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Reflections on the Internet Governance Forum - Community Broadband Bits Episode 116

This week, Lisa Gonzalez interviews me about my recent trip to the Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul, Turkey. The IGF is an opportunity for anyone concerned with Internet Governance on planet Earth to discuss the perceived problems and possible solutions.

It uses a multi-stakeholder format, which means that governments, businesses, civil society, and academics are all able to come to the table... this means just about anyone who has the means to participate -- including by doing so remotely -- can do so.

I went as part of a delegation with the Media Democracy Fund, along with six other grantees of theirs to get a better sense of how we can contribute and what we might learn from these international discussions.

Lisa and I discuss my impressions, some of the topics we discussed, and why it is important for people in the United States to participate in these global deliberations.

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 17 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 The Bomb Busters for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Good To Be Alone."

American Enterprise Institute Scholar Calls DSL Obsolete

For the second time this year, one of the major defenders of the cable and telephone companies has admitted that DSL cannot provide the Internet access we need as a nation. This admission validates our research as well as that of Susan Crawford and others that show most Americans are effectively stuck with a cable monopoly.

On April 7, 2014, the Diane Rehm show hosted another discussion on telecommunications policy with guests that included Jeffrey Eisenach, the Director of the Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

During that show, Eisenach stated, "The vast majority of Europeans still only have DSL service available, which we in the United States consider really almost an obsolete technology now."

Interestingly, Eisenach and others have repeatedly claimed that there is no market failure in the US - that we have plenty of choices. But most Americans have to choose between what most now admit is an obsolete DSL product and cable. Eisenach would add 4G LTE as another competitor, but as we have noted many times, the average household would have to pay hundreds of dollars per month to use their LTE connection as a replacement for DSL or cable.

The average household uses something like 40-55 GB of data per month. Given the bandwidth caps from LTE providers, the overage charges quickly result in a bill of approximately $500 or more depending on the plan. This is why the overwhelming majority of the market uses mobile wireless as a complement, not substitute to wired networks.

We are left with one conclusion: there is no meaningful competition or choice for most of us in the residential telecommunications market. And no real prospect of a choice either as the cable companies only grow stronger.

This is not the first time Eisenach admitted that DSL is insufficient for our needs. Back in January, on Diane's show, he again used Europe's dependence on DSL as evidence that it was falling behind: "They are reliant on these 20th century copper networks which have real limits on the amount of speed that they can deliver."

Even those who only want the private sector to deliver services are starting to admit that the existing providers are failing us. What more do communities need to take an active role in ensuring their needs are met?

Diffraction Analysis Offers Free Webinar on FTTH, April 24th, 9 AM ET

On April 24th, Benoit Felten and his organization, Diffraction Analysis, will host a free webinar to discuss results from their latest study. The study, Why Consumers Love FTTH – The FTTH Consumer Experience Study, delves into the fiber experience in Sweden. Here are some preliminary findings from the report:

  • In Sweden a huge majority FTTH users (75%) think their broadband is better than before they had fibre.
  • 67% of Swedish broadband users think broadband over fibre is ‘Very Good’, but only 13% think the same of DSL.
  • Swedish FTTH subscribers use video-communication over the Internet five times as much (25%) as DSL users.
  • In Sweden 59% of FTTH users think fibre broadband is sustainable. Only 44% of DSL users think the same of DSL.
  • In Sweden, 59% of DSL users find their broadband price excessive vs. only 32% for FTTH users.
  • For FTTH users in Sweden, quality of broadband is the 1st criterion after home price when choosing a new home.

He recently spoke at the 2014 Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas. Felten also spoke on Smart Cities and Infrastructure at the FTTH Conference in Stockholm, Sweden, in February. Chris interviewed Felten in episode 21 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast back in 2012, when the two discussed the famous network in Stokab. 

You can register for the free webinar at GoTo Meeting.

Overview of Stockholm's Stokab - Community Broadband Bits Episode #88

Having just returned from a short trip to Sweden, Lisa Gonzalez and I discuss what I learned and how Stockholm has become one of the most connected cities on the planet.

We talk about how Stockholm built a massive dark fiber network that has enabled competition at the service layer, the status of telecommunications in Sweden, and what lessons we can learn in the U.S. from their experience.

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 Valley Lodge for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Sweet Elizabeth."

Chris Mitchell Speaks in Sweden on U.S. Broadband: Archives Now Available

In February, ILSR's Christopher Mitchell travelled to Stockholm to participate in an event titled Fibre: The key to creating world-class IT regions. On February 21st, he presented info to attendees on the status of broadband in the U.S.

While Chris was there, he also spoke one-on-one with Anders Broberg, one of the conference organizers and head of communications for Stokab, the city owned dark fiber network powering Stockholm (we discussed Stokab with Benoit Felten in 2012). Chris' presentation, Q&A, and the interview are now available online.

Other discussions and presentation videos are available at the Stockholm IT Region website, where they recently wrote about the interview with Chris:

Cities and municipalities that build their own networks has done it in order to keep and create jobs. But in order to keep up the development and expansion, the local communities must be given much more autonomy – even for experimental purposes.

Christopher pointed out that the internet is no longer just a cool thing, but a necessity – which makes fibre networks comparable to roads. And local decision making is vital in order to speed up the development and get people on these roads.

Video available below:

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Chris Mitchell to Speak at Fiber Event in Stockholm Feb. 21

On Friday, February 21, 2014, Christopher Mitchell will be speaking in Stockholm at the Stockholm Waterfront Congress Center. The event, titled Fibre: The key to creating world-class IT regions, will begin at 8:30 a.m. in Sweden (1:30 a.m. CST for viewers in the U.S.) and will be livestreamed.

Chris will be providing an update on fiber efforts in the U.S. He will join a distinguished line-up of speakers including Benoit Felton. Felton joined us for Broadband Bits podast episode 21 to talk about his work in Stokab.

From the announcement:

The 21st century has presented a major shift into the digital age and enabled us to make fundamental progress in areas such as connectivity and sustainability. Access to the digital age is to a great extent made possible thanks to high-speed connectivity through fibre infrastructure.

Experience and international rankings show that fibre roll-outs and open networks are crucial in order to fully exploit the possibilities a connected society offers – stronger regional development, increased growth and sustainability. We can also see that when public and private sectors cooperate competitive, affordable and sustainable infrastructures have been accomplished.

Mexican Village Takes Control With Community Cellular Service

"In Mexico we have a saying: 'don't ask to be breastfed!'" laughs local radio presenter, Keyla Ramirez. "We have the satisfaction of no longer having to ask them: 'Please, come and install a service for which we're going to pay you'."

One Mexican community is exercising its self-reliance muscle to create its own cell phone network. A recent BBC article introduced us to Talea de Castro, a small coffee-producing village in Oaxaca. Community members repeatedly appealed to Mexico's main cellular networks to install an antenna in their village. 

America Movil and other large telecoms would only bring the service to the village if they installed electrical lines and new roads. Without those improvements, the trip was not worth the investment to the telco giants. Without the means to make the improvements, the small mountain community was without cell service.

Citizens decided cell phone service was a necessity so held a village meeting. Keyla Ramirez from the local radio station told the BBC:

"Communication. From the very start, that was our principle objective as a collective," she explains.

"Sometimes there might be an accident in the fields and, before, people couldn't let anyone know.

"They'd be cut off if the river was high or if they'd been bitten by a snake and couldn't make it back to the village. Now they can call their families and they'll come and help them."

Local radio personnel brought information to the meeting about cellular equipment the community could install themselves. With help from non-profit Rhizomatica and a US-based company, villagers installed the equipment and began the Talea Cellular Network. People of the village perform maintenance and keep the network live.

Calls and texts in the the village are free and calls outside the area cost significantly less than rates from the big telcos. Entrepreneurs use the network to boost business and families are no longer cut off from each other.

Word is spreading. From a San Diego Union-Tribune article on the network:

"The neighboring communities are interested in the project so the antennas can be linked in an autonomous community network," Villa Talea de Castro secretary Alejandro Lopez Canseco said in a telephone interview with Efe.

The town plans to acquire more equipment and provide the existing gear to another community, Lopez said.

Peter Bloom of Rhizomatica told the BBC:

"In the case of Mexico, the large providers don't see the Mexican countryside as being a viable option in terms of economics."

"We see other options. We use new technology, we try to take advantage of local structures and local capacity in order to provide equipment and services at a much lower cost."

While Ramiez touts the value of Talea de Castro's network as a way to keep citizens connected, she also revels in the community's ability to serve their own needs:

"This equipment belongs to the whole community. Now we can be autonomous, self-sufficient and self-reliant without having to ask to be breastfed by anyone!"

Rise of Comcast Linked to Slower US Internet Speeds

This is an older column, but the introduction is so dead-on, I wanted to draw more attention to it:

If Dwight Eisenhower had General Motors and George W. Bush had Halliburton, Barack Obama arguably has Comcast. US presidents are often linked to one or two corporations that donate a lot of money to them and then benefit from their actions. Comcast, which is America’s largest cable television and internet provider and is a near monopoly in most of its largest cities, is no exception.

The company’s meteoric rise in the past decade parallels the relative decline of internet service in the US.

It comes from an Edward Luce column in the Financial Times from February. He goes on to note the strong ties between the FCC and Comcast and between Comcast and President Obama. Remember that President Obama has golfed with Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and the CEO is on the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

Susan Crawford's Captive Audience offers a good examination of Comcast, the threat it (and other massive cable corporations) poses to our communities, and just how savvy it is in lobbying.

Don't be shocked as this Adminstration continues to push wireless and other telecommunications "solutions" that don't threaten Comcast's market domination of cable. Between a dysfunctional Congress and an inevitably interest-group-compromised Executive Branch, communities are on their own.

No High-Speed in Manchester: European Commission Rules Preempt Local Authority

Though we often discuss some of the ways European nations have surpassed the U.S. in Internet network investment, they also have some counter-productive rules that limit investment. The Manchester Evening News recently published an article about a plan to bring high speed Internet to a deprived area of 30,000 homes where access is either slow or absent. From the article:

European rules ban public subsidy being used to fund infrastructure where – in theory – a company could roll it out instead.

The Manchester Council planned to use public funding to bring the homes into the 21st century, but the European Commission blocked the plan. Because Internet providers say there is not enough demand for broadband access in the areas, they are not compelled to build there.

Sound familiar?

“Part of this involves trying to address the digital divide which means that some parts of Manchester have little or no high speed broadband coverage because commercial internet service providers, such as BT, Virgin and Talk Talk and others, claim there is not enough demand. We have tried hard to address this but it has become clear that Europe-wide regulations mean our hands our tied and we cannot help provide connections where the private sector is able, but not willing, to do so," [said Manchester Coun Nigel Murphy].

This serves as a reminder that Europe also has a variety of bad policy approaches that privilege massive corporations over local authority. We hope to see people there step to defend their rights to be locally self-reliant.

"Olds" is First Gigabit Town in Canada

We introduced you to Olds, Alberta and their community network O-Net in 2012. Now this community of 8,500 will be the first Canadian "gig town" where residents will have access to a gig at incredibly low prices. 

CBC News reports that the Olds Institute for Community and Regional Development, the nonprofit organization building the network, recently approved the upgrade. Residents with 100 Mbps will have access to a gigabit with no increase in price. Depending on how they bundle, the price for Internet will range between $57-90 per month.

CBC's Emily Chung noted how much of rural Canada offers only dial-up or satellite. Olds used to have the same problem; businesses were considering leaving town:

"We had engineering companies here who were sending memory chips by courier because there wasn't enough bandwidth to deal with their stuff," recalls Joe Gustafson, who spearheaded the project to bring a fibre network to Olds.

...

"Now there's no talk about people leaving because of bandwidth challenges."

The $13-14 million project, which also included a video conference center and 15 public use terminals for residents, launched in July 2012. The organization acquired a $2.5 million grant from the province of Alberta and a $6 million loan from the town of Olds. When incumbents were not interested in providing service over the network, O-Net adapted:

"We said, 'Well I guess if we're going to do this, we have to do our own services,'" Gustafson recalled.

The Olds Institute spent $3.5 million to buy the necessary electronic equipment to run internet and other services on the network and to build a central office to house it all. Last July, it launched O-Net.

The community-owned service offers not just internet, but also phone and IPTV services — TV signals carried on the network that includes dozens of SD and HD channels, and movies on demand that can be paused and later resumed.

The network will be available to the entire town by 2014. The residential plan brings one gig to access points in town that each serve four or five households. According to [Director of Marketing Nathan] Kusiek, that gig will be shared between households at each access point. There will be no data caps. Dedicated business gig access will be available for $5,000 per month.

The network has transformed teaching and learning. Local Olds College used to connect with 40 Mbps for 4,000 students. 

That made it impossible to push any kind of mobile learning — something that the college was starting to get into with initiatives such as an entrepreneurship course that required students to play an online game as part of its requirements.

Now, every space on campus allows each student to connect two devices at the same time. This September, every new student will receive an iPad and all textbooks will be web-based.

Kusiek said, "Because we're a community-owned project we get to balance out profitability versus what's best for the community."

Reading the comments on the CBC story is instructive of the different culture - the comments are overwhelmingly in support of Olds and castigate incumbent providers.