Off the Top: Broadband Entries
This week I was down in Raleigh, North Carolina to speak at National Extension Technology Conference (NETC) 2008, which is for the people running the web and technology components for what used to be the agricultural extension of state universities, but now includes much more. This was a great conference to connect with people trying to bring education, information, and knowledge services to all communities, including those in rural areas where only have dial-up connectivity to get internet access. The subject matter presented is very familiar to many other conferences I attend and present at, but with a slightly different twist, they focus on ease of use and access to information for everybody and not just the relatively early adopters. The real values of light easy to use interfaces that are clear to understand, well structured, easy to load, and include affordance in the initial design consideration is essential.
I sat in on a few sessions, so to help tie my presentation to the audience, but also listen to interest and problems as they compare to the organizations I normally talk to and work with (mid-size member organizations up to very large global enterprise). I sat in on a MOSS discussion. This discussion about Sharepoint was indiscernible from any other type of organization around getting it to work well, licensing, and really clumsy as well as restrictive sociality. The discussion about the templates for different types of interface (blogs and wikis) were the same as they they do not really do or act like the template names. The group seemed to have less frustration with the wiki template, although admitted it was far less than perfect, it did work to some degree with the blog template was a failure (I normally hear both are less than useful and only resemble the tools in name not use). [This still has me thinking Sharepoint is like the entry drug for social software in organizations, it looks and sounds right and cool, but is lacking the desired kick.]
I also sat down with the project leads and developers of an eXtension wide tool that is really interesting to me. It serves the eXtension community and they are really uncoupling the guts of the web tools to ease greater access to relevant information. This flattening of the structures and new ways of accessing information is already proving beneficial to them, but it also has brought up the potential to improve ease some of the transition for those new to the tools. I was able to provide feedback that should provide a good next step. I am looking forward to see that tool and the feedback in the next three to six months as it has incredible potential to ease information use into the hands that really need it. It will also be a good example for how other organizations can benefit from similar approaches.
Comments are open (with usual moderation) at this post at Getting Info into the Field with Extension :: Personal InfoCloud.
Today I made a call that was really tough. I canceled my Speakeasy DSL account. A few weeks ago the we upgraded to Verizon FIOS (fiber network) to get much faster internet service for less cost. The switch removed the copper wire coming to the house (although that may not be fully the case due to some law suits brewing against this practice - the copper may have to be put back for free if the case wins or is settled and Verizon is cutting their potential losses making it easy to reconnect).
Giving Up Customer Service
In making this switch I gave up one of my favorite customer service relationships I have ever had, which was with Speakeasy. Every time I have needed to call Speakeasy, which was not often as their service was nearly perfect in the nearly six years I used them, they were polite and were very helpful. In one occasion they suggested an option that would save me money. They also applied the lower rates to my service when the rates dropped. They have acted just like you wish every company would act. They treat you like a valued customer at every turn. They look out for their customers interests, even it if is making less money. For me Speakeasy would win my business if they could compete on a level playing field.
Verizon the Painful
I have had horrible customer service in the past from Verizon, with customer service agents flat out lying (their upper managers later apologized in each case and said it was not normal practice, only to have it happen the next call). But, with getting an oder of magnitude (10x) or faster internet for a third of the price, it was a really tough call. Before we even got the service installed we uncovered Verizon had signed us up for services we did not want and did not have in our signed contract. It has been painful to get that sorted out.
Why go with Verizon? Well, I figured I can put my battle boots on to get what I need (hopefully), which is just what is promised in the contract. I know that every conversation will be a lot of effort and painful, just like they have been the last 14 years and even getting the fiber activity connected proved they have not changed.
Lack of Competition Ensures Low Quality
I have been amazed that much of the rest of the industrialized and post-industrialized world treats its telecom infrastructure as a public good. It is a national interest. The copper wires we have/had are considered belonging to the public. It has been considered a core necessity to have up to date technology infrastructure by many countries, but not the USA. Today the USA is 14th to 25th in broadband availability, use, and average speed compared to other nations across many surveys. The USA is way behind and its model leaving infrastructure in the hands of those with no competition or incentive. In a capitalist market society there needs to be competition, but in telecom there is no market as their is an oligopoly (only a limited few strong players), which is not a market (open competition) in economic terms.
I like the model for DSL, which had many parties buying infrustructure and selling based on service. When DSL started there was largely parity (small companies and large with similar pricing) and competition on services was the difference. Then the courts ruled and still allowed access, but the telecoms created a playing field in their advantage where they could sell services for less by not providing "discounts" to other service providers. The competition then came to be solely paying more for better service (connectivity and customer service). For many paying to be treated by a human was worth the cost.
Today there continues to be no marketplace. But, there is no option for competition on service. The lines are now property of the telecom that laid them and others have to lay their own lines to provide access. This method tears up the road infrastructure and creates un-needed redundancy. The model is broken and is keeping the USA behind other countries. I would gladly pay $10 to $15 more per month for Speakeasy customer service for my fiber connection.
Infrastructure is Competition?
I have chatted with a few CEOs and CIOs who have global businesses. When they look at expanding they look less to the USA than to Europe or Asia. It is not so much the cost of people, as most will pay for good people. But, in the US the poor infrastructure comparatively means they need more buildings and to pay for infrastructure themselves. The big campus is not efficient to many businesses as the technology and tools to connect and collaborate have improved. But, to do this takes infrastructure in a country or region.
My upgrading my connectivity allowed for much smoother video chats and voice chats. I can share large documents more easily. But, my access to the infrastructure is extremely rare in the USA. In the Netherlands similar connectivity is at nearly every doorstep in the top cities, secondary cities, and even tertiary cities. Outside of their city centers many people I talk with there work from home 80 to 90 percent of the time.
Apple purportedly gets the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen soundtrack for the Apple Music Store. Oddly it seems there is no physical CD rights for distribution in the U.S. To me this seems like a good step forward, it would be a great step forward if there was also a true CD quality version available for download rather than a lossy compression of the music for download. Don't get me wrong I enjoy the size and comparative sound of the Apple MP4 format, but I prefer even much less compression, particularly with music from a symphony.
Ah, home again. We have new pipes through out our house and running water again. We also have a floor to ceiling hole in the wall in our dining room and in the ceiling of the dining room. We have a hole in the kitchen walls too to give access to pipes. We have a new energy efficient water heater, which should also help the cause.
It is good to be back in the house, even though it was only a couple days, it was very disruptive as life (such as work) continues on as usual, as do visits to the pre-baby doctor. I learned a very good lesson on this adventure, when booking a hotel get verification what they mean by "wireless" Internet access. It could be, as it turns out the IR keyboard that is used to control the "Internet in the TV". Wireless to me was WiFi, which means broadband. I was able to get use of a meeting room at the hotel last night to pull e-mail and pull some files I needed. I was able to accomplish that on a broadband connection in 35 minutes, which would have been 2 hours on dial-up. I was able to get back to working on an overview presentation I had to give today.
The funny thing was I was able to pick-up a few wireless signals in the courtyard. Some were managed and locked down and others were open. The signals kept varying in and out so I did not persue much farther. Last night I realized that the WiFi signals were coming from the Microsoft Offices that look down into the same courtyard shopping area.
Oh, nothing new on the baby front as all things seem good and no more sonigrams are planned. Junior is kicking quite a bit during playtime, which is 5:30am and 10:30pm.
You have bandwidth? You like Matrix? The Animatrix is out (animated Matrix) and the graphics are fantastic in spots.
DirecTV DSL is closing says SlashDot. I am really bummed as I have used them and Telocity (who was gobbled by DirecTV DSL this past year) for a couple years. It has been great service and once I moved I have been getting 1.3MB down and 750kbps up for $49.00 a month. Not only the speed, but the customer service has been light years better than any other service I have used for most anything (much better than the rude and know-nothing Comcast Cable or the slow and everything is somebody else's fault Verizon for a sub-rate product).
Those of you in a similar situation the page to watch is DirecTV DSL site and their DirecTV DSL FAQ page as they are saying more on Tuesday 17th of December. It looks like Speakeasy may be a solid option or directly from Covad.
Ahhhh.... This past month has been horrible to be with out my own e-mail accounts and or broadband. I have more than a handful of digital friends I keep up with, e-mail, and chat with on-line and not really having access was no fun to say the least. I am behind on e-mail and other things I had taken on, accept heartfelt appologies and know I am doing what I can to catch-up.
I am really not understanding how folks use dial-up, particularly with Yahoo offering a $29 per month offering and Covad offering about the same price or less. I can understand not being DSL accessable, but if you are it is well worth the effort. Trying to read even CNN on line was painful. With broadband I can check local movie listings in Watson and see a clip (oh what a wonderful idea, I have not done this in months).