Tag: "ntia"

Posted September 18, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

As I was catching up on some of the good broadband stimulus awards, I came across this Sun Patriot newspaper article about Carver County's award. Carver County, perhaps having learned from its neighbor Scott County (which built a great FTTH network quite economically), will soon operate a broadband network far superior to the expensive leased T1 lines it currently uses. Carver County will receive almost $6 million from the award,

The county has agreed to provide $1.5 million, the required 20 percent match of the total project budget of $7.5 million. The county will use $400,000 in cash funds allocated from its Information Technology operating capital budget for the project. The remaining $1.1 million will come from a bond sale. The county’s recent upgrade to AAA bond rating means it will obtain the lowest possible interest rate on the 15-year bonds, according to a Carver County news release.

The Carver County Open Fiber Initiative (CCOFI) network will connect 86 anchor institutions (including 28 schools) in 55 locations and will not provide services directly to residential or business customers. Instead, the network will offer wholesale access to private providers, in hopes that they will improve broadband access in most areas of the county. The County will own the network; Jaguar Communications has partnered with the county to build and maintain the backbone. This network will allow the County to stop grossly overpaying some $230,000 a year for T1 lines delivering too little capacity for their needs. Over time, ownership of the network will allow them to pay less over time (with technological innovation lowering prices) for broadband rather than paying more over time as occurs with those relying on leased T1s. We continue to question any community that relies on leased copper rather the building their own fiber networks for essential muni functions.

Posted August 25, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

The open access UTOPIA network in Utah has been awarded broadband stimulus funds that will allow the network to serve hundreds of community institutions in several communities, which will aid them in the continuing last-mile rollout.

The grant was awarded to begin connecting nearly 400 schools, libraries, medical and healthcare providers, public safety entities, community college locations, government offices and other important community institutions in sections of Perry, Payson, Midvale, Murray, Centerville, Layton, Orem, and West Valley City.

Jesse at FreeUTOPIA offered some thoughts on what the grant means locally.

I'm positively thrilled at the news - UTOPIA continues to push ahead with a unique approach to fiber infrastructure that would solve most of the nation's broadband problems, including the one abandoned by everyone in DC: creating true competition for subscribers.

Unrelated to the broadband stimulus award, Pete Ashdown penned an excellent op-ed about UTOPIA: Fiber infrastructure best handled by government.

There certainly are commercial examples of roads, airports, sewers, water treatment, but nothing on the scale of the interstate highways, national and international airports, and facilities that service large populations. The interests of business are narrow — returning a profit and increasing shareholder return.

These interests go against broad long-term goals that infrastructure serves — facilitating economic exchange and the general welfare. If every airline was required to build their own airport and every shipping company needed their own road, America would be on par with Somalia as an economic force.

To critics of UTOPIA or more broadly, public ownership of infrastructure, he writes:

There is no doubt that iProvo and UTOPIA have seen mismanagement. The Federal Highways Act saw corruption, graft and bribes during its creation. Yet only a fool would regard our highways as a waste of money.

The remedy to government mismanagement is full transparency with active citizen oversight. It is time this country embraces fiber infrastructure...

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Posted July 14, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Bristol Virginia is again expanding broadband access in rural Virginia. Following a $22.7 million BTOP (broadband stimulus) grant and matching $5.7 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission, in combination with in-kind contributions from the Virginia Department of Transportation, BVU will greatly expand middle-mile broadband throughout 8 counties in Southwest Virginia. The project is expected to take 2.5 years to complete.

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph covered the story:

“With this broadband network, Bristol Virginia Utilities will enable service to more than 120 of what we refer to as anchor institutions,” [US Senator] Boucher said. “That includes schools, libraries, hospitals, clinics, major government facilities and other large public facilities. The new network will also come within two miles of 18,000 homes and 500 businesses. That makes it feasible for what we refer to as last mile service to be provided to these 18,000 homes and 500 businesses. Some of these have broadband today, but not all of them do.”

This project will add onto the economic development successes resulting from previous networks built by the publicly owned utility:

Boucher said the original broadband line deployed across the region several years ago has already helped to create a number of new jobs, including 137 new virtual call center jobs that have been created in the region by DirectTV, and another 700 plus jobs that have been created by the Northrop Grumman and CGI technology centers in Lebanon.

Read BVU's press release on the grant award [pdf].

Though BVU is expanding middle mile access, it cannot offer last-mile services in most of these communities. Virginia law prevents BVU from offering some services outside its existing footprint - a policy that is great for telco profits but terrible for people that actually want modern telecom services.

For its existing broadband subscribers where it is allowed to offer services, the utility has boosted downstream and upstream speeds [pdf]. The new tiers remain asymmetrical, as with a number of the earlier muni broadband networks....

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Posted May 3, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

One of the dangers of federal programs like the broadband stimulus programs BTOP and BIP is that the feds make the rules... and sometimes they just change the rules.

I previously wrote about how the BTOP rules privileged private companies over the public sector (despite Congress' clear intent to prioritize the public sector). As this article notes, NTIA effectively changed those rules along the way -- resulting in what might technically be termed "screwing over" a variety of applicants.

Though the Round 1 rules encouraged applicants to apply for last-mile funds, the vast majority of awards went to middle mile applications. In fact, while in Lafayette, we tried to name more than 5 last-mile grants. Why the change in focus? The most likely reason seems to be opposition from powerful, well connected incumbent companies that did not want to deal with the hassle of competition in small parts of their territories.

So NTIA quietly chose to award funds to less controversial projects. The problem is that the hundreds of applicants poured money and resources into proposals for last-mile projects that they believed would be considered in good faith.

We never miss an opportunity to note that whoever owns the network makes the rules. Well, whoever disburses the funds, makes the rules (and in this case, quietly changes the rules). And in DC, corporate interests all have a seat at the table. When one goes begging to DC for funds, one should not be surprised at the many hoops and frustrations of that process.

Not only are communities better off owning their infrastructure - they are generally better off when they take responsibility for financing the network and do not depend on free money (whether from the private sector or DC). Communities have financed networks with a variety of means -- from a loan from a local bank to bonds (taxable, nontaxable, general obligation, revenue, etc) to slowly expanding networks over a longer period of time.

TANSTAAFL - There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch - Robert A. Heinlein

Posted February 25, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Last summer, I predicted the NTIA's rules for the broadband stimulus would disadvantage the public sector and tilt the playing field toward the private sector. I was right.

Consider a recent story about the first round of the stimulus:

With time and resources scarce and applications to review from nearly 2,200 entities, favoring vendors was less complicated because they wrote savvier proposals and required less follow-up, in Winogradoff's view.

Private companies were able to submit savvier proposals and generally swamp the system with far more proposals, slowing the entire process because the federal agencies did not expect the volume. NTIA claimed they wanted to make the funds more widely available and instead shut out much of the public sector.

NTIA, along with most federal agencies, simply does not understand that a "level playing field" between private companies and the public sector is simply not possible. The public sector has different interests - maximizing social benefits whereas the private sector is interested in generating profits. Public and private entities are different creatures, operating in different regulatory environments, with divergent motivations. You can no more create an objectively level playing field between the two than one could in designing a contest between basketball and soccer teams. The rules are simply going to favor one or the other.

The question becomes, who should the rules favor? When it comes to infrastructure and tax dollars, the rules should favor those who put the public interest first. This was the lesson of the Rural Electrification Administration, which was horrified at the idea of lavishing grants on profitable companies in the hopes they would temporarily invest in rural areas. Instead, they offered loans to cooperatives and extended electricity to farms across the country during the worst Depression in our history.

What have we learned from that? Nothing. We contort our policies while offering more and more money to companies that time and time again show they have no interest in serving rural America. This is ludicrous - not only have we already built a wire out to almost every home in America, we still have the...

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Posted November 30, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

I have just submitted comments from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance to both the the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) regarding suggestions for rules in round two (the last round) of the broadband stimulus programs -- the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP - administered by NTIA) and Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP - administered by RUS).

The two agencies previously posted a joint request for information [pdf] on lessons learned from the first round:

RUS and NTIA released a joint Request for Information (RFI) seeking comment on further implementation of the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) and the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). Comments must be received by November 30, 2009. The input the agencies expect to receive from this process is intended to inform the second round of funding.

We offered five pages of comments, responding directly to the questions - I am led to believe that this is the preferred way of responding to such requests for information. Thus, the format consists of a short introduction and then questions (in italics) followed by our responses.

Unsurprisingly, we generally encourage NTIA and RUS to better serve the public interest by requiring more transparency in the second round. We also call on them to stop accepting "advertised" speeds in their broadband definition and use actual delivered speeds in order to ensure communities are not discouraged from applying because their incumbent providers exaggerate the capabilities of their network.

Most importantly, we call on NTIA and RUS to encourage public sector entities to apply by ceasing to consider all private networks to operate in the public interest. As we previously documented here, NTIA subverted the intent of Congress with the rules from round one. The rules should prefer public and nonprofit entities as they are directly accountable to the public and should therefore be the first in line to receive public money for essential infrastructure.

As the number of applications to NTIA and RUS was far higher than expected, making the public interest requirements stronger should be a natural...

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Posted September 11, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Our focus on the broadband stimulus is almost entirely on last-mile infrastructure because it is the most challenging and expensive problem to solve before all Americans will have affordable access to the broadband networks they need in the modern era. As we are most familiar with Minnesota, we decided to take an in-depth look on who is proposing what projects in our state.

Total Infrastructure Grants Requested for Last Mile solely in MN: at least $240 million
Total Infrastructure Loans Requested for Last Mile solely in MN: at least $85 million

Groups seeking stimulus funds to deliver last-mile broadband access in Minnesota have asked for hundreds of millions of dollars. By my tally, some 17 applicants are seeking to serve Minnesota with last-mile access (I threw out applications pertaining to middle mile infrastructure, digital divide, and those last-mile projects that combine Wisconsin and North Dakota areas) have requested some $240 million in grants and $85 million in loans.

If one assumes that the total amount of money is divided evenly among the states, this is somewhere around 3x as much stimulus money that will be awarded to Minnesota applicants over the course of the multiple rounds of funding.

At some point, this list will have to be winnowed and prioritized, so let's delve into it. All applications still must survive the peer review process (ensuring they met NTIA/RUS requirements), the incumbent challenges (incumbents can veto applications by showing that targeted areas already have broadband advertised to them), and the prioritization of surviving projects by each state (no one seems sure of how this will happen in Minnesota, our Governor is too busy not running for President in 2012).

There are two applications that should be jettisoned immediately, Arvig Telephone Company and Mid-State Telephone Company, both of which are owned by TDS Telecom. [Update: I have now heard conflicting reports on whether Arvig is, in fact, a subsidiary of TDS]

When...

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Posted August 14, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

FairPoint's lobbyists in Maine have gone on the offensive, arguing that another group attempting to get stimulus funds is competing unfairly. FairPoint, you may remember, has already accomplished the improbable: it took over the dilapidated networks in New England from Verizon and made them worse. The charge of unfair competition, even if it were true, would be silly because FairPoint has proven it cannot provide these important services.

Karl Bode put Fairpoint in its place:

Even if the company was competing directly with UMS, at least Maine residents could be certain the University will even exist a year from now. But as it stands, Fairpoint isn't competing with the University of Maine. They're competing with a public private partnership of which the University is only a member. Applications for Federal funds are open to public entities and private companies. Given recent history, giving taxpayer dollars to somebody other than the regional dysfunctional incumbent might not be the worst idea in the world.

Bangor Daily News argues that rural Maine cannot afford to fight over who will expand broadband access. Unfortunately, Bangor Daily News' why-can't-we-all-just-get-along approach ignores the very real damage Fairpoint has already done to the state. Their suggestion that these competing networks just "be merged" seems like a call for open access but ignores the need for Fairpoint to maximize profits (right after it gets out of bankruptcy) rather than invest in communities.

The larger point is ominous: the idea that large institutions should suffer with whatever crummy service Fairpoint provides (at the high prices they will provide it) in order that Fairpoint can expand its poor DSL service to rural areas, misses the important point that Fairpoint cannot and will not offer the services that Maine needs. As Mayor Joey Durel of Lafayette suggested, maybe Maine should just send its jobs down to Lafayette, where they are building the necessary infrastructure for the future.

...

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Posted August 7, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell
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Posted July 27, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

After winning the election, the Obama Administration announced that broadband networks would be a priority. True to its word, the stimulus package included $7.2 billion to expand networks throughout the United States. A key question was how that money would be spent: Would the public interest prevail, or would we continue having a handful of private companies maximizing profits at the expense of communities?

Creating the Broadband Stimulus Language

The debate began in Congress as the House and Senate drafted broadband plans as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

The House language on eligibility for stimulus grants made little distinction between global, private entities and local public or non-profit entities.

the term `eligible entity' means--

(A) a provider of wireless voice service, advanced wireless broadband service, basic broadband service, or advanced broadband service, including a satellite carrier that provides any such service;
(B) a State or unit of local government, or agency or instrumentality thereof, that is or intends to be a provider of any such service; and
(C) any other entity, including construction companies, tower companies, backhaul companies, or other service providers, that the NTIA authorizes by rule to participate in the programs under this section, if such other entity is required to provide access to the supported infrastructure on a neutral, reasonable basis to maximize use;

The Senate language clearly preferred non-profit or public ownership.

To be eligible for a grant under the program an applicant shall—

(A) be a State or political subdivision thereof, a nonprofit foundation, corporation, institution or association, Indian tribe, Native Hawaiian organization, or other non-governmental entity in partnership with a State or political subdivision thereof, Indian tribe, or Native Hawaiian organization if the Assistant Secretary determines the partnership consistent with the purposes this section

The final language, adopted by the Conference Committee and passed by both houses in February was a compromise. It favored a public or non-profit corporation but allowed a private company to be eligible only if the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Commerce found that to be in the public interest. In the final law an eligible...

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