Tag: "infrastructure"

Posted July 23, 2013 by christopher

Last week, we discussed how Shafter's plans in California for a community fiber network changed with the Great Recession. Today we have an interview with Shafter Assistant City Manager Scott Hurlbert with an expanded discussion of how the community adjusted and what its next steps will be.

Shafter transitioned from leased T1 lines to a city owned fiber network with gigabit connections between municipal facilities. As the network expands, it will do so with independent ISPs offering services as the local government prefers to focus in providing the physical infrastructure rather than delivering services directly.

Unlike the majority of communities that have invested in their own networks, Shafter does not have a municipal electric utility. Nonetheless, local leaders see a fiber network in much the same light as the water system. They expect the fiber network to break even but do not expect large revenues from it - the point is for the infrastructure to enable economic development and a high quality of life that improves the entire community.

Read the transcript from our conversation 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 25 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 Break the Bans 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 April 16, 2013 by lgonzalez

“My answer has been, as it is tonight, to point out these plain principles,” Roosevelt told the crowd. “That where a community -- a city or county or a district -- is not satisfied with the service rendered or the rates charged by the private utility, it has the undeniable basic right, as one of its functions of government, one of its functions of home rule, to set up ... its own governmentally owned and operated service.”

While FDR was referring to electricity in 1932, he could easily be speaking about today's critical need for Internet connectivity. Fortunately for a growing number of people in our country, many local leaders share his sentiments and those communities are investing in community owned telecommunications networks.

Government Technology recently reposted a Governing article by Alex Marshall, a Senior Fellow at the Regional Plan Association in New York City. The Director of our Telecommunications work, Christopher Mitchell, tells me he just bought Alex's new book from a local bookstore and has put it at the top of his reading list: The Surprising Design of Market Economies.

Marshall sees fiber optic connectivity as the utility of today and tomorrow. He explores the question of who should provide access - public institutions or the private market? In his research, Marshall finds that many local communities are not waiting for an "official" answer to that question and are taking control of getting their citizens online.

Marshall spoke with Nick Braden from the American Public Power Association (APPA):

“As was the case when America was electrifying a century ago, many unserved or underserved communities are ready, willing and able to take matters into their own hands, if necessary, to deploy the sophisticated broadband communications networks that will enable their communities and America to continue to be a leader in the global economy,” says Braden. “Many have already...

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Posted December 24, 2012 by christopher

If you have been trying to find a book that offers an engaging explanation of how the Internet physically works and the various networks interconnect, search no more. Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum has done it.

The author was featured on Fresh Air way back in May, but not much has changed with Internet infrastructure since then.

In Tubes, journalist Andrew Blum goes on a journey inside the Internet's physical infrastructure to uncover the buildings and compounds where our data is stored and transmitted. Along the way, he documents the spaces where the Internet first started, and the people who've been working to make the Web what it is today.

He was also just on C-Span's "The Communicators."

I enjoyed the read and learned a few things along the way. Those looking for a dry, just-the-facts-ma'am approach may not enjoy the frequent musings of Blum on his experiences. But I did.

One of his trips took him to a community in Oregon called The Dalles, where a municipal network allowed Google to build its very first "built-from-scratch data center." More on that in a post to come soon...

Those who are doing their reading on tablets now will be interested to know that the eBook is temporarily priced at $1.99. The deal lasts until New Years according to the author.

Posted December 13, 2012 by lgonzalez

In August, we reported on the results of a report on UTOPIA by the Office of the State Auditor General of Utah. As you will recall, the results were less than favorable and presented more fodder for those opposed to municipal telecommunications infrastructure investment.

The same old arguments often rest on the financial investment in municipal networks - they are considered failures if they don't break even or make money. Pete Ashdown, founder of ISP XMission in Utah, addressed those arguments in the Salt Lake Tribune:

UTOPIA provides broadband service in 11 Utah cities. Today, communication infrastructure is no less critical than transportation, sanitation and clean water. Government is not a business, but the infrastructure it provides contributes to a robust business environment.

Consider how private businesses rely on government funded infrastructure. Why don’t entrepreneurs clamor to build the next generation of roads? Why don’t airline companies get off the public dole and build their own facilities? Why are sewer facilities so rarely handled by anyone else but the state?

Does effective infrastructure cost? Considerably. Does it make a profit? No.

For decades now, public service entities have contended with the argument that if they are "run it like a business" they will be more efficient, productive and even profitable. While lessons from the private sector may contribute to increased efficiency at times, government is NOT a business. Applying business tenets should be done sparingly and not in the case of critical infrastructure like electricity, roads, and yes, access to the Internet.

Gary D. Brown, who lives in Orem, shared a guest opinion through the Daily Herald and drew a similar parallel between UTOPIA's status and the business world:

When UTOPIA was first proposed, I was all for getting a fiber optic connection to every home and business in the at-that-time 17 cities. In my opinion, the original business model was sound; install fiber to each home/business and offer data,...

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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.

This show is 30 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 download the Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

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.

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