September 2010 Archives

Bandwidth Is Nothing But A Number

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As someone who's banged the drum as loud as anyone in support of setting a high bar for our national bandwidth goals, this next statement is going to come as a bit of a surprise: I think we're focusing too much attention on bandwidth.

Now, I'm not trying to suggest that bandwidth is unimportant. Instead the argument I want to make is that bandwidth isn't the only thing that matters, and that by pursuing policies that prioritize bandwidth over everything else we're going to take our country down a less than optimal path to our broadband-enabled future.

The first part of this argument is fairly straight forward. When it comes to broadband performance, bandwidth is only one factor. For example, for real-time applications like VoIP latency can be more important than bandwidth. Another factor, which bandwidth admittedly plays a role in but isn't the sole determinant of, is reliability. Then there are more technical metrics like jitter that can affect broadband performance.

What this all means is that for America to have a world-class broadband infrastructure we need more than just high capacity networks; we need high performance broadband networks. We need broadband that delivers high capacity, low latency, low jitter, high reliability connectivity, not just broadband that delivers fat pipes with poor performance.

In terms of real-world impact, the reason for this is simple. If all we had was high bandwidth but poor performance broadband then sure, we might be able to download movies fast but we won't be able to utilize the oncoming wave of real-time apps that require high performance broadband networks.

This then brings us to the overarching problem with basing the debate around America's broadband needs solely on bandwidth.

If all we focus on is bandwidth, then we allow broadband providers to obfuscate the clear differences between the overall performance of different broadband technologies.

For example, the FCC has set the bar for defining broadband at 4Mbps down and 1Mbps up. So now any technology that claims to deliver that much bandwidth can be eligible for government subsidies. Yet as we just covered, bandwidth is not the only determinant of performance!

This line of thinking is extremely important to consider for anyone who's a supporter of fiber. For the longest time we've couched arguments supporting fiber in terms of bandwidth. We cite how fiber can deliver future-proof bandwidth as the primary reason America should get behind it. Yet I'm not sure if that's a winning argument.

First off, by focusing on a single attribute of fiber it makes it much easier for other technologies to claim parity. Like this recent article that shows how cable networks should be able to deliver 1Gbps in the next decade. Or the constant promises from wireless and satellite providers that some day they too will be able to deliver bandwidth equivalent to that of wireline. Because of these I don't think we can win on bandwidth alone.

Secondly, by just talking about bandwidth we're leaving some of the strongest arguments in support of fiber off the table, namely that fiber is the most high performance broadband technology out there. What we need to be doing is showing people how there's a new wave of next gen apps on the horizon that are going to require not just high capacity but high performance broadband networks in order to operate optimally.

By taking this more holistic approach to talking about America's broadband needs and tying those needs to specific applications, like the delivery of high quality two-way video, we can put a finer point on the argument for why fiber should be the technology of choice to build America's broadband future. We can show in clear, undeniable terms why wireless technologies will never match the performance of fiber and what they means in terms of usability of the Internet.

This doesn't mean we should forego talking about bandwidth as it still is arguably the most important characteristic to consider for broadband networks. But let's not limit ourselves to only talking about bandwidth. Let's make sure that everyone knows the importance of taking a more holistic approach to understanding the importance of America having a broadband infrastructure that's not just high bandwidth but also high performance.

Only then will we have a chance to make sure that Americans are able to have access to the connectivity necessary to take advantage of all that the Internet will make possible in the 21st century.

FCC Bets America's Broadband Future On "Super Wi-Fi"

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At yesterday's meeting, the FCC voted to clear the way for opening up the so-called "white spaces," which is the spectrum freed up in the transition to all-digital over-the-air broadcasts.

The promise of this new spectrum is that it'll enable a new generation of what the FCC has dubbed "Super Wi-Fi" technologies that can deliver signals further through more walls than traditional Wi-Fi.

While I'm generally excited by this news as it could be a significant development for helping get all Americans online and it holds the promise of showing what's possible when public airwaves are opened up for unfettered use by the public rather than sold to the highest bidder.

But at the same time, I can't help but be more than a bit worried and upset by how the FCC's going about its business relative to these new advancements.

My first concern is the duplicitous nature of the FCC and their stance towards trying to remain technology neutral. Their constant refrain has been that they shouldn't be picking technology winners and losers, and yet here they are putting a huge amount of energy into a technology that's not yet proven in the field other than a couple of limited pilots.

Now, what upsets me isn't that they're supporting Super Wi-Fi, but instead it's that they refuse to embrace technology-aware broadband policymaking elsewhere. If they're willing to push for one particular kind of wireless technology, potentially to the detriment of other wireless technologies, then why aren't they willing to step out and do the same for wireline broadband?

My second major concern relates to the amount of energy the FCC's put into the white spaces issue. In no way am I trying to suggest that they shouldn't have focused on this area, instead what I'm worried about is that if you look at all the facets of America's broadband ecosystem that are lacking how can the FCC justify spending so much time on just this one sliver?

Of course, this is a relatively easy area to deal with compared to figuring out all of America's backhaul, middle mile, and last mile issues. And it touches on areas over which FCC has clear authority. But I'd argue that we need an FCC willing to take on these tough challenges, that acknowledges the need for a holistic approach to addressing all of America's broadband shortcomings. Instead it feels like the FCC's punting on these larger structural issues and focusing too much energy on a specific component like these white spaces.

My related third concern is that the FCC's chosen to step outside of its technology-neutral box and focus an incredible amount of energy on something they presumably believe will be a cornerstone of America's broadband future and yet the technology is basically unproven! Sure it's worked in labs and a couple of pilot projects, but projections show we won't even have products in the market place for another year or two, so there's really no telling whether "Super Wi-Fi" will even be a viable long-term option for broadband. And yet the FCC's decided to throw their full support behind it. It makes me wonder what would happen if they did the same for other broadband technologies and how that may enable or distort the broadband marketplace.

A fourth concern is how disjointed the FCC's approach seems to be. While this may be a minor issue, I find it strange that the FCC seemingly pulled this term "Super Wi-Fi" out of thin air as I haven't been able to find reference to it outside of the FCC's action. What's odd about this, though, is why didn't they use the term in the national broadband plan released a mere six months ago? Did it really take six months to agree on the term "Super Wi-Fi" or what?

What's so frustrating about all of this is that I want to support this white spaces initiative wholeheartedly. I mean, how can it be a bad thing to have more spectrum available that's going to spark a wave of new ways to access the Internet at broadband-like speeds? And yet because of how the FCC's going about conducting it's business I can't help but be skeptical and cynical.

All this being said, I'm going to hold out some hope that this white spaces initiative is a sign of the FCC finally coming out of its shell to take a stronger leadership position in guiding America's broadband future. While I know I'm probably being overly optimistic given the FCC's lackluster approaches to establishing its jurisdiction over broadband and formulating and implementing a comprehensive national broadband plan, I can't help it.

A Week Living in Lafayette

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Every week I live in Lafayette confirms my belief in the dynamic energy and potential of this community in the heart of Cajun country.

Seven days ago I was stepping into a truck with three other representatives of Lafayette Economic Development Authority (aka LEDA): Tom Cox, CEO of and past chairman of LEDA; Bob Miller, head of LEDA's new business accelerator; and Henry Florsheim, CEO of Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise (aka LITE), a public 3d visualization center and location of the accelerator, which houses FiberCorps HQ.

We were headed for New Orleans on an exploratory expedition to learn about what our neighbor's doing right to support the growth of its startup scene so that we might better kickstart Lafayette's own.

New Orleans has seen a relative boom in startups since Katrina, driven in large part by entities like LaunchPad and IdeaVillage.

LaunchPad is a for-profit co-working space where entrepreneurs and independent professionals can rent all-inclusive desks, offices, or suites in a creative, open environment.

LaunchPad's become the physical space that's drawn the local startup and tech communities closer together, both to work and to gather together after hours and on weekends for a wide variety of events and meetings.

It was announced at FiberFete in April that LaunchPad's planning on opening in Lafayette, and while that hasn't quite happened yet we couldn't be more happy to have them!

IdeaVillage is a non-profit founded ten years ago to facilitate the growth of a culture of entrepreneurship in New Orleans. Over the years it has become a key enabler of seed capital and mentorship to early stage startups in New Orleans.

Speaking with Tim Williamson, IdeaVillage's cofounder and CEO, it was amazing listening to the story of how they evolved from a barroom conversation to a full-blown yearlong campaign and curriculum that's garnered national attention.

While we won't be replicating IdeaVillage exactly in Lafayette, we were able to learn a ton about how to best position what we are doing for success while also opening a dialog about potential opportunities for collaboration between New Orleans and Lafayette.

Our final major meeting was with the South Coast Angel Fund, Louisiana's first angel investor fund. Lafayette is a city with a fair amount of wealth and therefore a significant number of angel investors and potential angels. Focusing local investors on investing locally will be a key enabler of success for Lafayette's startup scene.

What was interesting about this trip is learning that while New Orleans undoubtedly has some great things happening a constant theme was how everything there seems to happen independently with little coordination and cooperation across the city.

Lafayette, on the other hand, is stepping into this game with a united front of support, with all the resources of the community being brought to bear on solving the challenge of how to drive economic development in the 21st century.

Because of this we're more confident than ever that we're not only on the right track, but that the sky's the limit for the potential of what we can accomplish.

With this fun-filled two-day trip to New Orleans under my belt, I spent the weekend competing in a Three-Minute Movie Challenge put on by Acadiana Open Channel, Lafayette's public access station. Teams of three had from 6pm Friday until 6pm Monday to produce a three minute movie that incorporated an orchard, a toy chest, and the Big, Bad Wolf.

We had a blast shooting "Mr. Wolf goes to therapy" and then somehow managed to win on Monday against some fierce competition. With the warning that the video is slightly risque, if you need a three-minute distraction you can watch the video here.

This is but a small snippet of the creative energy of Lafayette.

Then yesterday I finally got the opportunity to sit down for a long talk with Ramesh Kolluru, who wears many hats at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, including the Assistant VP of Research, Director of the Center for Business and Information Technologies (CBIT), and Executive Director of National Incident Management Systems and Advanced Technologies (NIMSAT).

Since it was created in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, NIMSAT has become a leader in utilizing information technology to enable better crisis management, recently launching the Louisiana Business Emergency Operations Center, which will help activate the private sector during emergencies.

CBIT, then, is UL's rather unique research, development, and technology transfer center, which NIMSAT actually grew out of. It operates essentially like a business with a team of about 20 capable of building all manner of business-related applications. It's primary purpose is to serve as an enabler to bring good ideas to market, whether they be from university researchers or private sector partners.

While I had known about CBIT and NIMSAT generally before and had some sense of the success both had been realizing, it wasn't until I sat down with Dr. Kolluru for two hours that I truly understood the significance of what he's accomplished.

What I continue to find amazing about Lafayette is how often I discover pieces that fit so perfectly into the puzzle I'm trying to build with FiberCorps. I mean, if you were working to empower a city to become a hub for next generation Internet development, wouldn't it be great if you had a partner like Dr. Kolluru ready to commit resources from organizations like CBIT and NIMSAT to tackle building new fiber-powered apps and working with others to commercialize great ideas?

While I hope this post hasn't come off as too much of a travelogue, it's intent was to simply shine a light on the dynamism of Lafayette.

I don't know how I got so lucky to find this community and even moreso to be so warmly embraced, but I do know that together we're going to accomplish great things.

My only question is, what's next!

I Am Officially OVER Physical Media

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My love-hate relationship with physical media has hit a breaking point. The epiphany came to me as I was lugging box after box of DVDs, CDs, and books into our new home in Lafayette, LA.

This was the same physical media that my wife hurriedly packed into boxes weeks ago and I carried (technically, rolled) down into our moving pod.

And this was the same physical media that I lived without for almost two months.

Just because I didn't have DVDs, CDs, and books didn't mean I stopped watching moving, listening to music, and reading.

Instead I leveraged the Internet, streaming videos from Hulu and downloading them from iTunes, streaming music from Pandora and downloading from iTunes, and reading books (mostly of the comic variety) on my iPad.

So the epiphany I had was simple: I am so over physical media.

There's just no point to it. In fact, this gets to the very heart of the word "media" which is the plural of "medium" which is "a means by which something is communicated or expressed."

It used to be that messages were stored on and conveyed through specific physical media the characteristics of which evolved over time. But with the Internet, the physical medium is no longer relevant as everything's data and can be shown everywhere in all sorts of different forms.

So why do we need physical media?

Now's when I do have to admit that I have bought some physical media in the last couple of months. A few DVDs as my Internet access has been spotty as I've played squatter and now eagerly await my LUSFiber making it difficult to rely on my usual online sources of video entertainment. And a few graphic novels as while the iPad displays them beautifully not everything's available through it yet and there is still a simple joy in going to a store, walking through the aisles, and picking something up that looks interesting.

All this being said, what this epiphany has led to is a promise to myself that this will be the last time I move physical media. Whenever we leave this house, which may not be for a long time as we really like it here, I will not be taking any physical media with me.

To make this a reality, I'm going to be pushing even harder to transition my purchasing away from physical media and to create digital versions of my favorite content to free it from the constraints of physical world.

I know the urge to grab something off a shelf and buy it will be hard to resist and I'll likely have to make some sacrifices in what I can watch and how I can watch it, but I think it'll be worth it.

If successful, my media will be more accessible than ever while at the same time I'll be dramatically reducing the amount of waste I produce and resources I need to feed my desire to be entertained and educated.

Look forward to hearing more about my adventures in breaking away from physical media and going all digital. I hope these thoughts and my experiences will help more of you to make the same transition in your lives.

Why I Moved To Lafayette, LA

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As many of you know, in July I made a major change in my life, namely throwing all of my worldly possessions into a box, packing my wife and cat into a car, and making the move from DC to Lafayette, LA, where we recently purchased our first house.

The reasons for making this move are many, from becoming fed up with the slow-moving train wreck that is broadband policymaking in DC, to the promise of a better quality of life for my wife, to the opportunity for me to build on the success of FiberFete to start up a new non-profit called FiberCorps, which will facilitate innovative projects that leverage the fiber network to benefit the community of Lafayette.

But while on all levels the move has been an incredibly positive experience, what's making everything even more exciting is the scary amount of energy and potential I've witnessed that's bottled up within this community.

Like last week I attended a NetSquared Lafayette meetup (an informal gathering of techies talking about how the Internet can be used to affect social change) where I was fortunate enough to experience the following presentations:

- An introduction to, a local video portal that two local developers (Ryan LeTulle and Bryan Fuselier) built in a week using the Abacus Data Exchange virtual server infrastructure (Abacus also plays host to the month Net2LFT meetings). This project shows just how quickly new apps and services can be built given today's advanced internet infrastructure, from the software to the hardware. This site will be capable of storing and streaming HD video, and it's going to be interesting to watch what happens as it evolves and more people load their content up to it.

- A project of another local developer (Ray Camden) who took a publicly available data stream of 911 calls, captured and cleaned the data, and then was able to extrapolate all sorts of interesting analysis related to what are the most dangerous parts of Lafayette. This highlights how when a city makes public data public developers can come up with new ideas for how to help the city run better, as has also been proven through San Francisco's initiative. Here's a blog post Ray put up with more details.

- A thought-provoking exploration of the intersection of social networks and graph theory and how that can give us a better understanding of how communities operate and how people influence people by FiberCorps intern Crawford Comeaux.

Also at that meeting was Henry Florsheim, head of LITE, Lafayette's 3D visualization facility, which will house the Accelerator, an initiative by LEDA, the local economic development authority, to provide subsidized office space, services, mentorship, and training to startups and recruited companies. I find this Accelerator to be another very exciting story as while final details are still being hashed out, the players involved include many of the city's leaders and there's a real energy building to have successful executives from the community give back by helping startups succeed. What i find most inspiring about this is LEDA's foresight to understand that the future of economic development lies not just within building more industrial parks but instead finding creative ways to provide the resources that the next generation of entrepreneurs need to succeed

On Sunday night i stopped by Blue Moon, a funky B&B; and outdoor bar with some of the best music in town, which was hosting the launch party for The Give Project, a company led by Chase Brumfield aimed at harnessing the desire of good people to give to support those in need. Here's a young guy fresh out of college making a go at reaching for his dreams. And what makes it even more exciting is the potential for this to actually work in a community like Lafayette where giving of one's self and resources is built into the very fabric of Cajun culture.

A couple of weeks ago, the FiberKids from the Academy of Information Technology at Carencro High School, a nationally renown IT academy, led by Kit Becnel and a team of expert volunteers held a two-week summer camp to give kids the opportunity to leverage fiber and powerful digital media tools to create a 3D representation of the Horse Farm, a stretch of land many in the community want to see turned into a public park. She and her team continue to make unbelievable progress in building the workforce that's needed to feed into Lafayette's burgeoning digital economy.

Over the last few weeks I've had a chance to meet with a number of inspiring state leaders, including Paul Pastorek, state superintendent, whose no-nonsense approach makes him seem like the perfect partner to help fiber-powered school reform take hold, and Joel Robideaux, the LA House Speaker Pro Temp (essentially the number two guy in the LA House) who achieved his status as an independent and who I find to be incredibly pragmatic, curious, and thoughtful.

And that's not counting all of the local leaders that I am gaining infinite wisdom and insight from working with on a week-to-week basis. I feel blessed to have such a strong network of good, smart, hard-working people that I can surround myself with and that are willing to mentor me.

What's so amazing is that these stories are only the tip of the iceberg, both of what I've experienced personally, what I've heard about, and what still has yet to be discovered. And we haven't even gotten FiberCorps off the ground yet! (Lots more to come about FiberCorps to come. For an early more extended preview, check out this article in the Independent, one of Lafayette's top local newspapers.)

I wanted to start sharing some of these stories with all of you so those who weren't at FiberFete can begin to get a feel for Lafayette's potential and those that were there can continue to learn about this amazing community. While there are so many reasons for why I moved to Lafayette that have been validated, perhaps none of which has been more so than my belief in the potential of the people of Lafayette to do great things.

Look forward to hearing a lot more about some of Lafayette's superstars moving forward because I think this community has as good a chance as any in the country to be the place where big things happen as it relates to how communities can leverage fiber to drive economic development and improve the lives of their citizens.

But also know that while I might not be living in DC any more, that doesn't mean I'm leaving the broadband policy game behind. will continue to speak truth to power, delivering commonsense insight into and constructive criticism of broadband policymaking in the US and abroad. The only difference is that you'll be getting a lot more firsthand stories of how fiber and broadband are changing people's lives.

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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