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Boston Globe the Latest to Support Local Authority

Yet another major news outlet has endorsed the President's position in support of local telecommunications authority. On January 26th, the Boston Globe went on record to endorse the concept, urging the FCC and Congress to work together to ensure local communities have the right to make their own connecitvity decisions.

The Globe suggested that, rather than allowing the FCC to take the lead with the Wilson and Chattanooga petition decisions, federal lawmakers take action:

A better approach would be for Congress to settle the issue itself, by preventing states from interfering with cities and towns that want to start their own Internet services.

The Globe Editors note that rural areas are the hardest hit by large corporate provider indifference, that it is those same parties that drive the state barrier bills, and that, "This status quo is bad for customers everywhere."

Globe Editors get behind a bill recently introduced by Cory Booker, Claire McCaskill, and Ed Markey that wipes out state barriers in the 19 states where they exist and prevents state lawmakers from enacting new ones. The Globe acknowledges that the support is lopsided today...:

But this shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and it isn’t one on the local level. Red states like Georgia, Kentucky, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Utah all have successful municipal Internet programs. Politicians tempted by campaign contributions from the telecommunications lobby, or skeptical of any proposal backed by President Obama, should remember that consumer protection is an issue that voters of all stripes support.

National Press Follows President Obama to Cedar Falls, Iowa

On January 14th, President Obama visited Cedar Falls, Iowa, to share his strategy to expand high-speed connectivity to more Americans, encourage competition, and galvanize economic development. Obama's plan centers around community networks and he announced that the next step will be eliminating barriers in 19 states that usurp local authority to invest in publicly owned infrastructure.

From his remarks [C-SPAN Video below]:

Today, I'm making my administration's position clear on community broadband. I'm saying I'm on the side of competition. And I'm on the side of small business owners... I'm on the side of students and schools. I believe that a community has the right to make its own choice and to provide its own broadband if it wants to. Nobody is going to force you to do it, but if you want to do it, if the community decides this is something that we want to do to give ourselves a competitive edge and to help our young people and our businesses, they should be able to do it.

The Obama Administration, through the Department of Commerce, recently sent a letter [PDF] to Chairman Wheeler to request the FCC use its authority to end state barriers that block local public investment. The Hill noted the letter and the President's speech together put gentle pressure on the FCC to take steps to restore local authority. The Hill also gave space to the cable industry, naturally opposed to restoring local authority after millions of lobbying dollars invested in passing anti-competitive legislation.

InfoWorld also pointed out cable industry opposition to the Obama proposal, noting that they were ready to mount a strong offense and will likely join Congressional Republicans to fight any roll-back of state barriers. A decision from the FCC on whether or not to change state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee is expected in February.

As for the incumbents, there was no love lost between the President and the big players, as Multichannel News reported:

He said in many places big companies are "doing everything they can to keep out new competitors."

…they were at the whim of whatever Internet service provider happened to be around, and and when they had problems they got stuck on hold watching a spinning icon, waiting and waiting and waiting and wondering why rates keep getting "jacked up." Ouch. 

Other national outlets that covered the speech included the New York Times, the Washington Post, Ars Technica, Fierce Telecom, and NexGov. We came across so many stories we stopped counting.

Local coverage included stories from the Sioux City Journal, the Quad City Times, the Gazette, and the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. Mayor Jon Crews told the Courier:

“This is good for attracting companies that have higher wages for technical positions,” Crews said. “Obviously to be recognized by Google and the president of the United States in two months time is pretty awesome.”

As the President noted in his speech, Google named Cedar Falls the best city in Iowa for e-commerce due to its municipal fiber optic network.

Marc Reifenrath, local business owner of a web design, development and digital strategy agency called Spinutech introduced the President:

In our early years it would have been easy to move our headquarters to another city, really anywhere. Thanks in part to its high speed internet, Cedar Falls has always made it easy for us to grow our business. Today, Spinutech has clients in all 50 states and eight countries. In talking with these clients, time and again it is proven just how fortunate we are.

Whether or not local authority is restored in the 19 states in question, it is important that local communities remember the role of vision, which the President pointed out in his speech:

Now, in Cedar Falls, things are different. About 20 years ago, in a visionary move ahead of its time, this city voted to add another option to the market and invest in a community broadband network. Really smart thing you guys did. It was a really smart thing you guys did. And you've managed it right here at Cedar Falls Utilities. And then a few years ago, you realized that customers were demanding more and more speed. All the movies, all the increased data, Instagram -- all this stuff suddenly is just being loaded up, and basically, you guys were like the captain in Jaws, where he said, “We're going to need a bigger boat.” 

 

A Transcript of the script is available at the C-SPAN video page in the transcript box below the video window.

Network Neutrality - Warnings From Radio Regulation

Many of us in the public interest telecommunications sphere are excited that the FCC appears poised to reclassify Internet access, which seems a necessary first step of protecting the open Internet.

Though we often focus on the false claims of the self-interested cable and telephone lobbyists when criticizing those who oppose FCC action on this, a recent Smithsonian Magazine article is a reminder that we must be vigilant with how the FCC uses this power. Clive Thompson penned "Air Waves" for the October, 2014, issue. It offers some context from the history of radio to discuss regulation of communication technologies.

When groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other pro-open Internet groups question an enhanced FCC role in protecting the open Internet, they are often motivated by the somewhat terrible record of the FCC and its precursor in balancing the speech rights of everyone vs a motivated and self-interested for-profit industry.

In 1927 Congress created the Federal Radio Commission, endowed with the power to assign wavelengths. It began aggressively doing so, booting hundreds of small stations off the air, to produce “clear channels” for the big firms—wide-open zones where they could broadcast with no interference.

Amateur time was over, as the FRC explicitly warned in a memo: “There is not room in the broadcast band for every school of thought, religious, political, social, and economic, each to have its separate broadcasting station, its mouthpiece in the ether.”

Using modern technology, there can be no doubt there is room in the broadcast for every school of thought - but we certainly have to be vigilant to ensure no current or future government agency turns the Internet into the morass of broadcast radio today. This goes both for the ways over-commercialization and consolidation has killed interesting content and the ways the FCC strictly polices some forms of offensive content (the famous seven dirty words) while ignoring blatantly racist or homophobic content. My view: the FCC should stay far from content and let households do their own filtering as necessary.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - December 12, 2014

This week in Community Broadband networks... partnerships, cooperatives, and going-it-alone. For a background in muni networks, check out this recent article from FiscalNote. The article highlights Kansas and Utah's fight for improving beyond the minimum speeds. 

Speaking of minimum, the FCC announced its new "rock bottom" for regulated broadband speeds. Ars Technica's Jon Brodkin reports that despite AT&T, Verizon, and the National Cable and Telecom Association's protests, ISPs that use government subsidies to build rural broadband networks must provide speeds of at least 10 Mbps for downloads.

Rural Americans should not be left behind those who live in big cities, the FCC announcement today said. "According to recent data, 99 percent of Americans living in urban areas have access to fixed broadband speeds of 10/1, which can accommodate more modern applications and uses. Moreover, the vast majority of urban households are able to subscribe to even faster service," the FCC said.

The FCC plans to offer nearly $1.8 billion a year to carriers willing to expand service to 5 million rural Americans. 

This is a step in the right direction, but we are alarmed to see a download:upload ratio of 10:1. People in rural areas need to upload as well as download - our comments to the FCC strongly recommended raising the upstream threshold as well and we are very disappointed to see that remain a pathetic 1 Mbps.

And, from TechDirt's own "who can you trust if you can't trust the phone company department," Karl Bode found that a study by the AT&T-funded Progressive Policy Institute concluded that if Title II regulations were passed, the nation would be "awash in $15 billion in various new Federal and State taxes and fees. Bode writes that the study cherry-picked and conflated data:

The reality the broadband industry doesn't want to acknowledge is that very little changes for it under Title II if carriers aren't engaged in bad behavior. The broadband industry is fighting Title II solely to protect potential revenues generated from abusing uncompetitive markets. That this self-serving behavior is being dressed up as concern about the size of your broadband bill is the industry's best comedic work to date.

Cities Pursuing Community Broadband

Nancy Scola reported on the growing collective of "Next Century Cities." 

[The group's] early expansion is a signal of what seems to be a shift in the way Americans are thinking about high-speed Internet access: the idea that cities will the battlegrounds for the playing out of the broadband debates. One effect of these cities working so closely with Google as it rolls out its fiber network in places like Kansas City and Austin is a realization that mayors can take broadband into their own hands -- whether that's through a municipal solution like Chattanooga's gigabit network or through partnering with traditional Internet service providers such as Comcast or Time Warner Cable.

Other partnerships are also moving muni networks forward

At the same time as the Next Century Cities announcement, the Department of Agriculture announced $190.5 million in grants and loans for rural broadband and telecommunications infrastructure.

"Modern telecommunications and broadband access is now as essential to the businesses and residents of rural America as electricity was in the 1930s," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in a USDA statement. The funding will go towards providing, “broadband in areas that lack it, help rural-serving public television stations begin using digital broadcasts and support other telecommunications infrastructure improvements."

Jason Meyers with LightReading explains why utility companies (like EPB in Chattanooga) are positioned so well to be home to gigabit networks.  

Several communities are considering local options for networks. Some are just in the earliest study phases: Medina County and Athens in Ohio and Walla Walla, Washington are among them. RS Fiber in Minnesota has approved its updated business plan and financial strategy, meaning it can move forward with its cooperative network, and several communities in Northeastern Oklahoma are pursuing a cooperative plan as well.

It looks like the push for local options in Colorado is having an affect on other communities. Aspen and Pitkin County have submitted requests for proposals-- perhaps inspired by Longmont, Boulder, and the rest of the communities we reported on after the November referenda.  

Meantime, Bruce Kushnick with the Huffington Post reported this week that communities all over the country have been paying for fiber infrastructure upgrades, but have seen almost none of the investment. 

Starting in 1991, the phone companies went state-to-state to get changes in state laws, known as "alternative regulations" to charge customers for the replacement of the copper wires that were part of the state-based utility, like Verizon New Jersey, with a fiber optic wire capable of 45 Mbps in both directions, the standard speed for broadband in 1992.

And though it varied by state, this fiber optic wiring was to be done everywhere -- urban, rural, and suburban, rich and poor communities and cities, and even the schools were to be wired in some states. All customers were paying for the upgrades of this future fiber optic broadband utility so they all deserved to be upgraded.

Check it out and see if your community is on the list. And if you think this isn't the first time you've heard about this Big Ripoff, you're right-- We interviewed him on Community Broadband Bits Episode 28

Net Neutrality

This week, New Jersey's Cory Booker and Maine's Angus King defended net neutrality on CNN. 

The Internet is one of the most powerful tools on the planet. Across the globe, millions of people connect every minute of every day to harness its wealth of information, exchange ideas in an open platform and foster the type of innovation and entrepreneurship that spurs economic growth.

And today, it's never been more at risk in the United States.

Washington Post's Brian Fung reported that there are hints that the telecom industry is preparing for a new Title II reclassification. Verizon's CFO Francis Shammo said, in a nutshell, that the company would do just fine if the FCC imposed the stricter regulations. 

"I mean to be real clear, I mean this does not influence the way we invest. I mean we're going to continue to invest in our networks and our platforms, both in Wireless and Wireline FiOS and where we need to. So nothing will influence that. I mean if you think about it, look, I mean we were born out of a highly regulated company, so we know how this operates.

Despite this very clear statement, we expect to see still more claims from groups like the AT&T puppet Progressive Policy Institute that Title II would somehow cause major carriers to invest even less in networks across the United States. Though, if the market were half as competitive as they claim, any firm that invested less would be in big trouble! How do we know when they are lying? Well, are their lips moving?

GAO Report Warns of Potential for ISPs to Abuse Data Caps

Last month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report warning of the possibility and potential consequences of ISPs instituting data caps in their fixed line plans. In effect, this could mean applying something like the tiered service charges based on usage levels that we see in the mobile sector to broadband connections in the home or office. But whereas the vast majority of Americans have a reasonable range of choice between several major and minor carriers for mobile service, the GAO notes that the same is not true in the market for broadband, which could lead to ISPs using data caps (or usage-based pricing (UBP) in their parlance) in various harmful ways:

...providers facing limited competition could use UBP [usage-based pricing] to increase profits, potentially resulting in negative effects, including increased prices, reductions in content accessed, and increased threats to network security.

The GAO has provided the FCC with a copy of its report, and urged that the agency take action on the issue, including systematically tracking information on how many consumers are impacted by fixed providers instituting data caps and developing a voluntary code of conduct for the industry. According to Ars Technica, the FCC has taken a skeptical stance on the issue, despite Chairman Tom Wheeler’s outspoken concerns on the lack of competition in the fixed broadband market. Pointing to the small number of consumer complaints on the issue so far, the FCC asserted that “it is unclear that any action is needed at this time.”

Usage caps do not just affect sophisticated users with bandwidth-intensive jobs or hobbies that require them to transfer large design files or generate and share multimedia content. This has the potential to affect kids and adults doing homework or taking classes online, people who hope to cut the cord from traditional television providers, and telecommuters. From the GAO study:

Participants also expressed concern about difficulty tracking the wide range of devices accessing their fixed data allowance and that fixed UBP may negatively affect students, people working from home, and those with lower socio-economic status. 

Perhaps just as importantly as the specific levels, the existence of a cap or usage-based pricing policy creates an atmosphere where people think of data as a finite resource that should be used only sparingly, even if they may not be directly affected by specific limits:

Participants exhibited confusion over data consumption—for example thinking that low-data activities like online shopping consumed large amounts of data. 

These kinds of policies are in direct contrast with the connectivity environment we should be working to create - plentiful, cheap bandwidth for as many people as possible. 

IP Transition Discussion on WAMU Kojo Nnamdi Radio Show

Discussion over the "IP transition" has taken a back seat in the media lately as news outlets focus on the question of local authority over the right to invest in fiber network infrastructure. The IP transition is the gradual change from older analog mostly copper networks to packet-switched IP approaches that may use any medium (copper, fiber, wireless, etc). Some big carriers, like AT&T, are pushing to change the traditional rules applied to telephony and telecommunications as part of this technological change.

In October, Kojo Nnamdi interviewed Jodie Griffin from Public Knowledge, Technology Reporter Brian Fung, and Rick Boucher, a lobbyist from the Sidney Austin law firm. The show, The Future of Phone Service, is archived and available for you to hear.

As technology creates options for how we speak with each other, rules, regulations, and policies must also stay current. In this interview, Nnamdi and his guests touch on some of the basic concerns we face moving forward. From the WAMU show description:

American phone companies began laying the nation’s vast copper wire telecom network in the 1800s. But today less than one-third of the country uses the old copper lines, and a mere 5 percent rely on them exclusively. The advent of fiber optic cable and wireless phone service makes the copper network obsolete. We explore the fate of landline phone service and concerns about pricing, safety and access as the nation transitions to an all-digital phone future.

If you are interested in learning more about the pros and cons in the IP transition debate, we encourage you to visit Public Knowledge's IP Transition issue page. They provide legal, anecdotal, and statistical data. PK also provides an advocacy toolkit to help you understand the transition and give you the info you need to defend your rights.

LISTEN LIVE: Chris will guest on MPR's "Daily Circuit" and KCRW's "To the Point"

"The FCC should be extremely wary of any arguments that claim paid prioritization or other discriminatory practices are necessary to increase investment in next-generation networks."

-- ILSR, July 18, 2014

For months the FCC has considered comments from the public as it examines network neutrality. There have been more than 3 million submissions; a vast majority of them were in favor of network neutrality and opposed to Internet "fast lanes." Clearly the American public values a nondiscriminatory flow of information over paid prioritization.

While the issue has not been completely absent from the media radar, it has quieted down until earlier this week. President Obama stated that he favored reclassification of Internet access to a Title II service. Big ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, and CenturyLink immediately reacted negatively to the prospect of regulations and obligations similar to other utilities.

Show Details:

The Daily Circuit: In order to sift through what all this means, MPR contacted Chris to visit with them on the Daily Circuit. Listen in Thursday, at 9:06 am as they address consequences, alternatives, and possible next steps.

Join the conversation: 651-227-6000. Host Tom Crann will also be interviewing Chester Wisniewski Sr., Security Advisor from SOPHOS, Inc. in Vancouver, BC, who will offer an international perspective.

It's a call-in show - your questions will keep the conversation moving!

To The Point:  Fast-paced national/international news and issues program, from KCRW. Hosted by Warren Olney. Listen in at 2:10-2:45 ET. Also on the show, Robert McMillan senior report with Wired, Robert McDowell,  former commissioner and senior member of the FCC, and Barbara Van Schewick, Stanford Law School professor and author of "Internet Architecture and Innovation".

Call to Action: Support Stronger Rules for Mobile 911

An increasing number of Americans are abandoning their landlines for the convenience and economy of mobile devices. Unfortunately, doing so also makes it more difficult to locate the caller in an emergency. In order to correct the problem, the FCC has proposed a stronger set of rules that will increase location accuracy for 911 calls.

As can be expected, 911 Dispatchers and First Responders support the proposed rules. Public Knowledge recently wrote about the changes that could save an additional 10,000 lives per year.

Currently, wireless companies are not required to use specific cell tower information to lead emergency medical personnel to an apartment or the floor from which a call originates. They need only to supply specific information if the call is made from outdoors. As more and more people depend on mobile devices, both indoors and out of doors, our rules need updating.

Public Knowledge has posted a call to action to support stronger rules and ensure more successful rescues:

As a result of consumers’ growing reliance on wireless and reported failures in locating callers on time, the FCC has proposed rules that require carriers to give 911 dispatchers callers’ locations within 100 meters after their first connection with a cell phone tower, and 50 meters after the dispatchers search using location accuracy, such as GPS. They have also included a requirement for vertical location, or the ability to find what floor and building callers are located in.

We encourage you to read and sign the petition drafted by Public Knowledge and to let the FCC know that policy needs to keep pace with technology.

Responding to Crazy Talk: Arguments Against FCC Restoring Local Authority - Community Broadband Bits Episode 120

Lisa Gonzalez and I have been wading though all kinds of crazy talk since the cities of Wilson and Chattanooga filed petitions with the FCC to strike down state laws that prevent them from offering Internet access to their neighbors.

In our first episode of Crazy Talk since way back in episode 72, we deal with claims that municipal networks often fail, whether the FCC has authority to restore local authority, and whether the state barriers in question are actually barriers at all.

In this episode, I refer to this article in The Atlantic regarding law schools.

Read the transcript here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 16 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Jessie Evans for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Is it Fire?"

Wheeler Praises Lafayette's Network Deployment at NATOA Conference

At the 2014 Annual Conference of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler praised Lafayette, Louisiana, home of muni LUS Fiber, during his keynote address. 

Wheeler addressed a variety of issues, including wireless broadband, the drive to increase competition, and a thoughtful transition to IP based 911 service.

While he did not address the pending petitions from Wilson, North Carolina and Chattanooga, Wheeler did express his admiration for LUS Fiber and the tough persistence of the local community:

However, I do encourage you to consider how local choice and competition can increase the broadband opportunities for your citizens. I love the story of Lafayette, Louisiana where the local incumbent fought the city’s fiber network tooth and nail, bringing multiple court challenges and triggering a local referendum on the project. Thankfully, none of the challenges managed to prevent deployment – sixty two percent of voters approved of the network in the referendum, and the Louisiana Supreme Court unanimously sided with the city – but they did delay deployment almost three years. When the network was finally built, the community experienced the benefits of competition, as the local cable operator decided to upgrade its network. Local choice and competition are about as American as you can get.

We were pleased to hear the Chairman acknowledge the spirit of the community and how their efforts have paid off. Just this year, the community and its network attracted three new companies and approximately 1,300 new permanent and seasonal jobs. Lafayette has focused on improving its tech workforce in order to complement its next generation network - two critical ingredients to creating the Silicon Bayou.

Read more about Lafayette and LUS Fiber in our report, Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next Generation Networks.

For the entire text of Chairman Wheeler's key note address, check out the transcript PDF online. You can also read more about the NATOA Annual Conference, held this year in St. Paul, Minnesota's Lowertown.