Wherein I answer some questions to clear up common misconceptions about the broadband and cable networks upon which we depend...
Tag: "christopher mitchell"
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.
The Charleston Gazette published this opinion piece encouraging publicly owned broadband on July 5, 2009:
Just as railroads and highways were the essential infrastructure for development in the 19th and 20th centuries, broadband networks will be essential for 21st-century competitive economies. Small cities and even isolated, rural communities that have strong educational systems and human talent will be able to compete in the new global information economy. West Virginia's beautiful mountains and valleys, coupled with low density make most of the state an unattractive investment for private phone and cable companies. Fortunately, no community has to be left behind, each can seize the future with smart public investments. This should not come as a surprise. Local and state governments built our roads. Thousands of rural communities gained access to electricity through publicly owned networks. Thousands of communities today are forced to make a difficult choice when it comes to fast and affordable broadband networks. Our international peers have used smart policies to surpass our broadband networks while Washington has proved unable to keep up. But hundreds of communities across the United States have grown tired of waiting and publicly provide some level of broadband to encourage economic development or educational opportunities. There are some who argue, as Frank Rizzo recently did in these very pages, that publicly owned broadband systems never succeed. These myths have been encouraged by telecom-funded think tanks for more than a decade, despite having been proved false time and time again. Mr. Rizzo claimed, "commercial providers generally offer more reliable and faster service." But the fastest networks at the most affordable prices are publicly, not privately owned. In Lafayette, La., the public utility's network offers 10Mbps symmetrical connections for less than $30 a month. In Wilson, N.C., the publicly owned network offers a better triple-play package (phone, TV and Internet) at substantially lower prices than the private provider, Time Warner. Details and more comparisons are available from Municipal Networks and Community Broadband. Across the country, public networks have succeeded by every metric. They create local jobs by keeping support services local rather than off-shoring it. They keep prices down because they don't have to pay millions...
The December 2008, issue of Broadband Properties features an article that offers advice to incoming President Obama regarding broadband policy. Some of the comments center around community networks. Tim Nulty makes three preliminary points:
- Wireless is a supplement, not a substitute
- Access to fiber networks is key to full participation in society
- Optical fiber is the most perfect natural monopoly ever invented
Building on these points, he says:
Points 1, 2 and 3 mean we have no choice but to put the government directly and unapologetically into the picture… just as we do with other basic public utilities such as water, police, education and fire protection. This runs directly counter to the recent policy, under which optical fiber systems have been steadily removed from regulation covering the key issues of universal coverage and common carriage (referred to these days as “network neutrality”). These same issues have been fought over in other arenas such as toll roads, the postal service, canals, railroads, airwaves and the telephone since the founding of the Republic. The issues are not new at all! Only the technology of optical networks is new.
I offered a number of priorities:
- No federal policy should preempt the right of communities to build their own networks
- The feds should prevent states from preempting community authority to build their own networks
- Feds should provide low-interest financing for public networks
- Feds should provide grants to networks that are open-access
Finally, Wes Rosenbalm, the President and CEO of Bristol Virginia Utilities offered a short piece explaining why barriers to publicly owned broadband must be lifted. To find these gems and more, read the article linked below.
Following the TDS-initiated lawsuit against the city of Monticello, Minnesota, I wrote the this op-ed to offer some outside perspective. This is a snippet:
At a time when most of the United States has slower, more expensive Internet connections than our overseas competitors, communities across the country have responded with initiatives to build the infrastructure of the 21st century. And then they have been sued. Monticello is hardly the first community where an incumbent provider believes it alone should decide how that community connects to the world. Lafayette, a conservative city in Louisiana, spent several years in the courts before it could break ground on a publicly owned citywide network. Cajun culture did not allow for giving up on the project. Nice Minnesotans should do no less. Monticello, too, must hold true to its citizens, who in last year’s referendum voted by almost 3 to 1 for a modern telecommunications network. That referendum wasn’t a request that the city do something; it was a mandate from the people to their government to build a fiber network to every home and business in the town.
NATOA, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, comprises many people who are in, and work on, community broadband networks. Whether they are dealing with cable-company owned I-Nets or citizen owned networks, one of their jobs is to make sure the community has the network it needs.
Starting this year, NATOA has made its publication, the NATOA Journal, available to everyone, not just members. This will be a great resource for community broadband information.
This issue has important articles - from an in-depth comparison of the physical properties of copper and fiber to less technical arguments by Tim Nulty and myself. Tim Nulty wrote "Fiber to the User as a Public Utility."
He advances a number of important arguments:
- Universal - everyone should have access at affordable rates
- Open Access - it must encourage competition, not stifle it
- Future Proof - the technology must be built to last and meet needs currently unforeseen
- Financial self sufficiency - this can be done and the political culture suggests it must be done
He then delves into the problems Burlington Telecom faced, how it resolved those problems, and some of the strengths of their approach. He also offers some details on his new project - East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network.
My "Community Owned Networks Benefit Everyone" makes the case that only publicly owned networks can offer true competition in the broadband market because private network owners will not open their networks to other providers. Facilities-based competition is a policy that encourages monopoly or duopoly throughout most of America.
However, I also argue that public ownership, and the accountability that comes with it, may be more important than competition in cases where the community chooses that model. As always, we stand up for the right of communities to choose their future and to take responsibility for their choices.
Other important articles in this issue discuss the...Read more
This article summarizes the "Public Ownership is Good Business" Panel from the 2008 Broadband Properties Summit. Panelists included Christopher Mitchell from muninetworks.org, Andrew Cohill of Design Nine, Monticello City Administrator Jeff O'Neill, Mary Farley of Steeplechase Networks, and John St. Julien from Lafayette.
The panel discusses the ins and outs of open access, goals driving community networks, and the power of next-generation networks.