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

Estonia going wireless in a big way

The former Soviet satellite Estonia has embraced WiFi, according to a BBC report. Admittedly, Estonia is small--smaller than some larger counties in this country, but that's a clue that this is can be done at the local level.

The country has more than 280 WiFi hotspots (how many does your county have?) covering more than two-thirds of the country, and every hotspot has an attractive and easily identifiable blue and orange sign. Here in the United States, you find hotspots in urban areas by looking for chalkmarks on the sides of buildings--not exactly a well-organized economic development strategy.

As entrepreneurs, business owners, tourists, and families drive through your community, can they easily find WiFi hotspots? Good signage is good marketing, as the signs effectively shout out, "We're connected here....we get it."

But the article gets better. Estonia's government has wholeheartedly embraced technology, with government meeting rooms fully wired and broadband enabled (again, can you say the same about your town or county supervisors?). And here is the money quote that should send chills down the spines of economic developers who still think their job is bricks and mortar:

...."You don't need to invest in an office anymore," Haamer says. "You have an idea, a computer with a wireless card, and a space to work (at a cafe with wireless). You can use your time more efficiently."

So if there is a trend (and there is clearly a trend in Estonia) to move away from bricks and mortar offices for business, how do you measure business activity in your community? It's a conversation you need to have.

Technology News:

A Model Technology Council

The Redwood Technology Council may well be the best example of a successful Tech Council in the United States. The work that the RTC is doing gives me hope that it is possible to develop, run, and sustain a regional tech council. Located in the Eureka/Arcata area of northern California, the RTC is trying to overcome rural isolation, create jobs, and get more fiber and broadband options into the region.

I had the privilege of giving some workshops at their annual Tech Expo, and while I was visiting I learned a lot about their activities. The RTC's most significant achievement was to break a permitting logjam that had prevented the phone company from bringing fiber to the region. The Tech Expo, a two day technology fair that showcases the products and services of local firms, attracts thousands, and is especially notable because they offer workshops and seminars to the public throughout the event. And it's practical, useful stuff, like how to use Photoshop, which was jammed. The number and variety of booths was terrific, and I found two vendors that had products I had never seen and am likely to buy.

In fact, the RTC is doing many of the things that community networks do, and the group is well-positioned to do much more. Most interesting of all was their clear focus on appropriate leadership. They cheerfully admitted it took them a little time to develop a board and group of volunteers that were truly dedicated to making the community better. This sounds simple, but a lot of good efforts get derailed by people who have hidden or not so hidden agendas. Knowing that happens and working to prevent it from killing the organization is a stellar example of true leadership. The Eureka region is fortunate to have the Redwood Technology Council.

Technology and grape tomatoes

I may sometime seem a bit negative about the challenges we face in the United States and the urgency of learning to compete not with the next county or the next state, but the next country. This article on the difficulties Europe faces may provide a bit of balance.

Briefly, the author describes the potential difficulties a European businessperson would face (in this case, introducing a new kind of tomato) in getting a new product to market. We're still better than anyone else in the world in changing course, making corrections, identifying the right feedback, and zeroing in what needs to be done.

Technology News:

U.S. is falling behind in science education

A widely covered story in the New York Times (registration required) talks about how the U.S. has already lost its dominance in science and engineering research, publishing, and patents.

Like it or not, K12 education is becoming an economic development issue. What keeps coming up over and over again in business attraction and retention (especially in rural areas) is workforce development and the need for workers with appropriate Knowledge Economy skills.

Like so many other problems, waiting for the Federal (or state) government to solve this, is, I think, futile. We simply need to start doing what needs to be done on a local level, where we can actually plan and implement changes in a reasonable period of time.

Great examples of what is possible includes Terry McGhee's terrific Growing Digital program at Danville Community College, and Orange County's nonprofit Hornet Technologies. The Hornet Technologies program led to a business incubator project and more jobs in an otherwise rural and isolated area of Virginia. Both were started on a shoestring by brilliant individuals who had the support and trust of higher ups. That's all it takes.

California is starting to "get it" on voting machines

California is a state slowly coming to its senses on the issue of electronic voting machines. An article in the SF Chronicle describes the recommendations of a statewide panel looking at potential problems with the popular touchscreen voting machines. Nationwide, local officials have spent millions on the equipment based entirely on the promises of the vendors, which clearly have a conflict of interest. It would be rare indeed for a vendor to tell a potential customer that their equipment has multiple security and validation issues.

In California, the state panel has recommended a ban on purchasing more machines until the security issues are resolved on the machines already in use. They have also recommended having paper ballots available at all polling places in case the machines fail. And some machines did fail in the March primary, leaving an unknown number of votes uncounted--imagine if that happened during a Presidential election. Finally, the panel has also recommended that the machines provide an auditable paper trail for all votes.

The problem inherent in electronic voting systems is that if the machines have been compromised or have software bugs, there is literally no way to know unless there is some physical redundancy (i.e. paper records). Public officials who claim, as they did in the Chronicle article, that they did not experience any problems, are whistling in the dark. Without a paper trail, there is no way to know if they did.

Is Google going to pop?

The San Francisco Chronicle is one of many papers covering the impending Google IPO. I've written extensively on Google, and I still expect the stock to be grossly overpriced, because Google is overrated. Not as a search service, but as a company. Google's two recent forays into other services, the controversial Gmail and the quickly aborted Friendster-style social software indicates that the company has much work to do. It is almost beyond belief that the company thought Gmail's instrusive scanning of private email would not cause protest, but apparently they did. Google's Friendster imitation lasted all of two weeks and disappeared quickly because of massive security holes, which indicates Google is not immune to a common disease in the IT industry--the "we don't need to test our software because we got it right the first time" syndrome.

Finally, Google does not have a monopoly on good results from a search engine. Try Gigablast. The Google IPO could encourage investors to free up cash to fuel innovation in the IT industry, which has been starved for cash since the dot-com bubble burst. That would be a good thing. But it could also set off a new round of fanciful businesses based on the same arrogance and hubris that created the last bubble.

Technology News:

New Palm PDAs continue convergence trend

PalmOne, the company formed from the merger of the old Palm company and Handspring, has announced new PDAs. The high end model is notable because the built in camera is a 1.2 megapixel, meaning it is actually useful as a camera, rather than as a novelty. In addition to all the usual organizer features, it has a voice recorder feature, can create Word and Excel-compatible files, and plays MP3 music files. It costs $299, and you'll need to invest at least $50 in a memory card to make it useful, so it's pretty pricey, but you do get a camera with it.

We're not really there yet, though, with respect to a truly useful device. Even with more memory, you can't store much music on it, and the 1.2 megapixel camera is where digital cameras were about 1995--low quality. Here is the dilemma: if you need a higher resolution camera, you still have to lug a camera around with you. If you want more than one or two albums to take on a trip (and you usually do), you need a much bigger MP3 player, like an iPod. And you still need a cellphone. So you have at least three devices strapped to your waist or stuck in your suit pocket or purse, along with all the usual charges, cables, and spare batteries. How do you avoid looking like a dork?

PalmOne's Treo, which includes the PDA functions, a camera, and the cellphone comes closest, but the first generation device has the usual growing pains. User reviews online are mixed at best, but the next generation of that device is likely to be much better.

Technology News:

Bush calls for broadband

President Bush came out strongly for broadband yesterday, and called for a permanent tax ban on Internet services. Bush also seemed to recognize that more regulation is not the way to get more broadband alternatives; let's hope that the FCC was listening, as the agency seems reluctant to let go of the legacy taxes and regulations.

Phone number registry completes the puzzle

Stealth Communications has announced the ENUM registry, which will allow VoIP providers to complete calls without going through the public switched telephone network (PSTN). When a VoIP called completed, it usually goes over the "old" telephone network at least part of the way. In turn, the VoIP provider has to pay an access fee to the network owner (e.g. Verizon, SBC, Qwest, etc).

The ENUM registery is a free service that links a VoIP telephone number with the IP address where the phone is plugged in, so the VoIP provider can simply look up the called number in the registry and send the voice packets straight to the IP address of the receiving phone.

This sounds simple, and it is. But it is critically important, because it provides a way to build a "pure" VoIP global voice system without ever using the old switched system. It's the last piece of the VoIP puzzle.

Technology News:

Don't count out fiber

There is much interest in wireless systems right now, and rightly so. Wireless broadband is inexpensive and a great way to get people a broadband alternative quickly. But many of those wireless hotspots still need a wired connection to the Internet, and most homes and businesses will want both--it's not either/or. Fiber is going to be needed for high definition television, high quality videoconferencing, and network backups, among other bandwidth-intensive applications.

The good news about fiber is the falling prices. LENOWISCO Planning District, one of the nation's leaders in community fiber initiatives, was budgeting $30,000/mile a year ago for duct/fiber installations. Today, their cost is about $8500/mile, due in large part to the falling cost of fiber, which is now about the same price as copper. Fiber switches and Ethernet interfaces are also much less expensive than a year or two ago, so the overall cost of fiber to the home and fiber to the business systems is lower.

Communities that are rehabbing downtowns with new streets and sidewalks should be adding telecom duct and pullboxes to create high tech downtowns that will attract white collar businesses. It's inexpensive if you already have paving plans and/or are replacing the sidewalks. Those new streetlamps, benches, and brick sidewalks are not going to bring new businesses in....but low cost, high capacity broadband delivered by fiber will.

Technology News:

Pages

Subscribe to Front page feed