Tag: "op-ed"

Posted January 29, 2013 by Christopher Mitchell

Common Cause's Todd O'Boyle and myself have just published an opinion piece in the North Carolina News & Observer to highlight the foolishness of the General Assembly revoking local authority to build broadband networks.

Todd and I teamed up for a case study of North Carolina's most impressive fiber network, Greenlight, owned by the city of Wilson and then turned our attention to how Time Warner Cable turned around to lobby the state to take that right away from communities. That report, The Empire Lobbies Back, was released earlier this month.

An excerpt from our Op-Ed:

The Tar Heel economy is continuing its transition from tobacco and textiles to high technology. Internet startups populate the Research Triangle, and Charlotte’s financial services economy depends on high-quality data connections. Truly, next-generation Internet connections are crucial to the state.

It is deeply disturbing that the Federal Communications Commission ranks North Carolina at the bottom nationally – tied with Mississippi – in the percentage of households subscribing to a “basic broadband” connection. The residents and businesses of nearly every other state have superior connections.

Read the whole thing here.

Posted December 13, 2012 by Lisa Gonzalez

In August, we reported on the results of a report on UTOPIA by the Office of the State Auditor General of Utah. As you will recall, the results were less than favorable and presented more fodder for those opposed to municipal telecommunications infrastructure investment.

The same old arguments often rest on the financial investment in municipal networks - they are considered failures if they don't break even or make money. Pete Ashdown, founder of ISP XMission in Utah, addressed those arguments in the Salt Lake Tribune:

UTOPIA provides broadband service in 11 Utah cities. Today, communication infrastructure is no less critical than transportation, sanitation and clean water. Government is not a business, but the infrastructure it provides contributes to a robust business environment.

Consider how private businesses rely on government funded infrastructure. Why don’t entrepreneurs clamor to build the next generation of roads? Why don’t airline companies get off the public dole and build their own facilities? Why are sewer facilities so rarely handled by anyone else but the state?

Does effective infrastructure cost? Considerably. Does it make a profit? No.

For decades now, public service entities have contended with the argument that if they are "run it like a business" they will be more efficient, productive and even profitable. While lessons from the private sector may contribute to increased efficiency at times, government is NOT a business. Applying business tenets should be done sparingly and not in the case of critical infrastructure like electricity, roads, and yes, access to the Internet.

Gary D. Brown, who lives in Orem, shared a guest opinion through the Daily Herald and drew a similar parallel between UTOPIA's status and the business world:

When UTOPIA was first proposed, I was all for getting a fiber optic connection to every home and business in the at-that-time 17 cities. In my opinion, the original business model was sound; install fiber to each home/business and offer data,...

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Posted August 1, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Today, Slate published an opinion piece by me and Sascha Meinrath from the Open Technology Institute at New America Foundation talking about the important role of community broadband in solving the nation's broadband problem.

A snippet:

In the meantime, local communities are taking matters into their own hands and have created remarkable citywide fiber-to-the-home broadband networks. Many offer services directly to residents, providing a much-needed alternative to the cable and telephone companies. And by creating meaningful consumer choice among competitors, these networks are driving lower prices—spurring new investment and creating new jobs—and keeping more money circulating in the local economy.

Posted May 28, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Once again, we are reprinting an opinion piece by Wally Bowen, founder of the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network based in Asheville, North Carolina. The op-ed was originally published in the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Once upon a time, Internet enthusiasts made the following comparison: the Internet is to 21st-century economies what navigable waterways and roads were to 19th and 20th-century economies.

But what if our rivers and highways were controlled by a private cartel which set tolls and dictated the make and model of our boats and vehicles? It’s unthinkable, of course. Yet over the last decade, a cartel of cable and phone companies has gained this kind of control over more than 95 percent of Internet access in the US.

In response, many communities have built municipal broadband networks. The cartel, in turn, has persuaded legislatures in 19 states, including North Carolina, to pass laws prohibiting municipal networks.

Scholars call this the “enclosure” of the Internet, similar to the enclosure of rural commons by private owners in 18th and 19th-century England. This trend includes smart phones and tablets which are locked down and controlled by licensing agreements. By contrast, the personal computer is open to innovation. You can take it apart, experiment, and create new functionality. You can also download your choice of software, including free open-source programs.

The full impact of this corporate enclosure of the Internet is still to come, but evidence of it is growing. Consider e-books. When you purchase a real book, you enjoy “first sale” ownership. You can resell it or use it as a doorstop. You can do anything with it, except reproduce it. But when you purchase an e-book, your options are limited by a license that can be changed any time by the vendor without your consent.

With an enclosed Internet, we become renters rather than owners. Our freedom to experiment and innovate, while not totally lost, is governed by gatekeepers and licensing regimes.

But there is a way around the Internet gatekeepers: “open wireless” networks using unlicensed spectrum.

Most spectrum used for smartphones is licensed to, and controlled by, the telecom cartel. By contrast, the free Wi-Fi we enjoy in coffeehouses is unlicensed and free for anyone to use and experiment with. But this spectrum has a very...

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Posted May 27, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

In a recent editorial (May 24 issue), The New Republic argued that the Obama Administration was doing a decent job on Internet policy and obliquely referenced an article discussing carrier opposition to community broadband. The op-ed begins,

Politicians aren’t always especially thoughtful about, or even familiar with, information technology. George W. Bush used the term “Internets” during not one but two presidential debates. The late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens famously referred to the World Wide Web as a “series of tubes.” And John McCain drew ridicule in 2008 when he conceded that he was still “learning to get online myself.”

Much worse than these gaffes, however, are some of the policies that have been promoted by lawmakers and candidates who seem to fundamentally misunderstand the importance of a free and open Internet. In recent years, we have seen politicians accede to the interests of giant telecom companies rather than support net neutrality; propose anti-piracy bills that threaten Internet freedom; and, as Siddhartha Mahanta recently documented at TNR Online, block poor communities from receiving broadband access.

Good to see this issue being discussed outside of the standard tech circles. Especially when outlets like the New Republic explicitly call for more wireless subscriber protections:

There are, of course, ways in which the administration has disappointed. Even when the White House has done the right thing on Internet issues, it has not always acted as speedily or as forcefully as it might have. Moreover, it has not always done the right thing. Particularly striking was the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision, in late 2010, to exempt mobile carriers from new rules protecting net neutrality. The FCC’s step blocks Internet service providers from slowing down or preventing access to the content of their competitors—but it only applies to wired, not wireless, providers.

While many of us are hopeful that the government will take a stronger hand in preventing carriers from disrupting the open Internet, Vint Cerf (one of the fathers of the Internet) rightly warns us that overall...

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Posted February 16, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Susan Crawford's op-ed in Bloomberg makes a tremendous case for publicly owned broadband networks.

She notes the importance of broadband and the failure of big cable and DSL companies to meet the growing needs of communities, just as the electrical trusts were insufficient to electrify much of America.

I'm a bit biased because she cites our work:

Today, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which advocates for community broadband initiatives, is tracking more than 60 municipal governments that have built or are building successful fiber networks, just as they created electric systems during the 20th century. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, for example, the city’s publicly owned electric company provides fast, affordable and reliable fiber Internet access. Some businesses based in Knoxville -- 100 miles to the northeast -- are adding jobs in Chattanooga, where connectivity can cost an eighth as much.

Though I encourage readers to read the full column, I love the conclusion:

Franklin D Roosevelt

Right now, state legislatures -- where the incumbents wield great power -- are keeping towns and cities in the U.S. from making their own choices about their communications networks. Meanwhile, municipalities, cooperatives and small independent companies are practically the only entities building globally competitive networks these days. Both AT&T and Verizon have ceased the expansion of next-generation fiber installations across the U.S., and the cable companies’ services greatly favor downloads over uploads.

Congress needs to intervene. One way it could help is by preempting state laws that erect barriers to the ability of local jurisdictions to provide communications services to their citizens.

Running for president in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt emphasized the right of communities to provide their own electricity. “I might call the right of the people to own and operate their own utility a birch rod in the cupboard,” he said, “to be taken out and used only when the child gets beyond the point where more scolding does any good.” It’s time to take out that birch rod.

Posted October 26, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Below, you'll find a commentary I just posted on the Huffington Post.

Longmont, Colorado has become ground zero for the battle over the future of access to the Internet. Because big cable and telephone companies have stopped us from having a real choice in Internet Service Providers and failed to invest in adequate networks, a number of communities have built their own networks.

Chattanooga boasts the nation's best citywide broadband network, offering the fastest speeds available in the nation -- and the community owns it. That means much more of the money spent by subscribers stays in town, supporting local jobs.

Longmont, a town near Boulder with 80,000 people, offers a glimpse at how difficult it can be for communities to make any level of broadband investment -- the big cable and phone companies hate any potential competition, no matter how limited.

Longmont's elected officials all agree they need better broadband options to spur economic development. That's why they put a referendum on the ballot that will allow the city to use its existing assets to improve local broadband access. Not only are the mayor and city council unanimous in support of the referendum (2A) necessary for this, their opponents in the city election overwhelmingly agree also! And the local paper just editorialized in favor of it as well.

Who then, is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to derail it? Comcast and its allies, of course. And this isn't the first time.

Back in the 1990s, the municipality-owned electric utility built a fiber ring to modernize its electrical grid. They took the opportunity to lay more fiber-optic cables than they would need, knowing that they could later be used by the city or partners to expand broadband access for all businesses and resident.

Over several years, the City worked with a ...

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Posted October 6, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Vince Jordan, an advocate for broadband competition in Longmont, Colorado, wrote the following op-ed for the local paper about the upcoming referendum 2A. He has given us permission to reprint it here.

“There you go again” (to quote President Ronald Regan).

Well, it has already started. The folks who spent almost a quarter of a million dollars in the elections two years ago to convince the citizens of Longmont that being able to take further advantage of the fiber network they already own and are using is too dangerous for them, are at it again. No doubt by now, many of you have received one if not multiple “robo-calls” trying to convince you that the City is going to raise your taxes as a result of a yes vote on 2A. The first three words of Ballot Issue 2A say, “Without raising taxes”, but, since the opponents of this ballot, (those being the two mega-corporations who stand to benefit from you voting against 2A), can’t come up with any good reasons against the measure, they are resorting to the tired old cry of “they are going to raise your taxes!”

Citizens of Longmont, from 1997 to 2005, we had the right to use the asset that the city owns, namely the fiber network, to the benefit of ALL of the businesses and citizens of Longmont. The same corporations that are trying to “buy” your vote again, as they successfully did in 2009 with their “No Blank Check” campaign, in 2005 were able to lobby for and buy a law that took away our right to fully utilize this city owned asset. What ballot issue 2A is asking is for the citizens of Longmont to take back a right they once had.

This fiber network, which is fully operational today and used by the city for city purposes, and in fact already benefits the citizens of Longmont to some degree by keeping city service communications cost low, can do so much more. Our fiber network can be used to enhance the three Es, Employment, Education and Entertainment, here in Longmont. Low cost communications is as much a necessity today as is low cost power and water. Longmont already benefits from the lowest power rates in the country and the best service. Why wouldn’t we want the same advantage in the communications network that serves our businesses, our schools and our homes? Do you really believe the opponents of this measure, the lawyers from Denver being paid for by Comcast and CenturyLink, (stated so in...

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Posted June 24, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

 

I wrote the following synopsis of AT&T's attack on schools and libraries in Wisconsin for SaveTheInternet.com.  We are still waiting for the Governor to sign the bill, something that may take another week or longer apparently.

WiscNet is an Internet services co-op that provides Internet access to the vast majority of schools and libraries in Wisconsin, as well as a number of local governments. Because it’s a co-op, it can deliver lower-cost broadband to public entities than they could negotiate on their own. The arrangement between WiscNet schools and governments saves Wisconsin taxpayers millions of dollars each year and offers services that private companies like AT&T won’t provide.

Despite WiscNet’s proven utility throughout the state, AT&T and its incumbent allies (a group called Access Wisconsin) attempted to murder WiscNet in the back alleys of Madison, Wisconsin’s capital. But following a dramatic outpouring of public support for the network, lawmakers compromised and merely placed it on death row.

AT&T dumps millions into Wisconsin politics for a reason — to enact its agenda. When it furtively inserted a few provisions into a budget bill in the 11th hour a few weeks ago, legislators went merrily along without asking any questions.

These provisions would have effectively shut WiscNet down, and they would have required the University of Wisconsin, a premier research institution globally, to withdraw from Internet2 and other research networks. They also would have forced the University of Wisconsin Extension to return federal broadband stimulus grants that had already been used to break ground on projects to improve connections in rural areas with inadequate connections. Returning those grants would have cost $27.7 million over 5 years to the involved communities and killed almost 500 jobs.

Why did AT&T do this? Access Wisconsin claimed stimulus-funded networks are "unfair" competition...

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Posted April 26, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

North Carolina's Senate Finance Committee is poised to take away the right of communities to decide for themselves if building their own broadband network is a good idea or not. If it passes out of this committee, it goes right to the Senate Floor and will likely become law.

We have covered Time Warner Cable's bill to kill community networks in greater depth than any other story -- and now folks in North Carolina have to immediately contact their Senators to oppose this power grab from big companies like TWC and CenturyLink. You can also use this form from Free Press if you are unsure who your Senator is.

In recent weeks, we've posted excellent speeches from legislators opposed to the bill, testimony from concerned citizens, and a variety of resolutions from local governments who are fearful of this bill's impact on public safety networks needed to keep residents and businesses safe.

If you are shy, you can call before or after business hours and leave a message on their voicemail. It takes less than five minutes. Your calls make a huge difference because so few constituents ever call state legislators. Simply let them know you oppose H129 and that the state should concern itself with expanding broadband access, not restricting who can offer it.

And as I have said numerous times, those outside North Carolina should also be contacting their elected leaders -- because everyone lives in a state where powerful lobbyists are trying to preserve and expand the power of a few massive companies like Time Warner Cable and AT&T. Progressive States Network recent covered this topic.

Two weeks ago, I wrote the following op-ed for The Wilson Times...

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