Monday, April 30, 2007

Home connectivity is lagging in the US

One measure of a nation's home connectivity is the rate of household broadband connections. A recent survey showed that 89% of South Korean homes have broadband connections while the United States has fallen to 25th in the world with 50% penetration. The situation is even worse than these statistics indicate, since US broadband speeds are lower than most nations and costs are higher.

With increasing demand for video content, homes, organizations and other fixed locations will eventually have fiber connections -- our DSL and cable modem connections will one day seem as slow as dial-up connections do today. South-east Asia, led by densely populated nations like China, Japan and South Korea, is deploying fiber faster than the rest of the world. As we see, 47 percent of the broadband connections use fiber:

Why is the US falling behind the rest of the world? What are the implications for a nation of falling behind on connectivity? Are there any advantages?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Mobile applications

We all use the Internet from our desktops, but few of us access the Net when we are on the move. Many people expect mobile access to boom. Cellular phone, search, and hardware companies are all developing mobile access products.

Search firms Yahoo, Google and Microsoft have focused on the cell phone. You can try their efforts at,, and Windows live search.

Text entry is difficult on a cell phone keyboard, so Google and Microsoft are working with voice-based search. You can try them at 800-GOOG411 and 800-555-TELL.

Microsoft, Intel, Apple, phone manufacturers and others are also experimenting with larger form factors than the cell phone. A good example is Intel's Mobile Internet Device. Its features include a four or six inch touch-screen display, stripped-down version of Linux, fast restart from suspended mode, retractable keyboard, GPS radio, and a camera.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Job loss in the long tail: from professional to amateur

The world's largest model train store, Allied Model Trains, has been sold and is downsizing because they cannot compete with low-overhead Internet discounters. Consumers are getting better prices, but many of the highly specialized, knowledgeable store staff will be laid off.

Some of these workers may be able to earn income offering advice and information on-line, for example from advertising or subscription-supported blogs, but they will be in competition with on-line hobbyist communities. In general, amateur train enthusiasts will replace the professionals.

Allied owner Allen Drucker discusses the effect of the Internet on his business in this excerpt (1 min 40 sec) from a recent interview. (The entire interview is here).

This is reminiscent of the time supermarkets replaced small grocery stores or a Walmart store coming to a town. Can you think of other on-line markets where specialized jobs are being lost? What is lost and what is gained when specialized retailers are driven out of business by Internet-based alternatives?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Internet control: Déjà vu

Several governments have recently tried to tighten control over the Internet:

This is nothing new. The Kremlin tried to shut down the nascent Russian Internet -- mostly UUCP at the time -- during the 1991 coup attempt. (You can read about that here).

Nearly every government makes some attempt to control the Internet -- to preserve culture as well as political power. What are some other examples of government control over Internet content? Does the US government control Internet content?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Beginning of the end of music copy protection?

We cover the affect of copyright, which is used to protect music, video and other Internet data. Apple's Steve Jobs has called for dropping copy protection on music, stating that 97% of the songs on a typical iPod music player are already in the open mp3 and AAC formats. The EMI record label has agreed to let Apple sell songs in Apple's AAC format. Microsoft may soon have a similar agreement with EMI.

Presumably Microsoft will distribute the music in the .mp3 format, which, unlike AAC, works with any music player or program. Is this the beginning of the end for copy protection on music? What is the outlook for video?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tim Wu on wireless network neutrality

Skype recently petitioned the FCC to open access to cellular networks in the United States. That petition was based on a study by Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia University. Our class notes cover the Carterfone case which opened the wired telephone network, making the end-to-end Internet possible. Wu feels that a neutral-access cellular network would enable Internet-like innovation and competition on wireless networks.

You can read Wu's paper and see the Skype petition at the New America Foundation. Wu was also interviewed on wireless network neutrality by National Public Radio's On The Media. You can hear the interview (with a rebuttal by an industry representative) or read a transcript at the On The Media Website.