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.
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:
An excellent article drawing wide lessons from the referendum battle in Longmont between the community and Comcast.
The city of Longmont, Colo., built its own 17-mile, million dollar fiber-optic loop in the mid-1990s. The infrastructure was paid for by the local city-owned electric utility, though it offered promise for bringing broadband to local businesses, government offices and residents, too.
For years, though, the network has been sitting largely unused. In 2005, Colorado passed a state law preventing local governments from essentially building and operating their own telecommunications infrastructure.
Behind the law was, not surprisingly, the telecom lobby, which has approached the threat of municipal broadband all across the country with deep suspicion and even deeper pockets. Companies like Comcast understandably want to protect their corner on the market from competition with city-run non-profits. What’s less understandable is the route their interests have taken: Residents and state legislators from Colorado to North Carolina have been voting away the rights of cities to build their own broadband, with their own money, for the benefit of their own communities.
Before Josh Levy and five other activists met with Yvette Clarke (D-NY), she had signed a letter of support for the AT&T merger with T-Mobile. After a one hour meeting, just after the Justice Department came out against the merger as anti-competitive, she agreed "This deal must be stopped."
This is a great story that goes far beyond AT&T's attempt to monopolize the airwaves. It is a refreshing story for those of us who have been watching in despair, wondering if the vast funds of big companies will doom our democracy. It is a reminder that we cannot give up but have to make sure we are still reaching out to elected officials to ensure they hear from real constituents rather than only from inside-the-beltway lobbyists.
On our key issue, community networks, elected officials too rarely hear from constituents. It is a technical issue that intimidates many. But we must take some time to reach out, educate, and make sure they know how impmortant it is to all of us that local communities maintain self-determination in the digital age.
We cannot wait to reach out until the bad bills are pushed into the light of day -- we need to contact elected officials early in order to build relationships and being the education process. Elected officials are also intimidated by the technology, something that lobbyists use with their "just trust us" approach while bad-mouthing any alternative.
Take heart, write in, talk to your reps, and if you are so bold, set up face to face meetings. Feel free to ask us for advice if you want -- and if you are in Minnesota, feel free to invite us along.
Chattanooga, with the nation's most impressive broadband network (stretching into rural areas even outside the metro), is spending $30 million to put a Wi-Fi wireless network on top of it. At present, it is primarily for municipal uses:
For now, city government plans to retain exclusive use of the network for municipal agencies as it tests it with applications including Navy SEAL-esque head-mounted cameras that feed live video to police headquarters, traffic lights that can be automatically adjusted at rush hour, and even water contamination sensors that call home if there’s a problem beneath the surface of the Tennessee River.
Much of the wireless network is being funded by state and federal grants -- Chattanooga is turning itself into a test bed for the future city, at least for communities that recognize the benefits of owning their own infrastructure. Chattanooga can do what it wants to, it does not have to ask permission from Comcast or AT&T.
The goal for the city’s wireless network is to make the entire city more efficient and sustainable, said David Crockett, director of Chattanooga’s Office of Sustainability.
As Bernie Arnason notes at Telecompetitor, Wi-Fi is increasingly needed by smartphones because the big cellular networks cannot handle the load. The future has wireless components, but without Wi-Fi backhauled by fiber-optics, the future will be extremely slow and unreliable -- traffic jams for smartphones.
A more recent story from the Times Free Press notes that Chattanooga is wrestling with how to handle opening the network to residential and business use.
“I want to be innovative,” he said. “I want to do more than just turn it on in the parks.”
It’s a popular idea with technologists, tourism officials and the general public, who would gain the ability to surf around the city at speeds greater than typical cellular speeds.
Bob Doak, president and CEO of...
Public Knowledge recently had me as a guest on their "In the Know" weekly podcast. Our interview is the last half of the show. The videos we reference in the discussion are embedded below.
Colorado requires a referendum before a local government can build a broadband network as a result of a 2005 law pushed by Qwest to prevent communities from building next-generation networks. So when Longmont wanted to expand its fiber ring to offer residential and business services, they put it to a vote.
They lost with only 44% supporting the measure. But now, more people understand the issue and the community is considering voting again.
We saw the same dynamic in Windom, Minnesota. Almost ten years ago, Windom held a vote to build a muni FTTH network and it failed to gain the Minnesota-required 65% supermajority. After the vote, a number of people wanted to revote because they realized they had been conned by the incumbent phone provider (ahem… Qwest) and only truly understood the issue after the vote had occurred.
City officials wanted no part of another referendum but community champions eventually prevailed and they had a second vote that authorized the community to build the network.
We'll see if Longmont follows suit. An article discussing the re-vote notes that Comcast and Qwest have dumped unprecedented sums into preventing the community from having a new choice:
The first attempt at getting that approval didn't go so well in 2009. According to city records, opponents -- including the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association -- spent $245,513 to defeat that ballot measure, the largest amount ever spent on a Longmont city election. By contrast, the city legally couldn't campaign on its own behalf, and the explanations that were out there didn't explain well, according to Longmont Power & Communications director Tom Roiniotis.
The cable and phone companies created an astroturf group called "No Blank Check" that then used standard fear, uncertainty, and doubt tactics to spread misinformation around the community. A quarter of a million dollars is a drop in the bucket to stop the only real threat of competition these companies face anymore -- locally owned community networks.
The situation in Longmont has attracted the interest of the...Read more
We occasionally see big cable and phone companies getting creative in their efforts to shut down community networks. In socially conservative communities, restrictions on providing adult content is a common approach.
This technique came up several times in North Carolina, where TWC-sponsored elected officials proposed disallowing public providers from offering the same adult content channels that private providers offer. The reason has nothing to do with morals, but rather with the substantial revenue adult content generates. Incumbent providers know that if community networks cannot offer adult content to those who wish to purchase it, they will be deprived a significant source of revenue needed to pay the debt from building a modern network.
Bear in mind that no one is forced to see this content or even a scrambled channel (as was common in the "old" days). Community networks allow each family to decide for themselves what content is appropriate -- to the extent community networks differ from private providers in this regard, they provide more tools to filter out content that some may find inappropriate.
Last week, the Louisiana House briefly considered a bill to limit Lafayette's authority to make adult content available to subscribers that request it. House Bill 142 exists solely to put LUS Fiber, an impressive muni FTTH network, at a disadvantage.
The latter is essential reading for those new to understanding how any legislature works. And anyone building a network that will compete with big companies like AT&T, Cox, Time Warner Cable, et al. had better know how legislatures work because those companies live in the Leg. Their...Read more
As we feared, the compromise may have been compromised by the uncompromising power of AT&T lobbyists. Once again, we learn that they struck at the last hour and may have put local schools and libraries on the chopping block.
If WiscNet goes and stimulus funds are returned, local institutions will have to double and triple their telecom budgets just to continue receive adequate service. This is intolerable. Until we hear otherwise, we encourage people to continue contacting their elected officials [pdf] in Wisconsin to express their opinion on the matter.
Update: The Assembly will now be meeting at 1:00 rather than this morning. Rumors abound that they are still discussing how to "compromise" on AT&T's attack on the schools and libraries.
Unfortunately, this afternoon, I'll be leaving for a short camping trip (AT&T is not going to ruin my trip) and I have some canned posts queued up, so I won't be able to cover what happens in Wisconsin immediately. For news on the stimulus grant impact, follow WI_Broadband and for news about WiscNet, follow ijohnpederson and his live blog.
2nd Update: To understand how AT&T has so much power in Wisconsin, check out who "donates" the most money.