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).
Tag: "craig settles"
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.
Craig Settles kicks off this event with a 45 minute presentation discussing what community networks should do to succeed financially and how they can go beyond simply making broadband access available to more people. Bryan Sivak, Chief Technology Officer of the District of Columbia; Joanne Hovis, President-Elect of NATOA and President of Columbia Telecommunications Corporation; and Gary Carter, Analyst at City of Santa Monica Information Systems Department responded Craig Settles' presentation. One of the key points is something we harp on here: if community broadband networks run in the black according to standard private sector accounting procedures, that is great. But it is a poor measure of how successful a community network is. Community networks create a variety of positive benefits that are not included in that metric and those benefits must be considered when evaluating such a network.
The May/June issue of Broadband Properties has a number of articles about muni broadband networks, including one in Canada - Bruce Telecom. The magazine also includes a story I originally wrote for MuniNetworks about Chattanooga after I updated some of the numbers.
The cover story, "Resurgence of Muni Broadband," includes a census of muni-related projects, with a note that no single model defines the muni approach. Punctuating that theme is Andrew Cohill's "Third Way Approach," (which I had previously featured here).
As I noted previously, a community in Colorado - Longmont - will soon vote on whether the local government should be allowed to sell retail Internet services. This community has tried a number of approaches to expanding broadband competition but have not yet succeeded in getting the networks they need.
The local paper opposes the measure. However, the editorial frames the issue in a curious way. It claims the ballot measure will "override" state law, which is utterly false. State law says the community has to approve it before they can do it - so the City is complying with the state law.
Those against the measure point to failed municipal-run telecommunication efforts as another reason not to support this measure. That’s fairly compelling, especially when we have no specifics about what type of telecommunications projects the city will pursue.
Those against the measure claim that municipal-run telecommunications efforts have failed. They often point at successful community networks (or even failed privately owned networks, oddly enough), call them failures, and rightly assume that no one will fact-check the assertions. Often, they will gin up some false numbers that suggest a far-off network has lost a lot of money (using their same methodology, it would be crazy for anyone to borrow to buy a house).
Regarding the concern over what specific project the city will pursue if authorized, this is an interesting catch-22 because it makes little sense to expend a lot of money on a business plan before a community has the authority to build something. Either decision is difficult and requires a trust in the local leadership and democratic process.
Comments to that editorial rightly note that Comcast and Qwest will not prioritize investments in Longmont until they see competition. The private sector has failed to generate competition on its own, so the community is smart to consider spurring competition themselves. However, both Comcast and Qwest can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to scare people into voting against competition - it will still be cheaper for the incumbents than having to actually invest in faster networks.
One of the comments provides some interesting background on local broadband:
On the Daily Yonder - offering coverage of rural issues - Craig Settles offers advice to community networks on the need to attract institution and business customers because networks rarely generate enough revenue to make debt payments by focusing solely on residential subscribers.
When communities compare the costs of different technologies, they often get too caught up in the upfront costs and ignore the ongoing costs (operating costs, or opex). He offers an example of a modest wireless network:
It’s important to understand that while it costs a lot of money to create a broadband network, over a five-to-ten-year period, it costs even more to operate that network than to build it. Say it costs $1 million to build a wireless network. During the municipal wireless heyday, it was estimated to cost 20% of buildout expense to operate the network annually – to pay for customer service, maintenance, upgrades, etc. That’s $200,000 a year.
This is a great intro article for those who may not be used to thinking about the economics or business plans networks need.
For the rest of us, it is a strong reminder of how many networks start (and a good path for those who want to create a network):
Santa Monica, California, had a legacy PBX phone system and slow connection circuits from incumbents. The city pooled money it was already paying for voice and data services, using this capital to build a fiber network and implement new communication technology.
City CIO Jory Wolf states, “By switching to fiber we realized a $500,000 savings in data circuits and $250,000 savings in voice circuits, all of which stayed in our fund. Ongoing savings enabled us to provide our police with video streaming in their vehicles. We have excess bandwidth, so we provide (a) large number of sites with free wireless access.” Wolf said that the city is also selling companies fiber lines that haven't yet been turned on. “Our network budget is self-sustaining,” he said, “and I have $2.5 million in capital.”
I remember Tim Nulty saying that Burlington Telecom started the same way. They figured out how much they were paying each month for telecom as a city. They used that number to compute how much they could spend...Read more
Craig Settles recently wrote "Debunking Myths about Government-Run Broadband" to defend publicly owned networks (the title is unfortunate as many networks are publicly owned but not necessarily run directly by the government). Nonetheless, he tackles several false claims commonly levied against public networks and offers an entertaining rebuff to those rascally incumbents down in North Carolina that keep trying to buy legislation to protect themselves from competition:
Time Warner tried to get a bill passed in the state legislature this year to prevent cities from offering broadband service. They claimed community networks create an un-fair playing field. Personally, if I ran a bezillion dollar company and a small town of 48,000 with no prior technology business expertise built a network 10 times faster than my best offering, I’d be embarrassed to be associated with the bill. If incumbents want to level the playing field, maybe they should outsource their engineering operations to Wilson.
He revealed an upcoming list of ten smart broadband communities that has since been published here. This is a mixture of communities that have taken action to improve broadband - a variety of models and community types.
Without detracting from this list, I want to note that some networks are missing important context. For instance, Wilson NC, lists an unimpressive number of subscribers currently, but the network is still being built and many who want to subscribe are not yet able to subscribe. Additionally, it would be nice to see the prices offered for each speed tier -- many of these networks keep higher speed tiers much more affordable than do traditional carriers. That said, many kudos to Craig for putting this list out there (he will be putting similar lists up in the near future).
While on the subject of impressive community networks, NATOA has announced its community broadband awards. I am excited to see the city of Monticello recognized for its courage in responding to shady incumbent-led attacks and frivolous lawsuits --...Read more
Fiona Morgan, a frequent writer at Indyweek in North Carolina, has weighed in with excellent coverage of the situation in North Carolina as the cable and telephone companies continue their attempts at stifling competition in the state. They are now using their non-profit arm, Connected Nation, to overstate existing services in the state.
According to a map made available online last week by the industry-backed nonprofit Connected Nation, broadband is available to 92 percent of North Carolina households. That number seems too high to some legislators and public interest advocates, who are concerned that overstating the amount of access will hurt the state's chances of receiving federal grants.
"You'll be pleased that over 90 percent of the households in North Carolina are now served by one or more broadband providers," Connected Nation representative Joe Mefford said during the unveiling of the map at the state legislature last week. "The maps also, by that, indicate that there's been a huge investment in broadband in this state already."
I have dealt with Connected Nation's maps here in Minnesota, and the technology is awful. In an age of Google Maps and impressive mashups, they produce clunky maps at sufficiently large file sizes that you need fast broadband to open them. I pity anyone trying to use their maps on a slow DSL connection. On top of that, they continue to classify cellular services (that often come with a very small monthly cap) as broadband in order to overstate how many people have access.
Fortunately, Fiona spoke to Craig Settles and he offers some great commentary.
Craig Settles, an Oakland, Calif.-based consultant on broadband technology, said the broadband stimulus has been hijacked by the telecommunications industry. "It started as a noble effort," he said, "but it's a complete and total travesty all around."
Each state must choose one mapping entity in order to be eligible for any of the broadband stimulus money. There is $350 million set aside specifically for mapping, to be divided between the states. That's too much money, Settles thinks, and the terms favor Connected Nation and the industry. "We're going to pay you millions of dollars to collect all this information, but you can't tell anybody what this information is? That is the most stupid-ass thing on the...