It’s not surprising this headline in The New York Times caught my attention: "Unused PC Power to Run Grid for Unraveling Disease." As many of you know, my friend and cable pioneer John Evans enlisted me to help him several years ago to put together an effort to use telecommunications technology to accelerate the development of an HIV/AIDS vaccine. John has long been one of the "true believers" in the power of the technology we have helped develop, and he saw how it could potentially make a major difference. The Waterford Project, as it was called, was designed to use Internet technology to link some of the top researchers in vaccine development and have them collaborate toward an agreed-upon goal. We overcame the substantial legal and institutional challenges to putting that collaboration together, but by the time that was accomplished the "telecom bubble" had burst, and the necessary funding was not forthcoming. Now, another very good idea has been announced, this time with a long-term funding commitment from IBM, among others, to harness untapped computing power from millions of personal computers, as explained in the Times story, to help unlock the genetic mysteries of illnesses like AIDS, Alzheimer’s, cancer and the rest. This is not a new idea. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, SETI, set up the SETI@home project in 1999 to use "excess capacity" of home computers to help crunch the vast amount of data coming in from that effort. When someone’s computer is idle it processes data sent to it from the project and returns the results. The same concept holds for this new project, called The World Community Grid. It has been developed in collaboration with The National Institutes of Health, The World Health Organization, the UN and others. What caught my eye, however, was that there didn’t appear to be anyone from our industry involved. There should be. After all, we supply the principal infrastructure that interconnects that "community grid." And while there may be lots of "untapped computing power" in all those idle computers, there is a lot less "excess capacity" in the grid that interconnects them! For instance, we have FCC commissioners debating whether they should require cable to use its capacity to carry all the "multicast" signals of broadcasters as part of the "deal" to get them to give back the duplicate spectrum they are using during the DTV transition. If there is any rational policy thinking (forget the legalities of taking our property – that’s another issue) going on about the use of our private bandwidth, which is always inherently limited – it should certainly tilt toward urging that "excess capacity" be used for something like the World Community Grid before being squandered on yet another news, weather or shopping channel spawned by a broadcaster who already has public spectrum to distribute programming! Our capacity is finite; it should not be wasted. The World Community Grid is a great idea, and like The Waterford Project, has great potential. If it really "takes off," as I hope it will, there is no way it cannot affect cable – since our capacity to shuttle all that data around will be part of the mix. We should promote the idea, and our involvement with it. The data center is going to be in Boulder, Colorado – down the street from CableLabs. There are many ways the cable industry can participate, collaborate and enhance this effort, technically and promotionally. We would be remiss not to do it with gusto.

The Daily


Fiber Frenzy

Ziply Fiber launched its fiber service in Republic, Washington. Over 350 addresses can now get speeds from 100 Mbps to 10 Gbps today, with an additional 100+ addresses to come. — The town of Thurmont

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