Bills, legislation, and ordinances

FCC to North Carolina: What the heck are you thinking?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/05/2011 - 14:37

When an FCC Commissioner takes the time to tell your state that what your legislators are doing is foolish, your state has a problem.

FCC Commissioner Clyburn had this to say yesterday:

“Not long after the National Broadband Plan was issued, I had the privilege to visit North Carolina and speak about the goals in the Plan, and the importance of our nation using every available tool to address the broadband divide. I believe now, as I did then, that no American citizen or community should be left behind in the digital age. However, I remain concerned that 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. Local economies will suffer as a result, and the communities’ ability to effectively address education, health, public safety, and other social issues will be severely hampered. Regrettably, North Carolina isn’t the only state considering such legislation. My home state of South Carolina has similar legislation pending, and the state of Arkansas is contemplating a complete ban on publicly-owned broadband facilities. I fear that preventing local governments from investing in broadband is counter-productive and will impede the nation from accomplishing the Plan’s goal of providing broadband access to every American and community anchor institution.”

The only good thing about this flurry of anti-jobs legislation is that economic developers in the states adjacent to North Carolina, South Carolina, and Arkansas must be dancing a jig.

The politicization of broadband

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 03/29/2011 - 10:43

It is unfortunate, but the issue of broadband in this country is becoming a political issue, when it should be focused more on economic prosperity, jobs, and business development. Witness this headline from the always excellent Stop the Cap! blog:

House Republicans Sell Out North Carolina’s Broadband Future to Big Telecom

The headline is a little misleading, as a bunch of Democrats also voted for this awful bill. This highly political fight in North Carolina may be good for candidates in both parties with respect to fundraising, but deliberately voting to cripple the future economic development of rural communities is, well, bad for business. Literally.

Much confusion is being sown by incumbents who are not explaining the difference between the current "little broadband" networks (DSL, wireless, cable) and "big broadband" fiber networks that are being built by communities to retain existing businesses and attract new ones.

Big broadband, simply, is about jobs, now and in the future. There are very few businesses left that don't need affordable high capacity broadband. I have written before about the deli owner who was losing lunch business because credit card verification over his DSL line was taking too long. Why politicians of any party think it is a good idea to cripple economic development in their districts is a mystery.

NC legislators to businesses: Don't come to our state!

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/25/2011 - 10:09

Just when you thought you had heard it all, North Carolina legislators are about to pass a law declaring the state a broadband-free zone. An amendment to a very bad broadband bill will declare that "broadband" is any service that is "occasionally capable of achieving 768kbps downstream and 200kbps upstream." This is 1/5 of the feeble national goal of 4 megabits downstream and 1 megabit upstream. If there was ever a declaration of war against economic development, this is it. If it were 1920, it would the equivalent of outlawing paved roads, on the theory that "our daddies rode horses, and that's good enough." If it was 1930, it would be the equivalent of outlawing community sewer systems, on the theory that "I grew up using an outhouse, and that's good enough."

Meanwhile, city leaders in Chattanooga, Tennessee and southwest and central Virginia are rubbing their hands in glee.

It's 1970 all over again in the telecom industry

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/25/2011 - 09:47

AT&T wants to buy T-Mobile, which would make AT&T the biggest cellular provider in the U.S. Meanwhile, CenturyTel wants to buy Qwest. The 1984 breakup of Ma Bell and the 1996 telecom deregulation is slowly being undone as telecom in the United States is re-aggregated into enormous monopolies with antiquated business models based on maintaining a monopoly by any means possible. The incumbents are not going away, and I continue to believe the telecom giants could be turned into viable, useful businesses if they changed their basic business models, but that does not seem to be happening. When small companies like Frontier (which has buying up big chunks of Verizon's rural service areas) and CenturyTel are able to buy much bigger incumbents, it is a sign that these businesses are failing. Meanwhile, legislators are eager to prop up these businesses with legislation of the kind trying to be passed in North Carolina that prohibits communities from trying to take their economic future in their own hands. It is an absolute disaster for rural America.

Some NC legislators determined to wreck towns and cities

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 03/10/2011 - 14:55

I don't what is in the water in North Carolina, but some legislators seem determined to cripple the prosperity of towns and cities in the state. A bill to outlaw community-owned networks is working its way through the legislature, and the City of Asheville notes that the bill is so poorly worded that it would prevent the City from accepting money from the Google Fiber initiative and from Federal broadband grant programs like the the Department of Commerce broadband stimulus initiative. Muni Networks has more on the fight.

North Carolina legislators determined to crush economic development and jobs

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/04/2011 - 09:43

Via Stop the Cap!, some North Carolina legislators seemed determined to kill jobs and economic growth in North Carolina's communities by banning community-owned broadband. The cable companies hope to succeed in getting this legislation passed in North Carolina. If they are successful there, they will surely move the same tactics to other states. It will be devastating if they are successful, as it will leave rural communities without the telecom infrastructure needed to attract businesses and jobs.

North Carolina is still trying to outlaw community control of economic development

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 02/18/2011 - 10:49

Via Stop the Cap!, a bill has been introduced in the North Carolina legislature to make it extremely difficult for communities to invest in broadband infrastructure. The article is excellent, with a detailed analysis of the issues, so I'm not going to try to summarize it here--just read the whole thing.

The bill is sponsored by a Republican legislator, but the ability of communities to decide their own economic future should not be a partisan issue, and I think both parties have a faulty perspective. Democrats tend to be friendlier towards community broadband, but too often, Democratic proposals focus on more regulation, which often has the unintended consequence of making it more difficult to get local projects started. Republicans, while they ought to be supporting free markets and competition, too often listen only to the incumbents, and get sucked into supporting things like this new NC legislation, which looks more like crony capitalism than free markets.

Banning communities from investing in broadband would be like banning water and sewer. Water, sewer, and broadband are and have become basic economic development infrastructure, and putting roadblocks up that keeps communities from attracting new jobs and retaining existing businesses makes no sense.

The FCC and net neutrality

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/22/2010 - 09:34

There is plenty of sturm und drang elsewhere about yesterday's net neutrality decision by the FCC, so I am not even going to link to anything. I think that it is extremely likely that Congress or the courts, or both, will force the FCC to withdraw this new ruling, just as the FCC's ruling earlier this year was turned back. While opinions differ, it is not at all clear that the FCC has the statutory authority to do what it wants to do with net neutrality, and so nothing much is going to change until there is a ruling.

As usual, I think there is a better approach than trying to get the incumbents to change their business models by statute. Open access networks, owned by the community and managed as a digital road system, can have "net neutrality" baked into the business model so that no legislation is needed. The technology of the Internet now allows us to move beyond the outdated multiple networks (one for voice, one for TV, etc.) that were a requirement in the analog world. We can now treat networks just like we manage roads: one shared road system used by all public and private users. It lowers costs, and creates huge business opportunities for the private sector if done right. And no, I am not advocating that we should be buying our Internet access and phone service from the government. We don't have to go to the local town hall to buy groceries--but the grocery store and its customers both use the same shared road system to get food to the store and then to travel to the store to buy food. Some communities (more than 100 in the U.S.) are already building and managing their own digital road systems. And it is an approach that creates a way for incumbents to move beyond their "little broadband" networks, retain their existing customers, and reach new customers. Everyone wins.

Enzyte, Smilin' Bob, and warrantless searches

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 12/16/2010 - 15:15

The Sixth Circuit Court decision on email being protected by the Fourth Amendment contains the fascinating story behind the, uh, "male enhancement" product called "Enzyte" and the infamous Smilin' Bob character who appeared in the annoying late night TV commercials. The entire document runs 98 pages, but pages 4 through 12 describe in detail how a $250 million a year complete scam is set up and run. And yes, if you don't bother to read the decision, the short story is that Enzyte was a scam from beginning to end. But the Enzyte folks had 27,000 emails seized without a warrant, which led to this decision, and so in an odd way, Enzyte turned out to be a good thing for all of us.

Email is protected by the Fourth Amendment

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 12/16/2010 - 14:51

Freedom to Tinker reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has ruled that email is protected by the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment requires a search warrant issued by a judge before law enforcement officials can search premises, and has long been applied to opening sealed paper mail. But some law enforcement officials have wanted to simply get service providers to supply them with the contents of a customer's email without a warrant, on the rather thin basis that the emails are stored in a readable format. The ruling is significant and ensures that citizens are protected against frivolous or unjustified searches of electronic mail.

Incumbent providers fight for mediocrity in telecom

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 11/04/2010 - 08:46

Ars Technica reports on a running fight that Time-Warner has picked with the town of Wilson, North Carolina. It's a long, sad story that is worth a full read, but the bottom line is that the incumbents continue to try to force mediocre telecom services onto their customers in the name of "fairness." It is also why Design Nine typically recommends that community consider an open access network, where customers buy directly from private sector service providers rather than the local government. Open access does not guarantee that there won't be an incumbent challenge, but the open access business model makes it much harder for an incumbent to complain about "fairness," since the local government is not selling services, only private sector competitors to the incumbent.

Mitchell to FCC: Regulate in the public interest

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 10/06/2010 - 08:50

Chris Mitchell of the Minnesota Institute for Local Self-Reliance testified before the FCC recently on behalf of community broadband projects. Mitchell argued eloquently that state legislators should not be able to preempt local governments from starting and managing community broadband networks. The short video is well worth watching.

The Internet routes around damage (wiretapping)

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 09/29/2010 - 16:39

In a story that has been simmering for a while, the New York Times reports that the Feds want to be able to easily wiretap a wide variety of Internet services, including Skype, Facebook,and Blackberry (RIM) communications.

Someone needs to remind them that the Internet was designed to be able route around damage, and wiretapping looks like damage. If someone was plotting something nefarious, either they are stupid enough to use Facebook and deserve to get caught, or they are smart enough to use some other method of communication. It is almost trivially easy to create new communications methods using Internet protocols, and the FBI would never even know about them if those that created them only tell their Best Friends Forever. This represents an erosion of privacy for the rest of us, and only a trivial deterrent to criminal activity.

Schedule for broadband stimulus awards

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 08/06/2010 - 08:49

The U.S. Departments of Commerce and Agriculture have announced a schedule for the disbursement of remaining broadband stimulus funds. Commerce expects to release a round of awards in mid-August, and USDA and Commerce will announce additional awards in September, with all funds awarded by the Congressional deadline of September 30th. For communities that have put broadband plans on hold, the uncertainty will soon be over.

Municipal broadband saved in North Carolina

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/13/2010 - 07:53

Save NC Broadband reports that the attempt to halt community-owned and municipal broadband in North Carolina met its final defeat this year. The effort to get a bill passed that would essentially prohibit municipalities from taking control of their own economic future dragged on through the entire NC legislative session, and someone could probably write a pretty good horror movie script from the saga. Opponents to the measure thought they had put a wooden stake through the heart of the bill several times, only to see it re-emerge. It's a good object lesson for communities: never give up, and always remember: incumbent providers don't vote, citizens vote.

The fight in North Carolina (and other states)

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 06/07/2010 - 08:21

The New America Foundation has an excellent summary of what has been going on in North Carolina. It should be of interest to anyone who thinks communities and regions have a right to determine their own economic future. The industry-financed fight in North Carolina may show up in any number of other states in the next couple of years as community broadband efforts not only mature but excel. The bad news for the last century incumbents is that more and more community broadband efforts are delivering world class broadband services at prices far below the monopoly providers, and worse, those networks are really starting to deliver on the economic benefits of increased business attraction and jobs creation.

North Carolina broadband battle rages on

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 05/21/2010 - 08:29

The broadband battle rages on in North Carolina, with more and more people starting to realize that the state and NC communities needs flexibility in addressing economic development problems.

Broadband fight continues in North Carolina

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 05/05/2010 - 09:08

A knock down, drag out fight over the right of communities to control their economic future continues in North Carolina. Via Save NC Broadband, the City of Salisbury, North Carolina is struggling to put a stop to a state legislature proposal to ban community investments in broadband. The cable companies in North Carolina are encouraging the ban, and as the editorial notes in the link above, this is really about the right of communities to determine their own future. As is often the case, using a roads analogy helps put it in perspective: "... That's like letting one or two asphalt companies determine the future of North Carolina's roads."

Communities need modern digital road systems that will help retain existing businesses and assist with attracting new ones. It almost beggars belief that NC legislators want to cripple economic development and drive businesses into neighboring states like Virginia, where community fiber projects like nDanville have brought more than 550 new high tech jobs to Danville, Virginia in the past year. Danville's open access network does not compete with the private sector because all services are being offered by private sector companies, which creates a win-win situation. The City of Danville has lowered the cost of offering high performance broadband and created new business opportunities for private sector firms. This "third way" approach to broadband is a win-win approach to community broadband that neatly balances public and private interests.

Boucher proposes online privacy bill

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 05/05/2010 - 08:49

Congressman Rick Boucher (D) of Virginia's Ninth District has proposed an Internet privacy bill, which is co-sponsored with Cliff Stearns (R) of Florida. The bill has critics from both the business community and consumer advocates, which suggests it probably strikes the right balance as a place to start. I am constantly amazed at how casually people give up personal information like their birthdate, street address, and other information just to get some "free" service (e.g. Facebook). Not all companies abuse how they use that kind of information, but some do. One of the bill's primary requirements is to simply have firms explain better what they do with personal data. That seems like a good place to start.

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.

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