Tag: "op-ed"

Posted May 28, 2012 by christopher

Once again, we are reprinting an opinion piece by Wally Bowen, founder of the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network based in Asheville, North Carolina. The op-ed was originally published in the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Once upon a time, Internet enthusiasts made the following comparison: the Internet is to 21st-century economies what navigable waterways and roads were to 19th and 20th-century economies.

But what if our rivers and highways were controlled by a private cartel which set tolls and dictated the make and model of our boats and vehicles? It’s unthinkable, of course. Yet over the last decade, a cartel of cable and phone companies has gained this kind of control over more than 95 percent of Internet access in the US.

In response, many communities have built municipal broadband networks. The cartel, in turn, has persuaded legislatures in 19 states, including North Carolina, to pass laws prohibiting municipal networks.

Scholars call this the “enclosure” of the Internet, similar to the enclosure of rural commons by private owners in 18th and 19th-century England. This trend includes smart phones and tablets which are locked down and controlled by licensing agreements. By contrast, the personal computer is open to innovation. You can take it apart, experiment, and create new functionality. You can also download your choice of software, including free open-source programs.

The full impact of this corporate enclosure of the Internet is still to come, but evidence of it is growing. Consider e-books. When you purchase a real book, you enjoy “first sale” ownership. You can resell it or use it as a doorstop. You can do anything with it, except reproduce it. But when you purchase an e-book, your options are limited by a license that can be changed any time by the vendor without your consent.

With an enclosed Internet, we become renters rather than owners. Our freedom to experiment and innovate, while not totally lost, is governed by gatekeepers and licensing regimes.

But there is a way around the Internet gatekeepers: “open wireless” networks using unlicensed spectrum.

Most spectrum used for smartphones is licensed to, and controlled by, the telecom cartel. By contrast, the free Wi-Fi we enjoy in coffeehouses is unlicensed and free for anyone to use and experiment with. But this spectrum has a very...

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Posted May 27, 2012 by christopher

In a recent editorial (May 24 issue), The New Republic argued that the Obama Administration was doing a decent job on Internet policy and obliquely referenced an article discussing carrier opposition to community broadband. The op-ed begins,

Politicians aren’t always especially thoughtful about, or even familiar with, information technology. George W. Bush used the term “Internets” during not one but two presidential debates. The late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens famously referred to the World Wide Web as a “series of tubes.” And John McCain drew ridicule in 2008 when he conceded that he was still “learning to get online myself.”

Much worse than these gaffes, however, are some of the policies that have been promoted by lawmakers and candidates who seem to fundamentally misunderstand the importance of a free and open Internet. In recent years, we have seen politicians accede to the interests of giant telecom companies rather than support net neutrality; propose anti-piracy bills that threaten Internet freedom; and, as Siddhartha Mahanta recently documented at TNR Online, block poor communities from receiving broadband access.

Good to see this issue being discussed outside of the standard tech circles. Especially when outlets like the New Republic explicitly call for more wireless subscriber protections:

There are, of course, ways in which the administration has disappointed. Even when the White House has done the right thing on Internet issues, it has not always acted as speedily or as forcefully as it might have. Moreover, it has not always done the right thing. Particularly striking was the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision, in late 2010, to exempt mobile carriers from new rules protecting net neutrality. The FCC’s step blocks Internet service providers from slowing down or preventing access to the content of their competitors—but it only applies to wired, not wireless, providers.

While many of us are hopeful that the government will take a stronger hand in preventing carriers from disrupting the open Internet, Vint Cerf (one of the fathers of the Internet) rightly warns us that overall...

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Posted February 16, 2012 by christopher

Susan Crawford's op-ed in Bloomberg makes a tremendous case for publicly owned broadband networks.

She notes the importance of broadband and the failure of big cable and DSL companies to meet the growing needs of communities, just as the electrical trusts were insufficient to electrify much of America.

I'm a bit biased because she cites our work:

Today, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which advocates for community broadband initiatives, is tracking more than 60 municipal governments that have built or are building successful fiber networks, just as they created electric systems during the 20th century. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, for example, the city’s publicly owned electric company provides fast, affordable and reliable fiber Internet access. Some businesses based in Knoxville -- 100 miles to the northeast -- are adding jobs in Chattanooga, where connectivity can cost an eighth as much.

Though I encourage readers to read the full column, I love the conclusion:

Franklin D Roosevelt

Right now, state legislatures -- where the incumbents wield great power -- are keeping towns and cities in the U.S. from making their own choices about their communications networks. Meanwhile, municipalities, cooperatives and small independent companies are practically the only entities building globally competitive networks these days. Both AT&T and Verizon have ceased the expansion of next-generation fiber installations across the U.S., and the cable companies’ services greatly favor downloads over uploads.

Congress needs to intervene. One way it could help is by preempting state laws that erect barriers to the ability of local jurisdictions to provide communications services to their citizens.

Running for president in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt emphasized the right of communities to provide their own electricity. “I might call the right of the people to own and operate their own utility a birch rod in the cupboard,” he said, “to be taken out and used only when the child gets beyond the point where more scolding does any good.” It’s time to take out that birch rod.

Posted October 26, 2011 by christopher

Below, you'll find a commentary I just posted on the Huffington Post.

Longmont, Colorado has become ground zero for the battle over the future of access to the Internet. Because big cable and telephone companies have stopped us from having a real choice in Internet Service Providers and failed to invest in adequate networks, a number of communities have built their own networks.

Chattanooga boasts the nation's best citywide broadband network, offering the fastest speeds available in the nation -- and the community owns it. That means much more of the money spent by subscribers stays in town, supporting local jobs.

Longmont, a town near Boulder with 80,000 people, offers a glimpse at how difficult it can be for communities to make any level of broadband investment -- the big cable and phone companies hate any potential competition, no matter how limited.

Longmont's elected officials all agree they need better broadband options to spur economic development. That's why they put a referendum on the ballot that will allow the city to use its existing assets to improve local broadband access. Not only are the mayor and city council unanimous in support of the referendum (2A) necessary for this, their opponents in the city election overwhelmingly agree also! And the local paper just editorialized in favor of it as well.

Who then, is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to derail it? Comcast and its allies, of course. And this isn't the first time.

Back in the 1990s, the municipality-owned electric utility built a fiber ring to modernize its electrical grid. They took the opportunity to lay more fiber-optic cables than they would need, knowing that they could later be used by the city or partners to expand broadband access for all businesses and resident.

Over several years, the City worked with a ...

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Posted October 6, 2011 by christopher

Vince Jordan, an advocate for broadband competition in Longmont, Colorado, wrote the following op-ed for the local paper about the upcoming referendum 2A. He has given us permission to reprint it here.

“There you go again” (to quote President Ronald Regan).

Well, it has already started. The folks who spent almost a quarter of a million dollars in the elections two years ago to convince the citizens of Longmont that being able to take further advantage of the fiber network they already own and are using is too dangerous for them, are at it again. No doubt by now, many of you have received one if not multiple “robo-calls” trying to convince you that the City is going to raise your taxes as a result of a yes vote on 2A. The first three words of Ballot Issue 2A say, “Without raising taxes”, but, since the opponents of this ballot, (those being the two mega-corporations who stand to benefit from you voting against 2A), can’t come up with any good reasons against the measure, they are resorting to the tired old cry of “they are going to raise your taxes!”

Citizens of Longmont, from 1997 to 2005, we had the right to use the asset that the city owns, namely the fiber network, to the benefit of ALL of the businesses and citizens of Longmont. The same corporations that are trying to “buy” your vote again, as they successfully did in 2009 with their “No Blank Check” campaign, in 2005 were able to lobby for and buy a law that took away our right to fully utilize this city owned asset. What ballot issue 2A is asking is for the citizens of Longmont to take back a right they once had.

This fiber network, which is fully operational today and used by the city for city purposes, and in fact already benefits the citizens of Longmont to some degree by keeping city service communications cost low, can do so much more. Our fiber network can be used to enhance the three Es, Employment, Education and Entertainment, here in Longmont. Low cost communications is as much a necessity today as is low cost power and water. Longmont already benefits from the lowest power rates in the country and the best service. Why wouldn’t we want the same advantage in the communications network that serves our businesses, our schools and our homes? Do you really believe the opponents of this measure, the lawyers from Denver being paid for by Comcast and CenturyLink, (stated so in...

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Posted June 24, 2011 by christopher

 

I wrote the following synopsis of AT&T's attack on schools and libraries in Wisconsin for SaveTheInternet.com.  We are still waiting for the Governor to sign the bill, something that may take another week or longer apparently.

WiscNet is an Internet services co-op that provides Internet access to the vast majority of schools and libraries in Wisconsin, as well as a number of local governments. Because it’s a co-op, it can deliver lower-cost broadband to public entities than they could negotiate on their own. The arrangement between WiscNet schools and governments saves Wisconsin taxpayers millions of dollars each year and offers services that private companies like AT&T won’t provide.

Despite WiscNet’s proven utility throughout the state, AT&T and its incumbent allies (a group called Access Wisconsin) attempted to murder WiscNet in the back alleys of Madison, Wisconsin’s capital. But following a dramatic outpouring of public support for the network, lawmakers compromised and merely placed it on death row.

AT&T dumps millions into Wisconsin politics for a reason — to enact its agenda. When it furtively inserted a few provisions into a budget bill in the 11th hour a few weeks ago, legislators went merrily along without asking any questions.

These provisions would have effectively shut WiscNet down, and they would have required the University of Wisconsin, a premier research institution globally, to withdraw from Internet2 and other research networks. They also would have forced the University of Wisconsin Extension to return federal broadband stimulus grants that had already been used to break ground on projects to improve connections in rural areas with inadequate connections. Returning those grants would have cost $27.7 million over 5 years to the involved communities and killed almost 500 jobs.

Why did AT&T do this? Access Wisconsin claimed stimulus-funded networks are "unfair" competition...

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Posted April 26, 2011 by christopher

North Carolina's Senate Finance Committee is poised to take away the right of communities to decide for themselves if building their own broadband network is a good idea or not. If it passes out of this committee, it goes right to the Senate Floor and will likely become law.

We have covered Time Warner Cable's bill to kill community networks in greater depth than any other story -- and now folks in North Carolina have to immediately contact their Senators to oppose this power grab from big companies like TWC and CenturyLink. You can also use this form from Free Press if you are unsure who your Senator is.

In recent weeks, we've posted excellent speeches from legislators opposed to the bill, testimony from concerned citizens, and a variety of resolutions from local governments who are fearful of this bill's impact on public safety networks needed to keep residents and businesses safe.

If you are shy, you can call before or after business hours and leave a message on their voicemail. It takes less than five minutes. Your calls make a huge difference because so few constituents ever call state legislators. Simply let them know you oppose H129 and that the state should concern itself with expanding broadband access, not restricting who can offer it.

And as I have said numerous times, those outside North Carolina should also be contacting their elected leaders -- because everyone lives in a state where powerful lobbyists are trying to preserve and expand the power of a few massive companies like Time Warner Cable and AT&T. Progressive States Network recent covered this topic.

Two weeks ago, I wrote the following op-ed for The Wilson Times...

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Posted April 11, 2011 by christopher

I wrote an op-ed for the Durham Herald Sun about the efforts in North Carolina to limit local authority to build community networks. We will continue heavy coverage on North Carolina and other states in danger of passing anti-competitive, pro-monopoly legislation proposed by powerful, massive carriers. Here is the op-ed:

After more than four years of lobbying, Time Warner Cable may finally succeed in restricting the authority of local communities to build their own broadband networks.

Its legislation, H 129/S 87, will enact a host of special requirements for publicly owned networks that do not apply to networks run by the cable and phone companies.

The "Level Playing Field / Local Gov't Competition" bill could more appropriately be called the "Monopoly Protection Act." Rather than actually leveling the playing field, this bill solely disadvantages publicly owned networks.

Time Warner Cable has convinced the House that a massive $18 billion-per-year company operating one of the largest telecommunications networks on the planet, is powerless to compete against a community-owned network like Greenlight in Wilson or Fibrant in Salisbury.

Bill sponsor Rep. Marilyn Avila has simply had enough of "predatory" (her word) local governments shaking down AT&T and TWC. The champion of a similar bill last year, Sen. David Hoyle, candidly admitted it was written by TWC. There is no reason to suspect anything changed this year.

But perhaps the more fantastical element of this story is that the Legislature's biggest broadband priority is to limit, not expand, broadband investments in the state ranked 41st in broadband. Just how bad is North Carolina's broadband? When Broadband.com launched its new map showing the prices paid by small businesses for broadband, seven of the 10 most expensive cities were located in North Carolina. Anchorage barely beat out Greensboro for the highest average price per Mbps. This is why major private sector companies like Google and Intel have gone on the record opposing TWC's bill.

Fast, reliable, and affordable access to the Internet is essential for communities to thrive in the modern age. This...

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Posted March 20, 2011 by christopher

Kane Loader, the City Manager for Midvale and Chair of the UTOPIA board, penned a recent op-ed explaining why UTOPIA is important to readers. UTOPIA is a trailblazer in the US open access fiber-optic network space. After initial problems, the network is showing a lot of promise and has long offered some of the fastest speeds available in the US at the lowest prices.

Utah can lead the way in this digital future, and the cities of UTOPIA are proud to be part of the cutting-edge solution.

We are building this network not as a money-making operation, although our financial situation improves as our subscriber base grows. We are building this network for the same reason local governments built highways in the 19th century and airports in the 20th century: This infrastructure will be what connects our 21st century world.

Posted February 2, 2011 by christopher

Durham's Herald Sun published our op-ed about community broadband networks in North Carolina. Reposted here:

Who should decide the future of broadband access in towns across North Carolina? Citizens and businesses in towns across the state, or a handful of large cable and phone companies? The new General Assembly will almost certainly be asked to address that question.

Fed up with poor customer service, overpriced plans and unreliable broadband access, Wilson and Salisbury decided to build their own next-generation networks. Faced with the prospect of real competition in the telecom sector, phone and cable companies have aggressively lobbied the General Assembly to abolish the right of other cities to follow in Wilson and Salisbury's pioneering footsteps.

The decision by Wilson and Salisbury to build their own networks is reminiscent of the decision by many communities 100 years ago to build their own electrical grids when private electric companies refused to provide them inexpensive, reliable service.

An analysis by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (http://tiny.cc/MuniNetworks) compares the speed and price of broadband from incumbent providers in North Carolina to that offered by municipally owned Greenlight in Wilson and Fibrant in Salisbury.

Wilson and Salisbury offer much faster connections at similar price points, delivering more value for the dollar while keeping those dollars in the community. For instance, the introductory broadband tiers from Wilson (10 downstream/10 upstream Mbps) and Salisbury (15/15 Mbps) beat the fastest advertised tiers in Raleigh of AT&T (6/.5 Mbps) and TWC (10/.768 Mbps). And by building state-of-the-art fiber-optic networks, subscribers actually receive the speeds promised in advertisements. DSL and cable connections, for a variety of reasons, rarely achieve the speeds promised.

Curbing innovation

The Research Triangle is a hub of innovation but is stuck with last-century broadband delivered by telephone lines and cable connections. In the Triangle, as in most of the United States, broadband subscribers choose between slow DSL from the incumbent telephone...

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