Saturday, May 30, 2009

How to acheive a true digital economy

The Associated Press has issued a weekend thumb sucker largely based on Richard Florida's piece in the March issue of Atlantic Monthly titled How the Crash Will Reshape America.

Summed up, the AP article posits America has undergone a boom and bust cycle in the Sunbelt, creating "an obsolescent model of economic life" based on cheap real estate that encouraged low-density sprawl and created a work force 'stuck in place' and tied to homes cannot be profitably sold.

This is in large part because the Sunbelt migration boom of the 1980s and 1990s has ended and Americans are moving far less frequently than in the past. That's hardly surprising given the mega demographic group of the Baby Boomers is aging and less inclined to move every 6 to 8 years.

To replace this obsolete economic model, the AP article quotes Florida as proposing a "digital age" alternative in which jobs will cluster in what some have called super metro regions such as the Boston-New York-Washington and Los Angeles-Orange-San Diego corridors. Florida argues that these areas will concentrate highly educated professionals and creative thinkers who can drive future economic growth.

I appreciate Florida's view that these creative processes flourish best when these creative types interact and collaborate. But Florida's digital age sounds more to me like a throwback to the industrial age that saw people migrate from the countryside and concentrate in cities that in turn became today's metro areas.

In a true digital economy, population and information-based work would be more evenly distributed, mitigating the need for people to concentrate in congested, high cost metro areas. Moreover, socio-economist Jack Lessinger predicted in his 1990 book Penturbia that Americans will opt out of these areas in search of slower paced, less crowded and improved quality of life in less populated regions of the nation. And true community instead of the shallow, enforced faux community of privately governed homeowner associations that have proliferated in the Sunbelt states over the past two decades. I believe Lessinger will ultimately be proven prescient.

To achieve a true digitally-based (and incidentally, less petroleum-based) economy, the United States must ensure the near universal deployment of fiber optic telecommunications infrastructure capable of supporting symmetric, business class Internet-protocol-based applications including video conferencing. This is the best way to avoid future real estate bust and boom cycles of the kind Florida describes. As some have simply put it, move bytes, not bodies.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

BBC study finds broadband "not spots" not confined to rural areas

People tend to stereotype broadband black holes as a rural issue both in the U.S. and elsewhere. The assumption is often inaccurate and apparently so in the U.K, according to a study commissioned by the BBC:

The research revealed that so-called notspots are not limited to rural communities, with many in suburban areas and even streets in major towns.

The government has pledged a range of technologies to fill the gaps.

"We had assumed that these notspots were in remote parts of the countryside. That may be where the most vocal campaigners are but there is a high incidence of them in commuter belts," said Alex Salter, co-founder of broadband website SamKnows.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Maryland local governments team up for broadband stimulus funding

Several Maryland local government entities are pooling their efforts to get "shovel ready" to get dibs on about $100 million of the $7.2 billion earmarked for broadband telecommunications infrastructure buildout in the federal economic stimulus package, the Baltimore Sun reports:

One team, the One Maryland Broadband Plan, has been working at this for over a year. It includes Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, Howard, Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Montgomery counties, plus Baltimore City and Annapolis

Another group of rural counties covering the Eastern Shore, Southern and Western Maryland is also preparing to apply for money through the Salisbury-based Maryland Broadband Co-operative, a private nonprofit created three years ago by the Maryland General Assembly and funded by state and federal funds.

"I personally feel we're one of the few states in the country shovel-ready," said Patrick Mitchell, the co-op's president and CEO, who said he hopes for 250 miles of cable in rural areas where companies like Verizon are loath to go.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Obama official: Half full broadband glass "will guarantee economic stagnation and decline."

This quote is from Susan Crawford, a member of President Barack Obama's National Economic Council, via

"I assure you that the administration at the highest levels really is interested in broadband and cares about this national broadband plan," Crawford said.

"It's true that access to broadband doesn't guarantee economic success, but lack of access to broadband will guarantee economic stagnation and decline."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Tim Nulty attacks conventional thinking on rural fiber, broadband mapping

Here are two reports on a panel discussion held last week in Washington DC hosted by the Benton Foundation.

In both accounts, Tim Nulty -- who's making fiber to the premises a reality in Vermont -- stands out. Nulty trashes as "nonsense" conventional wisdom that there's little demand for fiber in less densely populated areas of the U.S. and that a business case can't be made for it in this dispatch by ars technica's Matthew Lasar:

"The standard traditional wisdom is 'Oh no you can't do that; impossible,'" Nulty noted. "'Can't make fiber work in rural areas. You've got to use some half-baked technology like WiFi or something like that." Au contraire, he told the audience. "It's actually significantly easier and cheaper to do fiber today than it was to do copper when our forefathers did it in the thirties."

And Nulty's right on the money when he suggests broadband mapping is nothing but a time wasting paper chase charade that makes incumbent telecommunications providers appear to be doing something instead of actually getting fiber on and in the ground. Nulty said this at the Benton event according to Blandin on Broadband:

Sometimes these maps are used to postpone action. A map of 200K access is not that helpful. In Vermont we had towns that were officially served – but ask people if they are served and they say no. The maps help get the incumbents off the hook. Access to info is good – but not if it distracts from promoting activity.

Regional alliance encompassing 3 states eyes U.S. broadband stimulus funding

Broadband access has moved beyond a metropolitan issue to one of regional importance among officials of three states representing 15 counties in northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin and eastern Iowa, reports.

The Tri-State Alliance was initially formed to address asphalt and concrete highway issues and has now broadened its focus to the information highway that is broadband telecommunications. It's interested in tapping into some of the $7.2 billion set aside in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to subsidize broadband infrastructure.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

It takes a village to build fiber

This item out of the UK reinforces my belief that fiber optic telecom upgrades for many won't come about absent local action to make them happen.

The same principle applies in the U.S., where the $7.2 billion in broadband infrastructure subsidies in the recently enacted federal economic stimulus package makes it much easier to accomplish.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Amended legislation would put CPUC in charge of broadband stimulus funding

As the Sacramento Bee reported Tuesday, California -- embarrassed by its extensive patchwork of broadband black holes in a state that prides itself as an information technology leader and the home of Silicon Valley -- is angling for $1 billion of the $7.2 billion in broadband infrastructure subsidies in the federal economic stimulus package.

Undecided however is which California entity would be in charge of doling out the money -- assuming the two federal agencies administering the funds ultimately decide by next month to channel it through the states rather than accepting funding applications directly.

Would it be Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's chief information officer as the governor initially suggested? The California Public Utilities Commission? Or the California Emerging Technologies Fund, a nonprofit to increase broadband deployment and adoption formed and funded as a condition of recent telco M&A activity?

Legislation pending in the California Assembly was amended May 5 reflecting the recommendation of the state Legislative Analyst that the CPUC be in charge of the stimulus funding. You can link to the measure, AB 1012, here.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

California seeks $1 billion in broadband stimulus funding

Here's a story in today's Sacramento Bee on California's desire to get $1 billion of the $7.2 billion earmarked for broadband infrastructure build out in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into law in February.

Your blogger -- walking his talk in urging local empowerment and action to fill in broadband black holes -- is quoted. Sunne Wright McPeak, president and CEO of the nonprofit California Emerging Technology Fund, is also quoted.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

NC county opposes broadband black hole preservation act

The notion held by big telcos that their service areas are proprietary, exclusive franchises isn't sitting well with the Rockingham County, North Carolina Board of Commissioners. The board voted unanimously last week to oppose state legislation that would prohibit local governments from providing communications services to areas that private companies don’t serve.

More power to them. A telco's service territory is not a franchise. Telcos can't have it both ways, claiming they can't serve certain areas with advanced digital services because they are unprofitable but at the same time looking to state legislatures to lock up these areas with these broadband black hole preservation acts.

They're patently unfair to those mired in them: Residents and small businesses that needed high speed Internet access yesterday, last year and five years ago. They should not have to suffer the consequences of private market failure. Local governments and nonprofit telecom cooperatives should be permitted to step in where the private sector fails and provide the urgently needed solutions to bridge the digital divide unhindered by these audicious telco power grabs.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Feds should prioritize broadband stimulus funding for local telecom cooperatives

Google's got a spot on solution to remedy the existing flawed and incomplete U.S. telecommunications infrastructure model that cannot deliver advanced communication services over much of the so-called "last mile." Decades ago, local property owners built their own telecom cooperatives when basic phone service -- like high speed Internet today -- wasn't available to them, notes Google policy analyst Derek Slater in this April 30 Gizmodo video. They can now adopt the same concept to bring fiber to their neighborhoods, he says. Slater's presentation follows on a white paper he co-authored Homes with Tails What If You Could Own Your Internet Connection that was issued last November.

The federal agencies responsible for disbursing $7.2 in economic stimulus funding to build advanced telecommunications infrastructure should give telecom cooperatives and other local entities funding priority to help make this a reality. America's telecom future isn't with the failed top down strategies of the past. The way to go is bottom up empowerment of communities that have been left on the wrong side of the digital divide for years. Policymakers should also adopt Google's call for state and federal tax income tax credits to provide incentive for homeowners to invest in their own fiber connections.
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