Tag: "fcc"

Posted June 21, 2010 by christopher

Though we certainly support the FCC's reclassification of broadband to ensure companies like Comcast do not interfere with the open Internet, we focus on policy at the community level. We fully support the efforts of organizations and people in DC to work at the federal level.

But for those who are utterly baffled at the questions being raised the the last 15 years of Internet policy, I strongly recommend a recent op-ed by Wally Bowen: "FCC needs to rethink broadband regulation."

The stakes are high. The Internet's explosive growth – and the spectacular innovation it spawned – were enabled by common-carrier rules that still govern the nation's dial-up telephone networks.

Before 2002, online users were at the center of the Internet and World Wide Web, free to choose among competing ISPs, and free to roam and innovate. With the removal of common-carrier rules, the cable and telephone companies occupied the center of a broadband-driven Web, free to pick winners and losers among innovators (e.g. AT&T's exclusive iPhone deal with Apple) – and free to dictate when and where broadband access will be deployed.

In short, the definitive battle for the future of the Internet is underway.

Posted April 29, 2010 by christopher

I was briefly checking out the Open Internet Workshop when I got into a short tweet-argument with someone I did not know. Bear with me as I recount the discussion then explain why I think it worth delving into for a post. This person caught my attention by tweeting, "Which means the Net is already open, right?"

I responded, "Yes Internet is open. Trying to keep it that way. Idea that net neutrality is 'new' is absurd."

Shortly thereafter, I got a response that fits a standard script: "Then how about proving actual harm first? Burden of proof to hand Net to govt is on you guys."

I responded, "Comcast, RCN, Cox block applications ... why must we wait for you to break the Net further to fix it?"

The final response was that the market forces will solve the problem and my "examples are outdated."

I later discovered that I was wasting time responding to someone from an astroturf think tank. Odds are that this person was simultaneously tweeting that cigarette smoking is not correlated with cancer and that burning coal actually cleans the air.

But this is a common argument from those who want to allow companies like Comcast and AT&T to tell users what sites they can visit and what applications they can use. Some "free market" advocate (who is actually defending firms with serious market power, the antithesis of a free market) says that no private network owner would violate network neutrality. Then, when presented with companies that have violated network neutrality, the response is invariably that those are "old" examples" or somehow not relevant.

To sum up:

Person A: No company would violate network neutrality.

Person B: What about Comcast, Cox, RCN, and the famous Madison River Communication?

Person A: Those don't count.

Aside from the absurdity, the larger problem is that we do not always know when companies are violating network neutrality. Comcast was violating network neutrality for at least a year before tech journalists successfully outed the practice. Over the course of that year, many subscribers called Comcast and asked why they were having problems with certain applications. Comcast lied to them and said the company was not interfering with them. When finally backed into a corner with incontrovertible evidence, it... Read more

Posted April 28, 2010 by christopher

Thanks to Catharine Rice, who tipped me off to FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn's presentation at the SEATOA Conference yesterday. SEATOA is a regional group of states from the southeast of the US that are part of NATOA. Commissioner Clyburn noted that the FCC and the National Broadband Plan oppose state preemption of local broadband networks.

Thus, the Plan recommends that Congress clarify that State and local governments should not be restricted from building their own broadband networks. I firmly believe that we need to leverage every resource at our disposal to deploy broadband to all Americans. If local officials have decided that a publicly-owned broadband network is the best way to meet their citizens’ needs, then my view is to help make that happen.

One example of a town that took control of its own digital destiny – Bristol, Virginia saw additional jobs created in that area. And last month I heard Lafayette, Louisiana’s City-Parish President, describe the development of economic opportunities in his city, that were a direct result of the fiber network built by the community. Right here in North Carolina, I understand that Wilson and Salisbury are trying to invest in fiber optic systems, that they hope will transform their local economies.

When cities and local governments are prohibited from investing directly in their own broadband networks, citizens may be denied the opportunity to connect with their nation and improve their lives. As a result, local economies likely will suffer. But broadband is not simply about dollars and cents, it is about the educational, health, and social welfare of our communities. Preventing governments from investing in broadband, is counter –productive, and may impede the nation from accomplishing the Plan’s goal of providing broadband access to every American and every community anchor institution.

I can only hope that North Carolina's Legislature listen to this speech before they vote on preempting communities from building broadband networks. However, as documented at Stop the Cap, Time Warner and other telcos are able to talk pretty loudly with their campaign contributions.

... Read more

Posted April 13, 2010 by christopher

A quick reaction to the court decision that the FCC cannot currently prevent Comcast from telling subscribers where they can and cannot go on the Internet: This is what happens when private companies own infrastructure.

Comcast owns the pipes so it makes the rules. The FCC, authorized to regulate "all interstate and foreign communication by wire or radio" by Congress, most assuredly is supposed to have the authority to ensure Internet Service Providers cannot arbitrarily block some websites to subscribers. Whether it really has the power or not is determined by courts - and the courts are massively swayed by the arguments of Comcast, related trade associations, and powerful organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce. So long as Comcast and other massive corporations own the infrastructure, they will make the rules. We can attempt to fiddle at the edges by responding via the FCC, or we can build public infrastructure (over which they can provide services without making the rules) and avoid this entire problem.

On this particular issue, though, I found the following bits helpful in understanding the decision and how it changes federal policy.

Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post posted a video interview with Ben Scott of Free Press that is well worth watching to understand what is at stake and what is not. For instance, the FCC is not proposing to regulate the Internet so much as the wires and transmissions that allow the Internet to run. As long as Comcast can decide what bits it wants to transport (as in, it will transport bits from CNN but not Fox News, for instance), the open Internet is at risk. Ben Scott also appeared on the excellent Diane Rehm show that asked Who Controls the Internet?

If you really want to get into the nuts and bolts of what the Court said, you never go wrong by starting with an analysis by Harold Feld, who notes (with more authority than I when yelling back at my radio at misinformed tech reporters) that lots of folks are talking about this decision (including a certain FCC Commissioner) without understanding what the ruling actually said.

The FCC does not require an additional grant of power from Congress to enforce network neutrality, as... Read more

Posted March 25, 2010 by christopher

Just a few short snippets, no real commentary from me today...

Tracy Rosenberg wrote Single Payer Broadband at the Huffington Post, noting:

Cities and states all over the country have been looking at the possibility of public networks. The FCC admits this may be a last resort for difficult-to-cover areas the market has no profitable solution for. Why a last resort? Why have 18 states passed laws banning municipalities from offering any wholesale or retail broadband services? Is it because they might do it better? More competition should never be considered a last resort.

An article in the Economist pulls no punches:

A YEAR ago, Congress asked for a plan that would provide affordable broadband service to all America’s citizens. On March 16th, the Federal Communications Commission responded with a non sequitur: a national wireless plan which is good in its way, but which largely fails to tackle the problem it was asked to solve.

Great op-ed in the NY Times - "Ending the Internet’s Trench Warfare" by Yochai Benkler, someone who knows quite a bit about networks.

In Japan and many European countries, regulators fought hard to bring existing providers around to open access. They won, and today these countries have more competition, lower prices and higher speeds. Such political will is glaringly absent in the commission’s plan.

The 1996 Telecommunications Act did, in fact, point the United States in the direction of open access. But after eight years of intense litigation and lobbying from telephone companies, the Federal Communications Commission gave in, deciding that competition between one telephone incumbent and one cable incumbent was enough — in essence, it rejected open access as a way to create competition.

Others have also written quite well on this, but time is short this week.

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... Read more

Posted January 11, 2010 by christopher

The FCC asked for comments on its plans to make rules to protect the open Internet [pdf] from companies that may exert more control over the sites you want to visit in order to boost their profits.

Free Press made the video below to encourage people to comment before the deadline. Though we believe Network Neutrality provisions would be unnecessary with policies that encouraged public ownership and open access, the reality of networks today dictates rules that do not allow Comcast or AT&T to turn the Internet into the wasteland of FM radio today.

SavetheInternet.com makes it easy to comment if you don't have a lot of experience with FCC notices.

Photo used under Creative Commons license from AdamWillis.

Posted November 20, 2009 by christopher

Tropos is a California-based company that sells wireless networking gear, frequently to municipalities. They filed comments with the FCC regarding the National Broadband Plan in response to the request: "Comment Sought on the Contribution of Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Government to Broadband."

We fully support their framing of the issue:

Municipalities that own and control their wireless broadband networks, operate public services more efficiently, prioritize broadband traffic for emergencies, and put unused bandwidth to use to attract new businesses, afford educational opportunities to students and in many cases, provide free broadband access to unserved or underserved residents.

Tropos calls for an end to preemption on community networks.

Congress should not adopt legislation that would prohibit local governments from building and operating broadband networks to provide services within a community. Local governments should have the freedom to make decisions on how they want to provide broadband within their community.

And finally, Tropos harkens back to the same political battles from one hundred years ago:

A century ago, when inexpensive electricity was available to only a small fraction of the U.S. population, incumbent suppliers of electricity sought to prevent the public sector from offering electricity for many of the same reasons incumbent broadband providers now argue against community broadband deployment and services. Back then, incumbents sought to limit competition by arguing that local governments didn’t have the expertise to offer something as complex as electricity. They argued that their own businesses would suffer if they faced competition from cities and towns. Local community leaders recognized that their economic survival and the health and welfare of their citizens depended on wiring their communities. They understood that it would take both private and public investment to bring electricity to all Americans. Fortunately, they prevailed. Just as municipal electric systems proved critical to making access to electric service universal in the 20th Century, municipal networks can be part of the solution in making broadband access universal in the 21st Century – and should be included in the build-out of a national broadband infrastructure.

The... Read more

Posted November 18, 2009 by christopher

As the FCC continues to formulate a National Broadband Plan, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has submitted comments [pdf] about publicly owned networks in response to the Request for Comments #7: "Comment Sought on the Contribution of Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Government to Broadband." In our comments, we highlight the importance of publicly owned broadband networks by noting many success stories and offering details on networks from Chattanooga, Burlington, Monticello, and Powell, Wyoming. We also offer some comments about middle-mile networks and networks that connect core anchor institutions, like libraries and schools.

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... Read more

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