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What is DirecTV Selling?

Ostensibly this is a warning to set our parental controls – grandparental in our case. Looks to my jaundiced eye like a pitch for the pay-per-view porn channels in case we didn't realize "changes have been made."

The Return of Over the Air Television

Just ordered a TV antenna; who woulda thunk it? But it's not your father's rabbit ears. Over the air television even has an acronym now: OTA. OTA is digital; it can be higher def than cable or satellite. And it's free!

OTA is how I'll get my local stations once I take down the dish.

I thought I was going to get all my content on the Internet once I went dishless but now not so sure. The local newscasts I care about are only available as segments online and I enjoy watching the whole show. NFL games aren't available online at all. The series we watch happen to be mainly CBS and are available online but they disappear after a couple of weeks or have to be purchased; possible but I'm not sure why I'd want to do that.

It's also not a good use of online bandwidth – at least the over-the-air bandwidth from my wireless ISP– to stream video as a regular thing. Real high def is simply too much to receive in real time with today's wireless ISP technology; even lower definition puts a big strain on ISP resources, which will, at some point, justify differential pricing. I wouldn't mind paying somewhat more for better service but it does seem an inefficient use of radio spectrum to have millions of different streams of the same show at slightly different times when the show can be broadcast once to everyone who is interested in it.

Not that I intend to watch shows when they're actually broadcast. Tivo and other DVRs freed me from the tyranny of the broadcast clock long ago. Assuming that the antenna works well, I'll buy an OTA-compatible DVR so that our favorite shows will be available when we want to watch them.

Finding out what kind of antenna to order and where to point it is easy. You fill out the form below on antennaweb.org. You'll get a chance to drag your house to a more exact location on a Google map if needed.

The web site then tells you what over-the-air stations are available to you (there were more than I thought), how big and fancy an antenna you'll need, whether you can use an indoors antenna or will probably have to go outside, and which way to point the thing for which station. Fancy antennas come with a remote to rotate them in case all the stations you want aren't on top of one nearby mountain as they are for us. There is even an OAT antenna device coming soon for the iPad and iPhone.

Certainly we'll be getting some shows over the Internet or on DVD which aren't on local TV. No Vermont stations carry the Mets, for example. But looks like over-the-air TV will be part of the mix for cordcutters and dishdroppers.

Will let you know more about our experience with it when I get the antenna installed.

Related posts:

DVR Dies; Wii and Netflix to the Rescue

Cutting the Cord; Dismounting the Dish

DVR Dies; Wii and Netflix to the Rescue

"If rebooting doesn't work, call customer service" is what the diagnostic on the blue screen says. Rebooting doesn't revive the DVR, so I call. Mary and I have already settled into the room with the big screen TV and the exhaust fan and lit our cigars to catch the last episode of the first season of Damages.

"Please tell me the reason for your call?" the robot asks.

"Diagnostics code 14-143," I say.

"The movie has not begun yet," says the bot. "Would you like to order now?"

"That's not what I called about," I say. "The DVR is not working."

"Would you like to order now?" the bot asks implacably.

I hit zero on the key pad.

"I don't understand your reply. Would you like to order now?"

I hit zero ten more times punctuated by profanities directed at the bot. One behavior or the other gets me a live agent, who, after determining that I am not having a nice day, transfers me to tech support. Bottom line, after tech support also determines that I am not having a nice day: the DVR is fried; a new one will be sent to me at no charge with a return mailer for the old one. No, there isn't any way to recover the saved content on the DVR's disk. Have a nice day.

Wonder if the DVR knows I'm working through a check list for taking down my dish? Wanted to reject me before I reject it?

We know we can download the missing Damages from Amazon but don't want to wait for that. We already lit our cigars. Besides, I still haven't gotten the HDMI to DVI adapter I need to make my PC work well with the HDTV.

But the Wii Mary uses for exercise is already plugged into the TV. We remember that daughter Kate once told us we could watch Netflix on the Wii. Have been meaning to try that. Sure enough, the Wii has a Netflix channel, which apparently popped up during an upgrade. When we select it, we get a code that we have to enter into Netflix on a PC to prove that the Wii is entitled to stream from our account. The Wii tells us that it can't show us the movie we select because "our account isn't current". Rebooting the Netflix channel on the Wii takes care of that and a queue of movies we've ordered from Netflix but not yet received via snail mail is available for streaming.

We still have slow DSL (on our checklist for upgrade); but the streaming didn't work badly. The Wii built up a buffer before starting to show us anything. There were three or four pauses during the movie to rebuild the buffer when our connection apparently hadn't delivered the content as fast as we were consuming it; but they were no longer than commercial breaks and less annoying. An onscreen progress meter reassured us that something hadn't just frozen. Stop and backspace with the Wii remote controller worked as expected.

Naturally we have now downgraded our $16.99/month 2 DVDs out at a time plan from Netflix to $7.99 "Watch Instantly Unlimited". In our case, since we don't watch more than a couple of videos per month, Netflix is probably losing net revenue. With heavy watchers, Netflix saves a bundle by having them move to streaming only.

We can also download and stream videos from Amazon on an ala carte basis. If Amazon ends up with a better selection of the movies we want than Netflix or is better at suggesting to us what we might want to watch, we may cancel Netflix altogether. Amazon can't currently be streamed to Wii; on the other hand Amazon supports both download and streaming while Netflix is streaming only. We don't usually watch movies more than once, but downloading is helpful to make sure there are no annoying pauses while you watch and in case you want to watch offline, on a plane for example.

One obstacle to cutting the cable or taking down the dish is the profusion of alternative in home entertainment sources and, so far, the need to use several sources to get all the content you want and to learn how to use each source. Cable and satellite have the advantage of one stop shopping. We didn't try Amazon Instant Video until we forgot to record episodes of a show we wanted to see and need a way to get them back; we didn't try Netflix on Wii until the DVR died. But cable and satellite companies are suffering from record numbers of defections and Netflix, according to the Huffington Post, has become the largest source of peak evening traffic on the Internet. Clearly it's gone beyond just we nerds switching to Internet-delivered content.

Related posts:

Cutting the Cord; Dismounting the Dish

 

The Super Bowl and the Future of Wireless

I'm sulking about the Jet's defeat and not watching the Super Bowl, but almost everybody else in the country is. Of course people are watching on bigger and bigger screens; but they also want to watch on the small mobile screens of tablets and smart phones. Turns out to be one of the few times when old technologies are better than new ones. And gives us a clue towards how radio spectrum will be used in the future.

Radio spectrum which used to be reserved for broadcast TV is being reassigned for use as two-way wireless spectrum. Some of the spectrum is being auctioned off; some is being made available for unlicensed use (white space), which is really exciting. It's not really that anything has been taken away from broadcast; it's just that digital signal allows broadcasters to squeeze much more content into a smaller space in the broadcast spectrum.

In the future the demand for general purpose spectrum will keep growing – think again of all those smart phones and tablets – and the need for broadcast will continue to shrink as more and more people use the Internet to access their entertainment even on the big screen in the family room. Ever since the invention of the VCR and then DVR, we no longer all watch the same thing at the same time – except for events like the Super Bowl or the freedom virus spreading to the streets of Cairo.

Since there are relatively few events we want to watch in real time, it's tempting to say (and I have been saying it) that broadcast will just give up all spectrum and all content will be delivered over the fixed or mobile Internet. The fixed Internet can probably handle that as fiber moves further and further out into the hinterland; traditional cable delivers over 200 channels at the same time to our houses already. But, even with the exciting applications that will develop in white spaces and further advances in squeezing more signal into less and less bandwidth, there will be too many of us trying to watch real time events in high definition or even 3-D on mobile devices for the available mobile bandwidth. Carriers will limit us either with high pricing or bandwidth throttles. and they'll have good reason for doing that throttling.

Which is where we get back to broadcast. When one-way broadcast technologies are used, it doesn't matter how many people are watching a single event; it only has to be broadcast from enough repeaters to cover the geography of watchers. The transmitters can use high power and be located far away from the low-powered receivers because the receivers, unlike cell phones, don't have to be able to transmit back.

So here's what I think'll happen. Terrestrial TV broadcasters will be incented to give up all of the spectrum they occupy today. Those frequencies are too good in terms of range and penetration to be used for the relatively small number of people who'll be watching over-the-air TV at any one time. Satellite technology will change so that small non-directional antennas (like those in tablets and smart phones) can pick up the signal which today requires a directional dish. This may mean using more of the available spectrum for each "channel", but there won't be as many channels as today because most content doesn't need to be real time. Our small devices will have not only WiFi, maybe LTE, Bluetooth, and whatever protocols are developed for white spaces – they'll also be able to receive the satellite channels in a broadcast protocol. Big TV screens will receive the same signals (note we don't need cable then, either). We may pay for the Super Bowl by subscription or per show or it may be ad supported; but there won't be an airtime charge because there is no incremental bandwidth burden imposed by each watcher.

Hope your team wins this year. Next year it's the Jets.

Related posts:

Go White Space, Young Person, Go White Space

Daddy, What's a Channel?

 

 

Cutting the Cable; Taking Down the Dish

People are dropping their pay TV subscriptions. According to an article in The New York Times, cable, satellite and telecommunications subscriptions for entertainment during the third quarter of 2010 declined by 119,000; it was the second consecutive quarterly decline. Although the economic situation indubitably has something to do with the decline, the third quarter of 2009 – when times were even worse – saw a gain of 346,000 subscribers.

Ian Olgeirson, a senior analyst at SNL Kagan, is quoted in the NYTimes story as saying that it is "becoming increasingly difficult to dismiss the impact of over-the-top substitution on video subscriber performance." In other words, people are increasingly obtaining their entertainment ala carte over their Internet connections. Most of the online content is free; some is ad-supported; and some requires a subscription or pay-per-view. Some of it is user-created as in YouTube; but some is very professional including first-run TV shows and Major League baseball (MLB.com).

This ala carte trend is an enormous threat to the profits of big cable companies whose profits depend on the huge margins they can get by buying content from studios at a low price based on tremendous volume and then selling us bundles of channels - only a few of which we really want. These profits have also shielded the big cablecos from effective competition; small cable operators, telcos, and ISPs don't have the buying power to get the content at a price which allows any profit on resale, even with bundling. The studios and sports leagues who originate content are still reserving the bulk of the their first-run material for distribution through the cable and over-the-air networks because they are afraid that over-the-Internet access will leave them in the same sorry state as the record labels. The content producers also know that true retail competition will eventually lead to unstoppable pressure to reduce the wholesale price of their products. Comcast has gone so far as to buy NBC Universal (regulatory approval pending) to try to assure its lock on content.

Former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin "suggested" that cable companies allow us consumers to buy channels ala carte and not require us to buy bundles consisting mainly of unwanted channels in order to get the few channels we do want. Choice is good and I'd like to have this option. But this begs the question of why we have to go to cable companies to buy this content at all.

Michel Guite, President of Vermont Telephone (VTEL), aided by a huge stimulus grant and loan, is building a high speed fiber and LTE network in Vermont. Knowing he'll have the bandwidth, he would like to be able to compete with the cable companies in selling content to subscribers but is realistic about the chokehold the cablecos' current relationship with the content gives them. In a letter to subscribers quoted by Jim Louderback in Advertising Age, Michel says that these subscribers should have "the right to pay for individual TV channels for $1, or $2 or $3 each"; he hints at legal action to obtain that right. Michel, who is a visionary, has explained to me that VTEL would like to compete as a reseller of these unbundled channels. In practical terms, it is difficult for ISPs to compete with cable companies to offer broadband service since the cablecos have the near-monopoly benefit of being able to offer content at high markup as part of their bundle. VTEL can offer content if it wants; but, not being national or huge, it can't make a profit on the content because it can't buy it cheaply enough. Unbundling would cut the cableco profits AND presumably leave the producers of content scrambling to find resellers – good for competition and good for VTEL.

In this, however, I don't think Michel Guite's vision goes far enough. Why do we need channels at all? It's individual shows or series or sports teams that we watch. And why do we need a network operator – whether an ISP or a cableco – to resell content which can be sold directly to us by its owners or through aggregators like Hulu or Netflix? Certainly we need high quality access networks – like the one that VTEL is building and like those that many cable operators have – to provide the bandwidth to bring the content to us. And surely we'll pay more for a fast and reliable network that delivers the content we want at the speed we need (always increasing) and deliver mobile as well as fixed access. But, IMHO, we won't buy the content from the operator of the physical network. VTEL will be able to compete with Comcast; not because VTEL becomes a content provider but because Comcast loses its lock on content profits and becomes just another access provider.

In the pre-Internet days, access providers like AOL did buy and package content as part of their service. Early Internet ISPs thought they would follow that model but didn't (too much content, too limiting). When we go to YouTube or Facebook or Amazon we don't say "mother, may I?" to our ISP. Even when we pay for Internet-delivered content – for example, The Wall Street Journal, The Rutland Herald, Major League Baseball, premium service on Hulu, we pay that money to the content owner or aggregator, not to our ISP.

This final disaggregation of content from access probably won't happen through regulation; it'll happen because of the self-interest of content owners and advertisers. People ARE cutting the cable and taking down the dish. People are already getting some of their content ala carte. In order to have the broadest possible reach, the advertisers, sports leagues, and studios will make more and more content available (not all free) on the Web. As an extra bonus to advertisers, ads can be targeted much more precisely to Internet users than they can to cable, satellite, or over-the-air viewers. We'll watch what we want when we want. VTEL will be able to compete with Comcast on price, quality of service, and mobility; and there will be even more content available for us to sort through.

Related posts:

WOW (about VTELs grant and network plan)

Daddy, What's a Channel?

Ten Telecom Tsunamis

The telecom industry five years from now will be unrecognizable. The creative destruction of the Internet broadly writ will be even greater than it has been in the last decade. The major telcos, the major television networks, and the major cablecos – if they still exist at all – will have very different revenue models than they have today. That's the good scenario. In the bad scenario the old business models are bailed out or saved by regulation to the detriment of consumers and society in general.

Here's a list of ten major drivers of change:

Universality

The driver of all drivers will be universal very broadband Internet access. Five years from now we'll all (except for those who choose to live off the net) have a minimum of 25megabit per second download speed (and that'll be the low end) when we're standing still. We'll be connected – perhaps at a slightly lower rate – when we're moving around, especially in our cars but also in planes and trains and on foot. That means that the next generation of communication services whether they be voice, entertainment, power management, information, health or something else can and will all be built assuming this universal connectivity. See here for why government should help accomplish universality sooner rather than later.

End of the Billable Minute

We won't pay for voice calls by the minutes any more than we pay for email by the word. This trend is already well underway, of course, with flat-fee VoIP based services, "free" VoIP-VoIP calls, and unlimited minute plans; but last mile monopolies have managed to keep minutes billable on many international and most mobile calls. Universal IP connectivity for both residential and mobile users will complete the bypass of these last mile bottlenecks. There'll be no incremental charges for voice, just monthly connectivity plans for bits of any sort. Gory details on why we still have billable minutes are here.

End of Copper POTs

The recession is accelerating the abandonment of landline phone service currently running at better than 10% per year. Without a major breakthrough (which could happen), copper-based DSL won't be good enough for the bandwidths we'll all need in a year or two. Line loss along with displacement of voice calls to VoIP (see above) will shrink revenue earned by the copper network, which has served us long and well, so that the carriers can no longer afford to maintain it even though it will still have many users left. That may be a mess. More here.

End of the Channel

The channel is a left over concept from the days of over-the-air TV. It's convenient for marketing reasons but not technically necessary for cable and satellite companies to deliver a set of channels; they could offer single shows or series ala carte. Today they choose not to except for events they can get a good premium for – pay-per-view. But The Internet is essentially ala carte and the Internet will deliver our entertainment, business model tbd. There may be bundles of content available both to facilitate choice and for economic reasons but children will ask "Daddy, what's a channel?" It's likely that the cablecos will convert most of their bandwidth to support generic very high speed Internet access instead of carving it up for channels.

End of Over-The-Air TV

As we know from the recent flap over the now-postponed switch to digital TV, there are people who still watch TV over the air. But the number keeps shrinking and, as more and more of that same content is available on the Internet and more and more people have sufficient connectivity (see above) to receive that content from the Internet, the economics of over-the-air TV will become prohibitive even though the broadcasters don't have to pay for the spectrum they use. It's not that the local stations'll disappear (at least I don't think they will); they just won't have antennas attached to them. The stations may be able to get a boost by subleasing the spectrum they used to use for over-the-air for generic Internet access. We'll probably end up paying people $40 each for boxes to attach their old tv sets to the Internet.

Open Spectrum

After a rocky start, the white space experiment which the FCC decreed this year will be an enormous success. This open spectrum will be extremely valuable both for fixed and mobile Internet connectivity. More open spectrum will be needed and will become available as TV goes off the air (see above). Why open spectrum is so important is here.

Bandwidth Demand

The price of providing bandwidth either over the air or through a fiber goes down roughly with Moore's law. Every year and a half the amount of bandwidth that can be provided at a given cost doubles. This trend'll continue as we all demand more bandwidth partly in order to receive all the entertainment we used to get from dedicated networks and partly for new applications. Today's five meg connections will soon be as useless as yesterday's dialup as new bandwidth-hungry Internet uses are invented and become essential and as websites are built on the assumption of higher and higher bandwidth availability. See here for more on the bandwidth required to receive "television".

Online GPSes

It'll be no more than a couple of years until every car-mounted GPS is online whenever the car is turned on. We'll get and contribute automatically to crowd-based weather and traffic reports. We'll know how long the lines are at a local attraction before we get off the Interstate – and we'll buy our tickets before we get there. The billboards will literally be inside the car. This post is about an early GPS with connectivity.

Latency Intolerance

Latency is the time between when we send something on the Internet and the time when we receive a response. Interactive voice demands low latency; so do modern web pages which build themselves on your screen through a series of interactions. High altitude (geostationary) satellites cannot provide low latency because of speed-of-light limitations so they will not be a significant provider of Internet connectivity. Local Internet providers also have routing problems to and from the Internet backbone which contribute to latency. Some measure of expected latency'll become part of the marketing description of an Internet connectivity service. More on latency and satellite here.

Smart Grid

Electricity will begin to replace imported oil and gas for home heating and transportation and some other applications during the next five years. Our total electric consumption will go up. But the fossil fuel required to create that electricity will go down as the demand for electricity goes up. A smart grid which lets us better use baseline power from hydro, nuclear, wind, and solar will accomplish that near miracle. See The Smart Grid Should be Stupid.

Babysitter’s View of the Future

Grandson Jack went to sleep bravely with just a few complaints about the pain of teething. As babysitters do, Mary and I turned on the big screen… and watched the future of TV.

Like most young couples Hugh and Kate don't have a landline phone although of course they both have mobiles and use Skype Video to keep Jack in touch with grandparents who aren't in town. But Kate and Hugh also don't have any sort of network TV connection: no rabbit ears, no cable, no satellite. Their at home news and entertainment is all web-based.

The movie Mary and I watched was streamed from Netflix. 12,000 of Netflix' 100,000 total movie and tv show titles are available for instant viewing on a PC. That's not a huge collection but we had little trouble finding something we had missed and wanted to see. All but the cheapest of the Netflix plans for mailing-order DVDs include unlimited hours of watching streamed video. You can pause and backspace a movie which is being streamed but you can't (without hacking) save it.

The PC was hooked to the big LCD screen for good viewing from the couch. The movies are NOT downloaded in high def (presumably too big and slow for most Internet connections in the US today) and the presentation occasionally had brief freezes which could have been either transmission hiccups too big to be handled by the buffer or interference from some other process on Kate's Mac (my guess).

Kate and Hugh say they generally don't miss having a "real" TV connection except that they have to page through their news rather than have it being presented to them. I'm sure they'd be happy for a link to any web-based news shows. Kate's never watched sports on TV and Hugh's Irish so doesn't miss being able to watch the NFL or NBA. If he cared, he could pay to watch baseball on MLB.com.

As our bandwidth gets broader, our Internet connections'll become the only connections into our houses. Programming will still exist as will serial and movie production. The concept of the "channel" will simply disappear. Some sorts of aggregators will replace TV networks as places where we find stuff prepackaged to accommodate our tastes or simply as a place to buy content as Netflix is today. Cable companies will split into content providers accessible over Internet connections and physical providers of Internet connections giving access to all content. at&t and Verizon will find that they went into the "cable" business just in time to get out of it but can still benefit if they sell fast enough connections cheaply enough.

So, speaking of the future of entertainment, where did Kate and Hugh go while we were babysitting? The movies, of course.

Mobile Trumps Fixed Broadband – Comm Prediction #2

"80% of Web users will choose mobile broadband over fixed by 2013" is the headline of a Total Telecom interview with John Cunliffe of Ericsson. I agree with the conclusion although I think Ericsson will be unpleasantly surprised to find that LTE is NOT the technology which leads to this revolution.

Mobile access at speeds at least equal to what cable offers and at a price lower than today's cable broadband will be available both in the home and on the road within a year or two at the most. From the Total Telecom article:

"Cunliffe said that over the last 12 months Ericsson has been running LTE tests in Sweden. These have taken place in urban environment, with clear line of sight between the cell tower and the device for less than 40% of the time, while moving at speeds of up to 45 kilometres per hour.

"'We recorded peak speeds of 154 Mbps, an average of 78 Mbps, and minimum speeds of around 16 Mbps,' he said."

What'll drive this change? My friend Pip Coburn argues persuasively that change doesn't happen until there is a perceived benefit large enough to overcome the perceived pain of adoption of a new technology.

Online cars will be the initial benefit in buying high-speed mobile connectivity. I just got my first connected GPS. It's called Dash Express and can connect either through GPRS (low speed mobile data) or WiFi. Here's what's really cool: all the Dash Express units can communicate the current speed they are moving through their data connections and have access to the aggregate traffic reports of all the other units – talk about crowd-sourced realtime traffic reports. Wow! I know I won't get much useful information here in Vermont until penetration of these devices are higher but friends tell me it is already useful in urban areas where the company has apparently seeded units. You can also do Yahoo searches for anything you're looking for and find cheap gas, all using real-time data rather than a stored set of points which quickly gets obsolete. I'll write more about this when I have more experience with it.

High speed mobile data connections are about to become very cheap because of technologies like WiMax and LTE and, IMHO, even more importantly because of the FCC's action in freeing up the "TV" white spaces for unlicensed use. Now think of that GPS screen in the car. It's a lot bigger than the screen on your mobile phone; it's connected to the car battery so doesn't have to worry about battery life. It's going to have realtime video of traffic conditions, attractions you are passing, and is going to deliver entertainment – hopefully to the passengers. Of course there'll be another screen for the kids in back, already is in many cars but now it'll be Internet connected.

So we'll all need to connect our cars. Once we do that, we'll start to wonder why we need a separate connection for our house. It'll take us awhile to drop these where there already installed and working; but, when it comes time to upgrade for higher speed, we'll tend to switch to the mobile connection for home use as long as it's fast and cheap enough. For new subscribers the choice'll be easy: they'll just buy one connection.

Ericsson's customers are carriers so they think of how much easier it is for a carrier to let a customer self-install mobile than to make a house call for a fixed-connection: "Installation of a fixed connection into the customer premises is a nightmare for both the consumer and the service provider, compared to a mobile connection which self-installs and automatically connects to the network," Cunliffe says. We won't rush out and buy mobile connections to make life easier for carriers although easy installation will help bring the price down. We WILL buy mobile connections because the pain of being unconnected while in motion'll be too high and there will be little or no incremental cost for mobility and because they meet our need for high-bandwidth when we're sitting still.

Vermont Files in Support of Using White Space for Mobile Broadband Access

The Vermont Public Service Department and the Vermont Telecommunications Authority have joined in an ex parte filing at the Federal Communications Commission urging that the Commission “move expeditiously to adopt the necessary technical parameters … and help make this promising technology [use of the so-called ‘TV whitespaces’] a reality.” Given that the docket has been open since May of 2004, a little expeditiousness is certainly in order.

“TV white spaces” is the term used by the FCC but it’s a misnomer; no broadcaster has actually paid for any of the spectrum at issue; no one is using it; in short; it’s wasted. Originally, before cable and satellite TV and before the Internet, it was reasonably believed that this spectrum would eventually be occupied by a proliferation of over-the-air stations. That’s not gonna happen. Vermont has as much radio spectrum “reserved” for over-the-air TV stations as New York City – 50 channels worth. That “reserved” spectrum is not of any use to anyone and won’t be until the FCC promulgates some rules for its use.

The filing explains the many reasons why this spectrum is ideally suited to meeting the needs or rural America for much better broadband and cellular coverage:

“First, rural areas like Vermont have relatively fewer TV broadcasters and therefore more unused ‘white spaces.’ Moreover, rural communities also have the largest geographic areas without access to wireless services. Second, the ability of TV frequencies to propagate over great distances and difficult terrain provides an opportunity to reach locations too economically challenging for existing wireless services. Third, the use of TV ‘white space’ for the provision of rural broadband is an alternative means of accomplishing the Commission’s universal service goal of deploying advanced services to all areas of the nation without requiring additional funding mechanisms. In fact, the use of TV ‘white space’ could actually decrease the demand for universal service funding at a time when the level of funding is facing heightened scrutiny.”

The filing makes clear that the petitioners do NOT think that this spectrum should be auctioned off at a high price. The greatest public good will come from making these public resources available “at low or no-cost to those entities willing to utilize them for such purpose [broadband and mobile access].”

It will take the concentrated political power of rural America to free up this spectrum to meet the rural need for better communication. But this isn’t urban vs. rural; urban areas also have something to gain from better spectrum availability and nothing to lose.

Not to over-dramatize but I see this as the public interest vs. entrenched communications interests. The TV industry would like to sit on this spectrum without paying for it “just in case”; they also may be worried about Internet use of the spectrum becoming a competing “channel” for delivering entertainment. Traditional communications carriers benefit from LACK of competition in the US broadband market; they have no reason to want to see competition growing like weeds (or, more accurately, like WiFi) in fields of open spectrum.

Google and other “Internet” companies do have an interest in keeping their paths to the consumer unblocked; competition would be good for that. This post is about a proposal Google has made for putting the unused white space to work.

Disclosure: My wife, Mary Evslin, is Chair of the Vermont Telecommunications Authority.

Happy Hour

Next Tuesday, Feb 5th, I'll be a guest on the Happy Hour show hosted by my friend Cody Willard (2d from left). The show is on FoxBusiness Network every weekday from 5 to 6 PM; appropriately, it's broadcast from the Bull and Bear Bar in the Waldorf Astoria. Below is an episode from last week.

Note: If you can't see the video below, link here.

Even if your local cable or satellite network doesn't carry Fox Business (DirecTV channel is 359, not on Dish) all segments from the show are available as video at www.foxbusiness.com. Trick is to go there, click on VIDEO in the horizontal menu bar, then scroll down to the Search for Videos box in the middle of the new page (don't use the search box at the top of the page), enter "Happy Hour", and click Search.  Each segment (guest) of each Happy Hour show is then accessible. Since it's broadcast live (and then, again, at 11 PM) the segment obviously won't be on the web until after it appears on the air but they do seem to go up almost immediately after they happen.

Don't know quite what we'll talk about but Cody is good at making almost anything fun and puncturing pomposity in guests. Hope you'll join us on TV or on the Web. BTW, you can rate the segment on the web. If you come to the bar, we can have a drink and you can tell me how I did in person.

Now on Kindle!

hackoff.com: An historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble

CEO Tom Evslin's insider account of the Internet bubble and its aftermath. "This novel is a surveillance video of the seeds of the current economic collapse."

The Interpreter's Tale

Hacker Dom Montain is in Barcelona in Evslin's Kindle-edition long short story. Why? and why are the pickpockets stealing mobile phones?

Need A Kindle?

Kindle: Amazon's Wireless Reading Device

Not quite as good as a real book IMHO but a lot lighter than a trip worth of books. Also better than a cell phone for mobile web access - and that's free!

Recent Reads - Click title to order from Amazon


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