Day 2 – The Battle for North Carolina Broadband

A couple of weeks ago I spoke in Salisbury, NC to the Mayor, City Council, several state legislators and a couple hundred stakeholders/fans of the city’s Fibrant fiber network (the video’s embedded in Salisbury Post article). The gist of my talk was to spell out how to use the network to impact economic development.

Early on I told the audience I had supported N. Carolina’s previous fights for communities’ right to make their own broadband decisions, and promoted Salisbury’s, Wilson’s and Asheville’s networks at every opportunity. I pledged to continue to fight along with them again. Though I knew a Time Warner effort was lurking in the shadows, I didn’t expect the battle would come so quickly and with such a breadth of potential negative impact.

Luckily, the communities have had three previous battles to perfect their rapid response capabilities. Even though Time Warner’s NC legislative allies took Monday night as the opportunity to schedule a first showdown for today, yesterday citizens across the state struck back with a fury that obviously took some legislators by surprise. Today’s meeting was postponed for a week, and the bill’s author sent out an olive branch seeking to bring the two sides together to work out a compromise.

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N. Carolina’s Broadband Fight for Freedom to Choose is Now!

Well, this looks like the year Time Warner and other incumbents bring a true scorched earth approach to their quest to eliminate N. Carolina communities’ right to make their own best decisions about saving and expanding local economies. This latest anti-muni network bill is the most expansive legislator-facilitated attack on community freedom I’ve seen in the incumbents’ Seven Years War on community networks.

You can read all the details here. It’s ironic that this bill restricting communities’ ability to address local economic, healthcare and education issues is spearheaded by state legislators who likely scream bloody murder about the Fed’s intruding into NC’s business. Hypocrisy!

The other irony is that you have a Democratic administration in DC with a national broadband plan that encourages community networks, but a Time Warner bill to smother such efforts in NC has more Dems than you’d expect supporting the bill. Disappointment!

Communities that reject the hypocrisy and the disappointment need to rally and aggressively fight against this bill, even if you don’t live in the state. Rest assured that an incumbent win in the Carolinas is going to lead to escalated attacks on community networks in other states.

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Battlin’ for Community Broadband from DC to NC and Beyond

Last week was pretty intense. Two cross-country trips that reflect the hope and the frustration of fighting for better broadband.

In Washington, DC on Monday enduring the frustration of rolling that “public good” boulder once again up the hill of opposition made steep by the influence of corporate interests. In Salisbury, NC on Friday to lay down a message of hope for a community that faces the constant threat of Time Warner-driven anti-muni network legislation.

You can catch my debate with Blair Levin on YouTube. Occasionally you get the impression here’s someone for whom pride of authorship has given them an air of superiority, that there is only one true way to solve our problems, even while acknowledging the plan is not perfect. If not superiority, then definitely a license to be overbearing in demeanor.

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Strengthen the FCC’s Hand through Third Party Validation

While it’s easy this week to get caught up in the Google-Verizon news and bemoan the end of the Internet as we know it (though I think the real news is that Verizon gave net neutrality advocates a HUGE boost), a little watched sub-plot is cooking in the FCC vs. incumbents Battle for DC Domination. The FCC may be waving the V sign soon, but for Validation. Here’s why validation can mean victory for communities wanting better broadband.

Implementation of the National Broadband Plan has kind of stalled in the face of a he-said/she-said argument of epic proportions. Communities, consumer advocates, a lot of policy wonks and a majority of the FCC have been vigorously stating that (summarized) “broadband in the U.S. sucks!” Incumbents and their allies have been stating just as vigorously “no it doesn’t suck and we’ll spend a ge-zillion dollars telling you it doesn’t. If the FCC issues a report, we’ll spend another ge-zillion telling everybody why the report sucks.”

Who’s right? More importantly, who is right enough to persuade the policy making machine in D.C. and influence broadband deployments locally. This is where the V-word comes in. Lack of independent validation (Connected Nation doesn’t count) is the Achilles heel of the broadband stimulus, those grants sent to states to develop broadband maps, the national plan, attempts at Congressional legislation and the role of the FCC as broadband regulator.

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RUS in a Post-Broadband Stimulus World

Rural Utilities Services (RUS) Administrator Jonathan Adelstein and I have had a couple of opportunities to chat at events where one or both of us delivered presentations. Since we’ve had some interesting exchanges I decided to go for a formal Q & A with the one of the three central figures in the broadband stimulus program (NTIA’s Larry Strickling and the FCC’s Julius Genechowski being the other two).

My big interest is in what’s next on the agenda for RUS once they wrap up their part in the program. Many of those rural communities not fortunate enough to get a piece of the stimulus still plan to push forward for broadband in their respective areas, so it’s important for them to understand that RUS’ role doesn’t end September 30.

Administrator Adelstein’s comments are followed by my short assessment. This adds a coda to my recent analysis of RUS’s first group of Round 2 stimulus grants.

As a bonus to my loyal readers, I tossed in at the end here an interesting tidbit for some of you sports fans. The actual first time Administrator Adelstein and I shared a public venue was almost three decades ago and totally unrelated to technology.

Check back tomorrow for a re-cap of my recent meeting at the FCC. If I’m not careful, D.C. is going to become a second home.

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“What’s Next After Broadband Stimulus?” and Other Valuable Webinars

A couple of weeks ago I made a swing through D.C. to meet with some folks and continue building support for Communities United for Broadband. I also delivered “What’s Next After Broadband Stimulus?” at the New America Foundation. You can watch the presentation here.

This session helps you understand a little better what local communities’ role in national broadband strategy should be. The event included a strong panel representing community perspectives via people from cities that are making broadband happen:

  • Bryan Sivak, Chief Technology Officer of the District of Columbia,
  • Joanne Hovis, President-Elect of NATOA and President of Columbia Telecommunications Corporation
  • Gary Carter, Analyst at City of Santa Monica Information Systems Department will respond to Mr. Settles’ presentation.

I highlight key lessons from my book, Fighting the Next Good Fight: Bringing True Broadband to Your Community, in the context of national policy discussions on broadband. Actually, some days the discussion is more like a barroom brawl from the old westerns, with local communities cast as the damsel in distress whose fate depends on the outcome of these guys duking it out. No speaking role of note, just the prize for whoever wins.

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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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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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Join N Carolina Again in Fight Against Anti-Muni Network Laws

Like a bad rash, Time Warner is back this week trying to stifle municipal networks in North Carolina. Not only that, our less-than-competent-broadband-provider Fairpoint is trying to kill a bill this week in New Hampshire that will make it easier for municipalities in that state to pursue the broadband option of their choice. This is the same Fairpoint, with one foot over the bankruptcy grave and the other on a banana peel of abysmal service, that is fighting a broadband stimulus grant awarded to Maine. Oy!

There comes a time when we supporters of broadband have to throw down, as we say in Oaktown. Get front and center with opponents in the legislative arena by flooding e-mail boxes, phone lines and literally the halls of government to push back against incumbent efforts and push forward the rights of communities to make their own choices for broadband.

Be clear with the message

A little further down I list the names and numbers of legislators on the committee that will vote on the N. Carolina bill Wednesday. Not much time, but broadband activists in that state have a track record of rallying troops in a hurry to descend on the state house. Click here for the particulars of the N. Carolina bill.

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