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Broadband-Enhanced ‘Smart Grid’ Provides Energy Savings and Enhanced Economic Development

in Fiber/Gigabit Networks/Smart Grid by

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2013 – High-speed broadband is the key to optimizing energy usage, said Graham Richard, CEO of Advanced Energy Economy, at Thursday keynote speak at the annual Better Buildings Summit sponsored by the United States Department of Energy.

Richard, the former mayor of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, described the advanced energy industry as a highly meaningful economic opportunity, noting growth rates that dwarf those of many other industries. The intersection of energy with the internet appears to be especially promising.

“Some have predicted that this opportunity is greater than the opportunity of the internet economy to date,” Richard said.

Richard recognized a number of cities that have carried out successful programs to optimize energy efficiency, with EPB Fiber Optics of Chattanooga, Tennessee, among the most successful.

Chattanooga created a “smart grid” system utilizing an ultra-high-speed gigabit-per-second broadband network consisting of thousands of smart switches and meters. Among many other functions, the network allows them to reroute power almost instantaneously when power lines go down.

Richard cited the case of a particularly severe outage during which power was restored within six minutes. Authorities estimated that they would have taken about four hours to restore power under the previous system.

Such functions have clear economic benefits, he said. Businesses are no longer hindered by significant power outages. Additionally, the smart grid system has reduced electricity rates for consumers.

Richard also emphasized the importance of collaborating with the private sector in establishing more energy efficient cities. He noted how useful private investments could be in building green energy infrastructure.

Such relationships are mutually beneficial In that the local economy benefits from green energy in the form of greater employment, reduced environmental impact, lower energy use, and business growth.

During the eight years that Richard served as mayor of Fort Wayne, he implemented a number of programs to save energy and create jobs, and he was named Government Leader of the Year by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

The Better Building Summit, subtitled “Unlocking the Clean Economy,” aims to provide resources for state and local leaders to implement more energy efficient policies in their communities. The event included speeches and panel discussions of various strategies for implementation.

According to Richard, integration of the internet is crucial for such implementation and has the potential to bring about significant improvement in energy.

“The world will run on secure, clean, affordable energy,” he said.

At the Broadband Breakfast Club, We’ll Explore ‘What Can Gigabit Do for Me?’

in Broadband Data/Broadband's Impact/FCC/Fiber/NTIA/Wireless by

May 15, 2013 – Gigabit-level connectivity is all the rage. It seems that everyone is asking, What Can Gigabit Do for Me?

More and more companies and communities — from established communications companies to new market entrants — have announced plans for deployment that cross that psychological Gigabit-level threshold.

But its also important to ask: from a consumer perspective, what’s the difference between being able to receive 1,000 Megabits per second (or a Gigabit, on other words), and the ability for a consumer to receive 100, 200 or 300 Megabits per second?

The 100+ Mbps club includes many of the nation’s major cable operators, including Comcast, which has effectively deployed DOCSIS 3.0 across its entire national broadband footprint. This next-generation cable modem technology enables at least 150 Mbps of download speeds. Even that number, at 150 Mbps, is far more than that for which consumers have found the need.

Among established telecommunications companies, Verizon’s Fiber Optic Service is now available at speeds of up to 300 Mbps. Those kinds of speed are now available to more than 13 million consumers in nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, plus parts of Florida, Texas, California and the District of Columbia.

As the National Broadband Map has demonstrated, broadband speeds and availability have been steadily increasing over the past four years. This is due to DOCSIS 3.0, to FiOS, and to a dramatic uptick in the adoption of the wireless LTE technologies.

When it comes to the fastest speeds, wireless plays second-fiddle. And cities across the county that want the maximum bang for their buck in economic development are flocking to Kansas City — the site of Google Fiber’s first Gigabit class build — to see what lessons they can learn.

Following in the footsteps of the Broadband Communities conference last month in Dallas; and the Schools, Health and Library Broadband Coalition in Washington earlier this month; two weeks from now the Fiber to the Home Council will convene in Kansas City around the enticing theme, “From Gigabit Envy to Gigabit Deployed.”

At the next Broadband Breakfast Club in Washington, on Tuesday, May 21, we’ll also consider the theme of the Gigabit Nation. Here’s our twist on the subject matter: How different is Gigabit-level connectivity from 100 or 200 or 300 Mbps-level connectivity?

While cities like Kansas City, Chattanooga and Lafayette, Louisiana, have built Gigabit Networks, are they getting anything more for their troubles? Or will the label “Gigabit” simply be the latest telecommunications fad to pass through?

Perhaps one key answer lies in the realm of applications development. What high-bandwidth applications are necessary to make a Gigabit City work? And how can lessons learned in one city be shared with others?

We’re very excited about the panel of experts that we have assembled for the Broadband Breakfast Club on Tuesday, May 21:

  • Sheldon Grizzle, Founder & Co-Director, GIGTANK in Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • Kevin McElearney, Senior Vice President, Network Engineering & Technical Operations, Comcast Cable
  • David Sandel, President, Gigabit Communities and Smart Cities, Sandel & Associates
  • William Wallace, Executive Director, US Ignite
  • Scott J. Wallsten, Vice President for Research & Senior Fellow, Technology Policy Institute

More information and registration is available at http://broadbandbreakfast.eventbrite.com. I’ll be moderating the discussion next Tuesday, and I look forward to seeing you at the Broadband Breakfast Club in Washington!

Expert Opinion: Broadband Adventures in Wunderland: The (Expensive) Myth of Competition

in Broadband Stimulus/Broadband's Impact/Expert Opinion/National Broadband Plan/Universal Service by

The National Broadband Plan won’t do jack until more folks in Wunderland acknowledge and aggressively address one stark truth – broadband competition is mostly a myth, expensively maintained through lobbyists, think tanks and easily-influenced politicians. Until we get meaningful competition, a significant part – though mercifully not all – of Wunderland’s policies will result in dabbling around the edges rather than a meaningful advancement of broadband in the U.S.

Case in point: the misguided attempt by some of Wisconsin’s state legislators to prevent their state universities from using federal stimulus money to advance broadband is purely about AT&T clawing to maintain its near monopolistic hold over broadband there. In this and other states’ legislatures we see cable and telco duopolies roadblocking federal and local efforts to get communities the broadband they want and need.

Counterproductive legislation is just one element of the fallout from a lack of competition. High prices, low network service quality, abysmal customer service and just plain lack of access plagues many rural and urban communities. Furthermore, policymakers’ dreams of a future in which broadband enriches the U.S. economically or otherwise are on shaky ground without the pressure of real competition to force/entice buildouts of networks capable of delivering on those dreams.

Incumbents and their apologists are loud and swift proclaiming the industry, particularly mobile broadband, is “vibrant” in its competitiveness. They shout, “we’re a veritable font of innovation!” (accompanied by loud chest thumping). They repeat that mantra “almost every America has dozens of providers from which to choose,” I guess – assuming we easily confuse quantity with quality.

Let’s look at the reality of broadband competition. You have to tear away two curtains hiding the man at the PR controls.

First, just because there are a lot of providers in a state doesn’t mean you have competition that leads to better broadband for a better price. Last year I partnered with data analytics firm ID Insight to release an analysis of competition within all 50 states based on data from millions of Internet users nationwide. We ranked the states based on how closely the market share of their respective top 10 competitors came to 10 percent for each competitor. The viability of competition depends on more than market share, of course, but we took this approach to give the discussion of competition some context and consistency.

Even in the 10 states where the competitors are most evenly matched in market share, as you go down the list the combined market shares of the top three competitors moves into the high 70s. In Michigan and Iowa, states that ranked 21 and 22 on the list, the combined market share percentages of the top three competitors break solidly into the 80s.

In state 24, Wyoming, and on down the list we have what are pretty much duopoly states. The top two competitors’ market share percentages collectively are in the mid 70s moving toward the 80’s (often one’s a wireless and one’s a cable provider, and it’s questionable they really compete with each other that much). For the bottom five states (Delaware, Colorado, Maryland, Hawaii and Rhode Island), their duopolies range from 89 percent to 95 percent market share.

If you practice the fine art of rational thinking, you’ll be hard pressed to believe that 60 or 70 providers in a state means you have anything resembling “robust” competition if 50 or 60 of them are fighting for 15 percent of the market. Drill down to the county level and often you don’t even see three or four of the top ten providers. Sometimes two, occasionally just one, at which point their market share is even greater.

It’s at this local level you find frequent stories such as this from Sibley County, Minn. For more than two-and-a-half years, these communities pleaded with providers to partner with them, offering incentives that included most of the network’s sales revenues. They offered to put up the money to build the network. Yet the best broadband these towns currently receive is DSL service at 256 kilobits per second (Kbps) downstream and 128 Kbps upstream. However, let one competitor pop up on the scene offering fiber services, these incumbents fall all over themselves with special offers and high speeds. We see it happen time and again.

Here’s where you yank away the other curtain around the competition myth. To do so, you need to get into the market and the mind of the people who actually pay for and use what passes for broadband services in their area. Wunderland is fixated with broadband adoption, but many folks miss the boat completely when it comes to broadband utilization. Utilization means using broadband to perform tasks and run applications important to economic development, education, job skills improvement, delivering better medical services, etc. It matters little if you adopt a broadband service that’s inadequate for the utilization needs at hand.

In numerous areas competition is low or effectively nonexistent when you look at how few Internet access providers have any meaningful clout within those areas. But when you look at the more important question of, can a community get broadband that’s sufficient to do the tasks deemed important for its economic enrichment, you see the true lack of competitive forces. Slip out from under the debilitating influence of industry lobbyists with their fairy tales of robust competition and spend some days visiting communities and listening to their stories.

Over 130 communities, such as Chattanooga, Tenn., own their own broadband networks, plus communities that have formed co-ops and nonprofit entities to run their networks. Look at the collective benefits Chattanooga’s gigabit community network offers its constituents (part 2 of the story here). You see that achieving communities’ various economic dreams requires a lot of broadband capacity, but competition to provide this kind of capacity is nonexistent in so many parts of the U.S. That’s why several thousand communities (not hundreds, thousands) are champing at the bit to be like Chattanooga, Powell, Wyo., Ontario County, N.Y., Santa Monica, Calif. and the others. They want to provide the competition that addresses utilization, not just adoption.

More people in Wunderland have to grab this bull by the horns, or some other vital area, and kick it in the butt. People need to take a two-by-four and beat back these attempts to undermine and circumvent programs that fund broadband efforts that introduce much needed competition. Let’s see some profiles in courage and toss this AT&T/T-Mobile merger out the back door. Encourage (incentivize) companies like Google and Corning to partner with communities to put fiber infrastructure in place. If you’re going to do more than just pretend to reform USF, take that $4 billion that comes directly out of taxpayers’ pockets and put it into communities to solicit and fund the best solutions they can find someone willing to provide.

Either we get serious about competition or we stop pretending we’re serious about broadband.

Craig Settles is a broadband business strategist, marketing expert, author and internationally renowned speaker.  Craig helps organizations use broadband technologies to improve government and stakeholders’ operating efficiency, as well as local economic development.

 

 

 

 

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