News

Posted November 2, 2010 by christopher

Green Tech Grid asks, "Are Munis and Co-Ops Leading Smart Grid?" And the rest of the article says, "YES." This should come as no surprise for readers of this site. The dynamics, and even players, in smart-grid are very similar to those of community networks. There are essentially two approaches to smart-grid: that of the investor-owned utilities that see smart-grid investments as an opportunity to raise rates, and that of munis and coops who see an opportunity to cut costs and better serve their ratepayers.

Posted November 1, 2010 by christopher

I recently heard that the only place one finds a free lunch is in a mouse trap. As we sift through the lessons from the broadband stimulus programs, we have learned that the federal government preferred funding private projects rather than those that are structurally accountable to the community.

Before the first round of stimulus applications were due, many communities recognized the costs of applying were too high for them. Now, some are recognizing the high costs of complying with the many federal rules that come with accepting federal grants and loans (as detailed by Craig Settles).

Posted October 30, 2010 by christopher

Ars Technica is running another fascinating history piece -- Matthew Lasar's "Who 'ruled the air' in 1910? (and who rules it now?)" article looks back at the beginning of bigness in telecom.

Reading about the supposed benefits from bigness, I wouldn't help but reflect on my recent frustrations with the big carriers. Big carriers are poorly disposed to building the infrastructure our communities need.

Posted October 29, 2010 by christopher

Kudos to Wilson's Greenlight fiber network in North Carolina. They are featuring some interviews with people who like their services, two of which are embedded below.

Posted October 28, 2010 by christopher

I was doing some research on the cost of business broadband services in the Twin Cities when I encountered one of the stark differences between local networks accountable to the public and the massive telcos (in this case, Qwest).

I was compiling some numbers on broadband costs and had just gotten through a very quick and efficient chat with Xmission - a service provider on the UTOPIA network.

For some reason, I thought getting similar information from Qwest would also be easy, particularly as we are in the middle of Qwest territory up here in Minnesota. But Qwest's website couldn't tell me what services are available in our area because it was convinced our address and phone number was outside their 14-state operating territory. Our office is in Minneapolis, which is certainly within the Qwest territory.

Posted October 27, 2010 by christopher

The University of Wisconsin System is involved in a broadband stimulus project to expand fast and affordable broadband access to key community institutions. Just as they have in similar projects around the country, massive companies like AT&T are trying to derail any potential competition to their services.

From the Cap Times, "Surf and turf: Telecom industry protests UW-Extension broadband plan:"

Posted October 25, 2010 by christopher

Fibrant has decided to offer premium adult content to subscribers that choose to receive it. Salisbury's approach and response offer a window into the benefits and responsibilities inherent in building a triple-play network that offers services directly.

As a gesture to those who are publicly opposed to such content being available, the channel listings do not show up to the subscriber by default -- which is to say that you cannot even see the scrambled channel unless you take action to tell Fibrant you would like the option of purchasing adult content.

The reason for offering the adult content? Much like the reason most community networks get involved in television at all: it helps pay the bills. The margins on premium content are high and competitors also offer these options locally.

Posted October 21, 2010 by christopher

The next time you hear someone claiming that the reason US Internet is slower than international peers is because of our vast landmass with low population density, encourage them to listen to "America the Slow" on American Public Media's Marketplace Tech Report.

The title of this post comes from an anecdote in the middle of the story in which a person in NYC (the most dense area of our country) is hosting friends from France and they turn to him and say "I thought you said you had Internet?" in response for what passes as broadband there. I'm sure they laughed for hours if they found out what the host was paying for it.

Our sad state of broadband is not an inevitability of geography but a failure of policy that puts private companies first and community needs second.

Posted October 20, 2010 by christopher

On the heals of our recent post discussing false incumbent claims about Salisbury's Fibrant community fiber network, I wanted to put up another piece looking at some of the problems that have delayed the network launch. The Salisbury Post's "Fibrant launch delayed" article (by Emily Ford) offers a good recap.

We have yet to work with a community that has not experienced similar bumps in the road as Salisbury. Unexpected problems are guaranteed and schedules will almost certainly be pushed back, it is a fact of life in building an important and complicated network.

Posted October 19, 2010 by christopher

DC-Net, the muni-owned and operated fiber network connecting hundreds of community institutions (schools, libraries, local government buildings), is expanding in scope and mission following three broadband stimulus awards.

But first, to introduce DC-Net, I am excerpting a few paragraphs from my comprehensive report on community networks - Breaking the Broadband Monopoly: How Communities Are Building the Networks They Need."

In 2007, DC-NET began with service to 135 sites, a number that has more than doubled to 280, including 140 school buildings alone. The network also provides connectivity for libraries, public hospitals, community centers, and some Wi-Fi networks.

Posted October 18, 2010 by christopher

As Salisbury prepares to officially launch its publicly owned FTTH network offering triple-play services, it offers lessons for other communities that want to follow in its footsteps. As we wrote a month ago, Fibrant has candidly admitted it cannot win a price war with incumbents. Companies like Time Warner Cable have a tremendous scale advantage, which allows them to price below cost in Salisbury because the large profits from all the non-competitive markets nearby can subsidize temporary losses.

Posted October 15, 2010 by christopher

In all the talk of the need for competition in broadband (or in the mobile space), there is remarkably little attention paid to the difficulties in actually creating competition. A common refrain from the self-interested industry titans (and their many paid flacks) is: "keep the government out of it and let the market decide."

Unfortunately, an unregulated market in telecom tends toward consolidation at best, monopolization at worse. Practicioners of Chicago economics may dispute this, but their theories occur in reality about as frequently as unicorn observations. In our regulatory environment, big incumbents have nearly all the advantages, allowing them to use their advantages of scale to maintain market power (most notably the ability to use cross-subsidization from non-competitive markets to maintain predatory pricing wherever they face even the threat of competition).

Posted October 7, 2010 by christopher

Advocates for community broadband networks in urban areas that already have cable and DSL options are often asked why the community needs something better. Aside from the many benefits in terms of reliability and symmetrical offers, we do need faster connections. Those who doubt that may want to remind themselves of a great list of very smart people underestimating technology.

1876 “The telephone has too many shortcomings…the device is inherently of no value to us.” Western Union

1897 "Radio has no future" Lord Kelvin, President, Royal Society

1899 "Everything that can be invented has already been invented.”Director, U.S. Patent Office

1927 “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers

1936 “Television won’t matter in your lifetime or mine.” Rex Lambert, Editor, Radio Tim

Posted October 6, 2010 by christopher

In Virginia, Danville's open access all-fiber network, nDanville, currently serves only businesses and large clients. In the early summer, Danville Utilities decided to recommend expanding the network to between 2,000 and 3,000 residential homes with a 10 year, $2.5 million loan.

As Danville Utilities operates the network purely on a wholesale basis, it would not provide services directly. From an article leading up to the decision:

Posted October 5, 2010 by christopher

Tim Wu, a professor and long time champion of network neutrality, discusses why getting these policies right is so important.

Perhaps more interesting is the reaction from David Isenberg and Tim Wu's comment to that reaction.

The take-home lesson? Network neutrality is important, but is less of a permanent solution than networks that are structurally designed to work in the public interest rather than primarily manufacturing private profits.

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