CES 2017-1: This Year, It's Personal

  (Las Vegas) I activated a new phone yesterday. I will test-drive it at CES this week. My theory is that away from home, away from the office, walking miles (literally, it is an enormous event spread across several venues) will provide a robust, if not brutal, testing ground for the new device. It is a more technologically advanced phone than I currently use. The question is whether those advancements are meaningful when measured against the way I use my device.

Last year's CES opened with a challenge to consider whether technology is introducing meaningful changes. The exponential increase in sensor-driven technology can drive advancements in medicine, while applications that send alerts when egg or milk cartons are near empty might elicit less enthusiastic responses.

From the End of the World to Your Town

New Edge  In 2010 I interviewed Wayne Pearson, former president of the Smethport, PA chamber of commerce, for an article I was writing for NTCA’s Rural Telecom magazine entitled “Can Broadband Save Rural America?” In response to a question about the potential benefits of broadband to rural areas, Pearson responded, “If you can do your job from anywhere, why not choose small-town America?"

Why not, indeed?

In the years since that interview, more and more freelancers have come to the conclusion that rural America is the best place for them to ply their trade. In a Fast Company article entitled “Why These Freelancers Ditched Cities for Rural America,” author Amy Loehr takes a closer look at this phenomenon.

Loehr cites statistics from a survey conducted by Upwork and the Freelancers Union which shows that 55 million Americans—35% of the U.S. workforce—have done some form of freelance work in the past year. Further, 73% of freelancers say that technology makes it easier for them to find work.

While 35% of freelancers live in cities and 47% in the suburbs, 18% reside in rural areas. But as freelancing is “considerably more popular among millennials and gen Zers than with older age groups,” that rural percentage will likely increase as younger workers decide to put down roots and choose where they want to spend their lives and raise their families.

Change With Us

What do a JP Morgan report on Nordstrom, a White House report on artificial intelligence, and the Crock Pot have to do with rural broadband? To learn more about the changing needs for connectivity and how you can help rural communications infrastructure, keep reading.

  Somewhere in the not-too distant recesses of my mind I have memories of standing outside the Lazarus department store in downtown Columbus, Ohio, waiting for the doors to open at 10:00 a.m. Although I could not find an image or reference on-line, I remain convinced in my recollections that the front of the store facing High Street featured an immense set of pocket doors that retracted into the walls, leaving an expansive opening to the street. And, although I was or am too young to remember personally that customers could leave their cars for services appointments while shopping for clothes, I do remember ordering eyeglasses there and playing with the bank of Wurlitzer organs in the piano department. And, when I was older, visiting in between the time I got off work from my summer job and when night school began, looking for bargains in the Final Countdown section on the sixth floor.

The record department at Lazarus.
(Image courtesy Ohio History Connection and the State Library of Ohio).

These are memories my children probably will not have, and not because Lazarus closed more than a decade ago. Rather, the department store, generally, is in decline, according to many reports.

Jim Cramer of CNBC reported earlier this week that JP Morgan downgraded Nordstrom, noting that foot traffic in the retailer’s brick-and-mortar stores are at their lowest point in more than 40 years. Cramer observed, “The better Nordstrom’s website becomes, the less incentive you have to actually go to their stores. In other words, they are cannibalizing themselves.”

Why You Might Want to Invest in Noise-Canceling Headphones

  Last week, I sat next to a lovely woman on a flight from Chicago to DC. I do not know her name, but I know where she lives (the city, at least) and what she does for a living (she is a nurse whose company contracts with the VA). Her daughter (whose age I also now know) is in nursing school and working at a veterinarian clinic to support herself, and has brought home numerous animals as temporary pets. I came to know all of this because I failed to don my noise-cancelling headphones at the beginning of the flight (the big bulky ones that nearly scream “anti-social; please leave me alone”).

Now, having said that, I must confess that I enjoyed our chat and found quite refreshing the opportunity to engage in the lost-art of striking up a conversation with a fellow passenger. But, if newly signaled Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards emerge as expected, you might be shackled to such opportunities – except that you might hear only one side of the conversation.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

New Edge  “If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”  - A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

“The Grinch hated Christmas—the whole Christmas season. Now, please don’t ask why; no one quite knows the reason. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. Or it could be that his head wasn’t screwed on just right. But I think the most likely reason of all…may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss

Few holidays stir the same depth of feelings amongst Americans as does Christmas--both positive and negative. A particularly interesting 2013 Pew Research Center poll looked at Americans’ Christmas traditions, and the stresses the holiday can bring. It’s well worth revisiting.

Pew found that 92% of all Americans celebrate Christmas, including eight-in-ten non-Christians. One-third of Christians view Christmas as primarily a cultural, rather than religious, holiday.

The survey found that several long-standing holiday traditions are not as prevalent as they once were. For example, while 79% of those celebrating Christmas planned to put up a tree, which was down from the 92% who did so in their childhood. Sixty-five percent planned to send Christmas or holiday cards, down from 81% in childhood. And 31% planned to pretend that Santa Claus would visit on Christmas Eve, down from 72%.

You Want Fast? You Got Fast...

New Edge  If you feel the need, the need for speed, you’re in luck: broadband speed offerings to the average consumer continue to increase at a rapid pace, and the actual speeds delivered by broadband providers generally meet, or exceed, those advertised.

These are just part of the findings of the FCC’s sixth “Measuring Broadband America” report, released December 1.

While the report shows broadband speeds available to consumers continue to grow, there is a marked difference according to technology. The overall median download speed is up 22% from a year ago, from 32 Mbps to 39 Mbps. Since 2011, the average speed has nearly quadrupled. The average annual increase in median broadband speed by technology was 47% for cable and 14% for fiber, while DSL speeds have remained virtually unchanged.

The actual speeds achieved by the vast majority of consumers meet or exceed advertised speeds. “All ISPs using cable, fiber or satellite technologies advertise speeds for services that on average are close to the actual speeds experienced by their subscribers,” according to an FCC release. “Fixed cable and fiber broadband customers experienced speeds that were 100% or better than advertised. However, the actual speeds experienced by subscribers of some ISPs satellite technologies were lower on average than the advertised ‘up-to’ speeds for their respective providers.”

It's That Time of the Year . . Again


  Two things happen this time of year: (1) my email is inundated with notices from vendors who will populate the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and (2) my browser reveals to any other user of my computer what I have seen on either the cnet.com "Deals" page or any other site where I have checked in to check out gear.

CES begins just after New Year's with an extended media session this year. The media day that existed in past years has been expanded to two days (and in Las Vegas, the "days" mean the nights, as well). This New Edge blog earns me the right to attend as an industry analyst, which gets me in the door for the media events, so I now split my time between wearing down the soles of my shoes on the expo floor and hopping from media session to media session.

DirecTV Now Courts Cost Conscious Cord Cutters

New Edge  On paper, it’s a deal too good to be true: 100 streaming channels for $35 per month. Yet that’s exactly what DirecTV plans to launch tomorrow. Dubbed “DirecTV Now,” the new service will allow parent company AT&T to aggressively target the one in four American households that do not currently subscribe to any cable or satellite TV service.

DirecTV Now subscribers will be able to stream movies and shows over an Internet connection, without set top boxes or other equipment—similar to Netflix or Hulu. And while the $35 price for the 100 channel package is introductory (and will increase to $60 at some unspecified point in the future), AT&T has said that those who lock in that $35 price will be able to keep it for as long as they are subscribers—save for the seemingly inevitable content-related price increases.

Lincoln's 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation

  SInce the New Edge mark generally denotes tech oriented content, I spent part of the weekend asking myself how I could possibly present one of my favorites of Abraham Lincoln's works in this forum. And then it hit me.

In a previous job, I habitually photocopied Lincoln's 1863 Thanksgiving proclamation and taped it to the outside of my office door each year. It was the analogue equivalent of a blog. It was a message I enjoyed sharing, but it did not merit a direct-push email to everyone on my contact list. (For historic context, please see Rick Schadelbauer's post from last week.)

According to this history, the first blog emerged in 1994. The term "weblog" was created five years later, and within ten years, there were rougly 50 million blogs worldwide.

At this point, I should note that I have never  photographed my food or "checked in" on Foursquare. Most of the web-based writing I have done, whether here or elsewhere, has focused on tech-related matters. Today, however, I will pause to virtually Scotch tape Lincoln's remarks to this virtual door. Enjoy, and have a good Thanksgiving.

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

# # #

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

NTCA to Host Rural Telehealth Seminar (and, Today is National Rural Health Day)

  Today is National Rural Health Day. And, in fewer than 30 days (December 15), NTCA’s Foundation for Rural Service and Smart Rural Community will host a rural telehealth seminar that will feature a deep dive into rural health issues as well as an opportunity for participants to test-drive telehealth devices. “Rural Health at a Digital Crossroads: Improving Care with Telehealth” will feature academics from the University of Virginia and the University of Southern Maine who will address public health issues and the role of broadband; tech developers who will demonstrate technical solutions; and NTCA’s own IT experts who will discuss network security issues implicated by telehealth.

The conversation could not be more timely or necessary. Telehealth promises beneficial results for rural America. Residents of rural areas experience greater incidences of chronic and other conditions as compared to their urban counterparts. When combined with distance from or lack of access to physicians and health care facilities and prevailing socioeconomic challenges, obstacles to the acquisition of affordable health care arise. Broadband-enabled applications can shatter these barriers and result in improved healthcare at lower costs, benefiting rural users while lowering national healthcare costs.