Tag: "public interest"

Posted December 3, 2016 by lgonzalez

Burlington Telecom has popped up on our radar before as one of those munis that goes the extra mile for the community. They’re at it again this holiday season as they pledge to help support local charities.

According to VTDigger:

From now until the end of the year, Burlington Telecom will donate $100 to a Burlington based non-profit for each new customer subscribing to BT Internet, television, or phone services.

Customers will have the choice to direct BT’s donation to one of five organizations: Committee on Temporary Shelter, Community Health Centers of Burlington, Howard Center, Spectrum Youth & Family Services, and Steps to End Domestic Violence.

As a bonus, an additional $25 will be donated for any current Burlington Telecom customer who uses BT’s Refer-a-Friend Program.

Record Of Care

We’ve covered their past decision to launch a computer repair service so customers had somewhere local to get hardware advice. In 2011, BT announced a partnership with a local nonprofit to provide affordable computers to local families. Recently, BT began offering free Wi-Fi in the city’s transit center so travelers could stay connected.

Locals Want Local Interest

Keep BT Local! is a cooperative started by Burlington residents and businesses that are raising capital to purchase the network from Blue Water LLC, the company that currently owns the assets. When CitiBank sued the city for $33 million, the settlement agreement required that a third party (eventually Blue Water) take temporary ownership and the city lease the network until they could agree on a permanent buyer. 

The BT Advisory Board recommended a local owner this past spring. Keep BT Local! has been...

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Posted May 3, 2010 by christopher

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is pleased to release this comprehensive report on the practices and philosophy of publicly owned networks. Breaking the Broadband Monopoly explains how public ownership of networks differs from private, evaluates existing publicly owned networks, details the obstacles to public ownership, offers lesson learned, and wrestles with the appeal and difficulty of the open access approach.

Download Breaking the Broadband Monopoly [pdf]

Executive Summary

Across the country, hundreds of local governments, public power utilities, non-profits, and cooperatives have built successful and sometimes pioneering telecommunication networks that put community needs first.

These communities are following in the footsteps of the publicly owned power networks put in place a century before. We watch history repeating itself as these new networks are built for the same reasons: Incumbents refusing to provide service or charging high rates for poor service.

Cities like Lafayette, Louisiana, and Monticello, Minnesota, offer the fastest speeds at the lowest rates in the entire country. Kutztown’s network in Pennsylvania has saved the community millions of dollars. Oklahoma City’s massive wireless mesh has helped modernize its municipal agencies. Cities in Utah have created a true broadband market with many independent service providers competing for subscribers. From DC to Santa Monica, communities have connected schools and municipal facilities, radically increasing broadband capacity without increasing telecom budgets.

These pioneering cities have had to struggle against many obstacles, often created by incumbents seeking to prevent the only real threat of competition they face. Eighteen states have passed laws that discourage publicly owned networks. When lawsuits by entrenched incumbents don’t thwart a publicly owned system, they cross-subsidize from non-competitive markets to temporarily reduce rates in an attempt to starve the infant public network of subscribers.

Despite these obstacles, more and more cities are building these networks and learning how to operate in the challenging new era in which all media is online and a high speed tele-communications network is as much a part of the essential infrastructure of...

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Posted November 12, 2009 by christopher

Elinor Ostrom's Nobel Prize Award was a significant victory for those of us who have recognized not only a difference between the public good and private good, but really for those of us who have recognized the great variety of approaches on how to promote the public good.

First, the background - Elinor Ostrom has won a Nobel Prize in economics for her work demonstrating ways that public commons may be successfully managed to the benefit of all. "The Commons" is a term for a resource that is collectively owned by everyone.

Some had argued that the only way to prevent a few from despoiling the commons was by enforcing private property rights - but Ostrom's work demonstrated that different communities around the world have successfully maintained the commons without resorting to auctioning it off.

Perhaps most importantly from our perspective, she clarified in an NPR podcast that there is no single solution to managing the commons. In many cases, a government should avoid preemption when local people are able to work out the management on their own. In other areas, government may have a stronger role to play.

This is the same philosophy that we have embraced on the issue of broadband - we are not advocates solely for municipal ownership. We advocate accountability - the network must put community first and be responsive to those changing needs.

Posted November 9, 2009 by christopher

The Media and Democracy Coalition put together an impressive report examining a number of policy options to put communities first in telecommunications infrastructure. The report discusses the fundamental importance of broadband - noting that it enables the right to communicate. Having establishing its importance, the report notes that good policy must be well informed and goes on to make multiple recommendations.

Policy should promote competition, innovation, localism, and opportunity. Locally-owned and -operated networks support these core goals of Federal broadband policy, and therefore should receive priority in terms of Federal support. Structural separation of ownership of broadband infrastructure from the delivery of service over that infrastructure will further promote these goals.

The report also touches on other key issues - including Universal Access, a non-discriminatory Internet (network neutrality), symmetrical connections, and privacy. But the most important focus from our perspective is that of localism:

For decades, American communities — both rural and urban — have been neglected and underserved by absentee-owned networks, whose business models clearly do not work in smaller or economically challenged communities. By contrast, in the communities in which they are based, locally-owned networks are more likely than absentee-owned networks to provide rapid response to emergencies, enhanced services, and value-added, social capital benefits such as job-training, youth-mentoring, and small business incubation. In addition, local networks are less likely to outsource jobs, thereby strengthening local and regional economies, while creating more opportunities for community-based innovation and problem-solving. Federal broadband policy that prioritizes support for local networks will produce more competitive markets, consumer choice, and opportunities for innovation.

The first two recommendations in this section calls for federal policy that discourages absentee ownership:

  1. To fulfill the goal of extending broadband service to un- and underserved areas, federal broadband policy should prioritize support for locally-owned and -operated networks, including those owned by local governments, nonprofits and cooperatives, and public-private partnerships. Local, for-profit networks receiving federal broadband subsidies should certify that any...
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Posted October 14, 2009 by christopher

While I try to keep postings on this site to the subject of publicly owned networks, I think it important to discuss the ways in which some major carriers routinely flout the public interest. Thus, a little history on how Comcast has acted against the public interest.

Most of the readers of this blog are probably aware that Comcast has been dinged by the FCC following its practice of interfering with subscribers legal content (and undoubtedly illegal content as well) by blocking and disrupting the BitTorrent traffic. BitTorrent is frequently used to transfer large media files because it efficiently breaks large files into many little pieces, allowing the user to download from a variety of sources concurrently - the file is then reassembled.

When Comcast detected BitTorrent connections, it would effectively hang up on them, regardless of the congestion level on the network at the time. The FCC (the Bush Administration's FCC) said it couldn't do that and Comcast is currently in the courts trying to tell the FCC that it can't tell Comcast what it can't do on its network.

Prior to a journalistic investigation that proved Comcast was doing this, net geeks had repeated asked Comcast if it were blocking the BitTorrent protocol. Comcast never admitted to anything, often claiming it did not "block" anything... as time would go on, Comcast would refuse to admit it was blocking anything - as if permanently delaying traffic was anything other than a blockage. "I'm not blocking you, try back in 20 million years."

Around this time, Comcast quietly changed its policy regarding the maximum amount of bandwidth subscribers could consume in a month. At the time, I thought it was a result of the FCC cracking down on the arbitrary policies frequently used by cable companies, but it turns out we can thank the State of Florida for forcing Comcast to enact a transparent cap on monthly usage.

Prior to the official cap, there was an unofficial cap. Every month, some number of people would be notified they were kicked off Comcast's service for using too much bandwidth - but no one knew how much was too much and, perhaps more importantly, how to keep track of how much bandwidth they were using. Discussions on geek-hangout Slashdot suggested a monthly cap of between 100 Gigabytes and 300 Gigabytes depending on the neighborhood. There was no limit documented anywhere and Comcast representatives refused to acknowledge any hard cap.

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Posted September 29, 2009 by christopher

Kudos to the New American Foundation's Open Technology Initiative (OTI). Earlier this week, I told Geoff Daily that we would all benefit from some form of a truth-in-labeling requirement for broadband. This should be a no-brainer that both the FCC and FTC embrace because it will educate subscribers and allow them to make better, more informed choices - which is a requirement for a functioning market.

One day later it became apparent that I was too slow in my idea, because OTI already had a prototype. They even have a sample label and have come up with a great set of required disclosures.

To make sure the broadband service is clearly expressed, the Broadband Truth-in-Labeling disclosure should be standardized to comprise several typical elements as indicators of broadband service quality, such as minimum expected speed and latency to the ISP's border router (where the ISP connects to the rest of the Internet) and service uptime. These minimum assurances will be supported by the ISP as guarantees in the delivery of broadband services, backed by technical support and service charge refunds or credits. In addition to the description of minimums being guaranteed of the service, the disclosure should include all applicable fees, a common description of the technology used to provide the services, any service limits such as a bandwidth cap or the application of any traffic management techniques, the length of the contract terms, and a link to all additional terms and conditions. Requirements should be established for disclosing any highly objectionable or surprising terms such as arbitration restrictions or information or data selling. 

Posted September 22, 2009 by christopher

In a recent post the NY Times Bits Blog, Saul Hansell reports "Verizon Boss Hangs Up on Landline Phone Business" - something we have long known. Nonetheless, this makes it even more official: private companies have no interest in bringing true broadband to everyone in the United States.

Verizon is happy to invest in next-generation networks in wealthy suburbs and large metro regions but people in rural areas - who have long dealt with decaying telephone infrastructure - will be lucky to get slow DSL speeds that leave them unable to participate in the digital age. These people will be spun off to other companies so Verizon can focus on the most profitable areas.

For instance, Verizon found it profitable to spin off its customers in Hawaii to another company that quickly ran into trouble before unloading most of its New England customer on FairPoint, moves that enhanced Verizon's bottom line while harming many communities (see the bottom of this post and other posts about FairPoint).

Isen has been writing about it recently - picking up on FairPoint immediately breaking its promises to expand broadband access in the newly acquired territories. No surprise there.

Isen also delved deeper into Verizon's actions, with "Verizon throws 18 states under the progress train." He is right to push this as a national story - the national media focused intently on the absence of major carriers in the broadband stimulus package but they seem utterly uninterested in major carriers running away from broadband investments in rural areas.

Though Frontier likes to position itself as a company focused on bringing broadband to rural areas, it offers slow DSL broadband and poor customer service to people who have no other choices - more of a parasite than angel. As long as we view broadband as a vehicle for moving profits from communities to absentee-owned corporations rather than the infrastructure it truly is, we will farther and farther behind our international peers in the modern...

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Posted September 18, 2009 by christopher

In all the wrangling over how we should define broadband, I wanted to step back and remember why the definition is important.

Information networks have become essential for business, education, and entertainment. The broadband definition originally meant something faster than the dial-up speeds that topped out at 56kbps. In the late 90's, any connection faster than dial-up pretty much supported all Internet activities.

Over the years, some connections got faster while the slower connections were expanded to more people across the United States. In 2009, people who remain stuck with dial-up would be happy to get the slow speeds that first became available when DSL and cable modems debuted. On the other hand, many no longer consider those connections (often in the neighborhood of 200kbps to 768kbps for download speeds and even slower for upload speeds) to be capable of supporting many modern applications.

When the broadband definition supported all the applications users wanted to run, it was useful for subscribers. However, as the broadband definition has lagged farther and farther behind modern applications, it has become only useful to large companies like Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and Qwest because they could brag that they were delivering "broadband" to most of their customers.

The result is a country that can claim x% of the population has access to broadband without that number really telling us anything. We do not know how many home users have access to connections that will support working from home or two-way video chat. We do not know how many businesses can access the speeds they need to be competitive in a real-time world.

When the FCC revises the broadband definition, it must make it more stringent for the following reasons:

  1. Subscribers need accurate information to make informed decisions. If they subscribe to "broadband," they should immediately know if it will actually support modern applications. This means incorporating common usage scenarios: multiple devices concurrently using a connection for browsing, e-mail, games, video-chats, media downloads, and large file uploads (online backup is becoming more popular and easy and people increasingly want to work effectively from home).
  2. Large companies, particularly telephone carriers, claim that there is no need for government intervention in broadband because almost everyone has access under the existing...
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Posted September 11, 2009 by christopher

Our focus on the broadband stimulus is almost entirely on last-mile infrastructure because it is the most challenging and expensive problem to solve before all Americans will have affordable access to the broadband networks they need in the modern era. As we are most familiar with Minnesota, we decided to take an in-depth look on who is proposing what projects in our state.

Total Infrastructure Grants Requested for Last Mile solely in MN: at least $240 million
Total Infrastructure Loans Requested for Last Mile solely in MN: at least $85 million

Groups seeking stimulus funds to deliver last-mile broadband access in Minnesota have asked for hundreds of millions of dollars. By my tally, some 17 applicants are seeking to serve Minnesota with last-mile access (I threw out applications pertaining to middle mile infrastructure, digital divide, and those last-mile projects that combine Wisconsin and North Dakota areas) have requested some $240 million in grants and $85 million in loans.

If one assumes that the total amount of money is divided evenly among the states, this is somewhere around 3x as much stimulus money that will be awarded to Minnesota applicants over the course of the multiple rounds of funding.

At some point, this list will have to be winnowed and prioritized, so let's delve into it. All applications still must survive the peer review process (ensuring they met NTIA/RUS requirements), the incumbent challenges (incumbents can veto applications by showing that targeted areas already have broadband advertised to them), and the prioritization of surviving projects by each state (no one seems sure of how this will happen in Minnesota, our Governor is too busy not running for President in 2012).

There are two applications that should be jettisoned immediately, Arvig Telephone Company and Mid-State Telephone Company, both of which are owned by TDS Telecom. [Update: I have now heard conflicting reports on whether Arvig is, in fact, a subsidiary of TDS]

When...

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Posted September 9, 2009 by christopher

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 “...

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