The Contested Future of Municipal Broadband Systems

Chattanooga, Tennessee, is currently deploying an extremely fast and cheap public Internet option provided through their city government. From The New York Times:

“Gig City,” as Chattanooga is sometimes called, has what city officials and analysts say was the first and fastest — and now one of the least expensive — high-speed Internet services in the United States. For less than $70 a month, consumers enjoy an ultrahigh-speed fiber-optic connection that transfers data at one gigabit per second. That is 50 times the average speed for homes in the rest of the country, and just as rapid as service in Hong Kong, which has the fastest Internet in the world.

Since the fiber-optic network switched on four years ago, the signs of growth in Chattanooga are unmistakable. Former factory buildings on Main Street and Warehouse Row on Market Street have been converted to loft apartments, open-space offices, restaurants and shops. The city has welcomed a new population of computer programmers, entrepreneurs and investors. Lengthy sideburns and scruffy hipster beards — not the norm in eastern Tennessee — are de rigueur for the under-30 set.

Chattanooga has been joined in recent years by a handful of other American cities that have experimented with municipally owned fiber-optic networks that offer the fastest Internet connections. Lafayette, La., and Bristol, Va., have also built gigabit networks. Google is building privately owned fiber systems in Kansas City, Kan.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Austin, Tex., and it recently bought a dormant fiber network in Provo, Utah.

Discussions about this sort of infrastructure investment almost always focus on how data availability can attract or retain technology startups. Those small business benefits are fine, but are far more difficult to substantiate in the face of immutable recruitment factors like geography or climate working in the other direction.

The clearer stimulative case is on the consumer side. By creating a more competitive market or pricing data service at cost, these cities can decrease what their residents pay monthly on utilities. In the Midwest, typical 100Mbps residential service plans can exceed $100/mo. Chattanooga’s service beats that price by over a third and it’s far from an outlier. That’s around $500 per year, savings that exceed many direct-to-taxpayer credits/rebates. Participation also allows municipalities to create bandwidth performance floors, prompting private carriers to raise speeds in order to justify their premium.

Firedfox: A Eulogy

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Usage of Mozilla Firefox has been in precipitous decline for the last several years. Once the only viable browser alternative to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, they have seen their user base erode at the hands of Google Chrome, now the market leader.

Indignation and Common Nouns

In the strongest defense of its future viability so far, Facebook’s newly spawned Creative Labs division has released Paper, a Flipboard-meets-Medium reader/writer that makes it considerably easier to consume external content while remaining on the social network.

I think the visual experience of the app has been a little overstated in the popular tech press, but it really does take $FB’s in-app browsing woes out of the picture, and notably, Paper actually makes Facebook a realistic destination for outside content discovery. Despite denying the title of “media company,” it’s hard to see them passing on Netflix-esque curation opportunities, at least as a facilitator.

Facebook going on offense has stepped on some much smaller players, though.

I replaced the screen assembly on a friend’s iPhone 4S. The process unfortunately took me over two hours. The major takeaways? One, I’m never doing this again. Two, these things really aren’t designed to be repaired. The first picture here shows how the melted adhesive can make the battery removal difficult — and that’s before you fight with any of the lightweight, easily stripped screws or the abundance of inexplicable tape.

Legal Defeat of Net Neutrality Was Preventable

The Open Internet Order, a set of administrative regulations from the FCC placed on Internet service providers, wasn’t popular when it was narrowly approved in 2010. Prominent supporters of net neutrality were unsatisfied with how the rules granted ISPs significant commercial latitude over “last-mile” infrastructure and how wireless data carriers like AT&T and Verizon were exempt from most of the new requirements. Many conservatives attacked the order as an overreach of the Obama Administration.

Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product—if we should judge America by that—counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

— Robert F. Kennedy to the University of Kansas on March 18, 1968

I’m not sure I’ll ever get over how cool these are.

I’m not sure I’ll ever get over how cool these are.

Gerrymandering Runs Deeper Than District Results

There has been substantial commentary on the effects of gerrymandering upon the present Congress. (And then commentary on the commentary.) This analysis has generally been focused on how a few dozen members of the Republican Conference, insulated from mainstream political consequences, have staked out positions opposed by large national majorities. While I agree that aggressive redistricting is absolutely part of what happened with the recent shutdown, consumers of this talk should be aware that the issue is deeper than the responsiveness of specific district constituencies being out of line with popular priorities.

These custom desks for the new Energy.me office are gorgeous.

These custom desks for the new Energy.me office are gorgeous.

When Should I Use FCFF?

The dividend discount model (DDM) does not explicitly account for the buildup of cash within the firm produced by a dividend underpayment. Nor does the model protect against overvaluation in the event of an overpayment. This dynamic is a central weakness of DDM as a valuation tool. It highlights how the strategic use of dividend payment can distort the conclusions of the model. 

Dividend discounting suspends the assumption that firms remit the largest possible dividend to their shareholders without incurring additional liabilities as a result of that payment. Except for some lean partnerships where this behavior may be a chartered condition, most firms use dividends to attract or retain certain types of investors, among other financial marketing reasons. Furthermore, DDM does little to promote internal reinvestment, as applying bottom-line earnings to capital expenditures could cannibalize dividends and erode model outcomes.

So when should you use FCFF intead?

There’s Always Money in the Banana House

A local property management company drew the interest of West Lafayette’s engineering and development departments when they painted a mural of their signature fruit on the side of a house two blocks from Purdue’s campus. It’s technically a sign, and one that isn’t easily defined by the county’s zoning ordinance. The story inspired a pun-filled report in the Journal and Courier, which was later syndicated in the Indy Star.