News

Posted November 12, 2009 by christopher

Elinor Ostrom's Nobel Prize Award was a significant victory for those of us who have recognized not only a difference between the public good and private good, but really for those of us who have recognized the great variety of approaches on how to promote the public good.

First, the background - Elinor Ostrom has won a Nobel Prize in economics for her work demonstrating ways that public commons may be successfully managed to the benefit of all. "The Commons" is a term for a resource that is collectively owned by everyone.

Some had argued that the only way to prevent a few from despoiling the commons was by enforcing private property rights - but Ostrom's work demonstrated that different communities around the world have successfully maintained the commons without resorting to auctioning it off.

Posted November 6, 2009 by christopher

Minnesota's Ultra High Speed Broadband Task Force (created by the legislature last year and largely appointed by the Governor) is releasing its report today (the report will soon be available here). I've had a chance to skim it and found it disappointing in some ways but otherwise to be better than what I expected when I learned about the Task Force.

Being in Minnesota, I guess we should just be thankful the Governor did not attempt to make the report a secret as he recently did with other public broadband information. The Task Force was remarkably open as it went about its process - something I think we can attribute to Chairman Rick King's seriousness in running the operation and trying to move Minnesota forward.

Posted November 5, 2009 by christopher

A few local elections on Tuesday had questions relating to publicly owned broadband networks. In Seattle, candidate McGinn strongly supported a publicly owned fiber optic network for the city and he may yet get his way as the race is a dead heat and ballots are still being counted. We previously discussed Seattle's broadband deliberations.

In Longmont, Colorado, voters voted against giving the municipality authority to expand the city owned fiber-assets into a network offering retail services. As usual, the proponents of the public network were significantly outspent by incumbents seeking to prevent competition.

Posted November 4, 2009 by christopher

The FCC is asking for comments on the contribution of federal, state, tribal, and local government to broadband [pdf]. Comments are due on Friday, Nov 6.

Take a look at the comment request above (it is only 5 pages long) and pick one of the areas in which they are interested - readers here may be most interested in #2 - "Government broadband initiatives."

Posted November 3, 2009 by christopher
  • A columnist explains why Missouri hired broadband network consultant Jim Baller to aid in expanding broadband across the state.

    That won’t be easy. Fewer than two-dozen cable and telephone companies control more than 95 percent of the country’s residential broadband market. In the past decade, the “incumbents” have shut out competitors by restricting the use of their existing infrastructure and by suing any municipality or public utility that has tried to build its own network.

    This piece offers some good history for those relatively new to community broadband.

Posted November 2, 2009 by christopher

Tacoma's Click! network, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, has announced a coming price hike to cover increased costs for carrying channels.

Tacoma's Click! network is a long-standing example of a community coming together to solve a common problem - ensuring they have the telecommunications infrastructure necessary for success in the modern world. Being built before FTTH was viable, the network is a combination of fiber and coaxial cable.

More importantly, they have enacted important rules to ensure everyone has access to the network:

Click’s low-income and senior customers will continue to receive a 20 percent discount, Anderson added.

Posted October 30, 2009 by christopher

Many publicly owned community fiber networks offer symmetrical connections - allowing subscribers to both upload and download content at the same speeds. This approach treats the subscriber as both a producer and consumer of content (one of the reasons I generally avoid calling a subscriber a "customer" or "user").

Nearly all private network offerings are asymmetrical - DSL and cable are more less subject to constraints that encourage asymmetry, but in the case of fiber, one might assume that private companies are generally more interested in selling content to subscribers rather than encouraging them to create their own.

These companies have generally argued that symmetrical connections are just not necessary because most people are inherently more interested in downloading content than uploading - and note that on existing networks, people tend to download more than they upload.

Posted October 29, 2009 by christopher

Monticello Minnesota, the small community located 40 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, recently returned to the news when its telephone incumbent, TDS, began offering a fast 50/20 Mbps residential broadband connection for $50/month.

Nate Anderson, of Ars Technica, covered both the story and backstory (something he has extensively reported).

But the entire congratulatory press release glosses over a key fact: the reason that Monticello received a fiber network was the town's decision to install a municipal-owned fiber network to every home in town… spawning a set of TDS lawsuits that went all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the town.

Posted October 28, 2009 by christopher

As I noted previously, a community in Colorado - Longmont - will soon vote on whether the local government should be allowed to sell retail Internet services. This community has tried a number of approaches to expanding broadband competition but have not yet succeeded in getting the networks they need.

The local paper opposes the measure. However, the editorial frames the issue in a curious way. It claims the ballot measure will "override" state law, which is utterly false. State law says the community has to approve it before they can do it - so the City is complying with the state law.

Posted October 27, 2009 by christopher

My colleague in Portland, Maine, and I wrote this commentary for Maine's Portland Press Herald.

Last January, as the economy spiraled downward, Time Warner did what no other company could have gotten away with under the circumstances: It imposed a price increase of as much as 5.5 percent on its Maine customers.

Meanwhile, the state's other major broadband Internet provider, FairPoint, has amassed a stunning track record of mismanagement and abysmal customer service, including leaving many customers without Internet service for weeks.

While FairPoint's predecessor, Verizon, was a better-run company, we should not forget that it too gave Maine short shrift by refusing to invest in upgrading its networks throughout much of northern New England.

Posted October 26, 2009 by christopher

Alcatel-Lucent has created a terrific video (I saw it at Fiberevolution.com) for Australia regarding their proposed National Broadband Network. Australia is the latest of many countries poised to surpass the U.S. while we decide whether to take control of our future or let Comcast and AT&T control it. I recommend the video, and not just for the accent. Most of the video applies equally to the U.S. in terms of what pressures we face and a possible future. For those unfamiliar, the NBN will be a massive collaborative project between the public and private sector in Australia, resulting in an impressive open access broadband network. We need more videos like this in order to explain to everyday Americans why this infrastructure is so important and we cannot leave it to a few monopolistic companies to build.

Posted October 23, 2009 by christopher

Wherein I answer some questions to clear up common misconceptions about the broadband and cable networks upon which we depend...

Posted October 22, 2009 by christopher

For another real-world example of how companies respond to public entry into the telecom market (as opposed to theoretical arguments about crowding out investment), let's look back down to Lafayette and how cable incumbent Cox responded:

“Cox froze the cable rates in Lafayette, and they didn’t freeze the rates in other areas,” said Terry Huval, director of LUS, a municipally owned utility company which fought major incumbent opposition before building an FTTH network in Lafayette and starting to offer service earlier this year. “We figured our citizens saved over $3 million in cable rates even before we could offer them service.”

Posted October 20, 2009 by christopher

On Thursday, Oct 22, at 1:00 PM PDT (which is 4:00 PM EDT and, most importantly, 3:00 CDT), I will be a guest on CNET's The Real Deal - a live show that takes questions from listeners and viewers. We will be talking about some of the nuts and bolts of broadband infrastructure - from the laws around deploying networks to whether access to the Internet should be treated as a utility. Drop by at the appointed time (on the CNET site, not here) and ask some questions.

Posted October 19, 2009 by christopher

We occasionally look in on Seattle's broadband discussions because they are the largest city in the U.S. in which there is something approaching a serious discussion about a publicly owned community fiber network. They have a mayoral candidate who makes it a high priority and their Chief Technology Officer, Bill Schrier, both gets it and has an excellent staff that understands the benefits of such a network.

Glenn Fleishman has just interviewed Bill Schrier about the network and subsequently discussed the public need for broadband in specific neighborhoods due to extreme market failure. I like Glenn's style - he asks difficult questions and pushes for real answers. That said, I still want to push back on one of his statements because I think it instructive:

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