Broadband has to be available and affordable, and competition is the only way to get both.

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 09/14/2014 - 12:20

The Motley Fool connects the dots on the FCC community broadband debate correctly by noting that while a majority of Americans do indeed have "little broadband" via cable or phone companies, a much smaller number actually have the luxury of competitive choices. And how you define "competition" narrows most choices significantly. In Blacksburg, we would probably be listed as have a choice of two carriers for broadband: the phone company and the cable company. The problem is that even in "wired" Blacksburg, the phone company has made little effort to improve DSL service, since they know they can't really provide the same level of bandwidth as the cable company....so they don't even try. So, practically speaking, we have no choice in Blacksburg....yet.

Over the next two to three years, expect to see some revolutionary new approaches to deploying Gigabit fiber in communities like Blacksburg, and Design Nine and WideOpen Networks leading the way.

WideOpen(tm) is a trademark of WideOpen Networks, Inc.

I'm not convinced I need a smart home

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 09/02/2014 - 12:38

Following on the ridiculously over-priced acquisition of the smart thermostat company (Nest) by Google--they spent BILLIONS on a thermostat, we are now seeing . If you read the language about the ZEN thermostat, they are taking a direct swipe at the over-priced and over-rated Nest thermostat.

Good for them. Competition is a wonderful thing, and Google will never, ever get their money back because competing products like ZEN are going to crush Nest.

The ZEN appears to support heat pumps, which are widely used in the southeast and the south...but here's the thing....heat pumps don't do well if you are constantly changing the temperature. They are most efficient if you set the temperature to one thing and leave it. That's what I do, and I have very modest heating and cooling bills. During the heating season, if you start monkeying with the temperature, the "auxiliary" heat kicks in, which is just an electric heater built into the heat exchanger. And that electric heat makes your electric meter spin like an out of control merry go round.

So the ZEN thermostat is attractive, but I cannot come up with a single reason to buy one, other than the cool factor. And I'm way beyond cool.

I don't want smart dishwashers and smart-aleck dryers and obesity-checking snitch refrigerators sending everything I eat to my doctor whether I want it to or not. Just because those things CAN be done does not mean they should be done. And it makes everything cost more.

Why fiber? One business experience tells the whole story....

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 09/02/2014 - 12:29

If you are an elected official or an economic developer, everything you wanted to know about why high performance, affordable fiber networks are important is contained in this one story:


Brandon Schatz, CEO of SportsPhotos.com Inc., said he moved his business from Springfield, Missouri, to Kansas City, Kansas, in February 2013 to take advantage of Google Fiber.
“It was a very easy decision,” he said. “We’re trying to grow to hundreds and thousands of events. You can’t scale if your whole city isn’t fast enough.”
The service also is cheaper. In Springfield, he was paying $400 a month for 100-megabyte download speeds. Now, he pays $70 a month for Google Fiber’s 1-gigabit speeds, which are 100 times faster. He added the service is more reliable.

Here is the whole article.

G.fast: Not coming quickly to a neighborhood near you

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/25/2014 - 10:11

Here is a short article on the technical characteristics of G.fast, the "solution" that is supposedly going to allow the telephone companies to compete with the cable companies.

Don't want to click through and read it? Here is the short summary:

The article talks a lot about how great its working in Europe, but Europe is not the U.S. Cities are much denser generally in Europe, so more residences are going to be closer to the DSL switches. G.fast sounds good, but it does absolutely nothing for rural broadband, where distances from the DSL cabinet are measured in miles, not feet, and where the ancient copper cable plant can barely handle existing "little broadband" DSL, much less the very demanding G.fast. To get speeds of hundreds of megabits out of G.fast, you not only have to be close to the switch, the copper cable between your home and the switch has to be perfect, meaning brand new.

Hilariously, the article touts a test in Britain where they got 700 meg speed.....woohoo....wait for it....with a wopping 57 feet between the switch and the user. Fifty-seven feet.

That's all you have to remember about G.fast: 57 feet.

Death of TV, Part LXVII: Tablet TV, Aereo, and cutting the cable

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/25/2014 - 09:58

Tablet TV is a new venture that takes us back to the fifties, when everyone had a TV antenna on top of the house. Perhaps taking a hint from Aereo and its problems, Tablet TV has localized the Aereo concept. Where Aereo had thousands of centralized antennas that grabbed over the air digital TV signals in major markets, Tablet TV gives users an inexpensive, small box and antenna that grabs local over the air signals. The Tablet TV box then lets you watch your local TV stations on any WiFi-connected device in your house. It's a neat solution that will make it even easier to dump your cable or satellite subscription, because now you can buy the Tablet TV box and get all your local channels--including local and national news and live sporting events--the stuff that you can't get easily via online services like Hulu and Netflix.

Death of TV: Part LXV: The end of the beginning

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 08/07/2014 - 12:33

This is my sixty-fifth article about the death of TV, and I see now that we are at the end of the beginning. Why? ABC News recently began broadcasting a news channel on Apple TV, which is significant in its own right, but ABC has just announced that they are now including local news from Boston, Honolulu, and Albuquerque on that channel. One of the two things that keeps most people tied to their hideously antiquated cable and satellite subscriptions is access to local news (the other is live sports). With this new access to local news via the Apple/ABC partnership, it is going to be easier than ever for households to ditch the over-priced "TV" subscriptions.

Fiber and Economic Development: Yes, there are positive impacts

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/30/2014 - 12:39

WideOpen Networks has a nice piece out about the impact of fiber on community economic development.

Slow news day in KC: Breaking!!! Eleventy! Google fiber crews mark utilities before digging!

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/23/2014 - 08:25

It must have been a really slow news day in Kansas City, where Google Fiber crews continue to install fiber in neighborhoods and install underground drops to homes. In what teeters perilously on the verge of parody, local TV station KMBC breathlessly reports on the horror of utility marking done by fiber crews prior to digging.


"....spraypaint markings--what sounds like the work of vandals...."

Oh, the horror of identifying utilities before actually, you know, digging things up. It sounds like Google crews are doing a terrific job, as the article cites more than 7,000 miles of installed fiber and a very small number of broken utilities. There were two gas lines hit, which caused some inconvenience, but if you put a shovel in the ground in public right of way for 7,000 miles, it is inevitable that occasionally something gets hit. What the news story fails to do is to really look at how well our Miss Utility really works. Like I say...it had to be a slow news day in Kansas City.

Apple, Amazon dominate tablet usage

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/23/2014 - 08:11

This report from Chitika Insights shows Apple tablets utterly dominate the Web use space, with 78% of the traffic coming from Apple tablets. Amazon is in second place with a little over 7%. Samsung is third, but Amazon's Kindle tablet traffic is growing while Samsung's traffic is shrinking.

The disparity between Apple users and every other tablet combined is a testament to Apple's tightly integrated hardware and software and the company's attention to the user experience.

The Cloud: Pay a fortune and own nothing

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/22/2014 - 10:06

More and more "stuff" is moving to the cloud. Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, and Amazon are just four of the biggest companies that are trying to get us to put everything in the cloud so we can pay a monthly fee to get to our "stuff." The problem with this is that from a customer perspective, the "cloud" does not scale up well from a pricing perspective.

In the "old days," by which I mean about three years ago, you made a one time purchase of a desktop or laptop computer, cobbled together some kind of local network for your business or home, and if you were really smart, bought one or two extra hard drives for backups and file sharing. A relatively substantial capital expenditure, but you had no recurring costs to use and to store you data and files.

Enter the cloud: You still get to buy a bunch of computers, laptops, and smartphones, but now you pay every month to use your own data. The revenue already being generated by cloud services is staggering, and will continue to grow for a while. But uncontrolled growth is, in the biological world, cancer. It eventually kills you...or in this case, wrecks your budget. All these $5, $10, and $20 per month cloud services add up. Small businesses that have to pay for cloud services on a per seat basis (or some other incremental use charges) can quickly max out their limited IT budgets.

The cloud is immensely useful, and like anyone else, I like being able to access my "stuff" wherever I am in the world. But it comes with a price, and one day the market growth is going to fall of a cliff. When that happens, expect many cloud services to go belly up--for anything in the cloud, you should be able to answer this question: "What happens if your cloud provider disappears?"

Verizon moves to symmetric service

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/22/2014 - 08:48

Back in the nineties, some crackpot (okay, me) claimed that symmetric broadband connections were going to be essential because content creation was going to occur everywhere, not just at the office or in denizens like Hollywood. And for the last twenty years, just about everyone who works at a cable or telephone company has outright scoffed at the notion and/or patted me on the head and told me to go back to the wilds of the Appalachians.

Verizon has just announced that they are rolling out symmetric FiOS connections.

....kinda brings a tear to my eye....

And I think the Washington Post, where the article appeared, is exactly right: it is community broadband efforts, where symmetric connections are readily available, that are creating pressure on the incumbents.

Try canceling your cable service

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/15/2014 - 14:04

A technology reporter got Comcast's attention after he posted a recording of his attempt to cancel his service with the cable giant. As a Comcast customer, I would say that their customer service has improved somewhat over the past fifteen years, especially if there is an outage issue, but yea, some of my interactions over pricing and billing are similar to this guy's experience.

Bill amendments threaten community economic development

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/15/2014 - 11:26

From a very knowledgeable source:


"I learned yesterday that there are some amendments that will likely be offered to an appropriations bill in Washington that can further erode local authority for munis. I want to let you know about it, in the hopes that you will spread the word and contact your D.C. Reps. The amendments are expected Today or Wednesday so it is important we call members ASAP.


Right now, it is thought that Rep Blackburn from Tennessee will offer it. It is rumored to be an amendment that either restricts the FCC from preempting state anti-muni laws or just bans them outright.


We need to stop this from passing to avoid a snow ball effect that can set back the drive for local authority.


It is especially critical that communities with networks or those working toward investment contact their Reps' D.C. offices and tell them that Congress should not restrict the FCC. We need to contact them ASAP to let them know that the amendment is bad for local economies, education, savings, etc. and that the FCC should not have its authority limited in any way at this time.


Please let them know the implications and consequences if this moves forward. Please pass this on so we can reach more people."

Gigabit: The word is changing telecom

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/15/2014 - 06:39

Fred Pilot over at Eldo Telecom has made a good point: that Gigabit fiber is changing the telecom landscape. More and more communities are making investments to bring Gig fiber to downtown areas, business parks, and schools, and a wave of CLECs are also making similar private sector investments. The Google Fiber initiative's primary contribution has been to legitimize Gig fiber. Prior to the Google project in Kansas City, those of us talking about Gigabit connectivity were often just looked at as kooks. Now Gig fiber is mainstream, as it should be. The focus on Gigabit services is putting pressure on the copper-based incumbents and creating new opportunities in both the private and public sector for new modern networks. And that is a good thing.

LEO Fitness Intelligence: More evidence that personal health management is about to explode

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/08/2014 - 10:32

This IndieGogo campaign has passed it goal to produce LEO, which is a wearable health monitoring device that gives you real time and stored data on your smartphone. Devices like this one are about to transform exercise and sports, with instant feedback on your workouts and exercise routines, including muscle activity, fatigue, heart rate, lactic acid, hydration, calories burned, and more.

Health apps: The next frontier

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/08/2014 - 08:20

More details continue to leak out about Apple's next release of the iPhone/iPad operations system (iOS 8). Apparently, the Health app will be able to use late model iPhone motion sensors to monitor the number of steps you take. This sounds simple, but today, if you want to do that, you have to buy a separate device to do that, and many of those electronic devices have awkward interfaces. You can buy a simple mechanical pedometer for a few dollars, but that analog device cannot provide the automated monitoring and tracking of your activity over time.

Apple, I think, is onto something big. Recall that the iPod was not the first music player by any measure. Dozens of awkwardly designed, low capacity, hard to use MP3 players were on the market when the iPod was announced. What Apple did was to create a device that was so easy to use that everyone wanted one. And that's where I think Apple is headed with its focus on health monitoring. It's going to make tracking your physical activity and your health data (e.g. respiration, heart rate, etc) so easy that everyone will want an Apple device.

As always, I worry about the privacy issues. Some or all of your private health data will end up in a cloud somewhere, making it accessible to third parties, insurance companies, the government, or hackers (or all of those entities). Time will tell if the health benefits will outweigh the negatives, but I look forward to having more health information under my direct control, instead of having to pay a health clinic for that information.

Death of TV: Part LXIV: ABC debuts on Apple TV

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 06/25/2014 - 07:17

And so it continues. While Comcast and Time Warner engage in the drowning man death hug, the content owners are finally beginning to read the writing on the wall. ABC is launching a channel on Apple TV, with live video, hourly news updates, and a variety of local content from some of the biggest urban markets in the country (e.g. WABC New York, WLS Chicago, KGO San Francisco...). All is proceeding as I envisioned years ago....cable TV's elbow is barely breathing, and the heart of cable TV may not even have a pulse. When the cable TV giants go down, and they will go down, they will go down hard.

The emerging revolution in health care....by Apple

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/20/2014 - 08:34

Some time this fall, Apple is likely to announce what has been called the "iWatch," although that may or may not actually be its name. There have probably been more rumors promulgated about this supposed product than any other Apple product ever. The latest rumor is that the watch will have "more than ten sensors," including a heart rate sensor and other health and fitness monitoring devices.

If the watch comes with even five sensors, it will trigger an massive change in health care, as patients and doctors will, for the first time, have inexpensive access to real time health and medical data that was previously only available in hospital rooms and the ICU. And even hospital monitoring equipment does not have what will be available via the iWatch--simple to understand and simple to interpret health information that is available both to the patient and the doctor.

Apple is poised to upend another industry and create a massive new market area providing software and related devices, just as it did with the music business.

Along with all the innovation, we will have huge issues with data privacy, as all this data will be stored in many places (computers, phones, tablets, the cloud, doctor offices, hospitals) with massive potential for security breaches. And insurance companies will be anxious to use the data to adjust health insurance rates, although there is the possibility that having excellent real time health data may, for some, push rates down rather than up.

One Soap to rule them all

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/19/2014 - 08:41

For many households, the WiFi router is probably an item regarded with a mixture of dread and fear. Once you get the thing configured properly, you generally tend to forget about it...except when the Internet stops working. Then the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) takes over the lizard part of your brain...and your first step is stare at the wretched device, hoping that somehow, the gods of the Internet will just magically get the Internet back on so you can continue sorting your Netflix DVD list and posting what you just ate to Facebook.

A new wireless home router called Soap started out as an Internet filtering device ("cleaning" the Internet for families), but as the product was developed, more features were added to provide a higher level of integration.

Unlike every other wireless router on the planet, Soap has a touchscreen interface to help simplify configuring it--no more really bad Web-based control screens that only a Unix geek could love. Soap also understands a wide variety of wireless protocols that allows it to talk to the rapidly expanding market of home automation devices. This may turn out to be its best feature if it works well.

I have been interested in the home automation market for a long time, and have always thought that the biggest challenge is integration and interface. If every device manufacturer makes buyers use a poorly designed one-off interface, homeowners will be quickly overwhelmed and frustrated at the effort involved in configuring and managing many different "smart" (or dumb) devices. If Soap delivers on the interface and configuration features, it will force massive changes in the wireless router market.

What does this have to do with fiber? Some Fiber To The Home equipment manufacturers are integrating WiFi routers into the fiber interface equipment. But the utility of a device like Soap far out-strips anything that can be built into a fiber interface.

FCC Chair Tom Wheeler argues for community-owned broadband

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/12/2014 - 08:48

The FCC has posted an article by Tom Wheeler, the FCC Chair. In it, Wheeler discusses the benefits that Chattanooga's municipal Gigabit fiber network has brought to the region, especially with respect to dramatic improvements in economic development and jobs creation. If you take the time to read it, the comments are just as interesting, as some folks local to Chattanooga argue with an ISP about the role of local government in telecom.

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