Tag: "washington"

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:

Government is often criticized for eliminating competition, inefficiently providing private services, and removing the profit motive. However, market failures are often where governments are asked or begged to step in, and, when accomplished correctly, can provide new opportunities for private enterprise.

Glenn is absolutely right both in capturing some of the criticisms leveled at public networks as well as noting that publicly owned broadband tends to occur in the most difficult environments. Contrary to telco rhetoric, local government officials tend not to want to jump into telecommunications efforts unless they see it as vital for the community. They are busy enough and these networks take years of planning, public hearings, and lots of loud attacks from the very companies that refuse to build the needed networks.

But look at the first two items that Glenn notes government is accused of: eliminating competition and inefficiently providing services. How is it that it can do both? Governments cannot coerce people into using the network and federal regulations prevent the local government from abusing its authority over the rights-of-way for the public network. Local governments can use untaxable bonds but private companies get depreciation, tax incentives, and can cross-subsidize from the nearby communities where they charge monopoly prices.

As for removing the profit motive - this is hardly a criticism. Infrastructure should not be controlled by any entity with a profit motive - it is the foundation of all other markets. If...

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Posted September 24, 2009 by christopher

Glenn Fleishman, of the excellent Wi-Fi Net News, recently interviewed Mike McGinn, a candidate for Mayor of Seattle that has talked frequently about the need for a publicly owned full fiber network in the City.

Larger cities have been slow to move on publicly owned broadband, in part because they typically already have some level of service available throughout the city (though perhaps not universally). Fleishman rightly notes this:

But is the fact that people can “only” get slow Internet connections enough to float $450 million in bonds, however financed? McGinn says that there are two separate reasons to push for universal availability. “Access to the Internet is access to the economy, access to the community, in some cases access to democracy, access to issues,” he says. But it’s also about the bottom line: “It’s an essential [piece of] infrastructure to compete in a world economy.”

Fleishman also notes a concern frequently cited by incumbent carriers who don't want a public network to compete against:

There have been many concerns raised about public entities, especially those with regulatory power over competitors–such as Seattle’s cable franchise board that controls access to public rights of way and facilities–entering the broadband market. But most of those concerns imply that the market will solve the problem. However, with no requirement for building out service to all customers, or having the same level of service available, an efficient market won’t provide universal coverage.

In my experience, this is a theoretical fear. Typically, when a community decides to build its own network, the incumbents rush to upgrade their infrastructure (often after denying that they thought there was a need for faster services in the area). If local governments were abusing their authority over the right of way, you can bet there would have been lawsuits filed - these incumbents have sued over everything else. I do not know of a single successful lawsuit against a local government for what would be a violation of law.

Getting back to the interview, they discuss both Lafayette, Louisiana:

The reason for the fight wasn’t about the right to 500 channels, about low prices, or about the city wanting a piece of the action. It was about the city’s desire to have 21st...

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Posted August 5, 2009 by christopher

Congratulations to Click! on its ten years of service to the community.

This video is no longer available.

Posted July 15, 2009 by christopher

A couple of short interesting stories this week:

  • The Chattanoogan.com published a "Declaration of Independence from Comcast", written by a "fi-oneer" or person who is testing the new publicly owned FTTH services.

    Unsurprisingly, there are some glitches this early in the process, but the fi-oneer seems pretty happy with it overall:

    The television is fantastic; we have a multitude of channels, both high def and non high def; local, 'cable,' sports, movies, etc. Contracts are still being completed with a couple of providers, so we are missing my favorite, HGTV. I have been told that it will be coming in less that two weeks.

    Although as with any new product there are occasional glitches, but we have only had a few, minor not major ones, at that. The picture might freeze for a few seconds, or pixilate for a few seconds. There are some things you need to learn about the remote control.

    Interestingly, early problems can actually help community networks. In Burlington, Vermont, early problems allowed the publicly owned network to demonstrate how good its customer service was compared to the incumbents and gained a better reputation.

  • More news out of Seattle - following up on our recent story noting Reclaim the Media's push for public broadband in Seattle, Seattle radio station KUOW's program "The Conversation" had some guests discussing the existing network in Tacoma and a potential network for Seattle. Follow that link to listen in, the relevant portion runs from 14 minutes to 21 minutes (a total of 7 minutes).

  • Karl Bode at DSL Reports slams a recent report by incumbent-flack group Discovery Institute that concludes government regulation of broadband is unnecessary. Bode's response is worth reading, here is an excerpt:

    All of this makes Swanson's whining about "groups that want heavier regulation" disingenuous, given men like Swanson just got done seeing more than a decade of sustained deregulation in the telecom sector thanks in large part to his own lobbying. The result was the United States setting new records for being thoroughly mediocre, given American consumers pay more money for less bandwidth than a significant...

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Posted July 1, 2009 by christopher

Reclaim the Media has published a position paper making the case for a publicly owned fiber network in Seattle. Seattle is in a difficult position, being served by Comcast and Qwest's copper networks while the suburbs are being snapped up by Verizon's fiber-powered FiOS and nearby publicly owned Tacoma Click! has attracted more than 100 businesses.

Not only is Seattle underserved relative to its neighbors, it has a significant digital divide from neighborhood to neighborhood. Reclaim the Media offers a solution to deal with both problems.

Going in Seattle's favor is a significant amount of fiber assets and the public power utility, City Light. Compared to other cities of its size, Seattle is among the best poised to build a publicly owned citywide fiber-to-the-home network. Now it needs the motivation.

Make no mistake, the costs would be significant- toward the mid hundreds of millions. Of course, this amount is tiny in comparison to the costs of replacing the crucial 520 bridge and the amount is similar to the public financing for beautiful Safeco Field.

Fiber-to-the-home for everyone or a sports stadium? That is an interesting decision. I think most would recognize the economic impact from being internationally competitive in broadband is considerably higher than that of a stadium. While the costs are substantial, they should be put in perspective.

RTM is right to note:

With the right vision backed by strong decisions, Seattle is poised to become a true national leader in connecting its residents, businesses, community organizations and public institutions with next-generation Internet access. Federal broadband stimulus funds, available for application this year, provide a remarkable opportunity for bold elected leaders to push forward our city's best plans, and make real our shared vision of affordable broadband for everyone.

Posted June 24, 2009 by christopher

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...

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Posted June 3, 2009 by christopher

Jim Baller and Casey Lide are two of the foremost experts on municipal broadband systems in the United States. This report offers a clear and rational defense of publicly owned broadband systems. The discussion takes on philosophical, economic, and pragmatic arguments and comes to the conclusion that communities should not be prevented from building their own networks.

From the Intro:

The Tennessee Broadband Coalition has asked the Baller Herbst Law Group to respond to the main criticisms that opponents of public Fiber-to-the-User (FTTU) initiatives have raised in Tennessee and elsewhere. The Coalition would like to know whether any of these criticisms is valid, and, if so, what lessons the Coalition can learn from them to avoid or mitigate similar problems in Tennessee.

Over the last decade, Baller Herbst has been involved in most of the leading public communications projects in the United States. In almost all of these projects, the incumbent telephone and cable companies have rejected or ignored the locality’s invitation to join in cooperative efforts that would benefit all concerned and have instead mounted massive media and lobbying campaigns in opposition to the proposed public network. Often, the incumbents have funded support from industry “experts” and artificial “grassroots” groups (which have come to be known as “Astroturf”).

In their campaigns, the incumbents and their allies have typically included emotional appeals to private-enterprise ideology; flawed statistics; complaints about supposedly unfair advantages that municipalities have over the private sector; attacks on the motives and competency of public officials; and false or incomplete, misleading and irrelevant examples. In many cases, these arguments have mirrored the unsuccessful arguments that the major electric power companies and their allies made against municipal ownership a century ago, when electric power was the must-have technology of the day, and thousands of unserved or underserved communities established their own electric utilities to avoid being left behind in obtaining the benefits of electrification.

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