Tag: "federal government"

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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Posted November 30, 2009 by christopher

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 November 4, 2009 by christopher

The FCC is asking for comments on the contribution of federal, state, tribal, and local government to broadband [pdf]. Comments are due on Friday, Nov 6.

Take a look at the comment request above (it is only 5 pages long) and pick one of the areas in which they are interested - readers here may be most interested in #2 - "Government broadband initiatives."

a. Governments have engaged in various initiatives to increase broadband deployment and adoption in certain geographic areas. With regard to specific examples of federal, state, tribal, or local broadband initiatives, how did the initiatives come to fruition from start to finish? Please describe cost information, including planning, equipment, training, labor, and conclusion of the initiatives, as well as barriers that were overcome. What elements of the initiation, planning, or implementation were most critical to the success of the project? What factors impacted the technological choices made in the planning and implementation of the project? Were the projects sustainable, and have the projects continued beyond their initially conceived timeframes? What were the costs and the resulting empirically demonstrable benefits or harms of the implementation? How did costs and benefits differ from the original plan and why?

b. What conclusions should be drawn from any particular experiences (e.g., what efforts or practices should be replicated or avoided)?

c. Please provide examples of governments aggregating demand to encourage broadband deployment. Are such programs sustainable? Do these programs cause the deployment of network infrastructure that otherwise would not have occurred? Please provide data when possible.

d. How can successful broadband solutions be more widely shared or publicized to enable other governments to benefit? What should be the role for the federal government (and specifically, this Commission) in fostering the widespread adoption of ideas and initiatives that have worked?

e. Is there a role for non-profit or private sector partnerships in governmental broadband solutions?

Please provide examples from real-life initiatives.

You do not have to answer everything - feel free to just pick one aspect you want to bring to the FCC's attention and then:

  1. Go to the...
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Posted July 8, 2009 by christopher

I have been digesting the NOFA (the rules for broadband stimulus projects) and I am stunned at just how much I disagree with them. I think the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a branch of the Department of Commerce in D.C., and the Rural Utilities Service have really done a disservice to this country.

Before I highlight some commentaries that I have found most interesting thus far, I want to note that this is why we take a bottom-up approach. In talking to many people working on community networks, most everyone is frustrated and the rest are really angry. It sure seemed like the feds were heading in the right direction, but the broadband stimulus rules show just how out of touch they are. We advise communities to find ways of being self-reliant. If they are able to get help from D.C., that is great; but they should never depend upon it.

We will have some more details of our reaction to the rules soon, but for now I wanted to highlight some of the folks that reacted quickly and offered interesting thoughts.

Starting on the positive side, Andrew Cohill at Design Nine thinks the encouragement for open access networks and transparency could ultimately be the defining characteristic.

This means networks that offer competitive pricing from more than one provider get preference--this is huge, and could have important long term consequences.

The rules also do something else quite important on the same page (page 66, line 1463), where there is explicit preference for open access transport, which in telecom jargon is "interconnection." The rules say that companies that post their interconnection fees publicly and agree to nondiscrimination will get preference.

If he is correct, the implications are great. However, the rules certainly could have demanded open access as a condition of public money being used rather than a limited form of extra credit for those who will encourage competition in a market suffering the utter lack of it.

Harold Feld, who rightly noted that good people struggled and worked on this, saw both positives and negatives in the rules. He defends the "broadband" speed definition from the FCC (768kbps down and 200kbps up):

I am in the minority in thinking they played this right. There are too many good projects...

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