November 2008 Archives

Last night I had the latest episode witnessing the intersection between technology, sports, and the willingness of content owners to make their content available online.

As I pointed out previously, while the NFL has made a big deal about having some games only available on NFL Network, a special channel only available on cable systems willing to pay for carriage, they have been making that same video available to everyone online for free.

On the flipside, with Monday Night Football now on ESPN if you're like me and don't subscribe to cable you can't watch the game like you used to when it was on broadcast TV, and making matters worse ESPN has not yet decided to make that coverage available online.

A couple weeks ago I decided to take matters into my own hands and start searching for alternative ways to watch MNF online. Unfortunately I had no luck trying out a variety of less-than-legal sites and apps claiming to offer access to ESPN and other TV channels online, due at least in part to my being on a Mac and many of these apps being Windows-only. So I gave up.

But then last night I decided to try one more time. I simply put "watch espn online" into Google, and on the first page of results I got a link to a site called, which allows anyone to stream live video onto the web.

After quickly searching the site I found a page where someone had taken the feed from their cable TV and was streaming it online. The picture wasn't very big, roughly YouTube size, and the quality wasn't as good as's webcast, but they were both good enough to warrant watching.

Now, I should say that I don't entirely fault ESPN for not offering live online coverage. In all likelihood they're preventing from doing so because of rights restrictions or prohibitively high licensing costs because we know it can't be a technological limitation that's holding them back since they webcast video all the time on

But I think this episode also highlights how ineffective efforts to restrict distribution of content online is. Where there's a will of people wanting to watch video, there will be a way that someone discovers to make it happen. The only way you can stop this is by offering the content people want to consume in a high quality, easy to find and access, legal way; you can't hide it from people.

In fact, all ESPN did by not webcasting the video was limit the audience who could tune in. For example, if you're like me and don't have cable, there was no legal way you could watch at home.

Unfortunately too often in situations like this we focus on the rights of content owners and the misdeeds of anyone infringing upon them. But what's really need is more emphasis on the rights on consumers, and the fact that while I do sympathize with big content owners as we're currently in a state of incredible flux and uncertainty with regards to how to best leverage the Internet as an avenue for distributing content, at the same time the best way to figure these things out is by embracing what's possible.

Because if they're not making their content available online, someone else is going to find a way to do it for them.

The Future of App Development Found in Ruston, LA

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While on my last trip to Lafayette, LA for the inaugural CampFiber I took a couple of days to head up to Ruston at the invitation of the good people at NiFTy TV to tour their facilities. In so doing I think I may have seen the future of application development.

NiFTy TV is shorthand for Network Foundation Technologies. Their vision is to transform the promise of live P2P video into reality in order to help anyone webcasting live events save a tremendous amount of money on the cost of delivering that video, over 50% in most cases, while also realizing higher quality.

Like traditional P2P, NiFTy relies on its users to download clients that allow their computers to not just receive video but also send it back out for others to watch. Unlike traditional P2P, which can eat up bandwidth indiscriminately by peering with lots of other users, NiFTy utilizes "polite" P2P based on the concept of binary branching trees, which means each user is only sending out two streams at a time and therefore not overloading networks.

Already NiFTy's being used to deliver hundreds of primarily sporting events each year from entities like the Central Hockey League, the Arena Football League 2, the Total Fighting Alliance, and Hampton University football. Many of these groups had never webcast their events before as it cost too much, but now they're able to keep their fans engaged wherever they may be.

But to be honest, while I find their technology incredibly intriguing, after getting a chance to visit their facilities I'm even more enamored by how they've built up this cutting edge app development company in one of the last places you'd think of as a hotbed of technology.

I'll admit that riding up to Ruston I had my reservations. While I had met the NiFTy guys at an event in New Orleans a few months ago and knew them to be smart, decent people, I wondered if there'd be anything interesting to find in a city of 20,000 I'd never heard of in northern Louisiana.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that not only is NiFTy building a really cool app, they're also establishing a synergistic model for development that should provide a model for institutes of higher learning across the country.

First off, while Ruston may only be a city of 20,000, it's also the home of Lousiana Tech University, a well-regarded institution with more than 10,000 students. Also, NiFTy's cofounder and chief scientist is Dr. Mike O'Neal, who's both an LA Tech alum as well as an associate professor in the computer science department. His long ties to the university are what led to the decision to open their development office and broadcast operations center in Ruston in addition to their offices in Shreveport, LA and Los Angeles, CA.

But they didn't just open an office in Ruston; they're located right on campus in a incubator that offers flexible office space to startup technology companies.

One of the most exciting results of their decision to locate here are the jobs they're creating for LA Tech students doing things like helping manage events in their virtual broadcast center. Not only are these high tech jobs that look good on a resume, they also pay a good deal more than the prevailing wages for more typical college jobs. Plus even better is that NiFTy has hired many of its full-time employees directly out of this workforce, which is allowing students who get high tech degrees to find a high tech job in Ruston rather than having to leave for a bigger city like Houston to find employment.

And this setup works tremendously well for NiFTy as they're able to pull in the best students from the computer science department and beyond to staff their growing, vibrant company. In fact, the model's been so successful that they're starting to burst out of the space they currently have, and they already have an entire floor set aside for them to move into in the new enterprise center being built on campus so they'll have plenty of room to grow.

I just can't get over how smart and synergistic this model is, delivering a true win-win situation for the university and NiFTy alike. It's the kind of model that can and should be duplicated across the country as it proves that apps can be developed anywhere. And by embracing entrepreneurs, universities and colleges can help create employment opportunities for students that can help reverse the brain drain of everyone with tech-related degrees having to move from small towns to big in order to find good jobs.

Best yet, in nearly all respects, NiFTy is only just getting started. It's exhilarating spending time with someone like Dr. O'Neal who has the big picture vision. He's one of the few applications developers I've talked to who has already been thinking about what's possible in a world where full fiber networks are commonplace. And his plans for NiFTy go beyond live webcasting to include applying their underlying algorithms and ideas of polite P2P to improving the delivery of data of all sorts.

Needless to say, I'm couldn't be more excited about what they're doing in Ruston. These are good, hard-working, honest people who have not only proven their commitment to their community but also have proven the viability of small town America as launching pads for the next generation of app development. I truly believe the sky's the limit for NiFTy, and I can't wait to see both how they continue to grow and hopefully how their successes help inspire others to consider opening up shop on campuses and in small towns all across America.

Something Everyone Agrees On: More Demand = Good Thing

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While not a new observation it's become more acute in recent weeks that at least on one front in the Great Broadband Debates all parties seem to be in agreement: we need more people using and relying upon broadband to a greater degree.

It's the one issue that unites network, applications, content, and public interest people, both ideologically (we've all drank the broadband Kool-Aid) as well as from a business perspective (more users = more potential customers).

In particular this has been a major point of emphasis among the big-time network operators. I've now heard telcos and cablecos alike strongly suggesting that we need to be pursuing policies that can help stimulate understanding of and demand for broadband.

Yet while it obviously behooves any online purveyor of apps or content to have a larger marketplace to sell into, I have yet to see these overlapping interests turn into a working consensus over what needs to be done to stimulate consumer demand.

Of course, I can see why some might be wary of supporting any initiative that'll result in increasing subscription rates and ultimately profits for multi-billion dollar network operators. Also, there's the issue that apps guys want to talk about network deployment and management, whereas these are topics that network operators would rather just faded away.

But I think what might be really stalling a coordinated campaign to increase demand for bandwidth is that I have yet to see a concise plan or even any specific actions that can be done to improve this situation.

We've got studies showing that part of what's holding back people who don't subscribe to broadband is cost, but even more significant is that many people still don't have computers at home. On top of this, most people without broadband don't see the value it holds; it's a nice-to-have not a must-have service.

And taking this a step further, I'd argue that we've done a poor job of educating even those who already have broadband about how they can use it to improve their lives. The Internet may be this endless sandbox, library without walls, communications nirvana, but it also tends to be a medium that can only be fully exploited by those with the know how and initiative to spend a lot of time finding and figuring out how to use apps.

From a policy point of view it comes down the simple question of: what can the government really do to spur demand for bandwidth?

One obvious answer is to continue making more of their services available online, in particular in ways that add value to the old paradigm in order to incentivize people to shift into the new.

For example, webcasting government meetings through a company like Granicus. Today many of these meetings at all levels of government can be watched on TV, but what's possible online is revolutionary: never missing a meeting, watching at your convenience, easily search through agenda items, look up related materials, and more.

But this alone won't be enough as there's a ton of training and equipping that needs to be done in order to help all Americans participate in this new age of communications.

In order to shift the paradigm in a big way we need big ideas and a coordinated campaign uniting the abilities and interests of all parts of the Internet value chain to stand together and help inspire our country to embrace what a networked life can be.

Spurring demand for broadband and therefore apps and content is an issue we can all agree on. So let's use this common ground to start finding ways to work together on crafting effective federal policy to accomplish these specific goals rather than wasting all of our time bickering over issues we don't agree on.

This isn't to say we can ignore those issues we don't see eye-to-eye on, but I'm hopeful that by working together we can find more common ground that can lead to a more productive dialog and ultimately lead to more effective legislation.

I Haven't Been Giving Cable Companies Enough Credit

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Earlier this week I attended my first Broadband Breakfast Club, an innovative series of breakfast meetings in DC aimed at providing a venue for the various stakeholders in broadband policy debates to come together and discuss/debate issues in a more casual, less structured setting.

While eating I had the great fortune to sit next to Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the principal trade association for the cable industry.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I tend to be hard on the cable industry. Their definition of "broadband" doesn't include enough upload capacity and I know firsthand how unsteady connectivity in both directions can be based on the usage of my neighbors. Plus I've had doubts about whether DOCSIS 3.0 could really ever compete with full fiber networks.

But as Kyle and I chatted he started lamenting how much capacity cable networks have to set aside to carry analog TV channels. So I asked him how much capacity could they deliver if it weren't for TV? The answer: 5Gbps.

Needless to say, my eyes were opened. For the longest time I've been assuming that full fiber networks are the only way to achieve first 100Mbps and then 1Gbps to the home, but now I know it's at least possible that we could have a day where there are two pipes into the home offering that much connectivity.

I've long thought that eventually we'll evolve into a full fiber monopoly as that will be the only infrastructure capable of delivering enough capacity for the next generation of big bandwidth apps. And while I still think that's ultimately true in the long run as the demand for bandwidth will never stop growing and copper-based systems have physical limitations that full fiber networks don't, we may be a lot further away from that then I'd thought.

Also noteworthy was a discussion I had afterwards with someone who will remain nameless in case he'd get in trouble for his candidness. He quite frankly stated that the reason why current cable systems have such low upstream speeds was because when the cable companies were designing their networks they didn't foresee the explosion of P2P and Web 2.0; they were thinking about these pipes primarily as avenues for entertainment to move downstream. The problem they face now is that structurally it's very difficult, if not impossible, to significantly increase upload speeds.

The exciting thing, though, is that the introduction of DOCSIS 3.0 remedies this structural limitation. While I still have reservations about how shared these networks are in relation to the performance they'll be able to deliver, at least cable companies deploying DOCSIS 3.0 will have the freedom to increase upstream capacity to meet the needs of their customers.

In truth these revelations have not shaken me off my line that the endgame for the Internet is a Full Fiber Nation, but they have opened my eyes to the fact that cable companies will continue to play a significant role in enabling our broadband economy for the foreseeable future. And that one important consideration for our formulation of a national broadband policy is figuring out how we can free up more of the capacity locked down in these networks to delivering analog TV so that we can continue to realize competition in the broadband marketplace even as speeds increase to the gigabit level.

Also, for anyone who's based in or will be in DC Dec. 9th, I highly recommend you check out the next installment of the Broadband Breakfast Club. I'll be a speaker this time around joining esteemed colleagues talking about broadband applications and what can be done to turn the rhetoric of broadband's transformative powers into reality. You can register here.

Bandwidth Caps Not Evil If Done Right

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According to a number of readers, in my post on Tuesday I gave the impression that AT&T; and the cablecos are big, evil corporations for having begun implementing bandwidth caps. But that's not necessarily the case.

My overall stance on caps or metered bandwidth is that they're simply a natural evolution of the broadband business model. In fact, to some degree I see them as a good thing as they're indicative of the fact that at least some people are consuming a ton of bandwidth and therefore I'm assuming are more reliant on broadband than ever.

For many, though, caps are a sign of not enough bandwidth and that the solution isn't metering but deploying more capacity. But there's a problem with that thinking: Private enterprise as a rule of thumb only builds enough supply to meet demand, and the percentage of people using a ton of bandwidth today is still small. It's hard to build 100Mbps to everyone when only 1% of your users need or even want it.

But this post isn't about deployment of big bandwidth, it's about the implementation of bandwidth caps, and the most important thing to remember about all this is that by and large the caps that have been implemented to date have been trials. Companies like AT&T; will admit that they don't have everything figured out for how this is going to work; that's what these trials are for.

While things could always be better, I'm reasonably impressed with some of the accommodations that are already being made.

Take AT&T; for example. The big thing they're doing is protecting customers from getting hit right away from these changes. They're letting all impacted customers know about the trial specifics at least 60 days ahead of any overage charges. They're waiving any charges the first time a customer exceeds their cap. They're sending them notifications any time they reach 80% of their cap. They're providing an online tool for customers to track their usage. They're also beginning to educate their customers as to what kinds of usage will add up to exceeding these caps.

And in talking with them I get the sense that there are a lot of other possibilities on the table for consideration as to how they can further develop and evolve these new business models. For example, not counting bits transferred during off-peak times like at night the same as those sent and received during peak daytime hours.

From their perspective what this is driven by is preserving the user experience for all their customers. Bandwidth caps are a way of maintaining fairness in the use of a shared resource, which all broadband networks are to one degree or another, so that the heaviest users don't negatively impact average users.

That said, as I argued earlier this week, this may be a challenging argument to get across without seeming like they're covering for their networks not having enough capacity, especially with Verizon seemingly unaffected by the same challenges due to their investment in FiOS. But in the end I do believe that what's primarily driving this are the interests of consumers.

At the same time, I can't deny that it's troubling when I read that the cost of delivering additional gigabytes is a fraction of the $1 per gigabyte they're charging for overage fees. In my mind it suggests one of three things: there are additional costs that I and others aren't aware of, the price is set artificially high in order to dissuade the heaviest of users from overconsumption, or these caps are intended to be a new profit center.

Yet regardless of the intent this is an area where it'll be interesting to see how (or if) the market works. As more and more broadband providers adopt a metered model across their footprints eventually the cost of these additional gigabytes will start having an impact on consumer decision making. At that point, assuming there's not any form of collusion going on between providers to keep overage charges high, they should start trending downwards as consumers pick providers with the lowest rates.

At the end of the day the one really good thing that could come out of the introduction of bandwidth caps is the end of the practice of some broadband providers, most commonly cable companies, whereby the heaviest of users were simply cut off from their service with no immediate way of getting it restored, regardless of if they're willing to pay more for it. Even if you don't agree with what the terms and costs are, at least hopefully we can agree that any system of caps is better than no system if it means power users no longer have to live in fear of losing service for exceeding some undefined cap.

Long story short, I think my last post on this subject was guilty of getting overexcited about an area of initiatives that are still in their nascence. We all need to respect that these things take time to shake out, and that we shouldn't assume that what's driving this is the greed of big, evil corporations. There really is an aspect of preserving the user experience to this. And I'm not alone in believing this to be true as respected thought leaders like Gigi Sohn and Tim Wu have said similar things.

This doesn't mean though that we should not be vigilant in monitoring what's happening and vocal in expressing our displeasure when good intentions turn into harmful actions. But let's take a breath and let things pan out before rushing to judgment.

Putting BPL In Its Place

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Broadband over Power Lines, or BPL, has been a boondoggle for years. Initially touted as a leading contender for establishing a third broadband pipe into homes to compete with DSL and cable, it has since proven to be an unreliable technology that can't deliver the capacity needed to be a truly competitive alternative.

And to be frank, I've long seen it as a distraction, yet another technology that's more rhetoric than reality, diverting attention away from technologies that can compete like fiber and potentially wireless. So I wasn't upset by the notion that its time had already passed.

So imagine my surprise when I came across this article this morning entitled, "IBM to help build broadband network in power lines."

Apparently IBM is teaming up with a new company called International Broadband Electric Communications Inc. to deploy BPL across large swathes of rural America.

What's interesting about this is that they admit that BPL can't compete with cable and DSL; it costs too much for not enough speed. So instead of trying to establish it as a third pipe, they're going to focus on areas that aren't being adequately served by cable or DSL, where 86% of homes have no other broadband options. Within the next two years they plan on working with electric cooperatives to build out to reach 340,000 homes.

On the surface this is kind of exciting. I'm all for anything that allows more people to get online who can't today.

But digging a little deeper there's still a lot of uncertainty.

First off, as far as I can tell there's been no mention of what speeds will ultimately be offered. I suppose anything will be better than nothing, but it's hard to get too excited without knowing what users will be receiving.

Secondly, they mention prices starting at $30 a month. While that's cheaper than satellite, which is typically the option of last resort for connectivity, I'd like to see a basic package under $20. If we're trying to get people who may have never used the Internet before and don't understand its value, we can't expect them to pay too much for it.

Third, I can't get over the sense that at best BPL is nothing more than a stopgap technology. While it'd be great to give rural users a way to get online, ultimately we need to be focused on providing them with the kind of connectivity that can support the kind of applications and economic development that only full fiber networks make possible.

But some of the rhetoric being used to describe this initiative has me worried that its impact is being blown out of proportion: "'The technology is important but what's really important is this is a seminal moment in the delivery of broadband services to rural customers,' said Bill Moroney, the head of the Utilities Telecom Council, an industry trade group."

The simple truth about BPL is that it really only works for three purposes:

- As a stopgap technology to be used only until something better can be put into place.
- As a way for utilities to monitor their electrical networks.
- As a solution for in-home networking.

This last purpose is the area that gets me most excited about BPL. Imagine a day when all your appliances are smart, but rather than everything having to have Ethernet ports or wireless cards built in to connect to the Internet instead all you had to do is plug in the power cord and get connected via BPL.

In my mind, that's where our energy developing BPL should be focused as that's got unlimited potential, whereas broadband via BPL has a limited future as it can't compete with alternative technologies.

The most important thing to remember in all this, though, is that while it could be great to get more people online who can't do so today, we can't take our eye off the ball when it comes to planning out these areas' broadband future. We can't say that now that these places have BPL we don't have to worry about them anymore.

And I'm hopeful that even advocates of BPL understand this as the second part of the quote from Moroney I pulled out of the article above states: ""Here's a beginning and really a great leap forward."

I couldn't agree more. This BPL to rural areas initiative is a beginning not the endgame. As long as we keep that in mind and put BPL in its place, then this will be a terrific step forward.

There's a great Wired article from last week about AT&T;'s new trial of bandwidth caps in Reno, NV.

It hits on how the introduction of bandwidth caps is happening primarily on networks where bandwidth is scarce, like on cable networks and now AT&T.;

Then it points to the fact that this is also a play by these corporations to try and make more money from there users.

And then finishes it with this:

"Meanwhile, Verizon, one of the few companies holding out on broadband caps, says it has no plans for implementing broadband caps in the near future.

'That's not to say it won't ever happen. But at the moment we have plenty of capacity and we're happy to deliver to our users as much bandwidth as they require,' said Verizon spokesman Jim Smith."

Wow. Game, set, match, Verizon. I don't see how anyone can ever doubt their decision to invest in a full fiber infrastructure any more. Not only is their network affording them more flexibility in offering better service, they're also winning big time in the court of public opinion if for no other reason than they're able to avoid being lumped in with those big, evil corporations that are trying to restrict service and charge more for it.

I mean, that's really what this is boiling down to from consumers' perspectives: some companies want to take away their unlimited plans and make their bills go up, and Verizon doesn't. Why? Because they have a better product and infrastructure.

Now I should say that this is more from the tech savvy person's perspective. Or put another way, the average Wired reader. I can't say for sure this will have as much impact on the ground as AT&T; and Verizon don't generally compete for wireline customers and not every cable company has implemented bandwidth caps. Plus those that have don't exactly go out of the way to make them public.

But I can't help but feel like this article may be a bellwether of things to come as Verizon's decision to invest in a full fiber infrastructure continues to pay more and more dividends. The question is how aggressive they're going to be in exploiting this advantage.

Imagine the commercial in areas where FiOS competes against capped cable: "Hey, so I here Comcast's capped your service...But it's not even that fast to begin with...And don't you notice how slow it gets sometimes, and how some apps don't see to work right? Why not come over to Verizon FiOS where we've got bandwidth galore."

If I were Verizon I'd be doing everything in my power to get consumers hungry for bandwidth as the more they want the more they'll need FiOS, and the better that investment in full fiber networks will look, both technologically and in terms of public perception.

The NFL Is So Crazy With Their Content

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A few weeks ago I wrote about the frustrations of being an NFL fan without cable service when it comes to trying to watch the games especially now that Monday Night Football's on ESPN.

But the most widely denounced aspect of the NFL's restrictive approach to content distribution has been their decision to play a few games on Thursday night's that are only available on NFL Network, a TV channel that many cable systems don't have as in order to add it to their lineup they'd have to increase prices for all their subscribers regardless of whether or not they actually want that channel.

I've heard NFL fans across the country lamenting this state of affairs, especially in my fantasy football league, which I wrote about my hyperconnected draft for back in August. There are lots of frustrated fans who want to watch these games but can't. Or can they?

Here's the most unbelievably crazy thing about this whole state of affairs: those NFL Network games are available to anyone online. I'm not talking about just clips or a recording to watch after the fact. If you go to (or even the boxscore at, which includes a link) on Thursday nights you can watch live video of the game in action.

It's a pretty good experience too, with decent quality video and the ability to switch between multiple cameras to watch different angles on the action.

But what makes this crazy is that the average fan doesn't know they can do this. When I mentioned it on my league's message board I had one friend who was beside himself that he'd just spent a night reading the play-by-play online when he could've been watching the game live. He was incredulous that this existed and he didn't know as he's a big-time fan plus to make matters even more unbelievable he's a techie so there were no barriers from that perspective.

Instead I think part of what happened was such a big deal was made about the games only being available on NFL Network that us fans assumed we couldn't watch it anywhere else and that we were resigned to either going to a bar or watching the stats tick up.

And yet in reality while the NFL has kept their games off of a large number of cable systems, they've also made these games more accessible then just about any others (though I should mention NBC has also been streaming live video of Sunday Night Football games).

This example highlights both how content owners need to be more forthright with their audience as to what's available where and when, plus it shows how just because you put something online doesn't mean people will know it's there to watch even if they're really interested in the content.

Another Day Another $50 Billion NOT Spent On Fiber

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OK, this is starting to get a bit absurd. As I continue to explore our past, present, and future economic stimulus packages I can't help but mention reported plans to extend another $25 billion line of credit to the auto industry in addition to the $25 billion Congress has already set aside.

Before I get into this I have to say that in no way am I saying we shouldn't be doing this. I totally understand that the auto industry is responsible for thousands and even millions of jobs in this country, and that this money isn't totally a giveaway so much as a loan that'll hopefully be paid back, so I'm generally supportive of efforts to ensure their continued viability.

Yet let's take a step back and consider this.

The first half of this $50 billion was ostensibly to support new investment in alternative fuel cars. So after years of automakers fighting higher fuel efficiency standards and refusing to invest in developing alternative fuel cars, we're now having to bail out an entire industry with taxpayer dollars in the hopes of finally spurring them to action now that the market has passed them by.

The second half of this $50 billion is to serve as a line of credit upon which automakers can draw upon to keep up with basic expenses, like their healthcare and pension obligations to their workers. While I know that much of this has to do with helping them overcome the lack of available credit elsewhere, I can't help feeling like this is an instance of taxpayer dollars having to prop up a business model that can't support itself, which makes me worry about the long-term future of getting that money back.

But my issue isn't with the mistakes the auto industry has made. Instead what frustrates me is the mindset that's led to these massive infusions of cash that says it's more important to protect existing paradigms than to embrace new paradigms and possibilities. That it's more important to bail out the biggest of companies so they can continue with business as usual than to support the efforts of smaller businesses and independent entrepreneurs to innovate and establish new paradigms for the 21st century.

It feels like we're so caught up in the frenzy of trying to hold on to what we already have that we've taken our eye off the ball as to what can be done to support the growth of new industries and the creation of new jobs.

Again, I'm not trying to say we're wrong for doing this, but instead I'm trying to stress the fact that instead of just trying to survive we have the opportunity to thrive during this economic crisis so long as we prioritize supporting new ideas and entrepreneurship at least as much as we do holding on to old ideas and the status quo.

I mean think about it: what would happen if we gave fiber deployers a $50 billion line of credit to deploy new networks in rural areas? I'd bet within 5-10 years we'd have well over half of rural America wired with full fiber networks, if not more. That would put us so far ahead of the rest of the world it's not even funny.

By doing this we'd be creating jobs associated with the deployment and management of the network, we'd be empowering existing businesses to expand and laying the groundwork for new businesses to locate themselves in rural areas, we'd be establishing the framework for a host of new efficiencies that can be driven by the use of the network across all of society, and beyond.

Plus it's arguable that those entities that want to deploy fiber have greater needs than the auto industry as without huge amounts of capital they can't afford to put any infrastructure in the ground, without that infrastructure they don't have any revenue, and without any revenue they can't be creating jobs.

I've said this once but I'll continue saying it over and over until it gets through to people: it's not that we can't wire rural America with fiber--we've got the people, technology, demand, and resources to do so--it's about where our priorities are.

And in my mind while we're working to bolster existing paradigms we need to be devoting as much time and energy to supporting efforts to establish new paradigms as this is the only way we're going to be able to create the new jobs, new growth, and new efficiencies that'll help us weather this and any future economic storm.

Last Night's Amazing Online Election Coverage

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Wow. Watching the election last night was a mind-boggling experience from an online perspective. There were just so many choices.

Every major TV news channel was streaming live coverage online.

Alongside video on these sites were a host of interactive visualization tools to parse through the results, including maps of all shapes and sizes as well as interesting tools like on where they had readers submitting words that describe how they feel which you could sort through based on McCain vs. Obama supporters.

A host of sites and individuals were live blogging throughout the night providing new insight and analysis.

Tweets were flying on my Twitter feed from people discussing their reactions to the election.

And sites like provided a venue through which user-generated content documenting the election experience could be aggregated.

There were just so many new sources of information and varying perspectives from across the country, and really around the globe as the world was most definitely watching America last night. And increasingly these online resources were of the interactive multimedia-driven variety that demands broadband.

So it's hard to fathom how our next presidential election is going to be covered four years from now when hopefully everyone in America has and uses broadband, where fiber is everywhere so video of the highest quality can be delivered, and where the traditional news outlets have even more experience delivering compelling online experiences.

One final thought to share on this online coverage from a bandwidth perspective is let's think about how much media was created in the last 12 hours. Consider this math:

- Let's say there were a million people outside last night celebrating nationwide (a number that has to be low as there may have been near that many in Chicago alone)

- Let's say 10% of those people were capturing some or all of the evening in photos and on video, so roughly 100,000 people (based on the number of cellphones and cameras I saw in crowds it could've been much higher)

- Let's say each of those people created 100MB worth of content (another low number for anyone shooting video or lots of hi-res photos)

- Now let's say that 10% of these people decide to upload their photo and videos to a website to share with friends and family (a likely low number since most people who create digital content today share it in some way online)

So based on these four low-ball estimates we get 10,000 people times 100MB which equals 1 Terabyte (TB) worth of content created in less than half a day and likely to be uploaded over the next couple of days.

A few years ago that was an unfathomable amount of information, now we're creating that in a night, and that number's only going up as more people start using these technologies, the technologies gain ever higher resolution, and this content increasingly makes its way online.

$50 Billion Spent On USF And For What?

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As I build my argument for the establishment of a Rural Fiber Fund I can't help but point out the many places we're spending billions with less efficacy and clarity of vision than what I've been proposing as the solution to the rural broadband problem.

My latest target is the Universal Service Fund, or USF. You'll recognize that name from your phone bill as each month you pay a little bit into this fund that has the intent of ensuring rural areas have access to phone service. More recently there's been a push to have USF apply not just to phone service but also to broadband.

But there's a fly in this soup: by all accounts the USF is a broken system. It's not done all that well to spur the deployment of new infrastructure, and instead exists primarily today to subsidize the existing business model of network operators with no accommodations made for upgrading that infrastructure or even for getting these operators self-sufficient and not relying on USF contributions every month to stay viable.

To give you a sense for the cost of this program, check out this quote from Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) in a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin: "The program has already cost Americans $51 billion over ten years, and yet there is still no end in sight," he says. "Adding broadband will only entrap yet another service in this broken and anti-competitive subsidy program." we've spent $50 billion over 10 years and don't have much of anything to show for it other than some rural areas having telephone service.

But where have we seen that number before? That's right, it's basically what I've been proposing for the Rural Fiber Fund. So think of it this way: if instead of subsidizing providers of phone service we'd focused on getting next-gen infrastructure in place we'd already have wired all of rural America with a full fiber network for the same cost.

Yet again this proves that it's not that we don't have the money to do this, it's about where our priorities are and what our vision for America's future is.

So let's change those priorities, commit ourselves to achieving the goal of a Full Fiber Nation, and establish the Rural Fiber Fund to help those areas where competition isn't working get a leg up on the global economy. It's not a matter of can we afford to do it, it's can we afford not to, can we take the chance of losing our small towns. I say no.

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