August 2008 Archives

Well, it's official. Comcast has announced its intentions to update all its user agreements on Oct. 1 to insert a 250GB monthly bandwidth cap. Some details are still sketchy, like the consequences of surpassing that cap (one idea floated is charging $15 for each additional 10GB of overage), but what was once a rumor is now an inevitability: the Internet's getting capped.

Now, there are many who are decrying this move as yet another example of a greedy billion-dollar corporation finding new ways to screw their customers, and that the only proper response to these plans is righteous indignation, but let's try to consider the big picture, both the positive and negative.

Positive - 250GB is a pretty big cap.
Most of the other cablecos experimenting with bandwidth caps don't even set theirs above 100GB with some as low as 5GB, whereas Comcast has set a higher bar. For all but the heaviest of users 250GB will be way more than enough to avoid overages. 250GB means roughly 125 DVD-quality movies, and for video of lower quality like YouTube or a videocall, 250GB translates into even more hours.

Negative - A cap is still a cap in an era of growing demand for bandwidth. No matter how high it is, there will still be some and increasingly more users hitting it. While there's talk of how 250GB equals 125 standard-def movies, it actually only equates to 10-20 HD movies. And once you're over the cap, each additional HD movie will cost $10, $20, $30 more to deliver, not counting what you're paying for the content. Additionally, with the growth of always-on applications like P2P, video utilities that constantly pull in new video, higher def consumer camcorders, security cameras, and beyond that means that over time our bandwidth demands will only continue to grow. So even if the cap isn't hitting many users today, it could be impacting a lot of users tomorrow.

Positive - At least they're now being upfront and honest.
That's been the biggest thing missing from the broadband marketplace: transparency in the parameters of the services providers are delivering. Whether you like caps or not, everyone agrees that the customer needs to know what he or she is buying. One question yet to be resolved, though, is how Comcast will help its users track their usage and notify them when they're nearing or exceeding their cap. Without a robust solution to this problem, there's no way a cap can work.

Negative - They're not done with caps alone.
There's also been talks by Comcast of limiting the throughput of their heaviest users during the busiest of times. There likely will be future instances where to preserve the stability of their network they're going to have to implement less-than-user-friendly solutions like these. And if the public starts to cry out against these limitations, it may tempt Comcast to go back to its secretive practices. In other words, I don't think bandwidth caps are the final solution to their problems, so there's likely more ugliness ahead.

Positive - We now have a perfect opportunity to see if competition works.
Americans love to get the most bang for their buck. We're the land of buffets and all-you-can-consume deals. So therefore, in general we should be predisposed against having limits imposed on our consumption. In turn, if the market for broadband is truly competitive and there are viable alternatives to cable Internet, then consumers should start turning away from cable service in droves due to these caps.

Negative - Competition almost certainly doesn't work.
Whether we're talking about areas where cable's the sole provider, where the incumbent DSL provider's also pursuing bandwidth caps, or where the cost of cable TV skyrockets if you don't bundle it with TV, there will be many instances where consumers will now be stuck with these caps without anywhere else to turn. It's inevitable and unavoidable. For users who don't exceed the cap it won't be any big deal, but what about the heaviest users. Where are they supposed to turn? I'm even thinking about myself here as I don't want to be relegated to DSL because it's not fast enough. I love my speed and am willing to pay for it. But if I start hitting these caps, I've got nowhere to go other than much slower DSL service, and I'm sitting in the heart of our nation's capitol right now, not Podunk, North Dakota. Making matters worse, even if you did have a viable alternative, you've now only got a month to first learn there's a change coming, understand what it means, and then get switched over to a new provider, which is an extremely short timeframe especially given the fact that no one necessarily knows if they're using more than their fair share today.

So in the end, is Comcast's decision good or bad, helpful or hurtful, a step forward or a step back?

While I want to acknowledge the challenges they face managing their limited, shared, copper networks and while I can't deny their rights to manage that traffic and set the terms of their contracts as they see fit, I just can't bring myself to see this as a positive development for the future of the Internet or our country.

Unfortunately, I also don't see a whole lot of alternatives. If the marketplace doesn't work to correct this by consumers demanding something different, then what are our options? And on the flip side, what are the cablecos supposed to do when their networks are already sagging under the weight of ever-increasing demand for bandwidth?

We can't just lament these caps as yet another example of corporate greed while ignoring the fact that these networks are struggling to keep up with demand and provide a positive user experience.

So for now I think we're stuck. All we can do is make sure network operators are transparent in their policies and that the public is educated about what these policies translate to in terms of the user experience. And after that we just have to sit back and see how the market responds.

Otherwise our only other solution is to start moving more aggressively towards finding the answer to how we can wire our country with fiber thereby ridding ourselves of the limitations of copper networks. But of course as you all know, this is the option that gets my vote!

Underseas Fiber Equivalent To Sea Trading Routes

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Found this fascinating article by Om Malik that dives into the latest explosion in investment in underseas fiber optic cables, which are the fat pipes used to connect different countries and continents.

In it he details the boom-and-bust investment cycle from the late 90s, and how this investment is booming again now overseas. He then goes on to suggest that wherever these cables are being built is a good indicator of where we'll see accelerated economic growth.

He says:

"This leads me to my conclusion: Building new cables is the equivalent of adding new roads, new shipping lanes or flights. The undersea fibers of today are what sea trading routes were in the past -- an indicator of future economic activity and the subsequent boom."

It's a great point but missing one very important nuance: the causality of having that capacity available.

It's not just that adding fiber is an "indicator" of future growth; it's the driver of that growth.

The deployment of fiber is not just the canary in the mineshaft warning people of the oncoming explosion; it's the striking match that's responsible for setting it off.

Taken another step, it's not just the coal dust that's ready to ignite; it's the drill that's creating more dust than was ever possible before.

So I'm not disagreeing with this post at all, but I do want to suggest that we need to make sure we're giving credit where credit's due.

Final thought: check out the maps in this article that show where underseas cables are. Don't they look like they could be indicating where seafaring routes are? Like where these fiber optic cables now reside mirror the routes ships used to take to move goods, people, and news. How cool is that?

After lambasting cablecos yesterday for touting their fiber optic networks, I today discovered the same practice underway from Qwest, which goes so far as to call its service "Qwest Fiber Optic Internet Service."

But of course, like the cablecos, these claims are somewhat deceiving as Qwest has been vocal in its lack of support for deploying fiber all the way to the home.

Yet the problem still stands that by the definition of Qwest and the cablecos, basically any and every ISP offers fiber optic service since they all rely on fiber optics to interconnect communities and get from the central office onto the Internet.

In other words, we're allowing the meaning of fiber optics to become so muddled that it's going to become meaningless to the average consumer when someone comes to lay fiber all the way to their home.

I blame this in part on the efforts to denote full fiber networks as FTTH, FTTP, FTTN, FTTx, etc.

I can understand why these acronyms were created in the first place and that their initial intent was to help distinguish different types of fiber deployment. But as an unintended result of this I think we're affording those network operators not deploying fiber to the front door to get away with obscuring their lesser investments by wrapping themselves in the guise of fiber optic service.

And there's only one clear way to fix this: put an end to the acronyms.

Instead, we should be saying that only full fiber networks can claim to deliver fiber optic service, that everyone else has to call their service copper-based, and that anyone defying these new definitions deserves so much public scrutiny and shame so as to force them to end these deceptive marketing practices.

I don't know if it's realistic to think we can make this semantic shift a reality as suppliers don't want to upset those clients that aren't deploying full fiber networks, obviously those clients have no interest in giving up their claims to offering fiber optic service, and out of the entities deploying fiber only Verizon has the national clout to push the needle on this issue, and they're probably not overly worried given the growing strength of the FiOS brand regardless of what their competitors claim to offer.

So I may be tilting at windmills with this rallying cry, but I do think that if we can't find a way to insure overzealous marketers aren't destroying consumer awareness about the value of full fiber networks, then the hill we have to climb to achieve a full fiber nation will only get steeper.

Mark Warner Praises Broadband; Arizona Lags Behind

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In touching upon the presidential elections, I've tried to stay nonpartisan, focusing solely on which candidate appears most ready to tackle the challenge of being the first broadband president. Even though Obama likely has my vote for other reasons, I don't want that to color my efforts to identify the best candidate and party for the future of broadband in America.

Yet at the same time, it's impossible to ignore the growing gap between the left and the right on this most crucial issue.

Last evening Mark Warner delivered what I thought was the line of the night: "We delivered broadband to the most remote areas of our state, because if you can send a job to Bangalore, India, you sure as heck can send one to Danville, VA and Flint, MI, and Scranton, PA, and Peoria, IL. In a global economy, you should not have to leave your home town to find a world-class job."

He then goes on to cite Lebanon, VA as an example of broadband's transformative potential for making small towns economically viable, which you can read more about here.

I found it tremendously encouraging that Warner decided to elevate discussions about broadband to a central plank of the Democract Party's platform, though there were also a few disappointments. First off, he didn't go any further in explaining how broadband can transform healthcare, education, government, etc. Secondly, while I didn't listen to everyone's speech, from what I did hear there was no mention of broadband by anyone else. And thirdly, when Warner hit the broadband portion of his speech, the applause was rather tepid, suggesting the audience still doesn't get it.

But at least they're talking about it and presumably are interested in moving forward with an aggressive broadband agenda.

Then there's the other side. Mere hours before I watched Warner trumpet the promise of broadband, I read this article about how Arizona's public schools, especially those in poorer areas, were lagging behind when it comes to access to robust broadband due at least in part to a lack of federal funding.

Now, in no way am I trying to pin blame for this entirely on Senator McCain. There have been many factors that led to Arizona's being behind the broadband curve. Nor am I suggesting that no progress is happening as in that article it cites at least one school district that's ahead of that curve, equipping all students with their own laptops.

But at the same time, this shows quite clearly Senator McCain's lack of leadership on broadband-related issues. If broadband and the use of technology were a higher priority for him, he could've been working to change this detrimental status quo by helping Arizona garner more federal funds to supply the computers and connectivity that are so desperately needed.

If Senator McCain thought the availability of broadband was important he wouldn't of allowed his home state to fall into this situation. He would've rightly realized that without broadband, Arizona's children will lag behind their neighbors in other states as well as their competitors around the globe.

But despite this lack of action, I'm more than willing to change my mind on McCain if he comes to see the light. And this article could be the perfect jumping off place for him to do so. He should make the plight of Arizona schools a central part of his platform, holding them up as an example of our poor stewardship when it comes to our country's broadband infrastructure and living proof of the need for action.

Senator McCain - It's not too late to start understanding why broadband's important, how it can help our cities and states, and what we can and should be doing to further its use. If you want to learn more and show your willingness to at least try and understand these revolutionary changes, just ask! I'm happy to help answer any questions you might have.

We're not asking that you instantly know everything or that you blindly start supporting broadband as an ultimate good without any bad. All we're asking is that you wake up to the plight of the children in your own state and understand that by ignoring these issues you're doing a disservice to the next generation of America.

And if that's the attitude you're going to take into the White House in January, then I can not vote for you in November.

CableCo's - Stop Claiming You're All About Fiber!

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OK, I'm officially fed up. Cox has started running ads in my area touting themselves as "The New Face of Fiber."

Now, Cox isn't the first cableco to try and claim the fiber optic mantle. Basically anywhere someone else is deploying a full fiber infrastructure the cablecos suddenly become "fiber-powered" despite the fact they've argued the point of "Why would anyone ever need fiber?"

This disturbingly deceiving practice gets my goat on multiple levels.

First off, the ads are misleading. Cox's claim that they're "The New Face of Fiber" implies that something new has happened. That they're making new investments to upgrade their network to fiber. That they're the ones who should be getting all the credit for having fiber. But as we all know, this just isn't the case.

And in fact, they've admitted as much, like in this article:

Gwen Sparks, a regional spokesperson for Cox, says these ads don't mean that the carrier is about to go all-fiber-optic.

"It just means we've always had fiber," she said yesterday.

How can they be the face of fiber if they're not going full-fiber with their network? How can they claim to be anything new when they're admitting this campaign is more about the fact that they've always had fiber?

It's bad enough that cablecos are puffing themselves up with these claims that are at best half-truths and at worst outright lies, but what makes it worse is their intent to muddle the true value of fiber and the potential impact they're going to have on our country's broadband future.

As I mentioned earlier, you'll see most of these cableco ads claiming to have fiber in areas where full fiber networks are being built, either by Verizon, local telcos, or municipalities.

But here's the problem: anyone deploying a full fiber network already has to face the significant challenge of trying to convince the public of the benefits of fiber and more bandwidth. That alone is daunting as the average consumer just doesn't understand why they should care about the capacity fiber delivers. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that most people signing up for fiber-powered services are doing so for other reasons, like better TV with more HD and VoD or a cheaper price.

Yet now these fiber network are also having to fight against cablecos claiming that they have fiber too. No matter how wrong they are, once you start having to go into discussing the physical differences of last mile infrastructures, you've already lost at least half of your customers' attention. And since we're still at a point where there aren't that many applications accessible and affordable for consumers to take advantage of that greater capacity fiber delivers, it's the cablecos intention to do everything they can obfuscate the truth that fiber is our future so that that future never comes to be.

It may sound like I'm whining a bit now. "Oh poor fiber, it's getting bullied so by the cablecos..." But in actuality I'm outraged.

Why are we allowing the purveyors of outdated infrastructure to lie in order to hamper the development of the next-generation of our country's telecommunications infrastructure?

Why are we permitting companies that are only investing in infrastructure where they're being forced to by the deployment of superior true fiber networks determine how far and how quickly we move forward into a more Internet-enabled future?

I'm not trying to say all cablecos are evil, or that their networks have no purpose, or that they shouldn't be allowed to use whatever legitimate means possible to retain customers in the face of the fiber revolution. But why are we simply sitting back and allowing them to mislead consumers, especially at such a critical time in the development of fiber optic access networks where the only thing that's really missing is overwhelming consumer demand for exponentially greater capacity?

By allowing this to happen we're doing a disservice to our country and potentially harming our future.

I've spoken with some of my contacts in DC about how to prevent cablecos from pursuing this practice and know that the FTC is the place to go as they deal with truth in advertising.

Unfortunately I've also learned that getting something classified as false or misleading advertising can be difficult as most often cablecos couch their claims in terms like "fiber-powered" that can be hard to define as totally false.

But at the same time, the more examples I see of this cableco practice, the more it feels like they're stepping over that line and need to be slapped back.

The only way to do this, though, is to find as many examples of this practice in action as possible and then rally public support behind this cause.

To that end, I'd like to put out an open invitation to anyone who's reading to start keeping an eye out for suspect-looking cable ads. Any time you see a TV or radio ad, billboard or newspaper ad where your incumbent cableco is touting its fiber optics, try to capture it in some way. Record it, take a picture, or even just write down the words, and then start adding this material as comments to this post.

If we can collect enough evidence, I'll take this cause right to the FTC to see what I can get done to stop this unethical practice.

Because if you're like me and believe fiber is our future, we can't sit passively on the sidelines any more and allow this deception to continue happening.

My Hyperconnected Fantasy Football Draft

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On Friday night I had one of most fun (and frustrating) experiences using broadband in my life.

It's that time of year again when a group of long-time friends get together for the annual male bonding ritual known as fantasy football, and Friday night was draft night.

Unfortunately, with airfare on the uptick, I couldn't justify spending more to fly back to Minnesota to attend the draft in person than I'd get even if I won the league, so I had to draft from the comfort of my living room in DC.

Now this isn't the first time I've done this, but in years past I simply called in to a friend at the draft to run my bids through him. But this has never been an ideal setup as we use the auction format for our draft and it's a lot more fun to be able to shout in your own bids.

So this year we decided to do things a little differently. Our vision was to setup a webcam in the draft room with a mic and speakers, and project my face up onto the screen in the conference room where the draft is held. That way I could see everyone, they could see me, and I could participate by putting in my own bids.

In the end, it worked, but not without some frustration.

On the positive side, we used Skype to make the call and the audio was great. When I spoke, people could hear me. And since they actually setup the webcam on a water bottle, draped a coat around its shoulders, and put my name across its chest at the end of the table, it was incredibly cool to have everyone turning their heads to look at me when I spoke as if I were actually sitting there.

While the video was extremely poor quality, I can not overstate how much it added to the overall experience. Previously I was left with little audio other than what my friend told me when drafting remotely, but now I had something entertaining to watch throughout the three-hour drafting process.

Also noteworthy was that despite a couple of brief pops, the call held strong throughout the entire draft. There was a definite delay that almost cost me a couple of players, but it was a good enough experience that we never had to abandon it to go back to using cell phones to call in despite the draft lasting over 4 hours.

So overall, using broadband enhanced the fun I had while drafting tremendously. The use of video and the way they set up the audio made me feel like I was there, and it's definitely one of, if not the, longest single thing I've done using broadband before.

But then there were the negatives.

First off, setup was a bit of a bear. To frame this note that the two guys helping get things setup in the draft room are techies; they program and build applications for a living. So you'd think setting up a simple camera to stream video and use audio would be easy. You would think.

To start with the only webcam anyone had ready access to was old and at least partially responsible for the low quality video. Then when they went to set it up it was discovered that the computer it was plugged in to didn't have the proper drivers so time had to be spent finding, downloading, and installing those.

We thought we had it working, only to have the video disappear when the call expanded from two parties to four as Skype doesn't support multi-party video. If I would've been thinking before the draft I would've had everyone get set up with SightSpeed, but at this point it was too late to get people to download and install an app as the beginning of the draft was nearing quickly.

At one point we started thinking we were going to have to find an option other than Skype to either get the multi-party video to work or to allow the camera at the draft to be webcast out so I could at least watch it even if they couldn't see me. But then we ran into the problem that one of the computers they were using was a work computer that didn't have the latest version of Flash and was locked out from being upgraded. So we couldn't use MeBeam, a site I found that allows Skype to do multi-party video, and we couldn't use, which allows for easy webcasting from your Internet browser, because both are based on Flash.

We finally figured out that instead of doing one big call that included the other guy who had to dial in remotely, it'd be better to set up two separate calls on two different machines, at which point everything started working well. But we'd gotten so close to the draft that we weren't able to get things ready so that my head could be displayed giant-sized on the projector looking down on everyone, which was disappointing from an intimidation point of view, but not the end of the world.

Also challenging during setup were some significant feedback issues caused by the webcam having built-in speakers. After a fair amount of tweaking, turning speakers up and down, off and on, it finally got figured out and the audio was rock solid throughout the draft.

But think about this: fundamentally all we were really trying to do is turn a camera on in a room that I could watch, and setup a conference call where I could hear and speak through. It's not like we were trying to do anything crazy with brand new apps using tons of bandwidth. And despite the fact we had two techies in the room to help figure things it still took a good hour before things were ready to go.

So the moral of this story is that we still have a helluva long ways to go before the Internet is more user-friendly and before all the different pieces that make it work play nice together.

I'm not saying that simple-to-use apps don't exist. In fact, while they were trying to get things working, I went ahead and turned on my first webcast using just to see how easy it is, and I came away extremely impressed. Within a couple of minutes I was webcasting live to the Internet for the world to see using my built-in webcam and mike on my Macbook. But at the same time, I know that if I didn't have a couple of dedicated techies at the other end helping figure this out on draft night, I would've been stuck with audio only and maybe even relegated to a cellphone.

There were a few other observations I had during the draft that were interesting:

- For most of the draft we had everyone in the room and two people Skyped in, but at one point an owner who wasn't able to be there but had a friend drafting for him called in and was put on speakerphone on a cellphone, helping add another leg to this hyperconnected fantasy football draft.

- Yet the draft also wasn't as hyperconnected as I would've liked it to be. While I was able to chat via instant messaging through Skype with the two techies, I had no way of communicating with my friend in the room who I used to talk through in draft's past. I could see him, and talk to him publicly, but had no way of contacting him privately, even though he had his laptop open and presumably on the Internet. We didn't discuss ahead of time to make sure we could chat during the draft, so we ended up unable to communicate until the end, at which point he mentioned missing not having me in his ear to provide running commentary throughout the draft. So no matter how connected we may have been, it still wasn't enough.

- It was kind of neat that at one point I noticed one of the techies typing me a message before I received it through Skype. A small thing but still pretty cool.

All in all it was a tremendous experience, one that I definitely plan on repeating next year assuming I can't get back to Minnesota to participate in person. As while nothing beats being there, I can also now firmly state that nothing beats using broadband when you can't be there.

I'm excited to today introduce a new feature to our first guest column.

The central goal of this site is to engage thought leaders in a robust discussion about the potential and ramifications of the broadband revolution. To that end I could not be more excited about posting the first entry from the leading expert in what broadband can mean for local economic development and's first guest columnist Michael Curri.

You should remember him from a VidChat we did on how broadband drives economic development, which you can watch here. Michael runs Strategic Networks Group, a consultancy with offices in North America and Europe that helps communities, network operators, and businesses around the world track, quantify, and encourage broadband's positive impact on local economies.

In his first column, Michael responds passionately to a May 23 Economist article entitled "The broadband myth."

Last week I had the great fortune to learn about a potentially revolutionary new model for deploying fiber from Bill St. Arnaud, senior director for advanced networks at CANARIE and long-time industry visionary.

In a 400-home trial in Ottawa currently underway, Bill's trying to prove the concept of customer-owned residential fiber optic networks. So no longer would your pipe onto the Internet be owned by either a private service provider or public government entity, but instead you would own your own last mile network.

The genesis for these ideas grow out of CANARIE's history, which began when universities and school realized that purchasing and deploying their own fiber was far cheaper than buying managed services from telcos. The question then became, "Can we extend this concept to the last mile?"

The challenge with fiber deployment has long been the huge upfront capital costs required to build out the network.

For private providers, it's hard to find a business case that will pay for a big-bandwidth network when you're trying to drive revenue from triple play services at a time when over-the-top apps like VoIP and Internet video are eating into your base. And it doesn't get any easier when you're also having to compete against aggressive incumbent cable and DSL providers in a marketplace where consumers in general still don't understand the value of bigger bandwidth networks.

The circumstances aren't much better on the public side either, where cities have a hard time justifying investing millions if not billions into a network when they've got people starving in the streets. Plus managing an Internet network requires lots of skilled people and can be very difficult to maintain and upgrade in a cost-effective manner.

But what if there was a third option for deploying fiber? It's Bill's belief that not only is there a third option but that it's the best one yet.

It starts with the fact that there are a number of companies that are in the business of building fiber networks. They don't want to own these networks and offer services, they just want to make their money off designing and deploying fiber optics.

It then moves to an innovative funding mechanism. First it relies on subscribers to pay for and own their own fiber optic connections. But instead of charging for the connection upfront, Bill wants to roll the cost of fiber into your electric bill.

He cites the fact that there are companies that will now sell you a fixed rate energy deal where if you sign up for 5 years of service they'll guarantee you a certain price over the length of that contract, say 15 cents per kilowatt hour.

What Bill sees is the opportunity to offer homeowners the ability to pay 17 cents per kilowatt hour and in return get a fiber optic connection as well as some level of free Internet service.

He goes on to say that on average a typical homeowner will spend $1000-2000 a year on their electric bill. If you raise that kilowatt per hour rate two cents, you'd generate an additional $400 per year, which over a five year contract would pay for the fiber. Then for an extra quarter cent there'd be enough revenue to provide high speed Internet.

While most current models need at least 40% penetration to be economically viable, Bill claims his model could break even with only 10%.

But what do you get?

A home-run fiber pipe to a carrier-neutral facility.

Let's break down what that means.

First off, the default connection speed on the fiber from your home to the central office will be 1Gbps.

Secondly, "home-run fiber" basically means you get your own fiber strand, and because of that you and your service provider can choose whether or not to use GPON, ethernet, or any other technology over that fiber. (More on this on a later post.)

Third, the "carrier-neutral facility" is where multiple ISPs would compete for your business. If you don't like the service one is providing you, since you own the fiber you could switch to a competitor.

Fourth, this facility is also a place where other applications developers and service providers can connect directly to offer any number of additional services beyond the triple play and do so with a higher level of quality of service than is possible delivering them over the open Internet.

So in exchange for paying a little more for electricity, you as the homeowner get your own fiber pipe with huge capacity without losing competition between services while opening up new possibilities for Internet applications to gain a new level of quality of service by coming into the last mile access network.

But what about for ISPs?

This has been one of the biggest challenges to this model: getting service providers onto the network to create this competition.

The incumbents aren't interested as they see this project as a competitor to their business. They don't need any help as they already have their own infrastructure. And Bill acknowledges that the telcos have had reasonable reasons for why they didn't want to go over open access infrastructure in the past since there's always been a party in the middle that has the customer relationship. But with customer-owned fiber, there's no intermediary, there's a direct connection to the customer, and Bill hopes that it will make this an easier sell.

On another front, there was an assumption that even if the incumbents won't play along that there are other retail Internet companies that would jump at the opportunity to expand their footprints into new markets without having to invest deploying new lines. But they've run into a problem. Due to regulations in Canada, all of the small Internet retail providers have gotten clobbered by the incumbents, with many saying that unless you have a million customers you can't afford to stay in business. While there used to be over 200 of these companies, today Canada has about three, and none are in Ottawa. And while he has garnered some interest from the remaining companies, the challenge he now faces is that his Ottawa trial of 400 homes just isn't big enough to get any company to spend money on getting onto that network without any guarantees that by doing so they'll eventually gain access to a larger market.

Yet despite these initial challenges, ultimately Bill's model should be one that ISPs embrace as it offers them a lot of advantages over the status quo.

- By rolling the cost of Internet service into the electric bill ISPs can get a guaranteed return and they can rely on the electric company to collect payment, which is helpful as they have the bigger stick of being able to turn off the power if someone doesn't pay up.

- By having users pay for the network, ISPs can gain access to a cutting-edge infrastructure without having to commit a ton of their own capital.

- By having the network be open, ISPs can expand beyond their current, geographically limited footprints to reach new customers that they otherwise would've only been able to serve by buying existing or building new networks, both of which require a lot more money than being able to riding someone else's network.

While this model not only raises the specter but gives new form to the idea of structural separation, where the entity that owns/manages the network is different from that which offers services over it, in Bill's estimation this is nothing more than the natural evolution of telecommunications.

He cites the wireless space as an example of this. None of the carriers own their own towers in the wireless world. The reason for this is that the fierce competition in that space has led carriers to realize that managing towers is not their core competency, so instead a number of companies have sprung for whom that is their expertise, allowing carriers to focus on what they do best: delivering high quality, value-added services. He goes on to say, "When you have a competitive marketplace, structural separation naturally happens."

And elsewhere in the world some incumbents are coming to realize that. For example, Bill points to Sweden, where a number of municipalities have built full fiber networks that are now being either used or bought by the incumbent, Telstra. While at first Telstra resisted this movement towards muni-networks, they now embrace the concept as they're realizing that muni-networks allow them to get the business while someone else pays for the infrastructure.

But for now Bill's ideals are only in their earliest stages here in North America. The fiber's deployed in their initial 400 home pilot project in Ottawa, but to prove its viability he admits they need to get a bigger city to adopt it. Only by getting sufficient scale will we convince ISPs to jump onto the network and therefore realize the competition open networks promise. And only by proving this model's viability in a bigger city will we have any hope of opening other people's eyes to these possibilities.

This post has only begun to scratch the surface of what Bill's setting out to achieve. And while I found myself growing more and more excited the longer we discussed it, I still have to be realistic about the many hurdles it faces before we can achieve Bill's goal of establishing a third option for fiber deployment in Canada, the US, and across the world.

But at the same time, it's thrilling to hear about what he's doing as he's proving that there are still new ideas to be found that reach beyond the status quo to find new solutions to the task of overcoming the gigantic challenge we face in trying to achieve a full fiber nation.

And even more heartening is the fact that he's not trying to hide and protect his ideas but instead wants to share them with the world, garner feedback and criticism, and therefore be able to improve, enhance, and expand these possibilities so that we might find the best possible way to reach our goals.

Know that you're going to be hearing a lot more about Bill and his efforts north of the border here on If you have your own thoughts on how to improve this model, your own ideas for alternate models for deploying fiber, or questions you'd like to ask Bill about the specifics of what he's doing, post a comment below and I'll make sure your concerns are addressed.

Until next time, just remember that while achieving a full fiber nation won't be easy, that doesn't mean it's impossible, especially when we've got individuals like Bill St. Arnaud with the drive, intelligence, and vision to make what might have once seem a dream into a reality.

Internet Going In-Network To Deliver Olympics Video

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While somewhat technical, this post is an important one for anyone to read that's interested in the future of the Internet.

It highlights how NBC is leveraging Limelight Networks CDN services to deliver live and on-demand video from the Olympics. In particular it points out that the reason the Internet didn't crash when everyone went online to watch this video was because of how Limelight delivers video.

Any time you go to a website or watch an on-demand video, those assets you're viewing reside on a server somewhere out on the Internet.

CDNs, or content delivery networks, enable you to deliver Internet content without having to manage your own servers, instead using the CDNs facilities to reach your audience.

Also important to note is that the further away you are physically from the server that has the content you're trying to access, the more likely it is that there'll be an issue or delay in delivering that content, especially streaming video.

What Limelight's done is establish partnerships with over 800 ISPs so that when you're trying to access content over the Internet, in actuality that webpage or video is residing much closer to you, potentially even within your last mile access network.

So there's a chance that when you go to a website you're not technically on the Internet because your traffic never leaves your last mile access network (aka your broadband provider).

In this way content delivery is able to get a higher level of quality of service than is otherwise possible through the larger interconnected cloud that is the Internet, which often requires multiple hops to traverse the distance between server and user.

Ultimately moving more and more content into the last mile access network will be the only way that fiber communities will be able to take advantage of all that bandwidth they have available to them as while the rest of the Internet isn't always prepared to deliver very high quality video, if that video resides within the last mile full-fiber access network, then the sky's the limit in terms of what's possible.

So it's my opinion that if you want to see where the future of the Internet is going to come from, your best bet will be to look in-network, especially in communities like Lafayette, LA where once live their network will offer users 100Mbps of capacity in-network, creating the ultimate laboratory for developing and testing next-gen big-bandwidth applications.

Lafayette CampFiber Polls

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These are polls to help formulate the best possible event for the first ever CampFiber to be held Oct 4th in Lafayette, LA. Anyone planning on attending this event should answer with their thoughts.

Late last week I had one of the most exhilarating conversations of recent memory as I had a chance to talk with Bill St. Arnaud for the first time. Bill is a visionary when it comes to customer-owned fiber networks, and I'm working on a post detailing the trial he's got underway in Ottawa for introducing a new paradigm in fiber deployment, and trust me, it's a good one.

But for now I wanted to share another interesting observation he made during our call.

To preface this, Bill works with CANARIE, which is basically Canada's equivalent of Internet2, an ultra-high-bandwidth network that connects universities and research institutions.

During our conversation we began discussing the unfortunate reality that most universities have not yet fully embraced the use of broadband and in particular are not utilizing the opportunities these big bandwidth networks provide to find and develop new, innovative applications.

This is something I know I've been frustrated by, especially in places like Lafayette, LA, where last April I had a chance to chat with the head of the computer science department at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. I had expected and hoped to find him inspired by the big network being put into place, excited over the possibilities for this network to be a teaching aid, to drive curriculum, and to help spark the imagination of students to develop new apps, but instead he seemed relatively disinterested. Not that he wasn't personally excited about the network, but he didn't seem too anxious to find ways to incorporate its use into his curriculum.

Bill confirmed that this tends to be the case among CANARIE's universities as well. While there is a fair amount of HD videoconferencing being done, for the most part other than that CANARIE's users only tend to utilize the network for pushing around large data sets more quickly then they'd be able to do otherwise. There just isn't a lot of innovation happening in the classroom either in the use of the network or the development of new apps that can take advantage of all this bandwidth.

But then he made a really interesting comment. For him, it's not that innovation isn't happening on college campuses, it just isn't happening in the labs or classrooms. Instead he shared that if you want to find innovation on a college campus, go to the dorms and see how the students are using their access to high bandwidth connectivity. That those are the users who are finding new ways to take advantage of the fat pipes that are commonplace among dormitories on college campuses.

While some might point out that much of this so-called innovation stems from illegal activities like unauthorized file-sharing, I still think Bill's really on to something here. These are the users who made Facebook a huge success, that watch a ton of online video, that are creating videos to upload for others to see, that are eager to try out new applications and that have the time to do so, and that have the creative energy to dream up new applications that enrich or make easier in some way their lives through the use of broadband.

So when it comes to innovation through broadband on college campuses, don't look in the classroom, look to the dorms, where an eager populace of early adopters are pushing the boundaries of what's possible in an era where bandwidth is no longer scarce but overabundant.

Yesterday I wrote a post entitled "Are PEG Access Fees A Tax In Disguise?" in which I explored whether regardless of their intent, that the potential perception and effective reality of these fees are akin to a secret tax on consumers to pay for local community media.

While I tried applying critical thinking to this issue so as not to condemn PEG fees, I admittedly did a poor job of researching the historical background of this issue in relation to the ongoing battle between the PEG community and cablecos. Luckily, I was called out for my intellectual laziness by longtime PEG luminary Chuck Sherwood.

In an email exchange last night I learned about how this debate has been an issue for more than 15 years, with Comcast in particular being notorious for push polling communities that try to raise their PEG fees, say from 3 to 5%, asking the public if they want to pay more for PEG since the cableco is just going to pass this increase through in the form of higher subscription fees. These numbers rarely come out in PEG's favor and then this is used as evidence to push back against any increase that could provide better funding to local community media.

Chuck also lambasted me for failing to recognize that my words could be taken by the free market crowd as an argument against the validity of PEG fees altogether. That there's no role for public money in these situations but that the free market should be allowed to deliver whatever services are needed without government interference.

I appreciate tremendously Chuck bringing these issues to my attention and for pushing back hard when I wrote something he disagreed with. I encourage all of you to do the same. One of the best and worst things about a blog is how easy it is to have an idea, write it down, and put up a post without having to apply the same rigor as publishing in more traditional media.

But my goal in this blog is not to be a provocateur but instead to try and find the truth in these complex and often polarized issues. So if ever you feel I'm straying from the truth, add a comment to a post and I'll contact you so we can discuss in greater detail. I hope to soon do a VidChat with Chuck where he and I can work through this issue in much greater detail, and I look forward to doing the same with anyone who's as passionate and knowledgeable as he is about any of the issues I write about.

Now let's get back to the issue of PEG access fees.

First off, let me say that I am not one who believes there's no role for government involvement in insuring the delivery of services aimed at the public good. If we left every decision up to the public, I'd worry that too many people would instinctively always vote against paying taxes of any sort regardless of the utility of the services or projects they're intended to fund. And I do firmly believe that PEG delivers services for the public good and we have a responsibility to find appropriate funding for it by whatever means necessary.

Secondly, I don't believe that PEG access fees as they're currently structured are an illegitimate means of obtaining that funding. It absolutely makes sense that in exchange for access to a public asset (rights of way) that cablecos should have to provide something for the public good (PEG).

But I still don't think we can ignore some of the issues the cablecos have brought up in their push back against these fees.

First, PEG fees are effectively paid for by consumers. Whether or not you call it a secret tax, and regardless of whether you think cablecos passing the cost through is the right thing to do, they are doing so and therefore any increase in PEG fees are paid for by cable TV subscribers.

Second, while I'm sure this varies dramatically from community to community, in general I do think it's unfortunately the case that many if not most cable subscribers don't see the value of PEG. To them PEG means public access means those crazy shows you only see briefly as you're channel surfing. And PEG as it's currently constructed often delivers little value to anyone who's not interested in local government meetings, high school sports, or the like. I'm not saying this is all PEG's good for or all that it delivers, but again sometimes intent does not line up with public perception, and expanding public support for PEG is a primary challenge that if overcome would dramatically improve PEG's ability to have an even more significant impact in their communities.

Just because we don't agree with what the cablecos are doing or saying doesn't mean we can ignore the issues their positions raise.

Yet I don't see this as a time for despair but instead an opportunity to rethink the model of PEG and find ways to improve it.

Maybe instead of fees on gross revenue the fees should be on profits.

Maybe instead of fees limited to cable TV they should be fees across all services.

Maybe instead of mandatory payment, subscribers should be given the option to contribute to PEG, but not just the minimum 5% but also the opportunity to pay more if PEG is an important thing to them and then be able to count that extra payment as a tax-deductible donation.

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head. I'll dive deeper into new ideas for possible alternatives next week.

But for now I'll leave this issue with the simple statement that if we are to prove the value of PEG and preserve its rightful place at the heart of our communities, we need to find ways to increase public awareness of the value PEG delivers and therefore increase public support for PEG. That way, when a Comcast push polls a community to build evidence against an increase in PEG fees, they'll be met with a strong, unified voice shouting out, "We love our PEG channels! We understand and respect the value they deliver, and we're willing to pay to improve their ability to serve our community. So stop dicking around and start delivering us the service we know our community deserves!"

Are PEG Access Fees A Tax In Disguise?

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I've been needing to get back into exploring the topic of PEG and will be doing so next week as I lay out some thoughts for what its future could look like, but for now learning about how the city of Saline, MI is taking Comcast to court for refusing to pay a new fee of 2% of its gross revenue has got me thinking: Aren't PEG access fees a tax?

To frame this, PEG channels and access centers are traditionally funded by franchise fees, which consist of cable TV operators paying a percentage of their cable TV revenue in exchange for obtaining rights of way in a community. The idea is that in order to access a public asset they should have to fund something that serves the public good, namely PEG.

In the case in Saline, Comcast is refusing to pay a new 2% fee on the grounds that doing so would increase their subscribers' bills. This is an important point to remember: cable operators don't trim profits to pay these fees, they simply pass them through to their customers by increasing the price of their service.

The reason behind Saline introducing this fee is to help pay off the debt incurred by the local school district from when they installed a new studio in a high school that trains students in video production.

So increased PEG access fees are paid by the public, and they're being used to fund projects for the community.

Now I know there are other ways for schools to raise funds, but I also know that schools sometimes have trouble getting the community to pony up additional money, especially for projects that some may feel are unnecessary and even more so when funding a project will result in an increase in taxes.

But I can't shake the feeling that finding funding through these PEG access fees are essentially a roundabout way of implementing taxes in disguise.

I'm not necessarily saying this is a bad thing or a practice that shouldn't be continued, but I do wonder how communities would react if they better understood this fact.

My own sense is that if I didn't know cable operators were just passing through the costs that I'd be in total support of them as it makes sense that private companies should have to pay back to the community something of value in exchange for the ability to access public rights of way.

But how would public sentiment towards PEG fees and PEG in general change if everyone understood that they're essentially a tax? I really don't know.

For many I'm sure it wouldn't make any difference since they see the tremendous public good that PEG provides and realize that its something that's worthwhile for our tax dollars to fund.

For anyone who subscribes to cable TV that doesn't see the value in PEG, though, I worry that if they learn the truth about PEG fees that it may further sour their opinion of the value of PEG thereby hurting public support for PEG at a time when we need to be rallying people around the promise of local community media.

I may be blowing this all out of proportion, but at the same time it wouldn't surprise me at all that as cable operators continue pushing back against their PEG obligations that they may follow Comcast's lead by calling into question the legitimacy of PEG fees as a secret tax on consumers.

So PEG stations should be prepared for this new front in the battle over their future as regardless of the legitimacy of these claims that PEG fees are a secret tax, the accusation alone is something that won't help public perception one bit as no one likes taxes, especially those that are disguised as something else.

Internet Video Not Just About Short Clips

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Anyone who follows the rise of online video has long been given the impression that video on the Internet is all about short clips. If a video's more than a few minutes long, no one will watch it, and therefore all content must be cut up into bite-sized pieces for easier consumption.

But in the last couple of days I've learned just how far this reality has shifted.

First I was speaking with JumpTV and learned that their viewers average almost an hour and a half watching sports video from around the world.

Then today I just got off the phone with ESPN360 and was blown away when I heard that they're seeing average viewing times of three hours.

On one level these numbers aren't surprising as the content these sites deliver are full-length sporting events that almost always last multiple hours, or in the case of a sport like cricket even multiple days.

But on another level, it's remarkable to think that there are many people who are now sitting in front of their computer to watch video for hours at a time.

Of course, I am one of those people. Since giving up my cable subscription, I've been known to dive into Hulu to watch a whole string of TV episodes or even a full-length movie.

So long as there's sufficient connectivity, watching online video can provide a compelling experience even over longer periods of time. In fact, I'm finding myself gravitating towards sites where I sit back and watch longer form video rather than having to hunt and peck through sites with an endless library of short form clips.

And as there become more and more ways of getting Internet video to the TV, this trend should only continue to accelerate.

What's important about all this is that when people talk about how the growing demand for video is increasing demand for bandwidth, there are two primary variables in that equation: the quality and the length of the video.

The quality of video that can be delivered will be limited for quite some time by bandwidth, storage, and processing power constraints, but the length of video is a variable that will continue to increase so long as there's sufficient connectivity to deliver a positive viewing experience and there's longer form content available to watch.

Sites like JumpTV and ESPN360 are proving this to be the case, so when we talk about the growing demand for bandwidth that's being driven by online video, we should remember that it's not just about funny clips on YouTube and HD video on, it's also about users finding opportunities to sit down for extended sessions that can span not just minutes but hours watching video online.

The Downside of Hosted Apps: Gmail Goes Down

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Yesterday myself and millions of other Gmail users were faced with a rather unpleasant experience: we couldn't log in to our email boxes.

As my Gmail account is my primary address, I keep most of my contacts saved online, and I don't use a desktop email client, losing access to my hosted email service could've been devastating.

Luckily the outage occurred at night and resolved itself within a couple of hours so I wasn't overly affected by it, but experiences like this do give me pause: can I trust hosted applications?

First off this isn't the first time this has happened. While this was one of the longer outages in quite some time, it's happened before and likely will happen again.

Secondly, what happens if they can't fix whatever problem happens next time? It's terrifying to think that all my emails, contacts, and so on are at risk of disappearing into the nether.

Thirdly, and I've been thinking about this for a while, hosted apps only work when you have connectivity. Now I've made the investment in a wireless EVDO modem from Verizon so I'm basically never without connectivity, but there can be huge advantages to downloading your email to a desktop client so you can access them offline.

So I guess what this is all bringing me to is that we have to be careful about getting too caught up in the hype surrounding hosted applications, computing in the cloud, and all those promises of a day where everything happens out there rather than locally on your machine.

There are definite advantages to locally run applications. While you won't find a bigger advocate for broadband and the potential of hosted apps, for the time being perhaps it'd be prudent not to rely on them as heavily as some like myself have begun to as while they offer great functionality and ease they're also totally out of our control.

On Friday August 1st, the FCC came down with its ruling against Comcast for its previous treatment of P2P traffic, where during times of peak usage they would prevent/stall users from connecting to P2P networks.

This decision did not come without disagreement among the Commissioners, and reactions have been mixed, with some calling it a victory for neutrality, others disappointed at the leniency of the penalties, Comcast still claiming innocence, and AT&T;/Verizon crediting it as proof that the current regulatory structure protecting net neutrality is sufficient.

But these only represent some of the opinions and truths about what the FCC's ruling really means to the future of the Internet. Last week in an email chain with Michael Johnston, VP of IT at Jackson Energy Authority, a municipal fiber deployer in Jackson, TN, I learned that because of how vague the FCC's ruling was, the uncertainty that creates is hampering their ability to move forward with certainty when it comes to innovating on their network.

This is an important message for everyone to recognize about the potential downside of pursuing imprecise regulation/legislation of network management on the pace of innovation in bringing about the next generation of the Internet.

Here's a link to that previous VidChat I did with Michael where we discussed the challenges of delivering P2P traffic as a network operator and what this all means in relation to his belief that the solution to concerns about net neutrality can and should be found in market-driven solutions.

You can find, download, and read the various opinions of the FCC Commissioners on the FCC's homepage. Just scroll down a bit and they're listed in the entry on 8/1.

If you'd like to join the conversation, have something interesting to say, and want to do a VidChat with me on this or related subjects, submit a comment with your email address and I'll contact you to schedule a time and share with you what you need to get set up.

Despite the impression that net neutrality is an issue with two polarized sides heavily entrenched against the other, I'm a firm believer that in the end everyone agrees more than they disagree on this subject. If we can just sit down and listen to all affected parties we'll be able to find real solutions to these real problems.

If I Ran AT&T...; I'd Buy Skype

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Welcome to the start of a new feature on where I step into the hypothetical by imagining what I'd do if given the reins to run AT&T.;

From my new perch atop a multi-billion dollar corporation, my first order of business is to address the inescapable reality that the traditional landline telephone business is headed towards extinction.

In the last quarter alone, we lost 1.5 million phone lines. And because of the combination of consumers dropping landlines for cellphones and both cable companies and VoIP providers offering new competition, this trend doesn't appear as though it will abate any time soon.

Making matters worse is that once these customers are gone they're likely not coming back. So rather than allow this slow bleed to continue, I need to make a bold move: getting out of the landline telephone business.

This plan starts with buying Skype. There are multiple reasons for doing so:

- Skype has a strong brand.
- It has a built-in global user base.
- It's more feature-rich than AT&T;'s current VoIP offering.
- It's rumored eBay wants to sell so it should be available.

Next up, I'll convert all my landline telephone customers to DSL customers.

I'd equip them with modems and provide them both data and Skype-powered phone services for the same price they're paying right now.

Obviously this won't be simple or cheap to do.

First there's the cost of buying Skype, though it could probably be had for a couple billion and for a company with revenues of more than $100 billion, I think we can manage it.

The DSL speeds offered will probably have to be the slowest available, but then there'll be opportunities to upsell them to faster speeds.

There'll have to be some integration work done so that customers' phones still work with the new service, but once we crack that nut it should expand the base of customers further into the mainstream that I can market my Skype-powered VoIP services to.

To make this a success, there are massive education efforts that'll be needed to help customers understand what's happening and why it's such a great thing for them, but during this process there'll be opportunity to sell additional value-added products that can drive new revenue.

In the short-term there's no doubt this would be a huge cost, but in the long-term if it can help stave off the losses that currently seem inevitable, these costs will likely pay for themselves by the number of customers it can help retain.

And its a proactive policy that proves my commitment to delivering value to my customers, rather than squatting on the status quo and watching while the tub slowly drains of water.

Plus, by moving customers en masse to IP, it'll open up many new opportunities to sell new services to them. Today, there's not much you can sell a telephone-only customer other than cheaper long distance packages. But tomorrow once all customers are IP-enabled, there'll be many opportunities to drive new revenues through new services and applications.

This may sound like an extreme first step to take in my new role as head of AT&T;, but I believe quite strongly that if we ignore these megatrends we risk being left behind. So instead it's better to bite the bullet and get out ahead of the curve.

It's time for AT&T; to get out of the landline business, buy Skype, and embrace the future that broadband is bringing about.

Tune In Online To The Olympics

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By this point you've probably heard about NBC's ambitious efforts to bring hundreds if not thousands of hours of Olympics coverage to the Internet.

But the saturation of online Olympics coverage doesn't end there. Check out this site from Wired Magazine listing the many ways in which you can use your broadband connection to access live and on-demand video from this year's Summer Games, which start tomorrow.

Connectivity Bad For Business?

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In talking about broadband specifically and connectivity more generally, there's often the assumption that more is better. That businesses in particular can not survive without it in the 21st century. That if only we had more and used more, businesses would be more efficient, more effective, and more profitable. But in talking yesteday with David Olson, cable director for Portland, I learned that this isn't always the case.

He recounted to me how last week he was on a fishing trip with family up to a remote area of Vancouver Island, far enough removed that it took a full day and multiple modes of transport to get to the final destination.

He then shared the anecdote he heard while up there of a local community having the opportunity to vote for spreading wireless connectivity across the area but ultimately voting against becoming more connected.

The reason why? The business community convinced people it would be a bad idea for tourists to be able to connect back to the real world.

The reason for this? Because once people are connected the odds that their trips will be cut short by happenings back home increase dramatically.

Whether based on anecdotes, hard facts, or a gut feeling, the local economy of outfitters, boat operators, campgrounds, and more were, and likely still are, convinced that by improving their connectivity it would be bad for business as the less time tourists spend in the area the less they're spending on local goods and services.

What's fascinating about this story isn't so much that an area voted against better connectivity; in the case of municipal broadband efforts that happens with some regularity. What's interesting is that these people seem to have a legitimate reason for believing better connectivity is bad for business.

What this highlights, as David pointed out, is that despite the many wonders of our highly interconnected world, that there is still a place for providing the opportunity to unplug the fiber running directly to our brains and disconnect from the rest of the real world.

What sparked this whole conversation was my sarcastically asking what the connectivity was like up there in the woods, fully expecting him to lament its inadequacy.

Instead he seemed like he hadn't even considered that lack of connectivity as any sort of a negative, but instead he welcomed the opportunity to get away from it all, if even for just the week or two of a trip.

And you know what? While sometimes it feels like not being able to get online is the end of the world, I'm starting to purposefully set aside the Internet in my own life. It can be really nice to go into a weekend not thinking about checking your email and looking up the latest news but instead focusing all of your attention on just being, on enjoying life, on appreciating the company of loved ones.

So though I may be one of the biggest advocates for ubiquitous connectivity, it's important we all remember that just because broadband's a good thing, that doesn't mean it will ever be universally accepted. Because sometimes people just want to get away from it all, and for the industries built up around those experiences, sometimes being more connected is not necessarily a good thing.

Announcing The Inaugural Lafayette CampFiber

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One great frustration for advocates of fiber has long been the underutilization of the capacity full fiber networks deliver. Most applications don't require that much bandwidth, and most developers don't yet seem to be thinking in terms of what's possible in a world where bandwidth scarcity transforms into bandwidth abundance.

Well it's time we shift that paradigm by announcing the world's first CampFiber.

Born from the idealistic model of a BarCamp, which is an ad hoc unconference for open source developers where the attendees are also the presenters, a CampFiber is a free and open event for developers, programmers, and entrepreneurs to come together, learn about the capabilities of a full fiber network, and discuss/brainstorm the next generation of big bandwidth applications.

The first CampFiber is set to be held in Lafayette, LA on October 4th. Lafayette, as you'll remember, is in the process of building one of the fastest residential networks in the country, where in addition to 10Mbps up and down being the lowest speed broadband available, every subscriber will also gain access to a free 100Mbps intranet through which they can communicate with other people on the network.

This kind of a bandwidth-rich environment is perfect for developing new applications, especially when you combine it with the dynamic computing power available from the Abacus Data Exchange through their LiquidIQ broadband fabric computing solution.

The Lafayette CampFiber will be an opportunity for local developers to come together and hear from LUS about the capabilities of the network and Abacus about the capabilities of LiquidIQ.

The event will also feature a local leaders roundtable where representatives from education, government, healthcare, and business will sit down, share their pain points, and provide a wishlist for functions they wish they had applications to fill in the hopes of sparking the imagination of developers to create substantial apps that improve society rather than just another YouTube.

And included in the festivities will be a session on VC 101, which will educate budding entrepreneurs on the opportunities to raise capital to fund the businesses that will make these ideas a reality.

I'd like to thank LUS and Abacus for their sponsorship of this event. The goals we're setting out to achieve are manifold:

- Inspire local developers to dream up the next generation of the Internet
- Raise awareness across the state and country of the opportunities to be found in Lafayette for developers
- To help Lafayette prepare itself to take full advantage of the capacity they're putting in the ground
- And, ultimately, to establish a model that can be taken to other fiber communities across the US

To learn more keep an eye on this site.

If you're going to be in Lafayette Oct. 4th and have interest in developing the next generation of Internet apps, you can register for the event for free here.

Or just continue following along here on as I track our progress and document our hopeful successes.

I've been reading a lot lately about FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's desire to create competition and bridge the digital divide in the broadband marketplace through wireless broadband. More specifically, he has his sights set on auctioning off wireless spectrum and mandating the winner deploy free wireless broadband delivering speeds of at least 768Kbps to 95% of the country in the next 10 years.

While I'm all for finding new ways to spur deployment, increase availability, and generally move our country's broadband infrastructure forward, I think we need to be realistic about the merits of a plan like this.

First off, Martin seems to think there's a proven business model in offering free, ad-supported service, but last I checked isn't that the same model that's credited with bringing about the failure of municipal wireless initiatives across the country? My general understanding is that at least to date, free and ad-supported broadband has not yet proven to be a self-sustaining model in cities, so how can we expect that it will be the silver bullet for fixing our broadband woes across the entire country?

Secondly, while free service could be great, just because it's free doesn't mean people will be able to use it as you still need a computer, the appropriate modem or network card for accessing the wireless network, and a sufficient enough understanding of how the computer and the Internet works to actually do something with it once all the technological pieces are in place. As I've said before and will say again and again: deployment is only half the battle, we also need to address adoption and use.

Third, I can't help but chuckle at the thought of our goal being to enable universal "broadband" at 768Kbps in a decade. Think about 10 years ago. It was 1998 and dialup was still the norm. Now it's hard to imagine how people survived with so little speed, and already today 768Kbps seems pretty pathetic, so what good are those kinds of speeds going to be in 10 years? Will having free 768Kbps available everywhere be worth anything when the leading broadband countries are well on their way to universal 1Gbps?

Fourth, I'm a bit flabbergasted that even with these slow speeds and with the express intent of enabling universal access that we can't set the goal of 100% deployment. The whole challenge we face is not in getting broadband everywhere, it's finding a way to cover that last 5-10% of America that private carriers don't find economical to deploy in. I know the economics are ugly, but simply ignoring 5% of the country is roughly equivalent to saying an area the size of Montana just doesn't matter when it comes to bringing America into the 21st century.

Fifth, there's been talk that this free wireless broadband network would also be weighted down with the burden of enabling smut-free service that actively blocks pornographic and other inappropriate materials. This idealism is troubling on many fronts:

- Who defines what's appropriate and inappropriate? Would a family photo of a shirtless child be considered child pornography?

- Any time you start talking about filtering anything, you're adding expense and complexity, and often service will suffer. You can't talk about filtering as an abstract good without acknowledging what it will take to implement that ideal.

- Let's be frank: one of the most successful killer apps for getting people to use broadband is porn. I'm not necessarily saying we should be promoting porn, but if the goal is to get people to use the Internet more, then it will be counterproductive to limit their access to one of the most proven ways of getting people interested in going online.

So in the end, while I support Chairman Martin's ideals of finding a way to enable universal access, we have to be realistic about the impact of a plan to try and spur the deployment of free, slow, and not quite universally available access to wireless broadband.

This will not be a silver bullet for broadband, and before we commit to following through on it let's make sure that we're spending our time, money, and energy in the most appropriate way. We can't let idealism get in the way of reality when it comes to plotting out our country's broadband future.

Wow, the impact of metered bandwidth is starting to be felt.

If you want to watch Olympic video online, then you'd better not be using a broadband connection that's metered, or so warns the site where you can download the app that'll let you watch it. Here's what it says:

"The NBC Olympics On The Go software is designed to keep you up-to-date with the latest Olympic events. The software will initiate downloads without notification. Since the NBC Olympics On The Go software delivers large video files, it may use a lot of bandwidth. This software is not recommended for people with dial-up or metered broadband Internet access."

On the one hand, I'm glad NBC and TVTonic included this warning. To use this service you need to download and install an app that will then download videos as they're posted rather than as you request them. As such, it's easy to imagine users who want to watch a lot of Olympics video but don't track their bandwidth usage getting hit with massive penalties when their August broadband bill comes around. So it'd be irresponsible for NBC and TVTonic not to include some form of a warning.

But this is also an incredibly depressing reality. The whole reason to pay for broadband is to enable you to enjoy services like this. You get broadband to watch video, and there are few events that'll attract more viewers wanting to watch video than the Olympics. Yet those viewers may now get penalized for that interest. And the more they want to watch, the more they're going to get penalized.

While I absolutely understand that there's a need for network operators to make sure they're making and not losing money by offering broadband services, but this is truly an untenable situation.

What good is broadband if you can't use it for things like watching video from the Olympics?

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