Tag: "history"

Posted October 30, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Ars Technica is running another fascinating history piece -- Matthew Lasar's "Who 'ruled the air' in 1910? (and who rules it now?)" article looks back at the beginning of bigness in telecom.

Reading about the supposed benefits from bigness, I wouldn't help but reflect on my recent frustrations with the big carriers. Big carriers are poorly disposed to building the infrastructure our communities need.

Posted October 7, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Advocates for community broadband networks in urban areas that already have cable and DSL options are often asked why the community needs something better. Aside from the many benefits in terms of reliability and symmetrical offers, we do need faster connections. Those who doubt that may want to remind themselves of a great list of very smart people underestimating technology.

1876 “The telephone has too many shortcomings…the device is inherently of no value to us.” Western Union

1897 "Radio has no future" Lord Kelvin, President, Royal Society

1899 "Everything that can be invented has already been invented.”Director, U.S. Patent Office

1927 “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers

1936 “Television won’t matter in your lifetime or mine.” Rex Lambert, Editor, Radio Tim

1977 “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Ken Olsen, Founder and Chairman DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation, now part of Compaq

1981 “640K ought to be enough for anyone.” Bill Gates

This list was originally posted as a comment on Telecompetitor in response to a story about Chattanooga's 1Gbps service

Posted October 4, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

In an editorial for the October, 2010 issue, Scientific American explains "Why broadband service in the U.S. is so awful, and one step that could change it." This is an excellent shorthand explanation for the poor decisions of the FCC during the Bush Administration. Unfortunately, these decisions are being carried forward by the Obama Administration's FCC.

It was not always like this. A decade ago the U.S. ranked at or near the top of most studies of broadband price and performance. But that was before the FCC made a terrible mistake. In 2002 it reclassified broadband Internet service as an “information service” rather than a “telecommunications service.” In theory, this step implied that broadband was equivalent to a content provider (such as AOL or Yahoo!) and was not a means to communicate, such as a telephone line. In practice, it has stifled competition.

And the solution?

Yet, puzzlingly, the FCC wants to take only a half-step. Genachowski has said that although he regards the Internet as a telecommunications service, he does not want to bring in third-party competition. This move may have been intended to avoid criticism from policy makers, both Republican and Democrat, who have aligned themselves with large Internet providers such as AT&T and Comcast that stand to suffer when their local monopolies are broken. It is frustrating, however, to see Gena chowski acknowledge that the U.S. has fallen behind so many other countries in its communications infrastructure and then rule out the most effective way to reverse the decline. We call on the FCC to take this important step and free the Internet.

Well said. Read the whole the piece.

Posted March 26, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Stop the Cap has an interesting series looking back at the history of electrification in the U.S. Part I of the three part series looks at the early years of resident electrical deployments:

Those who believed electricity would deliver social transformation to average Americans were stymied by power companies that wouldn’t deliver enough capacity to make the latest big appliances work. Blenders, mixers, toasters and other small electrical appliances could work, assuming you didn’t have too many lights turned on at the same time, but washers, refrigerators and electric ovens were out of the question.

When consumers inquired about upgrading their service, they were refused by most electric companies. After all, most power company executives believed “illumination-grade” service was more than sufficient for virtually every American. In all, they consistently refused to upgrade facilities to at least four-fifths of their customers, telling them they could make do with what they had.

The electrical industry defended this position for years, and even paid for studies to defend it. A willing trade press printed numerous articles claiming the vast majority of Americans would never require higher voltage service, and it was too expensive to provide anyway. A select minority of customers, typically the super-wealthy, were the exception. In fact, marketing campaigns specifically targeted the richest neighborhoods, offering “complete service,” because the industry believed it would quickly recoup that investment. That, in their minds, wasn’t true for middle class and low income households. In fact, low income neighborhoods of families making between $2,000 and $3,000 were often bypassed by electric companies completely.

The parallels to broadband are enormous and the self-interested arguments of privately-owned incumbents have not changed. Neither has the fight over public ownership, as we see in Part II:

As municipal power attracted attention, some in the private power sector balked. Not only were these companies delivering good service to customers, they were often doing it at far lower...

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Posted January 7, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Ars Technica has published an op-ed I wrote after we published our interactive municipal broadband preemption map.

Community-owned broadband is one way to bring fiber to smaller markets, but many states restrict the practice. Researcher Christopher Mitchell argues that it's time for a bit more Roosevelt-style localism in US broadband.

Posted June 11, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Tim Nulty offers a great vision and hope for the future of rural broadband networks. He discusses the long history of large telcos viciously attacking publicly owned networks and notes that FTTH is possible in nearly all rural areas in the U.S.

Among the advantages of public ownership, he notes the high quality of service, universal coverage, and the potential for common carriage or open access networks.

Our economy and society have evolved over the last 20 years to the point where universal availability of the most modern broadband communications is essential to fully participate in every aspect of our nation’s life. Without it, the promise of an equal chance to succeed is hollow. Our nation came to that conclusion two centuries ago when it created the national postal system, and in subsequent years with respect to roads, water, power and voice telephone. Now, it is coming to the same conclusion about the next level of communications: broadband connectivity. ...

[T]he main entrenched incumbents (both telephone and cable) are strongly reluctant to bring the latest technology to rural areas....focusing, instead, on cheaper but inferior “retrofits” to their legacy copper plant. The claimed reason is that it is not economically feasible to extend the latest technology to less “juicy” areas. In fact, this is not true. Based on the experience of a number of “non-incumbent” FTTH projects, it is clear that it is economic to bring universal FTTH to virtually any rural area that has a density of 12/13 homes per linear mile and all or most of whose plant is aerial. These characteristics cover the overwhelming majority of rural Americans.

Note: Nulty's piece appears on page 23 of the article linked to below. Preceding his piece is a poorly written piece riddled with the very sort of inaccuracies we started this site to correct. The article cites few examples and relies on worst-case, very low probability scenarios to scare the reader. Their discussion of the Utah networks suggests they are unaware of the most basic history of the project, and finally, their comparison of Burlington Telecom to Verizon is laughably simplistic and worthless.

Posted April 29, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

For three quarters of a century, the Communications Act has defined a successful communications policy as fostering ubiquitous, affordable service available on a nondiscriminatory basis in competitive markets. The penetration of phone service of over 90% for a quarter of a century in this country, as compared to penetration rates in most of the rest of the world, was widely touted as an example of our success as a nation and as critical to maintaining a unified society in which all had access to a technology critical for health, safety, and economic advancement.

Posted April 21, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

In 1868, the railroad bypassed Forestville, Minn., and the town died. The decline came slowly, and over time my distant relatives, Thomas and Mary Meighen, saw the town dwindle and people move away. They were left in an empty town with their farm and a general store attached to their home. Farmworkers, paid in "chits" to spend in that store, kept it open until 1908, when business in it came to a screeching halt as Thomas abruptly closed up shop — the last business in Forestville — with all the merchandise inside...

What happens to your town if it's bypassed by high-speed broadband like Forestville was by the railroad in 1868?

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