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Despite repeated reminders from the rest of us that Hollywood will only ever give the late night slots to guys named James, Stephen, or Conan, Christopher is determined that if he just hosts enough things he’ll be able to break into the business and leave us all behind. In that spirit comes a new series here at the Community Broadband Networks initiative within the Institute for Local Self-Reliance: Connect This!
Every two weeks, a diverse panel of broadband policy experts and industry veterans will get together and talk about recent news, untangle regulations, demystify technology, dig into grant programs, and have a good time. Compared to the Broadband Bits podcast, Connect This! will range wider and encourage guests to find common ground on the complicated issues that collectively define our networked future. Episodes will have a set agenda and aim for less than an hour, and the plan is to bring at least one guest across two episodes in a row to provide some continuity.
Host Christopher Mitchell shared the driving impulse behind it:
I don't think people working in this space have enough opportunities to hear people wrestling over these different ideas and challenges. A lot of people are working very hard to build networks or better policies and trying to puzzle through things on their own. What is happening at the FCC? What is the deal with that government program? How does this technology work in the real world?
The goal of the show is to address these issues from different perspectives and ask hard questions — questions that we may not always know how to answer. But also to have fun with it because this is an exciting space to work in and we shouldn't have to be super serious all the time.
The first episode is up, with Christopher joined by Cat Blake (CTC Technology and Energy), Karl Bode (TechDirt), and Travis Carter (CEO, US Internet). They talk about US Ignite’s new Project Overcome, state broadband grant programs that exclude municipal networks, and AT&T’s decision to stop connecting users to its DSL network.
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Email us firstname.lastname@example.org with feedback and ideas for the show.
If you're a regular reader of MuniNetworks.org, you've seen Karl Bode's name and it's almost certain you've read his work elsewhere. Karl has had his finger on the pulse of telecom, broadband, and related legislative events for a long time.
This week, Karl comes on the show to talk about how his career trajectory led to where he is right now, the surprising and unsurprising things he's seen, and how media coverage of telecom and technology has changed over the years. There are some issues, notes Karl, that should be handled more aggressively both in developing policy and in how the media covers them. The impact of large monopolistic Internet service providers, privacy concerns, and network neutrality are a few matters that affect us more than most people realize.
Christopher and Karl talk about the FCC and corruption of the commenting system that surrounded the decision to retract federal network neutrality protections. They also talk about Washington D.C.'s different attitudes toward big tech companies such as Google and Facebook versus big ISPs like AT&T and Comcast.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
On October 24th, FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly spoke before the Media Institute at their “Free Speech America” Gala. In a speech for the telecom-backed group, O’Rielly delivered exactly what many of the big hitters in the audience would want to hear. He falsely accused, with nothing to back up his claims, municipal networks of posing an “ominous threat to the First Amendment.”
Karl Bode reported on the event, noting that O’Rielly goes on to falsely claim that local governments have or will attempt to limit free speech through municipal networks. Bode immediately addressed the baseless statements and reached out to Christopher, who confirmed that, ”There is no history of municipal networks censoring anyone's speech.” Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica also wrote a well-reasoned article reminding readers that O'Rielly previously called rules to protect against censorshop by ISPs "baseless fearmongering." Huh... that sounds right.
Apparently, the impressionable O'Rielly had been reading up before his speech and had just put down a copy of a document from the Free State Foundation, an organization funded in part by deep pocketed ISPs. The document implied that community networks would be more likely to interfere with free speech. Such is the disinformation game.
The American Civil Liberties Union has addressed this concern in the past because they oppose any efforts to censor speech, whether by government or corporations. In their paper on municipal broadband networks, they wrote:
And indeed, First Amendment principles prevent the government from targeting certain ideas or viewpoints for censorship or reduced access. Governments risk violating the Constitution if they create blacklists of disfavored websites, only permit access to “approved” websites, engage in content filtering, or ban anonymous online browsing or writing.
When state legislators in Tennessee recently passed the Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017, tech writers quoted our Christopher Mitchell, who pointed out that the proposal has some serious pitfalls.
Christopher's statement appeared in several articles:
"Tennessee taxpayers may subsidize AT&T to build DSL service to Chattanooga's [rural] neighbors rather than letting the Gig City [Chattanooga] expand its fiber at no cost to taxpayers. Tennessee will literally be paying AT&T to provide a service 1,000 times slower than what Chattanooga could provide without subsidies."
Motherboard noted that the Tennessee legislature had the opportunity to pass a bill, sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling, to grant municipal electric utilities the ability to expand and serve nearby communities. Nope. Legislators in Tennessee would rather pander to the incumbent providers that come through year after year with generous campaign contributions:
To be clear: EPB wanted to build out its gigabit fiber network to many of these same communities using money it has on hand or private loans at no cost to taxpayers. It would then charge individual residents for Internet service. Instead, Tennessee taxpayers will give $45 million in tax breaks and grants to giant companies just to get basic infrastructure built. They will then get the opportunity to pay these companies more money for worse Internet than they would have gotten under EPB's proposal.
The Motherboard reporter quoted Bowling from a prior article (because, like the movie "Groundhog Day," she keeps finding herself in the same situation year after year):
"What we have right now is not the free market, it's regulations protecting giant corporations, which is the exact definition of crony capitalism," she said.
TechDirt Gets Personal
This week in Community Broadband networks... partnerships, cooperatives, and going-it-alone. For a background in muni networks, check out this recent article from FiscalNote. The article highlights Kansas and Utah's fight for improving beyond the minimum speeds.
Speaking of minimum, the FCC announced its new "rock bottom" for regulated broadband speeds. Ars Technica's Jon Brodkin reports that despite AT&T, Verizon, and the National Cable and Telecom Association's protests, ISPs that use government subsidies to build rural broadband networks must provide speeds of at least 10 Mbps for downloads.
Rural Americans should not be left behind those who live in big cities, the FCC announcement today said. "According to recent data, 99 percent of Americans living in urban areas have access to fixed broadband speeds of 10/1, which can accommodate more modern applications and uses. Moreover, the vast majority of urban households are able to subscribe to even faster service," the FCC said.
The FCC plans to offer nearly $1.8 billion a year to carriers willing to expand service to 5 million rural Americans.
This is a step in the right direction, but we are alarmed to see a download:upload ratio of 10:1. People in rural areas need to upload as well as download - our comments to the FCC strongly recommended raising the upstream threshold as well and we are very disappointed to see that remain a pathetic 1 Mbps.
And, from TechDirt's own "who can you trust if you can't trust the phone company department," Karl Bode found that a study by the AT&T-funded Progressive Policy Institute concluded that if Title II regulations were passed, the nation would be "awash in $15 billion in various new Federal and State taxes and fees. Bode writes that the study cherry-picked and conflated data:
Lo and behold, right in the thick of the CBS-Time Warner fight, I received notices from AT&T that Uverse was now available in my neighborhood. This is something I’ve waited more than two years for. I was thrilled. Finally, there’s choice! Since receiving my first notice from AT&T in early August, I’ve been inundated with AT&T offers. Dozens of pieces of mail have arrived in my mailbox. Clearly, AT&T wanted my business. And I wanted badly to give it to them. I phoned one day after receiving my first notice. I signed up immediately for service. The friendly sales person told me because of high demand, she couldn’t set an installation date for sooner than two weeks. Whatever. Fine. We agreed on August 19, somewhere between 9 and 11 a.m. I couldn’t wait.Only they didn't show. They cancelled. And they cancelled the next appointment and put him off time and time again. But now he has a date of when he will be able to take service ... and I'm not making this up. 12/31/2036. Those familiar with AT&T's announcement in Austin may think that it will take 23 years to upgrade Dallas because the massive corporation is focusing so much attention on Austin where they are kind of promising a gig. Karl Bode has long been covering what he calls Fiber to the Press Release from AT&T.
The Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation has released a report on data caps in the U.S. The report, Capping the Nation's Broadband Future, was authored by Hibah Hussain, Danielle Kehl, Benjamin Lennett, and Patrick Lucey.
The paper looks at the growing prevalence of monthly data caps by massive ISPs like Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and others. Authors conclude that data caps are effectively discouraging Internet usage with restrictions and limits that can be expensive. From the summary:
As this paper documents, data caps, especially on wireline networks, are hardly a necessity. Rather, they are motivated by a desire to further increase revenues from existing subscribers and protect legacy services such as cable television from competing Internet services. Although traffic on U.S. broadband networks is increasing at a steady rate, the costs to provide broadband service are also declining, including the cost of Internet connectivity or IP transit as well as equipment and other operational costs. The result is that broadband is an incredibly profitable business, particularly for cable ISPs. Tiered pricing and data caps have also become a cash cow for the two largest mobile providers, Verizon and AT&T, who already were making impressive margins on their mobile data service before abandoning unlimited plans.
The increasing prevalence of data caps both on the nation’s wireline and mobile networks underscore a critical need for policymakers to implement reforms to promote competition in the broadband marketplace. Data caps may offer an effective means for incumbents to generate more revenue from subscribers and satisfy investors, but making bandwidth an unnecessarily scarce commodity is bad for consumers and innovation. The future is not just about streaming movies or TV shows but also access to online education or telehealth services that are just starting to take off. Capping their future may mean capping the nation’s future as well.
Imagine going to a gas station, putting 10 gallons into your car's 12 gallon tank, and driving off only to find your needle only approaches half a tank? This scenario is quite rare because government inspects gas stations to ensure they are not lying about how much gasoline they dispense.
But when it comes to the Internet, we have found measurements of how much data one uses is unregulated, providing no check on massive companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable. And we are seeing the results -- AT&T is not open about what its limits are or how to tell when one has exceeded them.
Stop The Cap has noted that AT&T has advertised unlimited bandwidth for its DSL/ U-verse product while chiding and charging customers who exceeded certain amounts of monthly usage. Customers were quietly warned and charged $10 for each additional 50 GB over 150 GB for DSL subscribers or 250 GB for U-verse customers. Clearly, "unlimited" has several definitions, depending on whether one is a customer or an ISP.
Complaints have also come in from SuddenLink customers and others. The ISP charged usage based customers for bandwidth usage when they didn't even have power. Simlarly, AT&T customers began to complain about inaccurate meters from the beginning of the program. This from a 2011 DSL Reports story - one of many comments from AT&T customers:
AT&T's data appears to be wholely corrupted. Some days, AT&T will under-report my data usage by as much as 91%. (They said I used 92 meg, my firewall says I used 1.1 Gigs.) Some days, AT&T will over-report my data usage by as much as 4700%. (They said I used 3.8 Gig, dd-wrt says I used 80 meg. And no, this day wasn't anywhere near the day they under-reported.)
Rogers’ legislation is exceptionally friendly to the state’s incumbent phone and cable companies, and they have returned the favor with a sudden interest in financing Rogers’ 2012 re-election bid. In the last quarter alone, Georgia’s largest cable and phone companies have sent some big thank-you checks to the senator’s campaign:Phil also refutes the supposed failures cited by those pushing the bill. Not only do such stories misrepresent what really happened, some actually cite EPB's incredible 1Gbps service as demonstrating that munis are out of touch. What else would you expect from the Heartland Institute, which made its name fighting against the radical claim that cigarettes are linked to cancer? Government Technology's Brian Heaton also covered the story in "Georgia Community Broaband in Legislative Crosshairs."
A review of the senator’s earlier campaign contributions showed no interest among large telecommunications companies operating in Georgia. That all changed, however, when the senator announced he was getting into the community broadband over-regulation business.
- Cable Television Association of Georgia ($500)
- Verizon ($500)
- Charter Communications ($500)
- Comcast ($1,000)
- AT&T ($1,500)
In addition, Mitchell [me] said that SB 313’s requirement of the public entity paying the same taxes or the same cost of capital as the private sector is another red herring.