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

Apple's Augmented Reality software very near

Apple announced the availability of its new augmented reality software for the iPhone and iPad at its recent Worldwide Developers Conference. The software kit enables third party app developers to place computer-generated information over real-time images. For example, map information could be superimposed over a live camera feed on an iPhone pointed out the front of a vehicle.

The recent Pokemon Go craze is an early example of augmented reality, and while it is likely that gaming apps will be early users of Apple's new technology, we'll see many other applications and uses as more developers begin integrating the software into their apps.

Here's why bricks and mortar retail is shrinking

I needed a halogen bulb for an under-cabinet light in the kitchen. I spent more than an hour traveling to three different stores, including two big box home improvement stores, and never did find the bulb. I did notice that similar bulbs were selling for about eight dollars.

Once I got home, I looked on Amazon. I found the bulb I needed, in a four pack for twelve dollars, or about $3/bulb instead of eight. I have an Amazon Prime subscription, so the bulbs will be delivered to my front door in two days.

In the bulb hunt, I easily burned up two or three gallons of gas, or more than the cost of the bulb. It's more efficient to buy some things online. And as a side note, Walmart is giving Amazon a run for it's money. Something that was out of stock on Amazon I recently found on the Walmart Web site for 30% less, and got two day free delivery without having to pay for an annual subscription. Competition is a wonderful thing.

Work from home continues to increase

In our work, we are seeing steadily rising numbers of people trying to work from home part or full time. In both the public and private sector, many businesses and agencies now routinely allow employees to work from home one or two days per week, which can have a huge impact on transportation spending. If most commuters stayed home to work just one day a week, you are looking at taking 15% or more of cars off the road, reducing road wear/maintenance, reducing traffic congestion, and shortening commutes.

One rarely discussed challenge is that few homes have the kind of "business class" broadband needed to work efficiently from home. The most common complaint we hear is "I can't use my company VPN from home." The low bandwidth DSL connections don't provide enough capacity, and the highly asymmetric cable Internet services and their highly variable bandwidth play havoc with VPNs.

We're designing and building new, modern networks designed specifically to support work from home and business from home activities. Our work in communities like Bozeman, Montana (www.bozemanfiber.com) is bringing world class, business class networks with true competition to areas of the country that have been largely ignored by the incumbents. Bozeman's community-owned network has five (5) service providers competing for customers.

Is LinkedIn dying?

LinkedIn may not be entirely dead, but in the past several months, I've received nothing but "business friend" requests from sales people and consultants trolling for business. LinkedIn has enabled "lazy" sales work. Just browse LinkedIn for keyword matches for whatever you are selling, and then send a "link" request. I turn them all down.

I was a very early LinkedIn user, and have yet to find it particularly useful. I've never let it have access to my address book, and I rarely use it reach out to people I already know--email and the phone are far more efficient.

LinkedIn is basically Facebook for business people, and aside from the news feeds, it does not offer me much functionality.

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Death of TV: Part LXXVII: Is it really over?

I've been writing about the death of TV since 2005, and twelve years later, the body may be finally in rigor mortis, or close to it. YouTube has announced a $35/month TV service that includes Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, Disney, and....ESPN. It's ESPN that may finally break the back of the traditional cable subscription business model. We've heard very consistently that a lot of residential customers have not given up their cable or satellite subscription because they want to watch sports. YouTube seems ready to give them a viable option.

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Bio-diversity on the Internet is a good thing

Bio-diversity on the Internet is a good thing, just like bio-diversity in the real world is a good thing. The Amazon S3 failure yesterday caused major disruptions in a lot of Internet services, particularly on the east coast of the U.S.

As companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google hold and manage every-increasing portions of Internet content and services, the potential for an service outage to cause major disruptions becomes greater as well. Technology fails, and it is dangerous for any company (or individual) to keep all data in one "basket." There is still nothing safer than a couple of external hard drives, stored in two different locations (e.g. not your business or your home) with your valuable data. Putting it all in the cloud puts it all at risk.

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Virginia communities defeat the death star bill

In a clear sign that the incumbent telephone and cable companies are playing a long game in their fight against competition, a draft bill began circulating in the current legislative session in Virginia.

It was quickly dubbed "the death star bill" because it would have made it nearly impossible for Virginia localities to make any investments in broadband infrastructure. Purportedly, the intent of the bill was to protect taxpayers from "wasting" public money on broadband infrastructure. But it had many restrictions that seemed very similar to the restrictions passed by the North Carolina legislature some years ago.

But Virginia has a wide variety of communities that have already made substantial investments in bringing competitive broadband services into their mostly rural areas, and there was rapid mobilization to fight the bill.

According to ars technica, the bill was replaced by a different bill that only codified some bookkeeping transparency requirements--the rebels won again.

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"Twisted Pair Preservation Act" in Virginia

Eldo Telecom has a wry sense of humor. He has called a draft piece of legislation circulating in the statehouse in Richmond, Virginia the "Twisted Pair Preservation Act."

It's black humor at its best, because the bill would make it very difficult for local governments in Virginia to make any kind of investment in telecom infrastructure, even if the infrastructure was offered on a wholesale basis to private sector providers and even if the locality stayed out of offering retail telecom services.

To me, the interesting thing about this bill is what is not being said out loud:

The incumbents are very fond of claiming that all muni telecom projects are poorly managed, financial catastrophes waiting to happen, and a waste of money.

But if they are right, why would they waste their lobbying dollars to outlaw something that doesn't work?

This is the dog that did not bark.

The community broadband projects obviously scare the heck out of the incumbents, because *distributed ownership of infrastructure* breaks the 100 year monopoly on telecom that they have had. It's been a nice ride, but it's coming to an end.

Competitive broadband is not really about getting government involved at all. Government participation is a means to an end, it is not the end goal. The end goal is distributed ownership of telecom infrastructure, and that could be a whole variety of public and private players, including customers themselves.

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The day the InnerTubes jumpted the shark

This weekend, while I was busy wasting time watching a Youtube video, there was an ad for a WiFi-enabled slow cooker.

I'm not sure what bothered me more: the ad showed a guy in a car using his smartphone to turn on the slow cooker--he looked like he had just won the lottery; or the fact that a cooking pot has WiFi built in.

I suppose someone is going to buy the things, but the idea that you now have a cooking pot, subject to extremes of heat and moisture, with electronics built in sounds like a recipe for rapid failure of the circuit board. And then you have a pot that does not work. I have had the same slow cooker for more than twenty years. It has no software, has never needed an upgrade, does not have an IP address, has never been part of the Internet of Things, I can throw it in the sink to clean it, and works every time I plug it in. I've never thought, "Gee, I wish this had WiFi."

Next up: A news report that the Russians have hacked two million slow cookers and are using them to crash CIA servers with Denial of Service attacks.

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The decline of the Web

As our portable devices become more common and more powerful, the Web is being wrecked by the blight of ads. I see this both with browsers on computers but also and especially on the portable devices, where the pop-up and pop-over advertising not only obscures the content but is often impossible to get rid of. On a smartphone, and I don't care how big the screen is, the little 'X' or "Close ad" button is so small as to be unusable.

It is now ordinary to visit a site and then leave within a few seconds without reading anything because the ads are so difficult to get rid of.

'Free' content, of course, is not really free. The people and organizations running these sites have to pay the bills somehow, but I think we are on the wrong side of a downhill slide, where ads are about to overwhelm the content (and on some sites this is already true).

What I find most disappointing is the commercialization of the Web. There was a time, in the nineties, when creating and maintaining a Web site was easy enough for almost anyone. But the complexity of managing even a basic site is staggering. Tools like Wordpress and Drupal have become so complex that they have become textbook cases for becoming the problem they were developed to solve.

So we all go to Facebook, which has done a good job of making it easy to have a "page" for a community group or some special interest/hobby. But is it really healthy to have the entire world using a single platform?

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