High cost for utilities to provide internet service, partnerships encouraged - vtdigger.org

High cost for utilities to provide internet service, partnerships encouraged - vtdigger.org

High cost for utilities to provide internet service, partnerships encouraged - vtdigger.org

Posted: 05 Jan 2020 08:00 AM PST

Vermont Electric Cooperative
A study looked at whether Vermont's electric utilities could help provide internet service to underserved areas. Photo courtesy VEC

Expanding high speed internet service to the state's underserved areas would cost almost $300 million, according to a study that looked at whether electric companies could help fill the gap.

The report found providing internet service to unconnected areas would be expensive for the utilities, but could be doe more cost effectively if they partnered with existing internet service providers.

The study was required as part of a package of broadband legislation passed last year. 

Lawmakers wanted to know whether electric companies could use their existing infrastructure to help expand internet service to the roughly 80,000 residents with poor internet service, or none at all. 

"The utilities have acknowledged that they have assets that could be helpful," said Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Dover, the vice chair of the House Energy and Technology Committee, which wrote last year's broadband legislation.

"We wanted this just to understand what opportunity there might be," she said.  

Electric companies would face high costs, with unknown consequences to ratepayers, if the utilities offered Vermonters both electricity and internet service, according to the report. The infrastructure costs to cover those residents were estimated to be $284 million. 

But there is potential for the electric companies to let broadband providers piggyback on the existing utility infrastructure to expand internet services.

The study, by utility consulting firm Magellan Advisors, found that if electric utilities also offered internet, they would need to make a "heavy investment" to expand their business models and services. Unlike selling electricity, they would also have to compete with other broadband providers.

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The electric utilities who participated in the study said they did not know how much offering broadband services would cost. They also told the researchers they found little similarity between the two business models and the workforce that would be required to deliver electric and internet services.

"It seems clear that any policy decision to encourage electric companies to participate in some manner in providing broadband services and/or infrastructure should not depend on the sense that the two lines of business are compatible," the report said.

But the report says that utilities could develop partnerships with internet providers "to bring new services to underserved and unserved communities in Vermont."

"In most cases, the partnership option provides stronger financial results than in cases where distribution utilities provide services directly," the report states.  

It points to two electric utilities in Tennessee that have worked with broadband providers to build out fiber infrastructure, and then lease the technology to the internet companies.

Christine Hallquist, the former CEO of the Vermont Electric Cooperative, pitched this model of broadband expansion as a central policy in her unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2018.

On the campaign trail, she called for changing utility regulations to require electric companies to hang broadband cables, rather than internet companies.

Because electric companies already have large networks of fiber cables throughout the state, she said they are poised to build out the infrastructure into rural areas.

"Utilities hang fiber on their existing system. It's just another wire. They have all the tools," Hallquist, who pushed for the recent study in the Legislature, said Thursday.

"It doesn't make sense to have a separate telecommunications infrastructure," Hallquist said.

Kristin Kelly, a spokesperson for Green Mountain Power, the state's largest electric utility, said the company is still reviewing the report and declined comment. 

But she said the company, which serves about 260,000 customers, could be receptive to working with broadband companies to expand service. 

"We're open to all kinds of ideas and different ways to serve our customers as long as it is cost-effective for all of our customers." 

Clay Purvis, the director of telecommunications and connectivity at the Vermont Department of Public Service, which advocates for ratepayers, agreed that electric utilities are well-positioned to work with internet providers to expand service.  

"The takeaway is that broadband deployment in rural Vermont is really complicated and distribution utilities aren't in any better position to provide retail service than anyone else," Purvis said of the report.

"But they are in a position to provide assistance in the deployment of broadband and there are opportunities where electric distribution utilities can provide real benefit to the state in the broadband market."

The Department of Public Service will be awarding two $60,000 grants to electric utilities in 2020 that the companies can use to fund plans to help expand broadband in Vermont. 

But Purvis noted that even if broadband companies and electric utilities band together to address Vermont's broadband problem, the endeavor will still be costly. 

"The fact that a distribution utility could assist in some way doesn't really change the fundamental financials," he said. 

"So there has to be someone who's willing to stand up and assume the risks and fund the projects that ultimately lead to broadband." 

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Business Ideas for 2020: Premium and tailored pet food - Startups.co.uk

Posted: 31 Dec 2019 12:39 PM PST

Premium and tailored pet food: Business opportunities

Despite the recent influx of businesses focused on premium and wholesome (non-processed) pet food, there are still plenty of chances for breaking into this market. 

A business specialising in raw pet food, for example, seems to present ample opportunity: "I certainly expect the [pet food] industry to keep growing," says Cameorn, The Dog Nutritionist, "so much so that I intend on making my own raw dog food in the near future. There are a growing number of vets who will recommend [raw dog food], and this part of the pet food market is growing rapidly."

Furthermore, Brand Minds has noted that there is still great opportunities for growth in the areas of 

  • human-grade snacks and food, 
  • convenience (such as to-your-door delivery) and 
  • technology-driven innovation within the pet food sector

Personalised pet food which is tailored to an animal's specific health profile and delivered in subscription boxes covers all these three areas. Inspiration can be taken from market leaders such as tails.com, whose CEO James Davidson explains that the company is "essentially a lot of different businesses: we're a personalised dog food manufacturer, a technology platform and a service business." 

Tails.com's online ordering system allows users to submit their pet's health profile so that they can provide personalised boxes of meals and snacks that will allow the animal to reach optimal health. On the tech side of things, the company website explains how its sophisticated algorithm is applied "to get the nutrient balance of your dog's food just right".

Taking things a step further than just the food itself, the Gigabit online magazine's 2019 article on the "pet-tech revolution" presents several businesses who have gained success with technology-focused animal products and services aimed at improving animal health. It discusses the interesting concept of the Internet of Pets, and it references existing dog fitness tracker FitBark, which is already used by owners and vets worldwide to track the health profile of dogs. These gadgets would also fall into the category of luxury pet care, which Startups.co.uk covered previously as a top business idea for 2019 – the pet industry just keeps on giving!

An original, innovative concept with high-grade, tailored and personalised pet food at it's core seems to be the key to success in the world of pet food for 2020. 

What about vegan pet food?

 Vegan diets are becoming more and more common, but can our growing preference for plant-based food translate safely to the animal kingdom?

Sean McCormack, the Head Vet at tails.com, says "We're seeing more and more pet owners asking about vegetarian and vegan diets for pets. Aside from sustainability arguments, there's an ethics question here. Dogs and cats both enjoy meat and it is part of their natural diet. So, should we impose our values on them when keeping them as pets? 

"Although dogs are omnivores, and can technically survive on a plant-based diet, it is much more difficult to provide them with the ten essential amino acids they must have in their diet to thrive if we exclude meat."

Kathryn Eccles from the Millbry Hill pet specialists adds: "Unlike humans, cats are obligate carnivores. Basically, this means their bodies are hard-wired to eat meat, and they can't produce certain essential amino acids they need to stay healthy – like taurine – without it. So, it's recommended that cats are given a high-protein, meat-based diet."

The general opinion from several experts is that vegan food and home cooking should be used to supplement a pet's diet rather than replace traditional meals, and that the nutritional profile of the species, breed and individual animal should be taken into account before any kind of 'veganisation' of their diet is considered.  

Therefore, a vegan pet food company might not be the most enduring or ethical idea. However, food aside, there are more vegan-inspired possibilities in the wider pet care industry. Craig Roberts, founder of Cooper and Gracie, decided to create a now highly successful plant-based range of pet care products after his beloved dog began to suffer from painful, itchy skin. "We now research and develop specialist products and are striving to become a global leader within cruelty-free, 100% plant based and sustainable product development."

The company is currently aiming to complete its ambitious #10millionrescues mission of helping 10 million animals become cleaner and healthier with its products.

Ideas for a premium/tailored pet food or pet health business in 2020 could include:

  • Raw dog (or pet) food
  • Vegan snacks, food supplements and skin products for pets
  • Pet nutrition consultancy (offering diet and health advice to supplement veterinary care) 
  • Pet-tech – technology that helps owners maintain their pet's health by optimising their diet and exercise 
  • Tailored/personalised pet-food subscriptions (subscription boxes based on information about individual animals)
  • Pet food recipe books, cookbooks and blogs

6 Ways to Show Creativity in Your Marketing Plan - Business.com

Posted: 05 Jan 2020 05:05 AM PST

[unable to retrieve full-text content]6 Ways to Show Creativity in Your Marketing Plan  Business.com

Other people’s money was tech innovation of the 10’s - Deccan Herald

Posted: 05 Jan 2020 07:08 PM PST

By Shira Ovide

Technology changed every molecule of life in the 2010s.

Airbnb, Uber and other young companies morphed the physical complexion of cities and how they work. The growing prevalence of e-commerce, fast internet connections and smartphones in everyone's pockets shifted how we shop, behave and are entertained — with both good and bad ripple effects. Even the stodgiest industries were forced to shake up what they do in reaction to new competitors and changing expectations of their customers. Governments have new ways to reach citizens and fresh fears from the ways technology empower them.

Because tech is changing everything, it's hard to pick a single transformative technology for the 2010s. But my pick for the biggest impact of the decade isn't a technology at all: It's money — and lots of it.

Look at the companies behind some of the significant changing trends: Tesla Inc., which is trying to lead an upending of the car culture, needs ongoing doses of investors' cash to stay in business. So does Netflix Inc., the company that has transformed the entertainment industry and people's leisure time.

Uber Technologies Inc. and Airbnb Inc. couldn't exist in their current form without an unprecedented flood of investment money that flowed into tech startups after the financial crisis.

Food delivered to our doorsteps, real estate and software companies that are shifting how and where companies work, apps that are rewriting what it means to be a young person, businesses that are rewiring outer space, new challenges to public health, a shift in the nature of money and payments — almost none of these phenomena would be financially viable without piles of investment capital at the start, and in some cases continuing to this day. Bright ideas are behind all of these world-bending technologies, but other people's money is the fuel.

It's easiest to see this effect in tech startup land. In 2009, $27.2 billion was invested in US tech startups, according to figures from the National Venture Capital Association. In the 12 months ended in September, that figure was more than $143 billion.

The impact of other people's money has also spread far beyond Silicon Valley and the other global tech startup hubs. Superstars such as Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have been able to borrow money cheaply and easily as they thrived in the last decade.

These highly profitable titans didn't need the money, but it didn't hurt.

Other people's money allowed them to reward shareholders or smartly to deploy cash to new areas. The belief that the world is in a unique moment of rapid technological transformation gave breathing room for companies willing to self-finance disruptive investments, whether it was Amazon shifting into a package-delivery company or Mukesh Ambani spending tens of billions of dollars to remake India into a cutting-edge internet power.

The availability of cash was the result of post-financial crisis policy-making that created conditions for economic growth and incentives for people to put their money into assets that had more risk and more promise.

In a feedback loop, once technology changes started seeping into more corners of life and business, investors were motivated to hunt for more areas in which technology could apply its disruptive magic. This effect hit even relatively young companies. The restaurant technology company Grubhub Inc. and house hunting hub Zillow Group Inc., for example, have shaken up their businesses to compete with younger, unprofitable rivals. Those changes may not be sustainable, but they're also unavoidable. 

The influx of money into technology has been rational, at least in the micro view. As an unidentified investor said about Snapchat's parent company in 2017, "I'm willing to risk losing 50% if there's a chance this is like Facebook and I can get 10x."The worst outcome of putting money in risky young companies is losing all of it. The upside is potentially infinite.

The collective impact of all those rational decisions, however, is completely irrational. There is more money than good ideas, which provides incentives to rationalize bad businesses and bad behaviour. 

Now, almost everyone with a connection to the technology industry says too much money is sloshing around, and it's having perverse effects. And almost everyone with a connection to the technology industry also believes he is not the one making bad decisions motivated by too much money chasing too few good ideas.

Despite this — and in spite of a few blowups of young companies such as Munchery, Blue Apron and WeWork, and the unresolved questions about the viability of Uber— the underlying conditions haven't changed. Interest rates are still low in the U.S., and the value of most asset types keeps climbing. That means there will continue to be lots of other people's money going into promising — and not so promising — business ideas.

I certainly believe what we've seen this decade in the technology industry is in part a mirage created by money. Businesses and whole industries are being built on sand, and some of them won't survive an inevitable shift of business cycles. That said, the technology disruption is real and irreversible. Even if other people's money goes poof, no one can turn back time on the technological change creeping into everything. 


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