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Paid Prioritization Threat Reinforces Value of Community Networks

Recent reports out of the FCC say that it will allow ISPs to create and sell "fast lanes" of Internet access to the companies with sufficiently deep pockets to afford them. While some people argue over whether this violates network neutrality principles or not, the more important point is that most communities have no control over how the networks on which they depend are operated.

The big ISPs, like Comcast and AT&T, are focused on maximizing revenue for their shareholders. It is why they exist. So they will want to make the fast lanes as appealing as possible, which in turn means making providers like Netflix unable to deliver a high quality product without paying special tolls to Comcast.

What does that mean for you? It means you should expect to see the big providers slow their already anemic pace of investing in higher capacity connections in favor of pushing content providers into the paid prioritization schemes. It also means that you may have to start paying more for Netflix or Hulu, where the additional money goes to the ISP you already overpay for comparatively lousy service.

A range of ISPs, from privately owned Sonic.Net in California to Chattanooga's Electric Power Board right up to Google have demonstrated that they can deliver a "fast lane" to everyone. This fight over paid prioritization is nothing more than the big cable and telephone companies trying to increase their profits while minimizing needed investments in higher quality service to everyone.

Unless you live in an area with a community-owned network. Unlike the big providers with a fidiciary responsibility to distant shareholders, community owned networks are directly accountable to the community. Their mission is to maximize local benefits, not extracting as much wealth from households as possible. ISPs like Sonic also have much more reasonable policies but over time these privately owned ISPs are vulnerable to being bought by the big national providers.

Community owned networks are far less likely to engage in paid prioritization because it adds no value for subscribers in the community. In fact, the worse the big cable companies act in terms of ripping off subscribers, the more valuable community owned networks become by providing a better level of service.

Another example of this is monthly data caps - the big cable companies have been "experimenting" with them in several markets in the south but always in areas where the community has not built an alternative option. Community networks not only offer a much better option to the community, they change the behavior of incumbents who are accustomed to operated in non-competitive environments.

The final benefit of community owned networks is that if the federal regulators fall down on the job AND your community-owned networks engages in behavior that hurts subscribers, there is a democratic process for rectifying that, whether in elections for the city council or coop board.

City of Urbana Passes Resolution Supporting FCC Section 706 Authority

The Illinois community of Urbana, home of UC2B, recently passed a resolution in favor of FCC's section 706 authority. The community's fiber project is bridging the digital divide in this community of 41,000.

On March 17, the City Council voted unanimously to support the FCC as it considers action to discourage, prevent, and remove state legislative barriers that block municipal networks. 

The language is similar to resolutions from communities such as Sebewaing, VidaliaAmmon, and Moultrie. Urbana noted in its resolution that it has made substantial efforts to bring access to more people in the community.  We interviewed Carol Ammons from the U-C Independent Media Center and Brandon Bowersox-Johnson from UC2B in episode 42 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Chris, Carol, and Brandon discussed the way the community is capitalizing on the rare urban FTTH network.

RESOLUTION NO. 2014-03-017R

A RESOLUTION TO SUPPORT FCC EFFORTS IN PROTECTING LOCAL AUTHORITY

TO BUILD BROADBAND INFRASTRUCTURE

WHEREAS, the universal availability of affordable high speed Internet access for all citizens has been identified as a national priority; and

WHEREAS, community/municipal broadband networks provide an option for market competition, consumer choice, economic development, and universal, affordable Internet access; and

WHEREAS, historically, local governments have ensured access to essential services by banding together to provide those services that were not offered by the private sector at a reasonable and competitive cost. This involvement has included electrification, public libraries, and other important services; and

WHEREAS, residents of Urbana have a history of advocacy for expansion of Internet access worldwide and the City has invested in local projects to achieve broader access that would not have been realized using private investment alone; and

WHEREAS, local government leaders recognize that the ability to thrive economically and to improve quality of life depends on connecting their communities, and they understand that it takes both private and public investment to achieve this goal; and

WHEREAS, attempts have been made in other states to limit or stop further local government deployment of municipal Internet services through legislation, which has the potential of reducing the ability of local government to provide important information and services to their citizens in a timely, efficient, and cost effective manner; and

WHEREAS, the DC Circuit Court has determined that Section 706 of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 unambiguously grants authority to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to remove barriers that deter network infrastructure investment;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF URBANA, ILLINOIS, supports FCC efforts to ensure local governments are able to invest in essential Internet infrastructure, if they so choose, without state-imposed barriers to discourage such an approach.

Process Matters: Harold Feld's Guide to the Time Warner Cable/Comcast Merger

The proposed Comcast/Time Warner Cable deal will be on everyone's mind for many months to come. Thanks to Harold Feld, it is now possible to follow the process as it moves forward. Feld began a series of posts earlier this month that map out the review as it moves from the Department of Justice Antitrust Division to the Federal Communications, and finally to Congress. As Feld notes, the entire process will last six months at least and could run for more than a year. 

In addition to drawing a process map, Feld provides insightful subtleties on the purpose behind each step in the review. He also offers political analysis that may influence the outcome. Feld gets into the unique review process, burdens of proof, and relevant definitions at each stop along the way. Highly recommended, especially for law students.

Part I - Introduction

Part II - Antitrust Review at the DOJ

Part III - Federal Communications Commission analyzes public interest

Part IV - The proposal moves through the committee process and the public has a chance to express themselves to their elected officials (including lobbyists)

 

FCC Rural Broadband Workshop Video

In case you missed it, you can still stream the FCC's Rural Broadband Workshop. The announcement describes the event:

The workshop will include an examination of the broadband needs of rural populations and the unique challenges of both broadband deployment and adoption in rural areas.  In addition, the discussion will highlight the economic, educational, and healthcare benefits that can be realized through broadband deployment and adoption.  The workshop will also examine different business models that have been used to deploy broadband in rural areas, including a discussion of the factors that drive investment decisions and technology choices of different types of providers in rural communities.  Finally, the workshop will examine the role that states have played, and can continue to play, in meeting the rural broadband challenge.

The first discussion, Broadband Needs, Challenges, and Opportunities in Rural America, focuses on the impact broadband access has on education, healthcare, and economic development. Panelists are:

  • Jeff Fastnacht, Superintendent, Ellendale School, Ellendale, ND
  • Charles Fluharty, President and CEO, Rural Policy Research Institute
  • Brian Kelley, CEO, Ag Technologies
  • Thomas F. Klobucar, Ph.D., Deputy Director, Office of Rural Health, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Linda Lord, Maine State Librarian
  • Don Means, Coordinator, Gigabit Libraries Network

Rural Broadband Buildout - Effective Strategies and Lessons Learned, will start at 11:00 a.m. and will include:

  • Will Aycock, General Manager, Greenlight Community Broadband, City of Wilson, NC
  • Michael Cook, Senior Vice President, North America Division, Hughes Network Systems
  • Jimmy Copeland, Director of Special Projects, Troy Cablevision, Inc.
  • Cecil Lara, Director Network Planning, AT&T
  • Denny Law, General Manager/CEO, Golden West Telecommunications
  • Ben Moncrief, Director, Government Relations, C Spire
  • Alex Phillips, CEO, Highspeedlink.net

The 1:30 afternoon panel is titled State Strategies to Meet the Rural Broadband Challenge. Panelists are:

  • Ben Dobbs, Deputy Director, Massachusetts Broadband Institute
  • David Salway, Director, New York State Broadband Program Office
  • Catherine Sandoval, Commissioner, California Public Utilities Commission
  • Lori Sorenson, Chief Operating Officer, Bureau of Communications & Computer Services, Illinois Central Management Services
  • Ray Timothy, Ph.D., CEO/Executive Director, Utah Education Network

Louisiana and Michigan Towns Pass Resolutions to Support Municipal Network Authority

Two more communities have gone on the record as supporting local authority for telecommunications infrastructure investment. Communities in Vidalia and Sebewaing passed resolutions supporting the FCC's efforts to use its authority to discourage, prevent, and remove state barriers.

Vidalia, on the west side of the Mississippi in Louisiana, recently began offering free Wi-Fi in its new sports complex and along its riverfront. According to Mayor Hyram Copeland, the lack of free public access left local leaders feeling behind the times. From a Natchez Democrat article in February:

“I was embarrassed to say, ‘No,’ but now I can say we do,” Copeland said. “But the end result of all this is that we will have moved this community forward.”

Vidalia seeks funding for a fiber network. Apparently, they are ready with a design and have the technical expertise in-house, but lack of funds have held up the project.

Vidalia's Resolution is almost identical to those in Ammon, Moultrie, Westminster, and Chanute.

Vidalia Seal

We reported on Sebewaing, located in Michigan's "thumb," last summer. The community runs its own electric utility and, due to lack of interest from incumbents, decided a FTTH network was a project they needed to pursue. According Melanie McCoy, from Sebewaing Light and Water, the project is proceeding as planned.

Sebewaing's Resolution uses the same language to address the points we see in Resolutions from the other communities: the need for better access, the importance of broadband infrastructure to local economies, and the important role of local government in the decision making process. Each community has expressed its support of the FCC's decision to exercise its authority under Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

History of the Quickly Subverted 1996 Telecommunications Act - Community Broadband Bits Episode 89

If all had gone according to the plan behind the 1996 Telecommunications Act, we would have lots of competition among Internet service providers, not just cable and DSL but other technologies as well. Alas, the competing technologies never really appeared and various incarnations of the FCC effectively gutted the common carriage requirements at the heart of the Act.

Earl Comstock joins us today to explain what they had in mind when they spent years developing the goals and text of the Act. A staffer to Senator Stevens - and yes, we discuss the legacy of Senator "series of tubes" Stevens and you might be surprised when you learn more about him - Earl helped to craft the Act and then had to watch as the FCC and Courts misinterpreted it.

At the heart of our conversation is what they believed would be necessary to achieve the goals of expanding access to telecommunications service to all.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Valley Lodge for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Sweet Elizabeth."

Kentucky Municipal Utilities Association Passes Resolution Favoring Local Control in Telecommunications

We recently reported that local leaders in Chanute and Westminster had passed resolutions supporting the FCC as it considers its authority. The Kentucky Municipal Utilities Association (KMUA) passed a similar resolution on February 28th.

KMUA members include 45 city-owned utilities including electricity, water, wastewater, natural gas, and telecommunications services. Members include places our readers are familiar with - Franklin, Glasgow, and Russellville - in addition to a lengthy list of other Kentucky communities.

The KMUA is publicly offering its support to the recent court decision finding that the FCC has the authority to remove or prevent state barriers.

The resolution reflects one of the KMUA credos, as listed on their website:

KMUA opposes any action, legislative or administrative, which would curb, limit, or remove local control of the operations of municipal utilities from their citizen owners. 

We expect to see more resolutions like this as communities decide to go on record. The language is very similar to the Chanute and Westminster resolutions. We have made the document available below.

Westminster and Chanute Pass Resolutions Supporting FCC's Authority to Remove State Barriers

In light of the recent announcement, community leaders in Maryland and Kansas are rallying behind the FCC as it considers its authority under Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. In a show of support, the Westminster Mayor and Common Council passed Resolution 14-01, a statement in support of restoring and preserving local authority to build networks. Twelve hundred miles away in Chanute, the City Commission took the same action with Resolution 2014-17.

Readers will remember Westminster as the central Maryland town that has carefully progressed forward in realizing better connectivity. The community recently approved a fiber pilot project as a way to test the water. Our contact in Westminster, Dr. Robert Wack, reported that interest in the network has blossomed even before the start of construction. The network has already attracted one new employer from New York.

Our 2012 case study, Chanute’s Gig: One Rural Kansas Community’s Tradition of Innovation Led to a Gigabit and Ubiquitous Wireless Coverage, tells the story of how the community incrementally built a world-class network. Without borrowing or bonding, Chanute's next-generation fiber network has enhanced education, economic development, and saved millions of taxpayer dollars.

This legislative session, Chanute has contended with threatening state legislation that could derail their expansion plans. The community is very close to a project that would offer fiber services to every premise in town.

Westminster Seal

Westminster's resolution, passed unanimously on February 24, reads:

RESOLUTION NO. 14-01 RESOLUTION of The Mayor and Common Council of Westminster

SUBJECT: STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF THE FCC RESTORING AND PRESERVING LOCAL AUTHORITY TO BUILD NETWORKS

WHEREAS, the universal availability of affordable high speed Internet access for all citizens has been identified as a national priority; and

WHEREAS, community/municipal broadband networks provide an option for market competition, consumer choice, economic development, and universal, affordable Internet access; and

WHEREAS, historically, local government leaders recognize that their economic health and survival depend on connecting their communities, and they understand that it takes both private and public investment to achieve this goal; and

WHEREAS, attempts have been made at the state level to limit or stop further local government deployment of municipal Internet services through legislation, which has the potential of reducing the availability of local government to provide important information and services to their citizens in a timely, efficient, and cost effective manner; and

WHEREAS, local governments, being closest to the people are the most accountable level of government and will be held responsible for any decisions they make; and

WHEREAS, the DC Circuit Court has determined that Section 706 of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 unambiguously grants authority to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to remove barriers that deter network infrastructure investment;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the City of Westminster supports FCC efforts to ensure local governments are able to invest in essential Internet infrastructure, if they so choose, without state-imposed barriers to discourage such an approach.

Local Authority

Chanute's resolution was very similar with special attention focused on local authority:

Preserving Local Control and Restoring Community Determination for Broadband Deployment

WHEREAS, local governments, being closest to the people are the most accountable level of government and will be held responsible for any decisions they make; and

WHEREAS, community/municipal broadband networks provide opportunities to improve and encourage innovation, education, health care, economic development, and affordable Internet access; and

WHEREAS, historically, the City of Chanute, has ensured access to essential services by providing those services that were not offered by the private sector at a reasonable and competitive cost. Chanute’s infrastructure investments have included electricity production and distribution, gas distribution, water treatment and distribution, wastewater collection and treatment, sanitation and landfill, streets, parks, and other vital community services; and

WHEREAS, local government leaders recognize that their economic health and survival depend on connecting their communities, and they understand that it takes both private and public investment to achieve this goal; and

WHEREAS, the universal availability of affordable, high speed internet access for all citizens has been identified as a national priority; and

WHEREAS, attempts have been made at the state level to limit or stop further local government deployment of municipal Internet services through legislation, which has the potential of reducing the ability of local government to provide important services to their citizens in a timely, efficient, and cost effective manner; and

WHEREAS, the DC Circuit Court has determined that Section 706 of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 unambiguously grants authority to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to remove barriers that deter network infrastructure investment;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the City Commission of the City of Chanute, Kansas, supports FCC efforts to ensure local governments are able to invest in essential telecommunications infrastructure, if they so choose, without state-imposed barriers to discourage such an approach.

ADOPTED by the Governing Body on February 24, 2014.

Communities know their futures depend on the ability to bring fast, affordable, reliable access into their community. Because local leaders recognize that large corporate providers seldom build past low hanging fruit, a growing number now invest in their own infrastructure.

Save the White Spaces! From Public Knowledge

The FCC is now contemplating how much newly freed spectrum to retain for public use and how much to auction off to private companies for their exclusive use. Public Knowledge is leading the effort to ensure we retain enough shared spectrum to unleash more innovation and public benefits rather than simply padding the profits of a few massive firms that already control plenty of it.

In addition to the Gigabit Libraries Network's White Spaces Pilot Project, we have shared white space technology stories from North Carolina and New York

Public Knowledge recently created a video on the prevalence of spectrum in our lives, included below. Most of us take for granted the fact that shared (or unlicensed) spectrum permeates our culture. 

Instead of sitting by while the resource is auctioned off to the highest bidder, Public Knowledge has also created a petition to retain the spectrum needed for white space technology to spur more innovation. From the petition:

One of the most promising new technologies uses the empty spaces between television channels, the so-called "TV white spaces" (TVWS). The United States currently leads the world in this new technology. In the few short years since the FCC approved use of the TVWS, companies have built and shipped equipment to bring needed broadband to rural communities, creating jobs and expanding opportunities.

...

We call on the FCC to set aside 4 reclaimed TV channels, or 24 MHz, for TV white spaces. This will still leave the FCC more than enough to auction to wireless companies for their commercial needs. By reserving 24 MHz of "unlicensed" spectrum across the country for TV white spaces, the FCC will encourage further innovation in wireless services and foster the growth of next generation WiFi contributing billions of dollars in new products and consumer savings.

Video: 
See video

FCC to Investigate Barriers to Community Networks

We are supportive of the announcement today from the Federal Communications Commission. We salute the FCC for beginning to examine how state level barriers against municipal networks deter investment in the networks both communities and the nation desperately need.

From the statement:

The Commission will look for opportunities to enhance Internet access competition. One obvious candidate for close examination was raised in Judge Silberman’s separate opinion, namely legal restrictions on the ability of cities and towns to offer broadband services to consumers in their communities.

The FCC has a history of encouraging states not to pass such laws (Commissioner Clyburn, previous FCC Chair, former Commissioner Copps) and the National Broadband Plan made recommendation 8.19: "Congress should make clear that Tribal, state, regional and local governments can build broadband networks."

Even if communities choose not to build their own networks, having that capacity changes the dynamic of the big cable and telephone companies - something Franklin D. Roosevelt described as the "birch rod" in the cupboard (regarding municipal electricity):

But on the other hand the very fact that a community can, by vote of the electorate, create a yardstick of its own, will, in most cases, guarantee good service and low rates to its population. I might call the right of the people to own and operate their own utility something like this: a "birch rod" in the cupboard to be taken out and used only when the "child" gets beyond the point where a mere scolding does no good.

With the recent network neutrality decision from the Circuit Court, the FCC has a very clear path to ensure all local governments can decide locally whether such an investment is wise, rather than being preempted by a state legislature that may have been misled by powerful lobbyists.

We are calling on our readers, local governments, and all concerned citizens to applaud the FCC decision to examine these barriers. One thing you can do to help is to reach out to Senators and your representatives in DC. Make sure they know you support a local decision-making process rather than one-size-fits-all rules dictated by those in the capital.

If you want more background on Section 706 and municipal networks, listen to our recent podcast interview with Harold Feld.

We are also cheered by the continued stated committment of the FCC to preserving the open Internet and hope this process will achieve that end. We continue to believe that properly classifying Internet access as a telecommunications service and appropriate forbearance for unnecessary regulations is the best approach for safeguarding the Internet. However, we recognize the intense pressure by some of the most powerful corporations in DC not to take that route. Our work is cut out to ensure there are no loopholes that would damage the Internet.