Tips for Maximizing Service Providers’ Role in Community Broadband

A mantra of self-sufficiency I’m passing on to communities that want better broadband is simple: “If broadband is to be, it is up to me.” With Congress’ latest move to create a legal framework for the FCC to implement its National Broadband Plan, the smoke of delaying tactics and the mirrors of incumbents’ PR trickery portends a rough future for community leaders.

As I stated in RCR Wireless:

The good news is that this issue of FCC authority is going to Congress. The bad news is, this issue is going to Congress where it could easily die the death of 1000 cuts. The best thing that could happen is Congress mandates the FCC, as a regulatory agency, has the authority to make whatever decisions it deems necessary to assure we get better broadband. The probable reality is that a bunch of people who wouldn’t know a byte if it bit them in the butt are going to try to tie the agency’s hands to the point of eliminating their effectiveness.

If it wasn’t clear earlier, there now should be no doubt that to a large extent, those of you in the trenches leading broadband efforts have to grab the bull by the horns to get the solutions you want. With luck, the FCC will be able to craft useful supporting policy to help you. One major component of the project you should address early is private sector involvement.

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Community Broadband Wins A Victory in N. Carolina – for Now

Thanks to the hard work of a whole lotta people, the dreaded anti muni network bill was pulled from the committee’s agenda right before the expected throw down.Some of legislators are trying to amend state Senate bill S1209 by striking the requirement for GO bonds to pay for anything related to broadband (this is the feature that effectively makes the bill a moratorium on muni networks). In its place they want to put a task force in place to come up with comprehensive policy regarding muni involvement in broadband.

Facts Can’t Trump Broadband Reality in North Carolina

Recently I’ve written a few columns on this neat little campaign incumbents are running to fight off regulations from an FCC trying, in the face of mixed reviews, to make the market more competitive. “Facts are stubborn things,” a quote probably unearthed by a wise PR person, is their campaign to prove broadband competition is great by flooding us with facts irrelevant to the reality communities face.

This tactic is not isolated in its use to incumbent execs and their industry lobbyist brigades. Incumbents’ pocket legislators often try to baffle us with b.s. they pass off as facts because they have no dazzling, credible justification for trying to kill communities’ efforts to make the broadband most appropriate for their citizens. N. Carolina is currently suffering such a factoid flood – again.

The legislature there has some members who’ve sunk to new lows. It’s not only future networks they’re trying to kill with Senate bill S1209. This being their fifth or sixth run at such legislation, Time Warner’s and AT&T’s water bearers are going for the scorched earth approach. This bill intends to kill everything related to community involvement, including public private partnership. Here’s an e-mail I got last week.

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WiFi a Serious Technology in the Broadband Mix?

Money may or may not be the root of all evil, but it is certainly the tail threatening to wag the dog for many communities’ broadband planning teams. At the California Emerging Technology Fund’s Rural Connections workshop last week, a number of people representing communities expressed concern they can’t move broadband forward until they can find money.

Make no mistake; you can’t build a network without a passel of dead presidents to fund it. But you can mitigate the money hurdles you face, particularly if you don’t put extra ones in your way.

During the broadband stimulus mania I noted people polarizing around either wireless or wired technology as the “one true broadband.” Reviewing Round 1 stimulus grant winners, NTIA/RUS apparently were heavily wired in their thinking. Then Google jumped into the pond with its gigabit fiber splash, and that definitely increased the “wired way or no way” disciples.

This, I have a problem with. Not the goal of gigabit speed, but the thinking that “real” broadband is fiber and anything else is a failure.

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Breaking the Broadband Monopoly: How Communities are Building the Networks They Need

I have been a champion of public-owned broadband networks for years, writing about them for the same period of time. One thing communities and others have needed throughout these years is a detailed overview of the dozens of community networks that service consumers and businesses, along with a business, policy and political issues that affect these networks.

Chris Mitchell, Director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), has written such a piece and it’s pretty good. His “Breaking the Broadband Monopoly” reports, among other things, that these networks offer the best broadband value of any connection in the U.S. This is one of the most comprehensive and up-to-date policy reports on public ownership, combining case studies and a discussion of lessons learned with an analysis of the many obstacles to public ownership created by state and federal policies.

Public ownership isn’t the only business model, and for many communities it may not be the best option. But ownership of their broadband networks is an option that communities must have if we’re going to be serious about getting true broadband to where it’s needed.

Following is the Executive Summary. Check it out and then download the entire report. There’s no charge. This is a great supplement to my book, “Fighting the Next Good Fight.”

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Incumbent Facts May Be Stubborn, but Community Reality Bites

Steve Largent (head of wireless industry lobby group CTIA) had a nice little back-and-forth last week with Tim Karr of public interest group Free Press. The exchange would be a little entertaining if it wasn’t part of a concerted incumbent effort to throttle regulation by painting rosy pictures of the state of broadband.

Brief background. Tim writes an OpEd in the Seattle Times about reclassification. Steve writes a rebuttal flowery with said rosy picture of wireless broadband, dodging an actual discussion of Tim’s specific points. Tim figures, a little off-topic, but what the heck. He engages in this new discussion, poking holes in Steve’s (incumbents’) talking points. Another battle in the War of the Rosies. Steve fires back in righteous indignation, leading with Thomas Jefferson’s quote “facts are stubborn things.”

I gather the incumbents’ PR folks feel they have a catchy one-liner they can run with, so expect to hear this a lot. And every time you do, remember the old bumper sticker “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with b.s.”

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