Steve Borsch on Comcast and Innovation

I’ve been following the Comcast stuff but I just haven’t had the heart to do much with it – so I’m thankful to Steve Borsch for his fortitude and/or endurance.

The quick tick: Comcast is throttling bandwidth by limiting the traffic you can consume each month. They are cutting back service contracts to shake off their heaviest users (aka bandwidth hogs).

So if you are a bandwidth hog, it stinks to be you. If you aren’t well – maybe those bandwidth hogs should get off online and enjoy the sunshine, right? Well one problem is that they’re cutting back a lot – just when more and more functions require ultra high speed. It’s an approach straight out of 1984; when the demand grows, tell people it isn’t growing and ask them to cut back.

Another big problem, which Steve outlines eloquently, is that squashing bandwidth also squashes innovation. Right now I think that America is still pretty innovative – but we’ll be slipping down that ranking soon enough if we start putting artificial barriers in our way.

Monticello fiber update

Monticello’s fiber optic website states that they will begin construction of a smaller fiber loop build on September 2 with a completion date by the end of the year. This fiber build includes construction of 11.19 miles of fiber optics that is an important subset of the larger FiberNet Monticello project. The Fiber Loop will connect important commercial, industrial and civic facilities thereby allowing commercial and industrial users to have access to high-speed fiber optics for data only services via 100% fiber optics thus contributing toward the achievement of economic development goals. This fiber loop will also connect City Hall, Community Center and Public Works facilities to improve communication/data speeds and reduce Internet access expenses. The service provided at this time would include high-speed data only and no telephone or cable TV.

The project is projected to be financially self-supporting and can be integrated into the FiberNet Monticello system both financially and physically once it is constructed.

The city’s commitment to avoid the use of taxpayer dollars did not anticipate an 11th hour lawsuit by TDS that made the proceeds from the revenue bonds unavailable by freezing the money at a critical time when construction was ready to begin. The city moved forward with the smaller fiber loop build to begin this year in order to protect the project from increased costs that will inevitably arise if construction continues to be delayed by the TDS litigation. It is anticipated that the cost of this initial fiber build will be fully reimbursable from the bonds the City has already sold and has put into escrow due to the lawsuit.

Learning Mandarin in Nicollet

In 2006, Governor Pawlenty and the state legislature in developed a common curriculum for the teaching of Mandarin Chinese in Minnesota’s schools. To help meet the ensuing demand, Project SOCRATES provided classroom technology to a large consortium of south-central Minnesota school districts, and offered Chinese classes through Internet-TV for several years.

Nicollet recently hired a native speaker from China who will be teaching in Nicollet but also helping throughout the area through SOCRATES. You can learn more in the Mankato Free Press.

I think this is such a great opportunity. I taught English in Spain many years ago. I taught in some very rural areas. Having a native speaker in the class made the class much more exciting for the kids. With a minor in French, I spoke no Spanish so if the kids wanted to ask me anything – they had to ask in English. It was a great motivator and I just had a better handle on the language than any of the non-native speaking teachers. They had a tendency to actually say “how do you do?” Even the kids knew that was outdated.

As the Mankato article points out – nothing beats having a live native speaker, but using the technology to access a native speaker is the next best thing. The teacher they hired was a university teacher in China – so it seems to me that she may be in a position to use the technology to help kids connect with other kids in China. Now that would really open some fun doors!

Broadband and entrepreneurship a rural recipe for success

Thanks to Bernadine Joselyn for flagging the Politics in Minnesota Morning Report, that flagged Aaron Brown’s article that led me to a great interview on Another Signpost on the Information Highway. (I apologize for the nearly Biblical list of how info begets info – but sometimes it’s nice to know the lineage.)

The author, Benjamin Power, is a student and IT professional. I learned a lot about him from his very entertaining video application for a school scholarship. He interviewed Frank Odasz of Lone Eagle Consulting, an expert in the field of rural e-commerce education.

There were a couple of themes that struck a chord because they are things I’ve seen in Minnesota too:

Broadband and entrepreneurship is a one-two punch that can keep rural America in the game.

Geography still matters to a lot of people but for a lot of businesses, it doesn’t have to matter. I learned that first hand last year in Ireland. None of my clients cared that I was in Ireland. So long as I was able to get online, I could meet their needs, and that’s all they cared about. And now the new clients from Ireland feel the same way. (And those checks in Euros don’t hurt!)

Odasz mentioned several rural retailers who had quietly built successful businesses online. Through broadband and an entrepreneurial drive they have been able to live where they want to live. My favorite story is still my friends in New Ulm, who have a tidy Stained Glass business online.

We’ve Got to Focus on Application Too

Which came first, broadband or application? It’s nearly a timeless question – but if the supply comes first then it seems that the revenue doesn’t come fast enough to support it. I think we need another one-two punch here. To be successful broadband deployment needs to include a training component.

Odasz pointed out that the technology (and entrepreneurial) training goes well – but we need to have policy and decision makers in the room too. I think that both broadband and entrepreneurship are different enough from what many folks learned in school that even if you’re over 30, you have to pay attention.

Often kids know more than the grownups about technology. Heck, my “almost 10 year old” knows my cell phone better than I do. But I don’t want her touching the technology without my guidance. She may know how to find the coolest ringtone – but that doesn’t mean she knows how to make a business phone call or what to do with an annoying or obscene phone call. We still need the perspective than comes with being over 30 – especially when building business plans. (Partially because if you don’t you’ll become the fabled superhighway road kill but also because you have something to add to the conversation!)

Start Small

They talked quite a bit about how businesses can get started on the web – really how to sell things online or make money from affiliate links. The advice was good. I talk to people about that a lot too. They also talked at a high level about how what’s really important is that we learn to learn how to use the web. Akin I think to learning how to learn. It’s one thing to pick up on the laundry list of e-marketing strategies today – but to prosper long term businesses need to learn how to keep up with trends.

Or Start in the Middle

I like the idea of starting small and building. But I think to attract the decision and policy makers we have to start building case studies and approaches on how to start in the middle. How do you add technology to an existing business? One of the scary things is that it’s a lot more expensive and there’s a lot more at stake – but broadband and entrepreneurship can make a difference to an existing company too. There’s a great old book (on e-marketing) that does highlight case studies from the middle – the Cluetrain Manifesto. The book is from 1999, so the technology is dated – but the ideas remain the same in how to work in the new tech-heavy, entrepreneurial-minded work and marketplace.

Rural Telecon Oct 5-8 Vermont

I attended the Rural Telcon a few years ago and thought it was well worth the trip. The conference is at a fun resprt this year (and if you sing up before September 10, your name will be added to a drawing to get a free week at the resprt).

The lineup looks good. There appears to be sessions on specific technologies, fundding opportunities, some success stories, and broadband applications.

My favorite part of the conference (well nearly any conference) is te conversation that happens in and aroudn the various sessions. It’s a chance to talk to others in your boat, or who need your boat, or who have a boat you need.

The Connected – Converged Home of 2015

FTTH Council

FTTH Council

I thought this FTTH Council webinar might be of interest to some folks…

The Connected – Converged Home of 2015
with Dave Smith, CEO, HBMG, Inc.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008 @ 2:00 pm EDT

What will the home of 2015 look like? What will be the major drivers? What trends will impact it? What will other impacts such as the green movement and social media have on this transformation?

This webinar will look at not only the convergence of technologies, but also the convergences of process, services, and capabilities that will reshape the connected home of 2015.

Ultra High Speed Broadband Task Force Web Site

The Ultra High Speed Broadband Task Force web site is up. It includes a description of the task force, profiles of members, glossary, link to a speed test, meeting notes and agendas.

I read the notes from the Aug 15. It read a little bit like the first day or school. There were introductions, talking about what was the goal for the project and discussion on the rules of engagement. One thing I found interesting was the discussion on transparency – how much of the discussion had to be public. Some seemed to feel all of it should be, some seemed to feel that there should be some room for private conversation.

The meetings are open to the public.