Tag: "legislation"

Posted November 10, 2011 by christopher

Update: The Senate voted against turning the Internet over to Comcast, AT&T, and other major carriers. How did your Senators vote?

The US Senate began debating network neutrality yesterday - the historic governing principle of the Internet that ISPs should not be allowed to tell their users where they may or may not go and should not prioritize some connections over others merely because it generates more revenue for the ISP.

As Al Franken has said several times, this is the 1st amendment for the Internet - protecting everyone's speech. It prevents a few massive companies (or even local governments where they offer access to the Internet) from exerting too much influence over what subscribers are able to do on the Internet.

Unfortunately, many Senators are campaigning against this principle, in part because they have been misinformed as to what it means and in part because they are getting a ton of campaign cash from corporations that recognize how much more profitable they would be if they could charge users extra to go to YouTube.

There will be a vote today on a resolution of disapproval for the mild network neutrality rules proposed by the FCC last December (which the FCC Chairman chose to water down in part because he thought it would be less controversial -- FAIL).

We would like to recognize some of those who have stood up to protect the open Internet, starting with Free Press.

The American Sustainable Business Council authored an op-ed:

The truth is that if we want to make sure small businesses can grow with the assistance of broadband, the Internet must remain open. We must, as the FCC says, “ensure the Internet remains an open platform—one characterized by free markets and free speech—that enables consumer choice, end-user control, competition through low barriers to entry and freedom to innovate without permission.”

Senator Kerry made an impassioned plea for not turning the Internet over to Comcast and AT&T:

So they're...

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Posted September 23, 2011 by christopher

An interesting article earlier this week on Boston.com says a number of Massachusetts towns are studying muni electric plants after the privately owned electrical company took too long restoring power in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

“We are at the very beginning. We want to see if municipal control is even possible,’’ said Norwell Town Administrator James Boudreau.

“We want a faster response. This was a tropical storm. What if it was a category 2 hurricane? What if it was the winter?’’ he said, noting the efficient restoration of power in towns with electric utilities under municipal control, such as Hingham, Hull, and Braintree.

Braintree's municiple utility also runs a broadband network for the community. If these communities are looking at am uni utility, they should ceratinly consider improving their broadband access at the same time. As we have covered previously, Wired West (on the other side of the state) is a collection of many communities that recently formed municipal "light plants" (in the parlance of Massachuesetts) as a legal structure for building a community fiber network.

As we have observed time and time again, local control tends to improve the quality and response time of customer service. And in those cases where it doesn't, at least they have no one to blame but themselves. It is well within their power to fix it.

Curiously, National Grid was formed by combining privatized former muni electric utilities -- a warning to communities that may look to privatize their community broadband networks over time due to the mistaken notion that community ownership was only necessary to establish the network rather than ensure it continues operating for the benefit of the community. Community broadband is about far more than technology, it is about ownership by an entity with the right incentives to operate essential infrastructure.

The company's response to this movement is fascinating:

National Grid offers a different opinion. Communities are “best served by a company with established practices, resources, and programs that can serve them in an evolving, challenging energy environment,’’ said Deborah Drew, a spokeswoman for the utility.

Say what? When presented...

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Posted August 11, 2011 by christopher

Update: As we were publishing this, NCSL barred debate on the resolution. As Tim Judson, put it: Apparently it's ok for states to preempt communities but not for feds to preempt states.

The National Conference of State Legislatures is currently meeting and today will vote on a resolution relating to community broadband networks. The resolution calls for NCSL to fight any federal effort to implement the National Broadband Plan recommendation that all communities be empowered to decide locally if they should build a network.

Fabiola Carrion of Progressive States Network is there and put together a community broadband factsheet [pdf] and a call to action for people to oppose this wording.

Tomorrow, August 11th, the members of the National Caucus of State Legislatures will cast a final vote on a resolution entitled Twenty-First Century Communications, which threatens the existence of municipal broadband networks. The vote could have a serious impact in your local communities, increasing prices and diminishing broadband service. We need your support to defeat this troubling resolution.

I've included a fact sheet below, highlighting the importance of municipal networks in making broadband more accessible, affordable and efficient for everyone.  Please share this with your colleagues and support our efforts to defeat this damaging resolution. 

NCSL should recognize that communities need all the tools available to make sure their businesses and residents have access to fast, affordable, and reliable Internet connections.

AT&T's reaction to the fact sheet suggests that they may have been a driving force encouraging NCSL to fight for AT&T's right to buy legislation that prevents the most likely source of competition to AT&T's wireline services.

Posted July 21, 2011 by christopher

If the future is wireless, we have to preserve unlicensed spaces. To explain: most wireless stuff uses licensed spectrum - where only a single entity has permission from the FCC to use a specific wavelength of spectrum. While this is great for those who can afford to license spectrum (companies like AT&T and Verizon), it is not particularly efficient because the rest of us cannot use those wavelengths even if AT&T and Verizon aren't (which is particularly a problem in rural areas).

Contrast that approach with Wi-Fi, which uses unlicensed spectrum. There are portions of spectrum where the FCC has said anyone can do anything. This is why we do not need permission to set up wireless networks in our house.

Last year, the FCC made a great decision to make "white spaces" wireless technology unlicensed -- which will allow more of us (again particularly in rural areas) to use white spaces without having to get permission. Because this decision creates a larger potential market, we would have more manufacturers interested in creating gear -- meaning more innovation and a lower cost to establish wireless networks (that are far more powerful than Wi-Fi allows).

But now Congress is considering reversing that decision and licensing that spectrum to generate a few billion dollars of one-time revenue for the government -- at a cost of far more than billions of dollars of lost opportunities, particularly in rural America where these unlicensed white spaces are the only real opportunity to rapidly deliver broadband in the short term.

In short, keeping these white spaces unlicensed will be far better for rural economies, innovation, and productivity than a one-time infusion of cash into the federal government.

These decisions are going to made shortly, so I encourage everyone to check out Public Knowledge's Action Alert calling on us to contact our members of Congress to oppose this approach.

Posted June 30, 2011 by christopher

We occasionally see big cable and phone companies getting creative in their efforts to shut down community networks. In socially conservative communities, restrictions on providing adult content is a common approach.

This technique came up several times in North Carolina, where TWC-sponsored elected officials proposed disallowing public providers from offering the same adult content channels that private providers offer. The reason has nothing to do with morals, but rather with the substantial revenue adult content generates. Incumbent providers know that if community networks cannot offer adult content to those who wish to purchase it, they will be deprived a significant source of revenue needed to pay the debt from building a modern network.

Bear in mind that no one is forced to see this content or even a scrambled channel (as was common in the "old" days). Community networks allow each family to decide for themselves what content is appropriate -- to the extent community networks differ from private providers in this regard, they provide more tools to filter out content that some may find inappropriate.

Last week, the Louisiana House briefly considered a bill to limit Lafayette's authority to make adult content available to subscribers that request it. House Bill 142 exists solely to put LUS Fiber, an impressive muni FTTH network, at a disadvantage.

John at Lafayette Pro Fiber has excellent coverage of the situation, with both an initial post featuring eyes-a-rollin' as well as an in depth followup "Lafayette delegation kills anti-LUS bill."

LUS Fiber Logo

The latter is essential reading for those new to understanding how any legislature works. And anyone building a network that will compete with big companies like AT&T, Cox, Time Warner Cable, et al. had better know how legislatures work because those companies live in the Leg. Their...

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Posted June 24, 2011 by christopher

 

I wrote the following synopsis of AT&T's attack on schools and libraries in Wisconsin for SaveTheInternet.com.  We are still waiting for the Governor to sign the bill, something that may take another week or longer apparently.

WiscNet is an Internet services co-op that provides Internet access to the vast majority of schools and libraries in Wisconsin, as well as a number of local governments. Because it’s a co-op, it can deliver lower-cost broadband to public entities than they could negotiate on their own. The arrangement between WiscNet schools and governments saves Wisconsin taxpayers millions of dollars each year and offers services that private companies like AT&T won’t provide.

Despite WiscNet’s proven utility throughout the state, AT&T and its incumbent allies (a group called Access Wisconsin) attempted to murder WiscNet in the back alleys of Madison, Wisconsin’s capital. But following a dramatic outpouring of public support for the network, lawmakers compromised and merely placed it on death row.

AT&T dumps millions into Wisconsin politics for a reason — to enact its agenda. When it furtively inserted a few provisions into a budget bill in the 11th hour a few weeks ago, legislators went merrily along without asking any questions.

These provisions would have effectively shut WiscNet down, and they would have required the University of Wisconsin, a premier research institution globally, to withdraw from Internet2 and other research networks. They also would have forced the University of Wisconsin Extension to return federal broadband stimulus grants that had already been used to break ground on projects to improve connections in rural areas with inadequate connections. Returning those grants would have cost $27.7 million over 5 years to the involved communities and killed almost 500 jobs.

Why did AT&T do this? Access Wisconsin claimed stimulus-funded networks are "unfair" competition...

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Posted June 14, 2011 by christopher

The word from Wisconsin is mostly good. A deal has been struck that will spare WiscNet, though it will be studied for two years and then could be killed. But a fair, open study will allow WiscNet to clearly demonstrate its value -- WiscNet thrives in the light while AT&T thrives at secretive, last minute measures to gut its competitors.

Additionally, the stimulus grants appear to be safe. The Legislature apparently will not require them to be returned long after the recipients had begun implementing them. But again, there is some bad news in that UW Extension will be restricted from receiving federal grants in the future to build the networks otherwise unavailable to schools and libraries. So that is disappointing. Returning those funds would have cost a few communities $27.7 million over just 5 years.

However, nothing is settled until the Legislature fully votes on it (today and Thursday) and the Governor signs the bill. AT&T lobbyists don't get paid to create fair compromises and surely aren't finished scheming. So make sure you have made your thoughts on this matter known to your elected officials. The Rootstrikes make it easy. Don't forget to tell the Governor too -- the line-item veto is a powerful tool.

Some more details have emerged regarding the damage to local budgets that would occur if the Leg requires the stimulus awards to be returned, in the Superior schools, for instance:

"We would pay about five times more for the internet access than we already pay through Wiscnet," said Nordgren [Associate Vice Chancellor of UW Superior].

The Superior School District said they would also lose money, because they have already invested $300,000 in anticipation of the project.

"We utilized the funding from this broadband grant in order to purchase and update our website that was archaic," said Janna Stevens, Superintendent at the Superior School District.

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The Wisconsin League of Municipalities vociferously opposes language...

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Posted June 9, 2011 by christopher

There are many places to find information about AT&T's war on WiscNet, a great credit to those who recognize the importance of WiscNet to schools, libraries, and local governments around the state. The best article on the subject may be from Wisconsin Tech News (WTN), with "UW faces return of $37M for broadband expansion in 11th hour bill." This post builds on that as a primer for those interested in the controversy.

Update: Read a Fact Check Memo [pdf] from the University of Wisconsin Extension Service with responses to false allegations from AT&T and its allies.

Synopsis

AT&T and its allies have long made false claims against WiscNet, setting the stage for their lobbyists to push this legislation to kill it. AT&T and some other incumbents want to provide the services WiscNet provides in order to boost their profits. WiscNet not only offers superior services, it offers services the private providers will not provide (including specialized education services). For instance, from the WTN article:

One of features that differentiates WiscNet from a private broadband provider is allowing for “bursting,” so that during isolated periods when researchers send huge data sets, they greatly exceed the average data cap. UW-Madison currently uses seven gigabits on average, and would have to procure 14 gigabits under the new legislation, even though most of the extra seven gigabits would seldom be in use, Meachen [UW CIO] said.

“We'd be paying for the fact that researchers have to send these huge data sets, and not have it take hours and hours to get to where it's going,” Meachen said. “You can't afford to pay for that extra 7 gigabits from the private sector because it's too costly. They increase your charges based on that.”

A private network would not have the necessary capacity for scientists on the UW-Madison campus, who are some of the leading researchers on next generation Internet. A previous recommendation to combine BadgerNet and WiscNet was deemed infeasible, as AT&T would own the network and would not be able to provide sufficient bandwidth at an affordable cost, Meachen said.

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WiscNet is a buying cooperative,...

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Posted June 9, 2011 by christopher

As more people and organizations in Wisconsin learn of AT&T's attempts to kill a taxpayer-money saving network in Wisconsin, the list of letters supporting WiscNet is increasing. We want to highlight two. The first is a resolution from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Faculty Senate [pdf]:

Whereas, on Friday, June 3, 2011, the Wisconsin Legislature's Joint Committee on Finance passed motion 489 that contained a provision that would eliminate WiscNet as a department or office within the UW-Madison Department of Information Technology and eliminate $1.4 million in funding for WiscNet for 2012-13; and

Whereas, WiscNet provides vital broadband network access to all public institutions of higher education including the UW System (UW), Wisconsin technical colleges and many private colleges and universities in Wisconsin, 95% of public libraries and 80% of school districts; and

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Whereas, without WiscNet, these institutions would be forced to seek internet services from private telecommunications providers. All schools and public libraries could see a significant average cost increase greater than the current costs through WiscNet; and

Whereas, Wisconsin taxpayers benefit from millions of dollars in savings through the services WiscNet provides to these educational institutions; and

Whereas WiscNet embodies the “Wisconsin Idea” and it has fostered collaboration between higher education, K-12 education and public libraries for the past 16 years that will disappear; and

Whereas, motion 489 could undermine the ability of UW faculty members to receive grants and conduct their research; therefore,

Be it resolved that the University of Wisconsin River Falls Faculty Senate request a motion be introduced to delete sections 23-26 of Motion 489 on the floor of the legislature before the budget bill is approved by the legislators and sent to Governor Walker for his signature; and

Be it further resolved, that the University of Wisconsin-River Falls...

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Posted June 8, 2011 by christopher

Tony Evers, the Wisconsin State Superintendent, has voiced concerns about a provision in Wisconsin' budget bill that we discussed yesterday. It would force Wisconsin to return tens of millions in broadband stimulus awards intended to connect schools and libraries in a few communities while also raising prices for most local governments, libraries, and schools around the country by killing the coop that connects the communities. Evers wrote the following letter on June 7 in response.

I am extremely concerned and alarmed by the telecommunications provisions which passed the Joint Finance Committee Friday night and their impact on Wisconsin’s public libraries, public and private schools, the university system, technical colleges, and WiscNet. These provisions will have a devastating impact on the University of Wisconsin System campuses and our schools and public libraries. This language was introduced very late in the legislative process and there was no time for any public review, comments or feedback from those impacted by these provisions.

From the UW perspective, this will require it to return the $39 million in broadband grants to the federal government. In addition, it will prohibit any UW campus from participating in advanced research networks linking research institutions worldwide. You cannot have a renowned research institution, like the UW-Madison, without having access to such networks.

From the public and private school and library perspective, seventy-five percent of our public schools and ninety-five percent of our public libraries get Internet access via WiscNet - a not-for-profit network service under the auspices of the UW-Madison. The provision in this legislation will very likely make it impossible for WiscNet to continue offering Internet access. If our schools and libraries must use other Internet providers most will pay at least 2-3 times more than what WiscNet now charges. Furthermore, other Internet providers base their charges on how much bandwidth a school or library has - the higher the bandwidth, the higher the Internet costs. WiscNet’s funding formula is not based on bandwidth. Thus as schools and libraries continue to increase their bandwidth, their WiscNet costs remain the same. With our schools and libraries facing substantial budget reductions, how can anyone justify making them pay more...

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