Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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Municipalities that own and control their wireless broadband networks, operate public services more efficiently, prioritize broadband traffic for emergencies, and put unused bandwidth to use to attract new businesses, afford educational opportunities to students and in many cases, provide free broadband access to unserved or underserved residents.Tropos calls for an end to preemption on community networks.
Congress should not adopt legislation that would prohibit local governments from building and operating broadband networks to provide services within a community. Local governments should have the freedom to make decisions on how they want to provide broadband within their community.And finally, Tropos harkens back to the same political battles from one hundred years ago:
A century ago, when inexpensive electricity was available to only a small fraction of the U.S. population, incumbent suppliers of electricity sought to prevent the public sector from offering electricity for many of the same reasons incumbent broadband providers now argue against community broadband deployment and services. Back then, incumbents sought to limit competition by arguing that local governments didn’t have the expertise to offer something as complex as electricity. They argued that their own businesses would suffer if they faced competition from cities and towns. Local community leaders recognized that their economic survival and the health and welfare of their citizens depended on wiring their communities. They understood that it would take both private and public investment to bring electricity to all Americans. Fortunately, they prevailed.
As the FCC continues to formulate a National Broadband Plan, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has submitted comments [pdf] about publicly owned networks in response to the Request for Comments #7: "Comment Sought on the Contribution of Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Government to Broadband." In our comments, we highlight the importance of publicly owned broadband networks by noting many success stories and offering details on networks from Chattanooga, Burlington, Monticello, and Powell, Wyoming. We also offer some comments about middle-mile networks and networks that connect core anchor institutions, like libraries and schools.
a. Governments have engaged in various initiatives to increase broadband deployment and adoption in certain geographic areas. With regard to specific examples of federal, state, tribal, or local broadband initiatives, how did the initiatives come to fruition from start to finish? Please describe cost information, including planning, equipment, training, labor, and conclusion of the initiatives, as well as barriers that were overcome. What elements of the initiation, planning, or implementation were most critical to the success of the project? What factors impacted the technological choices made in the planning and implementation of the project? Were the projects sustainable, and have the projects continued beyond their initially conceived timeframes? What were the costs and the resulting empirically demonstrable benefits or harms of the implementation? How did costs and benefits differ from the original plan and why? b. What conclusions should be drawn from any particular experiences (e.g., what efforts or practices should be replicated or avoided)? c. Please provide examples of governments aggregating demand to encourage broadband deployment. Are such programs sustainable? Do these programs cause the deployment of network infrastructure that otherwise would not have occurred? Please provide data when possible. d. How can successful broadband solutions be more widely shared or publicized to enable other governments to benefit? What should be the role for the federal government (and specifically, this Commission) in fostering the widespread adoption of ideas and initiatives that have worked? e.
Want to provide 100-Mbit/s broadband service to every U.S. household? No problem: Just be ready to write a $350 billion check. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officials shared that jaw-dropping figure today during an update on their National Broadband Plan for bringing affordable, high-speed Internet access to all Americans. The Commission is schedule to present the plan to Congress in 141 days, on Feb. 17.Don't get me wrong, I agree that $350 billion is a lot of money. On the other hand, we spent nearly $300 billion on surface transportation over 4 years from 2005-2009. $350 billion buys a fiber-optic network that will last considerably longer. Additionally, such a network will generate considerably more revenue than a highway. In fact, these networks will pay for themselves in most areas if they can access to low-interest loans. Consider the comments of Deputy Administrator Zufolo (of the Rural Utilities Service) from my recent panel at NATOA:
Zufolo explained the RUS decision to use its $2.5 billion in funds primarily to subsidize loans and not provide grants, as the agency's best opportunity to make the more efficient use of the federal money and have maximum impact. Because the default rate on RUS loans is less than 1% and the subsidy rate is also low, only about 7%, it costs the government only $72,000 to loan $1 million for rural network development, she said.Let's say that RUS decides to embark on getting 100 Mbps to everyone in a rural area - some of the projects will be riskier than the standard portfolio, so let's assume it costs the federal government $100,000 to loan $1 million (makes it easier math too). In order to spur the $350 billion investment for these networks, the government would have to put up $35 billion.
- Subscribers need accurate information to make informed decisions. If they subscribe to "broadband," they should immediately know if it will actually support modern applications. This means incorporating common usage scenarios: multiple devices concurrently using a connection for browsing, e-mail, games, video-chats, media downloads, and large file uploads (online backup is becoming more popular and easy and people increasingly want to work effectively from home).
- Large companies, particularly telephone carriers, claim that there is no need for government intervention in broadband because almost everyone has access under the existing definition.
I therefore lay down the following principle: That where a community--a city or county or a district--is not satisfied with the service rendered or the rates charged by the private utility, it has the undeniable basic right, as one of its functions of Government, one of its functions of home rule, to set up, after a fair referendum to its voters has been had, its own governmentally owned and operated service. That right has been recognized in a good many of the States of the Union. Its general recognition by every State will hasten the day of better service and lower rates. It is perfectly clear to me, and to every thinking citizen, that no community which is sure that it is now being served well, and at reasonable rates by a private utility company, will seek to build or operate its own plant. But on the other hand the very fact that a community can, by vote of the electorate, create a yardstick of its own, will, in most cases, guarantee good service and low rates to its population. I might call the right of the people to own and operate their own utility something like this: a "birch rod" in the cupboard to be taken out and used only when the "child" gets beyond the point where a mere scolding does no good.We believe a national broadband policy could go much farther to strengthen communities by spurring fast networks everywhere, but we also recognize a political reality: incumbents providers have little to gain from a national broadband plan (especially one that goes so far as to encourage actual competition) and while their networks fall behind the times, they are able to pump all kinds of money into DC (and state legislatures around the country). Therefore, we stand by our red line. We will hope for more, but early signs are not good. Karl Bode offers 5 signs the broadband plan is already in trouble.
NTIA head Larry Strickling has suggested that if an incumbent wants to veto a stimulus grant in its territory, the data it uses to show the area is served will be on the public record. As this is a step in the direction of making such information public, it is good. However, there is still no clear method of appealing such a veto.
Craig Settles has called for letters to the NTIA asking for a deadline extension for the first round of grant applications. Muniwireless.com published a commentary explaining why a delay is a good idea.
West Virginia, one of the most-underserved states by broadband providers, is starting to worry much of the state may not qualify for broadband funds according to the Charleston Daily Mail. Unfortunately, they are relying on data from the industry-backed Connected Nation operation, so who knows? Being so heavily influenced by incumbents, Connected Nation significantly overstates existing coverage.
However, the story is interesting in pointing out that the approach taken by NTIA will not result in sustainable network. Because network deployers must stick to the areas of least density, they have no revenue base with which to cover operating costs. Once the stimulus money goes away, one wonders how many of these networks will fold -- though NTIA has claimed that networks must demonstrate fiscal viability after the grants run out.
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.If he is correct, the implications are great. However, the rules certainly could have demanded open access as a condition of public money being used rather than a limited form of extra credit for those who will encourage competition in a market suffering the utter lack of it. Harold Feld, who rightly noted that good people struggled and worked on this, saw both positives and negatives in the rules. He defends the "broadband" speed definition from the FCC (768kbps down and 200kbps up):
I am in the minority in thinking they played this right.