Tag Archives: fiber broadband

CenturyLink to Bring Gigabit Broadband to Seattle

Gig Map Click to see moreIn a remarkable announcement today, CenturyLink, formerly known as “the telephone company”, says it will bring gigabit Internet service via a fiber-to-the-home network to Seattle.

Seattle has been left at the altar of fiber-to-the-home high-speed Internet twice before — first byGoogle and then by Gigabit Squared, which isnow being sued by the City of Seattle over their breakup.

Is the third time the charm? Can Seattle Mayor Ed Murray deliver on the gigabit promise that his two predecessors, Mike McGinn and Greg Nickels, could not? Will Seattle actually see serious competition to the price-gouging tactics of the cable monopolies?

A press conference on Tuesday, scheduled 9:15 a.m. at Seattle City Hall, should tell us more.

First, a dose of reality.

(Read the rest of the post at Crosscut.)

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Why Google Fiber will never come to Seattle

google-fiberGoogle is bringing high speed fiber broadband networks to homes and businesses in three cities – Kansas City, Austin and Provo. In February, it announced 34 more cities it will approach for building fiber – Portland, Phoenix, Atlanta and more.
But not Seattle.
And Seattle won’t be making Google’s list anytime soon.
The “Seattle Process” and a balky bureaucracy at City Hall stand squarely in the way.
It wasn’t always this way. We were on the short list in 2010, when …
Read the rest of this article on Crosscut or Geekwire.

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Saving Cities from the Clutches of the Internet Monopoly

internet-monopolyOn January 14, the United States Circuit Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia ruled that telecommunications and cable companies can “play favorites” among websites, video channels and all other content providers. This decision struck down FCC rules which tried to make the Internet “neutral,” carrying all kinds of content with equal speed.

In other words, if the New York Times pays Verizon (or AT&T, or Comcast or any other company which owns wires) a fee to deliver its content, but Crosscut cannot, www.nytimes.comwill zip onto your computer screen rapidly, whilewww.crosscut.com will ever so slowly and painfully appear. Indeed, if Comcast owns NBC (which it does), NBC’s video content might zoom across Comcast’s wires into homes and businesses, while ABC, CBS, the Seattle Channeland other video feeds stumble slowly onto those same television sets.

It could get even more interesting when you go shopping. Do you want to buy a book or toys or new shoes? Well, if Wal-Mart pays Comcast and CenturyLink to deliver its content, you might seewww.walmart.com rapidly appear on your web browser, while Amazon, Sears and Macys come up slowly — or not at all.

As the Los Angeles Times headlined, “Bow to Comcast and Verizon, Your Overlords”.

All this wouldn’t be so bad, of course, if we…

[Read the rest of this post on Crosscut]

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– A Chicken in Every Pot

A Chicken in Every Pot“A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” – election slogan for Herbert Hoover, claiming that the everyone will be prosperous under a Hoover presidency.

The 2010 election is over, the winning politicians are now being magically converted into “elected officials”, and technology in government is marching on, sometimes with different elected and CIO leadership.   I’ve blogged before about the difficult intersection of politics and technology.

Being a Chief Information Officer in government is, in many ways, similar to being a CIO in any other organization – public, private, non-profit.   We worry about budgets, business applications, operating a data center, beating the competition (yes, even in government), and worrying about how to adapt the latest consumer fad technology (Kindle, Android phone, iPad) for use by our workforce.

But there’s also a significant difference – CIOs in governments work for elected officials, and those elected officials get a report card at least every four years.   A report card from the voters.   If they’ve been doing a decent job delivering service, responding to constituent needs, and clearing the snow (alas poor Mayor Bloomberg), they’ll probably be re-elected.   If not, a new politician wins the election and becomes Mayor (or Governor or County Executive).

Just as in the Federal government, a change in the Chief Executive will often result in a change in the Cabinet – the department directors – including the CIO.   And much of that is happening this month, with the departure of good technology leaders such as Bryan Sivak in the District of Columbia and Gopal Khanna in Minnesota as well as a large group of others.

But to some extent, we government CIOs also help choose our elected Chief Executive.   Clearly we’ve applied for the CIO job and gone through an interview process so we know to some extent the potential that the voters will toss out the boss.  But also, in some cases, we’ve actively campaigned (on our own time, of course) and contributed financially to see a good politician win the election.

Government CIOs also have a legislative body of elected officials – a City Council, County Council or State Legislature – to help give us direction, set policy and review our budget.   Sometimes balancing the wishes of the chief executive versus the legislature – just as in the President versus the Congress – can be a daunting task!

From a CIO’s perspective, what makes a good elected official?

I’ll sum it up succinctly:    good elected officials see technology as an integral part of everything government does – as a way to enhance productivity of government workers and improve the delivery of service to constituents.     Less enlightened elected officials see technology as a cost to be contained: “Why do we have so danged many cell phones?” or “We spend way too much money on these computers.”

Wise elected officials – from a technologist’s point of view – ask questions such as “do government employees have the tools they need to do their jobs (cell phones, computers, applications)”, “are we duplicating costs between departments or functions” or “what technology investments today give us the greatest return on investment and service to constituents tomorrow”?    Sometimes even more specific questions such as “why don’t we allow employees to use their own smartphones, rather than having taxpayers buy them?” or “gee, why does every department have a different budgeting system” or “how come our police records management system doesn’t connect with our court case management system”?

Of course rarely are such questions asked in the heat of an election.    Voters are much more concerned about filling potholes and crime on the streets.  Amazingly, Seattle presently has a Mayor – Mike McGinn – who ran on a platform which included a significant technology:   getting better broadband networks to homes and businesses.

And increasingly the “voter on the street” has become tech savvy.    Gee, it seems like everyone – even the homeless – has a cell phone. And over 45.5 million of us have “smartphones”.  And almost everyone uses the Internet – in Seattle, 88% of have a computer and 84% have an Internet connection.   If you don’t have a computer at home, you can use one at the library or a community technology center.

The way we live is changing as well, as witnessed by the increasing amount of online commerce (thank you Amazon.com and Jeff Bezos) and social networking.

The time may be coming – soon – when voters are just as concerned about the usability of a government website from a mobile device, the ability to send video and photos to 311/911 centers, and being able to electronically find a parking space as they are with keeping the potholes filled.

Maybe the day will come when a politician promises a “computer on every desk, fiber broadband in every house and a smartphone in every pocket”.

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– FCC’s Broadband Plan and Cities

FCC-broadband-plan.jpg

So the FCC has published its national broadband plan.   This plan has many implications for cities and counties and local government.   It has implications for public safety and general government, for consumers, for business, for wired and wireless networks. 

Here’s my take on it:

Q: Is this plan really radical or different?

A: The FCC has charted a brave new vision for the United States with this plan. For example, in this plan the FCC has set a goal of “one hundred squared”, that is, connecting 100 million households with 100 megabits per second. This is radical because it cannot be accomplished with existing copper wire networks such as the telephone networks or cable TV networks. Such speeds require fiber optic cable to every home and business, a radical change. The speeds copper can carry are quite limited. But fiber cable lightwave signals theoretically, have no upper limit on speed. Incidentally, there are about 114 million households in the U.S.

Q: A 100 megabits per second – a 100 million bits per second – is “geekspeak” . What does it really mean for consumers at home or small business?

A: Let me give you one specific example. Many homes and businesses are buying and installing flat screen TVs, and most of those are HDTV – high definition. That’s cool, and the quality of the image is very detailed. But the signal is one way – you “watch the TV” – you don’t really “interact” with it or use it for communications like you use a phone. At the same time, you can buy a video camcorder – even a cheap one like a Flip phone – that takes HDTV video. Now, let’s suppose you could put the video camcorder next to the HDTV and connect them – all of a sudden you would have a video telephone or a video conferencing setup. You could make video phone calls. You could attend meetings with video. You could attend class at a high school or community college or a university, and actually interact with the teacher or professor – ask questions and participate. You could visit your doctor to talk about a health problem, or work from home. You could visit your local appliance store or clothing store and talk to the owner and have the owner demonstrate what you want to buy. You could play really cool interactive video games. And think of the implications for quality of life – with this sort of video, grandparents could have dinner with their kids and grandchildren every night via a video phone. They could see their grandchildren from hundreds or thousands of miles away, or from an assisted living or nursing home. But all of this requires super fast networks for both high quality and almost zero latency – no delay, just like the voice phone network. And this requires fiber with 100 million bits per second or more. To each home or business.

Q: What are the implications for large cities like Seattle?

A: Seattle has been a leader in thinking about these networks. We’ve already installed fiber cable connecting every public school, all our college campuses, every fire station, police precinct and every major government building. We have done extensive planning for a fiber optic cable network to every one of the 300,000 homes and businesses in Seattle. We are a high tech community and we value education. We need such a fiber network for jobs, education and quality of life. Mayor Michael McGinn is very committed to the idea, and a number of departments are working together on a business plan to make it happen. The visionary goals set by the FCC’s broadband plan – 100 million bits per second to 100 million homes – validate that we’re following the right path, and we need to move rapidly to stay ahead of other cities in the United States and around the world.

Q: How can we learn more about this Seattle plan?

A: To stay abreast of it or support it, go to http://www.seattle.gov/broadband .

Q: What are the implications of the FCC plan for suburban and rural communities?

A: Suburban communities can be wired with fiber, just like the FCC’s plan envisions and Seattle intends to do. Some Seattle area communities such as Kirkland and Woodinville already have fiber networks installed by Verizon. In rural communities installing fiber to farms and small towns may not always make economic sense, although in some visionary places like Chelan County, the local PUD is doing it anyway. But the FCC has envisioned an alternative for rural communities – high speed wireless broadband. Today’s wireless networks are usually called “3G” or 3rd Generation. Fourth Generation – 4G – wireless networks will be available in a few places by the end of 2010. These faster networks require a lot of spectrum. You may recall that, in June, 2009, all TV broadcast signals became digital – every TV in the nation had to have a wired cable connection or a digital antenna. The FCC mandated this digital transition to take spectrum away from UHF TV use and give it to telecommunications companies to build 3G and 4G networks. The FCC’s broadband plan calls for adding another 500 megahertz of spectrum to be dedicated to new, faster, wireless networks. The FCC will try to convince TV broadcasters to give up even more of the 300 MHz of spectrum now used for TV. And the government itself controls another 600 MHz of spectrum, some of which could be used for wireless broadband. 

Q: The nation faces a number of threats – terrorism, disasters (like earthquakes and hurricanes like Katrina) and even local disasters like the shooting of four Lakewood, Washington, police officers in 2009. Will the FCC’s national broadband plan help with this problem?

A: Public safety communications were problematical on September 11th in New York City, in the Katrina Hurricane and in other disasters. The public cell phone networks won’t reliably operate in such disasters or, sometimes, even in daily emergencies like power outages. The FCC has allocated 10 Mhz of spectrum in the 700 Mhz band for a nationwide public safety broadband network. In the national broadband plan, the FCC proposes putting money where its mouth has been – the FCC is proposing $6.5 billion in grants to create the public safety network. The City of Seattle is one of only 17 communities nationwide who have asked the FCC for permission to use this spectrum and build such a network. In their plan, the FCC includes a method for setting standards and operating procedures which will allow cities like Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Boston to build. And these municipal or regional public safety wireless broadband networks will interoperate with others nationwide. In fact, under the FCC’s plan, the public safety networks will also interoperate with networks being constructed by AT&T and Verizon and T-Mobile. So if a police officer or firefighter can’t get a strong signal from the public safety network the officer could get signals from a commercial network instead. 

Furthermore, Seattle has proposed that other government agencies – our electric utility, Seattle City Light, our water utility, Seattle Public Utilities, our transportation department, and others, also be allowed to use this network. In both daily emergencies and major disasters such “second responders” are vital to public safety and must interoperate with police and fire to keep the public safe. The national broadband plan recognizes this need as well.

Q: Practically, why do we need a public safety wireless broadband network?

A: I’ll give one specific example – video. On October 31, 2009, a Seattle police officer was brutally murdered by an unknown assailant – Christopher Montfort was ultimately charged with the crime. How did the police find Montfort? I’ve discussed this in more detail in this blog entry, but essentially, every Seattle police patrol vehicle has a video camera which records video of traffic stops. The recording goes to a computer in the police vehicle. It took several days for the police to review all the video footage of traffic stops from Seattle police cars. They noticed, in the background of several such stops, a uniquely shaped vehicle cruising by, which was traced back to Montfort. With a wireless broadband network, such video could immediately, in real time, be transmitted to dispatch centers and other police officers. Furthermore, police and firefighters could receive mugshots, building plans, hazardous material data, and video from a variety of sources to improve their response to both daily incidents and larger disasters.

Q: Are there other implications of the plan?

A: Several are worth mentioning and there is a bit more detail in an analysis here.

  • The FCC has recognized that cities and counties need to be able to control their own streets, utility poles and rights-of-way, and receive fair compensation for their use by companies who build broadband networks, while allowing private companies better access to rights of way to build networks.
  • The FCC has recommended to Congress that it pre-empt laws in 18 states which prohibit cities and counties from building broadband networks. In most places, there is no competition for broadband – there are only one or two providers, usually the cable TV company and the phone company, with older, slower, networks. In places where the city or county has built a network – like Tacoma – consumer costs are significantly lower for phone, cable TV and Internet access.
  • The plan calls for strengthened cybersecurity measures to protect broadband networks, consumers and businesses from hackers and other cybersecurity threats.
  • The FCC plans to revamp the Universal Service Fund (USF) to help subsidize broadband adoption.

In summary, the FCC’s plan is visionary. Certainly it was carefully crafted with many competing interests interests in mind.  And it doesn’t really provide any good mechanism to encourage competition between private providers.  Such competition would reduce costs to users.  Nevertheless, if it is followed, will materially improve the economy, safety, and quality of life for the people of the United States.

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– Fibering, UnFibering America

Broadband-America as Second Class - click for moreOn August 25th I had a chance to participate in a workshop at the Federal Communications Commission discussing what should be in the National Broadband Plan. The FCC is charged by the President and Congress to create that plan by February, 2010. To that end, they are conducting a series of workshops to gather input.

The workshops are the standard fare of a government sausage-making machine. The usual vaudeville performers with their usual songs-and-dances protecting their usual patches of the stage and their seats in the theater called the telecommunications market. There are very few representatives of city and county governments, but lots of representatives of “industry”.

On the other hand, I’m heartened by the Obama administration’s choices to lead the FCC. Julius Genachowski is the new FCC chair and is one of the primary authors of the broadband portion of the “stimulus act” (ARRA). Admiral Jamie Barnett is the new Chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. He listened intently during the workshop, and the staff of that Bureau appears to be genuinely engaged and interested in this task.

These are all good signs that, with the National Broadband Plan, we’ll not get the usual lowest-common-denominator beaurcratized pabulum, but something truly visionary – a roadmap to take the United States from its present second-world Internet infrastructure to an electronic network suitable for the remainder of the century.

In my mind – and this was the essence of my talk – that roadmap is simple: build a fiber optic network to every home and business in America. As that network is built, create a fourth-generation wireless network on top of it by placing radio towers at key points throughout the network. I’m sold on fiber optics because of its virtually limitless capacity. As electronics improve, new switches and routers can be replaced on a fiber network, driving it to ever higher speeds. Signals from multiple different competing service providers (Internet, television, video, music, security, telephone etc.) can ride this network, just like anyone’s car or trucking company can ride the public highways.

Telephone and cable companies will oppose this vision tooth-and-nail. They have immense investments in existing copper-cable networks and will want to wring every last dollar of profit from those networks. But those copper cable networks are old and slow, literally dinosaurs in the world of fiber optics. South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Australia, Paris, Sweden, Amsterdam, see the value of fiber and are investing in both municipal and national networks. If we listen to the copper-wire-dinosaurs, the United States will continue to fall behind.

A fiber network has numerous advantages. I’ve already mentioned the potential to break the telephone and cable monopolies which grip our present electronic infrastructure. By fostering competition, we’re not only going to be improving service, consumer choice and reducing prices, but we’re being “capitalist” in the most fundamental meaning of the word.

Really high speed fiber networks have the potential to transform our world – literally. Homes and businesses will increasingly have high-definition television sets. By adding high-definition television cameras to them, along with a fiber network, every home becomes a video studio. Telecommuting, tele-education, tele-medicine, video telephony all become possible. Virtual classrooms from home, routine visits to the doctor, and video-calls with family all could improve our quality of life.

Furthermore, with true two-way, high-definition video a possibility, perhaps we can coax people out of their automobiles, to attend classes via video, to telecommute and conduct business at home, traveling less. This, in turn, means greater productivity, less time wasted in traffic jams, less consumption of precious gasoline, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and less dependence on foreign oil. And that means improved homeland security.

This transformation simply echoes previous transformations in our history, where the telegraph allowed long-distance communications between cities or continents, the telephone allowed homes across the nation to be interconnected for voice, and the internet brought the web, e-mail and social networking into the lives of almost every American. We’ve done this before – and it has always changed America for the better, serving as an engine of economic development as well as making us more safe and secure. We’ve built national telegraph and telephone networks, and, more recently, the Internet. We’ve built national broadcasting networks for radio and television and cable television. We’ve constructed cellular telephone networks and public safety radio networks. We’ve built the national highway network and then the Interstate highway network. Sometimes we’ve built these networks with entirely public investment, sometimes with entirely private investment, and sometimes a combination of the two. Wise regulation and spectrum management by the FCC has often paved the way. And we can do it again, if the National Broadband Plan is innovative and visionary.

Will the FCC and the Obama administration have the vision, the innovation, the leadership and the guts to be this bold?

Additional Information:

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