Tag: "national broadband plan"

Posted July 26, 2015 by lgonzalez

Gig.U, a collaboration of more than 30 universities across the country has just released The Next Generation Network Connectivity Handbook: A guide for Community Leaders Seeking Affordable, Abundant Bandwidth. The handbook, published in association with the Benton Foundation, is available as a PDF online.

One of the authors, Blair Levin, has been a guest several times on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, last visiting in January 2015 to weigh in on public vs. private ownership of broadband networks. As many of our readers know, Levin was one of the primary authors of the FCC National Broadband Plan in 2010.

In a PCWorld article about the report, Levin commented on funding and on local control:

“Nearly every community we worked with saw public money as a last resort, when no other options for next generation networks were available,” he said. “But our group view was that the decision should be made by the local community.”

The report underscores the importance of local decision making authority, whether each community chooses to go with a municipally owned model, a public private partnership, or some other strategy.

Levin and his co-author Denise Linn also address issues of preparation, assessment, early steps, things to remember when developing partnerships, funding issues, and challenges to expect. They assemble an impressive list of resources that any group, agency, or local government can use to move ahead.

Add this to your library.

Posted May 8, 2013 by christopher

Eduardo Porter has an important column today in the business section of the New York Times, "Yanking Broadband From the Slow Lane." He correctly identifies some of the culprits slowing the investment in Internet networks in our communities.

The last two paragraphs read:

Yet the challenge remains: monopolies have a high instinct for self-preservation. And more than half a dozen states have passed legislation limiting municipalities from building public broadband networks in competition with private businesses. South Carolina passed its version last year. A similar bill narrowly failed in Georgia.

Supporting these bills, of course, are the nation’s cable and telephone companies.

Not really "supporting" so much as creating. They create the bills and move them with millions of dollars spent on lobbyists and campaign finance contributions, usually without any real public debate on the matter.

Eduardo focuses on Google Fiber rather than the hundreds of towns that have built networks - as have most of the elite media outlets. Google deserves praise for taking on powerful cable and DSL companies, but it is lazy journalism broadly that has ignored the networks built by hundreds of towns - my criticism of the press generally, not Eduardo specifically.

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The person who deserves plenty of criticism is former FCC Chairman Genachowski. From the article:

According to the F.C.C.’s latest calculation, under one-third of American homes are in areas where at least two wireline companies offer broadband speeds of 10 Mbps or higher.

We have 20 million Americans with no access to broadband. The rest are lucky to have a choice between two providers and even then, most still only have access to fast connections from a single provider.

When the National Broadband Plan was unveiled, we were critical of it and believed it would do little to improve our standing. Even its architect,...

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Posted February 7, 2012 by christopher

Wally Bowen has again penned an op-ed that we gained permission to reprint. The original ran in North Carolina's Durham News Observer.

President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address that he wants to upgrade the nation's "critical infrastructure," including our "incomplete high-speed broadband network that prevents a small business owner in rural America from selling her products all over the world."

The Green Bay Packers know how to tackle this problem.

Green Bay, Wis., population 104,000, and its National Football League franchise have much in common with communities left behind in today's broadband world. In 1923, the Packers faced a similar crisis. How to keep the team in Green Bay despite being in an "uncompetitive" market.

Green Bay took a page out of the playbook of rural electrification. It converted the franchise into a community-owned nonprofit. The move permanently tied the Packers to Green Bay and lifted the burden of generating profits for outside investors. In short, Green Bay found a business model in scale with its market.

Rural electrification via a community-ownership business model began more than 100 years ago when for-profit utilities bypassed rural areas. This self-help solution has deep roots in rural America, where nonprofit cooperatives have long provided essential services for local economies.

Yet the congressionally mandated National Broadband Plan omits nonprofit networks as part of a universal broadband strategy. Blair Levin, a former FCC official and Raleigh attorney, is the Plan's lead author. According to Thomas Friedman in a Jan. 3 column in The New York Times, Levin now believes that "America is focused too much on getting 'average' bandwidth to the last 5 percent of the country in rural areas, rather than getting 'ultra-high-speed' bandwidth to the top 5 percent in university towns, who will invent the future."

Levin leads Gig.U, a consortium of major research universities - including UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke and N.C. State - promoting "ultra-high-speed" Internet access. He has every right to advocate for Gig.U, but doing so at the expense of under-served rural communities raises concerns about his work with the National Broadband Plan.

Universal access to electricity was made possible by the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, later amended to help...

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Posted January 3, 2012 by christopher

It's a new year, but most of us are still stuck with the same old DSL and cable monopolies. Though many communities have built their own networks to create competition and numerous other benefits, nearly half of the 50 states have enacted legislation to make it harder for communities to build their own networks.

Fortunately, this practice has increasingly come under scrutiny. Unfortunately, we expect to see massive cable and telephone corporations use their unrivaled lobbying power to pass more laws in 2012 like the North Carolina law pushed by Time Warner Cable to essentially stop new community broadband networks.

The FCC's National Broadband Plan calls for all local governments to be free of state barriers (created by big cable and phone companies trying to limit competition). Recommendation 8.19: Congress should make clear that Tribal, state, regional and local governments can build broadband networks.

But modern day railroad barons like Time Warner Cable, AT&T, etc., have a stranglehold on a Congress that depends on their campaign contributions and a national capital built on the lobbying largesse of dominant industries that want to throttle any threats to their businesses. (Hat tip to the Rootstrikers that are trying to fix that mess.)

We occasionally put together a list of notable achievements of these few companies that dominate access to the Internet across the United States. The last one is available here.

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As you read this, remember that the FCC's National Broadband Plan largely places the future of Internet access in the hands of these corporations. On the few occasions the FCC tries to defend the public from their schemes to rip-off...

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Posted February 15, 2011 by christopher

It was supposed to be two perspectives on the National Broadband Plan, but at times it turned into Blair Levin interrogating Craig Settles, unfortunately minimizing the roles of Stacey Higginbotham (Giga Om) and Amy Schatz (Wall Street Journal).  It would have been interesting to see an event where Craig could continuously interrogate Blair, or where Stacey and Amy had more control (Stacey, in particular, is a gifted reporter unafraid to ask tough questions).    

Posted February 3, 2011 by christopher

Readers of this site may be interested in an upcoming debate between Craig Settles and Blair Levin, the architect and chief defender of the National Broadband Plan.  On Monday, Feburary 7, New America will host and webcast the event.  Tune in at 10:00 EST to hear these two discuss the plan, with moderators Amy Schatz (Wall Street Journal), Stacey Higginbotham (GigaOm), and Cecilia Kang (Washington Post).

Craig is a champion for local, community owned networks, whereas Blair Levin justified the National Broadband Plan's turning a blind eye to the lack of competition in broadband by saying it would have been unpopular with the massive carriers to challenge their dominance.  

Posted January 4, 2011 by christopher

Susan Crawford has coined the expression "looming cable monopoly" to describe important changes in the Internet access arena. We have long discussed the ways in which FTTH represents a natural monopoly -- the first entity to build a FTTH network is likely to be the only one. What we haven't discussed how cable networks are similarly edging DSL-dependent telcos out of the market.

Fortunately, Susan Crawford has recently been casting light on this trend -- and her work has been picked up by Ars Technica (the finest tech reporters in the biz for my money).

The short version is this: upgrading cable networks to offer fastest speeds is much less expensive than upgrading DSL networks. Something not often mentioned: aside from AT&T and Verizon (who effectively mint dollars with their mobile revenues), the telephone companies have no money to upgrade their DSL networks anyway.

When the FCC took a look at this situation, they concluded that what little competition we have for broadband in the US is about to decrease (something we have long argued is a result of relying solely on the private sector for essential infrastructure). From the National Broadband Plan [pdf] on page 42:

Prior to cable’s DOCSIS 3.0 upgrade, more than 80% of the population could choose from two reasonably similar products (DSL and cable). Once the current round of upgrades is complete, consumers interested in only today’s typical peak speeds can, in principle, have the same choices available as they do today. Around 15% of the population will be able to choose from two providers for very high peak speeds (providers with FTTP and DOCSIS 3.0 infrastructure). However, providers offering fiber-to-the-node and then DSL from the node to the premises (FTTN), while potentially much faster than traditional DSL, may not be able to match the peak speeds offered by FTTP and DOCSIS 3.0.

Thus, in areas that include 75% of the population, consumers will likely have only one service provider (cable companies with DOCSIS 3.0-enabled infrastructure) that can offer very high peak download speeds.

To be clear - those "very high peak download speeds" they...

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Posted November 8, 2010 by christopher

Andrew Cohill has made some apt observations regarding a likely future of broadband in the United States. The thesis is that a few providers can effectively disrupt the likelihood of an entire community getting next-generation services by locking up key customers. And I agree.

But today, the market for bandwidth continues to grow along a nice smooth curve, with the demand doubling every two years, and we have fifteen years of data to back this up. While the incumbents are busy trying to convince us they can meet this demand with 1950s copper cable plant, smaller telecom firms are busy spreading bits of fiber through communities to cherry pick the more profitable business customers. These companies tend to have no interest in full fiber build outs, and instead just want to lock up a portion of the local business market.

Some [not Cohill] have argued that when local governments stop overpaying for T1 lines and build their own networks to be fiscally responsible, incumbent telcos will be unable to continue investing there due to the reduced revenue. Of course, incumbent telcos have long ago ceased investing in these communities, so the proposition is off from the start. But even if it were true, it is an incredibly inefficient system (no matter how lucrative for the incumbent telcos).

We need to actually start treating broadband as infrastructure (rather than simply talking about it as though it were infrastructure -- which most elected leaders seem to do). This means that when the community needs broadband, they are able to build it themselves and ensure the network will remain accountable to them in the future.

The longer communities wait to build these networks, the more difficult a prospect it will be as private companies continue to pick off the high-revenue easy-to-serve subscribers.

Posted August 1, 2010 by christopher

On July 27, WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi show discussed broadband. They read a comment from me noting the successes of two community networks. You can listen to the show online from the above link.

The very best value connection in the country is in Lafayette, Louisiana, with 10Mbps symmetrical (up and down) for under $30 /month.

The fastest citywide connection is in Chattanooga, Tennessee - 150Mbps.

Both are provided by city-owned utilities.

Posted March 25, 2010 by christopher

Just a few short snippets, no real commentary from me today...

Tracy Rosenberg wrote Single Payer Broadband at the Huffington Post, noting:

Cities and states all over the country have been looking at the possibility of public networks. The FCC admits this may be a last resort for difficult-to-cover areas the market has no profitable solution for. Why a last resort? Why have 18 states passed laws banning municipalities from offering any wholesale or retail broadband services? Is it because they might do it better? More competition should never be considered a last resort.

An article in the Economist pulls no punches:

A YEAR ago, Congress asked for a plan that would provide affordable broadband service to all America’s citizens. On March 16th, the Federal Communications Commission responded with a non sequitur: a national wireless plan which is good in its way, but which largely fails to tackle the problem it was asked to solve.

Great op-ed in the NY Times - "Ending the Internet’s Trench Warfare" by Yochai Benkler, someone who knows quite a bit about networks.

In Japan and many European countries, regulators fought hard to bring existing providers around to open access. They won, and today these countries have more competition, lower prices and higher speeds. Such political will is glaringly absent in the commission’s plan.

The 1996 Telecommunications Act did, in fact, point the United States in the direction of open access. But after eight years of intense litigation and lobbying from telephone companies, the Federal Communications Commission gave in, deciding that competition between one telephone incumbent and one cable incumbent was enough — in essence, it rejected open access as a way to create competition.

Others have also written quite well on this, but time is short this week.

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