FCC Chairman Genachowski Recognizes Value of Munis in Statement on Google

Google's fiber rollout in Kansas City prompted kudos, specualtion, wonder, and analysis. While Google has the ability to invest in such an expensive and huge undertaking. Municipal networks have been bringing next-generation broadband to the public for years.

Local communities all over the country know first hand the economic benefits and improved quality of life that come with publicly owned networks.

In his official statement on the Google rollout, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski acknolwdged the value of community networks to America and its Broadband Plan. The official announcement:

For the United States to remain globally competitive, we need to keep pushing the boundaries of broadband capabilities and foster testbeds of broadband innovation. Abundance in broadband speeds and capacity – moving from megabits to gigabits – will unleash breakthrough innovations in healthcare, education, business services, and more.

Today’s announcement by Google, the Gig.U projects across the country, and similar continued advances by providers and municipalities are important and welcome developments that are pushing frontiers in speed and bandwidth, while also enhancing consumer choice. As outlined in the National Broadband Plan, it’s vital both that we connect every corner in America to broadband and that we spur next-generation innovation through next-generation broadband networks. (Emphasis added by us.)

The Economist Understands Community Broadband

The conservative, eminently pro-capitalist publication The Economist understands why community broadband is important. "The Need for Speed" discusses Kansas City and Chattanooga -- two of the best broadband networks in the nation.

But while others have become stuck on the wrong question -- "what can you do with a gig," The Economist recognized what is important.

This suggests that the true benefits of municipal high-speed networks are not the consumer-friendly baubles such as high-speed video downloads, HDTV and the like, but the vast range of possibilities they open. Over the fibre network is a wireless mesh that allows government, so often wary of innovation, to try new approaches. Police in Chattanooga have vastly expanded their communications and mobile data analysis. Traffic lights will soon be able to respond in real time to changing traffic patterns. Rubbish can be collected more efficiently. EPB can avoid, or minimise, power cuts during storms, and can charge its customers more accurately and transparently. This sort of network can improve a city’s operations while broadening its tax base. Results like that are well worth a dunk in a shark tank.

This is about so much more than downloads. Whenever you read someone asking "what can you do with a gig," you are reading someone who doesn't get it. It is like asking why anyone would buy a muscle car. We got speed limits! Why get a car that can go faster than the limit?

I have never maxed out the amount of electricity coming into my house. Am I doing something wrong? Our connections should be built so they do not limit us. Instead, those defending the massive companies that rip us off every month demand to know how we would use a better connection.

Community networks are not just about faster connections - they are about a network that the community owns, that empowers the community to innovate, and that is focused 100% on empowering local businesses and residents.

Fiber Route Construction Nearing Completion In Southwest Minnesota

In April, we reported on Spring construction of fiber installation by the Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS) in the Jackson area. This is a stimulus-funded expansion growing out of the community-owned WindomNet. The original plan was to have construction completed in Jackson by the end of August, but the job was 97% completed in July freeing the way for business and residential installs.

The Jackson County Pilot reported on the July Kiwanis Club meeting where SMBS's Naomi Pederson presented an update:

As of this past Monday, Pederson said 176 miles of the 181-mile main line had been built.

“People have been thrilled with the service,” Pederson said. “I’m sure businesses will be too.”

Pederson said crews will begin residential installs in Jackson July 16. She anticipates crews will be able to hook up around 100 homes per week.

“Jackson has been one of our best towns, with 73 percent sales — much more than anticipated,” she said. “People are very receptive and are signing up for more services than people in our other towns. More services and more sign-ups mean we’re trying our best to keep up.”

As of this past Monday, Pederson said 176 miles of the 181-mile main line had been built.

“People have been thrilled with the service,” Pederson said. “I’m sure businesses will be too.”

SMBS received $12.8 million in stimulus funds to develop an ftth network to Bingham Lake, Heron Lake, Jackson, Lake Okebena, Round Lake and Wilder. Check out a map of the fiber route on the SMBS website.

The high level of interest in these communities comes in the face of policymakers in Washington, DC, and many state capitals - they assume rural residents don't know how to use broadband or don't want it. This program shows that when you make good broadband available to people for a reasonable price, they take it in high numbers.

Thanks to BlandinonBroadband for alerting us to this story.

Court Says Big Broadcasters Can't Stop Aereo's Tiny Antennas

You are surrounded by the radio waves of local television signals. They are available to you for free if you put up an antenna, but there was no easy way to take that free signal and then stream it to all your digital devices. Now there is. Aereo, available only in New York presently, combines an antenna with broadband to transmit television wherever you want it.

Ryan Kim provides the details in a February GigaOm article:

The system works by creating an array of hundreds of thousands of tiny TV antennas the size of a thumbnail and housing them in one data center in a market. When users hook up to Aereo, they take command of an antenna, renting it to get local broadcast channels such as ABC, CBS, Fox and others. They also have access to a cloud-based dual tuner DVR that allows them to initially record up to 40 hours of content.

Customers can view the content on iPads, iPhones, AppleTV, and Roku devices via the web. Rates vary from $1/day to $80/year. The company, backed in part by IAC, aspires to expand nationally.

This is an approach local community networks should follow, particularly those who want to build broadband networks but don't want to get lost in the mind-numbing details of offering a television package.

Needless to say, major broadcasters have gone to the court to stop the ambitious start-up. FOX, the Tribune Company, PBS, Univision, and others, lost their July bid for a preliminary injunction to stop Aereo from rebroadcasting their programming over the Internet. The plaintiffs argued that Aereo violated copyright protections, but Aereo's method does not amount to a copyright infringement according to the court. The individual control over each antenna does not allow sharing of content and does not amount to infringement through public performance.

Staci D. Kramer, from paidContent summed up the judge's rationale for denying the injunction:

U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan ruled that the networks and television stations suing Aereo had some points in their favor but were arguing a legal position that was unlikely to win in court based on precedent set by the earlier case Cartoon Network vs. CVC Holdings (Cablevision). In that case, an appellate court agreed with Cablevision that individual delivery to customers of shows recorded via off-site DVR was not the same as a transmission to the public. Aereo’s individually operated antenna-DVR contention dovetails with Cablevision. The judge accused the plaintiffs of trying to twist that ruling by arguing some elements should apply and others should not — and concluded “faithful application of Cablevision requires the conclusion that Plaintiffs are unlikely to succeed on the merits of their public performance claim.”

In addition to the likelihood of success (or lack thereof), the judge had to consider financial impact on both parties, routine elements of preliminary injunctions. The judge agreed that the broadcasters would be negatively affected, but an injunction could shut down Aereo. Balance of hardships tipped the scales in favor of Aereo.

Plaintiff broadcasters immediately announced they would appeal the ruling, stating that an appellate decision in their favor is the primary goal. Aereo, and IAC, were not surprised and seem to have been ready for a substantial legal battle. From the Kramer article:

When the startup’s plans went public earlier this year, networks began asking for payment in exchange for permission to transmit the signal (retransmission fees). But [IAC CEO Barry] Diller says he told them: “When you get Radio Shack to pay you a slice of profit for selling an aerial, we’ll pay you.”

Update: To be clear, Aereo is far from home free and still may be sued out of existence. But the model is what we find intriguing and could be copied depending on how the lawsuits go.

Here are some videos showing product demonstrations.

Video: 
See video
See video

Dunnellon, Florida's Fiber Dreams Now a Reality

We reported on Dunellon, Florida, last year - time for a refresher and an update.

You may recall that Dunnellon is a small community with only about 1,900 people in 2004, located in the north central part of the state. The City of Dunnellon watched as surrounding communities gained jobs and people, while its phosphate mining industry limped along.

Dunnellon decided to invest in its own fiber network to spur economic development and provide the services Comcast and AT&T considered unprofitable in the rural area. The town secured financing through a traditional bank loan in 2010. Dunnellon's biggest challenge was building a network from scratch, but the town now has over 100 miles of installed fiber in Marion County. The service, Greenlight Dunnellon Communications, offers triple play at great rates.

From an article on the Communications Technology website:

The potential to improve the local economy through Dunnellon’s high-speed fiber network also is evident. Several neighboring counties, the local Marion County school district and numerous businesses are in the process of finalizing contracts to secure high-speed connectivity through the city’s network and to leverage such benefits as disaster recovery and failover. The city also believes area healthcare providers will benefit from the ability to connect directly to nearby facilities.

According to [Eddie] Esch, [the City of Dunnellon’s director/Public Services and Utilities] “As we progress in this project, we have uncovered so many exciting and promising new opportunities that it’s like watching the bubbles in a glass of 7-Up percolate to the top!”

Wall Street: Lack of Competition Allows Comcast to Raise Prices Whenever It Wants

A major difference between Main Street and Wall Street is that we view Comcast's lack of competition as a major problem. The prospect of Comcast increasing our rates year after year makes us want to scream. Prepare to scream. Or throw things.

The Lafayette Pro-Fiber Blog alerted us to a piercingly honest analysis from Wall Street. The article on SeekingAlpha.com, titled We-re Big Fans Of Comcast's Cash-Flow Generation captures one of the major policy failures of our time:

Comcast's traditional Cable Communications continues to grow and generate copious cash flow. Video revenue, Xfinity and other cable TV products, grew 2.8% to $5 billion, while High-Speed Internet revenue grew 8.9% to $2.4 billion. We're big fans of the firm's Video and High-Speed Internet businesses because both are either monopolies or duopolies in their respective markets. Further, we believe that both services have become so sticky and important to consumers that Comcast will be able to effectively raise prices year after year without seeing too much volume-related weakness.

Wow.

SeekingAlpha.com, describes itself as "…the premier website for actionable stock market opinion and analysis, and vibrant, intelligent finance discussion."

We want to empower local businesses and communities to control their own destiny. Monopolistic telecommunications companies, with their Goliath market share, Wall Street priorities, and armies of lobbyists continue to attack local control and self-reliance. They are extracting assets from Main Street and shipping it to Wall Street.

Yet we see the FCC, Congress, and many states pretending that the public interest is best served by giving more power to these massive companies. And we will continue to hear industry-funded think tanks claiming that broadband has robust competition and should be subject to less public oversight. Coming soon to an op-ed page near you.

Photo courtesy of JSquish via Wikipedia Commons

Community Broadband Bits 7 - Mary Beth Henry of Portland, Oregon

For the 7th Community Broadband Bits podcast, we talk with Mary Beth Henry from Portland, Oregon. Mary Beth is the Director of the Portland Office for Community Technology and Mt Hood Cable Regulatory Commission, as well as a past president of NATOA.

Our discussion covers the long struggle to ensure local businesses and residents had a real choice in broadband providers in Portland. We start with how the famous "Brand X" Supreme Court decision came into being. But after Portland lost that case (indeed, after all of America lost due to that decision) it continued to push for smart telecommunications policies to benefit the community.

Now Portland has its own network serving public entities (IRNE - the Integrated Regional Network Enterprise) and the public is discussing what it can do to get beyond the CenturyLink and Comcast duopoly. Below, we have embedded videos that Portland produced as part or Portland's Broadband Strategic Plan. You can find more documents and information about Portland's approach here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 18 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here.

Thanks to Fit and the Conniptions for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Video: 
See video
See video

Public Service Commissioner Calls Mississippi Gov "Coin-Operated"

We have watched in growing horror as AT&T and other telco lobbyists have gone from state to state gutting telecommunications oversight. In several states, you no longer have an absolute right to a telephone - the companies can refuse to serve you if they so choose.

We tip our hat to Phil Dampier at Stop the Cap, who alerted us to this story. AT&T convinced Mississippi legislators to remove consumer protections for telecommunications.

Northern District Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley is unhappy with a new state law that will strip oversight over AT&T. Presley plans to personally file suit in Hinds County Circuit Court against the law, calling it unconstitutional.

“It violates the state constitution,” Presley said of the bill during an interview with the Daily Journal. “There’s no doubt AT&T is the biggest in the state, and this bill will allow them to raise rates without any oversight at all.”

House Bill 825 strips away rate regulation of Mississippi landline service and removes the oversight powers the PSC formerly had to request financial data and statistics dealing with service outages and consumer complaints. The law also permits AT&T to abandon rural Mississippi landline customers at will.

As we've seen elsewhere (as in California), AT&T worked with ALEC to push this through - though Rep Beckett (R-Bruce) doesn't think AT&T will raise its rates or abandon parts of the state. Time will tell - but Beckett won't be the one to suffer when the inevitable occurs. Thanks to AT&T and ALEC, he already got his.

Why "Who Invented the Internet" Matters

For those who missed it, a Wall Street Journal op-ed ignited a geektroversy by claiming the federal government did not invent the Internet. First, some history. Then an explanation of why we should care.

A guy named Crovitz kicked off the fight with his poorly researched op-ed:

It's an urban legend that the government launched the Internet. The myth is that the Pentagon created the Internet to keep its communications lines up even in a nuclear strike.

Well, he was right about the nuclear strike bit. But the federal government played several important roles in the creation of the Internet, which truly was created by the efforts of many people, companies, and institutions.

As evidence for his argument, Crovitz cites Dealers of Lightning by Michael Hiltzik. Unfortunately, Hiltzik disputed Crovitz's understanding of it:

And while I'm gratified in a sense that he cites my book about Xerox PARC, "Dealers of Lightning," to support his case, it's my duty to point out that he's wrong. My book bolsters, not contradicts, the argument that the Internet had its roots in the ARPANet, a government project.

...

But Crovitz confuses AN internet with THE Internet. Taylor was citing a technical definition of "internet" in his statement. But I know Bob Taylor, Bob Taylor is a friend of mine, and I think I can say without fear of contradiction that he fully endorses the idea as a point of personal pride that the government-funded ARPANet was very much the precursor of the Internet as we know it today. Nor was ARPA's support "modest," as Crovitz contends. It was full-throated and total. Bob Taylor was the single most important figure in the history of the Internet, and he holds that stature because of his government role.

CNET talked to Vint Cerf about the Crovitz claims. In reaction to a Crovitz claim that the government didn't understand the value of TCP/IP but the private sector did, Vint said:

I would happily fertilize my tomatoes with Crovitz' assertion.

Nicely done. Vint discussed another way the federal government aided in developing the Internet via the National Science Foundation:

NSF Logo

The NSF got very involved in 1985 and this led to the design and implementation and subsequent expansion of the NSFNET that became a major backbone for academic access to the Internet. NSF also sponsored more than a dozen intermediate level regional networks. By 1986, router companies such as Cisco and Proteon were selling to academia and the military and to USG-sponsored networking users. By 1989, three commercial Internet service providers were in operation: UUNET, PSINET, and CERFNET.

Let's move into the Why This Matters portion of the story. Michael Moyer at Scientific American writes:

In truth, no private company would have been capable of developing a project like the Internet, which required years of R&D efforts spread out over scores of far-flung agencies, and which began to take off only after decades of investment. Visionary infrastructure projects such as this are part of what has allowed our economy to grow so much in the past century. Today’s op-ed is just one sad indicator of how we seem to be losing our appetite for this kind of ambition.

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we strongly believe in both a robust private sector and a strong public sector. They should balance each other. The Internet came about as a result of innovations in the private sector as well as a variety of programs that were only possible due to the public sector (government and educational institutions).

But the Wall Street Journal editorial page and a variety of other anti-government groups prefer to pretend that everything good comes from the private sector and the public sector does nothing but provide anecdotes about mismanagement.

And because a few massive corporations stand to gain greatly from this faulty perception, there is an unending stream of dubious assertions that minimize the important role of the public sector while over-emphasizing benefits from large corporations. Crovitz will not lose any popularity despite this prominent error-filled commentary. His kind never do. (Check out the Inside Job documentary for an explanation of how the big banks achieved similar ends by corrupting economics departments at prominent universities.)

Inside Job cover

The cable and telco lobbyists in state houses around the country say whatever they want because they don't have to worry about credibility. They get their power from living in the capital and making campaign contributions. There is no analog for the rest of us; Comcast's subscribers have no lobby working for them. Indeed, the public sector is supposed to represent our interests but state public utility commissions and the Federal Communications Commission are unfortuately subject to "regulatory capture," where they begin seeing their mission as helping the corporations rather than the public.

So why does it matter who invented the Internet? Because if we allow big corporations to write the history, we won't get the next big innovation. Big corporations abhor risk (almost as much as they hate competition - which is wasteful overinvestment according to Wall Street).

America works best with a balance between the public and the private. But that balance has been disrupted -- as is obvious when one considers that 19 states have limited or revoked local authority to build essential infrastructure, even as the private sector has failed to do it.

Our history is important and it is beyond time we started learning from it. Electrification, which relied on local governments, cooperatives, and private sector companies, would be a good start.

Update: Read this excellent explanation of how the Internet was invented.

Television Ad Revenue for Small Networks

When communities are trying to figure out how to pay for networks, they sometimes fail to explore some logical places. A recent article on Telecompetitor gives us an estimate for revenues from inserting ads in cable television programming.

Before the economic downturn, a typical small video service provider could expect between $1.25 and $2.00 a month per subscriber in ad revenues, noted Walter P. Staniszewski, president of Prime Media Productions – a company that sells advertising for small video service provider clients. Since the downturn, the numbers are more like $1.00 to $1.50.

The article focuses on the windfall cable operators are seeing due to all the money being spent by big-money interests in anticipation of the election in November.

However, the smallest networks may not want to commit to ad-insertion until they are reaching thousands of homes, according to the Telecompetitor source:

“If you study the cable industry, even the big guys didn’t have their own sales force until they developed some real scale,” said Staniszewski. He cautioned operators with systems with fewer than 5,000 or 6,000 subscribers against hiring their own sales force.