Archive by Carol Wilson

Memories of Terry Barnich

I first met Terry Barnich when he was still the chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission. As a state regulator, Barnich was ahead of the curve on seeing the value of bringing competition to markets - energy and telecom - that had previously been dominated by monopolies. It didn’t always make him popular in the Republican circles that were his power base, but that didn’t seem to phase him.

When Terry left the public sector and founded New Paradigm Research Group with colleague Craig Clausen, the name wasn’t just a collection of terms — Barnich really did believe that there was a new paradigm ahead for competitive communications. This morning, in a conversation with Craig, I shared my strongest memory of Terry, which is that he was an original thinker.

Clausen agreed, as you can see here. One of the things that kept taking Barnich back to Iraq was the excitement of seeing infrastructure rebuilt and technology put to use in new ways, Clausen said.

That doesn’t surprise me, because one of the other things I remember about Terry is how passionate he could be about his ideas and what he thought the telecommunications industry could become. On multiple occasions, I shared a speaking podium with Terry and was impressed by how thoroughly prepared he was to challenge those asssembled, usually service providers, to be bolder in embracing new competitive opportunities and new technological possibilities.

I didn’t realize Terry had spent the last two-and-a-half years in Iraq, not as an independent contractor, getting rich during wartime, but as a government employee, trying to help rebuild critical infrastracture that will eanble Iraq to be economically stronger and more secure. But it doesn’t surprise me now to learn what he was doing and to hear that, despite repeated plans to return to the U.S. for good, Barnich kept going back.

Clausen admits it was a running joke that Terry was always coming home “next April,” but adds that there were plans for him to return permanently at the end of June. Our industry and many lives will be the less for the fact he won’t come home at all.

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Making lemonade out of swine flu

The pork industry is suffering unfairly from the Swine Flu outbreak, as people (and some governments) link pork products with the rapidly spreading H1N1 virus, but there is one industry that could benefit, besides major drug manufacturers. more

NAB reporter’s notebook

This was only my second year at the National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas, so I’m hardly an expert. But with a tight focus on IPTV and its players, I have a good sense of what is going on.

Show veterans (and Vegas cabbies, always a good source of information) said NAB attendance was off significantly, both in terms of vendors and attendees. The aisles were wider, several noted, the outdoor equipment display was much smaller and here and there, booth spaces were empty. Attendance was notably down from last year — for every busy booth space, there were at least two more occupied only by their booth personnel. more

NAB: What consumers really want from IPTV

I’m in my fifties and a lot of the people I interview are within 10 years of my age, so it’s no surprise that when we talk about the future of video services — or any services — our conversations are laden with anecdotes about what our kids are doing. It’s that kind of reasoning by anecdote that lead Accenture to conduct its Global Consumer Broadcast Survey, now in its second year, according to Ross Sonnabend of Accenture. more

ISPs need to rally around metered billing

Time-Warner Cable’s decision to suspend its Consumption Based Billing trial is being hailed as a victory for consumers, but is it really? Time-Warner says the suspension is temporary, and the company will now do more consumer education around the idea of paying for how much Internet access you consume. I think consumer education is always a good thing, but in this circumstance, one company can’t take on that task and succeed. more

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Is telecom seeing signs of hope?

I arrived in Las Vegas yesterday to discover, to my pleasant shock, a long line of cabs waiting at the airport for customers. In my 20-plus years of visiting Vegas on business, I’ve arrived at all hours of the day and night and always started my visit by standing in a long cab line.

So this is the world turned upside down by the economic downturn.

But at the MetaSwitch Forum 2009, which brought me to Vegas in the first place, there’s a very different sense, one that is much more hopeful. While admitting that it’s tough to predict 2009 revenues and profits, MetaSwitch executives say they are already seeing something of an uptick. more

Cable cord cutting debate rages on

There’s a great debate raging on blogs and other sites, over whether Internet video is prompting a lot of folks to cancel their pay TV service — cable, satellite or IPTV. If you’ve got a few minutes, there’s an excellent synopsis of both sides of the argument in this exchange between HDNet’s Mark Cuban and Boxee’s Avner Ronen. Boxee is company that offers freeware to enable consumers to view, share and recommend many different types of Internet content, but is currently only available for Mac users. more

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Supercomm - bending, never breaking?

 We had heard the rumors for weeks. Supercomm sales were off, vendors were cutting back, Chicago hotels were even telling people the show was cancelled.

Efforts to track down the truth of rumors were turned back, and now we know why.  Supercomm officials have been working behind the scenes for a while now to move the show to Oct. 21-23 with the hopes that the $7.2 billion broadband stimulus will goose a sagging industry and prompt more people to attend the one major trade show dedicated to all aspects of the U.S. broadband infrastructure.

Change like this doesn’t happen overnight. Officials in Chicago and at McCormick Place had to agree, other support vendors had too, as well, not to mention exhibitors and major attendees.

Somewhere along the lines, the rumors started to swirl. Given the budget constraints that everyone is facing, a smaller Supercomm made a lot of sense.

But this change makes more sense. This isn’t a delay to see if the economy recovers by fall, because real recovery will take longer than that. Had the show been cancelled altogether (and that’s a possibility no one is admitting having considered) the Supercomm organization and its two backers - USTelecom and the TIA – would have faced significant financial penalities, from which Supercomm might not have recovered. 

By moving Supercomm to October and focusing more directly on the broadband stimulus opportunities, this 20-plus year old event lives to see another day. And I, for one, think that’s a good thing. 

(Full disclosure: Telephony is the official producer of Supercomm’s Show Daily and a partner in programming)

The Zillionth good idea

ZillionTV, which has been running very intriguing videos on its web site for weeks now, has finally moved out of the shadow into the bright light of reality. There is a whole lot to like here, namely:

  • ZillionTV started from a blank page, trying to figure out how to give consumers, content providers, advertisers and ISPs all something they needed and wanted. What they are proposing has value for many, including consumers. Seeing how many major studios are backing Zillion is probably the most important endorsement, however.
  • ZillionTV assembled talent from all segments of the industry
  • ZillionTV focuses on the broadband connection, which is the most important path into the home.
  • ZillionTV keeps the content in the network, so the in-home device is cheap and there is less threat of illegal copying.
  • ZillionTV is using Hillcrest Labs’ motion-sensing remote. I’ve been wondering who would be smart enough to use this device, which has been around for years now.

All that doesn’t prevent immediate skepticism over whether a new set-top box is needed or wanted. Witness the New York Times description of ZillionTV as “Another set-top box, with ads.”

What I think is different about ZillionTV is that it tries to preserve ad-based video, something that we all took for granted until a couple of years ago. This is the first solution I’ve seen to trying to use an IP-based video service to deliver relevant advertising. In the long run, this makes sense to me, because without advertising, content either shrinks is quantity, quality and availability, or prices go way up. Neither of those options is attractive to me. But nor it is feasible to think that advertisers are going to continue to pay the freight for content creation when so many of us are ignoring their ads or fast-forwarding through them.

IPTV providers have the ability today to offer targeted advertising but have been reluctant to do so, in part because of how early efforts botched the privacy angle, but also because the business case wasn’t clear. Verizon demonstrated the ability to do very high-level targeted and interactive advertising a while back but is not yet offering the service.

What ZillionTV does is give consumers incentive to watch ads and then make the ads relevant to them - if any targeted ad model is going to work, this could be it. By partnering with Visa, ZillionTV also is paving the way to creating a commerce model, which is a key part of the business model for which other IPTV providers have been searching.

So while ZillionTV is new and unproven, this startup is bringing a lot to the table, and ISPs would be smart to take notice.

Why $5 phone service is a good idea

Verizon is considering a $5 phone line option for its broadband customers — that’s a very smart idea and here’s why.  The most important thing a telecom service provider can do right now is maintain its relationship to the broadest base of its customers. At one time, the home phone line was the primary tie between a telecom company and its consumers, but we all know this is no longer the case. Increasingly, the broadband connection is the primary tie, in addition to, for some consumers, a video offering sold either directly by a telco or through a partnership with the satellite company.

Telecom service providers who remain inflexible in their voice service pricing are practically inviting consumers to cut the cord — especially in hard times — and to explore cable options, which often include a cheaper VoIP-based voice option. Once that consumer has moved to a cable bundle, it is much more expensive to try to win them back.

By offering flexible and very reasonable pricing for a landline service, any telecom service provider gives consumers a solid option to maintain a landline, for safety and security reasons if nothing else. A landline phone will operate when commercial power goes out and is a secure way to contact 911 in an emergency and know for certain your location will be known to the operator.  Cable VoIP service has a battery backup and, as many Houstonians learned during Hurricane Ike last summer, batteries will run out during prolonged power outages. At $5 a month, the landline is an insurance policy.  And since many consumers use their wireless phones, with free long-distance, to place any call that isn’t local, a cheap voice service could truly be a cheap voice service.

Telecom service providers have shown their flexibility in the past, most recently by bundling wireless service and broadband, giving cord-cutters a reason to stay with their telco, and not jump completely to cable. As times get tough, it is important to remain open, and to creatively explore consumer-friendly options, and that is what Verizon is doing here.

One additional note, however. Depending on how that $5 phone service is offered, marketing it as a security blanket when commercial power fails won’t work if this lifeline service is based on a fiber-to-the-home network and consumers are well-prepared with battery backups. This remains an issue the telecom industry needs to address.

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