A coalition of private companies, including Alcatel-Lucent, American Public Power Association, Atlantic-Engineering, the Fiber to the Home Council, Google, Intel, OnTrac, Telecommunications Industry Association, and Utilities Telecom Council, have released a letter opposing HB129/S87 in North Carolina. The bill would create considerable barriers to community broadband networks and public-private partnerships, effectively outlawing both given the restrictive language. We examined this bill here>. This the text of the letter they released:
February 25, 2011
Representative Thom Tillis
Speaker of the House
16 West Jones Street
Raleigh, NC 27601-1096
Senator Phil Berger
Senate President Pro Tempore
16 W. Jones Street Raleigh, NC 27601-2808
Dear Representative Tillis and Senator Berger:
We, the undersigned private-sector companies and trade associations, urge you to oppose H129/S87 (Level Playing Field/Local Competition bill) because it will harm both the public and private sectors, stifle economic growth, prevent the creation or retention of thousands of jobs, hamper work force development and diminish the quality of life in North Carolina. In particular, this bill will hurt the private sector in several ways: by curtailing public-private partnerships, stifling private companies that sell equipment and services to public broadband providers, and impairing educational and occupational opportunities that contribute to a skilled workforce from which businesses across the state will benefit.
The United States continues to suffer through one of the most serious economic crises in decades. The private sector alone cannot lift the United States out of this crisis. As a result, federal and state efforts are taking place across the Nation to deploy both private and public broadband infrastructure to stimulate and support economic development and jobs, especially in economically distressed areas. North Carolina has been the beneficiary of these efforts, as MCNC, with its $148 million award, is now building a state-of-the-art fiber optic network that will cross 106 counties and make available low-cost, internet connections to numerous high-cost, low-density, communities that the state’s private providers have...Read more
Green Tech Grid asks, "Are Munis and Co-Ops Leading Smart Grid?" And the rest of the article says, "YES." This should come as no surprise for readers of this site. The dynamics, and even players, in smart-grid are very similar to those of community networks. There are essentially two approaches to smart-grid: that of the investor-owned utilities that see smart-grid investments as an opportunity to raise rates, and that of munis and coops who see an opportunity to cut costs and better serve their ratepayers.
In Leesburg's case, they knew that just an advanced meter deployment would cut their cost. "We told our commission we're not going to increase our rates because we're rolling this out," said Paul Kalv, Electric Director of Leesburg Power. "And we know we'll be reducing the customer charge to share those savings." So far the city has saved about $1 million. Kalv talks a lot about his customers. When one guy complained about his smart meter, Kalv personally went over to his house to check it out. It is that sort of on-the-ground interaction that is simply not possible for the CEO of investor-owned utilities, like Florida Power & Light Company, where Kalv worked for 22 years.
I raise this issue to note that the article discusses Leesburg and Lake County, Florida, without mentioning their investments in broadband. But when Leesburg applied for the Google Gigabit project, they noted their fiber-optic assets.
Leesburg already provides one of the most important components for Google’s plan – more than 185 route miles of fiber-optic cable spanning from Lady Lake south to Clermont and from the Sumter County line east to Mount Dora and Umatilla. The network would be vital for Google to reach thousands of local businesses and homes. “Leesburg can offer Google a well-established and well-maintained fiber optic backbone from which they can launch their fiber-to-the-home initiative,” said Leesburg City Manager Jay Evans. “Our community’s diverse demographic will be an excellent test bed for all kinds of bandwidth intensive consumer applications.” Among Leesburg’s existing clients are Lake County government, Lake County Schools and Central Florida...
Chattanooga has announced a new level of service, offering 1Gbps to all subscribers in a unique citywide offering. Chattanooga previously led the nation with a 150Mbps tier. Today has been crazy, and lots is being written about this announcement, so I'll highlight stories and saving adding something interesting until later.
A quick reminder, we recently wrote about their insistence on taking fiber to everyone, rural and urban.
The New York Times started the Choo Choo coverage this morning:
Only Hong Kong and a few other cities in the world offer such lightning-fast service, and analysts say Chattanooga will be the first in the United States to do so. “This makes Chattanooga — a midsized city in the South — one of the leading cities in the world in its digital capabilities,” said Ron Littlefield, the city’s mayor.
Ars Technica offers additional perspective (as usual):
The city hopes this will give it a competitive advantage; on the new website promoting the service, the city's Electric Power Board pitches its country-leading broadband as "a test bed for next generation technology," as "the ultimate tool for entrepreneurs," and a place where "bandwidth is no problem." The consistent theme: you should move to Chattanooga.
(It also reminds us that Chattanooga is far beyond the FCC's timid goals in the National Broadband Plan.)
EPB says that their 100 Mbps service is now costing $140 a month and the 1 Gbps service will cost $350 a month.
Though Chattanooga has beat Google to the punch, this does little to change Google's goal of even cheaper 1Gbps with open access - the race is not simply to 1Gbps, it is to the future! Those who are putting Google down in some way are grasping for something to say about a stunningly unique offering. Sad to see Google put down in some way merely because they announced their big ambitions.... Read more
A few thoughts on the Google-Verizon talks and behind closed doors FCC stakeholder meetings with industry...
First, neither the FCC nor Google is likely to defend the interests of the vast majority of us and the communities in which we live. Companies like Verizon don't dump millions in lobbyists and lawyers on a lark - they do it because that level of spending gets them access and action. Google, its don't-be-evil mantra notwithstanding, remains a company that looks out for its interests first.
And Google's interests may well be ensuring that its content is always in the "fast lane" despite their historic approach of pushing for an open internet where no business can simply pay to get get a higher level of service from an ISP.
This is not an "abandon all hope" post about network neutrality. The FCC has substantially changed course on this issue many times (largely due to massive public pressure - thank you to Free Press for organizing so many folks), so I still have hopes that it will enact regulations to preserve the open internet.
However, these regulations are certainly not the best approach. It is a messy approach to solving a problem that fundamentally comes down to the fact that network owners operate essential infrastructure in the private interest rather than the public interest.
We don't have to worry that national bakeries are going to be prioritized over local bakeries in access to the roads they need to make their deliveries. UPS, FedEx, and the US Post Office do not have to engage in separate agreements in every community over who gets to use the roads and what speeds they can travel on them. When it comes to roads, the rules apply to all like vehicles equally (which is to say that all big trucks are treated like big trucks and passenger cars are treated like passenger cars).
If I lived in Chattanooga, Monticello, Lafayette, Brigham City, Bristol (TN or VA), Wilson, perhaps soon Opelika, or dozens of other communities with publicly owned broadband networks, I would be watching this ongoing network neutrality fight with a rather bemused expression because my network is democratically accountable to the community and that offers far greater accountability than anything that will...Read more
As more and more of America confronts the reality that communities need better broadband networks -- networks that respond to their needs first rather than the desires of shareholders in some absentee company -- we are seeing more resources for communities determined to preserve their self-determination.
As one who has deep misgivings about Facebook increasingly being a mediator of content, I am glad to note that Communities United for Broadband has a website in addition to their Facebook page.
As Google continues to ponder which communities will get the Google Gigabit network(s), it has announced a Google Fiber for Communities website intended to get citizens involved in pushing for pro-broadband policies at the local, state, and federal levels.
Regarding the Google Gigabit, some thought the Google might be showing interest in UTOPIA with some recent meetings, but Jesse Harris at FreeUTOPIA probably has the correct analysis: far too early to tell.
Another community has announced that with or without Google, it is going to build a proper broadband network. Baltimore is the latest to realize they cannot just wait for others to build the network they need.
"We can't sit here and wait for a gift from Google to fall on us from the sky," said Tom Loveland, whom Rawlings-Blake has appointed the city's volunteer Google czar. "This is our future we're talking about here. Those of us involved in the conversation have seen what other cities have already accomplished. These folks managed to get themselves wired without Google. If they can do it, we can do it, too."
Apparently, lots of Baltimore folks are interested in the idea. Some 200 people turned out for this discussion and the group has a lively online discussion group as well as a site detail the community support for the project.
The Mayor has created a panel to study the manner. They have already turned to ask Mayor Durel of Lafayette, always a good start. Another place panels like this can start is the still-relevant report by a Task Force in St. Paul.
According the article in the Sun, an FCC staffer also presented to the group of 200:
At the symposium, John Horrigan, consumer research director at the FCC, said studies have shown that the technological availability of basic broadband service is not the main problem because 95 percent of Americans have the technical means to access it. Rather, nearly a third of Americans are choosing not to use broadband, citing high costs or a lack of digital literacy or computer skills.
These are the sort of statements that infuriate me because they incorporate so many important caveats. 95% of Americans may have access to something faster than dial-up. But probably not given how much the telcos overestimate the reach of their DSL.
Though Horrigan notes the high costs, we know very little about what these costs are. If someone could buy a connection only slightly faster than dial-up at a cost of 3x dial-up, they are probably smart to stick with dial-up. It tells us nothing of what they would do with a real choice.
From an article in the local paper about Lancaster, Pennsylvania's Google Gigabit Application:
Brogan said that if Lancaster is selected, it would not run afoul of the state Telecommunications Act. That law prohibits cities from establishing municipal broadband networks except if existing providers indicate they have no immediate plans to offer similar services.
She said the city already has a letter from Verizon clearing the way for the Google application.
Oh good, glad the city secured permission from one private company to ask a different private company to build infrastructure. In the words of Yakov Smirnoff, "What a Country!"
As part of his pitch to Google to partner with UTOPIA in Google's gigabit network experiment, Jesse Harris gives some of the history of the UTOPIA project.
Mike Schuster absolutely gets it right in his dismissal of public relations stunts to attract Google's Gigabit network:
Bear in mind, these stunts aren't even guaranteed short-term fixes -- they're one-in-a-million half-court shots. How can consumers expect to pay affordable rates for 100 Mbs download speeds when state governments would rather bet on the Google horse and act like fools than risk alienating their corporate ties and provide an open market?
I had also written about the Google networks, fearing that communities would get distracted by this longshot rather than focusing on how they can solve their own problems.
The Minnesota House of Representatives once discussed a "gig bill" -- looking at how to get 1Gbps connections to Minnesota, but corporate lobbyists and timid politicians watered it down and created a Task Force instead that largely came up with ideas that benefit lazy incumbent providers. The entire process showed a total lack of vision on the part of the state.
I would hope that a company as smart as Google will not prioritize BS PR stunts but rather build in places that will actually innovate on the ultra-fast network. But communities emphatically do not need Google to be innovative - witness Lafayette's 100Mbps to all subscribers for in-network traffic.
Moving forward, communities can choose whether they organize to win a Gigabit sweepstakes or figure out how to build their own, with a much higher chance for success.