Content tagged with "regulation"

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Tim Wu on Importance of Getting Broadband Policy Right

Tim Wu, a professor and long time champion of network neutrality, discusses why getting these policies right is so important. Perhaps more interesting is the reaction from David Isenberg and Tim Wu's comment to that reaction. The take-home lesson? Network neutrality is important, but is less of a permanent solution than networks that are structurally designed to work in the public interest rather than primarily manufacturing private profits. This video is no longer available.

Scientific American Editorial: Why Broadband in the US "is so Awful."

In an editorial for the October, 2010 issue, Scientific American explains "Why broadband service in the U.S. is so awful, and one step that could change it." This is an excellent shorthand explanation for the poor decisions of the FCC during the Bush Administration. Unfortunately, these decisions are being carried forward by the Obama Administration's FCC.
It was not always like this. A decade ago the U.S. ranked at or near the top of most studies of broadband price and performance. But that was before the FCC made a terrible mistake. In 2002 it reclassified broadband Internet service as an “information service” rather than a “telecommunications service.” In theory, this step implied that broadband was equivalent to a content provider (such as AOL or Yahoo!) and was not a means to communicate, such as a telephone line. In practice, it has stifled competition.
And the solution?
Yet, puzzlingly, the FCC wants to take only a half-step. Genachowski has said that although he regards the Internet as a telecommunications service, he does not want to bring in third-party competition. This move may have been intended to avoid criticism from policy makers, both Republican and Democrat, who have aligned themselves with large Internet providers such as AT&T and Comcast that stand to suffer when their local monopolies are broken. It is frustrating, however, to see Gena chowski acknowledge that the U.S. has fallen behind so many other countries in its communications infrastructure and then rule out the most effective way to reverse the decline. We call on the FCC to take this important step and free the Internet.
Well said. Read the whole the piece.

Christopher Mitchell Tells FCC To Regulate in the Public Interest

On August 19, 2010, I was one of hundreds of people telling the Federal Communications Commission to do its job and regulate in the public interest. My comments focused on the benefits of publicly owned broadband networks and the need for the FCC to ensure states cannot preempt local governments from building networks. My comments: I’ll start with the obvious. Private companies are self-interested. They act on behalf of their shareholders and they have a responsibility to put profits ahead of the public interest. A recent post from the Economist magazine’s technology blog picks up from there: WHY, exactly, does America have regulators? … Regulators, in theory, are more expert than politicians, and less passionate. …They are imperfect; but that we have any regulators at all is a testament … to the idea that companies left to their own devices don't always act in the best interests of the market. They go on to say If companies always agreed with regulators' rules, there would be no need for regulators. The very point of a regulator is to do things that companies don't like, out of concern for the welfare of the market or the consumer. When we talk about broadband, there is a definite gap between what is best for communities and what is best for private companies. Next generation networks are expensive investments that take many years to break even. With that preface, I challenge the FCC to start regulating in the public interest. The FCC does not need a consensus from big companies on network neutrality. It needs to respect the consensus of Americans that do not want our access to the Internet to look like our access to cable television. But while Network Neutrality is necessary, it is not sufficient. The entire issue of Network Neutrality arises out of the failed de-regulation approach of the past decade.

Canada Joins Rest of World With Open Access Requirement

Last year, when the Berkman Study (pdf) by Harvard (commissioned by the FCC) revealed the secret behind impressive broadband gains in nearly every country over the past decade, we hoped the FCC would learn something from it. Maybe it did, and maybe it didn't -- what is clear is that it did not have the courage to embrace pro-competition policies. Canada's telecom regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has shown more courage in confronting powerful interests that want to monopolize the future of communications. They have decided to require the big telecom carriers share their network with independent ISPs in an open access type arrangement.
Until this decision, the established telecom companies could "throttle" third-party services, by slowing them down or limiting downloads.
In Canada, these huge companies also claim that such regulations will decrease their investment in next-generation networks, likely a hollow threat. Regardless, it is a strong argument for public ownership of essential infrastructure. How many communities should be denied next-generation communications because some massively profitable global company is having a snit with the regulator? Far better for communities to be self-determined, by building their own networks. When networks are run as infrastructure, they are open to independent service providers, just as the roads are open to shipping companies on equal terms. Canada's regulator has made a difficult decision - but as Karl Bode reminds us, let's wait to see if they actually enforce it.

PC World Writer: We Need a Public Option for Broadband

Last month, Mark Sullivan wrote a column expounding on the obvious: deregulation of broadband service providers has failed to produce the promised competition, Americans pay more for less than peers in other countries, and this is an area where smart government policy would benefit everyone.
When it comes to broadband, I’m a socialist. Why? Because broadband service in the United States is currently provided by a cableco/telco duopoly, and, as such, is slower and more expensive than in most of the developed world, studies show. Because I don't believe the FCC can fix that lack of competition within the current regulatory framework, despite the ambitious goals set forth in its National Broadband Plan. Because a reasonably-priced alternative to cable or telco broadband might be just the thing to bring competition to the industry and spur U.S. broadband cost and quality to world-class levels. Because our connectedness increasingly dictates our our economic standing in the world: Broadband is as important to us as the interstate highway system--a public works project--was to Eisenhower-era America.
Good column. Notice that the commenters at the bottom pile on against the idea - though they clearly have little idea what they are talking about. There has been no discussion of the government taking over networks owned by the private sector and there is little reason to believe local government would be more likely to violate privacy than a company motivated solely by profits ... in fact, I would argue the private sector is considerably more likely to violate privacy than local governments. As for Brett Glass, his comments long ago proved that he lives in a fantasy world. In his small town, there are 9 broadband competitors! Well, at least we know where the competition is - it surely is not present in my community.

10 Years Later - Tacoma and LaGrange

In January 2001, or about 1 million years ago in tech time, Site Selection Online published "Wired Cities: Working-Class Communities Build Next Frontier of High-Speed Connectivity". I found it years ago when reading up on the Click! network in Tacoma, Washington. I recently stumbled across it again and thought it might be interesting to evaluate its claims after a decade (or close to it) had passed. The lead of the article discusses Tacoma its relationship to Seattle. Tacoma had extremely poor connectivity from the private sector and its public power utility decided to build an HFC network to extend broadband to everyone in the community. Tacoma's Mayor notes that over 100 companies poured in after the community solved its own broadband problems - generating some 700 jobs in 18 months. Fast forward to today, and this paragraph:
As a result, the next frontier of information companies isn't being confined to the Silicon Valleys of the world. It's taking root where you might least expect it: in places like Tacoma, LaGrange, Ga., and Blacksburg, Va.. And in most cases, it's government taking the lead, beating business to the punch by stringing fiber and building networks in working-class communities that most bottom-line corporations would otherwise ignore.
The principle of self-reliance is timeless. And we see the same idea in news articles today: local governments bringing broadband to areas the private sector cannot. In 2010, the fastest and more affordable broadband networks in the US are not in Silicon Valley -- they are in Lafayette, Chattanooga, Wilson, Utah, and other places where the community decided to prioritize big broadband. Because of the competition in Tacoma, prices for telecom have remained lower than in nearby Seattle - as I quoted a Tacoma resident previously:
I have Comcast in Tacoma and all I know is since there is competition down here Comcast is about half the cost as it is in Seattle. They give you a rate good for a year. When your year is up you call up and just say Click! and bam back down you go.

The Great Telecom Rip-off

Bruce Kushnick, a telecom analyst, has long pushed for telcos to live up to the bargains they struck with individual states and federal agencies over the years as part of deregulation policies. They were deregulated and (surprisingly enough) failed to make good on their promises. For the most part, governments have refused to punish them or even learn the lesson that companies like AT&T and Qwest simply cannot be trusted. If you have ever stared at an incomprehensible telephone bill and wondered just how badly you were getting ripped off, you will be interested in this article discussing the many ways we are ripped off by these companies. Small wonder these companies are so profitable and can afford their legions of lobbyists. But that is that, and what's done is done, right? Well, Kushnick has another article about the Obama Administration's FCC and approach to expanding broadband. Long story short, the proposed changes will increase the costs most of those with the least ability to pay and the least likely to benefit from the spending. This approach of expanding broadband is awful - more subsidies to terrible telephone companies that have poor service in rural areas because they are structurally incapable of meeting the infrastructure needs of communities. Massive companies like AT&T and even smaller big companies like Qwest are strangling rural communities while they lobby for bills to prevent those communities from solving their own problems. Expanding broadband access and availability has costs and some taxes may need to be raised. But those funds should be used responsibly by expanding broadband coverage from entities that are dedicated to serving the community (munis, coops, nonprofits) rather than simply padding the corporate profits of companies that provide terrible service to communities and upgrade far too slowly.

Understanding - and Rethinking - Broadband Regulation

Though we certainly support the FCC's reclassification of broadband to ensure companies like Comcast do not interfere with the open Internet, we focus on policy at the community level. We fully support the efforts of organizations and people in DC to work at the federal level. But for those who are utterly baffled at the questions being raised the the last 15 years of Internet policy, I strongly recommend a recent op-ed by Wally Bowen: "FCC needs to rethink broadband regulation."
The stakes are high. The Internet's explosive growth – and the spectacular innovation it spawned – were enabled by common-carrier rules that still govern the nation's dial-up telephone networks. Before 2002, online users were at the center of the Internet and World Wide Web, free to choose among competing ISPs, and free to roam and innovate. With the removal of common-carrier rules, the cable and telephone companies occupied the center of a broadband-driven Web, free to pick winners and losers among innovators (e.g. AT&T's exclusive iPhone deal with Apple) – and free to dictate when and where broadband access will be deployed. In short, the definitive battle for the future of the Internet is underway.

Seattle's Chief Geek: Broadband Monopoly Keeps Costs Too High

Bill Schrier, Seattle's Chief Technology Officer (informally, Chief Geek), recently explored the ways in which limited competition in broadband has kept prices too high for many Americans and suggests high prices should be a cause for concern on the level of network neutrality. He is right not only in noting the problem, but noting that there is no solution to it forthcoming from the states or feds. However, communities can take control of broadband prices by building their own networks. Not only can they guarantee lower rates, they effectively force lower rates from incumbents (and often increased investment) by merely increasing local competition. Due to limits in law and FCC policy, building a network is really the only power of local governments to ensure the community has the broadband access it needs to succeed. I have long found it amazing that local governments have the power to set a limit on the lowest tier of cable TV prices but no ability to require a basic tier of Internet. What is more important to communities? Cable TV or broadband?
The City of Seattle – and other cities and counties – can regulate cable TV to a limited extent. Therefore we can demand cable companies provide a low cost basic service – $12.55 in Seattle for Comcast, for example, and there’s even a discount to that low rate for low-income residents – more details here. The State of Washington – and other States – can regulate telephone service, and require telephone companies to provide a low cost basic phone rate, e.g. $8 a month for 167,000 households. But NO ONE regulates broadband/Internet access. Consequently ISPs can charge whatever the market will bear. So in our present monopoly or duopoly environment throughout the nation – that is little choice for most of us – prices are at $30, $40 or more for even moderate speed access. Higher speed access is $100 or more. And that means low-income, immigrant, seniors and other households cannot afford access to the Internet. So they and their children are denied what is probably the most important pathway to education, information, jobs and higher income – access to the Internet. Even middle income households or neighborhood businesses cannot get affordable truly fast (e.g. 5 megabits per second symmetric) broadband.
Bill's post is well-linked and worth reading in its entirety.

FCC and Network Neutrality - A Quick Take

A quick reaction to the court decision that the FCC cannot currently prevent Comcast from telling subscribers where they can and cannot go on the Internet: This is what happens when private companies own infrastructure. Comcast owns the pipes so it makes the rules. The FCC, authorized to regulate "all interstate and foreign communication by wire or radio" by Congress, most assuredly is supposed to have the authority to ensure Internet Service Providers cannot arbitrarily block some websites to subscribers. Whether it really has the power or not is determined by courts - and the courts are massively swayed by the arguments of Comcast, related trade associations, and powerful organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce. So long as Comcast and other massive corporations own the infrastructure, they will make the rules. We can attempt to fiddle at the edges by responding via the FCC, or we can build public infrastructure (over which they can provide services without making the rules) and avoid this entire problem. On this particular issue, though, I found the following bits helpful in understanding the decision and how it changes federal policy. Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post posted a video interview with Ben Scott of Free Press that is well worth watching to understand what is at stake and what is not. For instance, the FCC is not proposing to regulate the Internet so much as the wires and transmissions that allow the Internet to run. As long as Comcast can decide what bits it wants to transport (as in, it will transport bits from CNN but not Fox News, for instance), the open Internet is at risk.