Tag: "policy"

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 December 20, 2011 by christopher

It is hard to avoid becoming cynical when watching the federal government interact with big corporations like AT&T. So when AT&T announced it would merge with T-Mobile, giving AT&T and Verizon a combined 3 out of 4 cellular subscribers, I thought two things:

1) What a terrible idea. Higher prices, fewer jobs, less choices, etc.

2) The Federal Government will likely not prevent it - instead opting for some minor concessions that no one will bother to enforce.

Sometimes, it is very good to be wrong.

Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post, decodes the language from Wall Street to explain the biggest winner from the federal government blocking the merger: consumers.

“Without the combination, we think the wireless industry will be further weakened by continued hypercompetitive activity, particularly regarding subscriber acquisition costs,” said Nomura Securities analyst Mike McCormack.

That means customers can still get lower rates as the industry competes for their dollars. T-Mobile, for example, will continue to be a low-cost competitor, according to consumer advocacy group Consumers Union. A survey showed that data plans from T-Mobile were $15 to $50 less per month than those offered by AT&T.

An excellent reminder that what is best for Wall Street is not what is best for the 99%. Big companies like AT&T find competing for customers a hassle that lowers their profits -- they consider a market with four sellers to be hypercompetitive. In wireline, they have acquiesced to the "competition" of two competitors -- cable and DSL.

This is one reason communities build their own networks -- the private sector is not truly competitive when it comes to ISPs and most communities have no prospect real of improvement absent a public investment.

But we should rejoice in this victory -- because we earned it. Without the hard work of many grassroots groups, it is hard to imagine the Department of Justice or FCC standing up to such a powerful corporation.

Some quotes from some of the many organizations responsible for protecting the 99% of us who don't benefit from higher prices and fewer choices.

Andrea Quijada of the...

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Posted December 14, 2011 by christopher

I've censored the following, in protest of a bill that gives any corporation and the US government the power to censor the internet--a bill that could pass THIS WEEK. To see the uncensored text, and to stop internet censorship, visit: http://americancensorship.org/posts/15925/uncensor

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Uncensor This

Posted December 9, 2011 by christopher

If you aren't familiar with SOPA - the "Stop Online Piracy Act" or its companion in the Senate (called PIPA or Protect IP), you should be. This is legislation that would allow the US government to require Internet Service Providers block web sites without due process. Sascha Meinrath and James Losey from the New America Foundation explain the threat in Slate:

The interconnected nature of the Internet fostered the growth of online communities such as Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. These sites host our humdrum daily interactions and serve as a public soapbox for our political voice. Both the PROTECT IP Act and SOPA would create a national firewall by censoring the domain names of websites accused of hosting infringing copyrighted materials. This legislation would enable law enforcement to take down the entire tumblr.com domain due to something posted on a single blog. Yes, an entire, largely innocent online community could be punished for the actions of a tiny minority.

If you think this scenario is unlikely, consider what happened to Mooo.com earlier this year. Back in February, the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security seized 10 domains during a child-porn crackdown called “Operation Protect Our Children.” Along with this group of offenders, 84,000 more entirely innocent sites were tagged with the following accusatory splash page: “Advertisement, distribution, transportation, receipt, and possession of child pornography constitute federal crimes that carry penalties for first time offenders of up to 30 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution." Their only crime was guilt by association: They were all using the Mooo.com domain.

From our point of view, what is most interesting is not who is pushing this bill (Hollywood and the usual suspects that tried to kill the VCR because it would obviously destroy the movie industry) but who is not resisting. After all, whenever the issue of network neutrality comes up, the big telecom companies pay a bunch of organizations like Americans for Prosperity to create astroturf movements to oppose a "government takeover of the...

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Posted December 8, 2011 by christopher

Susan Crawford published an excellent essay in the New York Times presenting her Looming Broadband Monopoly argument as a discussion of the coming digital divide between those with access to next-generation networks and those without.

These numbers are likely to grow even starker as the 30 percent of Americans without any kind of Internet access come online. When they do, particularly if the next several years deliver subpar growth in personal income, they will probably go for the only option that is at all within their reach: wireless smartphones. A wired high-speed Internet plan might cost $100 a month; a smartphone plan might cost half that, often with a free or heavily discounted phone thrown in.

The problem is that smartphone access is not a substitute for wired. The vast majority of jobs require online applications, but it is hard to type up a résumé on a hand-held device; it is hard to get a college degree from a remote location using wireless. Few people would start a business using only a wireless connection.

She identifies the problem as a lack of competition in the market while highlighting the role of lobbying from the wealthy cable companies to keep it that way:

The bigger problem is the lack of competition in cable markets. Though there are several large cable companies nationwide, each dominates its own fragmented kingdom of local markets: Comcast is the only game in Philadelphia, while Time Warner dominates Cleveland. That is partly because it is so expensive to lay down the physical cables, and companies, having paid for those networks, guard them jealously, clustering their operations and spending tens of millions of dollars to lobby against laws that might oblige them to share their infrastructure.

In this essay, her preferred solution is better federal regulation that would require companies that own networks to share parts of their infrastructure with competitors (to significantly reduce the problems of natural monopoly). Unfortunately, she did not explicitly discuss the solution of the communities building their own networks - a topic she has discussed at great length elsewhere in very positive terms. Her essay ties in nicely with the paper we...

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Posted November 19, 2011 by christopher

If you want to predict the future, it helps to understand the incentives that guide action. Unsurprisingly, if a corporation has the option of being more profitable by investing less, it will do so. This is the smart conclusion of Bill Snyder at InfoWorld:

To understand their logic, consider this thought experiment: Imagine that you own a freeway -- say, Highway 101 through Silicon Valley -- and you had the power to pluck a car from a traffic jam with a helicopter and deposit it on a clear stretch of the road. Naturally, drivers who could afford the service would be happy to sign up.

"That highway is like the Internet, and the individual cars are the packets of data. The ISP is essentially the gatekeeper that controls the flow of cars on the highway. If the ISP is allowed to snatch any car from the back of a very long line and put it in front of everybody else when the driver of the car pays a priority delivery fee, would the ISP have an incentive to keep the road congested or to expand the road capacity?" they wrote.

The answer is pretty obvious: If you can make more money by keeping your network congested, why would you invest money to make it less crowded?

He was riffing on a paper, "The Debate on Net Neutrality: A Policy Perspective" by H Kenneth Cheng, Subhajyoti Bandyopadhyay, and Hong Guo.

I think many of us view this as a "well, duh" paper, but it is good to see a rigorous academic paper verifying our gut instincts.

There is a very real danger to letting a few massive corporations control access to the Internet, which is one major reason we see so many communities building their own networks. They want to ensure everyone has fast, reliable, and affordable access to the Open Internet.

Posted November 12, 2011 by christopher

Dane Jasper, the CEO of Sonic.net, one of the few ISPs to survive the death of broadband competition over the past ten years, wrote about "America's Intentional Broadband Duopoly."  It is a short history of how the FCC's flawed analysis (helped along by incredible amounts of lobbying dollars, no doubt).

He starts by asking when the last time anyone offered to sell you broadband over power lines (BPL).  The FCC decided that cable and telephone companies shouldn't have to share their wires (which are a natural monopoly) with competitors (creating an actual marketplace for services) because BPL, satellite, and wireless would put so much competitive pressure on DSL and cable.  FAIL.

Then, in the Brand X decision, they ruled that Cable would not be required to allow competitors to lease their lines either. The FCC did this by reclassifying broadband Internet access as an “information service”, rather than a “telecommunications service”. As a result, common carriage rules could be set aside, allowing for an incumbent Cable monopoly. This decision was challenged all the way to the supreme court, who ruled in 2005 that the FCC had the jurisdiction to make this decision.

To close out Powell’s near-complete dismantling of competitive services in the U.S., the FCC took up the issue of ISPs resale of DSL using the incumbent’s equipment, also known as wholesale “bitstream” access. If Cable is an information service under Brand X, why shouldn’t Telco have the same “regulatory relief”? The result: the FCC granted forbearance (in other words, declined to enforce its rules) from the common carriage requirements for telco DSL services.

For those who are thinking that wireless is finally competitive with cable and DSL, don't forget that while 4G appears much faster (because so few people are using it presently), it still comes with a 2GB monthly cap. So if you want to do something with your connection aside from watching one movie a month, 4G is not competitive with a landline connection.

Posted November 10, 2011 by christopher

Update: The Senate voted against turning the Internet over to Comcast, AT&T, and other major carriers. How did your Senators vote?

The US Senate began debating network neutrality yesterday - the historic governing principle of the Internet that ISPs should not be allowed to tell their users where they may or may not go and should not prioritize some connections over others merely because it generates more revenue for the ISP.

As Al Franken has said several times, this is the 1st amendment for the Internet - protecting everyone's speech. It prevents a few massive companies (or even local governments where they offer access to the Internet) from exerting too much influence over what subscribers are able to do on the Internet.

Unfortunately, many Senators are campaigning against this principle, in part because they have been misinformed as to what it means and in part because they are getting a ton of campaign cash from corporations that recognize how much more profitable they would be if they could charge users extra to go to YouTube.

There will be a vote today on a resolution of disapproval for the mild network neutrality rules proposed by the FCC last December (which the FCC Chairman chose to water down in part because he thought it would be less controversial -- FAIL).

We would like to recognize some of those who have stood up to protect the open Internet, starting with Free Press.

The American Sustainable Business Council authored an op-ed:

The truth is that if we want to make sure small businesses can grow with the assistance of broadband, the Internet must remain open. We must, as the FCC says, “ensure the Internet remains an open platform—one characterized by free markets and free speech—that enables consumer choice, end-user control, competition through low barriers to entry and freedom to innovate without permission.”

Senator Kerry made an impassioned plea for not turning the Internet over to Comcast and AT&T:

So they're...

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Posted October 25, 2011 by christopher

Last week, two of the organizations with which we regularly work to promote community solutions to broadband submitted comments to the FCC on the matter of USF reform.

Among the comments from the Rural Broadband Policy Group, is this passage:

Members and allies of the Rural Broadband Policy Group hold “local ownership and investment in community” as a core principle in broadband deployment. We believe that local ownership of broadband infrastructure can address problems such as lack of service, limited provider choice, affordability, slow speeds, and also enforce strong consumer protections. Policies that encourage local ownership create opportunities and wealth in communities. For example, local broadband networks employ IT professionals who live and work in the local community. When communities own their communications infrastructure, not only do they boost their local economies and create jobs, but are also held accountable to ensure that broadband is accessible to every resident. Moreover, the 70-year history of rural electric and telephone cooperatives proves that locally owned networks are vital stewards of public subsidies.

We are disappointed that the proposed USF/CAF reforms ignore the advantages of local ownership and prohibit community broadband networks, anchor institutions and Tribal governments from receiving USF/CAF support. The proposed reforms do not create avenues for local ownership in rural, Tribal, and low-income communities. This is a lamentable flaw in the proposal, and we respectfully request that the Commission include the following recommendations:

Communities that self-provision should be eligible for funds.

Currently, proposed USF reforms exclude community-based networks that have done the most to build out broadband infrastructure to provide essential services in underserved areas. These self-provisioning projects range from municipal networks to private sector nonprofit networks, and play a critical role in the future of their communities. Yet, they are not eligible for the proposed Connect America Fund. Self-provisioning communities have invested their social and financial capital in broadband infrastructure and services because incumbent carriers refused to make these investments. We are innovators, entrepreneurs, digital literacy educators, and Internet Service providers – it is essential that our communities have all the available options to build the...

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Posted October 21, 2011 by christopher

Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge makes a compelling case that the Federal Communications Commission is refusing to take actions that will create thousands of jobs. And his estimate is probably low.

Smartly, he doesn't just pin it on the FCC, where the stumbling block appears to be Chairman Genachowski (both Copps and Clyburn already want to help the innovators and true job creators) but also on Congress

To explain:

Once upon a time, the old, old AT&T was the sole supplier of telephones and other equipment to consumers and businesses. The FCC, in a series of market-opening orders, culminating in the 1968 Carterfone ruling, finally freed the non-AT&T world to provide telephone equipment. Through the years, consumers and businesses had many more choices as new companies sprang up to provide home phones, business phones, and business switching equipment for voice and data. Anyone could buy a phone and plug it in. At one telephone equipment show in the mid-1980s, a small California computer company said it was going to enter the telephone business, but only put up an empty booth promising products later. (Whatever happened to those Apple guys and their phones, anyway?)

...

One reason is that the FCC over the years succumbed to the Big Telecom campaign to put all the little guys out of business through subterranean means that the public would never see (like charges big phone companies levy to connect to their network). Another is that the FCC gave up the authority over Internet access (broadband), which leads to its current troubles in trying to justify legally how to get an open Internet and will likely lead to future controversies over how to support broadband deployment (universal service).

Right now, it doesn't matter whether Democrats or Republicans appoint FCC Commissioners so long as 3 of the 5 commissioners are more concerned with what benefits a few massive companies rather than the vast majority of businesses and citizens.

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This is exactly why communities are smart to build their own networks -- they have more control and are less damaged by the poor decisions and waffling of the federal...

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