Why is this page text-only?


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

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

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

« November 2007 | Main | January 2008 »

December 2007 Archives

December 3, 2007 9:40 AM

The Internet Gets More Upstream Bandwidth

Read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal last week about the push to increase upload capacity in last mile access networks. (You can find the link at the bottom of this post.)

I couldn't be more excited about this trend as getting more upload capacity into the network is something that couldn't be more important.

First off, it's terrific to see that the competition being introduced by the deployment of fiber is resulting in increased infrastructure investment by competitive providers. There is the caveat that this investment is currently only focused on limited areas, but at least it's happening somewhere.

The reason putting more upload capacity into place is so vital is because of a simple truth that's been demonstrated throughout the Internet's history: the more bandwidth you give users, the more they'll do with it.

But let's consider this further for a moment. The correlation between more bandwidth equaling more use may seem direct, that more available bandwidth means more bandwidth to consume, but it's actually a bit more nuanced than that.

The more bandwidth you have the better applications run. The faster tasks can be accomplished, and ultimately the cheaper things can get done because they take less time to do. And the better/faster/cheaper applications get, the more likely users are to use them.

For example, you're more likely going to upload large files, like a video you may have created, if it only takes ten minutes instead of an hour. You're more likely to use videocalling if the experience is smooth and not marred by a stuttering picture. And most importantly, the more capacity in the network the more freedom applications developers have to produce cutting edge broadband applications.

So it's not a matter of users getting more bandwidth and then trying to decide how they can use it; more bandwidth simply enables a better user experience for all Internet applications, in turn helping drive demand for all the wonderful things broadband makes possible.

In large part these last thoughts apply to both downloading and uploading, but in particular I sometimes feel the upload part of this equation doesn't get the attention it deserves compared to downstream applications like video-on-demand.

But really what makes the Internet so revolutionary isn't on-demand video; it's the fact that consumers can now be producers, and sharers, and remixers, and service providers. The fact that through upstream capacity they can participate actively rather than consuming passively.

So there's really nothing more important than getting more upload capacity into the network so that more users can be enabled to do more things in an active, participatory way on the Internet.

Related Links:
Wall Street Journal article

December 3, 2007 11:47 AM

Fighting Piracy By Making Content More Easily Available

Finally - some good news from the content piracy front.

MTV has announced their intent to make all episodes of the long-running animated series South Park available for free online in the coming months.

Why are they doing this? In an attempt to combat rampant piracy.

This isn't the first time I've seen efforts to make content more available as a way to deter pirates. MTV parent company Viacom, for example, made Daily Show archives available online a while back to great success, for example.

And these moves seem to reflect a growing shift in the mindset of some content owners on how they perceive piracy. Earlier this year, Disney spoke out about how they're beginning to look at piracy less as an illegal activity that needs to be squashed and more as a competitive threat.

It's exciting to watch as it's beginning to dawn on content owners that you can't fight piracy by building in more restrictions around your content. The lack of easy access to the content consumers want through legitimate channels is what sparked piracy in the first place!

The best way to beat pirates is at their own game: make your own content more accessible through legitimate channels and users will have less of an incentive to become pirates.

I imagine we're still a long ways away from figuring all this out, but efforts like MTV putting South Park online are a huge step in the right direction.

December 3, 2007 1:01 PM

FTTH Increasingly Spells Success

It's been an incredible year for FTTH in arena of public opinion.

It started as an albatross, a costly gamble that Wall Street battered Verizon's stock price for daring to try.

Then earlier this year attitudes began to shift. As demand for FiOS grew, so to did support for Verizon's bold move, even going so far as to begin putting pressure on fellow fiber deployer AT&T; for playing it safe and not taking the FTTH plunge.

And now at the tail end of '08, we've reached a whole new level, as this article makes the case that the dawn of full fiber networks like FiOS will lead to the extinction of Comcast and its cable company cohorts as they are increasingly unable to keep up as demand for bandwidth rises.

What a remarkable turnaround for the public perception of FTTH!

December 4, 2007 10:53 AM

You Can't Control the Internet

The fact that some ISPs are "shaping" (blocking or delaying, depending on your point of view) P2P traffic has created an uproar in the Internet community.

But what impact is this practice having on consumer behavior? Is delaying P2P traffic reducing piracy? Is blocking P2P traffic reducing the demands placed on networks? Or perhaps more importantly: can you accomplish either of these goals by limiting access to a particular type of application?

According to this InfoWorld article, the answer appears to be no.

As a result of ISPs interfering with P2P traffic, P2P users are simply starting to look elsewhere for the content they want, in particular the use of file hosting sites.

What these do is allow someone to upload a file and create a URL that others can use to download that file.

Apparently, ISP P2P interference is having a negative impact on the user experience as it's slowing the speed at which files can be downloaded from a P2P network.

So how do users respond? Find another avenue for speedy downloads of the content they want, in this case these file-hosting services.

P2P traffic still accounts for a vast majority of Internet traffic, but file-hosting sites are ramping up quickly, and at least so far network operators do not have any measures in place to interfere with this traffic, so the use of these sites will likely continue to grow.

In the end, blocking P2P traffic may not have any impact on piracy because the files can be found elsewhere, and it may not significantly influence the amount of data users are downloading.

The biggest potential impact of this shift from P2P to file hosting is likely on the upload side of things.

Obviously someone needs to be uploading files to file hosting services but that's one user uploading one file at a time. In a P2P network every downloader may become an uploader, and files are not all downloaded from a central server but instead are delivered using that shared upload capacity.

So ultimately, if all P2P delivered traffic moved to these file hosting services, I'd imagine that would reduce the load on networks.

That said, I don't think we'll necessarily ever reach that day as at some point I imagine trying to move too much traffic will break whatever business models these often-free file hosting services have. Plus if it were to happen that'd be a very sad day as P2P technologies offer a revolutionary approach to large file distribution.

But in the end, the main lesson to be learned here is that no matter what you do to try and stop Internet users from doing something, your efforts will most likely be futile as someone somewhere will just come up with another way to skin the digital delivery cat.

December 5, 2007 12:13 PM

Tracking Online Video Adoption - Internet Audience On Par with TV?

comScore, a company that tracks information relevant to the growth and adoption of the Internet, has released its latest Video Metrix report, which provides insight into the demand for online video, in this case for the month of September 2007.

Not surprisingly, YouTube retained its position atop this throne.

What was somewhat surprising, though, was how much of a lead it actually has.

According to comScore's latest numbers, Google-owned sites delivered 2.6 billion videos, which represents 28% of the 9 billion videos delivered overall. Out of those 2.6 billion, YouTube accounted for 2.5 billion.

Who's in second place? Fox Interactive Media, clocking in at 387 million videos, or 4.2% of the market. They're followed by Yahoo! then Viacom then Time Warner, etc.

Think about this for a moment: YouTube is serving up almost ten videos for every one of the next closest competitor.

The numbers do narrow somewhat when you look at the number of users, of which YouTube had about 70 million, with Fox running a much closer second at just over 40 million. What this highlights is that people who go to YouTube tend to watch more videos than someone who goes to Fox.com, which isn't surprising given YouTube's focus on shorter clips and jumping between random videos.

But let's look at this from another angle: many of the other companies on this list are TV guys trying to make a go of it online. And despite the big push we've seen in '07 to bring more first-run TV content onto the Internet, YouTube still dominates in terms of viewership.

In fact, they're getting so many viewers it's arguable that perhaps they should start being compared to traditional TV audiences rather than those found online.

Think about this - 2.5 billion videos divided by 30 days in a month equals about 83 million videos a day. Let's compare that to Nielsen TV ratings.

The top recent show was an episode of Dancing with the Stars, which got a 16 rating. Each rating point equals 1.128 million homes. So a 16 rating is roughly 18 million households.

Let's take this a step further, Nielsen reports that this past Monday CBS won the ratings war with an average of 6.2 during primetime. This equates to about 7 million households. Now let's say primetime runs from 8pm-11pm, and that all the shows are half an hour long. That suggests that 42 million households tuned in to CBS on Monday night.

Now of course this is far from an apples-to-apples comparison. Nielsen ratings don't account for whether or not an average rating of 6.2 means 42 million households tuned in for the 6 different shows or if only 7 million households watched all 6 episodes, as opposed to online video where the number of unique visitors can be tracked much more accurately.

But it does give you a sense for the scope of YouTube's reach.

On the flip side, though, it also points to the nascence of every other site trying to establish an online audience for their video.

That being said, there are reasons for optimism, namely the finding that 75% of Internet users watched a video during the month of September. Sure most of them were going to the same site, likely to watch short goofy clips of dogs chasing cars, but at least people are increasingly understanding that the opportunity to watch video online exists.

Additionally, they're averaging 3 hours of online video watching per month. Of course this is but a drop in the bucket relative to the 3-hour-per-day average of TV viewing, but it does suggest that online video is becoming a more significant more regular component of consumers' viewing habits.

What'll be fun to watch over the next year is how TV sites are able to close the gap with YouTube and how the introduction of higher quality longer form content impacts the time people spend watching online.

December 6, 2007 11:44 AM

A 20th Century Mindset Interferes with 21st Century Education

One of the most frustrating parts of being an advocate for broadband is when I come across stories where the use of broadband is deterred by established interests for whom the new paradigm of the Internet is not welcome.

A prime example of this is the recent court order that the state of Wisconsin must stop funding the Wisconsin Virtual Academy.

The Wisconsin Virtual Academy is the biggest virtual school in the state, but it is far from the only one. In total, Wisconsin has twelve virtual schools that serve about 3000 students.

A virtual school is a program that allows students to learn from home under the guidance of their parents with the curriculum, materials, and teacher support of a traditional school delivered over the Internet.

Anyone in Wisconsin can can enroll in them due to Wisconsin's open enrollment policy. And in the little bit I've read about them, they seem to be generally regarded as successful in accomplishing the goal of educating students, especially those for whom the traditional classroom environment is not ideal.

So what's the problem? A bunch of short-sighted technicalities.

First off, the court ruled that the Wisconsin Virtual Academy was violating state law by letting parents assume the responsibilities of state-licensed teachers. How this is worse than parents trying to educate their children without any help from state-licensed teachers, as is the case in most home schooled situation, is beyond me.

The problem likely has something to do with money, which is the second major finding by the court, that the Wisconsin Virtual Academy is violating another law that requires charter schools to be in the district that operates them. Basically they're saying that a virtual school can only get money from the district it's physically located in, not from all the districts in which their students reside, which had been the practice up until now.

Is it just me, or is this unbelievably short-sighted? I understand that divvying up school budgets will be a contentious issue as long as budgets are constrained, but doesn't tying a virtual school's funding to its physical location negate the whole point of a virtual school?

Virtual schools aren't meant to only provide services to students located in a single district. If that's what they want to see happen, then they need to make sure every district has a virtual school.

Or, they could continue to allow virtual schools to accept students from any district, which takes fuller advantage of the boundary busting capabilities of broadband.

Just because a student doesn't live within a district in which a virtual school is located, does that mean he or she should be disallowed from these educational opportunities, even though from a functional perspective there's little to no benefit of being geographically close to a virtual school?

Stories like this frustrate me to no end. They demonstrate the real-life plight of trying to leverage the possibilities of the 21st century while stuck working in a system still geared towards the rules of the 20th.

We must find a way to recognize and resolve situations where established interests are limiting our ability to more fully realize the potential of broadband, otherwise we're going to continue to spin our wheels as broadband and broadband applications remain underutilized.

December 7, 2007 12:49 PM

Listing Lists of Broadband Business and Productivity Applications

The world of Internet applications is exploding so rapidly it can be difficult to navigate the possibilities in order to understand the opportunities.

Here on App-Rising.com I sometimes struggle with how to give out as much information as possible without it becoming a firehose.

Well, today, I thought I'd point you all to some firehoses, namely a handful of lists/directories of Internet applications focused on making you and your business more productive.

I'll be covering many of these applications individually and categorically over the next year as I give them a try on my own, but for now, here's a pile of applications for you to sift through and discover one or many that may solve problems in your day to day life.

That being said, a word of caution: I wouldn't recommend trying to go through all these links in one sitting. There's just too much good info, so you're bound to miss something important and/or become overwhelmed.

Instead, bookmark this page and keep coming back to it across multiple sessions, whenever you have free time. Trust me, if you spend the time to look through these lists, I guarantee you'll find at least one application that fulfills a need you have (or in some cases you didn't even know you had).

And now, the links!

Office 2.0 Database - I came across this one today. It provides a tremendous list of applications that enable an office 2.0 setup.

It does a great job of breaking applications into type, citing their favorite in each category along a number of other possibilities, and if you click on an item it provides you with a little bit of marginally useful info as well as the opportunity to read reviews. As the site's still pretty new, there aren't a lot of reviews yet, but I'd encourage you to write one of your own as you try out applications for yourself.

101 Essential Freelancing Resources - Another discovery made today, which combined with the Office 2.0 Database inspired this post.

The applications in this list aren't exclusively for freelancers; I think anyone looking to be more productive could make use of at least some of these. And while there may be some overlap with the first list, they've structured their list in a different way and upon quick review definitely have apps not listed above.

Web Office: 2007 Year in Review - This recent Read/WriteWeb article delves into the happenings of the web office space. Web office apps are basically those that offer similar functionality to what you'd find in Microsoft's Office suite of apps, only through your browser and enhanced by features that take advantage of their connectivity.

The Toolbox Toolbox: 100+...Resource Collections for Web Workers - Now I'm going to get metaphysical on you. This is a list of lists as it's aggregated a series of articles that include topics like "10 Essential Mind-Mapping Links" and "7 Apps for Online Note-Taking"

Be careful with this one; there's so much info it could be easy to get lost. And yes, by adding this posting to my post, I've now created a list of lists of lists.

Productivity Toolbox: 37+ Tools for Taking Action and Getting Things Done - A shorter list of applications all geared towards making you more productive.

The Best Collaboration Tools - Working with remote people is a key aspect of what the Internet enables. This list cites tools that help facilitate that collaboration.

10 Must Have Online Office Apps - I'm not sure if these are all necessarily "must have" and many if not all of them are cited elsewhere in other lists, but if you're finding yourself drowning in all the information found on the sites above, this shorter list may be a good place for you to start. Applications are all given descriptions, and there's only ten to consider, not hundreds.

30 Apps to Run your Business By - At this point, we're definitely starting to run into some overlap in apps, but I think this list has more entries for apps that, as its title suggest, helps you run your business, like their first section, which covers time tracking and invoicing apps.

In conclusion: Many of these applications are not particularly bandwidth-intensive, some of them are not yet practical or worthwhile, others mimic the functionality of desktop apps but aren't quite ready to supplant them, but all this being said, there's a tremendous amount of great work that's been done to develop these applications, this space is becoming incredibly diverse, and even if they don't all require broadband there's little doubt they all perform better given more bandwidth.

It's remarkable to me to think that many if not most of these apps were launched in '07. It makes it hard to imagine how long these lists might be this time next year.

For any app developer who may be reading this post, though, one word of advice: when you're considering what projects to work on next, I'd encourage you to start thinking outside of the box.

There's a lot of me-too apps on these lists, for example there's probably a dozen to-do lists or more. I'm not saying don't try to compete in these spaces, instead my intent is to raise awareness about the fact I think there's a lot of apps that still need to be written.

There are a lot of business processes that do not yet have an online solution. I don't yet have a list of what some of those are, but I'll work on it.

The key point here is this: what do you want to be doing? Fighting amongst a dozen competitors for a piece of a pie, or introducing a brand new kind of pie that expands the audience and demand for broadband applications beyond the current audience of early adopters?

December 7, 2007 1:52 PM

The SAFE Act - Lemming Politics At Its Worse

On Wednesday the US House of Representatives passed the SAFE Act by a vote of 409 to 2. SAFE stands for Securing Adolescents from Exploitation-Online.

When first written about, it caused a bit of an uproar as many sites reported that this bill would force not just ISPs but also anyone who offers free Wi-Fi Internet access to enter into the kiddie porn policing business or else they face stiff penalties.

But cooler heads are beginning to prevail, as evidenced by this Ars Technica article that explores what this bill really means: namely that it increases penalties that already exist to punish ISPs who see kiddie porn on their network and don't report it.

The bill explicitly states that ISPs don't need to actively monitor for kiddie porn. And when this article's author contacted Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX), who introduced the bill, he received clarification that the bill is not intended to apply to small businesses who offer Wi-Fi.

But unfortunately these findings do not resolve these issues.

We can start by simply perusing the comments to this article. The very first one is from someone who claims to be an attorney (despite his profession being listed in his profile as "Smack-Fu Master, in training"). His point being: once language becomes law, it's up to the courts to determined what the words mean. So even if local Wi-Fi networks weren't intended to be included, the fact the bill applies to anyone "engaged in providing an electronic communication service...to the public..." suggests that Wi-Fi networks could fall under the bill's purview once it's in the field.

Another angle to this debate I have yet to read is what impact the increasingly common practice of deep packet inspection may have on this. ISPs are either already or have plans to start analyzing the data going over their networks in much greater detail. Even though this bill doesn't require active monitoring for kiddie porn, my guess is that the more a network operator analyzes traffic on their network, the more kiddie porn that might pop up. What's perhaps even more problematic is that most of these systems are automated, so there's a chance that a computer may identify kiddie porn but not have it confirmed by a human. Does that count as a violation? In order to avoid these situations, ISPs may be forced into actively monitoring for kiddie porn to make sure they're not accidently liable.

Another problem I have with this legislation is the enforcement side of things. If no one's required to look for kiddie porn, how is the government supposed to know when someone saw it and didn't report it? Additionally, even if someone's trying to stay within the law, how are they supposed to know if what they're seeing is actually kiddie porn? I know there are new rules in place requiring purveyors of porn to cite openly the fact that they've confirmed the age of all porno participants, but even still this isn't necessarily an easy thing to figure out.

While I have other issues with this legislation, the biggest one is why we're writing legislation of this sort in the first place. I mean, is there really any point to raising penalties against ISPs other than being a symbolic attempt to look tough on kiddie porn? Has there been a rash of ISPs who've flaunted the original rules and shielded kiddie porn users and producers I haven't heard about? Don't we have more pressing issues for Congress to be resolving, like, oh, I don't know, the Iraq War, healthcare, the environment, the economy, the deployment and use of broadband, etc., etc., etc.?!

I truly hate bills like this that are nothing more than pandering for votes.

A bill like this has nothing to do with good policy, and everything to do with grandstanding. Even worse, it's a lemming bill, one that everyone wants to be for because they're obviously against kiddie porn, despite no one having any idea of what they're actually supporting.

If this is the direction Internet legislation is going to continue to take, then the bubble of enthusiasm I had for us to have a real dialogue about what's best for the country in terms of telecom just got deflated a bit.

Thank goodness the holidays are coming up as I need some good Christmas cheer to reignite my hopefulness that we'll be able to get real work done in '08 and not just more of the same when it comes to bills geared towards getting votes rather than making our country great.

December 10, 2007 7:31 AM

The Exaflood's Coming, Whether We Like It Or Not

In the past I've shared my reservations about the exaflood, but what's surprised me over the last few months is how resistant many parties still are to accepting the fact that, like it or not, demand for bandwidth is increasing at a rate that may outpace investment.

A recent post I wrote about the growth in demand for online video cited the fact that 70% of Internet users watched a video online in the month of September. Well watching a video, no matter how short and low-res, is at least 10 times more bandwidth-intensive than emailing or web surfing.

Today 7 out of 10 Internet users watch online video, tomorrow that could easily be 10 out of 10 as it's getting hard to surf the web without bumping into video of one sort or another, especially for advertising.

Pretty soon, everyone who's connected to the Internet at 500Kbps or higher will be receiving live and on-demand video streams.

At the high end, I've written about efforts to start delivering fullscreen video over the Internet, which can be ten times more bandwidth-intensive than YouTube-quality videos. And there's a rapidly increasing amount of first-run premium content being made available online.

So we'll have more people watching more video that's increasingly higher definition, all of which adds up to individual users demanding a ton more bandwidth than they did when their only online activities were email and web surfing.

And you know what? All this talk only deals with the watching video aspect of broadband, the activity that most closely mimics TV. I haven't even touched upon the many other interactive broadband applications that also require copious amounts of bandwidth to survive and thrive.

The best evidence I've seen to date that the demand for bandwidth is growing at a substantial rate is this story about how after years of talk about the overcapacity built into the backbone of the Internet, ISPs are beginning to have to invest in their transport networks.

While I didn't necessarily find this news to be surprising, what was somewhat surprising to me is how relatively little play this has gotten.

The reason this sticks out to me is because no matter whether you think the exaflood's going to hit tomorrow or not for another 20 years, there's no denying that demand for bandwidth is growing, and there's little doubt that the only way to support that demand is through investment in the network.

But here's my fear: while some parts of the network can be swapped out and upgraded easily, others require time to deploy--like putting more fiber in the ground.

My worry is that if we spend too much time debating the existence and nature of the exaflood we're going to face a day where demand for bandwidth has outstripped supply but we don't have a quick and easy way to make more capacity available.

You could argue that this already happens rather frequently on a micro level as servers that host websites that gain viral popularity often become overwhelmed by demand and go down.

I'm not saying that I've yet discovered the ultimate answer for spurring more investment in the network, which is why I've come out in support of any entity interested in deploying fiber further into the network.

But for now, what'd be great is if we could stop talking about the exaflood as a hypothetical and start accepting the fact that demand for bandwidth continues to increase and that we need to continue investing in the creation of as much supply of bandwidth as we possibly can.

December 11, 2007 12:53 PM

Increasing Demand Demands Increasing Supply of Bandwidth

Yesterday I wrote about the inevitability of the exaflood, citing recent news that ISPs are starting to invest in their backbone/transport networks.

Well there was another announcement yesterday that plays into this conversation: AT&T; has turned on its high speed "ultra-long haul" network.

This new network boasts a capacity of 40Gbps, as opposed to the 10Gbps commonly found in other networks. And AT&T; has shared their plans for eventually upgrading this further to 100Gbps.

AT&T; claims that this new network will give its customers a better user experience, especially when delivering video applications, but what I'm more interested is what this means on a macro-level.

The truth of the matter is that whether or not you agree or disagree with the decisions of a corporation like AT&T;, there's no denying that their networks carry a huge percentage of Internet traffic.

Additionally, while AT&T; is pushing hard to expand its suite of services, at its core the company is a network operator. It builds networks and makes money by delivering traffic on these networks.

So when they say their backbone's getting filled up and needs more capacity, that potentially says a lot about the larger Internet as they're not likely to invest in and light up gobs of new capacity if the demand isn't there.

Whether you think demand for bandwidth is growing 50% a year, or 100% or 1000%, the simple truth is that whatever the growth rate it's great enough today to force the hand of network operators to continue investing in their networks to keep up.

The primary question in my mind isn't whether or not investment is needed and demand is growing, it's how can we make sure that the necessary investment happens ahead of the cresting wave of demand.

That's my biggest fear: that everyone will know we need the investment, that everyone will have the best of intentions to make that investment, but that because we're not able to get the deployment of broadband firing on all cylinders that the demand for bandwidth will begin to outstrip supply.

The problem is, once we pass that point, we'll be forced to try and play catch up. And I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to be the one trying to chase demand for bandwidth with a fiber optic cable.

It's not a race we're likely to win without a head start, and we need to be realistic about the fact that while the over-capacity built into networks in the late '90s got us out ahead of the curve, we're now starting to come back to the pack. We're losing that head start.

So if we don't want to lose this race, we need to stop looking backwards--questioning how close we are to the pack, how fast the race is being run, who's to blame for our current situation, and who has the ultimate answer to win the race--and start focusing on getting to the finish line of a country where everyone has affordable, reliable access to broadband as quickly as possible.

December 12, 2007 8:33 AM

Learning to Live Without PEG Channels (And Loving It!)

In the telecom space, a contentious issue is that of the fate of PEG channels.

PEG stands for Public, Educational, and Governmental. PEG channels carry things like public access programming, videos produced by schools, and coverage of local government meetings.

PEG channels are created as a function of local franchise agreements, which often require cable operators to create and maintain channels for distribution as well as facilities for content production.

Increasingly, PEG channels are under attack as statewide franchise agreements supersede local requirements for new entrants to support the existing PEG paradigm, and some incumbents are reassessing their support of PEG channels, threatening to shut down production facilities and cordon off the delivery of PEG channels to digital tiers of service.

While I'm all for maintaining all avenues for free speech, I can't help but wonder: would a world without PEG channels really be so bad?

I've spoken with people from the network operator side, the app developer side, and community side of this issue and have learned that there are a number of significant, entrenched interests that support the traditional idea of PEG channels, but let's consider for a moment a PEG channel's characteristics.

A PEG channel is often uncontrolled by the content producers; they have to make their shows and give them to the cable operator to get them scheduled. The public often doesn't know PEG channels exist. Even if they do know, figuring out when a show airs can be a chore, and often important programming gets pushed to odd hours. And in the end you're still stuck with the static paradigm of television.

So this begs the question: what's the big deal about PEG channels?

Now, I understand the need for places for the public to create and distribute content, and that's something we have to find a way to facilitate. No argument here on that.

But on the distribution side of things, I wonder if we might all be better off moving past gnashing our teeth over the demise of PEG channels and instead start focusing on the possibilities of, for lack of a better term, PEG 2.0 channels, which utilize the Internet to deliver content rather than the cable system.

PEG 2.0 means a world where content producers control when, where, and how their content is distributed. Users can access what they want to watch where and when they want to watch it. Search possibilities open up where viewers can skip to the parts of a video that are most relevant to them. Interactive opportunities are introduced where an audience can not just watch but also engage. And the reach of these initiatives extends beyond the geographic limitations of cable systems (which sometimes cuts off citizens from community content when a primary cable operator doesn't cover 100% of homes).

Some communities are already facing up to the realities of a shifting world for PEG channels and a bright future for PEG 2.0, like Meridian, MI. In Michigan, Comcast has stirred up controversy with its plans to move all PEG channels to its digital tier of service, meaning all subscribers who have not signed up for premium digital service will be unable to receive PEG channels.

Because of these plans Meridian has decided to focus all of its energies on utilizing streaming video powered by Granicus to reach the public with their PEG programming. (More on this story soon...)

But again, I don't see this movement away from PEG channels to PEG 2.0 as something to be lamented but instead a trend that should be celebrated.

The limitations of PEG channels has been holding back the adoption and consumption of that content. The introduction and movement towards PEG 2.0 should reignite interest in local content and reinvigorate the opportunities cities have for connecting with their citizens.

And how is all this possible? Only through broadband.

December 13, 2007 1:51 PM

Sports Fans Rejoice! Broadband Makes Your Day...

There's a lot of talk regarding the internet supplanting traditional TV as the primary mode of video delivery. While I'm not one to jump too far into the deep end of hype, there is some truth to this potential future to be found in the sporting world.

Take a look at this article about all the different ways you can catch up on NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL games online. It looks to me like we've reached the point where you have more options and opportunities for watching games/matches online than on air.

And the gap grows wider as you step into sports that don't get as much broadcast coverage here in the States.

For example, a site called WCSN provides live and on-demand coverage of dozens of Olympic sports. They don't cover the Olympics, per se, but instead all the competitions in these sports that occur between the Olympic Games. They are carried on some cable systems, but if you want the broadest range of content available at your disposal, the Internet's the only way to go.

A couple months back I wrote about a friend who while tech savvy claimed he hadn't stayed in the loops in terms of broadband applications, that is, until he admitted to me that he's discovered an IPTV provider through which he's able to get matches from the world's premiere soccer leagues.

And increasingly local sports coverage is finding a home online. One of the greatest success stories regarding the use of broadband I hear on a regular basis is that of small fiber-to-the-home providers like Jackson Energy and Hiawatha Broadband expending the energy to put local sports coverage online. From all accounts, this is a terrific way to introduce the possibilities of broadband in a package that people not only understand but truly demand.

I'm a long ways away from saying the Internet is gaining dominance over TV, but when you look at the coverage of sports, it's fast becoming obvious that the Internet is winning on the issue of choice. And this reality will only grow stronger as more content comes online, more viewers find that content, and the entire space matures to the point where every sporting event is available to be viewed live and on-demand online.

December 14, 2007 9:45 AM

Broadband Article Roundup - From Jackass to the FCC to India and Beyond

So much is happening in the deployment, adoption, and regulation of broadband it can be overwhelming.

Here's an attempt to pull together some of the more interesting stories I've found over the last week.

Jackass On the Internet
Jackass is a popular MTV franchise that's spawned two successful feature films. It's been a trailblazer for shows about young men doing stupid things, and now it may blaze another trail for young men doing stupid things to take their act online.

Jackass 2.5, the third movie installment, will appear not in theaters or direct to DVD, instead it will have a staggered Internet-only release. On Dec 19th, fans will be able to stream the movie for free through Blockbuster's Movielink service; this offering will be ad-supported. On Dec 26th, the movie will be available to purchase through an array of digital download stores. And then on Jan 1st, the movie will make its way to other ad-supported platforms like Joost.

This initiative is being built up as a potentially very big deal, citing that if successful it could prove the viability of the Internet as a platform for original content distribution instead of just another channel for repurposed video. And success should be more easily attainable due to the movie's reported $2 million budget.

Blandin Explains Why/How FCC Matters
Here's a great post by Ann Treacy on the Blandin Foundation's broadband blog. In it, she highlights the agenda for next Tuesday's FCC open meeting. But perhaps more importantly and interestingly, she takes the time to give an overview of what the FCC is and does and why they're relevant to local community leaders.

I generally feel like there's a major disconnect between what federal and local leaders are doing or intending to do with regards to broadband. Unfortunately, only so much can be done to educate federal organizations about the needs of individual communities, so I think it's incredibly important for individual communities to learn more about what's happening at the federal level. By educating themselves they can be more aware of upcoming decisions and better equipped to contribute to that decision-making process.

Distributed Computing - Not Just About Computers
This Economist article highlights some of the great success of distributed computing, which I've written about before more than once. But this article is not just about uniting a network of lower powered machines to create a virtual supercomputer, it's also about a practice commonly referred to as crowdsourcing.

The idea behind crowdsourcing is similar to distributed supercomputing in that you start with a complex task and then find a way to leverage a broad, disaggregated audience to contribute their time to accomplish your goals. A prime example of this is the Galaxy Zoo project, which gets volunteers to help astronomers classify the shapes of galaxies.

Endeavors like these are rarely bandwidth-intensive but they do rely on the reliable, robust, always-on connectivity of broadband in order to be effective and efficient.

Maybe Net Neutrality Not Such a Good Thing
I'll be sharing my thoughts on net neutrality in much greater detail in January, but for now I wanted to point out this article, which is one person's perspective on why net neutrality might not be such a great thing.

The gist of his argument is one I generally agree with, that we do need to protect free speech on the Internet, but that trying to do so through net neutrality legislation may carry with it the unintended consequences often realized when the federal government tries regulating a still nascent industry they still don't fully understand.

AT&T;'s Setting Down Its Telecommuting Flag
I've been following the unfortunate story of AT&T;'s move away from encouraging telecommuting over the past couple of weeks. This article sums up much of what's been happening, which is that before the merger with SBC, AT&T; was an early adopter of telecommuting. Now, as the two companies meld into one, SBC's less progressive mindset is restricting the utilization of telecommuting by AT&T; employees.

To some degree I don't necessarily blame AT&T; for this. They're trying to combine two massive workforces with two different corporate cultures and processes, and since telecommuting can be very amorphous in terms of how its implemented, it's probably in their best interest to dissuade its use in the short term.

My hope, though, is that this is only a temporary consideration in the midst of a merger and not an overarching mindset that's closed off to the possibilities of how to more effectively use broadband to improve internal efficiency. The irony of this situation is that while AT&T;'s size makes telecommuting overly burdensome to implement, AT&T;'s size also means it stands to benefit more than most companies from the use of telecommuting while at the same time proving the benefits of broadband as a key enabler of telecommuting.

The most recent post to Google's public policy blog highlights a recent speech given by Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, former president of India, to Google workers in India.

Included in the article is a link to video of that speech, though I couldn't watch much of it myself as the sound quality was mediocre at best. Even still, they pulled a quote out of Dr. Kalam's speech that I couldn't agree more strongly with: "...Industry should lead society's key stakeholders in broadly accepting the Internet as 'the new way of living, the way of learning, the way of trading and business, the way of socializing, and the way of governance.'"

Truer, better words were never spoken.

December 17, 2007 7:27 AM

Learning to Love PEG Channels

Last week I wrote a post entitled "Learning to Live Without PEG Channels (And Loving It!)" that attempted to broadly convey a narrow point about the limitations of cable systems and the possibilities of Internet systems for the delivery of PEG content.

Admittedly, I wrote this post focusing only on a small area of a much larger and more complex issue, and in doing so committed the cardinal sin of not acknowledging the other complexities that exist, causing what I'd hoped could be a rallying cry to instead appear like a dismissive rebuttal of the current paradigm.

Luckily for me, the responses to my post were thorough, informative, and enlightening, expanding my understanding of some of the issues at hand, and sparking my interest in learning more about the opportunities and challenges of these vital societal resources.

I've begun an information gathering process in an attempt to prepare for an extended conversation about local community media over the coming weeks and months.

But for now, I wanted to circle back and flesh out a bit more some of the basic ideas expressed in that first post.

To start with, I must reiterate my stance that having accessible ways for the public to create and distribute local content to their community is essential. From what I'm beginning to learn, PEG access centers are an incredible tool that every community should not only have but find as many ways as possible to integrate into their education, government, healthcare, and other areas.

Secondly, PEG distribution via cable systems has some significant problems, and it's not just a matter of Comcast moving PEG channels to their digital tier or statewide franchising weakening local PEG agreements. The problems stem from the limitations of using a mass market broadcast medium that the content creators often have little control over to reach a targeted local audience.

Appointment viewing only works when your audience is highly engaged, willing to not only seeking out the content but also set aside the precise time to watch it, or take the time to find the program and set their VCR or DVR. And it's highly unlikely that viewers who are just flipping through will stop on a PEG channel when they show up in the middle of a program.

TV may reach more people than broadband, but because Internet video can be shared and interacted with you can provide a richer experience and you can deliver easier access to the content on-demand. Additionally, there's the boundary-busting nature of broadband that allows expats to tune in.

Adding this all up, in my mind it means that even if broadband technically reaches fewer people than TV today, you're going to be providing so much more value that you should be able to attract a larger, more participatory audience.

Additionally, there's the potential that building awareness of these online PEG opportunities will drive adoption of broadband as more people realize the benefits of having sufficient bandwidth to watch video.

Thirdly, it's my fundamental belief that for any change to occur in a system effectively, especially major change, you've got to find a way to offer some new form of value to whatever party's being asked to give something up. For this reason, I do think that that even though I see the brightest future for PEG online that doesn't mean they should have to give up their cable spectrum for nothing.

Instead, I'm starting to wonder if there might be opportunities to shift network operator support away from cable spectrum and towards the logistics of delivering online video, perhaps by providing a certain level of QoS for PEG video, or helping host/manage video servers, or providing training on how to do these things.

At this point, my understanding of how everything pieces together is too nascent to provide any more concrete suggestions that this, but I think there may be a lot of potential in seeing what's at the end of this conceptual path.

On a macro level, I want to make sure no one thinks I'm against PEG channels. Instead, what I'm for is figuring out how we can embed the production, distribution, and consumption of video content into the very fabric of a community. How can we get every school, hospital, government agency, etc. creating content that's useful to their constituents? How can we make sure every citizen knows what content's available and how they can find/access it?

For me, the only place we'll find all these answers is the Internet.

And perhaps by focusing more on preparing for how we can adjust the current system to more fully support online initiatives we can find a way through these issues without having to introduce the molasses that is litigation.

To make this happen, everyone will have to buy in, and everyone will have to sacrifice. But the most important part is that we all realize that in doing so, everyone stands to benefit tremendously, whether it's from the economic perspective of network operators, apps developers and services providers having more users to transform into customers, or it's from a societal perspective of all the good the use of broadband can do for our country.

I haven't had a chance yet to address every concern expressed in the comments to my last post on this topic, but know that this is far from the last post on this topic. You can look forward to an in-depth, continuing, analytical exploration of what PEG channels are and can be in the coming months on App-Rising.com.

If you'd like to contribute to the dialog, make your voice heard! Join in and submit a comment. The more voices we have contributing the more likely we are to find the best possible answers to the challenges our country faces.

December 18, 2007 9:05 AM

Google v. Microsoft - Battling for the Web's Future?

The New York Times ran an article on Sunday with the title "Google Gets Ready to Rumble With Microsoft." It details the budding battle and clash in corporate cultures between industry giants Microsoft and Google.

But the reason I'm linking to this article isn't because of this competition; it's because of a handful of interesting points found herein about the applications marketplace.

Firstly, this article focuses largely on Google's vision for cloud computing where applications are hosted on remote servers and accessed primarily through a browser, which contrasts with Microsoft's desktop-centric focus.

The thing is, saying that one model will win out over the other is a false choice. Even Google will admit that they have to develop a way for their web apps to run locally on a desktop, and they've been doing just that with Google Gears. And Microsoft knows if they don't get their desktop apps connected they might get left behind.

Simply put: there are benefits to applications residing in the cloud, and their are benefits to applications running on the desktop. In the end, the ultimate solution is going to be a blend that stretches across the entire gamut.

The next interesting point made in this article was Google CEO Eric Schmidt's proclamation that it is his company's belief that ultimately 90% of computing can be done in the cloud. In their estimation, only the most data intensive applications will have to remain on the desktop, things like high-end graphics processing and video editing.

I'm not sure if even in my wildest dreams I can imagine a near-term scenario where 90% of computing is done through the cloud, but even still it's intriguing to think that the biggest Internet company has its eyes set on achieving this goal. It also further alludes to the fact that if we're going to take advantage of all these possibilities we need as much broadband as quickly as we can get it.

On that point, towards the end of the article, the author begins a series of rhetorical questions citing some of the biggest variables that could effect Google's plans. Here's the one that caught my eye: "Will high-speed network connections soon become as ubiquitous and reliable as Google seems to assume?"

This sparked two thoughts:

1. App developers are assuming there's going to be plenty of broadband available and they're developing applications in kind. This is great! It means innovation in applications is not waiting around for the deployment of bigger broadband.

2. App developers are assuming there's going to be plenty of broadband available. Assuming, wishing, hoping for broadband will not make it a reality. We need to be more aggressively making sure everyone knows why broadband's great, and then working together with all parties to get faster, cheaper connection to as many users as possible.

The final point I wanted to share is the revelation that Google has no two year plans, that their product road maps only extend out four to five months. The reason for this is the fast-moving, rapidly evolving nature of the space.

This is remarkable on two levels.

For one, as detailed in the article, Google is able to churn out new products in a matter of weeks rather than months and years. And because they're in the cloud they can distribute apps immediately rather than waiting for software to be printed to disc and physically distributed to stores. This remarkable acceleration in the speed of development bodes well for continual innovation in web apps.

The problem with this mindset, though, is that it leaves out the possibilities of long-term planning. Frankly, there's no way Google doesn't have multi-year plans. But it is telling that they likely don't pay attention to them as much as shorter term plans. This worries me as while the Internet may be a rapidly shifting environment I still think there are a number of overarching goals we need to be shooting for that are going to take multiple years to accomplish.

In fact, it's my belief that in order to realize societal level change, it's going to take a multi-year effort. Focusing only on the few months ahead of you means all you're doing is trying to pump out as many products as possible. It likely means that initiatives are being tackled individually rather than as a concerted whole. And it may mean that more complex challenges are being ignored for the lowest hanging fruit of broadband applications and uses.

Don't take my lamenting as complaints. I understand this whole space is incredibly nascent and as such these are only some of the growing pains we have experience, are experiencing, and will continue to experience. But what this article does illustrate is the need to start being more pragmatic and holistic in our assessment of the marketplace dynamics of the Internet. It's not as simple as Google v. Microsoft or cloud v. desktop, no matter how much they may want us to think that.

December 19, 2007 10:28 AM

FTTH Council Shares Stories of Real World Impact of Fiber

The reasons for why we need fiber-to-the-home are too often couched in terms that are either overly grandiose (broadband cures all) or too technical (we need gigabits because...).

Yet there are stories being told of the real-world impact of big broadband networks.

Yesterday I stumbled across a sampling of four articles doing just this on the FTTH Council's website.

One details the joy one gamer had had in connecting to the Internet at the speed of light.

A second highlights how fiber is enabling the creation of virtual offices.

A third follows along similar lines, demonstrating how fiber supports home-based businesses.

And the fourth relevant article discusses fiber's role as a next-generation amenity in greenfield developments.

None of these articles necessarily contain anything revelatory, but they all are well-written and they all contain nuggets of truth and insight into the specific impact fiber is having on people's lives. And they all also make the effort to talk about bandwidth needs without using too much tech speak to explore why big broadband is needed for the subject of each article.

It's heartening to see the FTTH Council take steps to tell the human interest side of their story for why America needs the big broadband provided by a full fiber network.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure who wrote these articles or when they were written, and looking back on their site I'm not 100% sure how I found them in the first place. But hopefully the fact that they do exist suggests that the Council is engaged with doing more to try and sell FTTH based on the merits of what it enables and not solely on the merits of the technology itself.

December 19, 2007 1:52 PM

A Solution to Diversity in Media Ownership and Opinion

On Tuesday the FCC approved a new rule relaxing restrictions on newspapers who want to buy radio and television stations.

The public reaction has not been positive as activists feel this is a step down a slippery slope of media consolidation, and newspaper executives don't feel the ruling has gone far enough.

A common thread found throughout reaction against this news is the rallying cry around the need to protect diversity of opinion. That if big conglomerates are able to continue buying up news outlets, public discourse will be restricted.

While I'll give no argument to the fact that diversity in opinion in news and media is essential to making this country great, I do wonder about one thing: would media consolidation be that big of an issue if we lived in a world where everyone's engaged with producing and consuming content over the Internet?

The Internet provides an open platform through which anyone can deliver their message, whatever that message may be. The Internet delivers opportunities to link people together, to share information, and to facilitate the collaborative understanding of issues. The Internet can support limitless voices and in doing so supersede concerns about the limited voices of consolidating media conglomerates.

The problem with the Internet from the perspective of diversity in local media is that since everyone can voice their opinion, the cacophony of perspectives can obscure truth. The problem with the Internet in getting these messages out is that not everyone is online and even those that are often don't know what resources are available to them.

So in my mind, the issue should be less about lamenting the consolidation of media and moreso on how do we find more ways to leverage the Internet to allow for the creation of, discovery, and participation in a public dialogue that can not only provide balance to the views of media conglomerates but also expand the number and variety of voices being heard far beyond what is currently possible through the broadcast paradigms of print, radio, and television.

But these thoughts don't end here.

I've recently written a post about the need to support PEG channels and their efforts to nurture local community media.

Notice that last phrase - local community media. In large part this is what PEG channels provide, or at least that's one of the outcomes of having a robust PEG infrastructure in place. That's also what media consolidation opponents are decrying we don't have enough of in America.

Is it just me or are there some interesting and obvious parallels here?

Our goal is to ensure diversity in local media. So why are we worrying more about preventing consolidation and less about encouraging diversity?

Don't get me wrong, I have some significant reservations about how consolidation may impact public discourse in communities where the same company owns multiple outlets. (Though I tend to worry about this on a more macroscopic level related to the impact of the monopolization of media on everything, not just diversity of opinion.)

But I'm also not totally against the idea of allowing companies to acquire other companies, just so long as we begin to support local community media to a much greater degree.

To achieve diversity in media outlets we need to do a whole lot more than encourage media ownership by women and minorities. We need to equip communities with the tools to engage their citizens, to encourage them to participate, to facilitate the production of independent news that can counterbalance concentrated private interests.

It's frustrating how so often the government tries to tackle issues individually as if they exist in their own in a bubble. To find the best answers, especially to questions involving the Internet, we need to think about things holistically, we need to realize that the best solutions may be found by solving tangential problems.

The topic of diversity in media ownership and opinion may be a perfect example by this simple idea: By supporting local community media, we can create diversity in local opinion.

Another angle to this thought is that perhaps by allowing the consolidation of media and restriction of voices we will in turn bolster interest in the independent content created by local community media outlets.

But this can only be true in a world where we're working aggressively on getting everyone engaged with using the Internet and on supporting local community media, which has so far been best expressed through the many great things being done across the country by the PEG community.

December 20, 2007 10:08 AM

Mayor Richard Sighting - How Fort Wayne Got Broadband And Protected Its Citizens

Fort Wayne, Indiana has proven itself to be progressive in the pursuit of broadband, and if you haven't heard of or from Mayor Graham Richard you've been missing out.

Well here's an opportunity to learn a little more.

This post on NextGenWeb highlights what Mayor Richard and the city of Fort Wayne did to bolster public safety in their community through the use of broadband.

Another post on NextGenWeb provides video from five interviews conducted at the recent Emerging Issues Policy Forum, which brings together mayors and technology people to discuss issues facing cities. While I'd encourage everyone to watch all of the videos, in particular at the bottom of this page you'll find one with Mayor Richard, who explains a bit of the history behind Fort Wayne's efforts to get broadband. Here's the video:

I've written about Mayor Richard in the past and there's little doubt you'll be hearing a lot more about him here in the coming months as he takes the lessons he's learned as Mayor and begins to find ways to apply them now that he's re-entering life as a private citizen.

The reason I admire the Mayor is he's one of the few public officials who really gets the big picture, that truly understands the urgent need to get broadband to his city in whatever way possible, and that there isn't necessarily one answer to getting it.

Plus, he's got a passion for this. His vision extends beyond megabytes and gigabytes. He comprehends the potential of broadband to revitalize society, to revolutionize government, to enhance and expand education.

The citizens of Fort Wayne are losing a tremendous Mayor at the end of this year, but it's my strong belief that the rest of the country is gaining a visionary leader in how government can run better and how broadband can make the world go round.

Needless to say, I'm excited to see what the future holds for Mayor Richard, and I look forward to being there to find out and help in whatever way I can.

December 21, 2007 2:49 PM

2007 Applications Review

2007 was a banner year for broadband applications, a year that saw the birth of hundreds if not thousands of new applications, a year in which the need for broadband became apparent to more people than ever.

But it was also arguably a year of unfulfilled promise, a year where the availability of broadband and interest in using it could've lead to significant societal change but didn't.

So now as we approach the last few days of this year, I thought it worthwhile to look back and consider some of the bigger trends of 2007 in the development and adoption of broadband applications.

The Facebook Application Marketplace
Facebook is far from the first company to introduce the concept of an online marketplace for applications that ties into a central platform. Salesforce.com has been going strong with this model for a while now.

But what is notable about Facebook has been the rapid success some applications have realized on their platform. We're talking about tens of thousands of users signing on to an application in a day. Applications that were created by a single guy in a basement getting bought up for multiple millions of dollars in just a few short months. And a user base that has embraced the new functionalities these applications open up.

Whether or not this new marketplace will fundamentally impact the nature of how we interact with the Internet is very much up in the air, but at a minimum their success highlights the ability of users to adopt applications en masse and the ability of the Internet to drive incredible innovation in developing services to fill this demand.

The Explosion of Hosted Productivity Apps
There's been an unbelievable upsurge in the variety and depth of applications hosted on the Internet that can supplant the functionality of many desktop applications.

Online word processors, spreadsheet creators, multimedia presentation builders, for example. But it's not just these, there are hosted apps to manage your business, your media, and your day-to-day life.

Computing in the cloud has grown up in a big, big way in '07 in terms of the possibilities available to users. Now the only challenge is getting more users to realize that those possibilities are available and to start using them. As we all begin to do so, we'll also become increasingly reliant on the always-on nature of broadband to give us access to these hosted applications whenever we need it.

Fullscreen Higher (and High) Def Video
From a pure bandwidth-gobbling perspective, fullscreen high and higher definition video has to be one of the biggest trends from 2007.

In January, YouTube quality video was still the norm. Content owners had observed that site's success with lower quality video and decided to focus moreso on the social aspects on media than the quality issues.

That has changed dramatically by the end of the year as all the major broadcast networks and many, if not most, of the cable networks have full-length shows available to watch on their websites that can deliver quality that rivals, and in some instances surpasses, that which can be watched on your TV (assuming you're still stuck in the analog world like me).

Higher quality video should lead to greater demand to watch more videos for longer periods of time, and in so doing will put a higher premium on the need for sufficient bandwidth to deliver this high bitrate video.

Videocalling Use in Media
The use of videocalling seems to still be a ways off from mainstream adoption, but there was one area in which its use cannot be ignored: in the media.

Over the last year I've seen MTV use it to talk with at-home viewers on live TV, at the Video on the Net conference a panelist dialed in remotely rather than being there physically, on the New York Times website they've got a new featured called Bloggingheads which features people discussing a variety of issues through recorded videocalls, and on blogs like App-Rising.com.

Live two-way video has a long ways to go, but in 2007 it started to get some real traction. And as upload capacities in broadband networks increase, the viability of these applications will increase in kind.

Limitless Choice, Limited Audience
The overarching trend I saw in 2007 with regards to broadband applications is the gap that still exists between the explosive growth in the maturity and diversity of things to do with broadband and the amount these opportunities are--or rather, are not--being used.

You can do so much more with broadband today than you could last year, but are we really doing all that much more?

For the most part, the broadband revolution is still happening only in pockets, not across all of American society. But I'm holding out hope that 2008 will bring a new day in this arena, as topics related to broadband have been elevated to front page news, many network operators are beginning to realize the best thing for their business is to have as many people buying and using their services as possible, and there's a growing number of grassroots organizations and initiatives aimed at educating and inspiring the public about the use of broadband.

2007 has been a banner year for broadband, but we're still only experiencing the earliest days in terms of the impact this revolution in the way we communicate will have in the long run. We're more reliant on broadband than ever, but not nearly as reliant as we're (hopefully) going to be in the not too distant future.

December 26, 2007 12:14 PM

Article RoundUp: Benefits of Telecommuting to the Queen on YouTube to Tech Policy on the Hill

Coming off of a short hiatus over the holidays, here's a collection of articles I've read and enjoyed over the last couple of weeks dealing with a broad range of topics related to the deployment, development, adoption, and use of broadband and broadband applications.

Ten Advantages to Telecommuting
Here's an in-depth listing of ten reasons why telecommuting's great, including things like conserving energy, improving productivity, and so on. What blew me away the most, though, was when this article was written: 1994. For all intents and purposes this was before the Internet, before broadband to homes, before the explosion in applications that expand what workers can do from home. I can't help but get a little depressed that we've known why telecommuting is great for so long, we've got more tools than ever to make it happen, and yet we're still a ways off from the practice being commonplace, we're just now passing legislation to get the government moving on this, and we're hearing stories about major corporations like AT&T; backing off from the use of telecommuting. I know there are a lot of issues to resolve in implementing telecommuting in organizations, but hopefully we'll soon be able to move beyond these hurdles so that we can start realizing all the benefits of telecommuting laid out in this article.

Teens and Social Media
Here's an interesting report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project about the use of social media by teens. Social media is defined as things like blogging and creating profiles on sites like Facebook and MySpace. I'd encourage you to download and review the report, but the point I wanted to highlight here was their finding that girls are more engaged with creating Internet content than boys. While apparently this isn't new news, it was new to me. I guess I'd always assumed since boys were more likely to play video games and computer nerds are most often of the male variety that these trends would translate to social media, but that isn't the case. Not sure exactly what it means, but it sure seems like good news to me.

IBM Virtual World Defies Laws of Physics
As corporations moved to create virtual presences in Second Life, virtual worlds garnered a lot of hype without having a lot of substance. This article, though, suggests that there is a place for virtual worlds in business as evidenced by the successes IBM has begun to realize through the development of its own internal virtual world called the Metaverse. I'm personally of the opinion that virtual worlds won't take off in a big way outside of gaming until we realize some more advancements in the technologies that allow users to interface with them, but it's interesting to note that a lot of development is happening in this area and successes are being realized.

High-Tech Brings Rural Towns Back to Life
The title of this article pretty much sums up its contents, but it's vital tha we continue to elevate the importance of broadband to the economic viability of rural communities. This article summarizes a number of success stories happening around the country where through broadband and high technology rural communities are realizing the benefits of economic development that new innovative companies can bring.

Queen Launches YouTube Channel
The Queen of England has started up a YouTube channel in order to spread her Christmas message. And I'm not sure how to read this: either as a bellweather moment in the adoption of online video, another example of the growing awareness around how social media can be used to spread messages, or a sign of the coming apocalypse. But in any event , it certainly is a notable moment in Internet history when a head of state, ceremonial or not, embraces it in a reasonably significant way.

Tech President Primaries
Here's an interesting attempt by Internet news site TechCrunch to hold their own online political primaries in order to decide who they should endorse as the Tech President candidate based on a poll of their readers. While I'm not sure if they've covered all the relevant issues related to technology that a president will have to deal with (most notably the adoption of broadband applications) and some of the issues are more esoteric (like the need for more H1B Visas for immigrants wanting to work in technology fields in the States), in this day and age it is vitally important that whoever becomes president is not only aware of but proactive in furthering a technology agenda, so it'll be interesting to see who comes out on top of this virtual primary.

Quiet Year for Tech on Capitol Hill
This short article reviews the relative dearth of movement on many technology and Internet-related federal legislative issues this year. I wanted to include this link as while '07 may have been quiet, I'm expecting that '08 will be a different matter entirely as (hopefully) Congress begins to face up to the many challenges and opportunities created by the Internet as like it or not at some point more legislation and regulations are needed, the question is whether or not we can get them focused on matters of substance and robust debates on real issues rather than spending all their time focused on piracy and kiddie porn.

December 27, 2007 12:15 PM

Pondering the Dichotomy of Those Who Use Broadband and Those Who Don't

The last month of traveling has provided me with a telling juxtaposition of images that highlight how far we still have to go in getting people to use broadband and how close we are to realizing this goal.

Two weeks ago my wife and I made our semi-annual trek up to New York City to visit with friends, enjoy the city, and eat a criminal amount of food.

We stayed with my good friend Nico McLane, affectionately known in some circles as the queen of streaming media. Nico's been producing streaming media projects for enterprise, entertainment, and news companies since the earliest days of streaming video over the Internet.

We also spent one afternoon visiting with friend and former employer Jesse Chenard, CTO of Tremor Media, a top fifteen online ad network that helps websites sell their in-banner and in-stream ad inventory.

Both are well-respected in their fields. I consider both to be my go-to experts in all things related to online video. And both rely heavily on broadband for the very existence of their professions.

So, assuming that broadband must play a significant role outside of work, I asked each how they use it in their day-to-day lives.

To Jesse I asked what his favorite application that uses broadband is. His answer couldn't have been savvier: his Internet browser. With so many things that can be done in-browser today, there's really no underestimating its importance.

But I wasn't satisfied, so I pushed him further, asking for a more specific application or use. Much to my surprise he didn't have one. He admitted that he didn't really use broadband all that much beyond his day job of helping content owners deliver ad-supported rich media experiences.

I posed a similar question to Nico, and she expressed a similar sentiment, that from a pure bandwidth standpoint nothing she does outside of work relies all that heavily on broadband.

Needless to say, these answers blew me away. How could the people who were not just on the cutting edge of technology but also those who were helping push it forward not be heavier users of broadband outside of their chosen professions?

Even more amazing is that these are people who really know what it means to use broadband. They have a fundamental understanding of how bits are sent over the Internet, so when they say they don't use broadband much, they mean it.

Now contrast this realization against my experiences from Christmas dinner at my parents' house in Minnesota, where Dr. Jay and Sue Tracy, longtime family friends, joined in our festivities.

Jay and Sue are two of the nicest people in the world, but "tech savvy" is not how I would describe them. Case in point: while they use iPods to listen to books on tape, my wife's new iPod Touch was completely foreign to them. Even the idea of viewing video on a mobile device seemed new.

So you could've knocked me over with a feather when my mom--a reformed computer nerd--ran into trouble trying to initiate a videocall through Skype with her folks and called over Sue as her expert in trying to resolve the issue.

How had this sweet suburban housewife become an expert in the use of videocalling? Their eldest daughter is located in New Zealand and, most importantly, is in possession of their newest granddaughter.

They've been using Skype to communicate with her for months if not years, so much so that I'd bet if you asked them they'd admit it's gone far past a nice-to-have and is now an essential tool in keeping their family together, and in their being able to enjoy watching their granddaughter grow up even though she's located far too far away to pop in for a weekend visit.

So even though they may not use broadband much in their professional lives, it couldn't be more important in their personal lives.

The juxtaposition of tech savvy friends not using broadband set against non-techie friends relying heavily on it has been jarring to say the least.

It has highlighted for me both how far we have still to go before the use of broadband is a more integral part of our lives while at the same time demonstrating how close we are to realizing this goal.

The truth of the matter is that most people, even those who know what it can do, have yet to find a compelling reason to use broadband. They see little purpose in using broadband purely for broadband's sake, and the applications that utilize broadband have yet to deliver experiences that go all that far above and beyond the behaviors that have existed long before broadband.

At the same time, once people find that compelling application or experience they're likely to quickly and completely become reliant on broadband, no matter how much of a techie they may have been before. And with online experiences becoming increasingly user-friendly, the barriers to entry for the unwashed masses continue to lower.

Tying all these threads of thought together, I'm left with one more image from my travels: the sight of Jesse's five-year-old daughter seated at the coffee table staring intently (or at least as intently as a five-year-old can stare) at a laptop screen, typing and clicking away as she interacts with a colorful, educational online virtual world.

This image reminds me that even though we may have a long ways to go, as younger generations mature, the adoption of and reliance on broadband is in large part inevitable.

Yet even if it is inevitable, the fact we're not more reliant on it today suggests a failure of sorts. We're spending billions of dollars to upgrade networks and increase capacity. There are thousands of applications currently available and thoroughly tested that could revolutionize the efficiency and expand the opportunities of society. And yet we're just not there yet.

Where these thoughts all lead me is to the belief that if we want more people to understand the value of broadband (and in turn garner more support to get more capacity in the ground), we need to mount more proactive campaigns to not only get more people online but get them doing more things once they're there.

No one will understand the value of broadband until they experience it for themselves. Simply saying broadband is great isn't enough. The moment we help an individual understand how their lives can specifically be improved through the use of broadband is the moment they become an ardent supporter of the need for more capacity.

Now the mission for all of us engaged with this broad discussion is how can we educate and inspire not just the government officials who make important decisions, but each and every citizen in the United States of America about why broadband's great and what it means not only to society at large but to improving the quality of their day-to-day lives.

December 28, 2007 12:37 PM

Questions Raised About Efficacy of FCC's Telehealth Initiative

Back in November I wrote about the FCC's big announcement regarding its plans to provide hospitals and healthcare providers with $400 million over the next three years in order to support the deployment of broadband.

In that post I raised questions about how we might best apply these funds, wondering if perhaps this initiative was focused too heavily on the deployment of broadband and not enough on the application or use of it.

Well, today I read a terrific post by Ann Treacy at the Blandin on Broadband blog that confirms some of those fears.

Her post stems from a conversation she had with a representation of the Greater Minnesota Telehealth Broadband Initiative, which is an effort to interlink healthcare institutions across Minnesota and in so doing the country and world.

The primary topic of discussion was this initiative's attempts to secure funding from the aforementioned $400 million FCC program to get broadband to hospitals.

Here's the part of her post that really caught my eye: "The focus of funding is the technology - not application of technology. So the money buys broadband but not training or development of applications to use the broadband. It’s that build it and they will come mentality, which hasn’t been particularly effective with Internet projects in the past."

The Greater Minnesota Telehealth Broadband Initiative has been fortunate in getting funds, but it turns out these funds can only be used for one thing: reimbursing telecom companies for deploying broadband networks. No money has been given for administrative concerns or for getting people to use the networks.

Even more frustrating is when Treacy notes the FCC's requirement for some level of matching funds, which Treacy observes leaves many smaller healthcare systems out of luck as they don't have the funds to invest in network infrastructure.

It's remarkable to me that at the highest levels of government we're still thinking about broadband as an end unto itself. What good are networks with no programs to use them?!

Here's a simple idea for how we can take some first baby steps towards shifting this paradigm: what if instead of requiring matching funds for the deployment of broadband, these FCC grants instead allowed--nay, encouraged--the use of matching funds to focus on the applications that make the networks worth the investment.

The FCC could still stay focused on funding the rollout of networks, but in this way healthcare systems could allocate their contributions to making sure they're able to maximize the value of the network once it's put in place.

Ultimately the government has to start being more supportive of adoption and use-based grants rather than solely on deployment, but for now perhaps this slight shift in how money is allocated can be a first step down the path towards doing more to encourage the use of networks rather than just the deployment of networks.

December 31, 2007 10:10 AM

What I'm Optimistic for in 2008

Tech news site GigaOm.com put out a call earlier this month for its readers to submit short posts on what they're looking forward to and/or are optimistic for in 2008.

The best post wins a music system, and the best posts will be put up on their site starting tomorrow the first. (Anyone who feels optimistic about broadband in '08 should submit a post and also share as a comment to this post.)

The parameters for these posts entail talking about what you're optimistic for from a technology standpoint, but I couldn't help focusing on more than just hardware and software in detailing what I'm hopeful for in 2008 with regards to the deployment, adoption, and use of broadband.

For your reading pleasure, here's my submission:

I'm optimistic more people will be online than ever.ᅠ

I'm optimistic that the speeds at which people connect online will be
faster and cheaper than they are today.ᅠ

I'm optimistic in people discovering new ways by which their lives can
be improved through the use of broadband and broadband applications.

I'm optimistic that new uses of broadband will continue to spring up
and existing applications will continue to be refined.

I'm optimistic the Internet will take great strides from being a
nice-to-have to a must-have in improving the quality of our day-to-day

I'm optimistic that we will finally begin to have a constructive
dialogue at federal, state, and local levels about the need for more
broadband, how to get it, how to encourage its use, and how to
regulate it without hindering it.

I'm optimistic in my belief that 2008 will be the year that the value
of fiber and the big broadband capacity it delivers to the home will
finally begin to differentiate itself over copper access technologies.
And I'm optimistic that we'll have more entities deploying fiber than

I'm optimistic applications developers and hardware manufacturers will
begin to see the market potential to be found in the millions of
people not on the cutting edge of technology and, in turn, will begin
developing more ways for non-technical users to interface with and
benefit from the Internet.

I'm optimistic about the opportunities that exist when applications
developers, service providers, and network operators work together
rather than fight against each other, and that this will be the year
we realize what's possible through the development and deployment of
in-network applications.

And I'm optimistic that by this time next year everyone will have a
fuller understanding of the scope that the Internet revolution entails
and in the opportunities broadband presents to re-imagine nearly every
facet of society as we strive more boldly into the 21st century.