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This Just In: Global Competitiveness Figures Released

The World Economic Forum ( today released their survey of competitive nations in the world. First place was? Anyone want to guess? For the second straight year: Finland. The U.S. came in second. The top 10 was rounded out by: Sweden, Denmark, Taiwan, Singapore, Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and Australia. To read the criteria for rankings, please go to the WEF site. China and India are near the middle of the pack of the 100 ranked nations.

These rankings made me think a bit. What do Nordic nations have (in general) that is lacking in the rest of the world? I haven't mapped the WEF competitive list to the world's top broadband nations, but I bet they are pretty darn close. Is broadband the be-all, end-all of a competitive nation? Absolutely not, but broadband does make one more productive, which leads to being more competitive. Those utilizing broadband are also generally better educated (i.e. they have a good education system). When broadband is utilized there is more online spending involved, which, in turn, leads to more efficiencies in the supply chain and then, ultimately, of course, makes everybody better looking, richer and live longer. (Okay, maybe not those last three things.)

Speaking of broadband, I also just heard today that 61% US internet users now utilize broadband…that dial-up figure is dropping sharply. I have also heard that the uptake of the internet in general is slowing in the US, but I look at that as an opportunity to get broadband speeds up the REAL broadband definitions, not that of the FCC, which is a shockingly low measurement of 200kbps upstream and down. Want to check that fact? I think we all agree with the always-on component of broadband, but the high-speed part seems to be a moving target. What SHOULD be the definition of broadband, speed-wise? Thoughts?

Response to Hurricane Katrina: Less Finger Pointing…More Rebuilding and Recovery

I have read much about the US government response to Hurrican Katrina. Many government officials are getting pummeled for their lack of support for funding to shore up the levees in New Orleans in the years running up to this massive natural disaster. Some government officials say they could never have predicted such a disaster. The facts seem to point that such a disaster actually had been predicted – years ago and as recently as 30 hours before the hurricane hit.

What’s my point?

I think my main point is that everybody is angry, hurt and disappointed at the government response to the hurricane and this could be a logical argument, but (and I’m no psychologist) it seems there is also a desire, nay, NEED to point fingers at somebody for all of this death and destruction. We cannot point it at Mother Nature. It seems a bit too tangential to point it at global warming, although it seems likely that more studies may be funded in this area – at least privately. We can’t point the finger at the founders of New Orleans for building a city below sea level. We can, however, point the finger at government. We expect goverment to do better…to be better…to take care of us when we need to be taken care of…to defend us when we need to be defended.

However…and here’s the rub…nobody seems to want government in their lives until they actually need it. “Our taxes are too high” is a common refrain of many. These taxes, of course, are the taxes that pay for the Army Corps of Engineers to build and shore up the levee system around New Orleans. Those taxes pay for the National Guard and the police force to secure New Orleans and make it safe. Those taxes pay for the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA coordination efforts. We expect the government to step in and take control and make us safe and make the pain go away. We all want this in times of disaster, but we want it to happen with as few tax dollars as possible and with as much expertise, speed and professionalism as is humanly possible. Is this too much to ask? Perhaps.

As much as government may be derided at times…we need it. We need it strong and we need it open 24/7. Nobody is perfect all of the time and it seems that the general consensus is that the goverment did a lackluster job at initially responding to the Katrina disaster. However, let’s pause from the finger pointing…recognize that the government is made up of people, just like you and me full of human frailties and short-comings…and be secure in the knowledge that all is being done by the government, by volunteers and by friends around the country and world to get Louisiana and Mississippi re-built. Mistakes were made, but let’s focus on getting back to normalcy before we point fingers at what could/should have been done better. Life is clearly too short to waste arguing when rebuilding needs to be done.

Stream of Consciousness…18 years from now…

So, my boss brought her newborn son to work today, and being that this three-month old was making his debut at Cisco, it made me think what that little guy’s life would be like…technologically speaking. Utilizing Moore’s law and going out to his 18th birthday in 2023, how different it will be is anyone’s guess. It is interesting to think, however, that the internet as his communications and information platform will be pervasive and prevalent in his life…from his mom and dad sending out his baby pictures to friends and relatives to anytime, anywhere wireless access to information, computation and converged media. Will he have text books in school, for example…or just a wireless connection and a laptop or computer tablet? Will he ever make a phone call on a PSTN line or just use VoIP? Will his first job be at a central office location or will he just be connected virtually to work? Will his first car be gas-driven or cold-fusion driven or flux-capacitor driven? Will he need to learn to speak Chinese in order to be in the business world? Oh, I have a lot of questions (and no answers), but his life will certainly be different than mine or yours.

The one thing I do know is that he wailed as soon as he was thrust into my arms. The ol’ “let’s make the guy hold him and see how uncomfortable he is” trick…that trick probably won’t change in the next 18 years…at least we have that knowledge going for us…

WHAT is Broadband in the U.S.?

In a previous blog entry on the state of broadband penetration in the US I lamented the fact that according to the ITU we have fallen in broadband penetration in the past year as measured by broadband per 100 inhabitants. We are, in fact, the largest broadband nation in the world by number of subscribers NTIA chief Michael Gallagher reminded us at a Cisco conference yesterday. He also said that broadband is the second fastest adopted technology in the US other than color television. I didn’t have a chance to speak with him after his talk, but the question I have is: are we still measuring broadband at 200kbps? That was the latest FCC definition of broadband. In my humble opinion (I am not a technologist, but an avid user of all things broadband), 200K and $1.50 will get you a cup of coffee. 200K definition comes from FCC’s 4th report “Availability of Advanced Telecommunications Capability in the United States” to Congress (issued September 2004), which you can read here…or here: (Page 12)

LET’S RAISE THE BAR!! I understand that to those without connectivity 200Kpbs would seem acceptable, but to those of us who generally live in the “truer” broadband world 200K is embarassing to measure as broadband. Sure, we have to keep up with the Jones’ (or Swedes or Koreans or Japanese, etc.) in terms of measurement with broadband…we’re #1 or we’re #16 and falling or whatever, but let’s measure true broadband or “next generation” broadband or whatever you want to call it as well. Let’s measure 10Mbps or 100Mbps or both! Let’s see where we really are in terms of getting broadband access out there at speeds that are meaningful. Internet access is a step, so too is 200Kpbs, but the real step is when you are talking multiple megabits. Let’s redefine broadand and see where we really are in true broadband penetration…IMHO…I vote for “next generation” broadband being defined at 10Mbps (which, truth be told, would be standard in some of our “competitor” nations). I’ll even throw out a “fast” broadband measurement of 100Mbps. Where are we on these speeds that truly matter?

Cisco/China “Ruckus”

A comment on a previous blog entry asked for a comment on the “Cisco/China Ruckus.” What that “ruckus” is: several bloggers and columnists have accused Cisco of selling equipment to the Chinese specifically designed to build their Internet censoring capability, their so-called “Golden Shield” project. I will copy directly from my learned and esteemed colleage, Terry Alberstein, head of PR for Cisco’s Asia/Pacific region, who sent the following to one of the bloggers:

“As one of the worlds leaders in Internet networking technology, Cisco Systems has played an important role in the growth of the Internet globally. Cisco has also played an important role in the development of the Internet in China. Today the Internet in China has over 100 million users, one of the largest Internet populations in the world, and continues to grow rapidly.

The networking hardware and software products that Cisco sells in China are exactly the same as we sell in every market in the world. And it is our users, not Cisco, that determine the applications that they deploy.

Beyond basic Internet protocol (IP)-based data, voice and video connectivity, Cisco’s products provide important network management functions, such as preventing unauthorized access to networks, helping to prevent and mitigate denial of service attacks, and protecting intellectual property. Cisco technologies also address important security functions such as blocking viruses from infecting a network, preventing hackers from stealing credit card numbers, protecting access to confidential medical information, helping Internet service providers administer billing, and allowing public libraries and parents to block young childrens access to particular websites.

Cisco is not in violation of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act. The act in question requires export licensing from the U.S. Department of Commerce for specifically designed policing equipment like shotguns, police helmets and handcuffs. Networking products from Cisco and our competitors are not covered by this legislation. A full list of these items can be found at the Department of Commerce link below:

Cisco Systems does not participate in the censorship of information by governments. Moreover, Cisco complies with U.S. Government regulations, which prohibit sale of our products to certain destinations; or to users who misuse our products or resell them to prohibited users.

Cisco does sell networking equipment to law enforcement agencies around the world, including in China, in compliance with U.S. Department of Commerce regulations. Our products offer benefits through the networking of computing devices that aid in the effectiveness and timeliness of law enforcement. We also sell our products to many public sector organizations like universities, municipal governments, utilities, etc. Additionally, the market for networking products in China is highly competitive – we have strong competition in that market from French, Japanese, Canadian, Korean and Chinese competitors.

With respect to service and training of our products, all Cisco customers globally have access to Cisco training and support. We provide service and support, either directly by Cisco or, in many cases, through systems integration partners for our equipment. However, these services do not entail the day to day management of networks. Our service and post-sales support is designed to replace faulty or defective products, and to provide training for the proper operation and configuration of network hardware.”

Hope that helps clarify the official Cisco position.