Tag: "infrastructure"

Posted November 13, 2012 by christopher

For this week's Community Broadband Bits, we venture outside the U.S. to interview Benoit Felten of Diffraction Analysis about the Stokab muni fiber network in Stockholm, Sweden. Stokab appears to be the most successful open access fiber network in the world.

Benoit has just published a case study of Stokab and is an expert on broadband networks around the planet. Our discussion covers how Stokab was built and what lessons it has for other cities. Because Stokab was started so long ago, other local governments will find they cannot simply duplicate it -- times have changed.

Benoit also writes regularly at Fiberevolution and can be found on twitter @fiberguy. Benoit and I last appeared together in a roundtable discussion about bandwidth caps.

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.

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Thanks to Fit and the Conniptions for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted October 31, 2012 by lgonzalez

Susan Crawford recently wrote for the Blog of the Roosevelt Institute, where she spent the last year as a Fellow. She draws on the history of electrification to remind us that the impasse we have in expanding great access to the Internet to everyone is not a novel problem.

Crawford emphasizes the similarities between the electrification of rural America in the 1930s and the need for ubiquitous high-speed Internet access today. Crawford sees an almost identical reality as she compares the world of broadband and the attitude toward electricity in the 1930s:

In 1920 in America, unregulated private companies controlled electricity. The result? 90 percent of farmers didn't have it, at the same time that all rich people in New York City did. And it was wildly expensive in many places. Although it's now considered an essential input into everything we do, at the time electricity was seen as a luxury; the companies served the rich and big businesses, and left everyone else out.

Crawford notes that in the '30s, it was strong and thoughtful leadership that led the charge to turn the lights on in rural America. It ws not inevitable - it took the hard work of many people dedicated to a better tomorrow. In fact, the Rural Electrification Administration was created only after many states had already created their own electrification programs, creating valuable lessons for those that came after.

As many of our readers know, local authority in one state after another has fallen to the armies of lobbyists recruited by AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and others at the top of the telecommunications heap. South Carolina and California recently joined the list of states where the legislature abandoned the public interest in favor of a few corporate interests.

Today, the U.S. is falling far behind when it comes to the 21st century version of electrification: the...

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Posted July 9, 2012 by christopher

A new book from Michael J Sandel asks, "What Isn't for Sale?" At least, that was the title of his article in the April Atlantic Monthly. The book is actually titled What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets and you can find it at your local bookstore.

Broadband policy often deals with the term "market." Given the strong natural-monopoly characteristics of broadband networks, we generally make two points.

1) The private sector will not create a competitive market for Internet services absent smart government policies. Private companies consolidate, gain scale advantages, and crush the competition absent at least strong antitrust policies.

2) We can have a market for broadband services if we separate the physical infrastructure from the services. In this scenario, a network owner would not be allowed to offer services directly to end users. Independent service providers would use the network (under equal terms) to offer services to businesses and residents. This is the wholesale-only model (most associated with UTOPIA) and the closest examples in other infrastructure is the streets or airports. However, federal policymakers are too beholden to big corporate interests to pursue these policies; if a community wants an open access broadband market, it has to build its own network.

Nevertheless, Sandel's discussion of markets and the insistence of some that markets can solve everything struck a cord with me. I'm a big believer in functioning markets -- which is why we work so hard to help communities that are stuck with only one or two distant corporations controlling all the broadband infrastructure. The refusal of big carriers to invest in communities skews many of the markets within those communities.

So we are careful when we talk about markets. Given present technology, both wired and wireless, it is foolish to believe markets alone can solve our broadband problem. Which is what brings me back to Sandel's article in the Atlanic:

The great missing debate in contemporary politics is about the role and reach of markets. Do we want a market economy, or a market society? What role should markets play in public life and personal relations? How can we decide...

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Posted December 13, 2011 by christopher

I encourage readers to visit Doc Searls post "Broadband vs. Internet" for a discussion about things that matter regarding the future of Internet access for most Americans.

The Internet is no more capable than the infrastructures that carry it. Here in the U.S. most of the infrastructures that carry the Internet to our homes are owned by telephone and cable companies. Those companies are not only in a position to limit use of the Internet for purposes other than those they favor, but to reduce the Net itself to something less, called “broadband.” In fact, they’ve been working hard on both.

There is a difference between the Internet and "broadband." Broadband is a connection that is always on and tends to be somewhat faster than the dial-up speeds of 56kbps. Broadband could connect you to anything... could be the Internet or to an AOL like service where some company decides what you can see, who you can talk to, and the rules for doing anything.

The Internet is something different. It is anarchic, in the textbook definitional sense of being leaderless. It is a commons. As Doc says,

The Internet’s protocols are NEA:

  • Nobody owns them.*
  • Everybody can use them, and
  • Anybody can improve them.

Because no one owns it, few promote it or defend. Sure, major companies promote their connections to it (and when you connect to it, you are part of it) but they are promoting the broadband connection. And the biggest ones (Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, etc) will do anything to increase the profits they make by being one of the few means of connecting to the Internet -- including charging much more and limiting what people can do over their connection, etc.

This is one reason the connections from major corporations are so heavily tilted toward download speeds -- they want consumers to consume content. Just about every community network built in the last 3-4 years offers symmetrical connections by contrast.

Last I heard, the fastest cable offering in the upstream direction was 12Mbps. Cox, our cable provider in Santa Barbara, gives us about 25Mbps down, but only 4Mbps up. Last time I talked to them (in June 2009), their plan was to deliver up to 100Mbps down eventually, but still only about 5Mbps up. That’s...

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Posted August 2, 2011 by christopher

Hats off to a column published by CED Magazine this week, written by Editor-in-Chief Brian Santo. The discussion centers on proper government role in broadband:

These disagreements are hopelessly tangled in another argument entirely: What role should the government have in any market, let alone the broadband market? North Carolina’s state legislature just passed a law prohibiting municipal broadband services.

But in the communications industry, many free-market and anti-regulatory arguments would be mooted if the market provided what is being asked for – affordable and universal access to broadband. Now, not later.

Communities are not building their own networks on a lark - they do it because they have to in order to ensure their future vitality.

Just last week, we also answered the same question of the role of government in broadband when revisiting an excellent commentary published years ago about the proper role of government in matters of infrastructure.

We will all benefit the most when we all have access to fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet. But blindly relying on a few massive companies to get us there is lunacy. They simply do not have the motivation or capacity to sufficiently invest or to run the networks in such a way that all have access -- as private companies, they are supposed to maximize profit. Maximizing profit is incompatible with managing infrastructure -- pricing access to infrastructure too high results in losses for everyone, including the vast majority of the private sector.

At the very least, all communities must maintain the freedom to choose locally if building a network is the right decision for them.

Posted July 29, 2011 by christopher

Of course there is the argument that government should stay out of the way when it comes to broadband. Sometimes it is easy to forget how much the private industry benefits when government steps in to provide or facilitate basic infrastructure. Private industry benefits tremendously from our road systems, reliable power infrastructure, clean water, sewer systems and public safety. A robust, ubiquitous high-speed broadband infrastructure will facilitate interactions between businesses, allows private industry to deliver new and innovative services to customers and allows employees to be productive where ever they are at.

Posted July 29, 2011 by christopher

Government’s role is to take into account the public good. Just as government decides where highways, roads and streets go to serve the public good through careful planning, design, implementation and maintenance, the same approach should apply to broadband. To elaborate, government plans and designs the nation’s road infrastructure, frequently overseeing the construction of it by private companies and then manages the finished product. This infrastructure serves the public good, including the delivery and transport of private commerce as well as ensuring that we were able to travel on a series of federal, state, county and local roads to this meeting today in Eagan.

This same approach can be used to ensure that broadband serves the public good. Just as we would not leave the design of our road systems to the trucking industry, because each company has a limited need, and understandably so, therefore government has taken a leading role in the nation’s road infrastructure to ensure that it serves everyone’s needs.

Posted July 29, 2011 by christopher

So if we determine that broadband is one of the “basic facilities, services, and installations needed for the functioning of a community or society” then I would say yes, government has a role in broadband policy. I am clear that the Saint Paul Broadband Advisory Committee did indeed feel that broadband has become a basic infrastructure.

Posted July 29, 2011 by christopher

I was just reminded of an excellent presentation given by Andrea Casselton back on October 17, 2007, after the Saint Paul Broadband Advisory Committee developed this report. Unfortunately, the city of Saint Paul has not followed through on the fine recommendations of the Committee. As in so many other places, the economic downturn has made public investments more difficult. But not impossible.

Good afternoon, I am Andrea Casselton, the Director of the Office of Technology and Communications for the City of Saint Paul. Thank you for holding this important hearing. On behalf of the City of Saint Paul, I would like to present some thoughts on the role of government in broadband policy.

As part of my role for the City I acted as chair for the Saint Paul Broadband Advisory Committee which met from August 2006 to July 2007. The committee was comprised of 20 representatives from the community, government, a labor union, non-profits, education, and business associations. Some of the representatives on the BAC were also experts in the field of broadband and wireless technology.

Several weeks ago the Committee’s recommendations report was published. My comments borrow heavily from that report.

In my opinion, in order to decide whether there is a role for local and state government in the deployment of broadband in the state of Minnesota, we must first decide if we consider broadband to be infrastructure.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines infrastructure as: “The basic facilities, services, and installations needed for the functioning of a community or society, such as transportation and communications systems, water and power lines, and public institutions including schools, post offices, and prisons.”

For cities, towns and counties to successfully compete in the global economy they must be connected to the world. From harbors to railroads, from highways to airports, infrastructure has historically enabled the exchange of commerce, information, and people. Whether it is a rural town or a major metropolitan city, to remain economically competitive in the 21st century, they must be connected to a new infrastructure – affordable, high-capacity broadband telecommunications.

Broadband, viewed ever increasingly as a utility, provides this new connection to employment, educational opportunities, accessible healthcare, public...

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Posted July 16, 2011 by christopher

We dedicated a lot of coverage to Time Warner Cable's purchasing legislation to handicap communities from building competitive networks. Kara Millonzi, from the University of North Carolina School of Government, examined the new law and made a potentially interesting point.

Communities have a steep mountain to climb to build a self-financing community network in the state but if a community wanted to treat broadband infrastructure like the roads they manage, the law may not impact them.

As stated above, S.L. 2011-84 imposes some significant limitations on a municipality’s authority to provide cable and Internet services. With some exceptions, the limitations apply to a “city-owned communications service provider.” A city-owned communications service provider is defined as:

  • a city
  • that provides cable, video programming, telecommunications, broadband, or high-speed Internet access service (collectively, communication services)
  • directly, indirectly, or through interlocal agreement or joint agency
  • to the public
  • for a fee
  • using a wired or wireless network (communications network).

This definition is important because the new limitations only apply to municipalities that meet all of its elements. In particular, the Act’s provisions only apply to a municipality that provides the listed services “for a fee.” That means that the requirements do not apply to any municipality that provides the above-listed communication services for free to the public. Many local governments provide free Wi-Fi service in their downtown or other central business areas. (In fact, I am taking advantage of Town of Carrboro’s free Wi-Fi as I draft this post.) If a municipality uses its unrestricted general fund revenue to finance this service, or any other communications services, it is not subject to the new Act’s provisions. (Note that many local governments actually offer this service by taking advantage of excess capacity on their internal broadband networks.)

Though it is an extreme long shot, it would be fascinating to see a community build a network without charging a direct fee to access. It would also be fun to see Time Warner Cable hoisted on their own petard after...

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