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Vote Expected Today on Blackburn Amendment Targeting Munis; Call D.C. Now!

Last night, GOP Representative Marsha Blackburn, introduced an amendment intended to destroy local authority for telecommunications investment by severely limiting FCC funding. The amendment, introduced during debate on H.R. 5016, targets 20 states, many with state-erected barriers already in place and/or municipal networks already serving local communities.

The vote was postponed but is expected today (Wednesday) at approximately 2:30 p.m. ET. Now is the time to call the D.C. office of your Representative and tell him or her to vote NO on this amendment. If your Rep has a telecom staffer, ask to speak to him or her first.

The text of the amendment is as follows:

AMENDMENT TO H.R. 5016, AS REPORTED OFFERED BY MRS. BLACKBURN OF TENNESSEE

SEC. ll. None of the funds made available in this Act to the Federal Communications Commission may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws with respect to the provision of broadband Internet access service (as defined in section 8.11 of title 47, Code of Federal Regulations) by the State or a municipality or other political subdivision of the State. 

Multichannel News reports that New York DFLer Jose Serrano reacted the way we hope all Members will when it is time for the vote:

Wheeler has argued that those laws were the result of incumbent broadband providers using their lobbying muscle--he used to be one of those himself as president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association--to try to block competition.

Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), who rose in opposition to the amendment, agreed with Wheeler, saying that the issue is about allowing cities to operate without cable company lobbyists stopping them.   He said the amendment was an attack on individual rights of citizens speaking through their local leaders. "This is to stop states...from choking grassroots competition," he said.

Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA), who opposes the amendment, sent out a statement to his House colleagues when it became clear Blackburn would introduce the amendment (emphasis Doyle's).

Municipal broadband offers a genuine opportunity to inject real competition into the broadband marketplace and gives communities an innovative set of tools that they can use to solve their own problems.  Local communities should have the opportunity to decide for themselves how to invest in their own infrastructure, including the option of working with willing incumbent carriers, creating incentives for private sector development, entering into creative public-private partnerships, or even building their own networks, if necessary or appropriate.…

I urge you to VOTE NO on the Blackburn Amendment.

Local communities should retain the right to decide how to meet their connectivity needs whether through publicly owned infrastructure or through the private market. Rep Blackburn and those that support this amendment do not trust local communities to make the best choices for themselves. The FCC wants to ensure state legislatures do not impose their will as influenced by the telecommunications lobby. Call your Rep!

National Coalition Opposes Anti-Muni D.C. Legislation; Time to Call Your Rep!

The National League of Cities (NLC), National Association of Counties (NACo), and National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) joined together this morning to send a letter to Congress expressing their opposition to anti-muni legislation being discussed in the House.

As we reported yesterday, it is imperative that concerned constituents speak out against two anticipated amendments that can stifle local investment or end local telecommunications authority. The amendments are expected within the next few days, so we need to act now.

Appropriations bill H.R. 5016, introduced on July 2nd, provides funding for financial services and general government, including the FCC. H.R. 5016 will be the vehicle to force through language to further restrict community broadband networks.

The amendment most damaging to local telecommunications authority is expected to come from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). The amendment's purpose is to remove authority from the FCC to preempt state laws preventing local broadband infrastructure investment. By restricting the FCC's use of its funding, the legislation will choke the agency's ability to explore its plan to influence anti-muni state barriers so local communities can decide their own fates.

As the NLC, NACo, and NATOA write in their letter to Congress:

The National League of Cities (NLC), the National Association of Counties (NACo), and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) strongly urges you to oppose any amendment to HR 5016 that would hamstring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from taking any action on – indeed, even discussing – the issue of state laws that prohibit or restrict public and public/private broadband projects. It is clear that such laws harm both the public and private sectors, stifle economic growth, prevent the creation or retention of thousands of jobs, and hamper work force development.

...

The private sector alone cannot enable the United States to take full advantage of the opportunities that advanced communications networks can create in virtually every area of life. As a result, federal, state, and local efforts are taking place across the Nation to deploy both private and public broadband infrastructure to stimulate and support economic development and job creation, especially in economically distressed areas. 

State barriers to public broadband are counterproductive to the achievement of these goals. Efforts to strip funding from the FCC to even discuss this issue, let alone take action, are misplaced and wrong. Please oppose any amendment to HR 5016 or any other measure that could significantly impair community broadband deployments or public/private partnerships.

Contact your Representative's D.C. office today and tell them to vote NO on any H.R. 5016 amendment that negatively impacts community broadband, restricts the FCC, or impairs local authority over telecommunications decisions.

UPDATE: The Coaltion for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) also released a letter to Congress today. From CLIC's letter:

As Congress and the Commission have often recognized, ensuring that all Americans have reasonable and timely access to advanced telecommunications capabilities, particularly in rural and other high-cost areas, is “the great infrastructure challenge of our time.” Toward this end, Congress has assigned the Commission a central role in defining the relevant terms and standards and in identifying and removing barriers to broadband investment and competition. While preemption of State barriers to broadband investment and competition should be used rarely, in only the clearest of cases, it should not be ruled out categorically in all cases, as the Blackburn amendment would do.

At this critical time in our country’s history, we should not preclude or inhibit any potentially successful strategy that will enable our communities and America as a whole to thrive in the emerging knowledge-based global economy. Nor can we afford to take off the table any approach that may be necessary in certain cases to remove barriers to broadband investment and competition.

Read both letters below.

"Localism Over Consolidation" Discussion Streaming from New America Foundation

If you missed Chris in D.C. at the New America Foundation on May 28th, you can still catch the action via the archived presentation.

Chris joined Joanne Hovis, Will Aycock, and Catharine Rice to discuss "Localism Over Consolidation: An Exploration of Public Broadband Options." New America Foundation writes:

Today, more and more communities are thinking of broadband as a local issue. Even large cities like Baltimore, Seattle and New York have recently begun public discussions about ways to improve broadband services and what role the local government could play in that improvement. Current technology policy debates about net neutrality and the potential Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger mean it is more important than ever that local governments play a more active role in ensuring their communities do not get left behind in the digital age.

New America’s Open Technology Institute presented a discussion of various approaches to local investment in broadband. The panel featured a diverse set of experts on public broadband networks and projects, including the manager of a municipal fiber network in Wilson, NC. Panelists discussed different approaches communities have taken so far and share thoughts on what steps other local governments can take going forward to support access to affordable and high-speed broadband.

The discussion runs just under 90 minutes.

Video: 
See video

"Localism Over Consolidation: An Exploration of Public Broadband Options" May 28th at New America Foundation in DC

New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute will host "Localism Over Consolidation: An Exploration of Public Broadband Options" from 9:30 - 11 a.m. on May 28th. Chris will be participating in the discussion; if you can't make it to DC, the event will be live streamed.

Conversation will focus on different approaches to improve connectivity and community strategies to make those approaches successful.

From the event page:

Today, more and more communities are thinking of broadband as a local issue. Even large cities like Baltimore, Seattle and Los Angeles have recently begun public discussions about ways to improve broadband services and what role the local government could play in that improvement. Current technology policy debates about net neutrality and the potential Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger mean it is more important than ever that local governments play a more active role in ensuring their communities do not get left behind in the digital age.

Joining Chris:

Sarah Morris, Senior Policy Counsel at the New America Open Technology Institute will moderate. You can sign up for the event and livestream on the 28th at the event page.

New Fact Sheet: Community Broadband and Public Savings

We have already published a fact sheet on the critical role community broadband plays in job development. Now, ILSR presents a collection of how commnity owned broadband networks save money for local government, schools, and libraries while providing cutting edge services. The Public Savings Fact Sheet is now available.

Though schools, libraries, and other community anchors need access to faster, more reliable networks, the big cable and telephone companies have priced those services so high that they are breaking the budget. But when communities create their own connections, affordable high capacity connections are only one of the benefits. A community owned network offers the promise of self-determination -- of upgrades on the community's time table and increased reliability for emergency responders.

The Public Savings Fact Sheet is a great piece to share to mobilize other members of your community. Share it with decision makers and use it to start meaningful conversations. Distribute it widely and often.

We are always developing new resources. If you have an idea for a new fact sheet, we want to hear it.

More Information about Community Wireless Approach in Mount Pleasant, DC

We previously noted a grassroots wireless initiative in Mount Pleasant that the Open Technology Institute is assisting and we are now cross-posting more details that they recently published. Thanks to Preston Rhea, who published this interview with one of the first volunteers to install a node.

I recently wrote about a local effort to build a wireless community network in Mount Pleasant, Washington, D.C.In April I chatted with Bill Comisky, the first neighbor-link in the Mount Pleasant Community Wireless Network (MtPCWN), a grassroots approach to providing wireless access to the neighborhood. Bill discussed why he installed an Internet-connected mesh router on his roof, his skilled observations and recommendations for the network, and what he hopes to see the network support for the neighborhood in the future.

How did you hear about the network?

I heard about it when you posted to our street’s e-mail list in June. On that super-local list, people like to share things - tools, a cup of sugar, furniture - and it’s also neighborly to share wireless access. I worked with Sascha (Meinrath, Director, Open Technology Institute) on community wireless a few years ago, so it immediately caught my eye.

You’ve worked on this before?

I design antennas for a living, so I have a professional interest. In Chicago, I volunteered with the nonprofit Center for Neighborhood Technology installing wireless networks in underserved communities. Even though it was only a few years ago, the software and hardware were much less developed than they are today. The equipment cost several hundred dollars and we had to assemble it the hard way ourselves. Since then, things have gotten robust and cheap.

I asked for your advice at the beginning of the project about the technology considerations.

For low-cost technology, a wireless mesh network is a complicated system. It's difficult to estimate how radio waves will operate in an urban environment. You have to consider 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz for the WiFi frequency band - 2.4 GHz propagates better than 5 GHz through trees and around buildings, but it is also a congested frequency due to the routers in people’s homes. Those are decisions you have to make up front, because you can't reverse mid-stream and tell people to change their routers.

There was a question about whether these routers would just serve as backbones for a network, or also as access points themselves. The new systems include dual-purposed rooftop nodes, which can act as a backbone router and an access point--like what you see at a cafe or a library. So in hindsight, unlocked access points broadcasting at 2.4 GHz is a good idea because most people use 2.4 GHz on their laptops and phones.

Why did you choose to share your Internet connection as a gateway?

 My past experience makes me a good early adopter. I have the tech skills to troubleshoot if needed, which hasn’t come up yet! I work from home and I have a good Internet connection with more bandwidth than I really need or use. It's there, why not share it?

It's nice for people to have a stop-gap solution for Internet access. Everything you do requires a broadband connection - email, applying to jobs, connecting to your bank. If you don't have a broadband-capable phone, and you lose your home broadband, you have to go to the library. This is a critical service, and there aren't a lot of options. Comcast and Verizon--that’s the extent of ISP options on our street.

 

oti-mount-pleasant-router-flash.jpg

What are your connection details?

My Internet bandwidth is 20 Mbps download, 2 Mbps upload. I have quality of service (QoS) rules to prioritize my traffic, but if someone on MtPCWN needs the bandwidth and I'm not using it, there is no cap. So far I have experienced no difference in my speeds.

Have you heard any feedback about the network?

I have heard from several neighbors. A while ago someone emailed asking about the network, since a router was accidentally unplugged (author’s note: it was my router!) and she relies on it for access. We were able to help her out with that. A few people have come to me on the street asking about the network and if they can use it. People ask questions about the cost, and the security. They are good questions - people should know what they are getting in to.

What local applications would you like to see on the network?

The Internet has made a ton of things accessible, but it's hard to get hyper-local content. A local radio station streaming over the network is like a very old radio station - you have to be in the geographic range to hear it. Nothing prevents people from doing this on the Internet, but the audience can get very diluted. You know that if you have listeners in a very local context, they will get your references. They have more of a chance for their voice to be heard by a relevant audience. It's like being in the local town square.

Photos courtesy of Preston Rhea from Flickr

New Videos From DC-Net and DC-CAN Highlights Benenfits All Over the City

We have brought you news about DC-Net before and have even highlighted the community network in our report, Breaking the Broadband Monopoly. Now we want to draw your attention to some videos they have produced.

Free WiFi hotspots all over town, secure indoor WiFi for government staff, and hundreds of miles of fiber throughout town are just a few of the advances DC-Net has made toward ubiquitous and reliable connectivity. DC-Net is a tremendous example of a publicly owned network providing the highest levels of performance for its subscribers.

DC-Net has released a video highlighting their advancements in DC and how their work has positively impacted the community.

The second video is from Don Johnson, Director of DC-Net, presenting some info on DC Community Access Network (DC-CAN) to a Ward 5 audience. DC-CAN is an initiative to bring broadband to the underserved areas in DC with middle-mile connections. From the DC-CAN website:

The DC Community Access Network (DC-CAN) will bring affordable, value-added broadband services to over 250 health, educational, public safety, and other community anchor institutions primarily in broadband underserved areas of the District. It also creates a high speed middle mile network for last mile service providers to deliver affordable broadband access to residents and businesses in underserved areas.

DC-CAN already has 67 miles of fiber laid as a backbone and four city MegaPOP sites are now connected to the 100G backbone. From Ciena, one of DC-Net's private sector partners:

With this new infrastructure in place, DC-Net has already connected 49 new Community Anchor Institutions to the network and upgraded 52 existing anchor sites. Community anchors include charter schools, health clinics and other health care providers, community-based training programs, after school and early childhood development programs, libraries, and public safety sites.

DC-Net anticipates having 291 of these Community Anchor Institutions connected to the DC-CAN infrastructure by June, 2013.

Video: 

Exciting Upcoming Broadband Conferences in DC

Our own Christopher Mitchell will be speaking at two upcoming events on broadband and the future of the Internet.

First, Christopher will be at F2C: Freedom to Connect in Washington, D.C., on May 21-22nd. Christopher will be speaking on May 22nd on the "Fight for Community Broadband" Panel along with other notables from the Free Press, Harvard University, the Center for Media & Democracy, and the SouthEast Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (SEATOA). The presentations will be at the AFI Silver Theatre and you can register here. If you can't attend in person, you can sign up for a webcast. From the F2C website:

F2C: Freedom to Connect is a conference devoted to preserving and celebrating the essential properties of the Internet. The Internet is a success today because it is stupid, abundant and simple. In other words, its neutrality, its openness to rapidly developing technologies and its layered architecture are the reasons it has succeeded where others (e.g., ISDN, Interactive TV) failed.

The Internet’s issues are under-represented in Washington DC policy circles. F2C: Freedom to Connect is designed to advocate for innovation, for creativity, for expression, for little-d democracy. The Freedom to Connect is about an Internet that supports human freedoms and personal security. These values, held by many of us whose consciousness has been shaped by the Internet, are not common on K Street or Capitol Hill or at the FCC.

Keynote speakers include Vint Cerf, Michael Copps, Susan Crawford, Cory Doctorow (via telecon), Benoît Felten, Lawrence Lessig, Rebecca MacKinnon, Eben Moglen, Mike Marcus and Aaron Swartz.

Register here!

After participating at F2C, Christopher will be heading over to Arlington, Virginia, to speak at "Creating Sustainable Broadband Solutions for Communities and Anchor Institutions" presented by the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB Coalition) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The conference will be May 23-24 at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington. Come the evening of the 22nd for a reception to meet the speakers and other attendees. The focus of the conference:

This national conference for anchor institutions, BTOP and BIP awardees, and anyone else (including non-awardees) will explore sustainability strategies for next-generation broadband networks and examine how community anchor institutions can benefit from and leverage these broadband investments to serve their communities.

The keynote speaker at "Creating Sustainable Broadband Solutions for Communities and Anchor Institutions" will be Lawrence E. Strickling, Administrator, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), U.S. Department of Commerce. The conference will also include several notable pleanary speakers, including community broadband champion Joanne Hovis. The agenda also includes Break-Out sessions for more in-depth discussion. You can view the agenda, and register for the conference online.

OTI Helps Build a Wireless Network in DC Neighborhood

The Open Technology Initiative's Dispatches from the Digital Frontier blog originally published this story by Preston Rhea about his experience working with some neighbors to build their own wireless network in Mount Pleasant in Washington, DC. We hope it inspires others.

If you are not yet familiar with Mount Pleasant, here’s a chance to learn about one of DC’s most vibrant neighborhoods. It’s a diverse area not far from downtown DC, featuring a main street lined with locally-owned businesses. Many of these shops and restaurants are owned and run by the area’s large Latino community, which has long been central to shaping the neighborhood’s character. However, over the past decade rising housing prices have pushed many in the Latino community east towards Georgia Avenue.

In May, I moved to Mount Pleasant and started to learn about the area. In order to encourage community-building and local empowerment and to increase local information-sharing and opportunities for civic engagement, I decided to use skills and ideas garnered from my work at the Open Technology Initiative to organize a community wireless network. Despite my excitement to get started, I didn’t want to rush in without first connecting with the people, the histories, networks, skill sets, and local knowledge already present in the community.

My first step was technical: with the help of my OTI colleagues, I specified the hardware for the network and prepared the technology for installation. The first-stage plan was to install a few “nodes” (wireless access points) in order to establish the form and structure of the mesh network - open, interoperable, unfiltered, and decentralized. Then, at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, I handed out fliers directing people to an online survey gauging their interest in organizing a community wireless network in the neighborhood. I also posted a few of the fliers in local businesses on Mount Pleasant Street. But I needed to go deeper in order to really connect with the existing social networks of people and projects.

Several of my neighbors suggested that I meet Anya Schoolman, a community leader who organized the Mount Pleasant Solar Co-Op. Anya and her son Walter have worked on the co-op for several years, and through this process they have helped residents install solar panels on the roofs of over 100 homes in the neighborhood, which enables them to share solar-generated electricity with the rest of the community. Anya generously offered to host a gathering at her house in July, which we promoted through the listservs she created for the co-op. Thanks to her work in the community, Anya and her home enjoy “community anchor institution” status as a hub of activity in Mount Pleasant. Neighbors know and trust her, and since she provided an introduction to my invitation email on neighborhood listservs, recipients understood the context of participatory community building and neighborhood improvement.

Mesh

About ten people came to the house gathering. We discussed the potential of the network and how to get it running, and five people (myself included) committed to becoming neighbor-links by installing a mesh router on top of our roofs - a process people were already familiar with due to their association with the solar co-op. Thus far we’ve installed two nodes and are planning to install at least three more in the coming months - and new folks have come forward who want to add to the network as well.

As we move forward, our plan is to focus on working with underserved groups in Mount Pleasant -- people who may not be able to afford monthly contracts, or who are looking for tools to organize to address the effects of displacement of longtime residents due to rising housing costs. We hope to provide a framework that allows the diverse neighborhood to organize together in order to address the trends that affect everyone’s quality of life.

Stay tuned.

Freedom to Connect is Back!

One of the great conferences, Freedom to Connect, is back for 2011! I'll be in Washington, DC, (well, Silver Spring to be accurate) on May 21-22 to mingle with and learn from a lot of great people that have helped to create the Internet of today and are creating the Internet of tomorrow.

Very early bird registration is now open but ends on January 31.

Confirmed keynote speakers include Vint Cerf, Cory Doctorow, Rebecca MacKinnon, and Aaron Swartz. The program is still being put together - check in from time to time to catch the latest updates.

We'll be talking about community broadband in addition to myriad other issues where democracy intersects with communication.