Tag: "policy"

Posted October 5, 2010 by christopher

Tim Wu, a professor and long time champion of network neutrality, discusses why getting these policies right is so important.

Perhaps more interesting is the reaction from David Isenberg and Tim Wu's comment to that reaction.

The take-home lesson? Network neutrality is important, but is less of a permanent solution than networks that are structurally designed to work in the public interest rather than primarily manufacturing private profits.

This video is no longer available.

Posted October 4, 2010 by christopher

In an editorial for the October, 2010 issue, Scientific American explains "Why broadband service in the U.S. is so awful, and one step that could change it." This is an excellent shorthand explanation for the poor decisions of the FCC during the Bush Administration. Unfortunately, these decisions are being carried forward by the Obama Administration's FCC.

It was not always like this. A decade ago the U.S. ranked at or near the top of most studies of broadband price and performance. But that was before the FCC made a terrible mistake. In 2002 it reclassified broadband Internet service as an “information service” rather than a “telecommunications service.” In theory, this step implied that broadband was equivalent to a content provider (such as AOL or Yahoo!) and was not a means to communicate, such as a telephone line. In practice, it has stifled competition.

And the solution?

Yet, puzzlingly, the FCC wants to take only a half-step. Genachowski has said that although he regards the Internet as a telecommunications service, he does not want to bring in third-party competition. This move may have been intended to avoid criticism from policy makers, both Republican and Democrat, who have aligned themselves with large Internet providers such as AT&T and Comcast that stand to suffer when their local monopolies are broken. It is frustrating, however, to see Gena chowski acknowledge that the U.S. has fallen behind so many other countries in its communications infrastructure and then rule out the most effective way to reverse the decline. We call on the FCC to take this important step and free the Internet.

Well said. Read the whole the piece.

Posted June 30, 2010 by christopher

Bruce Kushnick, a telecom analyst, has long pushed for telcos to live up to the bargains they struck with individual states and federal agencies over the years as part of deregulation policies. They were deregulated and (surprisingly enough) failed to make good on their promises. For the most part, governments have refused to punish them or even learn the lesson that companies like AT&T and Qwest simply cannot be trusted.

If you have ever stared at an incomprehensible telephone bill and wondered just how badly you were getting ripped off, you will be interested in this article discussing the many ways we are ripped off by these companies. Small wonder these companies are so profitable and can afford their legions of lobbyists.

But that is that, and what's done is done, right? Well, Kushnick has another article about the Obama Administration's FCC and approach to expanding broadband.

Long story short, the proposed changes will increase the costs most of those with the least ability to pay and the least likely to benefit from the spending. This approach of expanding broadband is awful - more subsidies to terrible telephone companies that have poor service in rural areas because they are structurally incapable of meeting the infrastructure needs of communities. Massive companies like AT&T and even smaller big companies like Qwest are strangling rural communities while they lobby for bills to prevent those communities from solving their own problems.

Expanding broadband access and availability has costs and some taxes may need to be raised. But those funds should be used responsibly by expanding broadband coverage from entities that are dedicated to serving the community (munis, coops, nonprofits) rather than simply padding the corporate profits of companies that provide terrible service to communities and upgrade far too slowly.

Posted May 27, 2010 by christopher

Bill Schrier, Seattle's Chief Technology Officer (informally, Chief Geek), recently explored the ways in which limited competition in broadband has kept prices too high for many Americans and suggests high prices should be a cause for concern on the level of network neutrality. He is right not only in noting the problem, but noting that there is no solution to it forthcoming from the states or feds.

However, communities can take control of broadband prices by building their own networks. Not only can they guarantee lower rates, they effectively force lower rates from incumbents (and often increased investment) by merely increasing local competition.

Due to limits in law and FCC policy, building a network is really the only power of local governments to ensure the community has the broadband access it needs to succeed.

I have long found it amazing that local governments have the power to set a limit on the lowest tier of cable TV prices but no ability to require a basic tier of Internet. What is more important to communities? Cable TV or broadband?

The City of Seattle – and other cities and counties – can regulate cable TV to a limited extent. Therefore we can demand cable companies provide a low cost basic service – $12.55 in Seattle for Comcast, for example, and there’s even a discount to that low rate for low-income residents – more details here.

The State of Washington – and other States – can regulate telephone service, and require telephone companies to provide a low cost basic phone rate, e.g. $8 a month for 167,000 households.

But NO ONE regulates broadband/Internet access. Consequently ISPs can charge whatever the market will bear. So in our present monopoly or duopoly environment throughout the nation – that is little choice for most of us – prices are at $30, $40 or more for even moderate speed access. Higher speed access is $100 or more. And that means low-income, immigrant, seniors and other households cannot afford access to the Internet. So they and their children are denied what is probably the most important pathway to education, information, jobs and higher income – access to the Internet. Even middle income households or neighborhood businesses cannot get affordable truly fast (e.g. 5 megabits per second symmetric) broadband.

Bill's post is well-linked and worth reading in its entirety....

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Posted May 1, 2010 by christopher

Paul Venezia is one of the few who noted a recent Lessig presentation that discusses broadband policy. Larry Lessig's presentation offers an excellent short history of broadband and telecom history - from the beginning of AT&T to the National Broadband Plan. The video runs an hour, but should be essential viewing for anyone who wants to understand why the U.S. continues to fall behind international peers in broadband. Lessig's answer is that we have lost our independence. Large corporate interests dominate the federal government as well as the state legislatures, resulting in a government that too often bends to their will. Lessig's presentation covers the essential role of government in forcing AT&T to open the phone network (paving the way for fax machines, Sports Illustrated football phones, and eventually dial-up modems). Key takeaway: the owner of a network makes the rules and determines who is allowed to use it and under what circumstances. Among other issues, he offers the most accessible explanation of what happened with the FCC/Comcast court ruling that has (temporarily - we hope) rendered the FCC unable to stop carriers from telling users what sites they can visit or adjusting the speeds to some sites based on the carriers' business model. He notes his disappointment with the National Broadband Plan - where the Obama "reality-based" Administration chose to ignore reality and take the easy road of not challenging powerful incumbent telecom interests. Toward the end, he raises the chilling prospect of the federal government instituting a form of the PATRIOT ACT on the Internet in the future. Watching this reminded me that we believe government has an essential role in building and owning infrastructure but we strongly support Constitutional checks against the government getting too involved in policing content. This is an excellent presentation - particularly for those who are not as familiar with the history of the AT&T, the FCC, Carterphone, and the competition we briefly had among service providers in the days of dial-up.

Posted September 23, 2009 by christopher

The Chair of the Federal Communications Commission has taken a stand for network neutrality - the founding principle of openness of the Internet. In short, network neutrality means the entity providing you access to the Internet cannot interfere with the sites you choose to visit - it cannot speed them up or slow them down in order to increase their profits. See video at the bottom of this post for a longer explanation.

FCC Chair Julius Genachowski recently spoke at the Brookings Institution [pdf] on the importance of an open Internet. He started by noting many of the ways we depend on services delivered over the Internet:

Even now, the Internet is beginning to transform health care, education, and energy usage for the better. Health-related applications, distributed over a widely connected Internet, can help bring down health care costs and improve medical service. Four out of five Americans who are online have accessed medical information over the Internet, and most say this information affected their decision-making. Nearly four million college students took at least one online course in 2007, and the Internet can potentially connect kids anywhere to the best information and teachers everywhere. And the Internet is helping enable smart grid technologies, which promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by hundreds of millions of metric tons.

However, because most Americans get access to the Internet from large, absentee-owned profit-maximizing companies who are often de facto monopolies, we have to beware the gulf between community interests and the narrow interests of these companies.

A second reason [for network neutrality rules] involves the economic incentives of broadband providers. The great majority of companies that operate our nation’s broadband pipes rely upon revenue from selling phone service, cable TV subscriptions, or both. These services increasingly compete with voice and video products provided over the Internet. The net result is that broadband providers’ rational bottom-line interests may diverge from the broad interests of consumers in competition and choice.

For this reason and others, the Chair suggested adding two new "freedoms" to the four Internet freedoms [pdf]...

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Posted September 22, 2009 by christopher

In a recent post the NY Times Bits Blog, Saul Hansell reports "Verizon Boss Hangs Up on Landline Phone Business" - something we have long known. Nonetheless, this makes it even more official: private companies have no interest in bringing true broadband to everyone in the United States.

Verizon is happy to invest in next-generation networks in wealthy suburbs and large metro regions but people in rural areas - who have long dealt with decaying telephone infrastructure - will be lucky to get slow DSL speeds that leave them unable to participate in the digital age. These people will be spun off to other companies so Verizon can focus on the most profitable areas.

For instance, Verizon found it profitable to spin off its customers in Hawaii to another company that quickly ran into trouble before unloading most of its New England customer on FairPoint, moves that enhanced Verizon's bottom line while harming many communities (see the bottom of this post and other posts about FairPoint).

Isen has been writing about it recently - picking up on FairPoint immediately breaking its promises to expand broadband access in the newly acquired territories. No surprise there.

Isen also delved deeper into Verizon's actions, with "Verizon throws 18 states under the progress train." He is right to push this as a national story - the national media focused intently on the absence of major carriers in the broadband stimulus package but they seem utterly uninterested in major carriers running away from broadband investments in rural areas.

Though Frontier likes to position itself as a company focused on bringing broadband to rural areas, it offers slow DSL broadband and poor customer service to people who have no other choices - more of a parasite than angel. As long as we view broadband as a vehicle for moving profits from communities to absentee-owned corporations rather than the infrastructure it truly is, we will farther and farther behind our international peers in the modern...

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Posted August 19, 2009 by christopher

Geoff Daily recently put up "Hey FCC: Stop Ignoring Municipal Broadband!" It is a sentiment I wholeheartedly echo and amplify. If the FCC is going to chart a course for where America is heading, it should start with some communities who are already there - Burlington, VT and Lafayette, LA. These communities have built (Burlington) or are building (Lafayette) that networks that everyone will need if America will retain is leadership position in the 21st century.

There are communities across the country that have found success building and operating their own broadband networks. Despite the caricature that municipal broadband invariably leads to boondoggles, that's just simply not the reality.

That's part of the reason why I think the FCC needed to include municipal representation on these panels. There's a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt that's built up around municipal broadband that the FCC needs to be addressing on a factual basis. By not including municipal broadband on these panels I couldn't help but wonder if either the FCC was buying into these falsehoods or if they just didn't think municipal broadband was a significant enough player to include.

The current FCC approach is akin to starting the Interstate Highway system with a series of workshops featuring horse breeders.

In the meantime, the Economist has recognized the need for US regulators to get with the times. Fiber is the future - if it weren't for profit-maximizing companies and their lobbyists, talk of DSL would be followed by laughs.

With broadband networks, the role of the state has less to do with limiting handouts than increasing choice. Fibre-optic networks can be run like any other public infrastructure: government, municipalities or utilities lay the cables and let private firms compete to offer services, just as public roadways are used by private logistics firms. In Stockholm, a pioneer of this system, it takes 30 minutes to change your broadband provider. Australia’s new $30 billion all-fibre network will use a similar model.

Posted June 10, 2009 by christopher

Larry Press takes a rather quantitative approach to demonstrating that the deregulatory telecommunications policies of the past few decades have failed to produce the desired outcomes. We are currently at a key turning point in history: the policies we enact today will have repercussions throughout the entire decade. Fiber is replacing copper, the question is who will own it because owners make rules.

During the last 25 years, telecommunication has moved away from government–owned or regulated monopolies toward privatization with competition and oversight by independent regulatory agencies — PCR policies. We present data indicating that PCR has had little impact on the Internet during the last ten years in developed or developing nations, and discuss the reasons for this. We then describe several ways government can go beyond PCR, while balancing needs for next generation technology, decentralized infrastructure ownership, and immediate economic stimulus. We conclude that there is a need for alternatives to the expedient action of subsidizing the current Internet service providers with their demonstrated anti–competitive bent. The decisions we make today will shape telecommunication infrastructure and the industry for decades.

Posted April 29, 2009 by christopher

For three quarters of a century, the Communications Act has defined a successful communications policy as fostering ubiquitous, affordable service available on a nondiscriminatory basis in competitive markets. The penetration of phone service of over 90% for a quarter of a century in this country, as compared to penetration rates in most of the rest of the world, was widely touted as an example of our success as a nation and as critical to maintaining a unified society in which all had access to a technology critical for health, safety, and economic advancement.

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