Tag Archives: Tellus Venture Associates

East Bay Broadband Report Card published by Tellus Venture Associates confirms benefits of competition

I’ve published the final report on regional broadband resources, prepared for the East Bay Broadband Consortium. The East Bay Broadband Report Card gives a community-by-community assessment of core broadband infrastructure in Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano Counties, on the eastern side of San Francisco Bay.

The top line conclusions are…

The best consumer-grade broadband service is in central Contra Costa County, in the City of Concord (A-). It was the only one of the forty cities studied that rated an “A” level grade. Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill received “B” grades, with a high “C” given to Berkeley and Alameda. The common characteristic amongst all five is competition. All five either have or recently had three competing companies building and operating core broadband infrastructure and providing consumer-grade service.

The bottom five cities – Rio Vista (D-), Moraga (D) , Orinda (D), Clayton (D) and Dixon (D) – share one or more of three key characteristics: population densities and income levels typical of rural areas, local resistance to construction and challenging terrain. These factors play a significant role in shaping residential broadband availability.

In between, a general pattern emerges. As a rule, the further a community is from central Contra Costa County and Berkeley, the lower the quality of its broadband infrastructure and service availability. On the whole, incorporated cities tend to receive better grades than nearby unincorporated communities, indicating that municipal governments can play a role in improving broadband access.

The report has details of how the grading was done, and how broadband infrastructure in the East Bay region compares to the rest of California and to U.S. and international benchmarks.

Download the full version of the East Bay Broadband Report Card, including appendices (9.5 MB)

Download the East Bay Broadband Report Card only (2.1 MB)

Download the high resolution version of the East Bay Broadband Report Card, including appendices (81.1 MB)

Five Geek ways to celebrate Boxing Day

by Steve Blum • , ,

Like a calm, sunny morning after a hurricane, Boxing Day is a time to wallow in the luxury of nothing so urgent to do as yesterday and dream of the future without worrying about tomorrow.

Some don’t look at it that way, preferring instead to run frantically around the beach tidying up. Let them be.

The day after Christmas is a day off work in much of the erstwhile British Empire, originally an occasion to give gifts to people who work for you: a Christmas box of hand-me-down clothes and left over food bestowed on grateful servants by the lord of the manor.

But few of us have servants, grateful or otherwise, and holiday bonuses come as direct deposits with taxes and withholdings neatly trimmed out. So we can relax and enjoy a day with no particular obligations except those we choose to savor.

For me, it’s a chance to achieve inner peace through simple Geek pleasures.

  • Play with a new language. Whatever it is – Python, php, Pascal – hack at it until you grok.
  • Read space opera. Whether it’s the rigor of Alastair Reynolds, the omnipotence of David Weber or the pulp nostalgia of Doc Smith, embrace the guilty pleasure of star spanning adventure with a thick book in a quiet place.
  • Ride a bike to the shopping center, cruise around back and see what’s being thrown out. You never know where your next big idea will come from.
  • Transform a gift. Take a screwdriver to an old gizmo, reverse engineer it and make it do something new. Turn a digital frame into a weather station, a talking doll into a remote control, a Princess phone into a zombie detector. Then give it to a friend with a sense of humor.
  • Show a kid how to make a crystal radio. The hardest part is finding a kid with a sufficient attention span. If you can, the sense of wonder at building working electronics by hand with raw materials will last a lifetime. For both of you.

Happy holidays, and may the Great Bird of the Galaxy bring serenity to your planet!

Nothing wrong with competition – CASF update

I filed reply comments today regarding the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) review of eligibility requirements for construction subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). The first round of comments were reasonably evenly split between the ayes and the nays. My comments put me in the yes camp too.

To baldly go.

In particular, I took issue with the cable television lobby, the California Cable and Telecommunications Association (CCTA). What they want is to allow existing telecoms companies to be able to get funding for any eligible area under normal rules, but put ridiculous restrictions on local governments, independent ISPs and other non-traditional broadband providers. Ridiculous to the point that it gives lie to their poker-faced claim to support eligibility expansion.

As I put it in my comments to the Commission…

Combined with its assertion of non-opposition to the Commission’s contemplated expansion of eligibility, CCTA’s proposal is baldy disingenuous.

I also chimed in on the value of what’s called a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN). If you have one (or the mobile telephone equivalent, a WIR) then you’ve been officially blessed as a telephone company by the Commission. It confers certain privileges, for example it greases the skids if you want to attach your lines to someone else’s poles, but it also comes with some pretty stringent oversight from the CPUC.

When it considers opening up CASF grants and loans to other types of service providers, the Commission should also take a look at the CPCN itself.

My recommendations are…

  • Insofar as non CPCN/WIR holders are eligible for CASF funding, they should have equal access to underserved and unserved areas alike, and face no greater restrictions in that regard than traditional applicants.
  • Publicly owned public utilities should be given the same eligibility as and face no greater constraints than CPCN and WIR holders in applying for CASF funding.
  • If the Commission decides not to generally expand CASF eligibility to all non CPCN/WIR holders, it should consider specific eligibility for bona fide publicly owned public utilities.
  • The scope of the rulemaking should be expanded to consider the various requirements and classes of CPCN eligibility, either in conjunction with the expansion of CASF eligibility or as an alternative.

Other organizations – seven at last count – have also filed reply comments and more might come in. I’ll update those tomorrow.

Eye contact is next teeping opportunity

Telepresence is to teleconferencing as dining is to eating. One is a mechanical process, the other transforms the simple act into a complete social experience. Or so the hope goes.

Also known as teeping, the idea is to create a completely immersive environment where you forget that the person you’re talking with is not physically present. Cisco is pushing this technology hard, but hasn’t crossed the line from teleconference to telepresence.

Teeping opportunity

I spent some time in a Cisco telepresence demo room this week, during a small business symposium co-hosted by the TIA and Cisco. It’s a cool system that will eventually lead to a true teeping solution.

On the plus side, Cisco has optimized the mechanics. Camera and screen placement, conference table set up, lighting and audio are all dialed in. You can sit down and look across your table at people sitting on what looks like the other side of the room.

Part of the trick is the way the physical layout adds the illusion of depth to the flat images on the large high def screens. In a few years, 3D video technology will make it seem spooky real, but the current system gives your brain sufficient cues to start filling in the missing dimension.

The final, great hurdle is enabling two-way eye contact. Until that’s possible, it’ll be teleconferencing, not telepresence. Right now, you have a choice: look into the camera, or look into the other person’s eyes.

Cisco’s would-be telepresence facility

The current iteration lets you see body language, which is a huge step forward. But our brains are hardwired for eye contact, and you can’t connect person to person with a stranger without it.

Case in point: when I’m riding my bicycle in traffic and I want to make sure a driver sees me, I look right into his eyes. We can both be wearing sunglasses — it doesn’t matter. Our primitive, hunter-gatherer brains instantly grasp the presence of a fellow human and go into “friend or foe” mode. It’s the same whether you’re running across the savannah or sitting in a corporate meeting. A split second of two-way eye contact determines whether you’re going to share lunch or be lunch.

A solution to this problem starts with some kind of eyeball tracking system, which determines where each participants’ eyes are focused on the screen. Software would then manipulate each individual’s image so that people on the other side of the conversation accurately perceive that individual’s gaze.

This solution requires huge computational capacity and magic software, rather than raw bandwidth, so Cisco won’t solve it. But Cisco and any other aspiring teeping vendor will snap it up in an eye-blink. So who has the chops to do it?

At this month’s Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp, two of the presenters discussed exactly this kind of image manipulation. Pixim does real-time enhancement of video feeds, mostly for security applications at this point, and Pelican Imaging is developing computational cameras that can manipulate static, 2D images through three dimensions. The event’s sponsor, Santa Cruz Imaging, is also actively developing technology in this space.

In five, maybe ten years, brute force corporate R&D will solve this problem. Until then, it’s a genuine geek opportunity.

Confronting the killing ground

Start up companies looking for traditional “A” round financing in the $4 to $8 million dollar range will be left to die over the next 18 months. In fact, the financial killing ground will stretch from the $1 million level up to, and perhaps past, the $10 million range.

That was my take away from yesterday’s small business symposium sponsored by Cisco and the Telecommunications Industry Association. One of the highlights (from an information perspective, anyway) was a panel discussion with three venture capitalists (Ajay Chopra, Trinity Ventures, Michel Wendell, Nexit Ventures, Eric Zimits, Granite Ventures), and moderated by Dean Takahashi of VentureBeat.

Companies that VCs will consider in the current climate were characterized as “highly capital efficient”, “don’t need a market” for the next year or two and have a “low burn rate.” Companies that already have revenue in the seven to low eight figure range will also get a look, but at a deep discount. Really deep. Like valuations of 1 to 2 times annual revenue. Maybe less.

This second category isn’t really start up territory. In a kinder economy, these are companies that would first try a bank for financing. Now, it’s an opportunity for VCs and others with cash on hand to scoop up some bargains by stepping into the void created by the collapse of the financial industry. The first category isn’t the traditional feeding ground for VCs either. It’s usually where angel investors tread.

If a small, proven, technically-oriented team has a an innovative, useful and patentable idea in a hot field, and they’re willing to spend the next couple of years in a garage developing it, they might have a chance of getting funding from these guys. That’s a lot of “ifs” to get through. And there won’t be any money for marketing, production, operations or any other cash burning activities that go into launching a new venture.

These development ventures will end up as intellectual property assets in someone else’s portfolio if they can’t quickly raise a few million bucks when the economy thaws. But that’s a problem for later. Better to move ahead with what’s possible now and position yourself for the future, than to just wait for a world more to your liking. It could be a long wait.

The ventures that will really feel the pain over the next year or two will be those that need launch money now. Typically, those are companies with product prototypes and a launch schedule. They need a handful of marketing, sales, administrative, financial, production and operations people. These folks are paid largely in cash and benefits, rather than huge stock grants, and need office space too. On the production side, it’s time for QA, tooling, alpha and beta runs, and dozens more of the steps needed to go from a working prototype to a shrink wrapped SKU.

Most companies at this stage have already begun to incur this overhead, paying for it out of the money left over from the angel round and on credit lines secured with personal guarantees from the founders. They’re walking the killing ground with a leaky canteen, expecting to find water along the way.

Traditional sources, such as VCs, won’t be there. If turning back is an option, that might be the smartest choice. But frequently it’s not an option. Prototypes have a limited shelf life, firing people and closing facilities costs money, and creditors won’t be in a patient or forgiving mood.

A couple of good ideas came out of the roundtable discussion that closed the symposium. Battle scarred veterans shared war stories with first time entrepreneurs, in the most valuable session of the day. There’s no magic source of money. But there are possibilities, such as prospective customers who can gain a competitive advantage by adopting a technology early and on very favorable terms. Strategic investors, who might want access to the knowledge and talent of the team, as well as the technology itself, are another potential source.

But if a sure source of money can’t be found, the veterans say to pull the plug quickly. As they learned from hard, personal experience, waiting until a venture has completely collapsed and decomposed is extremely expensive. Personal guarantees have to be met, and even if those can be washed away in bankruptcy, losing effectively all personal wealth and credit will set an entrepreneur back for years. A swift, clean break, though, can leave an entrepreneur with enough resources and credibility to give it another go, with a structure more suited to the times.