Andrew Cohill of Design Nine has released a report about Open Access networks: "Broadband for America: The Third Way." I wanted to highlight this report because open access is an important idea that should be promoted and discussed. I believe open access is the most promising way to create the world most people want to live in - fast and affordable networks offering many choices in services and service providers to all Americans. However, though I hold Andrew in high regard, I have some disagreements with the paper that are noted below. This paper comes at an important time. For more than a decade, we have ended each year with less broadband competition than we started with. Politicians and regulators have abandoned policies aimed at promoting competition despite their continued lip service in favor of it. Incumbents have more and more power over both subscribers and entire communities. If we want competition in broadband and cable (and I certainly do!), open access is the only feasible approach. The cost of building the networks is fantastically high whereas the cost of offering services to an additional user are tiny. The result is a network with strong natural monopoly characteristics. Without a network that shares infrastructure (wires, poles, CPE, etc.), the market will trend toward monopoly or duopoly. Wireless complements wired broadband but cannot provide the high speeds and reliability of fiber-optic networks. Even if some metro areas can support multiple networks, most rural areas can barely support one network. Without open access, significant parts of the country cannot have a choice in service providers. Read more...
Reports Highlighted by MuniNetworks.org
In 2010, the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law released a report titled Free to Invest: The Economic Benefits of Preserving Net Neutrality. The report, authored by Inimai Chettiar and J. Scott Holladay, is a great resource - substantial and very digestible - on what net neutrality really is, how it is (or is not) regulated, and the economic possibilities policy makers must consider when moving ahead.
The Baller Herbst Law Group filed an extensive report with the FCC detailing important information about OneCommunity - a fascinating nonprofit organization connecting many communities with fiber and wireless connectivity in Ohio. OneCommunity works with a variety of public and private sector partners to expand access to last mile and middle mile connectivity. Because they fall within our broad definition of putting public needs first, I wanted to highlight this report.
Tropos is a California-based company that sells wireless networking gear, frequently to municipalities. They filed comments with the FCC regarding the National Broadband Plan in response to the request: "Comment Sought on the Contribution of Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Government to Broadband."
We fully support their framing of the issue:
Municipalities that own and control their wireless broadband networks, operate public services more efficiently, prioritize broadband traffic for emergencies, and put unused bandwidth to use to attract new businesses, afford educational opportunities to students and in many cases, provide free broadband access to unserved or underserved residents.
The Media and Democracy Coalition put together an impressive report examining a number of policy options to put communities first in telecommunications infrastructure. The report discusses the fundamental importance of broadband - noting that it enables the right to communicate. Having establishing its importance, the report notes that good policy must be well informed and goes on to make multiple recommendations.
Policy should promote competition, innovation, localism, and opportunity. Locally-owned and -operated networks support these core goals of Federal broadband policy, and therefore should receive priority in terms of Federal support. Structural separation of ownership of broadband infrastructure from the delivery of service over that infrastructure will further promote these goals.
The report also touches on other key issues - including Universal Access, a non-discriminatory Internet (network neutrality), symmetrical connections, and privacy. But the most important focus from our perspective is that of localism:
For decades, American communities — both rural and urban — have been neglected and underserved by absentee-owned networks, whose business models clearly do not work in smaller or economically challenged communities. By contrast, in the communities in which they are based, locally-owned networks are more likely than absentee-owned networks to provide rapid response to emergencies, enhanced services, and value-added, social capital benefits such as job-training, youth-mentoring, and small business incubation. In addition, local networks are less likely to outsource jobs, thereby strengthening local and regional economies, while creating more opportunities for community-based innovation and problem-solving. Federal broadband policy that prioritizes support for local networks will produce more competitive markets, consumer choice, and opportunities for innovation.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop a national broadband strategy. FCC invited comments and then invited replies to those comments in summer 2009. The Free Press Reply Comments deserve to be singled out for revealing some of the lies of large telecommunications companies like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Qwest, and others. It also describes many of the ways that these companies harm the communities that are dependent on them for essential services. I've highlighted some passages below that show the ways in which these companies put profit above all else. These companies claim that regulation discourages investment and deregulation (allowing a higher degree of concentration or larger monopolies) encourages increased investment in better networks - an incredibly self-serving claim that Free Press shows to be false on pages 13-29.
Competition -- meaningful and real competition -- and not regulation is the primary driver behind investment decisions. Where meaningful competition exists, incumbents are compelled to innovate and invest in order to maintain marketshare and future growth. Where competition is lacking -- such as it is in our broadband duopoly -- incumbents will delay investment, knowing full well they can pad their profits on the backs of captured customers who have no viable alternatives. (Page 14)
Regulations like open access and non-discrimination encourage competition and should be strengthened. Read more...
This is an interesting interview that explains why mapping is important and how it should be done to ensure the final product is useful for policy. Unfortunately, much of the broadband mapping in the U.S. has been done by a telco-front group called Connected Nation that produces shoddy, unverifiable maps without making any useful data public.
In this report, Gordon Cook interviews Sara Wedeman, a mapping expert who also works in behavioral economics. Cook describes the interview here, on his blog. The discussion ventures beyond mapping, offering keen insights into why universal broadband availability is so important.
A Recipe for Starting a Local Broadband Wireless Network via Federal Stimulus Funding
Wally Bowen has created a "cookbook" with step-by-step instructions for creating a community wireless network. This is a solid introduction to wireless networks.
Larry Press takes a rather quantitative approach to demonstrating that the deregulatory telecommunications policies of the past few decades have failed to produce the desired outcomes. We are currently at a key turning point in history: the policies we enact today will have repercussions throughout the entire decade. Fiber is replacing copper, the question is who will own it because owners make rules.
At a high level, everyone understands what it means for a network to be open: (1) whatever else it might do, the network offers a pure “transmission” service, so that users can freely communicate with each other; (2) users can connect any devices they want, as long as they don’t harm the network; (3) the network connects to other networks; and (4) the network doesn’t discriminate among users or among the services, information, and applications users want to provide to each other. None of these points should be controversial. The concept of open networks is at least 40 years old in the US. The FCC’s seminal 1968 Carterphone decision held that a network operator may not forbid the use of devices on the network that benefit the user and do not harm the network itself. A decade later the FCC established its equipment registration program requiring interfaces to the telephone network to be standardized and fully disclosed.