Tag: "wisconsin"

Posted June 14, 2011 by christopher

The word from Wisconsin is mostly good. A deal has been struck that will spare WiscNet, though it will be studied for two years and then could be killed. But a fair, open study will allow WiscNet to clearly demonstrate its value -- WiscNet thrives in the light while AT&T thrives at secretive, last minute measures to gut its competitors.

Additionally, the stimulus grants appear to be safe. The Legislature apparently will not require them to be returned long after the recipients had begun implementing them. But again, there is some bad news in that UW Extension will be restricted from receiving federal grants in the future to build the networks otherwise unavailable to schools and libraries. So that is disappointing. Returning those funds would have cost a few communities $27.7 million over just 5 years.

However, nothing is settled until the Legislature fully votes on it (today and Thursday) and the Governor signs the bill. AT&T lobbyists don't get paid to create fair compromises and surely aren't finished scheming. So make sure you have made your thoughts on this matter known to your elected officials. The Rootstrikes make it easy. Don't forget to tell the Governor too -- the line-item veto is a powerful tool.

Some more details have emerged regarding the damage to local budgets that would occur if the Leg requires the stimulus awards to be returned, in the Superior schools, for instance:

"We would pay about five times more for the internet access than we already pay through Wiscnet," said Nordgren [Associate Vice Chancellor of UW Superior].

The Superior School District said they would also lose money, because they have already invested $300,000 in anticipation of the project.

"We utilized the funding from this broadband grant in order to purchase and update our website that was archaic," said Janna Stevens, Superintendent at the Superior School District.

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The Wisconsin League of Municipalities vociferously opposes language...

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Posted June 13, 2011 by christopher

Internet 2 President H. David Lambert offers some sober words [pdf] to Wisconsin's Governor Walker regarding an 11th hour provision inserted into legislation by AT&T and its telco allies that will kill WiscNet, an essential telecommunications network serving libraries and schools throughout the state. We wanted to note it because it goes beyond WiscNet alone and reminds us that companies like AT&T simply have the wrong incentives to be solely trusted with the future of something as important as ensuring everyone has affordable, reliable, and fast access to the Internet.

Dear Governor Walker,

Today we write to ask for your leadership in removing sections 23-26 of the University Omnibus legislation.

For the United States to be a leader in the global economy, it is critical that government policy does not stifle innovation. One way to inadvertently undermine state and national economic competitiveness goals is to bar those who have been successful in the past from continuing to innovate while creating bureaucratic rules to limit who is eligible to provide services to the marketplace. And, without question, the University of Wisconsin's initiatives and Wisconsin's not for profit Wiscnet have been resounding successes that have changed the lives of citizens in Wisconsin and throughout the world.

Draft language Bars Innovation and Reduces Market Choice

The University of Wisconsin has long been recognized as one of the critical contributors responsible for the creation of the Internet. It was the University's faculty leaders who championed the idea of interlinked networks over distance and who prototyped those ideas in real-world settings that evolved into the Internet. Even as telephone providers steadfastly argued that the concept of the Internet would fail, faculty leaders at the University of Wisconsin built the large-scale innovation prototypes that led to the development of the global Internet.

It would be the height of irony if sections 23-26 of the University Omnibus legislation were passed, as those provisions would prohibit the University from being directly involved in proving out further developments of innovations in the...

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Posted June 10, 2011 by christopher

Access Wisconsin, a group of telephone providers working with AT&T to kill a network essential for schools and libraries across the state, claims that using taxpayer money is unfair competition. It is a fascinating argument from a collection of companies that rakes in various state and federal subsidies.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported these statements from Access Wisconsin this week:

"This is by far the greatest assault we've ever felt from the University of Wisconsin Extension," said Mark Weller, president and CEO of Access Wisconsin, which represents 30 mostly small, rural telecommunications providers. "It's totally inappropriate.

"When services are available through the private sector at a competitive rate and we have to compete against yet another entity that is being funded by the taxpayers, that's just not fair."

Those statements came after increasing outrage around the state following the news that their lobbyists waited until the 11th hour to suddenly insert a provision into an omnibus bill that would kill WiscNet and require the state to return multiple broadband stimulus awards expanding telecommunications services in unserved areas.

But back in February of 2010, when Access Wisconsin was receiving a similar broadband stimulus award, it had a different attitude.

“The Recovery Act grant will bring fiber optic broadband to areas where it would otherwise be too expensive to build.  There aren’t enough customers to justify the cost of the investment without the help of these funds," Weller said.  “The federal grant, along with a 20% state match, is providing the kind of infrastructure for rural schools and libraries that will meet their needs for decades.”
 
The new fiber optic broadband connections will provide new education and economic opportunities in 380 largely rural communities across Wisconsin.  Schools and libraries in those communities will gain dramatically expanded telecommunications access, while the installation of new infrastructure will help make broadband access available for businesses and residents.

...

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Posted June 10, 2011 by christopher

A cartoonist turns his attention to AT&T and its allies in the Wisconsin Legislature, which is currently slated to kill a telecommunications network essential for schools, libraries, and local government. Why? So AT&T and its allies can provide the service instead, shifting local tax dollars from school teachers and libraries to AT&T.

As long as AT&T can dominate state legislatures with its campaign contributions and lobbyists, we will see scenes like this:

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Please share.

Posted June 9, 2011 by christopher

There are many places to find information about AT&T's war on WiscNet, a great credit to those who recognize the importance of WiscNet to schools, libraries, and local governments around the state. The best article on the subject may be from Wisconsin Tech News (WTN), with "UW faces return of $37M for broadband expansion in 11th hour bill." This post builds on that as a primer for those interested in the controversy.

Update: Read a Fact Check Memo [pdf] from the University of Wisconsin Extension Service with responses to false allegations from AT&T and its allies.

Synopsis

AT&T and its allies have long made false claims against WiscNet, setting the stage for their lobbyists to push this legislation to kill it. AT&T and some other incumbents want to provide the services WiscNet provides in order to boost their profits. WiscNet not only offers superior services, it offers services the private providers will not provide (including specialized education services). For instance, from the WTN article:

One of features that differentiates WiscNet from a private broadband provider is allowing for “bursting,” so that during isolated periods when researchers send huge data sets, they greatly exceed the average data cap. UW-Madison currently uses seven gigabits on average, and would have to procure 14 gigabits under the new legislation, even though most of the extra seven gigabits would seldom be in use, Meachen [UW CIO] said.

“We'd be paying for the fact that researchers have to send these huge data sets, and not have it take hours and hours to get to where it's going,” Meachen said. “You can't afford to pay for that extra 7 gigabits from the private sector because it's too costly. They increase your charges based on that.”

A private network would not have the necessary capacity for scientists on the UW-Madison campus, who are some of the leading researchers on next generation Internet. A previous recommendation to combine BadgerNet and WiscNet was deemed infeasible, as AT&T would own the network and would not be able to provide sufficient bandwidth at an affordable cost, Meachen said.

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WiscNet is a buying cooperative,...

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Posted June 9, 2011 by christopher

As more people and organizations in Wisconsin learn of AT&T's attempts to kill a taxpayer-money saving network in Wisconsin, the list of letters supporting WiscNet is increasing. We want to highlight two. The first is a resolution from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Faculty Senate [pdf]:

Whereas, on Friday, June 3, 2011, the Wisconsin Legislature's Joint Committee on Finance passed motion 489 that contained a provision that would eliminate WiscNet as a department or office within the UW-Madison Department of Information Technology and eliminate $1.4 million in funding for WiscNet for 2012-13; and

Whereas, WiscNet provides vital broadband network access to all public institutions of higher education including the UW System (UW), Wisconsin technical colleges and many private colleges and universities in Wisconsin, 95% of public libraries and 80% of school districts; and

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Whereas, without WiscNet, these institutions would be forced to seek internet services from private telecommunications providers. All schools and public libraries could see a significant average cost increase greater than the current costs through WiscNet; and

Whereas, Wisconsin taxpayers benefit from millions of dollars in savings through the services WiscNet provides to these educational institutions; and

Whereas WiscNet embodies the “Wisconsin Idea” and it has fostered collaboration between higher education, K-12 education and public libraries for the past 16 years that will disappear; and

Whereas, motion 489 could undermine the ability of UW faculty members to receive grants and conduct their research; therefore,

Be it resolved that the University of Wisconsin River Falls Faculty Senate request a motion be introduced to delete sections 23-26 of Motion 489 on the floor of the legislature before the budget bill is approved by the legislators and sent to Governor Walker for his signature; and

Be it further resolved, that the University of Wisconsin-River Falls...

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Posted June 8, 2011 by christopher

Tony Evers, the Wisconsin State Superintendent, has voiced concerns about a provision in Wisconsin' budget bill that we discussed yesterday. It would force Wisconsin to return tens of millions in broadband stimulus awards intended to connect schools and libraries in a few communities while also raising prices for most local governments, libraries, and schools around the country by killing the coop that connects the communities. Evers wrote the following letter on June 7 in response.

I am extremely concerned and alarmed by the telecommunications provisions which passed the Joint Finance Committee Friday night and their impact on Wisconsin’s public libraries, public and private schools, the university system, technical colleges, and WiscNet. These provisions will have a devastating impact on the University of Wisconsin System campuses and our schools and public libraries. This language was introduced very late in the legislative process and there was no time for any public review, comments or feedback from those impacted by these provisions.

From the UW perspective, this will require it to return the $39 million in broadband grants to the federal government. In addition, it will prohibit any UW campus from participating in advanced research networks linking research institutions worldwide. You cannot have a renowned research institution, like the UW-Madison, without having access to such networks.

From the public and private school and library perspective, seventy-five percent of our public schools and ninety-five percent of our public libraries get Internet access via WiscNet - a not-for-profit network service under the auspices of the UW-Madison. The provision in this legislation will very likely make it impossible for WiscNet to continue offering Internet access. If our schools and libraries must use other Internet providers most will pay at least 2-3 times more than what WiscNet now charges. Furthermore, other Internet providers base their charges on how much bandwidth a school or library has - the higher the bandwidth, the higher the Internet costs. WiscNet’s funding formula is not based on bandwidth. Thus as schools and libraries continue to increase their bandwidth, their WiscNet costs remain the same. With our schools and libraries facing substantial budget reductions, how can anyone justify making them pay more...

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Posted June 7, 2011 by christopher

For the rest of the summer, Wisconsin could be the new battleground in the ongoing effort for big companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable to secure their de facto monopoly positions.

In North Carolina, Time Warner Cable passed a bill effectively preventing communities from building next-generation networks offering services far superior to what TWC offered. Now AT&T and its allies in Wisconsin are trying to stop local governments, universities, libraries, and schools from using a buying coop -- called WiscNet -- to procure better connections than AT&T will provide, at lower prices than AT&T would charge. Why compete when you can outlaw the competition?

WiscNet is essentially a buying coop -- a public/private partnership connecting, among others, University of Wisconsin schools, local governments, libraries, and local public schools. As Barry Orton, Professor of Telecommunications at UW-Madison reminded me, buying coops are "great for buyers, not so great for the sellers."

In this case, sellers like AT&T want to kill the coop so local governments, schools, and libraries, are forced to buy the connections they need from AT&T or other incumbents. This will mean more tax dollars going to AT&T rather than educating students, connecting police stations, and generally allowing public sector institutions to function. From the Wisconsin State Journal:

The motion prohibits the UW System from taking part in WiscNet, the network provider for 450 organizations, including K-12 schools, libraries, cities and county governments.

No one has any doubts that AT&T and its allies are squarely behind this measure.

To be clear, this has nothing to do with last-mile connections. WiscNet is not providing connections to residents. This is a question of whether local governments can use a network they build and operate collaboratively with other public institutions like UW or whether they have to take whatever AT&T is selling (many small towns only have a single incumbent offering these dedicated access connections).

Last year, we wrote about Republican opposition to a broadband...

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Posted February 19, 2011 by christopher

The story about Wisconsin becoming the first state to return broadband stimulus funds has circulated quite quickly over recent days. The state, which is one of several to have recently swung far more conservative than it traditionally is, has returned other stimulus funds unrelated to broadband as well. In this case, they were apparently surprised at the previously well-publicized terms of the award for which they applied:

State officials are returning $23 million to the federal government, saying there were too many strings attached to stimulus money that was supposed to be for expanding high-speed Internet service in schools, libraries and government agencies.

We previously noted efforts by a few legislators to meddle in a different project to preserve AT&T's monopoly on providing over-priced services to schools and community institutions in part of the state. This is different, but related as Wisconsin has made it very difficult for the network used by the University of Wisconsin to be owned by the University, a gift to AT&T that just keeps on giving. Because the stimulus funds would have been given to AT&T to expand the network, the University would have to continue using that network for the 22 year period required under the conditions of the award. But the contract with AT&T is only for 5 years -- so Wisconsin complained about "strings" attached to the award. Stop the Cap! has published an excellent research piece covering various facets of this story.

Currently BadgerNet largely exists as an extension of AT&T’s network in Wisconsin. That is a critical point. Had BadgerNet initially been created as an independent entity, today’s stimulus rejection might never have happened. Wisconsin, no doubt at the behest of AT&T, built its network with a leasing arrangement, signing five-year term contracts to rent space on AT&T’s fiber-copper wire facilities. That kept...

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Posted November 24, 2010 by christopher

David Isenberg, of isen.blog, has published a short history of Reedsburg's community fiber network that he previously wrote for the FCC when they were gathering evidence of successful networks they would later ignore in formulating a plan to continue the failed status quo of hoping private companies will build and operate the infrastructure we need.

Nonetheless, one cannot say that smart people like David did not try to help the FCC overcome its obsession with national carriers who dominate the conversations, and whose employees often work periodically with the FCC in what we call the revolving door (which itself, is a reason the FCC has been captured).

Back to Reedsburg; it is a small community approximately 55 miles northwest of Madison that just happens to have far better broadband service than just about anywhere else in Wisconsin.

David writes,

RUC first entered the telecommunications business in 1998, when it constructed a ring to tie its wells, its five electrical substations together and to provide Internet access for its high school, middle school and its school administration building. In planning the ring, the city asked Verizon and Charter if they would build it, but they were not responsive. RUS built a partly aerial, partly buried 7-mile ring of 96-strand fiber at a cost of about $850,000. Internet access was provided by Genuine Telephone, a tiny subsidiary of LaValle Telephone Cooperative which ran a fiber from LaValle, about 8 miles NW of Reedsburg.

As they were building the ring, local businesses asked to be connected as well. Reedsburg took the path that so many communities have followed, start by building for yourself and expand opportunistically. Of course, this requires that you originally engineer the network so it can be later expanded, which is good practice regardless of your future plans.

Reedsburg used bond anticipation notes, a financial mechanism that few others have used in building similar networks.

A local bank loaned the initial $5 million in bond anticipation notes for planning and construction. Then RUC issued an...

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