Bills, legislation, and ordinances

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.

Are blogging licenses coming?

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 02/12/2010 - 17:10

Here is an interesting story. Apparently, a Microsoft exec has proposed that all bloggers need to have a license before they can write on the Web. And Time magazine and the New York Times think this would just be spiffy. This is not likely to ever happen, but the fact that companies like Microsoft and old media think it is a great idea suggest that there is still much resistance to the changes the Internet has brought.

New Hampshire towns demand right to control their economic future

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/04/2010 - 09:36

A coalition of New Hampshire towns and other interested parties are encouraging state legislators to give New Hampshire towns and cities the right to bond for telecommunications infrastructure. Unsurprisingly, the incumbent providers are not excited about the notion, even though largely rural New Hampshire has tens of thousands of residents still on dial-up and one of the providers is having severe financial difficulties. The towns see it as an issue of economic survival. Who wants to live in a rural community, no matter how great the quality of life, if there is no broadband or only "little" broadband?

The towns have correctly distinguished between "little" broadband (DSL, cable, wireless) and "big" broadband. They want big broadband, because that represents the future of economic development and the ability of these towns to retain existing businesses and to attract new ones. Here is an exquisite irony: a fiber cable manufacturer in rural New Hampshire can't get the bandwidth they need to do what they want to do to manage the plant properly.

In exchange for bonding authority, the towns have wisely agreed to only build open access community broadband networks, in which all services for businesses and residents would be sold by private sector providers. So in rural parts of the state where the incumbents are saying it is too expensive to build a private network, the towns are saying, "Okay, we get it. We will build a shared network and let you, Mr. Incumbent, use it to reach customers you can't afford to build to on your own."

Why would the incumbents be opposed to that? It opens them up to competition.

First round stimulus rejection letters in the mail

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 01/25/2010 - 16:06

Some applicants for first round broadband stimulus funds report they have received their rejection letters today (1/25/2010). It does not appear that the letters provide any information about why an application was rejected, other than to note that it did not score high enough.

USDA/RUS releases additional broadband stimulus awards

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 01/25/2010 - 13:32

USDA/RUS has announced an additional $313 million on stimulus funds, going mostly to rural telephone company projects.

FCC considers idea of taxing to fund broadband expansion

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/08/2009 - 16:41

Via Eldo Telecom, According to Kiplinger, the FCC may be considering expanding the Universal Service Fund (USF) tax to help fund the expansion of broadband into rural and underserved areas. It is an idea that has been kicked around for a while, but if the FCC moves on this idea, community broadband projects like Utopia, nDanville, Palm Coast FiberNET, and The Wired Road should be eligible for those funds--not just incumbent phone companies.

Open access networks will become the "normal" way to design and build networks

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/07/2009 - 10:44

The NOFA (Notice of Funds Availability) for broadband stimulus funding was released last week; the document defines how to apply for those funds, and both private sector companies and communities can apply. On page 66, beginning at line 1470, the NOFA does something very important: it provides an explicit preference for networks that offer open access services (or open services) to end users. Here is the exact statement:

Reviewers will also consider whether the application proposes to construct infrastructure and implement a business plan which would allow more than one provider to serve end users in the proposal funded service area.

This means networks that offer competitive pricing from more than one provider get preference--this is huge, and could have important long term consequences.

The rules also do something else quite important on the same page (page 66, line 1463), where there is explicit preference for open access transport, which in telecom jargon is "interconnection." The rules say that companies that post their interconnection fees publicly and agree to nondiscrimination will get preference.

Why is the interconnection clause important? I have specific knowledge of one phone company that offered the exact same circuit/service to a community project at FIVE TIMES the fee they charge to other telcos. That is discriminatory pricing, and it is done to discourage competition and to keep community projects out of the "club."

When the dust settles on the broadband stimulus funding in a couple of years, these two little items buried on page 66 may turn out to be the most important part of the whole effort.

North Carolina anti-broadband bill sent back to committee

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 05/08/2009 - 08:44

A grass roots effort in North Carolina to beat back an anti-broadband bill in the legislature has apparently had some effect, as the bill was sent back to a committee for more study. Opponents of the bill think that's good enough for now, although most of these bills continue to re-surface year after year.

Alcatel supports municipal broadband

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/05/2009 - 07:54

From the good folks in Wilson, NC, an excerpt from a letter that fiber equipment manufacturer Alcatel wrote in support of the right of communities to improve broadband services. Good for Alcatel. In part, it is probably a business decision, which makes it even more interesting--the company must know that municipal broadband efforts are good business.

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.

The return of anti-competition legislation

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 04/01/2009 - 08:01

Broadband Reports says that two states, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, are considering legislation to make it more difficult for communities and regions to invest in broadband infrastructure. As usual, the legislators sponsoring such bills seem to be saying, incorrectly, that such efforts are "anti-competitive." Oddly enough, they are right in the wrong way. It is not community broadband efforts that are anti-competitive, it is the legislation--which simply seeks to make it impossible for any other entity to compete with the incumbent provider. Good for the incumbent, but bad for any other other private sector firm that wants to lease public telecom infrastructure to deliver services.

It is entirely possible to create good, financially strong public/private partnerships that actually create private sector business opportunities, and it is already being done:

Broadband Stimulus Webinar

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 03/18/2009 - 09:52

I'll be part of a Webinar on broadband stimulus funding, and my portion will address the kind of planning that may be needed for community broadband grant requests. Here is the link for more information; note that registration is required (but the seminar is free).

Will Pennsylvania ban community broadband?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 03/10/2009 - 07:54

According to Broadband Reports, a bill is being considered by the Pennsylvania legislature that would make it virtually impossible for communities in that state to use stimulus funds for any kind of broadband infrastructure--even in areas that are unserved or underserved by incumbents.

Part of this is just poor information gathering by legislative staff, since there are myriad ways to structure community investments in broadband to benefit the private sector. Design Nine has been helping communities do this for years, and it is straightforward to create win/win situations that allow local governments to make targeted investments that create private sector job and business opportunities.

$2 billion for broadband cut from stimulus bill

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 02/09/2009 - 09:47

Regardless of what you think about the stimulus spending, cutting funds for broadband seems not well thought out. The U.S. is behind many other countries in part because government subsidies have been used heavily in other countries to accelerate availability of broadband. If jobs creation is a primary goal of the spending plan, then it seems like almost any infrastructure investment--roads, sewer, water, bridges, broadband--would be a good way to get things going, as private sector firms usually do most of the work.

Broadband does not take "years"

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 01/26/2009 - 09:19

Senator John McCain, on Fox News Sunday, said, "...some of the projects and others that you just mentioned, $6 billion for broadband and internet access. That will take years." He was being interviewed about the stimulus package. Given careful oversight and a sharp focus on communities that have already done planning work, a lot of homes could get high performance wireless and fiber connections in 2009 and 2010. Most of the work would be done by private sector firms, which would create jobs. And the improved connectivity would enable more job and business opportunities in the communities that get the funds.

What is unfortunate is that in a discussion of spending something around $1 trillion, that less than one percent is being considered for 21st century infrastructure. Renewal and replacement of roads and bridges is also important, but that funding could be tied to broadband--for example, any bridge improvements could also require placing telecom duct on the bridge during the construction work, so that the bridge is "telecom ready." Crossing bridges without such duct in place is a major time and cost headache for community projects.

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.

Congress says "Yes" to community broadband

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 11/12/2007 - 08:17

Both houses of Congress have passed the Community Broadband Act of 2007. The bill fixes a defect in the 1996 Telecom act that says "any entity" may offer telecom services. The meaning of "any" was challenged repeatedly in state level lawsuits, and some misguided state legislatures went even farther and made it illegal for local governments to start telecom service offerings.

In general, I think it is better for communities to invest in "digital road systems" and let the private sector use those digital roads to sell telecom services directly to customers. This creates a public/private partnership that does not put local government in direct competition with the private sector. But communities should still have the option of offering retail telecom services if they think that is the best way to proceed. In some areas, that may be required for certain services, like TV programming, because of market size.

Could Internet taxes show up?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 09/26/2007 - 08:39

A 1998 ban on taxing services provided over the Internet is due to expire next month. Congress has three options: make the tax ban permanent, extend the ban for several more years, or start raking in a whole new source of cash.

If Congress decides to tax Internet access, everyone's access provider bills (dial up, DSL, cable modem, wireless, Blacksberry, etc.) could jump as much as fifteen to twenty percent.

The big picture issue here is whether Congress ought to be making the telecom industry tax collectors at all. For business, telecom taxes are pure overhead that crimp a company's ability to create jobs and pay for expansion. And if the company is profitable, it is still going to pay taxes on the profits. From an economic development perspective, telecom taxes are a drag on jobs development and business growth. Design Nine, as an example, gets phone bills with as much as 30% of the charges just taxes of various kinds, from local, state, and the Federal government.

Given the weak state of the economy right now, let's hope Congress does the right thing and extends the ban on Internet taxes for services.

Here we go again...

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/26/2007 - 07:28

Senator Ted "the Internet is made of tubes" Stevenson is at it again, calling for "universal" filtering of the Internet to protect us all from pornography. The Internet pornography problem is a serious one, and deserves serious attention, but Senator Stevens is not making a serious proposal.

First, the Federal government has no business filtering and checking everything we look at; it is as if the government planned to put an agent on our doorstep and insisted on looking at every book, magazine, and letter that we tried to carry in the house, and had the power to arbitrarily remove any item without explanation, including the pictures of your one year old niece in the bathtub that your sister in law sent in the mail (it would classified as child pornography).

Second, Senator Stevens reveals that his understanding of the Internet has not evolved much past the "tubes" analogy. There is no one central location for the "Internet." It is everywhere and nowhere. It does not stop at national boundaries. U.S. laws have no effect on servers and content providers in other countries. Stevens' proposal smacks of political grandstanding ("...it's for the children") at a time when there are much more serious issues that beg for attention.

Grappling with technology

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/14/2007 - 09:37

An Illinois legislator has introduced a bill to outlaw "social networking" sites in Illinois libraries and schools. The bill is extremely broad, and probably will never be passed, but it is an interesting exercise in lawmaking.

The problem is real. Sites like MySpace and FaceBook have user profiles that promote pornography directly and indirectly, and is that something we really want our kids to be looking at on school computers or in public library computers funded with taxpayer dollars? I have been dealing with this issue since the early days of the Blacksburg Electronic Village, and I think what is needed is more adult supervision of children--hands on adults--parents and teachers who pay attention to what is going on in the classroom or in the library and dealing with it appropriately and promptly. This law would make police responsible, and worse, it is not the kids who get punished for accessing inappropriate material, but teachers and librarians. This is just kooky. We are going to arrest a teacher because they failed to notice that a hormonally challenged fourteen year old boy was caught looking at something inappropriate? It is the kid who should be punished, not the teacher or the librarian.

A second problem with the law is that "social networking" is inescapably vague. This site has most of the same "social networking" features as MySpace; users can register and post comments and "talk" to each other. Millions of sites could be defined as "social networking" sites, so who decides what is acceptable and what is not? We need more reason and less grandstanding as we grapple with these new systems.

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