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

Web site problems

We're experiencing some malicious hack attempts to our Web site, and have had to make some changes and upgrades. Right now some graphics are not displaying correctly, but we are working to fix the problems. Thanks for your patience.

The level of effort required to keep a Web site free of malevolent hacks has been increasing steadily for years, and is really ruining the Web as an "open" communications tool. If this keeps up, many smaller businesses and especially small non-profits and community groups will find it increasingly difficult to maintain a Web site with anything but a few "flat" pages of basic information.

Content Management Systems like Joomla, Wordpress, and Drupal are targets of relentless and extremely sophisticated attacks, and require specialized technical expertise to keep them clean.

One solution is to revert to "flat" Web sites using only plain old HTML--back to the early days of the Web, and not really in a good way.

The myth that wireless will replace fiber

AT&T has just announced another price increase for their cellular data services. They have increased the cost of their unlimited data plan from $40/month to $45/month.

But here is the most interesting thing in the announcement: "Consumers are using mobile data at record levels and the trend is expected to continue."

"...expected to continue" is the statement that indicates the folly of thinking homes and businesses don't need fiber and that the every distant "next generation wireless" is going to eliminate the need for fiber.

Applications and content continue to use ever-increasing amounts of data, and roughly every five years, the cellular providers have to replace all of their radios for the "next generation" just to keep up with demand. By contrast, off the shelf consumer grade Gigabit fiber equipment has massive capacity, and the fiber itself never requires an upgrade.

And all that mobile wireless access we want and need is powered by....fiber.

Technology News:

Why deploying broadband takes so long: Part I

There is a huge fight looming that is already begun in many localities, which involves the deployment of 5G cellular radio equipment. Both residents and localities are wary of the dramatic increase in the number of poles and towers that are needed.

There are various numbers floating around about the spacing for 5G cellular equipment, and they range from a low of around 500 feet apart to a thousand feet apart. Compare that to the current typical separation distance of 3G/4G towers of 1-2 miles.

The 5G equipment is smaller and can be mounted on existing light and traffic signal poles, and new poles can be shorter: thirty to forty feet, because the poles are closer together. But in urban and many suburban neighborhoods, that means a 40' foot pole with a bunch of boxes and antennas hanging off in the right of way, or what most people consider their front yard.

Visually, some of the deployments are just plain ugly, and there are concerns about radiation exposure with the microwave antennas so close to homes and businesses.

The cellular providers do not want to have to go through the traditional permitting process for what could be hundreds of poles in a single locality, with special use permits, engineering studies, and public hearings for every pole.

The localities, quite correctly want some say in what goes in community right of way. Hence the looming fight. The dilemma for all parties is the insatiable thirst for more mobile bandwidth, conflicted with the proliferation of infrastructure in undesirable areas. It's not going to be easy to solve this.

As an example of the often arcane permitting process, we recently had to place an eight foot wooden post in the ground to hold a small radio. The post was proclaimed a "tower" by the local planning department, which led to more than a year of challenges to get the eight foot wooden post approved. We eventually got it installed, but the process included an inspection of "tower footers," which was just about one bag of gravel in the bottom of the hole, and then a "hole inspection," and we were never really certain what they were looking for, but we could not drop the eight foot wooden post in the hole until the hole was inspected.

Local governments need to try to meet broadband providers half way, or we are going to see a continued push for state level regulations that remove all right of way authority from local communities. Everyone, public and private, wants improved broadband access, but how we get there is going to require an openness to compromise on some issues.

The tech giants are getting creepier than ever

Less than five minutes after I clicked on an Amazon link to look at a flashlight on sale, I got an email from Amazon saying, "...based on your recent activity, you may be interested in this other flashlight..."

Really? Is business so bad for Amazon they have to spam their customers? If they are doing this to me, they must be doing it to all their customers, so every day, they are sending out hundreds of millions of unsolicited emails.

These companies are abusing their customers, and it won't turn out well.

Technology News:

Knowledge Democracy:

The death of privacy

I have been writing about the dire threats to privacy for many years, and the recent disclosures about the extent of Facebook privacy abuses is, perhaps, finally raising more awareness that Facebook is not actually "free" in the sense that Facebook users don't pay a price. Facebook users pay with their personal information, not only when they register for an account, but every time they post anything. Facebook logs every single interaction, and has software AI that makes inferences about every post--what you like, your political leanings, what you eat, your hobbies, where you have been, both locally and on vacation. It never ends, what they are vacuuming up.

Technology News:

Knowledge Democracy:

Work from home continues to increase

This article on why Millenial workers quit their jobs has an interesting nugget of information half way down the page.

The ability to work remotely was also an important factor for 63 percent of Millennials surveyed, who said they might not be interested in future jobs if working remotely wasn’t an option.

Sixty-three percent of Millennials want to work from home! Put another way, two-thirds of the emerging work force expects to have business class broadband available in their home.

Technology News:

5G needs fiber

There is a tremendous opportunity for community-owned networks to leverage spare fiber by working with 5G cellular providers to identify where 5G small cell poles are going to place and getting fiber to them.

Technology News:

I welcome our robot overlords...

Two stories today suggest the future may be exciting, but not in a good way.

In Las Vegas, a driver-less shuttle bus had an accident less than a hour after starting service. No one was hurt, but the bus failed to notice that a large truck was backing up and failed to move out of its way.

In Germany, while the owner of an apartment was out late, his Alexa device (the Amazon "smart home" widget) turned itself on at 2 AM and started playing music so loudly it woke all the neighbors. Police couldn't get anyone to answer the door, so they called a locksmith to break in. They turned off Alexa, changed the locks, and left. The owner was stuck with the locksmith bill and no clue as to why the Alexa gadget did what it did.

5G wireless is going to deliver the promises

This article is long but readable, and it is a real eye opener. Many have been hoping that fiber could be ditched in favor of 5G wireless. The cable companies have been testing a variety of "5G" frequencies, and found that they all have significant shortcomings. The much-touted "...5G will deliver near Gigabit speeds..." turns out to be "mostly true" in a Billy Crystal "mostly dead" kind of way. If you are more than 150 feet from the tower and have any foliage in the way, the speed drops by about 90%.

The higher frequency millimeter wave systems are drastically attenuated by rain, snow, windows, and leaves. And yes, pine needles are still very bad.

In the next couple of years, expect to see some companies using the 5G radio systems to eliminate fiber drops from the street to the home--both Google and AT&T have been talking about doing this. But the short distances involved means lots of radios on the street, and to get the throughput up, you need those radios connected to fiber. And what everyone forgets is that everyone of those radios has to be connected to electric power.

We see that as a major issue. You need to get the radios as high as possible on existing utility poles, but that means putting them in the electric space, which raises the cost of installation and the cost of maintenance. If the electric service is underground, you have to install poles, which is also expensive.

Is the dumbphone now smart to own?

According to this article, some people are ditching their smartphones and replacing them with "dumbphones." The typical dumbphone offers phone calls and texting, and that's it. All of the distractions and "there's an app for that" are gone.

If this trend gets people back to using the phone to actually talk to people again, it would be good thing.

In other news, Apple's iPhone X, which costs $1,000, is selling like hotcakes. So I don't hold out much hope for the dumbphone trend.

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