Tag: "stimulus"

Posted December 22, 2009 by christopher

After campaigning on building a publicly owned fiber-to-the-home network in Seattle, Mayor McGinn has decided to maintain leadership at the Department of Information Technology. Department head Bill Schrier will stay on, continuing his work that lays the groundwork for a community-owned network.

He said he expects the city to apply for federal stimulus money in the first part of the year to move toward that goal. In addition to improving broadband access in homes, the initiative could help Seattle City Light implement smart-grid infrastructure, and improve public safety communications.

Another article further notes their shared ambition:

"Mayor-elect McGinn ran on a platform of bringing fiber to every home and business in Seattle, something I've advocated for several years," Schrier commented.

No post discussing broadband in Seattle is complete without a reference to Glenn Fleishman - who both wrote another story discussing the situation and then patiently responds to many comments in the thread below it. Discussing Tacoma's publicly owned Click! network, he notes that Tacoma's investment benefited everyone:

Click being built actually helped what has become Qwest and Comcast: by creating a market and making it feasible for professionals who need high-speed Internet access in Tacoma to live there, Click spurred the two incumbents to improve their networks, compete, and gain new revenue. Comcast actually thanked Tacoma Power publicly years ago; not sure it would today, but it was seen as a big boost for the viability of competitive broadband.

Photo used under creative commons license from flickr.

Posted November 30, 2009 by christopher

I have just submitted comments from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance to both the the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) regarding suggestions for rules in round two (the last round) of the broadband stimulus programs -- the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP - administered by NTIA) and Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP - administered by RUS).

The two agencies previously posted a joint request for information [pdf] on lessons learned from the first round:

RUS and NTIA released a joint Request for Information (RFI) seeking comment on further implementation of the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) and the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). Comments must be received by November 30, 2009. The input the agencies expect to receive from this process is intended to inform the second round of funding.

We offered five pages of comments, responding directly to the questions - I am led to believe that this is the preferred way of responding to such requests for information. Thus, the format consists of a short introduction and then questions (in italics) followed by our responses.

Unsurprisingly, we generally encourage NTIA and RUS to better serve the public interest by requiring more transparency in the second round. We also call on them to stop accepting "advertised" speeds in their broadband definition and use actual delivered speeds in order to ensure communities are not discouraged from applying because their incumbent providers exaggerate the capabilities of their network.

Most importantly, we call on NTIA and RUS to encourage public sector entities to apply by ceasing to consider all private networks to operate in the public interest. As we previously documented here, NTIA subverted the intent of Congress with the rules from round one. The rules should prefer public and nonprofit entities as they are directly accountable to the public and should therefore be the first in line to receive public money for essential infrastructure.

As the number of applications to NTIA and RUS was far higher than expected, making the public interest requirements stronger should be a natural...

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Posted November 13, 2009 by christopher

Highland, a city in Illinois, has been recommended by the governor to receive a grant from the broadband stimulus program. Highland plans to build a full fiber-to-the-home network after first connecting the schools and public buildings (a phased approach that has worked well elsewhere). Stimulus funds would expedite the buildout that has already demonstrated strong community support.

Highland city voters passed — with 75 percent voting in favor — three referendums April 7 concerning the idea to bring fiber-optic cable connections to every home and business within the city. It will offer high-speed Internet service, telephone and cable TV.

Shortly after, the council had authorized construction and operation of a telecommunications and cable television system, while emphasizing the need for careful planning. The council also voted to set up a three-member Telecommunications Advisory Board to oversee the process.

Posted September 11, 2009 by christopher

Our focus on the broadband stimulus is almost entirely on last-mile infrastructure because it is the most challenging and expensive problem to solve before all Americans will have affordable access to the broadband networks they need in the modern era. As we are most familiar with Minnesota, we decided to take an in-depth look on who is proposing what projects in our state.

Total Infrastructure Grants Requested for Last Mile solely in MN: at least $240 million
Total Infrastructure Loans Requested for Last Mile solely in MN: at least $85 million

Groups seeking stimulus funds to deliver last-mile broadband access in Minnesota have asked for hundreds of millions of dollars. By my tally, some 17 applicants are seeking to serve Minnesota with last-mile access (I threw out applications pertaining to middle mile infrastructure, digital divide, and those last-mile projects that combine Wisconsin and North Dakota areas) have requested some $240 million in grants and $85 million in loans.

If one assumes that the total amount of money is divided evenly among the states, this is somewhere around 3x as much stimulus money that will be awarded to Minnesota applicants over the course of the multiple rounds of funding.

At some point, this list will have to be winnowed and prioritized, so let's delve into it. All applications still must survive the peer review process (ensuring they met NTIA/RUS requirements), the incumbent challenges (incumbents can veto applications by showing that targeted areas already have broadband advertised to them), and the prioritization of surviving projects by each state (no one seems sure of how this will happen in Minnesota, our Governor is too busy not running for President in 2012).

There are two applications that should be jettisoned immediately, Arvig Telephone Company and Mid-State Telephone Company, both of which are owned by TDS Telecom. [Update: I have now heard conflicting reports on whether Arvig is, in fact, a subsidiary of TDS]

When...

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Posted August 26, 2009 by christopher

The July/August issue of Broadband Properties features a number of stories relating to community broadband. Editor Masha Zager explains how the stimulus rules hurt communities:

The NOFA explicitly calls 768/200 Kbps broadband “sufficient access to broadband service to facilitate rural economic development,” but how many jobs will this kind of broadband really attract to a depressed area? How many new services can service providers sell over such networks? Will the networks support public needs for distance education or health care? And how long will it be before the equipment has to be replaced? In the words of a rural telco manager I spoke with recently, “You want to put money into something long-term if you’re going to start building networks. Don’t build something you’ll have to throw away in two or three years.”

Steve Ross takes a look at two networks in Minnesota - the much discussed Monticello FiberNet and a proposed network in Lake County (see Lake County Fiber Network Project FAQ):

Lake County is a rural area in northeastern Minnesota. Its planned network requires 800 miles of fiber to more than 7,300 homes and 500 businesses – every premises in the area that has electricity or telephone service now. It’s the first project of National Public Broadband (www.nationalpublicbroadband.org), a nonprofit helping communities develop and operate municipal fiber networks. NPB’s CEO is Tim Nulty, director of the ECFiber project awaiting funding in Vermont.

Steve discusses the crap that TDS is pulling to again prevent competition in Monticello. Despite being laughed (albeit slowly) out of court in their attempt to stop the city from building a fiber network, they are now attempting to incite a bondholder lawsuit by spreading more FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). Interestingly, Steve suggests that TDS' numbers do not add up and that they are advertising fiber services while offering advanced DSL (not that any other private companies have similarly lied).

Finally, I recommend...

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Posted August 18, 2009 by christopher

Cecilia Kang, telecom writer for the Washington Post, recently looked into why major carriers are not applying to the broadband stimulus program.

The implication of the title - "Major Carriers Shun Broadband Stimulus: Funds would come with tighter rules" is because of the rules. I'm sure she didn't write the title or sub, that usually goes to the editor. But it would appear whoever wrote the title did not read the piece because she shows that the rules are a minor factor at best.

Unfortunately, Kang also makes a significant error in not appearing to have read the stimulus legislation because she seems surprised that major carriers are not interested in the stimulus. The stimulus was emphatically not targeted at those carriers. As I detailed here previously, Congress intended the stimulus to boost public and nonprofit investments though private carriers could apply if they met a public interest requirement - an intention that NTIA ignored when making the rules. Reading the legislation, it was never aimed at the large carriers so their lack of interest is no surprise -- unless you are Robert Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation...

"If you want to get broadband out, you have to do it with [those] who brought you to the dance in the first place, and in this case it is the incumbent cable and telephone carriers who have 85 percent of lines in the country," said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington tech policy think tank.

Mr. Atkinson appears to educate himself solely with the press releases and reports of incumbent-financed think tanks. He has systematically ignored the potential for publicly owned networks - as we have shown, these networks are some of the fastest and most affordable networks in the country. Instead, he opines about the need for incumbents to build more of their super slow DSL networks - as though that is what the country needs to remain competitive in the 21st century.

The real reason the major carriers are staying away from the stimulus funds is because they do not want to invest in low density areas that do not offer fast, high returns for their shareholders.

"It's not cost-effective for the big network operators to...

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Posted August 7, 2009 by christopher
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Posted July 27, 2009 by christopher

After winning the election, the Obama Administration announced that broadband networks would be a priority. True to its word, the stimulus package included $7.2 billion to expand networks throughout the United States. A key question was how that money would be spent: Would the public interest prevail, or would we continue having a handful of private companies maximizing profits at the expense of communities?

Creating the Broadband Stimulus Language

The debate began in Congress as the House and Senate drafted broadband plans as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

The House language on eligibility for stimulus grants made little distinction between global, private entities and local public or non-profit entities.

the term `eligible entity' means--

(A) a provider of wireless voice service, advanced wireless broadband service, basic broadband service, or advanced broadband service, including a satellite carrier that provides any such service;
(B) a State or unit of local government, or agency or instrumentality thereof, that is or intends to be a provider of any such service; and
(C) any other entity, including construction companies, tower companies, backhaul companies, or other service providers, that the NTIA authorizes by rule to participate in the programs under this section, if such other entity is required to provide access to the supported infrastructure on a neutral, reasonable basis to maximize use;

The Senate language clearly preferred non-profit or public ownership.

To be eligible for a grant under the program an applicant shall—

(A) be a State or political subdivision thereof, a nonprofit foundation, corporation, institution or association, Indian tribe, Native Hawaiian organization, or other non-governmental entity in partnership with a State or political subdivision thereof, Indian tribe, or Native Hawaiian organization if the Assistant Secretary determines the partnership consistent with the purposes this section

The final language, adopted by the Conference Committee and passed by both houses in February was a compromise. It favored a public or non-profit corporation but allowed a private company to be eligible only if the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Commerce found that to be in the public interest. In the final law an eligible...

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Posted July 23, 2009 by christopher

In a recent article, the Star Tribune asks if Minnesota cities are shut out by broadband rules. Of course, this applies to all cities, not just those located in Minnesota.

I'll soon put up an overdue piece with our reaction to the broadband stimulus rules - in particular, the decision of NTIA to ignore the public-interest requirement for private companies. In the meantime, this article has gotten some attention - thanks to Eldo Telecom for touching on it.

Many Minnesota cities are giving up hope due to rules that privilege private companies who already have the necessary data and the means to jump through the red-tape hoops required by NTIA.

The problem, as city and county broadband planners see it, has less to do with technology than with the sheer legwork required to create an acceptable proposal.

Applicants must prove that all the areas they propose to serve would meet a narrow federal definition of being underserved -- that 50 percent or more households in the area lack broadband access, or that fewer than 40 percent of the households already subscribe to broadband. That puts the burden on cities and counties to undertake expensive and time-consuming door-to-door surveys, because telephone and cable companies don't reveal which areas they serve.

In the meantime, private companies like Qwest are not even sure they will participate as they do not like the requirements that grantees operate the network without discriminating against some kinds of content (meaning they want to charge more to visit some sites than others). Though Qwest has not been as bullish on this money-making idea as AT&T, one assumes it is not too far off.

Telephony's Ed Gubbins also comments on the many municipalities that have little hope of grants under NTIA's rules:

One group of broadband stimulus hopefuls that has been in large part swept out of the running by the specifics of the plan is individual municipalities of any size. Though the stimulus plan stoked broad interest from municipalities earlier this year, many of them have been frustrated by the program’s preference for “underserved...

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Posted July 8, 2009 by christopher

I have been digesting the NOFA (the rules for broadband stimulus projects) and I am stunned at just how much I disagree with them. I think the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a branch of the Department of Commerce in D.C., and the Rural Utilities Service have really done a disservice to this country.

Before I highlight some commentaries that I have found most interesting thus far, I want to note that this is why we take a bottom-up approach. In talking to many people working on community networks, most everyone is frustrated and the rest are really angry. It sure seemed like the feds were heading in the right direction, but the broadband stimulus rules show just how out of touch they are. We advise communities to find ways of being self-reliant. If they are able to get help from D.C., that is great; but they should never depend upon it.

We will have some more details of our reaction to the rules soon, but for now I wanted to highlight some of the folks that reacted quickly and offered interesting thoughts.

Starting on the positive side, Andrew Cohill at Design Nine thinks the encouragement for open access networks and transparency could ultimately be the defining characteristic.

This means networks that offer competitive pricing from more than one provider get preference--this is huge, and could have important long term consequences.

The rules also do something else quite important on the same page (page 66, line 1463), where there is explicit preference for open access transport, which in telecom jargon is "interconnection." The rules say that companies that post their interconnection fees publicly and agree to nondiscrimination will get preference.

If he is correct, the implications are great. However, the rules certainly could have demanded open access as a condition of public money being used rather than a limited form of extra credit for those who will encourage competition in a market suffering the utter lack of it.

Harold Feld, who rightly noted that good people struggled and worked on this, saw both positives and negatives in the rules. He defends the "broadband" speed definition from the FCC (768kbps down and 200kbps up):

I am in the minority in thinking they played this right. There are too many good projects...

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