Intel: Another One Bites The Dust

[Note:  This item comes from friend Jock Gill.  DLH]

Intel: Another One Bites The Dust
By Yanni Lodato
Dec 27 2020
https://seekingalpha.com/article/4396305-intel-another-one-bites-dust

Summary

• Intel has experienced significant difficulties in recent years as the company has been hindered by slow innovation, rising competition, and negative market externalities.
• Intel’s slow pace of innovation leaves the company especially vulnerable to increased adoption of ARM processors in the server and the personal computer space.
• At the present moment, Intel faces considerable long-term challenges.

It’s no secret that Intel’s (INTC) stock has been on a tumultuous ride in 2020, with the stock price gyrating from highs of $68 a share to present-day lows of $46. INTC has progressively been beaten down amidst innovation difficulties of the company’s x86 chips, potential revenue disruption amidst Microsoft (MSFT) and Apple’s (AAPL) decision to vertically integrate chip construction, broader threats from x86’s rival ARM architecture, and broader semiconductor industry headwinds. INTC’s stock price has halved, facilitating interest as to whether or not the stock would make a strong value and rebound play or whether new investors are catching a falling knife. This article will delineate my investment thesis on INTC discussing current vulnerabilities, market developments, fundamentals, and the stock’s current valuation.

My, How The Mighty Have Fallen

For decades INTC has remained the market leader in the semiconductor space with its x86 series microprocessors functioning as the qualified brain of computer systems allowing the execution of computer functions for laptops, phones, tablets, gaming workstations, and data centers. INTC services preeminent computer system manufacturers ranging from Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT), Lenovo (OTCPK:LNVGY), HP (HPQ), and Dell (DELL). INTC revenues are distributed across 5 operating segments ranging from Client Computing (54% of revenues), Data Center (32%) of revenues, Internet of Things (5%), Non-Volatile Memory solutions (6%), and Programmable Solutions (3%). The largest segments of INTC’s revenues (coincidentally the segments most susceptible to competitive erosion) are derived from the company’s client computing and data center segments which comprise a collective 86% of INTC’s revenues. For years, INTC remained the market leader in the personal computer microprocessing segment; however, in recent years, INTC has experienced sustained production delays and has drastically lagged behind competitors in the design of advanced chips. INTC has faced staunch competition from Asian competitors, most notable of which being Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (NYSE:TSM) and Samsung (OTC:SSNLF) which have already launched sophisticated 5-nanometer chip versions. TSMC is mass-producing 5-nanometer ARM chips which will be used in 5G iPhones. The terminology “nanometer” is a measurement metric for measuring the size of transistors in a processing chip, the smaller the size, the more transistors can be outfitted, and consequentially the greater the computing power of the chip.

Intel has predominately manufactured its chips in-house, in order to control the research and development of next-gen chips. Originally, INTC’s 10nm chips were supposed to be released in 2016 but were delayed 3 years being released in 2019, and the company’s new 7nm chips are delayed until 2022 at the earliest. INTC does have a well funded Research and Development apparatus; the company spends an astronomical $13.3 billion a year on R&D expense or 20% of gross annual revenues; however, INTC suffers from malignant supply chain and technological difficulties.

INTC has faced sustained difficulties bringing new chips to market because its manufacturing group either cannot build the new chips efficiently or cannot do so economically. This has resulted in significant lag times in bringing products to market with INTC making low-risk enhancements to existing products while having difficulty bringing new technologies to market. In the past, INTC could rely on microarchitecture modifications and exacting production efficiencies to facilitate new generation chips; however, the company is reaching the upper limits of its famous Moore’s Law growth trajectory (that the number of chip transistors or processing efficiency of its chips would double every two years). As INTC goes from generation to generation of chips, the difficulties involved in doubling the processing power from generation to generation become increasingly difficult as INTC struggles to make transistors smaller, its 10nm chips are already smaller than the vast majority of viruses affecting human health. The race for smaller transistors and faster processors is a constant battle amongst technology companies each trying to win over consumers with technologically superior products. This has resulted in AAPL deciding to transition its MAC laptop and desktop computers to its own chips (Apple already integrated its own chips into iPhones, Tablets, and Smartwatch devices), with targets set for AAPL to fully integrate its own chips into all devices within 2 years. Apple accounts for $3 billion of Intel’s yearly revenues of $75 billion, comprising only 4% of total revenues. Losing Apple will not deliver a meaningful blow to revenues but it represents an ideological blow of technological inferiority amidst the personal computer processing segment. MSFT has also indicated that it will build its own ARM chips for its servers and future surface personal computer devices; MSFT captures only 4% of the US PC market, but the company’s vertical integration efforts mark an ideological blow to Intel and its x86 processing infrastructure, especially if MSFT implements ARM architecture support for its operating system.

ARM, Intel, & The Future

For many decades the personal computer industry has been monopolized by Intel’s dominance with its x86 processing architecture. Intel had essentially patented the instructions for operating a computer and has exerted dominance in the personal computing segment boasting superior processing capabilities. Back in Apple’s infancy, it had tried to develop a competing processing solution to x86 but was unsuccessful and continued to integrate INTC’s processors into its personal computers; however, significant expansion within the mobile computing and smartphone industry resulted in AAPL developing a need for a very efficient-low power consumption processor for its phones. AAPL initially worked in coordination with Samsung and later with TSM and integrated ARM processors into Apple phones. ARM processors have become the standard for the IOS and Android phone and tablet processing markets, consuming little power and, boasting significant processing efficiency. ARM has established a stronghold in the mobile computing segment as a result of irreplicable patent monopolies by ARM, inherent battery and processing superiority for mobile, and high competitive barriers for alternative processors given that few players (Apple and Samsung) dominate the market and current games, programs, apps, etc. are all tailored to the ARM architecture. This leaves the desktop, laptop, server, and data center markets running on x86.

Amidst the server segment, ARM has strong potential to displace x86 architecture due to the processor’s substantial energy efficiency and increasing performance capabilities. ARM delivers something that x86 can barely do: scaling. ARM offers considerably less power consumption, requiring less cooling, and significantly reducing power bills. ARM can deliver strong processing efficiency, low heat dissipation, and depressed power consumption. Amazon Web Services (NASDAQ:AMZN) launched its Graviton2 ARM processors in 2019, which promise up to 40% better performance from comparable x86-processors in addition to offering 20% less power consumption. Graviton2, based on the ARM architecture, may have a big impact on cloud workloads, AWS’ cost structure, and ARM in the data center. The largest cost in the cloud computing segment is cooling amounting to billions of dollars or approximately 30-50% of energy expenditures. ARM processors can drastically reduce costs delivering meaningful cost savings to businesses.

[snip]

California’s battle over mask wearing began 102 years ago. Stupid then, stupid now

California’s battle over mask wearing began 102 years ago. Stupid then, stupid now
By Gustavo Arellano
Dec 29 2020
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-12-29/1918-influenza-los-angeles-masks-luther-powers

The petition to the City Council was straightforward: Enact a mandatory mask policy to combat the pandemic, or “the disease will come back again, and will exact a heavier toll than ever.”

Seven hundred residents, doctors and concerned citizens alike, signed the document. But the council members who heard their pleas wouldn’t have it.

One said masks left the wearer “breathing in the foul air which they exhale.” Another cracked he might be more sympathetic to the issue “if the doctors would come through and agree on some one thing, or if any of them could agree at all.” Still another said he would “not propose to take the advice of a lot of outsiders.”

And so the petition failed — even as five of nine council members who mulled it over either suffered from the virus or had to quarantine because their family members had it.

Huntington Beach, 2020? Try Los Angeles, 1919.

For over a century, historians and health officials have marveled at how Los Angeles weathered the so-called Spanish flu better than most major American cities. Most of the credit goes to City Health Commissioner Dr. Luther Powers, who ordered business and school shutdowns early on to flatten the curve while other metro areas didn’t.

But Powers never implemented a mask ordinance, despite having the power and multiple opportunities to do so.

The non-move might serve as vindication to today’s pandejos and maskholes, who use a lot of the same whines that their counterparts did a century ago. But a look back at the face-off between maskers and anti-maskers during the height of the Spanish flu actually offers a cautionary tale that should haunt us today:

A public health official had a chance to help save even more lives, and blew it.

“There are a variety of variables” to explain why Los Angeles suffered less than other towns, said J. Alexander Navarro. He’s a medical historian at the University of Michigan who helps edit the school’s online Influenza Encyclopedia, the nation’s most comprehensive public archive of the 1918 flu. But if Powers had required everyone to wear masks in public, that “would’ve had an impact.” 

In 2007, Navarro coauthored a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. that found that cities which instituted multiple “non-pharmaceutical interventions” — quarantines, social distancing, masks and the like — suffered less than those that went with one or none. He compared the strategies to, of all things, slices of Swiss cheese.

“They all have holes,” Navarro said. “Alone, they’re not effective. But if you stack them together, you start to layer up those slices, and one of those holes don’t go the whole way.”

This is how Powers dealt Los Angeles a metaphorical bag of shredded cheddar.

***

The widespread use of masks in Los Angeles seemed imminent when the Spanish flu slammed California in the fall of 1918. San Francisco issued a citywide order for anyone outside their homes; San Diego required them for anyone serving the public, like restaurant employees or bank tellers. Gov. William D. Stephens, running for reelection, urged Californians to wear masks, opining that the practice offers “but little discomfort and means a service rendered to our fellow-men and to our country.”

This quick mainstreaming had an immediate impact on the public. The Times reported on Oct. 23 that masks around Los Angeles “were quite common in large offices … where the general public is coming and going all day in numbers.”

The following day, L.A. Mayor Frederick Woodman brought a resolution to the City Council to enforce mask wearing, and even donned one in support of the cause.

But the measure went nowhere, mostly because of Powers.

“The impossibility of educating all at once the mass of the people as to how to use the masks properly is obvious,” he told the council. “When care is not exercised, the masks are useless.”

The council went on to pass a resolution that merely advised the public to use masks, instead of making them obligatory.

The matter came back two weeks later and was rejected again. By then, Powers had penned a bulletin published in the city’s dailies that asked Angelenos “respectfully” to wear a mask so everyone could “benefit by willingly entering into this public duty without being forced.”

This time, the council was now hostile to the idea, with President Bert Farmer stating, “All this talk about making the wearing of masks compulsory sounds to me like bunk.”

Cases and deaths were dropping at the time, so that lulled a public and press once receptive to a mask ordinance to now ignore them altogether, if not outright ridicule their use.

“In going the distance six or seven masks might be encountered,” The Times wrote about the Thanksgiving Eve scene that year in downtown L.A., “while from fifty to seventy-five people without masks were sneezing and coughing as they hurried along, apparently unmindful of other people’s germs and not stingy with their own.”

By then, this paper openly referred to masks as “muzzles,” published editorial cartoons mocking their advocates, and opined “it is might hard for a man to look like statesman when he goes forth on the thoroughfares with his mush embedded in a gauze nosebag.”

In a Dec. 1, 1918, editorial titled “Adios ‘Flu’ Scare!” the paper’s editorial board wrote there was no proof that any preventive measure “averted a single case of the disease or saved a single life. The real sufferers are the men and women whose incomes have been stopped, whose businesses have been all but ruined.”

The Times spoke too soon: The city was just about to get walloped by a second wave.

By January, as Los Angeles weathered yet another wave, Powers finally wrote up a mask mandate but decided to hold a public hearing on the matter. That’s when a group calling itself the Citizens League to Aid the Suppression of Influenza presented the petition signed by more than 700.

But just before the meeting, the California State Board of Health issued a memo that said mask policies have “no effect whatever” in stopping the flu yet recommended their use due to the “theoretical possibilities” of preventing the spread.

L.A. Police Chief John Butler said he thought it would be hard to enforce any measure “but asserted that the police department would do the Health Department’s bidding at any and all times.”

At the end, the council — though skeptical — deferred to Powers.

“I shall not recommend the passage of a flu mask ordinance today,” he said.

The myth that masks did nothing to stop the flu burrowed itself into the Angeleno ego. The Times published charts that showed how cities that enacted face-cover policies suffered far worse than L.A. And, in a particularly cruel volley in the eternal rivalry between us and San Francisco, this paper labeled the latter “City of Masks” in a Jan. 21 story boasting that their “flu toll is far above ours.”

[snip]

The Plague Year

[Note:  This item comes from reader Randall Head.  DLH]

The Plague Year
The mistakes and the struggles behind America’s coronavirus tragedy.
By Lawrence Wright
Dec 28 2020
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/01/04/the-plague-year

1. “An Evolving Situation”

There are three moments in the yearlong catastrophe of the COVID-19pandemic when events might have turned out differently. The first occurred on January 3, 2020, when Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke with George Fu Gao, the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which was modelled on the American institution. Redfield had just received a report about an unexplained respiratory virus emerging in the city of Wuhan.

The field of public health had long been haunted by the prospect of a widespread respiratory-illness outbreak like the 1918 influenza pandemic, so Redfield was concerned. Gao, when pressed, assured him that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. At the time, the theory was that each case had arisen from animals in a “wet” market where exotic game was sold. When Redfield learned that, among twenty-seven reported cases, there were several family clusters, he observed that it was unlikely that each person had been infected, simultaneously, by a caged civet cat or a raccoon dog. He offered to send a C.D.C. team to Wuhan to investigate, but Gao said that he wasn’t authorized to accept such assistance. Redfield made a formal request to the Chinese government and assembled two dozen specialists, but no invitation arrived. A few days later, in another conversation with Redfield, Gao started to cry and said, “I think we’re too late.”

Perhaps Gao had just been made aware that the virus had been circulating in China at least since November. Certainly, Redfield didn’t know that the virus was already present in California, Oregon, and Washington, and would be spreading in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Iowa, Connecticut, Michigan, and Rhode Island within the next two weeks—well before America’s first official case was detected.

Redfield is convinced that, had C.D.C. specialists visited China in early January, they would have learned exactly what the world was facing. The new pathogen was a coronavirus, and as such it was thought to be only modestly contagious, like its cousin the SARS virus. This assumption was wrong. The virus in Wuhan turned out to be far more infectious, and it spread largely by asymptomatic transmission. “That whole idea that you were going to diagnose cases based on symptoms, isolate them, and contact-trace around them was not going to work,” Redfield told me recently. “You’re going to be missing fifty per cent of the cases. We didn’t appreciate that until late February.” The first mistake had been made, and the second was soon to happen.

Matthew Pottinger was getting nervous. He is one of the few survivors of Donald Trump’s White House, perhaps because he is hard to categorize. Fluent in Mandarin, he spent seven years in China, reporting for Reuters and the Wall Street Journal. He left journalism at the age of thirty-two and joined the Marines, a decision that confounded everyone who knew him. In Afghanistan, he co-wrote an influential paper with Lieutenant General Michael Flynn on improving military intelligence. When Trump named Flynn his national-security adviser, Flynn chose Pottinger as the Asia director. Scandal removed Flynn from his job almost overnight, but Pottinger stayed, serving five subsequent national-security chiefs. In September, 2019, Trump appointed him deputy national-security adviser. In a very noisy Administration, he had quietly become one of the most influential people shaping American foreign policy.

At the Journal, Pottinger had covered the 2003 sars outbreak. The Chinese hid the news, and, when rumors arose, authorities minimized the severity of the disease, though the fatality rate was approximately ten per cent. Authorities at the World Health Organization were eventually allowed to visit Beijing hospitals, but infected patients were reportedly loaded into ambulances or checked into hotels until the inspectors left the country. By then, sars was spreading to Hong Kong, Hanoi, Singapore, Taiwan, Manila, Ulaanbaatar, Toronto, and San Francisco. It ultimately reached some thirty countries. Because of heroic efforts on the part of public-health officials—and because sars spread slowly—it was contained eight months after it emerged.

The National Security Council addresses global developments and offers the President options for responding. Last winter, Pottinger was struck by the disparity between official accounts of the novel coronavirus in China, which scarcely mentioned the disease, and Chinese social media, which was aflame with rumors and anecdotes. Someone posted a photograph of a sign outside a Wuhan hospital saying that the E.R. was closed, because staff were infected. Another report said that crematoriums were overwhelmed.

On January 14th, the N.S.C. convened an interagency meeting to discuss the virus. Early that morning, the W.H.O.—relying on China’s assurances—tweeted that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. The N.S.C. recommended that screeners take the temperatures of any passengers arriving from Wuhan.

The next day, President Trump signed the first phase of a U.S.-China trade deal, declaring, “Together, we are righting the wrongs of the past and delivering a future of economic justice and security for American workers, farmers, and families.” He called China’s President, Xi Jinping, “a very, very good friend.”

On January 20th, the first case was identified in the U.S. On a Voice of America broadcast, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, “This is a thirty-five-year-old young man who works here in the United States, who visited Wuhan.” Trump, who was at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, dismissed the threat, saying, “It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine.”

On January 23, 2020, all the members of the U.S. Senate gathered for the second day of opening arguments in President Trump’s impeachment trial. It was an empty exercise with a foreordained result. Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader, had already said that he would steamroll Democratic attempts to introduce witnesses or new evidence. “We have the votes,” he decreed.

The trial posed difficulties for the four Democratic senators still running for President. As soon as the proceedings recessed, on Friday evenings, the candidates raced off to campaign for the weekend. One of them, Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, recalled, “I was doing planetariums in small towns at midnight.” Then it was back to Washington, to listen to an argument that one side would clearly win. In the midst of this deadened theatre, McConnell announced, “In the morning, there will be a coronavirus briefing for all members at ten-thirty.” This was the first mention of COVID in Congress.

The briefing took place on January 24th, in the hearing room of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, chaired. Patty Murray is the ranking Democratic member. A former preschool teacher, she has been a senator for twenty-seven years. Her father managed a five-and-dime until he developed multiple sclerosis and was unable to work. Murray was fifteen. The family went on welfare. She knows how illness can upend people economically, and how government can help.

A few days earlier, she had heard about the first confirmed COVID case in the U.S.—the man had travelled from Wuhan to Washington, her state. Murray contacted local public-health officials, who seemed to be doing everything right: the man was hospitalized, and health officials were tracing a few possible contacts. Suddenly, they were tracking dozens of people. Murray said to herself, “Wow, this is kinda scary. And this is in my back yard.”

But in the outbreak’s early days, when decisiveness mattered most, few other politicians were paying attention. It had been a century since the previous great pandemic, which found its way from the trenches of the First World War to tropical jungles and Eskimo villages. Back then, scientists scarcely knew what a virus was. In the twenty-first century, infectious disease seemed like a nuisance, not like a mortal threat. This lack of concern was reflected in the diminished budgets given to institutions that once had led the world in countering disease and keeping Americans healthy. Hospitals closed; stockpiles of emergency equipment weren’t replenished. The spectre of an unknown virus arising in China gave certain public-health officials nightmares, but it wasn’t on the agenda of most American policymakers.

About twenty senators showed up to hear Anthony Fauci and Robert Redfield speak at an hour-long briefing. The health authorities were reassuring. Redfield said, “We are prepared for this.”

That day, Pottinger convened forty-two people, including N.S.C. staffers and Cabinet-level officials, for a meeting. China had just announced a lockdown of Wuhan, a city of eleven million, which could mean only that sustained human-to-human transmission was occurring. Indeed, Pottinger’s staff reported that another city, Huanggang, was also locked down. The previous day, the State Department had heightened its travel advisory for passengers to the Wuhan region, and the meeting’s attendees debated how to implement another precaution: sending all passengers coming from Wuhan to five U.S. airports, where they could be given a health screening before entry.

The next day, Pottinger attended a Chinese New Year party on Capitol Hill. Old diplomatic hands, émigrés, and Chinese dissidents relayed stories about the outbreak from friends and family members. People were frightened. It sounded like sars all over again.

Pottinger went home and dug up files from his reporting days, looking for phone numbers of former sources, including Chinese doctors. He then called his brother, Paul, an infectious-disease doctor in Seattle. Paul had been reading about the new virus on Listservs, but had assumed that, like sars, it would be “a flash in the pan.”

If flights from China were halted, Matt asked, could America have more time to prepare?

Paul was hesitant. Like most public-health practitioners, he held that travel bans often have unintended consequences. They stigmatize countries contending with contagion. Doctors and medical equipment must be able to move around. And, by the time restrictions are put in place, the disease has usually infiltrated the border anyway, making the whole exercise pointless. But Matt spoke with resolve. Little was known about the virus except for the fact that it was spreading like wildfire, embers flying from city to city.

Paul told Matt to do whatever he could to slow the virus’s advance, giving the U.S. a chance to establish testing and contact-tracing protocols, which could keep the outbreak under control. Otherwise, the year ahead might be calamitous.

No one realized how widely the disease had already seeded itself. Fauci told a radio interviewer that COVID wasn’t something Americans needed to “be worried or frightened by,” but he added that it was “an evolving situation.”

[snip]

A ‘Great Cultural Depression’ Looms for Legions of Unemployed Performers

[Note:  This item comes from reader Randall Head.  DLH]

A ‘Great Cultural Depression’ Looms for Legions of Unemployed Performers
With theaters and concert halls shuttered, unemployment in the arts has cut deeper than in restaurants and other hard-hit industries.
By Patricia Cohen
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/26/arts/unemployed-performer-theatre-arts.html

In the top echelons of classical music, the violinist Jennifer Koh is by any measure a star.

With a dazzling technique, she has ridden a career that any aspiring Juilliard grad would dream about — appearing with leading orchestras, recording new works, and performing on some of the world’s most prestigious stages.

Now, nine months into a contagion that has halted most public gatherings and decimated the performing arts, Ms. Koh, who watched a year’s worth of bookings evaporate, is playing music from her living room and receiving food stamps.

Pain can be found in nearly every nook of the economy. Millions of people have lost their jobs and tens of thousands of businesses have closed since the coronavirus pandemic spread across the United States. But even in these extraordinary times, the losses in the performing arts and related sectors have been staggering.

During the quarter ending in September, when the overall unemployment rate averaged 8.5 percent, 52 percent of actors, 55 percent of dancers and 27 percent of musicians were out of work, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. By comparison, the jobless rate was 27 percent for waiters; 19 percent for cooks; and about 13 percent for retail salespeople over the same period.

In many areas, arts venues — theaters, clubs, performance spaces, concert halls, festivals — were the first businesses to close, and they are likely to be among the last to reopen. 

“My fear is we’re not just losing jobs, we’re losing careers,” said Adam Krauthamer, president of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians in New York. He said 95 percent of the local’s 7,000 members are not working on a regular basis because of the mandated shutdown. “It will create a great cultural depression,” he said.

The new $15 billion worth of stimulus aid for performance venues and cultural institutions that Congress approved this week — which was thrown into limbo after President Trump criticized the bill — will not end the mass unemployment for performers anytime soon. And it only extends federal unemployment aid through mid-March.

The public may think of performers as A-list celebrities, but most never get near a red carpet or an awards show. The overwhelming majority, even in the best times, don’t benefit from Hollywood-size paychecks or institutional backing. They work season to season, weekend to weekend or day to day, moving from one gig to the next.

The median annual salary for full-time musicians and singers was $42,800; it was $40,500 for actors; and $36,500 for dancers and choreographers, according to a National Endowment for the Arts analysis. Many artists work other jobs to cobble together a living, often in the restaurant, retail and hospitality industries — where work has also dried up.

They are an integral part of local economies and communities in every corner of rural, suburban and urban America, and they are seeing their life’s work and livelihoods suddenly vanish.

“We’re talking about a year’s worth of work that just went away,” said Terry Burrell, whose touring show, “Angry, Raucous and Gorgeously Shameless,” was canceled. Now she is home with her husband in Atlanta, collecting unemployment insurance, and hoping she won’t have to dip into her 401(k) retirement account.

Linda Jean Stokley, a fiddler and part of the Kentucky duo the Local Honeyswith Montana Hobbs, said, “We’re resilient and are used to not having regular paychecks.” But since March hardly anyone has paid even the minor fees required by their contracts, she said: “Someone owed us $75 and wouldn’t even pay.”

Then there’s Tim Wu, 31, a D.J., singer and producer, who normally puts on around 100 shows a year as Elephante at colleges, festivals and nightclubs. 

He was in Ann Arbor, Mich., doing a sound check for a new show called “Diplomacy” in mid-March when New York shut down. Mr. Wu returned to Los Angeles the next day. All his other bookings were canceled — and most of his income.

Mr. Wu, and hundreds of thousands of freelancers like him, are not the only ones taking a hit. The broader arts and culture sector that includes Hollywood and publishing constitutes an $878 billion industry that is a bigger part of the American economy than sports, transportation, construction or agriculture. The sector supports 5.1 million wage and salary jobs,  according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. They include agents, makeup artists, hair stylists, tailors, janitors, stage hands, ushers, electricians, sound engineers, concession sellers, camera operators, administrators, construction crews, designers, writers, directors and more. 

“If cities are going to rebound, they’re not going to do it without arts and cultural creatives,” said Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and School of Cities.

[snip]

Where Year Two of the Pandemic Will Take Us

Where Year Two of the Pandemic Will Take Us
As vaccines roll out, the U.S. will face a choice about what to learn and what to forget.
By Ed Yong
Dec 29 2020
https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/12/pandemic-year-two/617528/

The influenza pandemic that began in 1918 killed as many as 100 million people over two years. It was one of the deadliest disasters in history, and the one all subsequent pandemics are now compared with.

At the time, The Atlantic did not cover it. In the immediate aftermath, “it really disappeared from the public consciousness,” says Scott Knowles, a disaster historian at Drexel University. “It was swamped by World War I and then the Great Depression. All of that got crushed into one era.” An immense crisis can be lost amid the rush of history, and Knowles wonders if the fracturing of democratic norms or the economic woes that COVID-19 set off might not subsume the current pandemic. “I think we’re in this liminal moment of collectively deciding what we’re going to remember and what we’re going to forget,” says Martha Lincoln, a medical anthropologist at San Francisco State University.

The coronavirus pandemic ignited at the end of 2019 and blazed across 2020. Many countries repeatedly contained it. The United States did not. At least 19 million  Americans have been infected. At least 326,000 have died. The first two surges, in the spring and summer, plateaued but never significantly subsided. The third and worst is still ongoing. In December, an average of 2,379 Americans have died every day of COVID-19—comparable to the 2,403 who died in Pearl Harbor and the 2,977 who died in the 9/11 attacks. The virus now has so much momentum that more infection and death are inevitable as the second full year of the pandemic begins. “There will be a whole lot of pain in the first quarter” of 2021, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told me.

But that pain could soon start to recede. Two vaccines have been developedand approved in less time than many experts predicted, and are more effectivethan they dared hope. Joe Biden, the incoming president, has promised to push for measures that health specialists have championed in vain for months. He has filled his administration and COVID-19 task force with seasoned scientists and medics. His chief of staff, Ron Klain, coordinated America’s response to the Ebola outbreak of 2014. His pick for CDC director, Rochelle Walensky, is a widely respected infectious-disease doctor and skilled communicator. The winter months will still be abyssally dark, but every day promises to bring a little more light.

On the Fourth of July, Ashish Jha wants to host a barbecue at his house in Newtown, Massachusetts. By then, the state expects to have rolled out COVID-19 vaccines to anyone who wants one. The process will be bumpy, but Jha is hopeful. He thinks that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus will still be spreading within the U.S., but at a simmer rather than this winter’s calamitous boil. He expects to keep all his guests outside, where the risk of transmission is substantially lower. If it starts raining, they could come indoors after putting on masks. “It won’t be normal, but it won’t be like Fourth of July 2020,” says Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “I think that’s when it’ll start to feel like we’re no longer in a pandemic.”

Many of the 30 epidemiologists, physicians, immunologists, sociologists, and historians whom I interviewed for this piece are cautiously optimistic that the U.S. is headed for a better summer. But they emphasized that such a world, though plausible, is not inevitable. Its realization hinges on successfully executing the most complicated vaccination program in U.S. history, on persuading a frayed and fractured nation to continue using masks and avoiding indoor crowds, on countering the growing quagmire of misinformation, and on successfully monitoring and countering changes in the virus itself. “Think about next summer as a marker for when we might be able to breathe again,” said Loyce Pace, the executive director of a nonprofit called the Global Health Council and a member of Biden’s COVID-19 task force. “But there’s almost a year’s worth of work that needs to happen in those six months.”

The pandemic will end not with a declaration, but with a long, protracted exhalation. Even if everything goes according to plan, which is a significant if, the horrors of 2020 will leave lasting legacies. A pummeled health-care system will be reeling, short-staffed, and facing new surges of people with long-haul symptoms or mental-health problems. Social gaps that were widened will be further torn apart. Grief will turn into trauma. And a nation that has begun to return to normal will have to decide whether to remember that normal led to this. “We’re trying to get through this with a vaccine without truly exploring our soul,” said Mike Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota.

I. The Vaccine Endgame

Having vaccines is not the same as achieving vaccinations. First, pharmaceutical companies need to make enough doses. Manufacturing the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines is a delicate process, involving fragile supply chains. Quality control must be uncompromising, and small glitches can cause steady production lines of vaccine to sputter. “Vaccines are fragile biologics; they’re not T-shirts,” said Kelly Moore of Vanderbilt University, who studies immunization policy. More approved vaccines, though, could mean a more resilient supply.

Vaccines must then be distributed and deployed. Moderna’s can be stored in normal freezers, but Pfizer’s requires ultracold storage such as dry ice. Both require two doses. Tracking these will be challenging for a country without comprehensive national or state vaccination records, and with a poor history of measuring vaccine uptake at the local level. Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vials contain five(-ish) and 10 doses, respectively; these must be used within hours of being opened, which poses logistical challenges for rural clinics that serve widely dispersed communities. And while many vaccines come in ready-to-go syringes, these were developed too quickly to add such conveniences; health-care workers must remember how to thaw and prepare each dose. (Think of the vaccines as cars whose airbags and engines were tested thoroughly, but whose dashboards need work.)

All of this must be done in the middle of a pandemic, in part by understaffed and overworked public-health departments. “We are trying to plan for the most complex vaccination program in human history after a year of complete exhaustion, with a chronically underfunded infrastructure and personnel who are still responsible for measles and sexually transmitted diseases and making sure your water is clean,” Moore said. Although Operation Warp Speed spent $18 billion on developing vaccines, the federal government initially offered states less than 2 percent of that—$340 million—to deploy them. The recently approved stimulus bill will add $8 billion for vaccine distribution, but, though welcome, those funds were needed months ago. And there is still no national vaccination strategy, said Saad Omer, a vaccinologist at Yale. The Trump administration has again left things up to the states, which have again concocted a hodgepodge of plans. “We shouldn’t be going into the biggest immunization effort this country has ever undertaken without a solid playbook and without enough resources to back the plays,” Omer said.But that pain could soon start to recede. Two vaccines have been developedand approved in less time than many experts predicted, and are more effectivethan they dared hope. Joe Biden, the incoming president, has promised to push for measures that health specialists have championed in vain for months. He has filled his administration and COVID-19 task force with seasoned scientists and medics. His chief of staff, Ron Klain, coordinated America’s response to the Ebola outbreak of 2014. His pick for CDC director, Rochelle Walensky, is a widely respected infectious-disease doctor and skilled communicator. The winter months will still be abyssally dark, but every day promises to bring a little more light.

On the Fourth of July, Ashish Jha wants to host a barbecue at his house in Newtown, Massachusetts. By then, the state expects to have rolled out COVID-19 vaccines to anyone who wants one. The process will be bumpy, but Jha is hopeful. He thinks that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus will still be spreading within the U.S., but at a simmer rather than this winter’s calamitous boil. He expects to keep all his guests outside, where the risk of transmission is substantially lower. If it starts raining, they could come indoors after putting on masks. “It won’t be normal, but it won’t be like Fourth of July 2020,” says Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “I think that’s when it’ll start to feel like we’re no longer in a pandemic.”

Many of the 30 epidemiologists, physicians, immunologists, sociologists, and historians whom I interviewed for this piece are cautiously optimistic that the U.S. is headed for a better summer. But they emphasized that such a world, though plausible, is not inevitable. Its realization hinges on successfully executing the most complicated vaccination program in U.S. history, on persuading a frayed and fractured nation to continue using masks and avoiding indoor crowds, on countering the growing quagmire of misinformation, and on successfully monitoring and countering changes in the virus itself. “Think about next summer as a marker for when we might be able to breathe again,” said Loyce Pace, the executive director of a nonprofit called the Global Health Council and a member of Biden’s COVID-19 task force. “But there’s almost a year’s worth of work that needs to happen in those six months.”

The pandemic will end not with a declaration, but with a long, protracted exhalation. Even if everything goes according to plan, which is a significant if, the horrors of 2020 will leave lasting legacies. A pummeled health-care system will be reeling, short-staffed, and facing new surges of people with long-haul symptoms or mental-health problems. Social gaps that were widened will be further torn apart. Grief will turn into trauma. And a nation that has begun to return to normal will have to decide whether to remember that normal led to this. “We’re trying to get through this with a vaccine without truly exploring our soul,” said Mike Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota.

I. The Vaccine Endgame

Having vaccines is not the same as achieving vaccinations. First, pharmaceutical companies need to make enough doses. Manufacturing the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines is a delicate process, involving fragile supply chains. Quality control must be uncompromising, and small glitches can cause steady production lines of vaccine to sputter. “Vaccines are fragile biologics; they’re not T-shirts,” said Kelly Moore of Vanderbilt University, who studies immunization policy. More approved vaccines, though, could mean a more resilient supply.

Vaccines must then be distributed and deployed. Moderna’s can be stored in normal freezers, but Pfizer’s requires ultracold storage such as dry ice. Both require two doses. Tracking these will be challenging for a country without comprehensive national or state vaccination records, and with a poor history of measuring vaccine uptake at the local level. Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vials contain five(-ish) and 10 doses, respectively; these must be used within hours of being opened, which poses logistical challenges for rural clinics that serve widely dispersed communities. And while many vaccines come in ready-to-go syringes, these were developed too quickly to add such conveniences; health-care workers must remember how to thaw and prepare each dose. (Think of the vaccines as cars whose airbags and engines were tested thoroughly, but whose dashboards need work.)

All of this must be done in the middle of a pandemic, in part by understaffed and overworked public-health departments. “We are trying to plan for the most complex vaccination program in human history after a year of complete exhaustion, with a chronically underfunded infrastructure and personnel who are still responsible for measles and sexually transmitted diseases and making sure your water is clean,” Moore said. Although Operation Warp Speed spent $18 billion on developing vaccines, the federal government initially offered states less than 2 percent of that—$340 million—to deploy them. The recently approved stimulus bill will add $8 billion for vaccine distribution, but, though welcome, those funds were needed months ago. And there is still no national vaccination strategy, said Saad Omer, a vaccinologist at Yale. The Trump administration has again left things up to the states, which have again concocted a hodgepodge of plans. “We shouldn’t be going into the biggest immunization effort this country has ever undertaken without a solid playbook and without enough resources to back the plays,” Omer said.

If vaccines are successfully distributed, Americans must agree to get them. As of earlier this month, 27 percent said they wouldn’t get a free COVID-19 vaccine, though that proportion had fallen since September. Many Americans are simply watching to see if the first vaccinations occur without issue. But here, the campaign might run into the same problem that vexes all prevention efforts: People don’t notice when they successfully avoid a disease, “but a negative reaction is memorable,” said Emily Brunson, an anthropologist at Texas State University. Because millions of people are getting vaccinated, many will coincidentally have heart attacks, strokes, or other problems soon after their shots. If viral social-media posts or half-baked news alerts link these health problems to the vaccines, while dwelling on every one of the expected side effects in real time, fear might unduly ground the campaign.

Already, conspiracy theorists, QAnon supporters, and far-right groups believe COVID-19 to be a hoax or a nonissue, and this network, alongside traditional anti-vaccine activists, will downplay or disparage the vaccines. Donald Trump flirted with anti-vaccine messages before his presidency, and may do so again “to echo back what his base wants to hear,” said Kate Starbird of the University of Washington, who studies the spread of disinformation during disasters. Conspiracy theories are hard to counter once they take off, but they are also predictable and can be “pre-bunked,” Starbird said. “The first time you hear a piece of misinformation, it forms a lasting memory, and a correction doesn’t always change it,” but a preemptive countermessage could set that first memory correctly.

Americans who worry that Operation Warp Speed cut corners may be reassured by endorsements from trusted figures such as Fauci. Meanwhile, some 42 percent of Republicans currently say they would refuse a vaccine; “if Trump was enthusiastic about the vaccination, he could play a remarkably constructive role” in swaying his supporters, said David Lazer, a political scientist at Northeastern University. (Mike Pence was vaccinated on December 18.)

Many Black Americans, too, are understandably suspicious of the vaccines and the broader medical establishment after regularly receiving discriminatory care, hearing about the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, and seeing family members die of COVID-19. “The health-care system has not proven itself trustworthy,” said Jasmine Marcelin, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Members of wary communities can help vouch for a vaccine: “As a nurse, I’ll be one of the first people in line,” said Monica McLemore, a nursing professor at UC San Francisco, who is Black. But truly engendering trust in historically wronged communities, McLemore said, would mean investing more fully in care, including free masks, testing, and consultations.

II. The New Patchwork

One certainty about the vaccines is that they will be deployed unevenly. Just as the virus created a patchwork of infection in 2020, the vaccines will create a patchwork of immunity in 2021. Globally, many poor countries will barely be able to start the vaccination process, because richer countries have hoarded doses. Even within the U.S., there will be difficult months when some states are vaccinating all their citizens while others are still working through prioritized groups, such as essential workers and the elderly. Urban areas could speed ahead of rural areas, where people live farther away from any health facility, including commercial pharmacies such as CVS; where clinics have fewer staff members and fewer ultracold freezers; and where local health departments are busy with pandemic responses. “Who’s going to get to those people?” asked Tara Smith, an epidemiologist at Kent State University.

Some scientists have estimated that 50 to 70 percent of the country will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, but the actual threshold is still unclear, and several researchers suspect it may be much higher. Whatever the actual number, it will also apply at smaller geographical scales. So what if infected people from regions that have not reached the threshold travel to neighboring areas that have? “The technical term is that it becomes a big mess,” said Sam Scarpino of Northeastern University, who studies infectious-disease dynamics.

Herd immunity is frequently misunderstood. It is not a force field. Outbreaks can still begin in communities with herd immunity if someone brings the virus in, but they will die out on their own because every unvaccinated person is surrounded by enough vaccinated people that the virus will struggle to reach new hosts. Or at least that’s how it works in theory. In practice, there are two complications. First, the theory assumes that the vaccines prevent infected people from passing on the virus—and it’s still unclear whether they do. If they don’t at all, the endgame becomes harder, because vaccinated people might unwittingly spread the virus. But this is more of a theoretical concern than a likely one: Vaccines that are 95 percent effective at preventing symptoms would be expected to “reduce the rate of transmission significantly,” said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale.

Second, unvaccinated people will not be randomly strewn around a community. Instead, they’ll form clusters, because vaccines are unevenly distributed, or because vaccine skepticism spreads among friends and families. These clusters will be like cracks in a wall, through which water can seep during a storm. “Those pockets of vulnerability will be the biggest problems,” said Shweta Bansal, a disease ecologist at Georgetown University. They will mean that even when some communities reach the 70 percent threshold, infections could still spread within them. People who waited because of distrust or hesitancy, and people who could not be vaccinated because of lack of access or preexisting medical conditions, will bear the brunt of these continuing outbreaks.

Such outbreaks will grow smaller and be more easily controlled as more people get vaccinated. As the year progresses, health-care workers might have to fight only localized COVID-19 fires instead of the overwhelming nationwide inferno that’s currently ablaze.

The U.S. still needs to calm that inferno, though. In a study that simulated the effects of vaccination, Rochelle Walensky, the future CDC director, and her colleagues concluded that the percentage of infections and deaths avoided through vaccination decreases “dramatically as the severity of the epidemic increases.” Other measures such as masks, better ventilation, rapid diagnostic tests, contact tracing, physical distancing, and restrictions on indoor gatherings will still be necessary during the long rollout, and will buffer that process against disruptions. “As a nation, we’ll recover faster if you give the vaccine less work to do when it’s ready,” Walensky said on Twitter.

Most Americans—across the political spectrum—support measures aimed at curbing COVID-19, including restricting restaurants to carryout, canceling major sporting and entertainment events, and asking people to stay at home and avoid gatherings, according to surveys done by Lazer, the Northeastern political scientist, and his colleagues. Some state leaders have thus far been unwilling to enact such measures, but their attitudes might shift when the Biden administration takes office. “I’ve talked to many governors who, regardless of geography or political party, want to know what they can do to limit the transmission of this virus,” said Osterholm, who is on Biden’s COVID-19 task force. Especially now, with many questions already swirling around the vaccines, clear, consistent, evidence-based advice from that task force could go a long way in countering the chaotic, conflicting counsel that Trump and his associates have offered.

So could more funding. States cannot legally run at a deficit, so some measures require the federal checkbook, including the mass manufacturing of personal protective equipment, the rollout of cheap and ubiquitous diagnostic tests, and aid for businesses and families financially harmed by social restrictions. “I’d love to see policy makers lay out the social contract on the table,” Scarpino said. “Something like: ‘Here’s the plan; we’re asking for a bit more sacrifice, we’re putting a little money in your pocket to make you comfortable, and we’re targeting a normal July Fourth.’ Until today, it’s been: ‘Do all this stuff with no support, and who the hell knows when it’ll be over?’”

Slowly, life will feel safer. Masks will still be common, and public spaces may be less populated. But many of the joys that 2020 stripped away could gradually (if patchily) return—the joys of indoor dining, the thrill of a crowd, the touch of a loved one. “Vaccines will help us to return to normalcy,” Omer said. “It’ll be a new normal, but a very human normal.”

[snip]

New variant COVID-19

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

From: “David S. H. Rosenthal” <dshr@abitare.org>
Subject: New variant COVID-19
Date: December 29, 2020 at 9:09:26 AM EST
To: dewayne@warpspeed.com

https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1343567425107881986.html

David. 

Why a SARS-CoV-2 variant that’s 50% more transmissible would in general be a much bigger problem than a variant that’s 50% more deadly. A short thread… 1/ 

As an example, suppose current R=1.1, infection fatality risk is 0.8%, generation time is 6 days, and 10k people infected (plausible for many European cities recently). So we’d expect 10000 x 1.1^5 x 0.8% = 129 eventual new fatalities after a month of spread… 2/ 

What happens if fatality risk increases by 50%? By above, we’d expect 10000 x 1.1^5 x (0.8% x 1.5) = 193 new fatalities. 3/ 

Now suppose transmissibility increases by 50%. By above, we’d expect 10000 x (1.1 x 1.5)^5 x 0.8% = 978 eventual new fatalities after a month of spread. 4/ 

The above is just an illustrative example, but the key message: an increase in something that grows exponentially (i.e. transmission) can have far more effect than the same proportional increase in something that just scales an outcome (i.e. severity). 5/5 

Robocars 2020 In Review: Winter To Spring

Robocars 2020 In Review: Winter To Spring
By Brad Templeton
Dec 28 2020
https://www.forbes.com/sites/bradtempleton/2021/12/28/robocars-2020-in-review–winter-to-spring/

2020 began with fear of the “Robocar Winter” — a slide into the “trough of disillusionment” for the self-driving car industry that began in 2019. In spite of the world’s most chaotic year in recent memory, we saw that winter already turn into Spring. Here are the top stories of the year.

Real revolutions can get even more hype than false ones, so it’s not surprising that when the early promises that everybody would deploy by 2020 didn’t come to fruition that there was disappointment and pullback. Indeed, big car OEMs were quite happy to slow down, to not see their own industry turned upside-down at the speed that Silicon Valley startups like to operate. Most of those tech companies didn’t get the memo, and the year concluded with both real products and more insane valuations. Let’s go over the most important stories of the year, from #13 all the way to #1 — which (spoiler alert) once again involves Waymo, as does #2.

This review is also available in video form for those who prefer it:

#13 Startups die, OEMs pull back

The year began with two well-funded startup facing failure, including Starsky Trucking (which just shut down) and Drive.AI (which sold its team to Apple AAPL +3.6%.) At the same time, many Auto OEMs continued their pullback from ambitious self-driving plans to work on more driver-assist “pilot” style offerings to compete with Tesla. The pullback of the auto OEMs was bad news for all the startups founded with the idea of selling to those car companies, who need a bit of innovation assistance.

#12 Cruise reveals the Origin

GM/Cruise has mostly been doing tests and demonstrations in modified Chevy Bolts but they showed they also want to make a fully custom vehicle, and showed off the Cruise Origin, a fairly boxy Robezium meant to be used as a shared vehicle. Cruise says this is not simply a concept car — OEMs have shown off lots of concept robotaxis — but one in active development.

[snip]

The U.S. Internet Is Being Starved of Its Potential: 2020 in Review

The U.S. Internet Is Being Starved of Its Potential: 2020 in Review
By Ernesto Falcon
Dec 26 2020
https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/12/us-internet-being-starved-its-potential

Over a year ago, EFF raised the desperate need for the United States to have a universal fiber infrastructure plan in order to ensure that all Americans can obtain access to 21st century communications technology. Since then, we’ve produced technical research showing why fiber is vastly superior to all the alternative last mile broadband options in terms of its future potential, published legal research on how the U.S. regulatory system started getting it wrong (as far back as 2005), and suggested a path forward at the federal and state level (including legislation) for transitioning the U.S. communications infrastructure toward a fiber-for-all future.

Since then, the pandemic changed our world, as remote work and education became a necessity for most people. At the very start of the stay-at-home orders, EFF expressed our concern that our failure to deliver ubiquitous, affordable, future-proofed infrastructure is going to hurt the most vulnerable. People that lack fiber infrastructure are stuck with second-class Internet access with limited potential as prices continue to rise, slow speeds become obsolete, and needs for better access grow. Most notably, in response to these problems, the House of Representatives passed a universal fiber plan as part of the COVID-19 recovery effort, and we continue to make the case to the U.S. Senate, which has passed no universal 21st-century broadband plan, as to why Majority Whip Clyburn’s Affordable, Accessible Internet Act is the federal answer.

But so long as our local, state, and federal governments do not prioritize delivering future-proofed infrastructure to all people, our ability to make full use of the 21st century Internet will be limited. New services and applications will be tested and created in Asia, not here, and the next Silicon Valley premised on high upload low latency applications and services will not be in California.

America Is Behind by Choices Made by a Handful of Political and Regulatory Leaders

A billion fiber optic connections to the Internet are coming online in just a few years. A large majority of them will be in Asia, primarily led by China. These connections have already proven to be future-proof, capable of reaching not just gigabit speeds, but multi-gigabit speeds. Fiber is not only faster; it’s also cheaper long-term.

No other connection even comes close by comparison. The future of the Internet is going to be fiber. Just not in the United States. Yet. We could still change this.

But for now, the United States remains woefully behind dozens of advanced economies, with an overwhelming amount of the infrastructure dependent on slow legacy infrastructure primarily built in the late 20th century. Those legacy copper and coaxial cable connections have failed to deliver robust enough connectivity to handle the immediate remote work and remote education needs of COVID-19 pandemic. They will not handle the future. 

Moreover, their costs are increasing due to obsolescence and will be useless for future applications and services dependent on high-speed, low latency access. This lack of ubiquitous fiber is one of the reasons why the United States is so far behind 5G speeds available, even on downloads (see chart below).

On average, the United States has the slowest, most expensive Internet access market among advanced economies, which is choking off the Internet’s ability to be a force for improving American lives while the world marches forward. What the Internet becomes in the mid-to-late 21st century will not be an American story, unless we aggressively course-correct our infrastructure policies soon.

America Doesn’t Need a “Broadband Plan,” it Needs a Fiber Infrastructure Plan

A decade ago, the FCC issued a congressionally mandated “National Broadband Plan” establishing a goal of connecting 100 million U.S. homes to 100 mbps download and 50 mbps upload by 2020. While advancements in national download speeds have occurred due to some cable industry changes, hybrid fiber/coaxial cable systems are still failing to deliver robust upload speeds. In fact, during the pandemic when broadband access demand is extremely high, cable systems failed to deliver.

Essentially, the COVID-19 crisis increased our Internet usage by a year’s worth of growth in a few weeks.

Fiber was able to handle it, cable was not (and 5G just barely exists). Our technical analysis of broadband access options found overwhelmingly conclusive evidence that the inherent capacity in a fiber wire is orders of magnitude greater than all of the alternative wire and wireless options. And most recently we are now seeing wireless industry acknowledgement of the importance of widespread fiber to 5G’s future (but an absence of solutions other than “give us more money”).

While many in government will talk about how we need to get “broadband” to everyone, what they should really be talking about is how we get 21st-century-ready fiber infrastructure to everyone. This distinction is important because we have already spent billions upon billions of dollars building “broadband” with virtually nothing to show for it. That happened because we subsidized slow speeds on any old network with little expectation of future increases in capacity. For example, Frontier Communications received a large amount of federal subsidy but wasn’t forced to begin long term upgrades to cost-efficient fiber, resulting in the telecom carrier’s bankruptcy. They took all those federal dollars straight to the grave because all that was required was to deliver 10 mbps download/ 1 mbps upload Internet to as many people as possible. Those federal dollars were then squandered on propping up obsolete copper networks in rural markets, instead of long-term fiber, forcing us to have to spend the money again now on fiber.

This is why slow networks actually cost more than fiber; the number of years the investment remains useful is relevant to your total costs. The only state in the U.S. that appears to have escaped this fate was North Dakota, where nearly 67% of the state’s residents have gigabit fiber (the U.S. average sits around 30% of households). The reason broadband looks so different there is because local private and local public providers spent those dollars on fiber (and notably no national carriers sell broadband in North Dakota). Big legacy industry would love for the government to continue to spend large amounts of money on slow speed perpetual subsidies (which is still happening today from the FCC and in states like California) because it solves nothing and maintains their slow Internet monopoly.

Continued government spending on this approach though is akin to giving the Joker a pile of cash and watching him set it on fire.

The Absence of Regulation Is Part of the Problem 

The thing that holds back the large national broadband providers is the resistance to making long term investments in infrastructure as opposed to short term profits. As noted earlier, large publicly traded ISPs are ill-equipped to address the national need for fiber because of its high upfront costs and their standard three- to five-year return on investment formulas for determining where to build. This is why even densely populated cities like New York City (NYC) had to spend six years suing Verizon to expand fiber, despite the fact that it is completely profitable to serve all of New York City in the aggregate.

There are very few legitimate reasons densely populated cities like Los Angeles and Oakland aren’t near universal fiber at this point. Knowing this, EFF has called on the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to simply require every broadband provider providing service throughout a major city with a population density in excess of 1,000 people per square mile to give everyone fiber as a condition of doing business in the state. It is already against state law to discriminate based on socio-economic status and the evidence is coming in that fiber is going to high-income and skipping low income neighborhoods. In fact, given that income can serve as a proxy for race, recent studies are showing that black neighborhoods are being skipped by fiber in Los Angeles County and high-speed access is being deployed along in a discriminatory fashion in Oakland that matches past redlining that occurred with housing.

California’s state law is already clear that you aren’t allowed to profit from unreasonable discrimination, but the regulator has to enforce those laws for it to matter. The FCC can also address this problem, but only after it reverses the federal deregulation that occurred in 2017 when it repealed net neutrality as part of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order. When broadband carriers are required to operate in a non-discriminatory manner (as required if we treat them as common carriers), it is much more than net neutrality, it is about how they deliver access infrastructure to the public as well. Until then, it will be on states and local governments to address this problem.

Localism in Broadband and Investments in Fiber Will Be How We Get 21st Century Access to All People 

If the large national carriers are ill-equipped to take on the societal challenge of connecting everyone to robust 21st-century ready access to the Internet, then we need to explore our alternatives and to rethink the government’s approach. The most promise appears to come from smaller, locally-held private and public entities who can take on long term patient investments without being subject to Wall Street fast profit expectations. Such entities are deploying fiber where national carriers have long ignored and are building the 21st century in areas previously left behind such as a Missouri cooperative United Fiber delivering fiber to the home at a density of only 2.5 people per square mile or the joint venture between Alabama Power (the state’s electric utility) and Mississippi’s C-Spire to deliver fiber to the home throughout the state of Alabama.

[snip]

Here’s How Widespread The Nashville Explosion Knocked Out AT&T Service In The Southeast

Here’s How Widespread The Nashville Explosion Knocked Out AT&T Service In The Southeast
By James Crugnale
Dec 26 2020
https://digg.com/2020/heres-how-widespread-the-nashville-explosion-knocked-out-att-service-in-the-southeast

After an explosion rocked an AT&T transmission building in Nashville, there have been widespread reports of outages all throughout the Southeast United States. A live AT&T outage map shows how extensive the outage has been, affecting metro Atlanta, Alabama and Kentucky.

The Tennessean reports that the outage has also disrupted 911 operations in cities all across the state.

The outage is even more pronounced when viewing the Down Detector app.

AT&T has said they’re working hard to restore service.

Our teams continue to work around the clock on recovery efforts from yesterday morning’s explosion in Nashville.  We have two portable cell sites operating in downtown Nashville with numerous additional portable sites being deployed in the Nashville area and in the region.

At our facility, the focus of the restoration continues to be getting power to the equipment in a safe and secure way.  Challenges remain, including a fire which reignited overnight and led to the evacuation of the building.  Currently, our teams are on site working with safety and structural engineers. They have drilled access holes into the building and are attempting to reconnect power to critical equipment. Technical teams are also working as quickly as possible on rerouting additional services to other facilities in the region to restore service.

We continue to be grateful for the work of first responders as they respond to this event and help protect our team working to restore service for our customers.

We’ll provide additional updates here as our recovery progresses.