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.
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:
- Go to the... Read more
We finally have a realistic estimate of the cost of bringing 100Mbps to every home in America... and Light Reading labeled the cost "jaw-dropping."
Want to provide 100-Mbit/s broadband service to every U.S. household? No problem: Just be ready to write a $350 billion check.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officials shared that jaw-dropping figure today during an update on their National Broadband Plan for bringing affordable, high-speed Internet access to all Americans. The Commission is schedule to present the plan to Congress in 141 days, on Feb. 17.
Don't get me wrong, I agree that $350 billion is a lot of money. On the other hand, we spent nearly $300 billion on surface transportation over 4 years from 2005-2009. $350 billion buys a fiber-optic network that will last considerably longer. Additionally, such a network will generate considerably more revenue than a highway. In fact, these networks will pay for themselves in most areas if they can access to low-interest loans.
Zufolo explained the RUS decision to use its $2.5 billion in funds primarily to subsidize loans and not provide grants, as the agency's best opportunity to make the more efficient use of the federal money and have maximum impact. Because the default rate on RUS loans is less than 1% and the subsidy rate is also low, only about 7%, it costs the government only $72,000 to loan $1 million for rural network development, she said.
Let's say that RUS decides to embark on getting 100 Mbps to everyone in a rural area - some of the projects will be riskier than the standard portfolio, so let's assume it costs the federal government $100,000 to loan $1 million (makes it easier math too). In order to spur the $350 billion investment for these networks, the government would have to put up $35 billion.
But it would probably be more than that because some areas - Montana, Alaska, Wyoming, and other beautiful places will need... Read more
The Chair of the Federal Communications Commission has taken a stand for network neutrality - the founding principle of openness of the Internet. In short, network neutrality means the entity providing you access to the Internet cannot interfere with the sites you choose to visit - it cannot speed them up or slow them down in order to increase their profits. See video at the bottom of this post for a longer explanation.
FCC Chair Julius Genachowski recently spoke at the Brookings Institution [pdf] on the importance of an open Internet. He started by noting many of the ways we depend on services delivered over the Internet:
Even now, the Internet is beginning to transform health care, education, and energy usage for the better. Health-related applications, distributed over a widely connected Internet, can help bring down health care costs and improve medical service. Four out of five Americans who are online have accessed medical information over the Internet, and most say this information affected their decision-making. Nearly four million college students took at least one online course in 2007, and the Internet can potentially connect kids anywhere to the best information and teachers everywhere. And the Internet is helping enable smart grid technologies, which promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by hundreds of millions of metric tons.
However, because most Americans get access to the Internet from large, absentee-owned profit-maximizing companies who are often de facto monopolies, we have to beware the gulf between community interests and the narrow interests of these companies.
A second reason [for network neutrality rules] involves the economic incentives of broadband providers. The great majority of companies that operate our nation’s broadband pipes rely upon revenue from selling phone service, cable TV subscriptions, or both. These services increasingly compete with voice and video products provided over the Internet. The net result is that broadband providers’ rational bottom-line interests may diverge from the broad interests of consumers in competition and choice.
This is a slightly older story, but I wanted to make sure it made the rounds.
In "FCC Hires Industry Shill to Develop US National Broadband Plan," OpenLeft.com's Chris Bowers details the shady history of Scott Wallstein, the economics director of the FCC broadband task force.
His past affiliations and quotes regarding the state of broadband in the U.S. are quite troubling. He has said that the U.S. does not have a broadband problem and has a long history of working with "coin operated" think tanks like Progress and Freedom Foundation (so named because they tend to produce reports justifying whatever their corporate funders desire).
This is deeply troubling as his past positions run directly counter to many of the values espoused by President Obama and his FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski - particularly on the important issues of open access and network neutrality.
The FCC recently asked for comments about how broadband should be defined. There was a marked difference between those who put community needs first and those who put profits first. Companies like AT&T and Comcast were quick to argue that the FCC should not change the definition of broadband for reasons ranging from too much paperwork to the suggestion that rural people have no need for VoIP. The honest approach would have been for these companies to say they do not want a higher definition because it will change their business plans, likely requiring them to invest in better networks for communities, and that will hurt their short term profits.
On the other side were groups that argued for a more robust definition of broadband - something considerably less ambitious than our international peers but an improvement over the current FCC definition.
NATOA's comments [pdf] focused on issues like the need for measurements based on actual speeds rather than advertised and symmetrical connections (or at least "robust upstream speeds to facilitate interactivity" - which we think captures the importance of symmetric connections without getting lost in debates about absolutely symmetric connections).
The key metric for broadband should be the applications and needs that drive consumer requirements and choices. In this way, broadband should be understood as a connection that is sufficient in speed and capacity such that it does not limit a user’s required application.
Their magic broadband number is a reasonable and doable 10Mbps symmetric connection for residential and small businesses as well as a 1Gbps level for enterprise users. Importantly, they note that a single broadband connection supports far more than a single computer or use - these connections are shared, often among many wired and wireless devices.
Compare these comments to those of the NCTA [pdf] (lobbying organization for cable companies) that argue broadband is nothing more than an "always on" connection regardless of the speeds or user experience. This is how they justify maintaining the international laughingstock definition of 768kbps/200kbps.
It is this basic “... Read more
There are so many interesting articles recently (some are actually a bit older than recent, I guess).
How did Sweden get so connected? BuddeBlog took a look at how Sweden has invested so greatly into advanced fiber networks. This short post looks at factors from geography to government policy that have helped.
Andrew Cohill, an advocate of both fiber and wireless networks, offers a simple explanation for why wireless can only be part of the solution to the problem of universal broadband. Wireless just cannot provide the same high reliability and speeds of wired connections.
Interestingly, of the 51 "constituents" brought in for the 8 most recent workshops, just five don't work for a corporation -- and zero of them act as witnesses for consumer interests (so clearly, you've got your work cut out for you).
And finally, Timothy Karr at Free Press has been unmasking astroturf groups funded by major carriers. Learn more with this fun widget (available here).
Geoff Daily recently put up "Hey FCC: Stop Ignoring Municipal Broadband!" It is a sentiment I wholeheartedly echo and amplify. If the FCC is going to chart a course for where America is heading, it should start with some communities who are already there - Burlington, VT and Lafayette, LA. These communities have built (Burlington) or are building (Lafayette) that networks that everyone will need if America will retain is leadership position in the 21st century.
There are communities across the country that have found success building and operating their own broadband networks. Despite the caricature that municipal broadband invariably leads to boondoggles, that's just simply not the reality.
That's part of the reason why I think the FCC needed to include municipal representation on these panels. There's a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt that's built up around municipal broadband that the FCC needs to be addressing on a factual basis. By not including municipal broadband on these panels I couldn't help but wonder if either the FCC was buying into these falsehoods or if they just didn't think municipal broadband was a significant enough player to include.
The current FCC approach is akin to starting the Interstate Highway system with a series of workshops featuring horse breeders.
In the meantime, the Economist has recognized the need for US regulators to get with the times. Fiber is the future - if it weren't for profit-maximizing companies and their lobbyists, talk of DSL would be followed by laughs.
With broadband networks, the role of the state has less to do with limiting handouts than increasing choice. Fibre-optic networks can be run like any other public infrastructure: government, municipalities or utilities lay the cables and let private firms compete to offer services, just as public roadways are used by private logistics firms. In Stockholm, a pioneer of this system, it takes 30 minutes to change your broadband provider. Australia’s new $30 billion all-fibre network will use a similar model.
When it comes to the National Broadband Plan that the FCC is tasked with developing, we at muninetworks.org have a red line. No matter what the federal policy, all communities must reserve the right to invest in and own their own networks. These networks are essential infrastructure; no community must be left incapable of securing its future prosperity.
I therefore lay down the following principle: That where a community--a city or county or a district--is not satisfied with the service rendered or the rates charged by the private utility, it has the undeniable basic right, as one of its functions of Government, one of its functions of home rule, to set up, after a fair referendum to its voters has been had, its own governmentally owned and operated service.
That right has been recognized in a good many of the States of the Union. Its general recognition by every State will hasten the day of better service and lower rates. It is perfectly clear to me, and to every thinking citizen, that no community which is sure that it is now being served well, and at reasonable rates by a private utility company, will seek to build or operate its own plant. But on the other hand the very fact that a community can, by vote of the electorate, create a yardstick of its own, will, in most cases, guarantee good service and low rates to its population. I might call the right of the people to own and operate their own utility something like this: a "birch rod" in the cupboard to be taken out and used only when the "child" gets beyond the point where a mere scolding does no good.
We believe a national broadband policy could go much farther to strengthen communities by spurring fast networks everywhere, but we also recognize a political reality: incumbents providers have little to gain from a national broadband plan (especially one that goes so far as to encourage actual competition) and while their networks fall behind the times, they are able to pump all kinds of money into DC (and state legislatures around the country).
Therefore, we stand by our red line. We will hope for more, but early signs are not good. Karl Bode offers 5 signs the broadband plan is already in trouble. I want to highlight one, but the whole post is a must-... Read more
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop a national broadband strategy. FCC invited comments and then invited replies to those comments in summer 2009. The Free Press Reply Comments deserve to be singled out for revealing some of the lies of large telecommunications companies like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Qwest, and others. It also describes many of the ways that these companies harm the communities that are dependent on them for essential services. I've highlighted some passages below that show the ways in which these companies put profit above all else. These companies claim that regulation discourages investment and deregulation (allowing a higher degree of concentration or larger monopolies) encourages increased investment in better networks - an incredibly self-serving claim that Free Press shows to be false on pages 13-29.
Competition -- meaningful and real competition -- and not regulation is the primary driver behind investment decisions. Where meaningful competition exists, incumbents are compelled to innovate and invest in order to maintain marketshare and future growth. Where competition is lacking -- such as it is in our broadband duopoly -- incumbents will delay investment, knowing full well they can pad their profits on the backs of captured customers who have no viable alternatives. (Page 14)
Regulations like open access and non-discrimination encourage competition and should be strengthened. Free Press offers an in-depth explanation of how Verizon has dumped millions of customers on other companies that clearly could not handle the burden.
Verizon began the purging of less lucrative areas with the sale of Verizon Hawaii to the Carlyle Group in 2005, a company that had no previous experience in operating telecommunications services. By Dec. 2008, the company, now called Hawaii Telecom, had lost 21% of customers and filed for bankruptcy. (Page 26)
Verizon then sold most of their New England lines to Fairpoint, which is currently heading for bankruptcy. Fairpoint's customers are not the only ones suffering - the independent companies that resell services over that infrastructure are also suffering because Fairpoint is utterly unable to meet its obligations.
Most recently, Verizon announced that it intends to sell-off mostly rural areas in... Read more