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Geoff Daily

App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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June 30, 2008 10:09 AM

Cape Cod is the North Korea of Broadband

Last week I attended the OpenCape Summit, an annual gathering in Cape Cod discussing the growth of the OpenCape project, which is an effort to deploy an alternative backhaul infrastructure to link up local emergency services and hopefully attract new last mile access providers to deliver residential broadband service.

Despite the many wonderful people I met and the interesting approach they're taking to solve their broadband problems, what stuck with me most was when the project's head - Dan Gallagher - made the proclamation that Massachusetts is the North Korea of broadband.

When he said it projected on the screen behind him was a satellite photo of the Korean peninsula showing South Korea lit up with lights while North Korea was almost completely dark. It was a telling image for how Cape Code residents feel about the broadband services they currently receive.

The problems with broadband on the Cape are manifold:

- The eastern part of the Cape have many areas with little to no coverage.

- In that area and elsewhere there's no redundancy, so if one cable's cut they're off the grid.

- The constraints of a shared network with limited capacity become painfully evident in the mid-afternoon when kids come home from school and Internet speeds for all residents on the Cape drop down dramatically.

- The lack of sufficient upload capacity threatens local Internet innovators like Genevate, a Cape-Cod-based application developer who learned long ago not to locate servers on the Cape, but who still must live in fear of their connectivity going down, leaving them unable to conduct their business.

- And the two incumbent providers, Verizon and Comcast, have not shared any plans to upgrade their infrastructure on the Cape any time soon.

What's remarkable about all this is not these limitations but instead the fact the Cape is suffering from them.

Time and time again when we talk about the challenges of broadband deployment we focus on rural and urban areas. But the Cape is definitely not urban and only parts of it are rural.

When incumbents defend their decisions of where to invest in increasing capacity they often focus on demographics and how they need to focus on areas where there are plenty of customers willing and able to pay for service. But the Cape does not exactly lack for people capable of paying for better service as evidenced by the row upon row of million-dollar homes.

And normally when an incumbent tries saying an area already has sufficient coverage, it can be hard to refute those claims if the community hasn't already come together to compare notes and realize just how bad off they are. But on the Cape, they know how desperate their situation is, which is why they're now pursuing alternatives.

So here's an area that's more suburban than rural, richer than poor, and that desperately wants better connectivity but can't get the incumbents to step up and deliver.

I wanted to point this out lest we continue to talk in absolutes about the problem of broadband deployment. We're kidding ourselves if we try and say it's a rural or an urban problem, that it's a poor vs. rich problem, because as evidenced by Cape Cod, that just isn't the case.

And by accepting this, hopefully we can find a way to break out of the Dark Ages and begin to light up areas like Cape Cod so that we no longer have to feel inclined to equate any part of America with somewhere like North Korea, where its populace continues to get left behind in the fast-moving Digital Age of Information.

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Comments (1)

The residents of Tacoma, Wash., faced similar travails in the mid-1990s. It took 18 months to get a new phone line installed (I kid you not). The incumbents, TCI (cable, now owned by Comcast) and US West (now Qwest) essentially said they had no money to put into Tacoma. The town was ridden with crime, bankruptcies, businesses pulling out, just as Seattle was starting to ride the first dot-com wave.

Tacoma was in the unusual position of having a public utility, Tacoma Power, that's under slightly separate control, that owns the power output from a bunch of hydroelectric. They produce a lot of excess revenue in good years and, by charter, must either reinvest it or rebate it.

The utility's head at the time feared electrical deregulation and its disruptive, and also wanted to modernize Tacoma's grid. They invested heavily in fiber over a few years, and brought cable TV and high-speed fiber-backed data (through fiber/coax hybrid plants) to residents. This spurred competition.

Comcast publicly complimented Tacoma Power a few years ago, partly for getting the cable giant to see that there was a real market. Comcast now competes heavily for cable TV dollars in the city, and put in a really solid plant among all the richer, burgeoning suburbs as they were developed.

Tacoma Power resells broadband; it has no retail brand. This has led to several consumer and business providers offering a variety of services, too.

I know that the situation isn't the same in Cape Cod, but Tacoma turned itself into a totally different city. It's come an amazingly long way in 10 years, and is on of the most "wired" towns in the U.S. In fact, it's far better off than anywhere in Seattle except the downtown core.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman on July 1, 2008 3:12 PM

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