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New York Times on Internet in America, Genachowski Legacy

Eduardo Porter has an important column today in the business section of the New York Times, "Yanking Broadband From the Slow Lane." He correctly identifies some of the culprits slowing the investment in Internet networks in our communities.

The last two paragraphs read:

Yet the challenge remains: monopolies have a high instinct for self-preservation. And more than half a dozen states have passed 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.

FCC Logo

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. Even its architect, Blair Levin, is annoyed at how Genachowski failed to implement even the modest proposals put forth.

Back in the NYT piece, we find this:

Mr. Genachowski contends that broadband deployment is on the right track. He points to the growing number of high-speed broadband deployments like Google Fiber and municipal projects around the country, as well as to AT&T’s announcement that it will expand the footprint of its U-verse network — the number of homes to which service is available — to 33 million. This uses fiber part of the way and, AT&T claims, can attain up to 75 Mbps.

Absurd. First of all, the supposed AT&T expansion is playing with numbers. If anyone actually gets U-Verse from this new deployment, it will be fewer than 1.5 million people but we really have no way of knowing because neither the states or the FCC really keeps track of these deployments. They just take AT&T's word for it.

As for 75 Mbps, talk about cherry picking data. Most people live far enough away from the DSLAM or have old enough copper wires that they will not even come close to that number. And this is only for downstream - the upstream capacity remains a fraction of that. This is a fantasy in a fantasy but these numbers are repeated by media sources because they come from AT&T.

I'm rather surprised Genachowski did not also take credit for AT&T's pretend fiber press release in Austin or the overblown CenturyLink pilot in Omaha. Communities engaged in the hard work of building a network received scant attention until they had a ribbon cutting where Chairman Genachowski would appear suddenly supportive and trying to take some measure of credit.

FCC Revolving Door

Genachowski likely felt more comfortable with AT&T, CenturyLink, and a few other big corporations because they share his preference for press releases rather than doing the hard work that needs to be done. We look forward to seeing which of these firms he joins as a lobbyist of some sort ... after a stint at a nonprofit to make it less obvious, of course. Wouldn't want to be as obvious as former FCC Commissioner Baker.

Lest I go too far in attacking our former FCC Chairman, we do remain thankful that once in awhile he did stand up the big corporations and meekly request a reasonable concession.. Most recently, he spoke out against legislation in Georgia to revoke local authority to build networks. For years, FCC Commission and acting Chair Mignon Clyburn has fought to preserve local authority and we were pleased to see her get some backup from the then-Chairman. He didn't actually use his power to actually do anything, but it was nice of him to think of us.

As we move forward with the new FCC under Chairman-nomineer Wheeler, we hope to see real progress on expanding fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access to everyone. Given his industry background, we cannot help but be nervous. And the utter disaster Obama has been for a public interest media and telecom agenda does not help either.

As this NYT article confirms, communities are smart to pursue their own strategies in solving this problem, not waiting for DC to sort anything out. And if DC can be bothered to take any action on telecom, it would be smart to start by removing barriers for communities that want to invest in themselves.

FCC Chairman Issues Statement Opposing State Muni Broadband Limitations

Last Friday, FCC Chairman Genachowski issued a statement discouraging states from creating (or maintaining) barriers to community owned networks. This statement came just days after Georgia began considering a bill to limit local authority in deciding whether a network were a wise decision.

As we’ve recognized in law and policy for many years, public-private partnerships are also essential for driving broadband deployment. Public-private partnerships like the Connect America Fund, which drives universal broadband deployment, and municipal and public -private projects like those in Chattanooga, Tennessee and San Leandro, California are also vital components of our national broadband strategy. Our Gigabit City Challenge and the important work of Gig.U to drive ultra -fast broadband centers for innovation can also benefit from innovative local approaches to broadband infrastructure. That’s why the National Broadband Plan stated that, when private investment isn’t a feasible option for broadband deployment, local governments ‘have the right to move forward and build networks that serve their constituents as they deem appropriate.’

If a community can’t gain access to broadband services that meet its needs, then it should be able to serve its own residents directly. Proposals that would tie the hands of innovative communities that want to build their own high-speed networks will slow progress to our nation’s broadband goals and will hurt economic development and job creation in those areas. I urge state and local leaders to focus instead on proposals that incentivize investment in broadband infrastructure, remove barriers to broadband build-out, and ensure widespread access to high-speed networks.”

This is a welome development as the FCC has long opposed such barriers (thank you Commissioner Clyburn as well for long speaking out on this issue) but the Chairman himself has not been as direct as this.

The Chairman regularly uses Chattanooga as an example of a tremendously successful network and again noted that community in this statement. This provides some explanation for what it means when private investment isn't a feasible option -- as Chattanooga already had DSL and cable Internet access from its incumbent providers.

Georgia's leaders need to pay attention to this fact because the ultimate question is not whether a community has DSL, cable, or wireless but whether its telecommunications services are meeting the needs of local businesses and residents.

That is the real test and can only be evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the community itself.

Discussing the FCC's Gigabit Challenge

Last week, I joined Craig Settles on his Gigabit Nation show to discuss Chairman Genachowski's Gigabit Challenge along with Jim Baller, Masha Zager of Broadband Communities Magazine, Gary Evans of Hiawatha Broadband Communications, and Arkansas Senator Linda Chesterfield.

I take a more moderated stance in this discussion than I have previously, in part because we do need to take advantage of this opportunity and because we cannot expect the FCC to suddenly act in our interests when a Congress dominated by big corporations can so quickly punish them for such actions. I think the discussion is worth a listen, though it is 90 minutes.

Listen to internet radio with cjspeaks on Blog Talk Radio

Taking Advantage of Chairman Genachowski's Gigabit Challenge

On Friday, I wrote a harsh, quick response to FCC Chairman's Genachowski's so-called gigabit challenge announced in a guest column on Forbes.

Since then, I have learned more about the 1 Gbps Challenge and I have to reiterate my frustration with it. We need the Chairman to reduce barriers to community-owned networks, not just recognize their successes. I'm not the only one reacting this way - Karl Bode has a thoughtful response as well.

Let me start by giving some credit: Thank you for recognizing that the cable and DSL companies are failing to deliver the networks communities need. This announcement should be used to pressure the existing providers to invest in their networks. It is another important piece of evidence that communities having to choose only between cable networks and a slower DSL option are being left behind.

But we need to also recognize that pressuring the existing providers to do better is not a solution in itself. Our slow, overpriced networks are the symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. The problem is that the massive cable and DSL companies are unaccountable to most of the communities they serve. Begging for more investment is better than doing nothing, but solves few problems.

I have a challenge for the FCC Chairman: Use your power to make it less of a challenge for communities to build the networks they need. For too long, you have sat silently by as massive telecommunications firms made it all but impossible for smaller entities - public and private - to build competing networks. When the FCC Chairman finally gets around to supporting communities with definitive action to reduce the many unnecessary industry-created barriers to competition, that will actually be praise-worthy.

Communities are smart to find ways of building their own networks, whether by owning and operating or finding partners to help. Nearly all the communities in the U.S. that have gigabit (and symmetrical at that!) connectivity today are served by networks owned by the community. This includes Chattanooga, Morristown, and Bristol in Tennessee; Lafayette in Louisiana; Bristol, Virginia; Burlington, Vermont; and the communities in Utah served by UTOPIA. Also, Chelan Public Utility District offers up to 1 Gbps connections in many communities in Washington State.

This is why we have to remove unnecessary barriers to public investment in their own networks and encourage communities to take responsibility for their own future. As Harold DePriest asked when announcing that Chattanooga would build its own FTTH network, "The issue is, does our community control our own fate, or does someone else control it?"

Goliath Regulator Asks For More Davids

In a column published today, Chairman Genachowski explains why the U.S. Needs 'Gigabit Communities.' It starts off with an accurate observation...

Walking the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show last week, I kept thinking of that line from Jaws, “You’re going to need a bigger boat.” All the Internet-connected, data-hungry gadgets that are coming to market sent a strikingly clear message: we’re going to need faster broadband networks.

... It’s essential to economic growth, job creation and U.S. competitiveness.

Yes! If only the head of the Federal Communications Commission understood what is preventing us from building those networks. Hint: It isn't a lack of demand. Google was inundated with applications for its gigabit service. Hundreds of communities have built their own networks (some of which he praises).

Local businesses get it. Mayors get it. City councils get it. And unlike Chairman Genachowski, they know what the problem is: little incentive for massive, established cable monopolies to invest in networks when they are harvesting record profits and subscribers have no other choices. Wall Street not only gets it, it actually rejoices in it!

Comcast's traditional Cable Communications continues to grow and generate copious cash flow.. 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.

What is our FCC Chair doing about this problem? He helped Comcast to grow even bigger, with more market power to crush those rivals that he is calling on to build gigabit test beds.

Chairman G wants to spur hundreds of David's while refusing to curb Goliath's power. Bad news, Mr. Chairman, Goliath actually wins most of the time. Rather than doing his job, Genachowski is begging others to do it for him.

DC Revolving Door FCC - /> Comcast

More and more, he sounds more like a cable lobbyist than a public servant. This is actually a pattern: the head cable lobbyist in DC is a former FCC Chief himself and a recent FCC Commissioner left for a job at Comcast just months after pushing for the Comcast/NBC merger.

The revolving door helps to explain why the FCC has refused to take meaningful action that might threaten the cozy relationship between supposed competitors that have divided the market to their benefit.

Consider that Chair Genachowski fully supported bandwidth caps before walking that back a tiny bit. But now the cable industry has admitted what the FCC should have known all along, bandwidth caps are about increasing revenue rather than managing congestion.

He seems to spend far more time with the big cable and DSL lobbyists than with the local governments and businesses that are actually building next-generation networks.

Local governments are essential for expanding needed networks and have a tremendous track record of spurring economic growth. Most started by trying to work with large incumbents but were rebuffed. Presently, some 19 states limit their ability to build networks and in some cases engage in partnerships with groups like Gig.U. While some FCC Commssioners, like Mignon Clyburn have spoken out forcefully against these restrictions, the Commission itself has done little to prevent them.

New testbeds are great but they don't solve our problem. We need an FCC Chair that will wrestle with the real problem: far too much of our essential telecommunications infrastructure is controlled by de facto monopolies unaccountable to the communities that depend upon them.

Captive Audience

As Susan Crawford notes in her new book Captive Audience, our entire economy depends on a few powerful corporations that are effectively unregulated by either a competitive market or by smart government policy.

The result of this deregulatory environment? Well, I just have to wonder when this sentence of his column was written:

"Make no mistake, if the U.S. doesn’t continue to invest in our broadband infrastructure, somebody else will take the lead."

It would have made sense ten years ago. Take a look at the international rankings, Mr. Chairman. And it has only gotten worse since you took over.

Having Susan Crawford as the Chair of the next FCC would do wonders to making the FCC responsive to the needs of all America, not just the cable and telephone companies. But Comcast's David Cohen is far too big a Democratic Party fundraiser for that to happen, which is why we need more Rootstrikers to recognize that until we resolve campaign finance corruption, it will be hard to fix any other problem.

Revolving door graphic adapted from AJakeS & Life of Riley under Creative Commons.

FCC Chairman Genachowski Once Again Praises Muni Broadband

Just this week, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski highlighted the success of Chattanooga at a speech at VOX Media and SBNation on Winning the Global Broadband Race. From his speech (the entire speech in PDF format is available here):

First, as we said in our National Broadband Plan, we need “innovation hubs” with ultra-fast broadband, with speed measured in gigabits, not megabits.

There have been some positive recent developments on this front.

...

In Chattanooga, the community-owned utility installed a 100% fiber-to-the-premises network, making speeds up to 1 gigabit per second available to all businesses, residences, and institutions

Genachowski also commented on Chattanooga's place in the competitive environment:

Promoting competition also means we need to keep a close eye on developments in places like Chattanooga and Kansas City to see what additional steps we can take to encourage game- changing investments by disruptive broadband competitors.

This is not the first time Chairman Genachowski has referred to municipal networks as a valuable asset. In his August comments on the Google Fiber roll-out, he referred to the importance of municipal infrastructure investments as a way to push the boundaries and compete globally.