Archive by Carol Wilson

Can the Interent save seniors?

A new study from the Phoenix Center says regular Internet usage can decrease depression in retired senior citizens by 20% and potentially save milliions in health care costs. The Phoenix Center, a non-profit policy research center, is pushing for broadband initiatives to include senior citizens, only 62% of whom use the Internet, according to The Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Enabling senior citizens to stay in touch with family and friends electronically is a no-brainer. If millions of U.S. citizens who aren’t senior citizens enjoy staying in touch with friends - and finding old friends - via Facebook, why wouldn’t grandparents and great-aunts and uncles enjoy the same thing? Especially when they have more time on their hands than those still in the workplace. Young people too busy to call an elderly relative might have time for a quick text or other kind of electronic message.

Internet usage also provides the ability to stay more mentally active and more up-to-date on world issues, which can prolong life and help ward off the various forms of dementia that set in as we age.

Unfortunately, enabling senior citizens to use the Internet isn’t as easy as making sure they have access to PCs and broadband access - and those things are challenging in and of themselves. The level of support seniors require, especially as they move into their 70s and 80s, as more people do today, is vastly different from what the rest of the population needs. Basic issues around computer usage can prevent successful Web surfing, much less use of email or more advanced programming. Things that even my generation takes for granted - the ability to type and to understand computer speak - are things that can stump an older crowd.

I’ve often told the story of my mom, who got her first computer at age 65 and, after two days of using it, called me to tell me she had to take it back to the story because she’d gotten a message that her computer had performed an “illegal procedure.” At the time, that was Microsoft-speak for a Windows problem, but to my mom, “illegal” had one meaning and one meaning only.

Now I’m not trying to say that old folks can’t use computers, so please don’t jump to that conclusion. According to the Phoenix Center, I’m one of the old people - although I still work so I wouldn’t qualify for their study.

What I am trying to say is that the goals set forth here - enabling seniors to stay electronically connected and mentally stimulated via the Internet - are very worthy, but fraught with challenges that shouldn’t be overlooked.

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Time Warner: Too little, too late?

Time Warner Cable proudly unveiled its fastest Internet access service in New York City — 50 Megabits per second downstream/5 Mbps upstream for about $100 for consumers — and got, at best, tepid applause.

If anything, the announcement focused attention on what TWC hasn’t done, as in rolling out Docsis 3.0 technology across its footprint. Obviously, New York City is not only its largest market, but also the target of a major Verizon FiOS rollout.

Other large ISPs have been playing in the faster Internet speed business for longer, and offering incentives and discounts to lure consumers as well.

I think the time has past when speed is the primary draw of an Internet service. Price still plays a role, but consumers are looking for high-quality customer service and reliability, ease of installation and operation and more relevant bundles, i.e., bundle options that let them pick and choose which services they want.

Business customers, particularly small businesses, are a target of the TWC offering, but even here they may be missing the boat. Certainly, business class 50 Meg service for $289.95 is attractive, but depending on what the small business plans to do with its Internet offering, managed services could well have greater appeal at a price tag that is not a huge leap for a small business.

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New Net Neutrality rules? Not so much

Today’s much-hyped speech by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski doesn’t really reveal much more about what the federal agency plans to do about Net Neutrality than was already known. As expected, Gehachowski said he wants to add two new principles to the FCC’s existing Four Principles of Internet governance, announced in 2005 as the FCC’s Internet Policy Statement. The two new principles would prohibit discrimination against legal traffic by either blocking it or degrading it, and would require Internet service providers to publicly disclose how they manage their traffic. The other big change Gehachowski is proposing is to extend Net Neutrality rules to wireless service providers as well, as they are getting into data services. more

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The battle for SMBs gets a 100-meg player

Comcast is avoiding the war of words over 100 Megabit per second service by launching its new offering in the SMB space, not the consumer market. Earlier this year, when Cablevision announced a 101 Mb/s service, it came under immediate fire from Verizon, which insisted such a service was impractical on a hybrid fiber-coax network, since 101-Meg customers would be eating up the bandwidth shared by an entire neighborhood. For its part, Verizon has been deploying 100 Meg-capable home equipment for years now, but admitting the applications are not yet there for that kind of bandwidth.

The Comcast service, currently only available in the Twin Cities area, costs $369.95 a month, which may limit its appeal to some SMBs as well, especially when you consider that the upstream bandwidth is only 15 Mb/s. A bandwidth-hungry small business, such as a media firm or doctor’s office with large image files, is likely to need upstream as well as downstream bandwidth.

But with Comcast’s push into the SMB space, being able to claim a 100-Meg service is not too shabby. We’ve already begun to see the marketing hype increase for these customers, who at the end of the day often are more lucrative and loyal than residential triple-play customers. Telecom service providers repeatedly tell me they haven’t yet seen the cable inroads into their SMB customer base. That may be the result of SMB concerns that cable won’t be any better at providing customer service that meets their needs than large telecom players often has been.

Cable has made it clear that the business market is not a passing fancy, however, and this is just one more indication of the serious competition ahead. Incumbent telcos would be wise to look closely at how well they are meeting SMB needs and CLECs targeting SMBs should also be wary of cable inroads. This is not a customer base that should be taken for granted. Efforts such as the one by Verizon Business to bring its Verizon Enterprise Center self-help portal to SMBs and now Comcast’s 100 Meg push are upping the ante for everyone.

Open access: The opponents have a few points to make

In yesterday’s online commentary, I talked about why I think open access is the right approach for the broadband networks being built with $7.2 billion in federal funds. I received a number of very articulate comments from people who strongly disagreed with me, and I think they are worth sharing. more

Better safe than Twitter

Only a day after TechRadium field a lawsuit claiming Twitter had violated patents it developed as part of its mass-notification system, the real danger of relying on Twitter for mass notificagtion reared its ugly head. A DOS attack targeting the wildly popular social networking site crippled the service. According to reports, DOS attacks were also targeting Facebook. more

Welcome to Connected Planet

This is the official announcement of our new publication — there is much more to come, so stay tuned!

PENTON MEDIA TO LAUNCH CONNECTED PLANET MAGAZINE

NEW YORK, NY (July 22, 2009) - When historians document the first decade of the 21st century, they will likely call this period the “communications revolution” and recount the birth of an information age not yet imagined. Penton Media, the publisher of Telephony magazine and TelephonyOnline.com is very pleased to announce a new brand that will both cover and help shape this communications revolution. more

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DPI in your Cheerios?

Well, that’s probably going too far, but expect to see Deep Packet Inspection technology popping up in other places, and being combined with other technologies.

We saw it today with Allot’s announcement of MediaSwift, which combines DPI and caching to intelligently distribute content closer to those trying to access it. Previously, companies such as Zeugma Systems combined something akin to DPI with access technology to create a more intelligent IP edge device and Arbor Networks is starting to integrate DPI into its security services.
The thing is that, despite the bad rap DPI has in some circles, it is an important technology for service providers as they try to use bandwidth more efficiently. So it makes sense that technology companies will incorporate DPI into a broader range of equipment to add intelligence to the network at places where it can be useful.

Yankee Group Analyst David Vorhaus sees DPI “moving in the background to become more of a utility that other network elements can use to offer service control.” And, Vorhaus said, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

“Operators need a firm business case for this, and DPI can do that all by itself,” Vorhaus said. But in places like the 3GPP’s policy, charging and control architecture, DPI can serve as an intelligence gathering mechanism because that is what DPI does best — by inspecting individual packets in real-time, it provides a broad spectrum of intelligence about the application, the user and the service.

So this technology which has offered so much promise - and yet so much peril - to service providers is now moving into the network in — dare I say it — politically correct ways.

Whitacre’s biggest challenge yet

I have to admit I was stunned by the news that Ed Whitacre has agreed to be chairman of the board for GM. It looks like retirement isn’t agreeing with the guy who spent the last 20-plus years building the smallest of the regional Bell companies, post-divestiture, into a telecom powerhouse that ultimately swallowed its former parent, AT&T.

Can Ed Whitacre work magic at GM? Granted, he’s the chairman of the board, not the chief executive officer, but Whitacre will still be on the hot seat if the current plans for restructuring GM, post-bankruptcy, into a more nimble and consumer-focused auto maker don’t work. more

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Network DVR — Who Wins?

The U.S. solicitor general’s decision last Friday to recommend the U.S. Supreme Court not review the decision allowing Cablevision to host a network-based DVR service is an immediate victory for Cablevision, which is poised to offer the service as soon as this summer, and for other cable companies. But who else wins? Potentially other U.S. consumers. But certainly not telecom service providers pursuing their own video services. more

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