Tag: "policy"

Posted July 10, 2011 by christopher

Rick Karr has produced a "can't miss" 15 minute video that shows what happens when telecommunications is treated more like infrastructure and less like a for-profit morass controlled by massive companies.  

We can have universal, fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet but we choose instead to let companies like AT&T and Comcast dominate telecommunications to the detriment of our economy, innovation, education, and health care.  It is a choice -- and one we desperately need to revisit.

This video is no longer available.

Posted July 7, 2011 by christopher

A friend once told me about his battle with the local government over whether it would charge him a fee for inspecting the house he wanted to begin renting out (he had bought another house but didn't want to sell the first in a down market). His house was well maintained and he said he would be happy to schedule the inspection whenever convenient for the City but absolutely would not pay a fee so they could inspect his house.

Consider this from a different perspective. The local government should make sure that rental properties meet certain standards (building and fire codes if nothing else). This means inspections. Who should pay for the inspections? It boils down to two choices: the property owner or the tax-base at large. It seems more fair to charge property owners at least a portion of the cost as they benefit the most from being able to rent out their property.

I make this point to lead into another discussion about managing the Right-of-Way (ROW), the city-owned property used for utilities. An article in TribLive about a town near Pittsburgh fighting to keep its cable fees offers insight into a national discussion about fees for using the ROW.

Hempfield charges utilities $750 for a right-of-way permit, $500 for a renewal, and $250 for a construction permit, according to a township ordinance.

Ferguson said without the fees, the township would not be able to monitor the work.

"We use the monies, those permit fees, to pay staff to make sure they repair roads as they're supposed to," Ferguson said. "Part of the fee is ... for our inspectors to go out and make sure they (utilities) complete the job right."

Ferguson said utility companies sometimes dig up new roads to install or repair lines and leave the road in shambles afterward.

"Taxpayers should not be required to pay the staff to make sure utility companies do the right thing," he said.

FCC Logo

Telecommunications providers have long claimed that local government fees are unreasonable and getting the necessary permits is too difficult. But when asked to document such claims, they rarely do. The FCC is currently examining whether it believes the fees charged by local governments are fair...

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Posted June 2, 2011 by christopher

On June 1, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation held an oxford-style debate over the proposition: "Governments should neither subsidize nor operate broadband networks to compete with commercial ones."  

Jim Baller and I spoke against the proposition while Rob Atkinson and Jeff Eisenach defended it during the 2 hour, 15 minute session.  I was unable to be in DC and thus participated by the magic of modern telecommunications.  

This is a long but valuable and unique discussion.  We left talking points behind, actually responded to the points raised by the other side, and presented both sides of this debate in a reasonable manner.  In short, this is exactly the kind of discussion we would elected officials to consider before legislating on the matter.  But it very rarely happens -- nothing even remotely close to it occured in North Carolina when Time Warner Cable pushed its bill through the Legislature to enact a de facto ban on muni networks in the state.

You can watch it here.

 

Posted May 26, 2011 by christopher

We at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance signed on to a letter organized by our friends at the Media Action Grassroots Network asking the FCC and Department of Justice to thoroughly review AT&T's proposed takeover of T-Mobile -- read the press release.

“Our communities cannot afford higher prices and less choices. We need the FCC and DOJ to block this takeover if it's found to be in violation of antitrust law and does not meet public interest obligations,” said Betty Yu, National Organizer for MAG-Net.

"If AT&T takes over T-Mobile, it will be a disaster for all mobile phone users. It will stifle information, choice and innovation- and lead to higher prices and fewer jobs nationwide, added CMJ's Policy Director, amalia deloney. "It's a real jobs and democracy killer.”

The groups also contend the takeover will disproportionately harm consumers of color, who rely on their cell phones to access the Internet more than whites. While 10 percent of whites access the Internet only from their phones, 18 percent of blacks and 16 percent of English-speaking Latinos depend on affordable wireless coverage to get online.

And an excerpt from the letter [pdf]:

The impact that this merger would have on affordable mobile phone service, broadband access and adoption, openness on the mobile web and broadband competition presents a real threat to our communities. We hope that the Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission will examine AT&T's proposed acquisition of T-Mobile with appropriate scrutiny and protect our communities by blocking this merger.

We intend to host a series of open and participatory meetings in our communities to discuss this merger, and we hope that FCC Commissioners will commit to joining us. It is only by communicating directly with people and hearing our stories that you will feel our deep concerns with this merger and the devastating impact it would have on our communities.

We continue to advocate for universal, affordable, fast, and reliable broadband, which to us means a wired connection eventually to all homes that are...

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Posted May 21, 2011 by christopher

With so many community broadband stories breaking this week, I did not dig into an update to Boston seeking authority to regulate some cable rates in response to the many rate hikes they have endured from Comcast. Boston's mayor has previously complained about basic cable rate increases.

The Ars Technica story offers some good regulatory background that limits the power of Boston to do much about rates.

According to the City, Comcast's 2011 Basic Service Rate change went from $13.30 to $15.80 a month. This came in the wake of previous rate hikes—to $9.05 in 2008, to $10.30 in 2009, and to $13.30 in 2010.

That all adds up to "more than 60%, on a service that is supposed to be affordable and is identified in the industry as ‘lifeline service'," Boston says.

"In addition, when comparing Boston to neighboring communities that have rate regulation, Comcast has over-collected approximately $24 million from Boston's Basic Subscribers during the four year period from 2008 through 2011," the City's statement claims. Its own research indicates that neighboring cities that are still regulated, such as Cambridge, have cheaper rates.

This has led the Boston Globe to editorialize "If cable firms act as monopolies, cities should be able to regulate.

When the Federal Communications Commission took away Boston’s power to regulate basic cable rates almost a decade ago, the assumption was that competition for pay-TV services would hold prices down for consumers. That assumption has not panned out. Comcast Corp., the successor to Boston’s original cable franchisee, still dominates — not least because its former monopoly status conveys lingering advantages that hamper competition even now. Those advantages help explain why Comcast’s charges for basic cable — now $15.80 a month for a package of 35 channels, according to a city report — have risen by 75 percent since 2008.

We are strong proponents of public ownership (via local government, coops, or nonprofits) in part because the regulatory environment leaves communities practically no...

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Posted May 20, 2011 by christopher

We have long maintained the obvious, that the technical problems (e.g. latency) inherent in a satellite connection to the Internet should disqualify it from being called "broadband." Satellite connections do not allow users to take full advantage of modern Internet applications, which is a common sense definition of the term broadband.

We are very fortunate that Stephen Cobb has taken the time to fully explain the realities behind satellite connections in Satellite Internet Connection for Rural Broadband: Is it a viable alternative to wired and wireless connectivity for America's rural communities? The answer is no.

Download the 2 MB version or the print quality 3.3 MB version (both are PDFs).

RuMBA is the Rural Mobile & Broadband Alliance that was inspired by Louisa Handem, who does Rural America Radio. RuMBA published this white paper.

I am going to excerpt a few great pieces of detail from the paper, but I cannot emphasize enough that this is a great reference with which to respond to anyone who suggests satellite should be "good enough" for rural communities.

First of all, it isn't broadband (unless one uses the absurd definition occasionally pushed by big companies like AT&T that broadband is simply an always-on connection faster than dial-up).

At the federal government site broadband.gov, run by the FCC, you can see Satellite listed as a type of broadband, despite the fact that the two main providers of such service avoid using the word "broadband" when they are pitching their service. So why include satellite alongside DSL, cable, wireless, and fiber? The answer may lie in pro-satellite lobbying. The logic for such lobbying is simple: If it can be said that satellite is a broadband option for rural communities, as listed by the FCC, then terrestrial telcos can argue there is no compelling need to provide those communities with alternatives. 

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Posted May 13, 2011 by christopher

Over the past few years, I have worked with some great folks in a coalition called the Rural Broadband Policy Group to advocate for rural communities and businesses. This is a working group organized under the National Rural Assembly.

The Rural Broadband Policy Group is a growing national coalition of rural broadband advocates that emerged from the National Rural Assembly. The group's goals are  

  1. to articulate national broadband policies that provide opportunities for rural communities to participate fully in the nation's democracy, economy, culture, and society, and
  2. to spark national collaboration among rural broadband advocates.

 

We adopted the following principles:

  1. Communication is a fundamental human right.
  2. Rural America is diverse.
  3. Local ownership and investment in community are priorities.
  4. Network neutrality and open access are vital.

The principles are further explained here and you can sign up or ask questions about the group on that same site.

We are especially keen on working with organizations in rural areas who want to have a say in federal or state issues. When we develop comments for a federal proceeding or connect with various policymakers, you can be notified and have the option of signing on.

For instance, read a recent letter we submitted to the FCC [pdf]. Snippet:

Big telecommunications companies have failed in extending Internet service to rural areas. They claim it is costly and not profitable. We are tired of waiting for AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast. Instead of trying to bring in an outside solution, the FCC should help and encourage local providers, who are eager to invest in their own communities, to offer competitive Internet service and create jobs.

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If you follow what happens in DC, you may be surprised at some of the rural groups that claim to represent your views,...

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Posted March 23, 2011 by christopher

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is pleased to release the Community Broadband Map and report, Publicly Owned Broadband Networks: Averting the Looming Broadband Monopoly. The map plots the 54 cities, big and small, that own citywide fiber networks and another 79 own citywide cable networks. Over 3 million people have access to telecommunications networks whose objective is to maximize value to the community in which they are located rather than to distant stockholders and corporate executives.

ILSR has been tracking telecommunications developments at the local and state level, working with citizens and businesses to preserve their self-determination in the digital age.

View the Community Broadband Map
Download the Report [pdf]
Read the Press Release [pdf]

Executive Summary

Quietly, virtually unreported on, a new player has emerged in the United States telecommunications sector: publicly owned networks. Today over 54 cities, big and small, own citywide fiber networks while another 79 own citywide cable networks. Over 3 million people have access to telecommunications networks whose objective is to maximize value to the community in which they are located rather than to distant stockholders and corporate executives.

Even as we grow ever more dependent on the Internet for an expanding part of our lives, our choices for gaining access at a reasonable price, for both consumers and producers, are dwindling. Tragically, the Federal Communications Commission has all but abdicated its role in protecting open and competitive access to the Internet.

Now more than ever we need to know about the potential of public ownership. To serve that need the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has published an interactive Community Broadband Map that gives the location and basic information for existing city owned cable and fiber networks.

The communities featured on the Community Broadband Map have overcome many formidable obstacles to build their networks.  The results are impressive: millions of dollars of community savings; some of the best broadband networks in the country offering a real choice to residents...

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Posted March 17, 2011 by christopher

Public Knowledge produced and released this video revealing the increasing divide between reality and what opponents of network neutrality claim.

Posted March 2, 2011 by christopher

Despite the FCC's lack of interest (or rather, Chairman G's lack of interest) in actually defending Network Neutrality and protecting the open Internet, we must defend the right of the FCC to ensure an Open Internet. Such is life... And right now a House amendment would deny funding to the FCC to implement net neutrality rules.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), has authored Amendment 404 (aptly numbered, for us protocol geeks) to gut FCC authority to oversee companies like Comcast and AT&T. This goes above and beyond what even those carriers are asking for, though they no doubt hope it succeeds. For a quick primer on network neutrality, check out this infographic.

This amendment may be attached to the Continuing Resolution necessary to keep the government running -- a crucial resolution to pass. We have to get on the horn to ensure Representative vote against this resolution to ensure the FCC has the authority it needs to do its job (preventing AT&T, Comcast, et al. from becoming supreme gate keepers of the Internet). Many Republicans may be lost causes here due to party line discipline. However, a number of Democrats are leaning toward voting with Republicans on this issue, including one of Minnesota's: Representative Colin Peterson from the 7th District. If you are a constituent of these Representatives, make sure you contact them! Representative Peterson has previously voted in favor of network neutrality, so it is important to find out why he has changed his mind.

Network Neutrality had long been a bi-partisan issue with both Democrats and Republicans seeking to preserve the open Internet. But recently Republicans have been swayed by powerful interests that want big companies to decide how we can access the Internet.

 

These are key representatives that should be contacted. If you are a constituent or know people who are, make sure they call or email immediately!

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