Thursday, January 31, 2008

Google Becomes a "Telephone Company"

Today the 700 MHz C-Block 50 state package auction closed over $4.7 billion, passing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reserve price of $4.6 billion. Passing the $4.6 billion mark is important because it assures this piece of spectrum will be sold under the current rules. This means the winning bidder will have to let devices from other carriers use the network.

Most believe the two companies bidding on this piece of spectrum are Google and Verizon. Regardless of who actually wins the bid - Verizon, Google or another company, Google will have access to the spectrum for their Android project. Android is what Google is calling the first complete, open, and free mobile platform, part of the Open Handset Alliance, a group of more than 30 technology and mobile companies who have come together to accelerate innovation in mobile and offer consumers a richer, less expensive, and better mobile experience.

The Open Handset Alliance group is committed to commercially deploy handsets and services using the Android Platform in the second half of 2008.

If the minimum bid of $4.6 billion had not been met, the FCC would have gone back, re-worked the rules, likely removing the open access piece, and then would have re-auctioned the C-Block. With the open access rule now locked in place, the success of Android is almost certain.

A day in history - January 31, 2008 - Google becomes a "telephone company".

Update: Verizon's Sale of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont

I've written here in the past about Verizon's pending sale of their Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont networks to Fairpoint Communications. Here are some highlights on the sale taken from a Burlington Press piece written yesterday:

  • The sale represents roughly 1.6 million land lines in the three states.
  • Sale price is $2.72 billion which, without any dept relief, would put FairPoint into $2.5 billion of debt
  • Proposed deal has Verizon giving Fairpoint $235 million in debt relief.
  • Maine has approved the sale but has not written a final order yet.
  • Last week the staff of the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission recommended state regulators sign off on the deal.
  • Vermont's Public Service Board is currently meeting on FairPoint's proposal.
  • Fairpoint has agreed to cut dividends to shareholders by $50 million a year and will not be permitted to raise the dividend until its debt ratio has been lowered.
Each state must approve the sale individually so each is also negotiating based on their own needs. For example:
  • In New Hampshire, the proposed deal calls for Verizon to give FairPoint $50 million over two years to help build infrastructure and make high-speed Internet access available to 95 percent of the customers by a certain date.
  • In Vermont, the proposed deal calls for 80 percent high-speed Internet availability by 2010 -- and a requirement that all customers in at least half of FairPoint's telephone exchanges have access to broadband Internet service.
  • In Maine, FairPoint has agreed to freeze DSL rates for existing Verizon customers at $15 to $18 a month for two years.
Much of the discussion has been around the huge amount of debt Fairpoint would assume if the sale happens. Saddled with this debt, many are concerned about Fairpoint's ability to upgrade existing services as expensive higher bandwidth technologies go mainstream. Sure, current ADSL offerings scream when compared to dial-up but - we won't be saying that in a few years.

I'm trying to remain optimistic - is there another more cost effective technology (perhaps WiMAX, higher bandwidth DSL or even Broadband over Power Line, etc....) that will make these concerns moot? Time will tell if the sale gets final approval.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

IPv6 Coming June 30 to the Federal Government

It's been almost a non-event - I think most don't realize the Federal Government has an IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) mandate scheduled for June 30 of this year. Last month, Network World ran an interesting piece titled How feds are dropping the ball on IPv6. Here's a quote from the Network World article:

Only 10% of federal agencies are buying services to run IPv6 traffic on their backbone networks, carriers estimate. The other 90% of federal agencies will likely meet the IPv6 mandate by upgrading their core routers to be IPv6 capable without running IPv6 traffic over them, carriers predict.

Internet traffic currently runs using IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4), with the current IPv4 standard approved way back in 1981. Version 4 has survived the explosive growth of the Internet with a series on enhancements including CIDR and NAT. When the Internet was privatized in the mid 1990's many assumed the end of Version 4 was near, predicting we would soon run out of addresses (IPv4 supports a maximum of 4,294,967,296 or 232 addresses). Anticipating the growth of the Internet, IPv6 was approved by the Internet Engineering Task Force with the first RFC's released that defined IPv6 in 1996. IPv6 uses 128 bit addresses and supports a maximum of 2128 addresses - that's a lot of addresses!

IPv6 also provides additional overhead that can be used for things like better security and quality of service. However, the larger address space and overhead means more bits on the transmission media that are not data which can slow transmissions down - especially on lower bandwidth connections.

Router manufacturers have allowed IPv6 implementation for years - I recall working with Bay Networks routers back around 2000 that supported IPv6. Microsoft has also supported IPv6 since 2002 - providing implementations for Windows Server 2003, Windows XP with Service Pack 1 (SP1) or later, and Windows CE .NET 4.1 or later.

Both iPv4 and IPv6 will run on the same network and, since the federal mandate only requires core routers to be IPv6 capable, those required to meet the mandate only have to enable IPv6 on their backbone routers.

It looks like June 30 will come and go without significant IPv6 traffic moving on federal networks. I'm trying to stay optimistic, hoping this is a first step in moving to more secure IPv6 based communications, especially on networks that carry sensitive information.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Going Green: Broadband over Power Line (BPL)

Stacey Higginbotham at Gigaom wrote an interesting article on Friday titled BPL Goes Green. In the piece she discusses how companies in the United States have shifted Broadband over Power Line (BPL) strategy from pushing broadband to providing demand response systems to electric utilities.

You may recall - in 2004 - the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and venture capitalists were looking at BPL as a competitive broadband delivery technology to cable and ADSL. Although technically do-able, BPL never got beyond the trial stage in most U.S. markets. As an example, a local power company here in Western Massachusetts launched a successful trial, running broadband over power lines to wireless access points mounted on the same utility poles that carry the power wires. Customers, with proper user-names and passwords, could then access the final connection wirelessly.

Why didn't this Western Massachusetts power company roll it out? Power companies have made, what I believe to be, a business decision not to go into the consumer broadband market because they would have to build, market and maintain a system that would be in direct competition with mature systems the cable and telecom companies already have in place.

Instead of abandoning the technology though - the power companies may have figured out a way to use BPL to provide services that the cable and telecom companies cannot offer.
Stacey's article mentions a few companies working with the utility providers - specifically Current Communications, Telkonet and BPL Global. These companies are developing products in response to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that requires both the federal and state governments to modernize the electric grid using Smart Grid systems. What's a Smart Grid system? Here's a quote from the Current Communications website:

Smart Grid combines advanced sensing technology, two-way high-speed communications, 24/7 monitoring and enterprise analysis software and related services to provide location-specific, real-time action-able data to all departments in a utility.

Does it work? Here's another quote from Stacey's article

The head of corporate planning at Con Edison in New York once told me that BPL was a boon for the utility because it allowed the company to know when problems in the grid occurred, sometimes before they caused outages. Prior to BPL, the system’s only feedback came in the form of angry phone calls from customers.

More efficient power grid management and happier customers - perhaps BPL has found a niche.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Super Thursday: Let the Spectrum Auctions Begin!

I've written frequently in the last couple of weeks here about the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 700 MHz band auction that officially kicked off today. USA Today has published an interesting article titled Google could cause a stir in FCC's airwaves auction and, in the article, some of the leading bidders and their likely strategies are listed.

Let's take a quick look at some of the major bidders (in alphabetical order) and their expected bidding strategies.
For additional detail be sure to read the USA Today Article.

AT&T already has more spectrum than any other carrier so bidding on the 700 MHz band will be used for further build-out. Many experts are speculating AT&T will focus primarily on the D-Block public-safety spectrum.

Cablevision, Cox, Advance/Newhouse, Bresnan
These cable companies are interested in spectrum to provide wireless services and compete with the large providers. Most experts believe they will be bidding on A-Block regional licenses in their service areas.

EchoStar is a satellite TV provider that is interested in using spectrum to provide wireless broadband access to its customers. Most experts do not feel EchoStar has the money to compete with companies like Google, At&T and Verizon in the auction.

Google is the heavyweight here. The company wants to further expand into the cellular smartphone market and has the money to compete with the big providers. The company is expected to bid the $4.6 Billion minimum for the C-Block spectrum in the U.S.

Like the cable companies (Cablevision, Cox, etc), these regional wireless companies will likely be bidding on A-Block regional licenses in their service areas. Experts also are speculating Alltel will bid on the public safety D-Block spectrum.

Paul Allen's (co-founder of Microsoft with Bill Gates) investment company, Vulcan, already owns spectrum in Washington and Oregon.Vulcan may be bidding on some of the C-Block regional licenses or smaller A or B-Block regional licenses.

The California based wireless manufacturer is looking for spectrum for its MediaFlo smartphone video service. Qualcomm will likely be bidding on E-Block regional licenses.

Verizon will likely be bidding big on U.S. C-Block spectrum with plans to open their network to any (hardware and software) devices.

If you want to stay updated - the FCC Auction 73: 700 MHz Auction Summary page lists, among other things, results of the auction after each round.

The auction will likely last a couple of months so we won't know the winners until then. We should start to see products from the winning bidders that use the spectrum sometime next year.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tiered Internet Services Coming?

On January 18, Business Week published an interesting article about a trial Time Warner’s cable division will be running in Texas later this year. Here’s a quote from the article:

Time Warner Cable plans to test a multi-tiered price system for high-speed broadband service later this year. New customers in the trial area of Beaumont, Texas, will be charged different rates based on the amount of data consumed in a month, much like a cell-phone plan charges based on minutes used.

Right now Time Warner is saying they will offer plans priced for up to 5, 10, 20, and 40 gigabytes per month, with middle-tiered plans running roughly the same amount average users currently pay (around $30 per month) for high-speed connections. The company also says they will allow customers to go over their limit but they will be billed for the extra.

This actually makes some sense from both a business and a consumer perspective – the ISP’s have always said 5% of users consume as much as 50% of network capacity downloading vast numbers of large files, such as movies, videos, and songs. I think of my parents who use little bandwidth to check email and occasionally surf the web and compare them to our house where my teenagers are often watching and uploading videos on YouTube, uploading to Flickr, downloading Mike Q and my podcasts , etc. I’m certainly not putting my kids in that top 5% but you get the idea – why are my parents paying just as much as us when we’re using a lot more bandwidth?

Companies looking to sell audio and video products on the web (NetFlix, Apple, Amazon, etc) are the ones who could ultimately get hurt. If I’ve used up my 20 gigabytes this month I’m not going to download that movie I wanted to watch on Friday night……… Here’s another piece from the article:

Another unintended consequence of tiered pricing is that it could discourage some companies from launching new services that require large bandwidth, consumer advocates say. The plans could also penalize early adopters whose heavy use of new services helps developers come up with refinements that use up less bandwidth……

According to the Business Week article, Comcast is considering a similar plan. Right now, Verizon does not appear to be.

I’ve written in the past about the Amazon Kindle eBook reader. The Kindle uses a cellular network connection to deliver books purchased by users. The cost of cellular service is bundled into the price of the book by Amazon - users do not need a cellular contract to make purchases on their Kindle. Perhaps the ISP’s should consider similar arrangements with companies selling audio and video products on the web.

Monday, January 21, 2008

An iPhone For A Day Experiment

On Friday I went to New York City for a National Science Foundation sponsored Ethics in Research Workshop held at Borough of Manhattan Community College. The workshop was excellent, with a focus on research integrity and institutional review boards (IRBs) at the community college level.

Over the past ten years I've got into the habit of carrying a notebook computer with me just about everywhere I go. Our campus uses GroupWise for email and I've got the client installed on my notebook. I can usually find wireless access and end up pulling email off locally. I can then answer, create, etc email without a network connection. The next time I get access to a web connection I can send out the email I have queued up and retrieve new email. It works but can get a little frustrating when I need to get to something and cannot fund a connection. I've considered buying a wireless broadband card from Sprint, Verizon or AT&T but have resisted.

Friday was just a day trip for me so I figured I'd try a little experiment and just take the iPhone. One of my biggest concerns was accessing my campus account. IMAP and POP access are turned off and I cannot access directly using the iPhone email app. This left me with a few options:

  1. Have all GroupWise email forwarded or delegated to my gmail account which I have setup on the iPhone. I would end up getting all my email this way but it is difficult to reply to messages because I have to retype addresses (the iPhone still does not copy and paste)
  2. Use the GroupWise web interface in Safari on the iPhone. In a pinch this works but it is time consuming and not very efficient.
  3. Setup an auto-reply in GroupWise saying something along the lines of "I will not have access to this account today - if you need to contact me immediately send me a message at"
I opted for #3 and it worked out well - I did actually get one person who had a time sensitive issue and ended up forwarding to my gmail account. It's a solution that works for me right now but I do wish our campus would turn IMAP on so I could start collecting all campus email on the iPhone.

Regarding the iPhone iteself, the biggest issue I had was battery life. I was careful to turn the WiFi radio off in areas where I did not have access to save power and I did not use my bluetooth headset (Bluetooth on the iPhone was turned off). Even so I only got a little over 4 hours of common use (voice, email and web browsing) before I had only 10% of the battery left. Mike Q was at the same conference and had just about identical results with his iPhone. The next time I travel with just the iPhone I'll be sure to bring my charger with me and plug in whenever I get a chance.

I was really impressed with the enhanced map application that came with the iPhone 1.1.3 firmware upgrade released last week. The map application now uses Google Maps at My Location, which finds where you are based on the cell antennas your phone is accessing. You don't have to have an iPhone to use Google Maps at My Locatiion - it is available for most web-enabled mobile phones. It's not as accurate as a GPS but is close with the added advantage of working indoors. With the number of antennas in Manhattan, the location finder was extremely accurate.

Overall my iPhone for a day experiment was a successful one. My biggest concern is the battery life - Apple claims we should be getting approximately 6 hours of battery life so both Mike Q and I are questioning our batteries and will be checking with Apple.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

FCC 700 MHz Spectrum Auction Areas

This week I've written about the upcoming Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 700 MHz auction and how the available spectrum is the result of a Congressional law passed in 2005. The law requires U.S. TV stations to convert to all digital broadcasts and give up analog spectrum in the 700 MHz frequency band. Today let's look at how the FCC is using area definitions to determine the spectrum blocks that will be auctioned.

With the definition of Cellular Market Areas in 1982, the FCC started assigning licensing areas based radio licenses, . According to the FCC, a common trait among most of these licensing areas is that every area is an aggregation of county-equivalent entities as defined in Federal Information Processing Standards Publication 6-4, 1990 August 31 . These data resource standards have bee put in place to avoid unnecessary duplication and incompatibilities in the collection, processing, and dissemination of data, so they make a lot of sense.

Each spectrum block in the 700 MHz auction, except for the national public safely D-Block, has been assigned an area designation by the FCC. Let's describe those areas included in the 700 MHz auction using FCC definitions.

Economic Areas
Both the A-Block (12 MHz) and the E-Block (6 MHz) are being auctioned using the Economic Area (BEA) service areas established by the Regional Economic Analysis Division, Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Commerce. Included are Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Gulf of Mexico. There are a total of 176 Economic Area service areas designated by the FCC.

BEA services include General Wireless Communications Service (GWCS), Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR) and Location and Monitoring Service (LMS).

Cellular Market Areas
The B-Block (12 MHz) is being auctioned using the Cellular Market Area (CMA) service areas. The 734 CMAs are broken down as follows:

Areas 1-305: Created from the Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) defined by the Office of Management and Budget (1-305)
Area 306: The Gulf of Mexico
Areas 307-734: Rural Service Areas (RSAs) established by the FCC which do not cross state borders including parts of Puerto Rico not already in an MSA (723-729), U.S. Virgin Islands
(730-731), Guam (732), American Samoa (733), and Northern Mariana Islands (734).

CMA Services include Cellular Radiotelephone Service and Interactive Video and Data Service (IVDS)

Regional Economic Areas

The C-Block (22 MHz) is being auctioned using the 12 Regional Economic Areas (REAs) created by the FCC. The REAs are an aggregation of the 52 Major Economic Areas (MEAs) defined by the FCC.

REA Services include Wireless Communications Service (WCS)

All FCC areas, along with names, county lists, maps and map info data can be found on the Commission's website linked here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

FCC Spectrum Auction Bidding Procedure Summary

On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission released a public notice titled Auction of 700 MHZ Band Licenses. This document describes the bidding procedure for the 214 companies that have qualified for the auction, which will be handled by the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB). The WTB is one of seven FCC Bureaus and is responsible for all FCC domestic wireless telecommunications programs and policies.

Here's a summary outline of the procedure pulled from the 12 page FCC document:

  1. Bidding in Auction 73 is scheduled to begin on Thursday, January 24, 2008.

  2. Each qualified bidder will receive prior to January 24:
    • At least two RSA SecurID tokens
    • An Integrated Spectrum Auction System (ISAS) Bidder’s Guide
    • A FCC Auction Bidder Line phone number
  3. The FCC will conduct the auction over the Internet and telephonic bidding will also be available. In either case, each authorized bidder must have his or her own SecurID token.

  4. There will be a minimum opening bid amount for each license and package and the minimum opening bid amount is subject to reduction at the discretion of the WTB. The WTB will not entertain requests to lower minimum opening bid amounts.
  5. The WTB has established the following block-specific aggregate reserve prices for Auction 73:

    • Block A, $1.807380 billion;
    • Block B, $1.374426 billion;
    • Block C, $4.637854 billion;
    • Block D, $1.330000 billion;
    • Block E, $0.903690 billion.
  6. If, at the close of bidding in Auction 73, the aggregate reserve price for the A, B, C and/or E Blocks has not been met, the WTB will issue an announcement that bidding in Auction 73 is closed and set a date for commencement of Auction 76.

  7. Round results will be available approximately 10 minutes after the close of each round. and two types of reports will be available to bidders: (a) publicly available information, and (b) bidder-specific information available only to that bidder when logged in to the FCC Auction System.

  8. Each qualified bidder will have a default watchlist that contains every license and packages of licenses selected on the bidder’s short-form application. Qualified bidders may also create custom watchlists.

  9. On Tuesday, January 22, the WTB will conduct a mock auction, which will allow qualified bidders to familiarize themselves with the FCC Auction System. Only qualified bidders will be permitted to participate in the mock auction.

  10. Once winning bids are announced (either after Auction 73 or Auction 76) and winning bidders are announced, winning bidders will have 10 business days to file a long-form application (FCC Form 601) and make down payments for all of the licenses it won.
These are only highlights - please refer to the PDF document for details.

It will likely be early March before spectrum winners are announced by the FCC.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

FCC Public Safety Spectrum Auction: A New Public-Private Partnership Model?

Yesterday morning I had an opportunity to speak with John Kneur, Rivada Networks' Senior Vice President for External Affairs, about emergency responder communications and the upcoming FCC Spectrum Auction. State homeland security officials have struggled for years with the inability of local emergency responders to communicate with each other and their federal counterparts during disasters. This inter-operability problem is so serious it has been identified as the number one concern of state homeland security officials in the National Governors Association 2007 State Homeland Security Directors Survey. Here's a quote from the report:

Public safety interoperable communications once again topped the list of homeland security advisors’ concerns in 2007 as states continue to work to ensure that first responders from various agencies, jurisdictions, and levels of government can speak to each other during emergencies or at the scene of a disaster. Increasingly, the campaign for interoperability has expanded beyond voice communications to encompass data and video interoperability as well.

I also wrote yesterday about the shutdown of Frontline Wireless and the decision by Cyren Call pull out of the D-Block Auction. With these two potentially top bidders gone, many are now wondering if the $1.3 billion reserve price on this piece of spectrum will be met by any bidder. As a result, the FCC may end up looking at alternative solutions from companies like Rivada Networks.

Rivada uses existing cellular networks and commercial off-the-shelf technology to deliver high-speed voice and data services over a network that can survive natural or man-made disasters. Right now Rivada is working with National Guard units in 11 states (Alabama, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington). These units are installing new communications systems for voice and data services over a network that uses existing commercial infrastructure. Not relying on a single network makes a lot of sense when you consider communications survival during natural or man-made disasters.

According to a Rivada press release, the Louisiana Army National Guard decided last year to adopt their interoperable public safety communications system for the following reasons:
  • Is available today,
  • Does not require new spectrum allocation or depend on federal spectrum auctions or mandates, and
  • Offers far greater range and capability at a fraction of the cost of other existing or planned technologies.
Rivada also supplements existing technology and infrastructure as needed by:
  • Building new towers in areas without sufficient commercial infrastructure;
  • Employing Rivada Interoperable Communications Extension Systems (ICES) – “fly-in” units capable of being deployed within hours – where existing infrastructure has been degraded or destroyed;
  • Using proprietary backwards-compatible technology to provide full interoperability between cell phones, PDAs, laptops, landlines and traditional ‘walkie talkie’-type Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems; and
  • Combining all of these elements into an efficient network architecture.
Right now Rivada is not saying who they are making leasing agreements with but it seems like a safe bet to assume Verizon, Sprint and AT&T will be involved - it would be good revenue along with PR and advertising for the companies. In terms of the public safety personnel it makes a whole lot of sense because they would be able to use their day-to-day wireless devices in emergency situations.

The providers would build out, maintain and update the infrastructure....... I'm liking this kind of solution.

Monday, January 14, 2008

FCC Spectrum Auction - What's Going on with the Public Safety Block?

Back in 2005 Congress passed a law that requires all U.S. TV stations to convert to all digital broadcasts and give up analog spectrum in the 700 MHz frequency band. This law will free up 62 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band and effectively eliminate channels between 52 and 69. This conversion, which has a deadline of February 18, 2009, has freed up spectrum that is being split up by the FCC into five blocks:

  • A-Block - 12 MHz, split up into 176 smaller economic areas
  • B-Block - 12 MHz, split up into 734 cellular market areas
  • C-Block - 22 MHz, up into 12 regional licenses
  • D-Block - 10MHz, combined with approximately 10MHz allocated for public safety, a single national license.
  • E-Block - 6 MHz, split up into 176 smaller economic areas

I've written in the past about the upcoming January spectrum auction - each Block has a reserve price set by FCC and if a reserve price is not met in the auction, the FCC will end up re-auctioning that piece of spectrum.

The D-Block lately has been most interesting to watch. Early on it appeared Frontline Wireless would be one of the biggest bidders for D-Block spectrum - the company was setup for D-Block and had worked closely with the FCC on putting together specifications for the spectrum. Frontline built a formidable team including Vice Chairman Reed Hundt, who served as Chairman of the FCC between 1993 and 1997. The business plan, the organization, the technology seemed to all be in place........ On January 12 the company placed the following statement on their website:

Frontline Wireless is closed for business at this time. We have no further comment.

Another company, Cyren Call also looked like they were planning to bid on the D-Block Auction but did not.

What happen? Rumor has it Frontline could not attract enough funders - it seemed like a good investment - or at least you may think so up front. Many are now asking if the FCC's approach to solving the public safety inter-operability problem is in trouble. At the same time many are also asking "Is there a better way?"

I've always liked the idea of public-private partnerships and we've seen them work in times of disaster - last August I wrote here about the Minneapolis I-35 bridge collapse tragedy and how within minutes USI Wireless opened their subscription-based Wi-Fi service so anyone could use it for free. US Wireless didn't just stop there - because the network had only been built around part of the disaster, the company installed additional Wi-Fi radios in areas surrounding the catastrophe to blanket it with signals, providing an additional 12 megabits per second of capacity to the area around the bridge collapse.

A national network built from scratch may be too big of a bite though. Today I had an interesting conversation with Rivada Networks’ Vice President John Kneuer. Rivida uses existing cellular networks and commercial off-the-shelf technology to deliver high-speed voice and data services over a network that can survive natural or man-made disasters. I like the idea of using the existing commercial infrastructure for public safety for lots of reasons. I'll write tomorrow about Rivida's public-private partnership and technology approach.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Broadband Divide: People and Businesses Moving for Bandwidth?

Ars Technica has an interesting post titled FiOS tops satisfaction survey; worth moving for? The post discusses a recent issue of Consumer Reports that rated Internet Service Providers (ISPs). In the Consumer Reports article Verizon's fiber optic FiOS service was declared to be best of breed. The Ars Technica post then goes on to highlight a couple of people who's recent moves were, at least in part, due to Verizon FiOS availability. Here's a quote describing Andru Edwards' relocation:

Andru Edwards of Gear Live tells Ars that he's one of those willing to relocate for the promise of fiber optic goodness. "I moved 10 minutes north of Seattle specifically for FiOS service," he tells Ars. "We push a lot of video to the web, and Comcast's 768k upload wasn't cutting it. Gear Live now has a 30 megabit down/15 megabit up connection. While customer service is horrendous (even ignoring possible security flaws that can result in easy identity theft), the FiOS connection is a Godsend for us."

And another quote describing Ars Technica's Editor in Chief' Ken Fisher's move:

"We're in a region where everybody is getting FiOS within six months, so it didn't really influence our exact location," he said. "We've had FiOS for almost four months and there hasn't been a single outage. It's always fast, it's so reliable that when you see performance problems online you can assume it's something other than your connection. In fact, some people will be disappointed when they get it and realize that it can't make Yahoo serve to you any faster."

I'm sure Yahoo (and others) will catch up in serving these high bandwidth areas so I'm not too worried about that. This is also not new news - Realtors have recognized over the past year or so that high bandwidth (like FiOS) availability can be used as a marketing/selling point - much like a 3 car garage or bonus room!

I'm also sure we'll see the cable companies going in with competing DOCSIS 3.0 based services in areas of high bandwidth availability. My concern continues to be the under served areas and, over the past year, my definition of an under served area has expanded to places where ADSL is offered. Sure ADSL is faster than dialup (if that is all you have) but when you compare it to FiOS type bandwidths.... it crawls. And........... don't forget, the "A" in ADSL stands for "Asymmetrical" - I've written in the past about the shift to symmetrical services.

Here's a few questions I've been asking myself:
  • Will people start moving out of areas where high bandwidth is not available?
  • What will happen to property values in these under served areas?
  • Will businesses want to move into areas where high bandwidth is not available for the business and their employees?
  • What kinds of academic issues will these communities face?
The Speed Matters blog has a post titled To candidates: How will we get high speed Internet?
Sounds like a pretty good question to me.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

FCC, Vermont and Maine OK Verizon / Fairpoint Deal

The state of Vermont has tentatively reached an agreement with Verizon and Fairpoint Communications on Fairpoint's $2.7 billion purchase of Verizon landlines in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The Vermont proposal still has to be approved by the Vermont Public Service Board. According to an Associated Press article:

The proposal, which must be approved by the three-member Vermont Public Service Board, essentially mirrors a stipulation already reached by Maine regulators. It calls for a $235 million reduction in the purchase price, reduced dividend payouts that would free more money for debt service and some special accommodations for Vermont.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission approved the purchase last week with New Hampshire still awaiting approval. Perhaps jumping the gun, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 yesterday to approve the sale.

Here's a quote from a Burlington Free Press article written today:

Two FCC commissioners voted against approving the transaction. "If the seller is not committed to ubiquitous broadband deployment, then letting someone else with more commitment do the job makes sense. But if the buyer is shackled by the costs of the agreement, it becomes more difficult to see how the public interest is served," FCC Commissioner Michael Copps wrote in a dissenting opinion.

Commissioner Copps
has also questioned why the FCC is issuing a ruling before all three of the state's regulatory agencies have reached decisions.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Internet Traffic Control Conflict

Yesterday, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin announced the Commission will investigate complaints that Comcast interferes with file sharing application Internet traffic. These BitTorrent based peer-to-peer file sharing applications are commonly used to exchange large video and audio files on the Internet. Here's a quote from an Associated Press release:

A coalition of consumer groups and legal scholars asked the agency in November to stop Comcast from discriminating against certain types of data. Two groups also asked the FCC to fine the nation's No. 2 Internet provider $195,000 for every affected subscriber.

The complaint filed by Free Press is linked here.

The Associated Press release continues:

"Sure, we're going to investigate and make sure that no consumer is going to be blocked," Martin told an audience at the International Consumer Electronics Show.

In an investigation last year, The Associated Press found that Comcast in some cases hindered file sharing by subscribers who used BitTorrent, a popular file-sharing program. The findings, first reported Oct. 19, confirmed claims by users who also noticed interference with other file-sharing applications.

The key word in Martin's statement is "blocked". Here's a piece from a DSL Reports release:

Martin's choice of words is telling. If you're a network neutrality supporter eager to see someone clamp down on application throttling, you shouldn't hold your breath waiting for the FCC. The policy statement (pdf) that guides the FCC's hand in matters of network neutrality is not law, and is intentionally vague enough to allow providers to get away with anything short of an outright traffic blockade.

The final footnote in on the FCC policy statement is most interesting:

Accordingly, we are not adopting rules in this policy statement. The principles we adopt are subject to reasonable network management.

I can see both sides of this argument: On one hand it is extremely frustrating to see my broadband data connection significantly slow in the evenings - I've often wondered how much of the slowdown is due to BitTorrent based file exchange along with streaming video, audio, etc. On the other hand BitTorrent is being used by companies that sell video and game content for distribution - if I've purchased a video online I don't want my ISP throttling the speed of my downloads.

I'm hoping the FCC can step in, mediate the disagreement and set a policy that works for all - BitTorrent based file exchange is not going away.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Mini-Blogging with Tumblr

On Friday and Saturday last week I photo-blogged the National Center for Telecommunications Technologies (NCTT) Winter Conference held at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, CA. I used Tumblr, a free service that allows (among other things) the posting of photos, audio mp3 files and text from cell phones. I did my photo-blog posting using my iPhone - I was snapping pictures and then emailing them to a Tumblr email address. Picture captions are added by typing text into the email subject line.

Tumblr also allows text posting via instant messenger clients, the setting up of a custom domain and the posting of text, photos, videos, quotes, and links from any web page. has a nice video describing how to setup and use Tumblr:

In addition to using Tumblr I also use Twitter to post short (up to 140 characters) text updates. I find myself posting to Twitter two or three times a day and commonly use it to post links to interesting web articles that relate to my work.

The combination of Blogger for full-blown blogs, Tumblr for mini-blogging and Twitter for micro-blogging along with the ability to incorporate them all into a single page, while still keeping them separate, is nice. Each serves a unique purpose and they complement each other well. And....... they are all free!

Follow my Twitter "Tweets" here: and my Tumblr photo-blog here:

Monday, January 7, 2008

A Great 2008 NCTT Winter Conference!

We held our National Center for Telecommunications Technologies (NCTT) Conference at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, CA this past Friday and Saturday. At the conference we had 28 different presenters with sessions ranging in topic from Virtual Worlds to Internet2.

It's always great to get together with our partners, see old friends and make new ones. The quality of the presentations was just incredible. I feel so fortunate to know and associate with such a strong group of dedicated faculty and administrators.

I photo blogged the sessions and the conference using my iPhone and Tumblr which was an interesting experience that I'll write about later this week. You can see the photos if you scroll down the left hand column of this blog page and you can also find them at

One of my favorite photos is of Professor Bill Saichek from Orange Coast College in the WiFi Finder t-shirt he won in the end of conference raffle - I've included it here. We not only learned a lot of new things, we also had a lot of fun - always a great combination!

I want to thank Dr Ann Beheler, the Convergence Technology Center at Collin County Community College and Orange Coast College for hosting, helping set up and coordinating this incredible conference.

Mark your calendars for July 28-29 in Austin, Texas for our summer conference. Details to follow and email me at if you are interested in presenting or attending.

I'll get back on a regular blogging schedule now that the holidays and our winter conference are over.