Tag: "policy"

Posted May 27, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

In a recent editorial (May 24 issue), The New Republic argued that the Obama Administration was doing a decent job on Internet policy and obliquely referenced an article discussing carrier opposition to community broadband. The op-ed begins,

Politicians aren’t always especially thoughtful about, or even familiar with, information technology. George W. Bush used the term “Internets” during not one but two presidential debates. The late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens famously referred to the World Wide Web as a “series of tubes.” And John McCain drew ridicule in 2008 when he conceded that he was still “learning to get online myself.”

Much worse than these gaffes, however, are some of the policies that have been promoted by lawmakers and candidates who seem to fundamentally misunderstand the importance of a free and open Internet. In recent years, we have seen politicians accede to the interests of giant telecom companies rather than support net neutrality; propose anti-piracy bills that threaten Internet freedom; and, as Siddhartha Mahanta recently documented at TNR Online, block poor communities from receiving broadband access.

Good to see this issue being discussed outside of the standard tech circles. Especially when outlets like the New Republic explicitly call for more wireless subscriber protections:

There are, of course, ways in which the administration has disappointed. Even when the White House has done the right thing on Internet issues, it has not always acted as speedily or as forcefully as it might have. Moreover, it has not always done the right thing. Particularly striking was the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision, in late 2010, to exempt mobile carriers from new rules protecting net neutrality. The FCC’s step blocks Internet service providers from slowing down or preventing access to the content of their competitors—but it only applies to wired, not wireless, providers.

While many of us are hopeful that the government will take a stronger hand in preventing carriers from disrupting the open Internet, Vint Cerf (one of the fathers of the Internet) rightly warns us that overall...

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Posted May 26, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Free Press caught and isolated an excellent question from Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to FCC Chairman Genachowski during recent hearings. The Senator notes that many Americans do not have sufficient access to broadband but 19 states have enacted barriers to make it harder for communities to build their own.

FCC Chairman said he thinks innovative municipal solutions should be encouraged and that he looks forward to working with the Committee to address the obstacles. 

Posted May 16, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

One of the reasons we so strongly support local, community owned broadband networks over European-like regulations on private companies is that large institutions regularly game the rules. We wrote about this last year, when Free Press called on the FCC to stop Verizon from ignoring the rules it agreed to for using certain spectrum.

Senator Franken, who has taken a strong interest in preserving the open Internet, has just reminded the FCC that creating rules does no one any good if it refuses to enforce them.

Not only has Comcast announced that its own Netflix-like service does not count against its bandwidth caps, some researchers found evidence that Comcast was prioritizing its own content to be higher quality than rivals could deliver. Comcast has denied this charge and proving it is difficult. Who do you believe? After all, Comcast spent years lying to its own subscribers about the very existence of its bandwidth caps.

The vast majority of the network neutrality debate centers around whether Comcast should be allowed to use its monopoly status as an onramp to the Internet dominate other markets, like delivering movies (as pioneered by Netflix). Comcast and many economists from Chicago say "Heck yes - they can do whatever they like." But the vast majority of us and the FCC have recognized that this is market-destroying behavior, not pro-market behavior.

So when Comcast was allowed to take over NBC Universal, it agreed to certain conditions imposed by the FCC to encourage competition. But the FCC has a long history of not wanting to enforce its own rules because it can be inconvenient to upset some of the most powerful corporations on the planet. Plus, many of the people working in telecommunications policy for the federal government will eventually make much more money working for...

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Posted May 15, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Susan Crawford on the importance of government policy. People who are concerned about the future of the Internet need to pay attention or the cable and telephone companies will take over the Internet (or at least access to it). Not because they are evil, but because what is best for them (or what they think is best for them in the short term) is not what is best for the rest of us or the vast majority of businesses that depend on access to the Internet.

 

Posted April 24, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

In most states, telephone companies are required to serve everyone and when there are problems with the service, the state can mandate that the company fix them. But AT&T and ALEC are leading the charge to let these massive companies decide for themselves who should have access to a telephone, taking state regulators out of the loop.

These big companies use several arguments we are well familiar with - that mobile wireless is already available (in many rural areas, it actually is not available) and there is plenty of competition. If only that were the case.

I was thrilled to see David Cay Johnston cover this in a column on Reuters:

AT&T and Verizon, the dominant telephone companies, want to end their 99-year-old universal service obligation known as "provider of last resort." They say universal landline service is a costly and unfair anachronism that is no longer justified because of a competitive market for voice services.

The new rules AT&T and Verizon drafted would enhance profits by letting them serve only the customers they want. Their focus, and that of smaller phone companies that have the same universal service obligation, is on well-populated areas where people can afford profitable packages that combine telephone, Internet and cable television.

What happens when the states hand over authority to these companies? David has an answer:

AT&T and Verizon also want to end state authority to resolve customer complaints, saying the market will punish bad behavior. Tell that to Stefanie Brand.

Brand is New Jersey's ratepayer advocate whose experience trying to get another kind of service - FiOS - demonstrates what happens when market forces are left to punish behavior, she said. Residents of her apartment building wanted to get wired for the fiber optic service (FiOS) in 2008. Residents said, "We want to see your plans before you start drilling holes, and Verizon said, 'We will drill where we want or else, so we're walking,' and they did," Brand told me.

Verizon confirmed that because of the disagreement Brand's building is not wired. And there's nothing Brand can do about it. Verizon reminded me the state Board of Public Utilities no longer has authority to resolve complaints over FiOS.

Better broadband is not just about...

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Posted February 21, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

The Florida Independent has taken a look at a pro-massive cable monopoly group in Florida and compared their opinions to ours regarding broadband policy.

The Coalition for the New Economy — which works to ensure “that investments in broadband networks are used efficiently and effectively”— wrote Tuesday that “funding for government-owned broadband networks is very often duplicative,” and “diverts local funds from public safety and education.

...

Christopher Mitchell of Community Broadband Networks tells the Independent that official U.S. government policy believes “we can have proper competition if every competitor builds their own network, and that is not at all supported by reality.”

This group is emphatically supporting less competition because the private sector does not want to overbuild other private networks. If the public is not allowed to build next-generation networks where private companies already operate last-generation networks, communities will have neither modern connections nor real choices. The cable and DSL companies are arguing that no one should be allowed to build public interstates where private dirt roads exist.

We live in a democracy. We are supposed to be free to choose the best policies in promoting infrastructure. We can choose a future where we are more dependent on a few absentee massive corporations or one in which we have more control over our future. We can pursue policies that would result in real choices among broadband service providers or we can continue the status quo, where choices dwindle.

Below, I have included an excellent debate from last year in which the above points are fleshed out over 2 hours.

Posted February 19, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

We are running a guest commentary today. Eric Null is a third-year law student at Cardozo Law School in New York City. He is passionate about corporate and intellectual property law, as well as technology and telecommunications policy. Follow him @ericnull or check out his papers. While researching a paper about municipal broadband networks, I was struck by the tremendous benefits that municipal networks can provide. It can be the first high-speed Internet link for an area without broadband, or it can provide some much-needed competition in areas that currently have access to broadband, but for some reason that existing access is unsatisfactory (e.g. price, service). Municipalities, in theory, can run the network for the benefit of the public rather than with a vicious profit maximization motive. Indeed, municipal networks bring many benefits. But first, a little history. In the United States, cable providers have set up regional monopolies for themselves, and “competitors” such as DSL and satellite are characterized by slower connection speeds and it is arguable that they are actual substitutes to cable access. Certainly within the cable industry, any “competitive” cable company attempting to compete with incumbents is met with high costs of building new infrastructure and lack of customer base. Municipalities can pick up where smaller, private entities cannot succeed. Municipalities have had a long history of investing in critical infrastructure, and they have the mentality for long-term planning that private companies simply cannot enjoy. A large company like Verizon likely has to justify any expansion of its network to its investors and ensure them that the venture will return a profit relatively quickly. Not so with municipalities; a city network allows its citizens to benefit indirectly (and directly) over the long-term. Thus, city governments can be a formidable competitor in the telecom and cable industries. Some states, regrettably, have banned or restricted the practice. In Nixon v. Missouri Municipal League, the Supreme Court interpreted so-called vague language in the Telecom Act of 1996...

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Posted February 1, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Local governments are often looking for low-risk options for expanding broadband access to residents and local businesses. There are not many. Seattle put some extra conduit in the ground as a part of a different project that was tearing up the streets but Comcast was the only provider interested.

The problem with a haphazard program of putting conduit in the ground is that while it benefits existing providers, it does very little to help new entrants. And conduit is inherently limited -- only a few providers can benefit from it and when used up, there is no space for more providers.

In short, more conduit may slightly improve the status quo but it does little to get us to a future where residents and local businesses have a variety of choices from service providers offering fast, reliable, and affordable access to the Internet.

Smart conduit policy can lay the groundwork for lowering the cost of a community network, which can get us where we want to be. It may take time, but will create benefits far more rapidly than private providers will be building next-generation networks in most of our communities.

John Brown, a friend from Albuquerque, New Mexico, has offered some tips for communities that want to develop smart conduit policies. Brown runs CityLink Telecommunications, an impressive privately owned, open access, FTTH network that connects residents, businesses, schools, muni buildings, etc.

We tend not to support privately owned networks because for all the great work a companiy like CityLink Fiber does, one does not know who will own it in 5, 10, or 20 years. However, we recognize that CityLink Fiber is a far better partner for communities than the vast majority of companies in this space.

The following comments are taken from an email he shared with me and is permitting me to republish. Direct quotes are indented and the rest is paraphrased.

Not all conduit is created equal. A 2 inch pipe will be sufficient for perhaps 2 providers. If conduit does not have inter-duct, it is much harder for multiple providers to share it. Inter-duct creates channels within the conduit that allows a provider to pull its fiber cables through without disturbing other...

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Posted January 26, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

I recently stumbled across a great point regarding the spectacular failure of the US (mostly the FCC, but Congress should certainly share some of the blame) to properly regulate broadband connections to the Internet. US policy results in a few massive providers dominating the market. Fred Goldstein, a principal of Interisle Consulting Group, wrote the following:

In truly competitive markets that display some degree of commodity-like characteristics, large and small vendors tend to coexist. I'm drinking coffee right now, which is a good example. Maybe Maxwell House and Folgers (and their parent companies) have a large share of the market, competing on price for their swill. But there is plenty of room for others to differentiate their product. Dunkin and Starbucks have built huge chains on their own style of semi-premium product, while another couple of niches of premium and superpremium beans are easy enough to find. Food markets tend to be like this; check out any Whole Foods (a/k/a The Museum of Modern Vegetables) for a supply of priced-above-commodity products. I feel foolish for selling most (not all, thankfully) of my Whole Foods stock when it was in the dumps a couple of years ago.

The same thing happens in many fields. Apple itself sells computers above commodity price levels. There's a whole "high end" audio business catering to those who like to show off how much they can afford to spend. The automobile industry has mass-market commodity cars and several premium tiers.

Internet access in the US lacks that because the natural monopoly on outside plant is not properly regulated. If it were treated here by EU norms, then any number of ISPs could access the wire. Some would just be cheap; some would offer premium help desks among their services. That doesn't happen, however, when the usual number of "competitors" is two. Even more so when those competitors agree that they should divide up markets between themselves rather than overbuild, or (heaven forbid) let outside information providers onto their facilities.

The wire should be regulated. ISPs shouldn't.

Amen. Physical connections are a natural monopoly. Even if the economics supported many physical providers, having so many would be terribly inefficient. Much better to have networks that are owned by the community and have independent service providers competing to deliver services -- just like the roads.

Posted January 12, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Last year we noted that a bill to expand local authority to invest in publicly owned broadband networks would return in 2012. HB 1711 is in Committee and causing a bit of a stir. "A bit of a stir" is good -- such a reaction means it has a chance at passing and giving Washington's residents a greater opportunity to have fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet.

Washington's law presently allows Public Utility Districts to build fiber-optic networks but they cannot offer retail services. They are limited to providing wholesale services only -- working with independent service providers to bring telecom services to the public.

Unfortunately, this approach can be financially debilitating, particularly in rural areas. Building next generation networks in very low density areas is hard enough without being forced to split the revenues with third parties.

Last year, House Bill 2601 created a study to examine telecommunications reform, including the possibilty of municipality and public utility district provisioning. The University of Washington School of Law examined the issues and released a report [pdf] that recognizes the important role public sector investments can play:

U Washington Law School

Broadband infrastructure is this century’s interstate highway system: a public investment in an infrastructure that will rapidly connect Washington’s citizens statewide, nationally, and internationally; fuelling growth, competition, and innovation. Like highway access, the path to universal broadband access varies with the needs of the local community.

Our primary goal is to expand broadband access. We believe allowing municipalities and PUDs to provide broadband services addresses the most significant hurdles to broadband expansion: the high cost of infrastructure. In conjunction with a state USF, PUDs and municipalities are well placed to address the needs of their consumers.

A secondary goal is to promote a competitive marketplace. We believe that empowering PUDs and municipalities...

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