The Pacific Telecommunications Council puts on their annual conference every January and like clockwork #36 took place without a hitch over at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The one day I could make it was on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Jeanne Holm the notable Data.gov evangelist was speaking on Data Driven Innovation in Communities. Holm's presentation was a short one since in my world, there is so much to talk about in open data. She highlighted the work being done on Data.gov and it's recent conversion from Socrata to the open source CKAN platform. She also brought attention to the widespread interest in energy data and the Green Button initiative. Originally from NASA, Holm's has a wealth of stories about how NASA embraced the web 2.0 technologies with interactive websites, Google hangouts, launch tweetups and the tweeting Mars Rover. Whether the telecom audience takes anything she says back to their companies to implement is another story. My experience is that much of the data held in telecom companies will remain closely held. It would be nice to see broadband penetration by carrier provided as open data but the push back has been: "we don't want that information getting into the hands our our competitors." With my limited time at the conference I wanted to catch up with local broadband expert Alex Bergo, a recent Univ of Hawaii Ph.D recipient and CEO of LiveSift. He gave a talk on Forecasting Information for Planning in Rapidly Changing Environments. He focused his work on Hawaii's Broadband future and how increased bandwidth contributes to economic development. It's a valuable study and particularly useful for policy makers.
David Lassner presented the results of the Broadband Taskforce findings in this month's Hawaii Science and Technology Council (HSTC) meeting. The taskforce was put together by the Legislature in 2007 to provide a recommendation on what should be done to develop broadband access in Hawaii. In 2008 the taskforce completed their final report and submitted it to the Legislature. Even the Governor got behind a broadband initiative. During the 2009 session SB895 was introduced to establish the Communications Commission which ultimately did not pass. here. The primary take away is the if Hawaii is to stay competitive with the world, focus needs to be placed on having a Statewide focus on establishing a broadband strategy and focusing on it. Like the transportation system, broadband is essential infrastructure that cuts across all sectors of the economy. The stark realization is that Hawaii is almost dead last in all the broadband surveys conducted by various organizations assessing nationwide performance. We obviously have our work cut out for us. [podcast]http://www.roughtake.com/bc_podcasts/Broadband_in_Hawaii.mp3[/podcast]
This past week Clearwire held a WiMax launch event at the Plaza Club to announce their plans to rollout their broadband wireless service. This service has been highly anticipated every since Clearwire acquired the 2.5GHz frequency license on Oahu and Maui and formed a highly publicized merger with Sprint in 2008. Clearwire's pre-WiMax offering carved out a small percentage of the broadband market place because of its relatively slow download and upload speeds and clunky wireless modem. Clearwire did offer a pre-WiMax PC card but the pricing seem high compared to cable modem and DSL options. All of this will soon be a thing of the past as the true WiMax offering becomes available. Based on the speed tests that Clearwire was demonstrating, the modem was getting 5M down/2.7M up on a residential service and 10M down/3.1M up on a business class service. Granted these speeds are based on an uncongested network but I am hopeful that once the service becomes available commercially, we will see multi-meg download speeds and at least a 1Meg upload capability. The WiMax modems were also a nice, compact form factor, just a little bigger than a USB thumb drive. The real question is what will the pricing be for this WiMax service. You are not going to see any official pricing from Clearwire until the service is commercially available in Nov 2009 but I did hear price points like $30/month for the basic offering and up to $70/month for the 10M business class service. If Clearwire (or their soon to be new name Clear) can meet the basic DSL speeds of 3M down/1M up at the or better it, the $30 price point might be something to consider. Especially if you are getting true mobility with it. In the Bay Area a lot is being invested in this new 4G service. WiMax will get at least a couple of years head start on AT&T and Verizon's LTE 4G service. Clearwire along with Sprint has some major investors looking to advance this standard. Google, Intel, Time Warner, Comcast and Cisco are all investors. Clearwire has set up an innovation network in the Bay Area covering a 20 square mile area right in Silicon Valley to encourage broadband wireless application development. Interestingly Google's partnership is behind a content play called Clear365. Obviously they see a lot of content getting created as a result of this mobile broadband network. Personally I wish there was an Innovation Network here between Bishop St. and UH Manoa. Now wouldn't that be interesting.
We recently had Larry Reifurth on Bytemarks Cafe and the topic of Hawaii's Communications Commission came up. I had been following the Broadband Task Force and was quite interested in the introduction of HB1077 into this Legislative session. Seeing Larry triggered the question, "What happen to HB1077?" I thought all the stars were aligned to create the Commission under the DCCA that combine the oversight of cable and telecom services into one. This would have brought a focus to Hawaii's broadband services and to coordinate efforts to best use the Federal infrastructure stimulus dollars. So now with the legislative session done, I must bemoan the death of HB1077. Based on the status of the bill, it seemed to be deferred. To when, I do not know. Larry mentioned that there were never any conferees assigned to the committee so the bill never got heard. Others say that legislators during this session had other things to consider (which I don't deny) and that the bill did not have the priority needed to get the attention. Maybe it will surface in next year's session. Hopefully next session, we won't be short sighted and look to the long term need. I suppose we will just have to wait and see.
Although I was thankful for getting let go from Hawaiian Tel in January 2008, it still pains me to see what has happen to this company. Today it was announced in both the Advertiser and Star Bulletin that Hawaiian Tel files for bankruptcy protection. I've been a telcom jock since returning to Hawaii in the 80s. To see this company go from the primary telecom provider to a mere after thought is humbling. I originally left Hawaiian Tel back in 1995 when it was
Verizon GTE only to return in 2005 to find out how the Carlyle Group was going to take this local company public. Unfortunately it became quickly obvious the Carlyle execs did not know how to run a local telco. The back office system needed to be built from scratch and they put all their bets on Bearing Point to build that back office. Suffice it to say, that did not work and Acenture was brought in to do damage control. All the while customers were suffering and the company wasn't rolling out any new services to ward off the land line erosion.
In 2005 HT was talking quad play: voice, video, Internet and wireless. By the end of 2007 it was a dual play with only voice and Internet, both very low margin businesses. The writing was on the wall. You might think HT faced the perfect storm: competition from national wireless companies and the cable company, no new service offerings, low margin Internet access, but no one predicted the financial market meltdown.
Hopefully Hawaiian Telcom will emerge like Hawaiian Airlines did, a stronger company but to do that there needs to be some radical changes. Worst case scenario, the State of Hawaii takes over and HT becomes a ward of the PUC. For what it is worth, I still have my landline because cell phone voice quality sucks, although that is made up for with mobility. I have both a DSL and cable modem for Internet because I can never do without my Internet connection.