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Be on the wave or under it™

The News – 09/24/02

In this Issue:

Recommended Reading

I realize this is the only newsletter you’ll ever need, but if you want more in-depth detail, check out:

Stan Hustad’s
The Coaching Connection

Management Signature's
The Express Read

Fiber to the Home? It’s Happening

The second part of the Why You Need to Get Hip to HIPAA series will appear in a future SNS

And they said it couldn’t be done. Well it not only could, it has been: Grant County, Washington, is running a Fiber-To-The-Home (whose acronym is the virtually unpronounceable FTTH) project that will offer, among other benefits, “lightning fast connections to the Internet, digital television including Video-on-Demand, and telephone service, which may include extended calling areas.” Holy Moley!

It’s called the Zipp Network (Zealous Innovators of Public Power), and it has already wired, among other county areas, the good folks who live on Electric Blvd. in Electric City (I am not making this up. Grant County does not include the nearby hamlet of Bagdad Junction, however.)

The Zipp Customer Care Team polled 6,400 households and businesses within the county and found that 78 neighborhoods or “hubs” met the PUD’s (Public Utility District) participation requirements for placement on the Zipp construction schedule. More than 2,000 customers were wired by this past April, making this one of the largest fiber-to-the-home construction projects in the world with more than 12,000 strand-miles of fiber. When complete the network will connect 36,000 homes and businesses over 47,000 miles of fiber at an investment of $120 million. The project is scheduled to connect 6,000 homes by the end of 2002. Construction will continue through 2005.

Despite some initial challenges with sound quality and synchronization, Zipp is now successfully delivering digital TV service from two separate carriers. Customers also have a choice of 11 Internet providers, but only one telephone carrier.

Not only do customers get a lot of choice, the services are cheap. Prices range from $21.95 to $30 per month. It’s also fast, 1500 KBps. Heck, the system even reads your gas and electric meters.

So what made all this possible? How did this rural county hard by the Grand Coulee Dam and 60 miles from Spokane do something that the huge, whiny telecom giants have been unable to do?

David Isenberg, in his SMART Newsletter, prints a letter from William G. "Skip" Malette, II that explains how an innovative law made this type of development possible in Washington State. Malette, a member of the telecommunications    committee of the Kitsap County Economic Development Council said:

Two years ago the Washington State legislature put into a law a provision to allow Public Utility Districts and Rural Port Districts to build fiber infrastructure as wholesale providers. As a result the state association of PUDs formed a non-profit organization to build and maintain a statewide backbone to link all the PUDs together. This backbone, known as NOANET, also provides a link the Internet at the primary interconnect in downtown Seattle. Most of the PUDs are electric utilities and can justify running fiber to the home as part of their operational needs. The biggest PUD in this effort is in Grant County and has done most of the pioneering effort.

In Malette’s county, Kitsap, the local water utility is the PUD and it recently lit a new publicly owned 33-mile fiber-optic connection. For FTTH, homeowners will fund the construction of the “last mile” through a Local Utility District (LUD), which makes a special property tax assessment. Property owners can pay off the assessment over as many as 20 years. Interestingly, the homeowner actually owns the resulting connection, which is a fabulous idea because it allows the property owners to set up a management structure through the LUD and retail to themselves, according to Malette.

Coe Hutchinson, fiber business manager at the Grant County PUD, expects an ROI of 15 to 20 years. “For a lot of private businesses, that can be pretty tough,” he said. “But for a utility that's used to investing in hydroelectric dams, that's pretty reasonable.” The PUD earns money by charging service providers: ISPs pay $15 a month for a 1 Mbps connection, while a 10 Mbps connection is $25 a month. The PUD has price scales for connections all the way up to a gigabit-per-second.

Other states are getting into the act, including the Truckee Donner Public Utility District in California. Irvine, California-based utilities company Competisys recently partnered with Schuler Homes to deploy a direct fiber Gigabit Ethernet connection to each new home in Schuler’s Poppy Meadows community in American Canyon, California. The utility’s HomeStream Direct-Fiber Gigabit Ethernet System uses Minerva Systems’ IP television headend. Gigabit Ethernet, at 1 billion bits per second, is significantly faster than the speed of the Grant County project, to say the least. South Carolina’s Horry Telephone Cooperative is also delivering services over FTTH.

In Minnesota, HomeTown Solutions signed a $2.7 million contract with Minnesota-based OpticalSolutions way back in May, 2000 to wire 1,500 homes and commercial buildings in tiny Morris, Minnesota., with OpticalSolutions' FiberPath system. The homes were to be wired even if homeowners and businesses had not yet signed up for the service. The service isn’t cheap, however, with 512Kbps costing $79.95.

In June, the wonderfully named World Wide Packets, a vendor in the Grant County project, held a conference entitled “Community Networks 2002: Negotiating the Path to Success” attended by 100 representatives of 70 communities. Incidentally, WWP has trademarked the term Fiber to the Subscriber™ (FTTS™), which is infinitely more pronounceable than FTTH.

Overseas, there’s lots of FTTH progress as well. NovaMedia is delivering live TV channels and Video-On-Demand (VOD) over Iceland’s widespread fiber network to almost 20,000 households. GoldTV, a provider of broadband television services based in Milan, Italy, is using an extensive Fiber-DSL network to deliver broadcast quality live television and VOD services to residences in the Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto regions of northern Italy.

There’s even an industry organization promoting “last mile” connectivity, although they term it, more properly, the first mile. Ethernet in the First Mile (EFMA) encourages the utilization and implementation of Ethernet to the home and works with the IEEE P802.3ah Task Force to develop standards. They’ve got a white paper that paints a much rosier broadband picture than the one we’re getting from the battered telecoms these days. Another industry organization, the Fiber To The Home Council, will host its first ever conference in New Orleans in October. The FTTH Council (FTTHC?) said in a recent report there are 50 communities in 16 states implementing FTTH.

So why doesn’t your house have a fiber connection? That’s probably a good question to ask your state public utilities commission and your legislature. I’ve written before about how ADC’s CEO Rick Roscitt is whining about the lack of a national broadband policy. Perhaps the real answer is a lot closer to home than Washington, DC. And perhaps the real answer involves empowering consumers and public ownership of the networks.

SMART Letter

Briefly Noted

  • Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: SNS is two years old! Pop a cork! See the Wayback Machine below for info on the first issue.

    I’ve put up the Nanotechnology Resources directory.

    Also, check out the article I wrote for the Taylor Harkins newsletter entitled, Do you hate your customers? It continues the theme from my earlier article, analyzing the media industry’s response to file sharing. My next article for them will be on Short Messaging Service (SMS), so watch for it soon.

    Finally, the CTOMentor wireless white paper, You Can Take It with You: Business Applications of Personal Wireless Devices, is available at ITPapers.

  • Yet Another Overwrought Jack Valenti Quote: In a previous SNS, I noted that Jack Valenti lacks a certain perspective on the whole file sharing phenomenon. It turns out that he has a history of histrionics. In testimony before the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Courts, Civil Liberties and the Administration of Justice on April 12, 1982, Valenti declared: “I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.” You gotta admit, that’s way more out of control than calling file pirating “an outrageous despoilment of precious assets.” Gee, the movie industry has made billions on videos played by those same VCRs. I guess the question is, is Jack over-reacting, or just overacting?

  • Audiences are built. Communities grow: The quote is from online pundit Clay Shirky. It’s from an article in his newsletter on how to build an online community. Shirky says, “There are few products or services people care about in a way that would make them want to join a community, and when people are moved to speak out about a commercial offering, it is usually to complain.” He then discusses how, while it may seem that media organizations have a leg up in creating online communities, in reality, much of what they do – edit, organize, push information – is not only irrelevant in the online community setting, but harmful to the idea of developing a community. Shirky gives these five things to ponder for broadcast media concerns who want to build online communities:
      1. Audiences are built. Communities grow.
      2. Communities face a tradeoff between size and focus.
      3. Participation matters more than quality.
      4. You may own the software, but the community owns itself.
      5. The community will want to build. Help it, or at least let it.

  • Really Throw Your Voice: Alert SNS Reader David Dabbs sends along an article about a potentially disruptive, and potentially really annoying, advance in the audio field: the Hyper-Sonic Sound System (HSS). Inventor Woody Norris has developed a system that can take an audio signal and convert it to an ultrasonic frequency that can be directed like spotlight toward a target up to 100 yards away. The device can be so tightly focused that only the targeted person can hear the sound. Think of how useful – and annoying – this technology could be: Not only would we get incredible home stereos, we’ll have to put up with vending machines that talk to you and other advertisements appearing apparently out of nowhere and exhorting you to buy, buy buy. It could be hard to separate the schizophrenics from the rest of us: Everyone will hear disembodied voices.

    The HSS technology electronically converts audible tones into a pair of ultrasonic waves at frequencies far beyond human hearing. When the ultrasonic waves interact – called interference – the result is the original audible frequency. The targeted person hears the difference between the two frequencies. Despite not having yet solved the problem of reproducing lower frequencies, Norris’ company, American Technology Corp., has started limited production, and prices are expected to range from $600 to $900 per unit.

    The military is interested in developing sonic “guns” that can incapacitate the enemy with 150 decibels of sound without deafening friendly troops. US Marine Capt. Todd Gillingham identified another military usage as well. “For instance, it can send the tape-recorded sound of a tank or explosion to another area to throw the enemy off,” he said. “I don’t know about us acquiring this technology in any large quantities at this point, but I do think it has great potential.”


The Wayback Machine – A Year or Two Ago in SNS
SNS: Enlightening and Frightening for a Fifth of a Decade!

The lead article in the September 18, 2001 SNS was Can Freedom and Security Coexist?, which reacted with alarm at Attorney General Ashcroft’s requests for sweeping abridgements of freedom in the name of security. A quote from that article sums up what I still feel about the topic: “Personally, I’m sick to death of the usual response I get when I bring up potential threats to freedom like this. The average person responds, “I’ve got nothing to hide, so I don’t care if the authorities can [wiretap my house, search it without a warrant, confiscate my nail clippers at the airport, read all my email, know whenever I travel on the tollway, and so on]. My usual response is to point out that the listener is not a criminal, yet. Until recently, it wasn’t a crime to post a link on your Web page to a site that hosted software to break copy protection schemes. Today it is a crime. So you’re not a criminal now, but in the future you could be criminalized.”

The article speculated that biometric security company Visionics stood to do well in the current security environment. A year later, the company has merged with Identix (Nasdaq:IDNX). The new parent company’s stock price is up 50 percent since a year ago, when it doubled in the wake of 9/11.

Ho hum. Another Microsoft-Caused Catastrophic Virus reported on the then-new Nimda worm, which surfaced that day. By the end of the day, more than 100,000 computers had been affected. Today, according to Symantec, there are still more than 35,000 Nimda-related attacks occurring every day on corporate networks despite the ready availability of antivirus fixes. On the one hand, Nimda contributed to a higher level of security awareness. On the other hand, how effective has this heightened awareness been if we still are seeing tens of thousands of attacks each day?

Cracker Cracks Islamist Extremist Web Site reported on the practice of hacking Islamic extremist sites. A cracker hacked a German site and published the email addresses of subscribers on a Swiss site. Today, so-called hacktivists are active on both sides with more activity seen from anti-American groups. Here are a few active hacktivist groups:

  • USG (Unix Security Guards) - an anti-Israel alliance responsible for 87 overt attacks since May 2002 including an attack on three online computer systems hosted by the AOL Time Warner network, all running the FreeBSD operating system, on September 8th.

  • WFD (World's Fantabulous Defacers) - a Pakistani alliance of 12 member groups responsible for 445 overt attacks since November 2000

  • AIC (Anti-India Crew) - a Pakistani alliance founded in July 2001, responsible for 422 attacks to date

The CEO of security firm mi2g, DK Matai, said hacktivism posed one of the biggest risks to business and government computer systems.

Two years ago SNS began with a different format than today. The early issues featured brief article summaries with pointers and very little gasbag rhetoric. The very first article was Will the last one onto the Web please turn on the light? It reported that a few Fortune 1000 companies had yet to put up a Web site. Disintermediate this! was about the myth of removing the middleman as an Internet business model. Boy, was that one prescient! Getting Your Marketing Program off the Ground referred to an article about the difficulties of building brand on the Web. Here a click, there a click . . . examined how the fading concept of Internet incubation had attracted investments by IBM, Anderson, and Microsoft in a startup called Enfrastructure. Enfrastructure has survived, although Internet incubators have pretty much gone the way of the dinosaurs.

In a further testament to the impermanence of the Web, none of the article links from that first SNS still work. Two years is a lot of Internet Time.


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In the unlikely event that you want more of my opinions, I’ve started a Weblog. It’s the fashionable thing for pundits to do, and I’m doing it too. A Weblog is a datestamped collection of somewhat random thoughts and ideas assembled on a Web page. If you’d like to subject the world to your thoughts, as I do, you can create your own Weblog. You need to have a Web site that allows you FTP access, and the free software from This allows you to right click on a Web page and append your pithy thoughts to your Weblog.

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In Memoriam

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March 14, 1928 - July 5, 2003

In Memoriam

Jane C. Ellsworth

July 20, 1928 - July 20, 2003