March 2011 Archives

Google Picks Kansas City To Wire With Fiber. What's Next?

After much anticipation, Google has announced who it's going to wire with gigabit fiber: Kansas City, KS.

A city of 150,000 smack dab in the middle of America, it makes a lot of sense as a destination because of its centrality, its size, the presence of the Kauffman Foundation next door and involvement with this project, the fact that it's a city that could use some help and therefore that should be able to show clear gains once the fiber's in place, and of course there's the barbecue, which growing up with a dad from Kansas I can attest is fantastic.

Google made this announcement with little pomp and circumstance, simply putting up a blog post with a well-produced video featuring comments from Google and local stakeholders. Given the number of people involved with making that video it's impressive they were able to keep this new under wraps as I totally agree with the statement made in that video that this is just about the biggest thing to ever happen to Kansas City.

But even more than where they've chosen to build and what they're doing now, I'm interested in what's going to happen next.

During the initial announcement of this program and subsequent analysis I and many others were under the impression that Google was most likely going to deploy to multiple smaller cities rather than one big city. Given that the top-end of their goal was to potentially reach up to 500,000 people, Kansas City only accounts for a fraction of that.

Yet there's some disconnect in how to read Google's intentions within this blog post and video. In the post they write: "After a careful review, today we're very happy to announce that we will build our ultra high-speed network in Kansas City, Kansas." And later: "In selecting a city, our goal was to find a location where..."

This language implies singular to me. Yet in the video that accompanies this post Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder and president, says, "That's why we're rolling out to communities starting with Kansas City..."

The reason this distinction matters is twofold. First, are other communities that applied to Google Fiber out of luck or are they still in the running? But secondly and perhaps even more significantly, what are Google's ultimate intentions with this initiative?

As I've asked previously in this blog, do they want to build a fiber network or two, or do they want to be the catalyst for getting all of America wired with fiber?

The answer to this question defines what the best approach is for Google moving forward.

In particular, now that they've chosen a city it's likely that they'll start to face questions from the suburbs surrounding Kansas City about how the network can be extended to serve them. And I have no doubt Kansas City, MO is more than a little concerned about its little brother getting all this attention.

Another way to think about this is is Google building another island of connectivity that will stop at the city limits? If so, then what does that mean for something as basic as education, where students who live in the city may attend school outside of it and vice versa?

Or is Google using this Kansas City network as a seed they're planting to set the roots for a foundation that can grow to bring fiber to as many Americans as possible?

I bring these queries up not to question Google's actions or intentions but to help clarify everyone's thinking about the intent of this truly terrific endeavor.

While I can see a lot of value in taking the more limited approach of building a city or two and focusing on deploying working networks and testbeds, I also see a ton of opportunity to leverage this gift that Google's giving America into something that can keep giving and truly shift our country's telecommunications paradigm for generations to come.

No matter what the answers to these questions, Google should be commended for its vision and its commitment to investing in our country's capacity to continue achieving great things in the 21st century.

Congratulations to Kansas City, KS for the win. We in Lafayette, LA welcome you to the Fiber Nation and look forward to working with you and Google to develop the next generation of the Internet.

Introducing Daily's Hierarchy Of Broadband Needs

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Previously I laid out an argument for how Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs applies to the world of broadband. Today I want to take that a step further and introduce Daily's Hierarchy of Broadband Needs. This hierarchy will provide a framework within which to focus broadband policies and initiatives.

There are four levels to Daily's Hierarchy of Broadband Needs:

- Availability
- Adoption
- Utilization
- Innovation

Availability is the most basic level of a user's broadband needs. Broadband needs to first be available for anyone to use it. Without availability established then none of the other levels matter.

The next level up is Adoption. Once broadband's available, how do we get people to adopt it? This covers areas like affordability, value, and starts getting us into issues of education and usability. Adoption is what makes broadband networks sustainable.

Once broadband's available and adopted, the next question is how can Utilization better people's lives? Encouraging greater utilization relies largely on explaining to people why they should use broadband and how they can do so. Utilization is what makes broadband networks worth the hassle of deploying.

At the top of Daily's Hierarchy lies Innovation. This is where once broadband is available, adopted, and being utilized we start finding new ways to use broadband to grow opportunity and drive efficiency. Innovation is what holds the key to broadband's limitless potential to encourage community and economic development.

To some these categories may seem obvious, but one need only check out our federal government's approach to broadband to recognize that this more holistic view of broadband is not yet the dominant paradigm.

Just look at the broadband stimulus. Pretty much the entire focus of the program is on broadband availability and adoption, with little specifically referenced in terms of utilization and innovation.

The problem with focusing primarily on availability is that we need an equal emphasis on utilization and innovation to justify the investment. And by worrying too much about adoption we risk creating broadband customers but not users, further stunting our growth in realizing broadband's full potential.

Luckily, many broadband stimulus programs include programs more focused on broadband utilization, and some could argue that the entire broadband stimulus program has the potential to spur innovation by broadening the marketplace and bringing this conversation around what broadband can do for communities more into the mainstream.

But moving forward we need our broadband planning efforts to be multi-faceted, recognizing that the more we encourage innovation, the more utilization we can document, the easier it'll be to get people adopt, and the better that'll make the business case for broadband deployment. While at the same time, building supply will bring more potential users to the table to drive greater usage of broadband that should lead to more innovation.

While all levels of Daily's Hierarchy are crucially important, the most important thing is their interconnectedness. And after observing too much attention being put on availability and adoption and not enough on utilization and innovation, I decided to move down to Lafayette, LA to create a framework for how to drive utilization and innovation in a community with fiber through the non-profit I've started called FiberCorps.

With this holistic approach to driving community and economic development through broadband, I believe that we can realize broadband's fullest potential.

AT&T; + T-Mobile = More Questions Than Answers

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When AT&T; announced its intentions to buy rival wireless provider T-Mobile it ignited a firestorm around whether this news is a positive or negative development for America's communications infrastructure. I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Obviously competition for cell service takes a hit as there's one less competitor, leaving only three major players: AT&T;, Verizon, and Sprint. And there's no clear hope for more competition on the horizon.

At the same time, to some degree, competition around next generation wireless services may improve as this deal should accelerate AT&T;'s deployment of 4G as T-Mobile is out ahead of them in this area.

There's some chance this deal will have a negative impact on the FCC's hopes for raising a lot of money through spectrum auctions as there'll now be one less bidder.

Yet by adding T-Mobile's spectrum and coverage to its own, AT&T; is also expanding the reach of its network to serve more customers with better service.

But this is where things get really interesting. AT&T; argues in favor of this deal by saying it will improve their operations by adding spectrum, extending reach, and streamlining operations.

Well if you take this mindset a step further, doesn't it mean that consumer interests will be better served by further consolidation? What if the entire wireless industry consolidated? Wouldn't that deliver the most robust, most available, most streamlined network?

I ask this more theoretically than anything as it's hard to imagine this happening, in particular because an unregulated monopoly seems like an untenable situation and our government has shown little appetite for strong telecommunications regulations, but it is something worth considering. It makes me wonder if we'd be better served by a monopoly than a competitive marketplace.

It also raises the question of what happens if Verizon or AT&T; wants to buy Sprint? Would that be too little competition? If so, does that mean this is the end of wireless consolidation?

This line of thinking has me thinking about how much competition we need in order to trigger the marketplace dynamics that can protect consumer interests without government regulation.

On the flip side, I also can't help but ponder if more competition is necessarily a good thing. Do we want a bunch of providers building lesser networks, or fewer providers building better networks? This may be a false choice, but we also have to be realistic about the fact that at this point there doesn't seem to be any clear path towards achieving a wireless America where there's a ton of competitors offering world-class service.

For now, I side in favor of letting this deal pass as I'm not sure that having four wireless providers is necessarily any better than having three.

Yet I think we need to use this as an opportunity to engage in a dialog around more clearly defining what we want the future of our country's telecommunications marketplace to look like. We too often seem stuck in talking about the kind of service we want citizens to have access to in the abstract without getting into the messy details of what kind of a system's needed to deliver that service.

As a final remark, my biggest disappointment about this deal is thinking about how far that $39 billion AT&T;'s using to buy T-Mobile could have gone in terms of fiber deployment. With it AT&T; could've connected more than 10 million homes with fiber, providing Americans with an evolutionary leap in service rather than an incremental step.

But I respect the right of private business to make their own decisions about what's best for their shareholders.

While there's no way this deal wasn't going to be controversial, my primary hope is that we can use this as a catalyst for discussions about our long-term future and don't get caught up in demonizing companies for trying to turn a profit in our capitalistic economy.

Let me start this post off with a simple statement: all broadband is fiber.

Now, some fiber-to-the-home advocates might cringe when I say this as they feel it's unfair for advanced cable and DSL systems to claim they're fiber, and in fact Verizon has won rulings against cable operators for doing exactly that.

But let's reconsider this posture for a moment.

To start with, we need to acknowledge that the Internet is essentially a series of interconnected fiber networks crisscrossing the country and circling the globe delivering data at the speed of light.

We can then define broadband as the access networks that connect us to the Internet.

A commonality of all broadband technologies is that to be able to deliver next generation levels of services requires driving fiber deeper into networks, especially when it comes to DSL and wireless.

A primary difference between the performance characteristics of the various flavors of broadband then is how close they're bringing fiber to the end user. This is even true for wireless as service improves the closer antennae are to users and the more robust the backhaul networks are.

With this context we can now define fiber-to-the-home as bringing the full power of the Internet to your front door.

It's my belief that we can take back control over the word "fiber" if we start framing things in this way.

Instead of lamenting and debating the use of fiber in broadband advertising, let's redefine the terms of engagement by educating policymakers and consumers on the significance of fiber as it relates to broadband.

I want to see a day where everyone starts asking the question, "So how close does your broadband solution bring fiber to me and my neighbors?"

And this is the question that matters most when it comes to insuring America has the broadband infrastructure necessary to support all that the 21st century economy makes possible.

So instead of demonizing profit-motivated providers, let's unify our efforts to promote a multi-faceted pro-fiber agenda that supports the upgrading of all of our country's broadband infrastructure through the deeper deployment of fiber.

I heard something rather disturbing last night. Turns out the White House's underwhelming wireless-centric broadband ambitions aren't just hurting our country, they're also hurting Australia.

I was chatting with a new friend visiting from Australia about all things broadband at Jolie's, my favorite restaurant in Lafayette, when she dropped the bomb.

Forces opposed to Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN), an incredibly ambitious plan to spend $40 billion to bring fiber to 90% of its citizens, have been citing America's wireless ambitions as proof positive that NBN's fiber investment is wasteful and unnecessary.

Now, it's not new to criticize the lack of ambition in the White House's plan for building out our country's broadband infrastructure. I did just as much in this post recapping the President's last State of the Union address, and many others have called out the inadequacies of this plan.

But it is new to me that our decision to take the path of least resistance is bleeding over to the rest of the world.

To some degree one could argue this is heartening proof that America does still hold a leadership position in this area in some other part of the world.

But in every other sense I find this to be quite dismaying. It means that our country's inaction is potentially holding back other areas from adequately addressing their own communications needs.

And make no mistake, holding them back we are. If Australia's opposition is able to stop NBN from becoming a reality by believing that wireless is good enough, that will be a travesty.

Not because there's anything wrong with wireless. It truly is a platform for unbelievable economic and community development.

But a wireless-centric approach limits this development by not providing enough bandwidth nor performance to support the delivery of next-generation applications, in particular the many ways that the use of video can revolutionize our lives.

The problem with wireless is that it sounds like an easy answer. Every politician wants their country to realize the benefits of broadband, but few are willing to make the investments and hard decisions necessary to deliver the infrastructure needed to enable these benefits to be realized.

To some degree, I can't blame them. The thought that instead of having to invest billions in fiber they can just put up a few towers and call it a day is attractive.

But wireless alone is not sufficient. We need the capacity of fiber in order to achieve the full potential of our networked future.

So I say to Australia: please ignore us! Don't think that America leads the world in broadband any more as we're clearly coming up short in our ambitions. So don't let us sabotage your own efforts to enable the future of your economy.

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

February 2011 is the previous archive.

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