Tag: "federal"

Posted June 4, 2013 by christopher

The United States has long recognized that everyone should have access to a telephone and has established a variety of government programs to achieve that end. In recent months, the Lifeline program has come under attack and some have labeled it the "Obamaphone" program.

In this week's Community Broadband Bits podcast, Sarah Morris joins us to explain how the program works. She is Policy Counsel for the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation. Additionally, Ana Montes with TURN (The Utility Reform Network in California) joins us to offer ground-level insight into the program.

As we work to ensure everyone has access to fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet, we should be aware of the programs that have been successful in expanding access to the telephone.

Read the transcript from this episode 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 21 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

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

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Eat at Joe's for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted May 6, 2013 by christopher

In the coming years, we will continue to see groups and elected officials funded by the big cable and telephone companies try to delegitimize any public sector investment in Internet networks. We have already endured a year of mostly-frivolous charges against BTOP and BIP stimulus programs. At times like this, it may be helpful to look back to other times in history when the federal government engaged in a new program to build essential infrastructure.

This comes from Earl Swift's excellent The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways. Please buy it at a local bookstore, not from Amazon.

In fact, the committee did turn up some rotten business. In New Mexico, investigators found that contractors ran roughshod over road officials, exhibiting "open contempt" for construction specs and quality controls as "a continuing course of conduct over a period of almost ten years." They got away with it, Blatnik's people found, because the state didn't know enough to object; its highway department was managed by unskilled laborers who had been advanced up the ranks without a lick of training. Some state men testified that they didn't know how to test roadbed materials, so they OK'ed all that came before them. Their boss admitted he wasn't schooled on how to do this work until after it was finished. The committee discovered on stretch of highway that was in the act of collapsing even as New Mexico officials signed off on it.

The bureau stopped payments to New Mexico until it got itself together, and did the same to Massachusetts and Oklahoma.

There will be mistakes and we will undoubtedly find a case of fraud or two. That doesn't mean the government shouldn't be making these essential investments. And don't even get me off on all the far worse shenanigans of big private companies... Adelphia and Qwest are toward the top of that list.

Posted May 16, 2012 by christopher

One of the reasons we so strongly support local, community owned broadband networks over European-like regulations on private companies is that large institutions regularly game the rules. We wrote about this last year, when Free Press called on the FCC to stop Verizon from ignoring the rules it agreed to for using certain spectrum.

Senator Franken, who has taken a strong interest in preserving the open Internet, has just reminded the FCC that creating rules does no one any good if it refuses to enforce them.

Not only has Comcast announced that its own Netflix-like service does not count against its bandwidth caps, some researchers found evidence that Comcast was prioritizing its own content to be higher quality than rivals could deliver. Comcast has denied this charge and proving it is difficult. Who do you believe? After all, Comcast spent years lying to its own subscribers about the very existence of its bandwidth caps.

The vast majority of the network neutrality debate centers around whether Comcast should be allowed to use its monopoly status as an onramp to the Internet dominate other markets, like delivering movies (as pioneered by Netflix). Comcast and many economists from Chicago say "Heck yes - they can do whatever they like." But the vast majority of us and the FCC have recognized that this is market-destroying behavior, not pro-market behavior.

So when Comcast was allowed to take over NBC Universal, it agreed to certain conditions imposed by the FCC to encourage competition. But the FCC has a long history of not wanting to enforce its own rules because it can be inconvenient to upset some of the most powerful corporations on the planet. Plus, many of the people working in telecommunications policy for the federal government will eventually make much more money working for...

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Posted December 8, 2011 by christopher

Susan Crawford published an excellent essay in the New York Times presenting her Looming Broadband Monopoly argument as a discussion of the coming digital divide between those with access to next-generation networks and those without.

These numbers are likely to grow even starker as the 30 percent of Americans without any kind of Internet access come online. When they do, particularly if the next several years deliver subpar growth in personal income, they will probably go for the only option that is at all within their reach: wireless smartphones. A wired high-speed Internet plan might cost $100 a month; a smartphone plan might cost half that, often with a free or heavily discounted phone thrown in.

The problem is that smartphone access is not a substitute for wired. The vast majority of jobs require online applications, but it is hard to type up a résumé on a hand-held device; it is hard to get a college degree from a remote location using wireless. Few people would start a business using only a wireless connection.

She identifies the problem as a lack of competition in the market while highlighting the role of lobbying from the wealthy cable companies to keep it that way:

The bigger problem is the lack of competition in cable markets. Though there are several large cable companies nationwide, each dominates its own fragmented kingdom of local markets: Comcast is the only game in Philadelphia, while Time Warner dominates Cleveland. That is partly because it is so expensive to lay down the physical cables, and companies, having paid for those networks, guard them jealously, clustering their operations and spending tens of millions of dollars to lobby against laws that might oblige them to share their infrastructure.

In this essay, her preferred solution is better federal regulation that would require companies that own networks to share parts of their infrastructure with competitors (to significantly reduce the problems of natural monopoly). Unfortunately, she did not explicitly discuss the solution of the communities building their own networks - a topic she has discussed at great length elsewhere in very positive terms. Her essay ties in nicely with the paper we...

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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 October 21, 2011 by christopher

Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge makes a compelling case that the Federal Communications Commission is refusing to take actions that will create thousands of jobs. And his estimate is probably low.

Smartly, he doesn't just pin it on the FCC, where the stumbling block appears to be Chairman Genachowski (both Copps and Clyburn already want to help the innovators and true job creators) but also on Congress

To explain:

Once upon a time, the old, old AT&T was the sole supplier of telephones and other equipment to consumers and businesses. The FCC, in a series of market-opening orders, culminating in the 1968 Carterfone ruling, finally freed the non-AT&T world to provide telephone equipment. Through the years, consumers and businesses had many more choices as new companies sprang up to provide home phones, business phones, and business switching equipment for voice and data. Anyone could buy a phone and plug it in. At one telephone equipment show in the mid-1980s, a small California computer company said it was going to enter the telephone business, but only put up an empty booth promising products later. (Whatever happened to those Apple guys and their phones, anyway?)

...

One reason is that the FCC over the years succumbed to the Big Telecom campaign to put all the little guys out of business through subterranean means that the public would never see (like charges big phone companies levy to connect to their network). Another is that the FCC gave up the authority over Internet access (broadband), which leads to its current troubles in trying to justify legally how to get an open Internet and will likely lead to future controversies over how to support broadband deployment (universal service).

Right now, it doesn't matter whether Democrats or Republicans appoint FCC Commissioners so long as 3 of the 5 commissioners are more concerned with what benefits a few massive companies rather than the vast majority of businesses and citizens.

FCC Logo

This is exactly why communities are smart to build their own networks -- they have more control and are less damaged by the poor decisions and waffling of the federal...

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Posted August 3, 2011 by christopher

During the recent budget negotiations, one plan called for taking valuable wireless spectrum that is intended to be used as a commons and auctioning it off the massive corporations to monopolize. Rather than enabling a whole new generation of wireless technologies that would create countless jobs and ongoing opportunities for innovation (some have described it as Wi-Fi on steroids), it would have created a one-time cash infusion while further consolidating the incomparable market power of AT&T and Verizon. Preserving as much spectrum as possible as unlicensed commons allows communities, small businesses, and activists to build the wireless networks they need because they cannot afford to license spectrum for their sole use.

Wally Bowen wrote the following op-ed urging a more sensible approach. Fortunately, the spectrum auction was dropped from the plan - but it will undoubtedly come up again. This was originally published in the Charlotte Observer on July 31 and is reprinted here with permission.

U.S. House Republicans are pushing a proposal to sell off some of the nation's most valuable real estate as part of a debt-ceiling deal, apparently unaware of the harm it will do our economy.

This real estate is a portion of the public airwaves so valuable that it's been called the "Malibu beachfront" of the electromagnetic spectrum. This lower-frequency spectrum, previously reserved for broadcast radio and TV, is far superior to "Wi-Fi" frequencies used for Internet access - and for innovative devices ranging from microwave ovens and cordless phones to garage-door openers and baby monitors.

This prime spectrum can deliver broadband speeds that support high-definition video for telemedicine in rural and other underserved areas. This spectrum is especially plentiful in rural America, and could help connect millions of low-income citizens to affordable broadband services. It could also spark a new wave of high-tech innovation and job-creation far greater than the Wi-Fi boom of the last 25 years.

Wi-Fi Logo

The genius behind the first wave of Wi-Fi innovation was unlicensed spectrum. Though these higher frequencies were once considered "junk bands" by radio engineers...

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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 May 26, 2011 by christopher

We at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance signed on to a letter organized by our friends at the Media Action Grassroots Network asking the FCC and Department of Justice to thoroughly review AT&T's proposed takeover of T-Mobile -- read the press release.

“Our communities cannot afford higher prices and less choices. We need the FCC and DOJ to block this takeover if it's found to be in violation of antitrust law and does not meet public interest obligations,” said Betty Yu, National Organizer for MAG-Net.

"If AT&T takes over T-Mobile, it will be a disaster for all mobile phone users. It will stifle information, choice and innovation- and lead to higher prices and fewer jobs nationwide, added CMJ's Policy Director, amalia deloney. "It's a real jobs and democracy killer.”

The groups also contend the takeover will disproportionately harm consumers of color, who rely on their cell phones to access the Internet more than whites. While 10 percent of whites access the Internet only from their phones, 18 percent of blacks and 16 percent of English-speaking Latinos depend on affordable wireless coverage to get online.

And an excerpt from the letter [pdf]:

The impact that this merger would have on affordable mobile phone service, broadband access and adoption, openness on the mobile web and broadband competition presents a real threat to our communities. We hope that the Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission will examine AT&T's proposed acquisition of T-Mobile with appropriate scrutiny and protect our communities by blocking this merger.

We intend to host a series of open and participatory meetings in our communities to discuss this merger, and we hope that FCC Commissioners will commit to joining us. It is only by communicating directly with people and hearing our stories that you will feel our deep concerns with this merger and the devastating impact it would have on our communities.

We continue to advocate for universal, affordable, fast, and reliable broadband, which to us means a wired connection eventually to all homes that are...

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Posted April 10, 2011 by christopher

Several days at the National Conference for Media Reform in Boston gave me time to reflect on the importance of protecting local authority to build, own, and operate their own networks connecting people and businesses to the Internet. Multiple presentations focused on the importance of and strategies for ensuring access to the Internet is not controlled by a few companies -- and most of these strategies are focused at federal government agencies and Congress.

While we support these efforts, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is not a DC-centric organization. We try to help folks in DC learn about what is happening outside the beltway, but our passion and work focuses directly on helping local communities invest in themselves and preserve their self-determination. 

Access to the Internet will likely be the key infrastructure investment that determines how well communities fare in the coming years. Unfortunately, they have very little control over how those investments are made when the networks are owned by private, absentee companies. Efforts like Universal Service Fund reform, fixing the FCC, re-writing the telecom act, and ensuring network neutrality depend on overcoming incredibly powerful (due to their scale and lobbying power) interests in Washington, DC. But local communities have very little power outside their borders... with some in state capitals and practically none in the nation's capital.

Attacks at the state level on the fundamental right of communities to build this essential infrastructure are intended to eliminate their one means of gaining some control over their digital future. Too many states already ban or limit local authority to build these networks -- and with the Time Warner Cable bill to crush community networks in North Carolina picking up steam and South Carolina's similar attack even on broadband stimulus projects, we will see hundreds more communities with no power to ensure their citizens and businesses have access to fast, reliable, and affordable access to the Internet.

This is deeply concerning.  Taking away the one tool...

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