Tag: "federal government"

Posted February 8, 2011 by christopher

Following 9/11, Washington DC built a muni fiber network for government use.  We wrote about it Breaking the Broadband Monopoly -- noting its strong record of success.  The Washington Examiner has noted that DC-Net is looking for expansion opportunites.  

The city invested $87 million into D.C.-Net to get there. It now has 350 miles of fiber optic cable connecting city agencies at 355 locations in all eight wards. More than 33,000 District employees use it every day, and it handles calls to the emergency 911 call center and the city's 311 information line. The District also hasn't spent a dime on it since 2007. Instead, the network runs on a surplus, which is reinvested into its infrastructure, officials said. Now, the city stands to earn millions by leasing access to the network out to federal agencies.

While private companies constantly claim that local governments have no capacity to run fiber broadband neworks, DC-Net has proven not only can munis run these networks, they can offer faster speeds, lower prices, and better reliability.  Now DC-Net has a $1.6 million contract with US Office of Personnel Management.  

Posted January 28, 2011 by christopher

Wally Bowen, the Founder and Executive Director for the Mountain Area Information Network in Asheville, North Carolina, wrote the following piece after President Obama's State of the Union Address.  He gave us permission to reprint it below.

Last night in the State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to help “win the future” by, among other things, rebuilding America's infrastructure.

On broadband Internet access, the president was unequivocal: wireless broadband is the way forward (item #1 below).

However, he did not mention the FCC's recent approval of “open Internet” protections that are widely believed to be unenforceable. Indeed, just a few days ago Verizon filed suit to invalidate these rules via a preemptive, knockout blow.

Congress is not likely to pass any meaningful net neutrality/open Internet rules. This means that the Internet is completely exposed to “corporate enclosure” by a handful of cable and telephone companies and their business partners (Apple, Google, FaceBook, et al).

Our only alternative for preserving an open Internet -- and the freedom to innovate and use applications of our own choosing -- is the creation of non-commercial, community-based broadband networks (item #2 below).

MAIN logo

Fortunately, Asheville and WNC are ahead of the game with our nonprofit fiber networks (ERC Broadband, Balsam West, French Broad EMC, et al.) and nonprofit wireless networks like the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN).

The way forward will be difficult. While the commercial carriers have been somewhat tolerant of nonprofit “middle-mile” fiber networks, they view nonprofit “last-mile” providers of broadband service to homes and businesses as “unfair competition.”

Indeed, 15 states have already passed laws – pushed by cable and telco lobbyists – to prohibit “last-mile” municipal broadband networks. A similar law was attempted, but tabled, in the last two sessions of the N.C. General Assembly. This law will no doubt re-appear in the upcoming session.

Fortunately, MAIN is an independent nonprofit and card-carrying member of the private sector. While the big carriers cannot...

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Posted November 25, 2010 by christopher

The abstract immediately captured my attention:

Policymakers often tell us that the Internet succeeded because of a lack of government regulation. For instance, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell recently noted that the “evolution away from government intervention has been the most important ingredient in the Internet’s success.” These views, while widely shared, happen to be inaccurate. In reality, a diverse range of federal regulations, subsidies, and nondiscrimination protections sustained the Internet’s historic growth.

But what if, as many inaccurately assume, these regulations had never existed? What would today’s Internet look like in such a world? In this essay, I provide a fictional alternate history - in form of a satirical book review - to illustrate how differently the Internet might have developed in a truly privatized world. Although the essay below (beginning after this abstract) is fictional, it draws heavily upon both the regulatory history of the Internet and the policy arguments at issue in today’s leading regulatory proceedings.

This article covers decisions like Carterfone, the FCC's Computer Inquires, giving control over TCP/IP to the National Science Foundation rather than AT&T, and the intentions of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. It also includes a reminder of the difference between open systems and closed systems:

One important way that open policies achieve this goal is by reducing various types of transaction costs. In open networks, new market entrants can completely avoid negotiating with companies who have “gateway control” over the network. The aspiring entrants do not have to pay—nor seek permission from—the network owners for access. Accordingly, these policies encourage vastly more experimentation and amateur “tinkering.” Closed networks, by contrast, produce relatively less innovation because they rely on centralized network owners to introduce—or at least approve—innovation before it becomes available.

This is a fantastic read (really riveting telecom reading -- how often do you get that?) and a good history lesson for people who were not there to see it firsthand over the years.

Posted November 16, 2010 by christopher

In the world of essential infrastructure, thousands of years of history have taught us that entities, acting on their own narrow interest, cannot be trusted to build or govern the building blocks of commerce or transportation. The temptation to abuse that powerful position has always proved too much for those without accountability to the public.

For instance, if the only way to move goods is a canal, private canal owners will price at a high level or use their position to take a stake in all the industries using the canal. Such an arrangement is great for the canal owners but poor for the rest of society. Witness the history of canals and railroads.

Two options to dealing with this problem have historically been either regulation or public ownership of such infrastructure. Readers of this site are undoubtedly well aware of our preference for public ownership - a structural approach using coops, local government, or non-profits to ensure the interests of the public at large receive the highest priority.

This post explains one of the reasons a regulatory approach, whereby private companies still own the infrastructure (and often make key decisions) but must go through some form of public body that is supposed to prevent the natural interests of the private company from taking over and reducing the benefits to society at large.

Writing in the Financial Times, John Kay explains regulatory capture, the process by which the agency or commission supposed to regulate effectively begins to act more in the interests of those regulated rather than the public. An obvious example of this is the Minerals Management Agency that has long improperly overseen the extraction industry, leading to the BP Gulf Oil Hole.

As Kay rightly explains, there are multiple kinds of capture from outright corruption to something that leads some political science geeks bring up Gramsci and Hegemony...

But the most common form of capture is honest and may be characterised as intellectual capture. Every regulatory agency is dependent for information on the businesses it regulates. Many of the people who run regulated companies are agreeable, committed individuals who are properly affronted by any suggestion that their activities do not serve the public good. Few members of the public, by contrast, ever make contact with a regulatory agency...

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Posted September 8, 2010 by christopher

Confused about the inability of the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the massive telecom and broadband carriers? You are not alone. This article explains some of it quite well, but the ultimate lesson is that we would greatly prefer local ownership of networks that are accountable to our needs.

The FCC proves time and time again it cannot be trusted to regulate in the public interest. We need to ensure this infrastructure is operated for us, not distant corporate shareholders.

Posted August 25, 2010 by christopher

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 June 30, 2010 by christopher

Bruce Kushnick, a telecom analyst, has long pushed for telcos to live up to the bargains they struck with individual states and federal agencies over the years as part of deregulation policies. They were deregulated and (surprisingly enough) failed to make good on their promises. For the most part, governments have refused to punish them or even learn the lesson that companies like AT&T and Qwest simply cannot be trusted.

If you have ever stared at an incomprehensible telephone bill and wondered just how badly you were getting ripped off, you will be interested in this article discussing the many ways we are ripped off by these companies. Small wonder these companies are so profitable and can afford their legions of lobbyists.

But that is that, and what's done is done, right? Well, Kushnick has another article about the Obama Administration's FCC and approach to expanding broadband.

Long story short, the proposed changes will increase the costs most of those with the least ability to pay and the least likely to benefit from the spending. This approach of expanding broadband is awful - more subsidies to terrible telephone companies that have poor service in rural areas because they are structurally incapable of meeting the infrastructure needs of communities. Massive companies like AT&T and even smaller big companies like Qwest are strangling rural communities while they lobby for bills to prevent those communities from solving their own problems.

Expanding broadband access and availability has costs and some taxes may need to be raised. But those funds should be used responsibly by expanding broadband coverage from entities that are dedicated to serving the community (munis, coops, nonprofits) rather than simply padding the corporate profits of companies that provide terrible service to communities and upgrade far too slowly.

Posted May 3, 2010 by christopher

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 May 1, 2010 by christopher

Paul Venezia is one of the few who noted a recent Lessig presentation that discusses broadband policy. Larry Lessig's presentation offers an excellent short history of broadband and telecom history - from the beginning of AT&T to the National Broadband Plan. The video runs an hour, but should be essential viewing for anyone who wants to understand why the U.S. continues to fall behind international peers in broadband. Lessig's answer is that we have lost our independence. Large corporate interests dominate the federal government as well as the state legislatures, resulting in a government that too often bends to their will. Lessig's presentation covers the essential role of government in forcing AT&T to open the phone network (paving the way for fax machines, Sports Illustrated football phones, and eventually dial-up modems). Key takeaway: the owner of a network makes the rules and determines who is allowed to use it and under what circumstances. Among other issues, he offers the most accessible explanation of what happened with the FCC/Comcast court ruling that has (temporarily - we hope) rendered the FCC unable to stop carriers from telling users what sites they can visit or adjusting the speeds to some sites based on the carriers' business model. He notes his disappointment with the National Broadband Plan - where the Obama "reality-based" Administration chose to ignore reality and take the easy road of not challenging powerful incumbent telecom interests. Toward the end, he raises the chilling prospect of the federal government instituting a form of the PATRIOT ACT on the Internet in the future. Watching this reminded me that we believe government has an essential role in building and owning infrastructure but we strongly support Constitutional checks against the government getting too involved in policing content. This is an excellent presentation - particularly for those who are not as familiar with the history of the AT&T, the FCC, Carterphone, and the competition we briefly had among service providers in the days of dial-up.

Posted March 16, 2010 by christopher

The FCC has released its National Broadband Plan and I have perused it, in anticipation of digging into it. The vast majority of reactions seem to agree that it has some good parts and some disappointments. Karl Bode summarizes the plan nicely (as does Glenn Fleishman). From our perspective, it is good on a million details but disappointing on its solutions.

As is usual for me, I'll focus on wired networks.

This plan will not lead to the meaningful competition we all want. It will further cement the power of incumbent providers who have refused to invest -- especially in rural areas. However, it does encourage Congress to "clarify" that the public should be able to build and own networks via local governments and other arrangements. This is the closest we come to a victory.

This is what they have to say about the matter (page 153):

Tribal, State, Regional and Local Broadband Initiatives In addition to Tribal, federal, and state efforts to support broadband deployment, local governments and regions often organize themselves to support deployment in their communities. According to recent market research, as of October 2009, there were 57 fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) municipal deployments, either in operation or actively being built, in 85 towns and cities in the United States. These deployments collectively serve 3.4% of the FTTP subscribers in North America.

Not all government-sponsored networks serve consumers directly. Several government-sponsored entities, such as NOANet in the Pacific Northwest and OneCommunity in Ohio, are major providers of backhaul capacity in areas that benefit community institutions and local broadband service providers. Their networks are often “constructed” by patching together and opening up to wider use fiber and other connections that might originally have been built for single-purpose institutional needs, such as the needs of government offices and local transportation. By offering up that existing capacity to wider use, including the service provider community, these efforts can benefit an entire community, not just one institution.

While it is difficult to measure the impact of many local...

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