Policy and regulation

Congress asks FCC to do more for rural areas

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/15/2010 - 08:35

Twenty-two senators have sent a letter to the FCC asking the agency to set the bar higher for broadband in rural areas. The senators pointed out the target of 4 megabits/second bandwidth for rural areas but a much higher target of 100 megabits/second for urban areas of the country.

Given that rural projects like Utopia and The Wired Road are already delivering 100 megabit fiber connections, this seems like a reasonable request.

The Internet and broadband are not the same thing

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/08/2010 - 15:03

Jeff Daily of App-Rising makes an important point in this article that I have been writing about for some time: "broadband" and "the Internet" are not the same thing. Broadband is the network, the transport system, the road. The Internet is just one of many services that can be transported over that road. Unfortunately, legislators don't always understand the distinction, and many incumbents are happy to feed the confusion to get state and Federal rules designed to prop up their monopolies.

New Zealand goes all out for open access

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/08/2010 - 14:53

Fiber everywhere is the simple goal the national government of New Zealand has set. In ten years, the government intends to have a minimum of 100 megabit fiber connections to 75% of homes and businesses in the entire country. They are doing this by going open access. It's a very simple model. The government will help underwrite the cost of privately owned fiber, but only if the network owner/operator agrees to provide unrestricted dark fiber and/or Layer 2 transport to any service provider. It's a time--tested model already being used in places in the U.S. like Utah and the City of Palm Coast, Florida.

FCC says keep broadband services unregulated

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/04/2010 - 08:32

Via the Washington Post, the FCC has indicated that broadband services will likely remain unregulated for the time being. The recent court ruling in favor of Comcast most likely brought the change in direction. An attempt by the FCC to regulate broadband service providers would likely bring many more lawsuits that could drag on for years.

Net neutrality advocates will be disappointed, but there are simpler and better ways to achieve net neutrality, and those approaches are already in place and working--Utopia is the country's biggest open access network, with net neutrality baked into the network architecture and business model. Utopia has fifteen service providers on the network, all competing on price and service quality over the open and neutral community-owned system. The Wired Road, in southwest Virginia, has five providers on its open and neutral network. Palm Coast FiberNET is just starting up, but has two competing providers on day one.

The FCC has done the right thing; trying to regulate twentieth century business models will not give communities and businesses the economic growth they need. Design Nine is a national leader in the design and development of open access networks. Give us a call for help with your project.

FCC Commissioner says communities should be able to build broadband

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/29/2010 - 14:31

Excerpt from Speech by FCC Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn

SEATOA’s 9th Annual Conference

Asheville, NC – April 27, 2010

"...The theme of this conference “Expanding Community Networks,” is exactly what the National Broadband Plan is about – to ensure that broadband is made available to all Americans, no matter where they live..."

"...In addition to recommendations about improving providers’ access to infrastructure for building broadband, the Plan also acknowledges that in some jurisdictions, no provider is constructing a broadband network. Thus, the Plan recommends that Congress clarify that State and local governments should not be restricted from building their own broadband networks. I firmly believe that we need to leverage every resource at our disposal to deploy broadband to all Americans. If local officials have decided that a publicly-owned broadband network is the best way to meet their citizens’ needs, then my view is to help make that happen...."

"...last month I heard Lafayette, Louisiana’s City-Parish President describe the development of economic opportunities in his city, that were a direct result of the fiber network built by the community. Right here in North Carolina, I understand that Wilson and Salisbury are trying to invest in fiber optic systems, that they hope will transform their local economies..."

"...When cities and local governments are prohibited from investing directly in their own broadband networks, citizens may be denied the opportunity to connect with their nation and improve their lives. As a result, local economies likely will suffer. But broadband is not simply about dollars and cents, it is about the educational, health, and social welfare of our communities. Preventing governments from investing in broadband, is counter –productive, and may impede the nation from accomplishing the Plan’s goal of providing broadband access to every American and every community anchor institution..."

NTIA opens up data for incumbent challenges

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/19/2010 - 08:25

The NTIA has released the block grant and tract data for round two stimulus proposals, opening the door for incumbent challenges for those proposals.

Court says "No" to FCC on regulation

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/06/2010 - 13:12

A D.C. court ruled against the FCC's attempt to regulate how Comcast manages its network. The ruling dates back to a 2008 order that FCC imposed on Comcast, which was slowing down high bandwidth file sharing for some of its customers.

This is not likely to please very many people. Consumer advocates think Internet service providers need more regulation--they are unhappy about this. And the big incumbent service providers--AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, TimeWarner, and others--are upset that the FCC tried this in the first place.

As I have written in the past, network neutrality can be achieved easily by changing the business model for delivering services, and without the overhead of government regulation. Open access networks like Utopia, The Wired Road, nDanville, Palm Coast FiberNET, and others already have network neutrality, and these networks got there by building a single high performance infrastructure shared by all providers. Consumers get competitive pricing with substantial cost reductions, and providers compete based on quality of service and price. Network neutrality is achieved at the contract level by having the network infrastructure managed by a neutral third party. Everybody wins, especially buyers of services.

Prices go down and innovation is greatest when you have a single, maximally sized market space with many buyers and sellers. This is very easy to do, and as I noted, it is already being done.

FCC endorses 100 megabit broadband

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 03/29/2010 - 15:40

The FCC has rolled out the first look at its plan for broadband. The agency has set a goal of 100 megabit broadband to 100 million households in the next ten years, calling it "100 Squared." It's a good goal, and one that Design Nine has been promoting for many years. Our projects, like nDanville and The Wired Road, have had 100 megabit connections from day one, and we design our networks to support not only 100 megabit speeds, but Gigabit, 10Gig, 40Gig, and DWDM (Dense Wave Division Multiplexing) lightpaths.

Spain says broadband is a "right"

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/18/2009 - 09:30

Spain has decided that broadband is a "right," and is going to beginning legislating price and speed for bandwidth services. In the short term, this may get more affordable broadband to some rural areas of Spain, but in the long term, this kind of legislation tends to discourage innovation and competition.

In the U.S., it is tempting to look at rural areas the lack of broadband alternatives and think that legislation is needed, but there are options, like having local and regional governments make investments in broadband infrastructure and make it available to the private sector, which creates true competition. And this is already working and creating jobs in places like Danville, Virginia and Galax, Virginia. In both communities, open access fiber networks are creating private sector jobs and attracting new businesses to the downtown areas where fiber is available.

Incumbents challenge broadband stimulus requests

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 11/16/2009 - 14:22

Eldo Telecom reports that incumbent providers have filed thousands of challenges to broadband stimulus proposals. It is hard to tell from the USDA/NTIA rules just how the challenges will be handled. The ones I have looked at all pretty much take the line that the area covered in a proposal already has complete or nearly complete coverage. The problem is that the "coverage" being cited as already available is almost entirely copper-based,and many if not most of the proposals involve building much higher performance fiber networks. So the incumbents are saying, "Don't give this project money, we already have "little broadband." And the communities are saying, "We don't want little broadband, we want big broadband." It will be interesting to see how this gets resolved.

USDA/NTIA have a difficult task. Reviewing all these challenges is going to further delay getting the broadband stimulus money out into the economy to create jobs, and if too many funding requests are denied on the basis of "little broadband" incumbent challenges, that also means no job creation and no help for the economy.

Gates Foundation: Good idea, bad implementation

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/20/2009 - 09:42

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has proposed to the FCC that $5 to $10 billion be spent getting fiber to anchor institutions like schools, libraries, and health care facilities in communities. It's a worthy idea, but as policy, the unintended negative impact will be to make it more difficult to get fiber to homes and businesses in those communities.

The Gates plan is dis-aggregation of demand, and what we want is aggregation of demand. The Gates Foundation will take the biggest spenders for broadband in a community and remove them from the buying pool. When this happens, costs for everyone else go up, or don't go down.

What very few people and policymakers understand is that true community broadband networks are very different from the command and control institutional networks that have been the mainstay of telecom for the past forty years. Policymakers in Washington and groups like the Gates Foundation are talking to senior telecom folks with no experience designing and managing community broadband networks that have a goal of getting everyone connected. When you talk to someone who has been building centralized, top down, single provider networks for thirty years, guess what you get? You get another centralized, top down, single provider network.

It really isn't a technology issue, it is a business model issue. Command and control, centralized networks (think the phone company, the cable company, any wide area institutional network) have a business model that does not work--if those models worked, we'd all have fast fiber connections today. So the Gates Foundation, with the best of intentions, certainly, is proposing something that will be an economic catastrophe for communities, businesses, and economic development.

FTC to regulate blogs

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/06/2009 - 09:33

In one of the strangest things to come out of government, the Federal Trade Commission has announced it intends to monitor and police.....blogs. That's right--there is apparently nothing more dangerous than a blogger who might be getting paid a few bucks to write a product review. So the FTC is setting rules for full disclosure on when a blogger might be getting paid directly or indirectly for writing a product review.

Most bloggers blog because they like to write and want to share some knowledge or information with others. Very very few make much money from it. And the few "blogs" that are thinly disguised spam don't fool anyone. Expect to see First Amendment challenges to this, among other problems.

Is Google blocking phone calls

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/28/2009 - 09:00

The next couple of years could be interesting. Google has been an advocate for network neutrality, which the FCC has indicated it intends to promote. But AT&T has just accused Google of blocking phone calls to rural areas for users of Google's Voice service. AT&T may have a point--Google wants broadband carriers like AT&T to carry all of Google's services without prejudice, but if Google wants that, then it also has to play by the same rules the phone companies are obligated to observe, and one of those rules is that they can't block calls to areas where the access fees (e.g. rural areas) are higher.

Irresistible force, meet immovable object. Someone make some popcorn--this could be fun.

Wilson, NC fighting for right to offer broadband

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/23/2009 - 09:43

Wilson, North Carolina decided a couple of years ago to build it's own municipal fiber network after it got tired of begging incumbent providers for better services and getting turned down. Now the fight is being taken to the state legislature, where the incumbent providers are trying to get laws passed to prevent local governments from getting involved in telecom efforts but to also prevent local governments for applying for broadband stimulus funds. This is also happening in Pennsylvania.

Part of the problem is that Wilson selected a municipal retail model, which means residents and businesses buy their telecom services directly from the city, and incumbents typically fight this approach vigorously. An open access, open services model like those used with projects like The Wired Road and nDanville lets incumbent providers use the new community-owned digital road system to sell services--buyers of telecom services purchase directly from private sector providers, not the local government.

Wilson has started a blog on the issue.

Copps named Acting FCC Chairman

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/23/2009 - 17:41

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has been named Acting Chairman of the FCC. This is good news for communities; Copps supports competition and is likely to help communities do more by shifting FCC attention away from favoring incumbent carriers and more towards creating a level playing field for all public and private networks.

Broadband stimulus package should be thoughtful

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 12/29/2008 - 10:10

Wired has a thoughtful article about the potential (good and bad) for a broadband stimulus initiative. There is much speculation that the incoming adminstration will, among other spending initiatives, provide funds for broadband deployment.

Ironically, taking fiber to every home and business in America (about 80 million premises), would be much less expensive than many of the other "bailout" initiatives and would be much more likely to have positive effects. The total cost would probably be around $175 billion if done the right way, which is a series of well-designed local and regional initiatives pursuing a single open access, open services network with all telecom services provided by the private sector (and the network, the digital road system, managed locally or regionally as a public good).

Ownership and management structures should be allowed to vary; in some places direct municipal ownership might be the best approach. In other parts of the country, a regional broadband authority or a broadband coop might be more appropriate.

What we don't need is handouts to the incumbent telcos, who have, for the most part, diligently pursued failed business models and who have stubbornly refused to provide affordable business class services in the face growing demand. And we don't need a Federal Bureau of Telecommunications creating an Orwellian nightmare of centrally managed services. Local and regional governments have successfully managed road networks locally for decades. We can use this tried and true approach to build digital road systems. The Interstate Highway System is a good example of useful Federal intervention: Federal funds financed the development of highways, but states took over ownership and management once they were built.

We now just need to push that down a level, as what is badly needed is NOT more "information superhighways," but instead local connections to homes and businesses. When you get down to hooking up local property, this is best managed locally. Do we really want State or Federal agencies plowing up our yards and streets? Better to work with local governments, who already do this very well with water, sewer, and roads.

FCC Chairman calls for free wireless Internet access

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/03/2008 - 10:52

Outgoing FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has called for free Internet access nationwide, with adult content filters in place to prevent children from accessing porn. This would cost billions to implement, and it is not at all clear who would pay for it. "Free" to the user is not the same as "free" of all costs. Someone still has to fund the construction of the network and pay for the substantial ongoing support and maintenance. Free muni wireless networks have not always fared well, and many "free" projects have suffered from low use rates and mediocre service.

The fundamental problem with "free" broadband services is over-use because the cost to the user appears to be zero. Fees for broadband services are a very useful mechanism not only for paying for the system but also to regulate use. Network admins have extensive data that shows a small minority of users (typically about 5%) tend to use a disproportionate amount of total bandwidth (often using more than 50% of available bandwidth). Pricing services helps regulate use and maintain more consistent levels of service for all users.

Requiring providers to set aside a portion of the wireless spectrum for free use only raises prices for everyone else buying the euphemistically called "premium service." From an economic development perspective, free wireless broadband is not a business attraction strategy, and may even drive businesses away.
Wireless broadband is not a business class service unless no other alternative (e.g. fiber) exists.

Monticello, Minnesota telecom lawsuit dismissed

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 10/09/2008 - 13:15

A lawsuit filed by the incumbent telephone company in Monticello, Minnesota sought to stop the city from building its own fiber to the home (FTTH) network. The project was designed as a public/private partnership, with Hiawatha Broadband Communications, another Minnesota telecom firm, signed up to operate the system and provide services.

Yesterday, the 10th District Court in Minnesota dismissed the case, finding that the city had the right to issue bonds for a telecom utility and that the city had the right to operate a telecom utility.

The Court went into some detail about the meaning of a "public convenience," as there is a Minnesota law on the books that gives municipalities the right to own and operate a "public convenience." Part of the lawsuit alleged that a fiber network was not a public convenience, but the court has said that it is.

This ruling applies only in Minnesota, but it still may have some influence in other states. Monticello was particularly lucky, as the case was resolved in less than a year. Courts have generally found in favor of municipalities, but the cases often drag on for years.

End user agreements give away your rights

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 09/04/2008 - 08:50

With the release of Chrome, the new Web browser from Google, a side story has developed, as it appears that the End User License Agreement (EULA) for Chrome gives Google an irrevocable right to use any content you might post using the Chrome browser. As it turns out, the legal language in the Chrome EULA is cut and pasted from Google's other EULAs, including the Google services like their word processor and spreadsheet.

So anything you write using the Google word processor, Google immediately has a license to use, in perpetuity. That would include novels, short stories, business plans, school reports, news stories, blog postings, podcasts, videos--everything becomes the property of Google. It's a nonexclusive license, meaning you can still do whatever you like with it, but if you write the great American novel with the Google word processor, they can print it and sell it in direct competition with you. They can make a copy of your company business plans and sell it on the Web to competitors.

There is still no such thing as a free lunch.

Update: Google has amended the Chrome EULA to remove the clause that gives them the rights to content. But the problem still remains with other Google apps and services.

Can covered bonds build telecom for communities?

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/04/2008 - 07:49

U.S. Treasury Secretary Paulson has endorsed "covered bonds," which are a new idea in the United States but have been used in Europe for centuries, according to this article. Covered bonds are secured by loans carried on the books of the issuing bank. Keeping the loans on the books forces the bank to pay attention to the performance of those loans, unlike the mortgage mess, where mortgages were packaged, re-packaged, and sold until no one really knew how the mortgages were performing.

Covered bonds can be used as an investment vehicle for issuing mortgages, but in Europe, they have been used heavily by the public sector to finance infrastructure, and are backed by the governments receiving the funds. Why are they different than general obligation bonds? Covered bonds enable local governments to tap a much larger, global marketplace of capital funds, meaning more cash could be available for local infrastructure projects at lower rates because of increased competition among lenders.

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