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Connected Communities in an Age of Digital Learning: Webcast Archive Available

On February 27, the New America Foundation presented the live webcast, "Connected Communities in an Age of Digital Learning: A Vision for a 21st Century E-rate Program."

The webcast addressing the modernization of the E-rate program is now archived and available to view.

As technology advances, schools must find ways to keep up. At the root of their success is connectivity in the communities. From the announcement:

Yet many communities lack robust Internet connectivity, which is a key prerequisite to using these tools. Libraries and schools across the country report that they do not have the necessary speeds and equipment to support the digital learning environments of today, let alone tomorrow. Sustaining and upgrading the Internet infrastructure that supports these community anchor institutions is critical. And in addition to physical infrastructure, these communities need investments in social infrastructure: support systems in and around community institutions that help facilitate digital literacy, support broadband access, and encourage meaningful broadband adoption. 

The panel included experts in education, library science, and technology. Featured speakers were:

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Don Means on Libraries and White Spaces - Community Broadband Bits Episode 79

This week, Don Means joins us to talk about public libraries, their role in the modern era, and an interesting pilot project involving several libraries and white spaces wireless technology. Don is the coordinator of the Gigabit Libraries Network and has a passion for both libraries and expanding Internet access to all.

We offer some basic background on "TV white spaces" wireless technology (see our other coverage of that technology here). The pilot libraries in this project are using white spaces as backhaul from a library branch location to nearby areas where they have created Wi-Fi hot spots.

Libraries involved with the project are located in Kansas, New Hampshire, Colorado, Illinois, Mississippi, and California.

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 15 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Haggard Beat for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

FCC Prioritizes Incumbent Protection in Data Collection Order

Patrick Lucey of the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, posted this excellent story around the time we published our rant about the FCC's cave-in to industry pressure for no good reason. We liked it so much, we asked to repost it.

In late June the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued an order reforming the way it collects data on broadband services. Broadband providers must file forms, known as Form 477, that contain information about their broadband network deployment, customer subscriptions, and speeds offered across the country. The order seeks to expand the FCC’s current broadband data collection efforts and also assume responsibility for administering theNational Broadband Map, initially created by the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA). Unfortunately, the vast majority of the order’s contents seem out of line with that goal.

Federal authorities need to collect good data in order to make informed policy decisions. However, the June data order does not add broadband pricing information to the data the FCC would seek to collect. The price residential customers pay for internet access is an important piece of information, not only to understand the state of competition for broadband but also to provide insight on whether services are available at affordable rates.

Past surveys from both the FCC and NTIA have shown that the cost of residential services can be a barrier to broadband adoption for many citizens. A recent newspaper article also note that some citizens may be canceling their existing home subscriptions due to the high cost.  Both the FCC’s own National Broadband Plan and Department of Justice recommended that the FCC collect broadband pricing information to inform their analysis of competition and the American public’s access to broadband.

Yet, rather than discuss the need to collect broadband pricing information, a review of the June order indicates a greater focus on accommodating the interests of internet service providers by stressing how the reforms will reduce burdens associated with reporting data. A “Ctrl + F” word search of the order returns 85 mentions of variations on the word “burden” [burden, burdens, burdensome, burdening], including a combined 15 mentions of the phrases “reducing the burden” and “reduce burdens.” Compare that to only four mentions for the word “price.” Three mentions for the word “affordability” [and all three are found in the same footnote]. The word “adoption” is mentioned 15 times, with the phrase “barriers to adoption” mentioned three times.

fcc-data-order-cloud.png

While federal agencies have an obligation to consider the impact or “burden” of regulations and reporting requirements, here it seems to be the overwhelming focus for the FCC in the order.

An encouraging sign are the public statements of Commissioner and Interim Chairwoman Clyburnand Commissioner Rosenworcel. Both acknowledge the need to revisit the topic of collecting broadband pricing information again in the future, with Commissioner Rosenworcel noting how broadband affordability impacts broadband adoption.

Policymakers must be aware of the prices consumers must pay for broadband to understand the state of internet access in America. The FCC should quickly reopen the discussion on Form 477 broadband data and begin collecting price information to make informed policy decisions.

Sascha Meinrath Causes a Commotion on Community Broadband Bits #41

Sascha Meinrath, Director of the Open Technology Institute (OTI) at the New America Foundation, joined me at the National Conference for Media Reform to discuss what OTI does and to discuss the Commotion Wireless project.

Commotion is a project that is making it easier for anyone to build wireless mesh networks that allow for secure, affordable, and resilient communications. We explain what each of these components mean and why each is important.

We also discuss the ways in which these networks can make the powerful worry about what happens when all citizens can talk amongst themselves without being wiretapped or overcharged. Commotion should be a game changer both at home and abroad.

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 20 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. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to D. Charles Speer & the Helix for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Slate Commentary: Want to Pay Less and Get More?

Today, Slate published an opinion piece by me and Sascha Meinrath from the Open Technology Institute at New America Foundation talking about the important role of community broadband in solving the nation's broadband problem.

A snippet:

In the meantime, local communities are taking matters into their own hands and have created remarkable citywide fiber-to-the-home broadband networks. Many offer services directly to residents, providing a much-needed alternative to the cable and telephone companies. And by creating meaningful consumer choice among competitors, these networks are driving lower prices—spurring new investment and creating new jobs—and keeping more money circulating in the local economy.

Open Technology Initiative Report Shows U.S. Lagging in Broadband

The Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation just released a report titled "The Cost of Connectivity." The report, authored by Hibah Hussain, Danielle Kehl, Benjamin Lennett, Chiehyu Li, and Patrick Lucey examines 22 cities across the planet for speed, triple play offerings, and what consumers can get for $35. The results, unfortunately, are not surprising. From the Report Summary:

The results indicate that U.S. consumers in major cities tend to pay higher prices for slower speeds compared to consumers abroad. For example, when comparing triple play packages in the 22 cities surveyed, consumers in Paris can purchase a 100 Mbps bundle of television, telephone, and high-speed Internet service for the equivalent of approximately $35 (adjusted for PPP). By contrast, in Lafayette, LA, the top American city, the cheapest available [triple play] package costs around $65 and includes just a 6 Mbps Internet connection. A comparison of Internet plans available for around $35 shows similar results.  Residents of Hong Kong have access to Internet service with symmetrical download and upload speeds of 500 Mbps while residents of New York City and Washington, D.C. will pay the equivalent price for Internet service with maximum download speeds that are 20 times slower (up to 25 Mbps and upload speeds of up to 2 Mbps).

The results add weight to a growing body of evidence that suggests that the U.S. is lagging behind many of its international counterparts, most of whom have much higher levels of competition and, in turn, offer lower prices and faster Internet service. It suggests that policymakers need to re-evaluate our current policy approaches to increase competition and encourage more affordable high-speed Internet service in the U.S.

Forbes' Bruce Upbin reviewed the report and the implications and, once again, pointed out what we all know:

This inferiority is almost purely a function of the lack of true competition and pro-consumer regulation in the telecom industry. According to the National Broadband Plan of 2010, 78% of American households have a choice between two companies for broadband: the telephone company and the cable company. Another 13% have one choice.

Also no surprise is that Lafayette and Chattanooga, both communities that invest in their own fiber insfrastructure, were at the top among U.S. cities for speed and affordability. The parallel between lack of affordability and lack of competition runs through the report.

The report is 54 pages; download the PDF here to get more details.

Open Technology Institute Explores Gig.U Model for Community Networks

Publication Date: 
April 23, 2012
Author(s): 
Benjamin Lennett, Open Technology Institute, New America Foundation
Author(s): 
Sarah Morris, Open Technology Institute, New America Foundation
Author(s): 
Greta Byrum, Open Technology Institute, New America Foundation

In a report entitled "Universities as Hubs for Next-Generation Networks," the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation has explored a new path for expanding community networks. The full report is available here [pdf].

This report builds on the Gig.U initiative, in which major universities are working with communities and other partners to expand access to next-generation networks in select areas. We recently wrote about a Gig.U project in Maine.

This approach encourages a very collaborative approach with lots of community input and a mix of fiber-optic lines feeding neighborhood wireless networks. Universities already need robust connections but few have been as bold as Case Western Reserve University, which initiated a project to share a gig with neighbors in Cleveland.

OTI calls on open access fiber links connecting anchor institutions that allow wireless nodes to easily connect. Planning for such interconnection upfront is far preferable to adding it after because interconnection points should be placed in convenient places for wireless transmitters.

The people at OTI have long championed mesh architectures and this report again explores the benefits of such an approach:

Moreover, communities deploying wireless mesh technology can incorporate additional service offerings into their networks. Mesh facilitates the use of a community-wide intranet, allowing all users connected to the mesh to access content and applications from local schools, universities, libraries, religious establishments, social service agencies, local governments, and local anchor institutions.

To the extent that each of these components is also connected to the mesh, the intranet component of the network would be functional even without Internet backhaul connectivity, and might actually run faster than Internet connections.

... Read the rest of our review here ...

The Real Government Takeover of the Internet

If you aren't familiar with SOPA - the "Stop Online Piracy Act" or its companion in the Senate (called PIPA or Protect IP), you should be. This is legislation that would allow the US government to require Internet Service Providers block web sites without due process. Sascha Meinrath and James Losey from the New America Foundation explain the threat in Slate:

The interconnected nature of the Internet fostered the growth of online communities such as Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. These sites host our humdrum daily interactions and serve as a public soapbox for our political voice. Both the PROTECT IP Act and SOPA would create a national firewall by censoring the domain names of websites accused of hosting infringing copyrighted materials. This legislation would enable law enforcement to take down the entire tumblr.com domain due to something posted on a single blog. Yes, an entire, largely innocent online community could be punished for the actions of a tiny minority.

If you think this scenario is unlikely, consider what happened to Mooo.com earlier this year. Back in February, the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security seized 10 domains during a child-porn crackdown called “Operation Protect Our Children.” Along with this group of offenders, 84,000 more entirely innocent sites were tagged with the following accusatory splash page: “Advertisement, distribution, transportation, receipt, and possession of child pornography constitute federal crimes that carry penalties for first time offenders of up to 30 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution." Their only crime was guilt by association: They were all using the Mooo.com domain.

From our point of view, what is most interesting is not who is pushing this bill (Hollywood and the usual suspects that tried to kill the VCR because it would obviously destroy the movie industry) but who is not resisting. After all, whenever the issue of network neutrality comes up, the big telecom companies pay a bunch of organizations like Americans for Prosperity to create astroturf movements to oppose a "government takeover of the Internet." Of course, network neutrality is the opposite - a set of rules where the government requires corporations not dictate how subscribers use the Internet.

But here we have a literal government takeover of the Internet. Should SOPA pass, the federal government would decide what sites are allowed to be accessed by Americans and which cannot. The evidence thus far suggests that more sites will be harmed by incompetence as opposed to intentional political censorship but the entire approach is troubling, to say the least.

To get a sense of which elected officials are supporting this legislation, here are the cosponsors for HR 3261 in the House and cosposors for S 968 in the Senate. More details on how you can be involved at Demand Progress.

Many of the organizations who have strongly fought for an open Internet with strong network neutrality rules are pouring resources into stopping SOPA. This includes Free Press's Save the Internet, Public Knowledge, and others. Some of the network neutrality opponents, like the Wall Street Journal and Cato Institute have also warned against SOPA but other groups -- like Americans for Prosperity have been fairly silent. The next time AT&T and Time Warner Cable-sponsored groups start fear-mongering around policies that threaten to bring competition against their corporate sponsors, we must ask them where they were when the future of the Internet was truly threatened.

The Future of Music organization has reviewed an alternative to SOPA that may be a much better approach.

Below is a video about SOPA.

Image credit: monkeyc on Flickr.

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Black Voices for Internet Freedom Kicks off Next Friday

If I were near Washington, DC, next week, I would be stopping by the New America Foundation for the kickoff of "Black Voices for Internet Freedom" with a panel discussion.

Black and Latino communities are coming together to keep the Internet open and free from discrimination. Because communities of color rely on the Internet and are increasingly embracing wireless technology, we are organizing to protect our online communication rights. These rights are currently at risk: FCC Net Neutrality rules provide few protections for wireless users — and a pending congressional resolution would overturn these rules and hand control of the Internet to corporations. What’s more, the Department of Justice has acknowledged that AT&T’s proposed merger with T-Mobile is a serious threat to wireless competition and would raise prices for consumers.

RSVP here to attend.

Book: Network Nation

The book Network Nation looks extremely good.  You can learn about the major themes from this event with the author.

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