Bills, legislation, and ordinances

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.

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:

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