Exploring the impact of broadband and technology on our lives, our businesses, and our communities.

Online subscription math does not add up

Substack is becoming increasingly popular as a place for a wide range of commentary and information, often in what I would call "long form magazine style" writing, or basically longer articles with deeper dives into whatever the topic of the article happens to be.

However, most Substack sites are behind a paywall, and $60/year seems to be a very popular subscription fee. But if you are interested in several different sites/authors, at $60 a pop you can be spending hundreds of dollars a year very quickly. Most of these sites don't include any advertising (part of the appeal of Substack), so they are entirely supported by their subscribers. As this kind of approach to online publishing matures, it will be interesting to see which business model wins out in the end: many subscribers paying a small fee (e.g. $12/year), or a few subscribers paying a much larger fee (e.g. $60/year).

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Privacy has value

I have maintained for years that privacy has value. It has value to the person or organization who owns their data, and that value can be monetized. Organizations like Facebook monetize in an unfriendly way, selling everything they know about you to the highest bidders. There is no "opt out" option; if you want to use Facebook, you are the product.

But there is another way to monetize privacy. NoteTrac is a new app that offers the typical note-taking and to-do list type features that many other apps offer, but they encrypt everything and promise to sell nothing. I think we will see more services and apps like this as people become increasingly uncomfortable with being the product for Facebook, Instagram, and similar apps.

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Just when you think you have heard it all.....

In Design Nine's planning study work, we began to notice that about three years ago, many ISPs, especially the cable Internet companies, no longer provided any information about upload speeds. They started doing this to help hide the fact that their upload and download speeds were highly asymmetric. This was a marketing ploy that worked fairly well when few people were trying to work from home and there were few distance learning students.

The Covid crisis everything, with huge numbers of people working from home or trying to take classes from home suddenly realized that SYMMETRIC bandwidth was actually important.

Most fiber networks, like the kind that WideOpen Networks designs and builds for our municipal and private sector clients, have symmetric upload and download speeds baked into the network design, and equal upload and download speeds are typically offered at no extra cost.

Now Comcast has come up with an interesting new approach to providing better upload speeds: They are going to let you pay extra for better upload speeds! Amazing! I'm sure that will make their customers very happy.

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Too much fiber in the U.S.?

Here is a guy who thinks we have too much fiber. With even the cable companies reluctantly beginning to deploy fiber in some markets, this has to be an article written to support the wireless industry. The write also suggests the useful life of fiber is only about twenty-five years. He may be basing this on the IRS allowable depreciation schedule of 24 years, but a quick Internet search will turn up many first hand reports of fiber cable operating successfully for thirty years or more.

While the glass fiber does have some very slow signal deterioration, advances in network electronics have been able to not only keep older fiber cables working but actually expand capacity, usually by orders of magnitude.

What the article does not tell you is that broadband and cellular wireless networks require much more frequent upgrades, typically nearly total replacement every five to seven years.

Fiber is still a terrific investment, and yes, it does future proof your community.

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Is the metaverse a dud?

I have paid about as much attention to the metaverse as I have to the price of Xbox games, which is to say, none at all. This is an interesting story about what is described as "a sandbox environment that allows users to buy and sell virtual real estate." Whoa! Be still my beating heart! Why just yesterday I was thinking, "I don't have enough to do in real life, so I'd like to go into a virtual world and pretend to buy and sell fake real estate."

Who came up with that idea? And the proof that it is, well, stupid, is that the article indicates only 38 "active users" bought and sold fake real estate in a 24 hour period. Aside from the fact that I have no idea who would pay to "play" that kind of game, and I use the word "play" somewhat ironically, how do you make money with an app like that? Virtual bill boards running ads in your virtual real estate world?

The future is stupid, and getting stupider.

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How a dial telephone works

Someone dredged up a video from my old employer AT&T about how to use the new-fangled dial telephone. Made in 1940, it is quite entertaining. You can skip to the 10 minute mark to get to the instructions on how to dial a phone. It's quite a statement to think that AT&T thought this was needed. On the other hand, in 1993, as we rolled out the ground-breaking Blacksburg Electronic Village, we spent a lot of time instructing people on how to use a mouse. We should have videotaped some of those sessions for posterity.

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Starlink speeds slow down

As many of us expected, Starlink speeds have slowed over the past several months. As the service has added more users, the Starlink network is starting to show traffic congestion.

There are two parts to the Starlink network: satellites and ground stations. The low earth orbit satellites connect to customer dishes, and also connect to Starlink ground stations, where customer traffic gets placed onto the terrestial Internet. Network performance can be improved by adding more satellites (each satellite can handle only so much traffic) and/or adding more ground stations.

Starlink says it is adding both satellites and ground stations, but the popularity of the network has created the slow downs. How bad is it? Starlink is still an excellent alternative to DSL, dial up, and most terrestial wireless, with current users indicating average download speeds of 62 Meg and average upload speeds of about 7 Meg.

I got an upload upgrade!

Our cable provider for our home Internet just sent us a notice telling us we were getting a free upgrade upload speed. It will be going from "...up to 5 Meg" to a whopping "...up to 10 Meg!"

Wow! Color me excited!

Meanwhile, I have to drive back and forth to the office for evening videoconferences because I can't trust the cable Internet service at home if there are more than a couple of people on the conference call. I really don't think doubling it to "up to 10 Meg" is going to make much difference.

And notice that they are not promising 10 Meg. It's the old "up to..." mantra, meaning you might get the max speed if you get up at 2AM in the morning when none of your neighbors are doing anything.

Meanwhile, our Blacksburg fiber to the home project (wideopenblacksburg.net) is offering 250/250 Meg SYMMETRIC service for $65/month.

Why don't I have that service? We live outside of town on the side of very rocky hill, and it is going to take us a while to get fiber out there. The cable Internet was installed almost 30 years ago.

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A business gets fiber and the customers love it

We recently hooked up a rural bed and breakfast just outside of Blacksburg. The B&B is in a beautiful setting but also happens to be on a rural leg of our Gig fiber network. They had formerly struggled with sub-standard DSL Internet connectivity for residents. Once they had the Gig fiber installed, they found that people were staying longer because they could actually enjoy the getaway and get some work done while they were there.

Even more interesting was the fact that their mid-week bookings increased. Formerly they had trouble getting people to book stays during the week because of the poor connectivity, but with our very fast fiber Internet, business videoconferencing works great there, as well as file uploads and downloads.

Fiber can be a real game changer.

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Starlink is not a replacement for fiber and terrestial wireless broadband

We get calls every week asking if Starlink is going to eliminate the need for terrestrial broadband solutions like rural fiber and fixed point wireless broadband.

The short answer is, "No."

Starlink is a substantial improvement over traditional geosynchronous orbit satellite Internet (e.g. Hughesnet, Viasat), but it is still going to have much higher latency than terrestial wireless, and its bandwidth will never get close to Gig fiber.

This article indicates that Starlink performance (still in beta testing) is highly variable. Starlink promises that latency and bandwidth will improve as it adds more satellites. But more satellites will also mean more users, and that bandwidth is shared.

This article discusses problems the Starlink customer equipment is having with overheating in Arizona--and perhaps other places. The article also estimates that Starlink will likly only be able to service a maximum of about 1% of the U.S. Internet market.

For rural residents that are stuck with slow DSL or low performance geosynchronous satellite services, Starlink is going to be a big improvement. Here at Design Nine and WideOpen Networks, we see Starlink as part of a toolkit of solutions. But it is not "the solution."

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