back, but that would likely only exasperate my concerns over these bandwidth caps and overage charges dissuading use.

Ultimately it seems like there are only two real options:

1. Educate consumers about the bandwidth demands for various Internet services and applications, and about the relative scarcity of bandwidth on these limited access networks so that they might ration their use or at least have a better understanding of why they’re being charged more when they use more.

2. Or get a whole lot more bandwidth into the system as soon as possible so we can drive down the prices and enable consumers to go about their merry way consuming bandwidth to their heart’s content.

In the end this isn’t really an either/or proposition; it’s both.

We need more bandwidth, and by getting more it should cost less per MB or GB. Everyone seems to agree with that.

But putting that bandwidth in place takes time, so the rise of bandwidth caps and overage charges seems unavoidable in the near-term.

And as such, it’s vitally important that consumers have a better understanding of how their use of the Internet relates to these bandwidth caps.

Because there’s nothing worse than falling in love with using something only to get unexpectedly punished for using it too much when it comes to dissuading use.

And the last thing the Internet needs right now is another reason for people not to use it.

Thoughts on the Partial Success of Muni-Broadband

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While I'm working on parsing through my notes from the talk on the state of fiber in Japan, I wanted to share another thought that's stuck with me from Freedom 2 Connect.

Most of the focus of the talks on the open fiber panel were about the successes being realized by municipalities deploying full fiber networks.

But afterwards, in chatting with some of the panelists it became clear that while great success has been realized in deploying fiber, that making the most of that fiber once it's in place is still more promise and hope than reality.

For example, in talking with Dirk about Amsterdam, he admitted that even within their limited initial deployment of 40,000 that take-rates have been somewhat underwhelming, not yet living up to their initial projections. He associates that with the public either not being aware of what's available or being wary of whether or not the network can deliver. Not because the network has shown any sign of not delivering, but because this is all so new that it's just taking time for some people to get their heads around trusting that the government has built a reliable network, let alone understanding what the benefits of a full fiber network are.

Also on the panel was Tim Nulty, who helped revitalize the fiber project in Burlington, Vermont and is now working on bringing the model he developed there to a coalition of 25 other communities in Vermont. In terms of take-rates, schedule, and financial solvency, Burlington has been a huge success. But that network was built to be open access, so that any service provider could buy bandwidth from the city to ride their network. When I asked Tim about who's jumped onto the network and what cool things are happening, he admitted that not much yet has. He did say that local innovators are starting to wake up to what's possible, but that they haven't realized any great success stories yet.

This is hardly the first time I've heard about a municipal build that has yet to realize upon the full promise they set out to deliver. UTOPIA is a perfect example of this as they've spent more money to reach fewer customers and realize lower take-rates with fewer service providers on their open access network to date than was originally envisioned.

But you know what? I don't care. In the end, these are still all success stories to me.

Why? Because more fiber got in the ground.

It is troubling, though, that consumer adoption of fiber still lags in some areas and that service providers have not shown any eagerness to ride these new networks.

To me, the biggest problem with muni-broadband is that there's no one proven model for how to do it. Everyone's doing it differently and trying to learn as they go along what works and what doesn't. Making matters worse is a public that is still coming to understand what "broadband" means let alone fiber, and a competitive marketplace where in many communities there are already two other competing providers fighting for consumer dollars.

While the future of muni-broadband is not yet certain, ultimately I don't have a problem with any of the outcomes it may bring about:

- It succeeds in capturing enough marketshare to sustain a business and provide new competition to spur the private sector to invest and innovate.

- It fails to create a sustainable business model, and then a private operator can buy up the public assets on the cheap and we'd still have a full fiber infrastructure in place.

- It succeeds wildly well and eventually puts the private sector out of business by providing better service and value.

In truth, the outcome that scares me the most is the third. Government isn't particularly well-known for its capacity for innovation. Making matters worse I see full fiber networks as being natural monopolies. I shiver to think how well it's going to work to have the government be my only option for telecom services for the next 20 years.

But the thing is, so long as these public networks offer private service providers the opportunity to hop on the network, then it's not stifling innovation it's creating an environment in which innovation can thrive and prosper.

Ultimately the truth of the matter is that if we're going to realize a full fiber future any time soon the only way we can do that is with some form of government intervention. Whether that's incentivizing private deployment, funding public, or something in between or wholly different, fiber won't get to every home in America without it.

Yesterday at the Freedom 2 Connect conference I attended a panel on Open Fiber jam packed with top-notch speakers covering the deployment of fiber in Amsterdam, Japan, Vermont, and Lafayette, LA.

Let’s dive in and start with Dirk van der Woude, who manages the municipal FTTH project in Amsterdam, giving a flyby of some of the highlights I took away from his fantastic presentation:

- To set some of the context, apparently most of the big network operators in the Netherlands are owned by foreign interests, in particular American, British, and German. Dirk suggested that historically when you’re colonized, as he arges Dutch telecom has been, it’s not the local interests that end up counting, instead it’s all about making a profit to send back home. This has resulted in incumbents with little to no interest in investing for the good of the public to upgrade their infrastructure, which is what led to this municipal initiative.

- Here’s an interesting thought I’ll paraphrase into a quote: “You have to invest in infrastructure if you want to stay ahead in your economic and social development...Rather like osteoporosis, the underinvestment in infrastructure will slowly leech away your strength.”

- I hadn’t thought about this, but one point Dirk made is that when investment firms buy telecommunications companies it often robs them of their ability to invest in infrastructure since the new owners just spent all that money to buy the company in the first place. I don’t follow acquisitions/mergers all that closely, but I do think that if I were looking to buy a network operator it’d have to be someone who’s already deployed FTTH as then I don’t have to worry about upgrading my wires, only the electronics at either end. Plus I believe that whoever gets FTTH in the ground first holds the opportunity to establish a natural monopoly, making them the best bet for a prosperous long-term future.

- This was the first time I heard the term “fraudband,” which is defined as broadband technologies that over promise but will ultimately under deliver. The specific technology Dirk called out as fraudband was DOCSIS 3.0, which promises a racetrack with 120Mbps upload capacity but then fails to admit the limitations of its shared network where that 120Mbps may be spread across hundreds of homes.

- Love this quote, even with its double negative: “We believe that a city with a great future is a not a city without FTTH.” I might instead say, “A city with FTTH has a great future” or “A city that wants a great future needs FTTH” or “A city of the future has (or must have) FTTH.”

- Dirk took the time to distinguish between the different models being used to deploy FTTH across the Netherlands. He had a chart showing how different configurations of muni and private interests were being used to handle the deployment and management of the three layers of an access network--passive, active, and services--in cities across the Netherlands. Some are all muni, some are all private, but most were a mix of both, though in most all municipalities handled the passive layer. Why? Because it requires the highest capital expenditures and its ROI should be considered over the long term. He went on to show another chart highlighting the financial characteristics of all three layers. Rather than writing it all out I’ll see if I can find the slide to add as an image to a later post.

- He also made the very important point that having a cheap full fiber network in place allows for the easier deployment of better wireless than is possible without that network. Now instead of wireless routers having to create a mesh so they can share limited Internet access points, you can have each router be a node connected via fiber to the network, allowing you to use the full capacity of Wi-Fi or other wireless technology.

In talking with Dirk over drinks at the reception that evening I found him to be a profoundly deep, practical, insightful, and historically cognizant individual. He sees where things are going and he knows where they’ve come from.

In particular at one point he suggested we needed “Eisenhower broadband.” The term grew out of a conversation we and others were having exploring how broadband, and particularly fiber, is like roads in that we need there to be a national plan akin to the interstate highway system, where some national entity insures the major highways (backbone networks) crisscross the nation in an orderly and ubiquitous manner and then put it upon local communities to figure out their own local street system and how to connect to those highways.

More than anything what I appreciated about Dirk’s insight was the sense I get from everyone I talk or listen to who’s had success getting fiber deployed: they just said this is the goal, now let’s go do it.

That’s the best lesson we can learn in this country from the successes being learned both here and abroad. To get where we want to go all it takes is to set a goal to be great and start working towards achieving that goal.

It doesn’t matter how big the challenge is, we can overcome it if we work together and aspire to become a greater nation through the deployment and use of broadband.

Next up, some insight into the Japanese broadband miracle.

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