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

RIP, Gene Crick

A giant of the community broadband movement passed away a few weeks ago of a heart attack at his home in Texas.

Gene was a dear friend and I am now very glad that I was able to have dinner with him this past April at the Broadband Communities conference in Austin.

The article provides a summary of Gene's influence and his accomplishments better than I ever could. I met Gene in the nineties at one of the Association for Community Networking meetings. We became fast friends and I spent many days in Texas working with Gene over the years. Gene's passing is a reminder of the other giants of community networking we have lost, including Steve Snow and Steve Cisler.

Today, more than ever, the original goals of community networking remain fresh and largely unfulfilled. With the rapid commercialization of the Internet in the late nineties and early 2000s, most community network projects closed their doors, and the industry viewed the whole effort as largely unimportant.

But the hegemony of Facebook, Google, and the many other commercial enterprises that have largely ignored privacy considerations and created information service monopolies, independent, privacy-protecting community-focused services are critical to preserving our privacy and our freedom.

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5G has limitations

This Ars Technica article is unintentionally funny if you have been following the 5G hype. Verizon is installing 5G systems in thirteen NFL football stadiums, but the distance limitations of 5G means in these Verizon installations, you won't have 5G service in some parts of the stadium.

Verizon can always add more access points, but then the cost goes up. 5G is going to be expensive and it is going to be a long time before it is as widely available as the current cellular network.

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Lost AirPods: A First World Problem

According to this story, so many New Yorkers are losing AirPods in the subway that it has become a major issue for subway maintenance workers, who are often called to retrieve them from the subway rail tracks.

The tiny cordless ear buds apparently fall out of a user's ears easily in the sweaty hot environment of the subway. One woman bought a broom and duct tape to create a make shift "sticky stick" to retrieve her AirPods.

The first time I saw AirPods, my immediate thought was, "Those are going to be too easy to lose or misplace." And apparently I was right. One person in the article claims they have lost "ten pair" of AirPods. That is somewhere between $1600 and $2000, depending upon what model he has been buying.

The over-use (yes, over-use) of ear buds is really dangerous. On the way home from work last night, I encountered someone jogging along my side of the road, back to oncoming traffic, with earbuds plugged in. Not only should they have been on the other side of the road, but they could not hear oncoming traffic. And in this college town (Blacksburg), I constantly see students riding bikes with earbuds--ditto on not being to hear traffic around them. For these people, has listening to music become more important than their own life? Apparently so.

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Who is listening?

Without providing personal detail, I have had two incidents this week where an email and a separate conversation both resulted in emails the next day from Amazon suggesting that I guy products related to the email and the conversation.

The email was sent to several people, and two of them were Gmail accounts, so I think it is logical to assume that Google is scanning all gmail messages and passing stuff on to Amazon--Google has admitted as much.

The conversation had to be overheard by an iPhone, which is far more creepy. Apple likes to tout their commitment to privacy, but they are apparently still allowing third parties to activate the microphone and listen in to conversations.

There is really no escaping this, and I have very reluctantly come to the conclusion that a solution probably requires Federal legislation. These technology companies appear to have no shame at all about completely destroying personal privacy.

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Are reforms to Form 477 coming?

Broadband Breakfast has a story on the FCC's proposed changes to the way broadband availability data is collected on what is known as Form 477.

ISPs complete a Form 477 every year, but the data has often been unreliable for several reasons, but the biggest problem has been that if a single address in a census block is "served" by an ISP, then every address in that census block is deemed served. In many rural areas, this cuts off large areas from being eligible for Federal and state grant funds.

The proposed changes include requiring ISPs to indicate where they have service, and eliminating the use of census blocks. Crowdsourcing data (e.g. self-reported speed tests) have also been proposed.

The changes are badly needed, and will benefit many rural communities.

Gig fiber was and is a big part of Danville, Virginia's renaissance

James Fallows writes in The Atlantic about the amazing success of Danville, Virginia. Fallows identifies Gig fiber as of several key factors in the renaissance of the city. Other factors included a local foundation that took a long view of community revitalization and the opportunity to tap Virginia's tobacco settlement funds to build infrastructure like the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.

Design Nine worked closely with City officials to help develop and build the Gig fiber network, and in my view, another key factor was a small group of City and regional officials that were determined to make a difference--true visionaries. In 2006, when we first began working with the City on developing the fiber network, it was not at all common for municipalities to make fiber broadband investments. And it was even less common to build a municipal open access network. Danville was the first muni open access network in the country (multiple providers offering offering a wide range of competitive services).

Give us a call if you want our help bringing that kind of success to your community.

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I'm back

The Technology Futures Web site has been moved to its own domain (technologyfutures.info) and has been upgraded. The old news site was using very old blogging software that needed substantial upgrades and security improvements. I've been blogging for nearly twenty years, and it turned out that safely moving thousands of news articles was by itself a major effort.

I will resume writing more regularly now.

Best regards,
Andrew Cohill

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Finally, a home assistant that protects privacy

Someone has finally identified the market opportunity to sell a home assistant that protects your privacy. Devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home are sending everything that happens in your home to the Amazon or Google mothership: what music you listen to, what you are talking about, what programs you watch, what you buy....everything. Apple's HomePod also sends everything to Apple for processing, but Apple has a much stronger commitment to protecting customer privacy than Amazon and Google (the latter two don't really promise any privacy protection).

The Mycroft Mark II "Open Voice Assistant" is similar to the other devices in function, but the software uses open source code and more importantly, personal information is not uploaded to a corporate database.

I think we will see more "open" devices like this as people slowly begin to understand the extent of the data collection going on with the corporate devices.

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5G: Hype and disappointment

Here is a good, very readable article that tries to dissect the hype around 5G without dragging you down into the weeds with a lot of arcane technical data.

The short version of the article is perhaps summed up best by a quote from Former FCC Chief Michael Powell: 5G is "...25 percent technology, 75 percent hype."

Deploying "true" 5G is going to take a lot longer than most of the articles would lead you to believe, because it's not just upgrading radios on existing towers. To deliver 5G in a specific area and provide widely available service requires adding lots of small cell sites on shorter utility poles, lamp posts, and anything else the carriers can strap some ugly boxes to. And that takes time.

And as I have noted before. Most 5G cell sites require FIBER connections to enable the over-hyped, over-promised bandwidth. Fiber is the current and future king of broadband.

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Where is all the bandwidth going?

Our use of bandwidth has been doubling every two years since the commercial use of the Internet started in 1993. Depending on whose statistics you believe, it may be doubling every eighteen months. It can't keep doing that forever, but these days, the 25 Meg down/3 Meg up defined by the FCC as "broadband" is setting the bar quite low.

One of the problems is video advertising. Visit almost any Web site in the Internet that carries ads, and you are bombarded with self-playing video. Some of the video ads are embedded on the page, and you have to find some tiny little 'x' to stop them. But the worst are the pop-up videos that follow you from page to page on a site. If you read a three page news article, you might see six or more video ads.

If you don't keep clicking away to get rid of them, you might read a few kilobytes of actual content, while the video ads consume megabytes of data--orders of magnitude more data than the actual content you came to the site to see.

It's a mess, and more so in rural areas of the country where broadband service is very slow. And it is why wireless broadband, while critically important in the short term (the next five to seven years), fiber is the only thing that can tame the bandwidth monster.

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