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“Doing Schoolwork in the Parking Lot Is Not a Solution,” Says the New York Times — But This Legislation Is
“An adequate connection is no longer a matter of convenience; it is a necessity for anyone wishing to participate in civil society,” wrote the New York Times Editorial Board in an opinion article published on Sunday. Yet, tens of millions of Americans still lack reliable access to broadband connectivity.
The Times editorial echoed the concerns of many digital equity advocates, who have been ringing alarm bells ever since the Covid-19 pandemic moved most aspects of everyday life online, cutting off anyone without a home Internet connection.
To help bridge the gap, many states and localities have deployed free Wi-Fi hotspots to schools, libraries, and other public spaces. But, as the Times points out, this is not enough — the federal government must do more to connect our communities. “[T]he coronavirus has demonstrated that it is time for the federal government to think more creatively and to act more swiftly to deploy broadband service,” argued the editorial, pointing to legislation that would make an impact, including the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act and the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act.
Digital Divides Threaten Students’ Education
Inadequate Internet access isn’t only a problem in rural areas, where broadband infrastructure isn’t always available. Many city residents also lack home connectivity, due to the high cost of a subscription. The Times explained:
In urban areas, the struggle to get reliable or affordable Internet service disproportionately affects minorities. The cost of broadband makes it three times more likely that households without Internet service can be found in urban, rather than rural, environments, according to John B. Horrigan of the Technology Policy Institute.
NYTimes Examines Sixth Circuit Reversal: Potatoes And Pinetops
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued their order on August 10th supporting the states of Tennessee and North Carolina in their challenge from an FCC decision from February 2015. Both states objected to the FCC’s decision to preempt state laws preventing municipalities from providing fast, affordable, reliable connectivity via municipal Internet networks. The Appellate Court Judges reviewed the legal arguments, the precedent, and the interplay between federal authority and state sovereignty.
The impact of their ruling will affect more than a few pages in a law school text book. Access to high-quality Internet access positively impacts real people and businesses and, as Cecila Kang captures in her recent article in the New York Times, the people who depend on it fear the outcome if their state legislators take it away.
Family Farm Fear
Kang profiles Vick Family Farms, a family potato farm in Wilson, North Carolina. The Vick family chose to invest in a processing plant when they learned that Wilson’s Greenlight would provide the necessary connectivity. Greenlight allowed them to increase sales overseas. Now, they may lose that connection:
“We’re very worried because there is no way we could run this equipment on the internet service we used to have, and we can’t imagine the loss we’ll have to the business,” said Charlotte Vick, head of sales for the farm.
As Kang notes in her article, the FCC has no plans to appeal the decision, so battles will resume at the state level. Advocates will need to be twice as vigilant because incumbents - the only ones that come out ahead from this decision - may try to push state legislators for even tougher anti-competitive state barriers.
Pinetops: Poster Child For Good Connectivity
New York Times Supports Local Authority
In a recent editorial, the New York Times recognized that cord cutting is the wave of the future. They agree with the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, and other advocates for local telecommunications authority that the FCC should take steps to remove barriers to local Internet choice created by states on behalf of cable and telco lobbyists. The Editorial Board notes that laws limiting municipal networks block the ability for consumers to take full advantage of this phenomenon:
Among other things, they should override laws some states have [no-glossary]passed[/no-glossary] that make it difficult or impossible for municipalities to invest in broadband networks.
Even though consumers are moving away from cable TV subscriptions, large corporate providers are making up for losses by an increase in Internet access subscriptions. As a result, they still maintain a significant leverage and consumers still face the same old problem - a lack of competition. Striking down anti-competitive state laws blocking munis would create a healthier balance, argues the Times Editorial Board.
This is an opportunity to respond to customer demand and make policy changes the consumers need, argues the NYTimes. Time to act!
Customers are clearly saying that they want to watch and pay for TV in a different way. Regulators and media executives ought to heed and respond positively to that message — policy makers by encouraging more competition in the broadband market, and media businesses by making more of their content available online.
National Press Follows President Obama to Cedar Falls, Iowa
On January 14th, President Obama visited Cedar Falls, Iowa, to share his strategy to expand high-speed connectivity to more Americans, encourage competition, and galvanize economic development. Obama's plan centers around community networks and he announced that the next step will be eliminating barriers in 19 states that usurp local authority to invest in publicly owned infrastructure.
From his remarks [C-SPAN Video below]:
Today, I'm making my administration's position clear on community broadband. I'm saying I'm on the side of competition. And I'm on the side of small business owners... I'm on the side of students and schools. I believe that a community has the right to make its own choice and to provide its own broadband if it wants to. Nobody is going to force you to do it, but if you want to do it, if the community decides this is something that we want to do to give ourselves a competitive edge and to help our young people and our businesses, they should be able to do it.
The Obama Administration, through the Department of Commerce, recently sent a letter [PDF] to Chairman Wheeler to request the FCC use its authority to end state barriers that block local public investment. The Hill noted the letter and the President's speech together put gentle pressure on the FCC to take steps to restore local authority. The Hill also gave space to the cable industry, naturally opposed to restoring local authority after millions of lobbying dollars invested in passing anti-competitive legislation.
InfoWorld also pointed out cable industry opposition to the Obama proposal, noting that they were ready to mount a strong offense and will likely join Congressional Republicans to fight any roll-back of state barriers. A decision from the FCC on whether or not to change state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee is expected in February.
New York Times Covers Fiber and Economic Development
In a recent New York Times article, reporter Kate Murphy shined a light on fiber's increasing role in economic development. Murphy discussed several of the same networks we have followed: Wilson, NC; Chattanooga, TN; Lafayette, LA; and Mount Vernon, WA.
Murphy acknowledged that successful companies are moving from major metropolitan areas to less populated communities out of necessity:
These digital carpetbaggers aren’t just leaving behind jittery Netflix streams and aggravating waits for Twitter feeds to refresh. They are positioning themselves to be more globally competitive and connected.
Murphy notes that countries where governments have invested in critical infrastructure offer more choice, better services, and lower rates. She also points to successful local initiatives, often in less populated communities where large private interests have not invested:
Stepping into the void have been a smattering of municipalities that have public rather than private utility infrastructures. Muninetworks.org has a map that pinpoints many of these communities. They are primarily rural towns that were ignored when the nation’s electrical infrastructure was installed 100 years ago and had to build their own.
Murphy spoke with several business owners that moved from large metropolitan areas to smaller communities because they needed fiber. For a growing number of establishments, fiber networks are the only kind that offer the capacity needed for day-to-day operations. Information security firm, Blank Law and Technology, moved to Mount Vernon to take advantage of its open access fiber network. It helps when customer service representatives live in your neighborhood:
All-Pervasive NSA Surveillance Impacts All of Us
We continue to oppose the federal government's foray into creating a high tech surveillance state where the National Security Agency effectively has unlimited power to spy on Americans. The New York Times has released an op-doc embedded below that offers good reasons all Americans should be concerned, even if most are not doing anything they believe needs to be "hidden."
We previously discussed how community owned networks help to prevent against both corporate and federal government spying in this post.
Governments Should Focus on Infrastructure Despite False Statistics Peddled by NY Times and Others
The Obama administration allocated $7 billion to broadband expansion as part of the 2009 economic stimulus package. Most of it went to build physical networks.
New York Times on Internet in America, Genachowski Legacy
Yet the challenge remains: monopolies have a high instinct for self-preservation. And more than half a dozen states have [no-glossary]passed[/no-glossary] legislation limiting municipalities from building public broadband networks in competition with private businesses. South Carolina passed its version last year. A similar bill narrowly failed in Georgia. Supporting these bills, of course, are the nation’s cable and telephone companies.Not really "supporting" so much as creating. They create the bills and move them with millions of dollars spent on lobbyists and campaign finance contributions, usually without any real public debate on the matter. Eduardo focuses on Google Fiber rather than the hundreds of towns that have built networks - as have most of the elite media outlets. Google deserves praise for taking on powerful cable and DSL companies, but it is lazy journalism broadly that has ignored the networks built by hundreds of towns - my criticism of the press generally, not Eduardo specifically. The person who deserves plenty of criticism is former FCC Chairman Genachowski. From the article:
According to the F.C.C.’s latest calculation, under one-third of American homes are in areas where at least two wireline companies offer broadband speeds of 10 Mbps or higher.We have 20 million Americans with no access to broadband. The rest are lucky to have a choice between two providers and even then, most still only have access to fast connections from a single provider. When the National Broadband Plan was unveiled, we were critical of it and believed it would do little to improve our standing.