Broadband in House versus in Senate Stimulus Proposals

Congress is looking at two versions of the stimulus proposals. There are some pretty important differences as far as broadband goes.

Here are the differences:

Money: The House offers $6 billion while the Senate offers $9 billion.
Speed: The House says 45 mbps while the Senate says 100 mbps.
Rural areas: The House saves 75 % for rural areas while the Senate saves 50 %.
Open Access: The House requires it while the Senate doesn’t.

(One caveat – the House asks the FCC to define Open Access – but unless there’s a big shock coming to head of the FCC, I think the expectation is that they would be more amenable to Open Access than they would have been a month ago.)

Who’s in and who’s out?

Verizon is pleased:

We believe that federal policy should encourage investment in a new ultra high-speed communications infrastructure. We also believe tax credits are the best way to encourage additional deployment of ultra high-speed networks across the country that will generate jobs, stimulate the economy, enhance international competitiveness, and improve productivity. And, like President Obama, we are convinced broadband is helping to address challenges in health care, the environment and education.

I didn’t see any mention of rural or other underserved areas.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association doesn’t love it.

The 100 mbps threshold does them no favors since it really points to fiber. So they created a video that urges Congress to look at affordability, adoption in terms of providing computer, focus deployment into un-served areas. He minimizes the importance of focusing on speed so soon.

The Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance and Qwest are saying $6 billion is not enough.

Taken from the Wall Street Journal: A trade group representing midsize telecom providers with 27 million customers (ITTS} says its members alone would require $6 billion to $6.5 billion to reach about 3.6 million homes in their territories that don’t have high-speed Internet access.

Google seems happy enough.

On CNBC, Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive urges a quick movement forward. The money is a down payment – it will get jobs in the market it will get things started.

Extending Super Fast Internet to US

I just read a report that I really like: A Plan to Extend Super-Fast Broadband Connections to All Americans by John Windhausen, Jr. at the Century Foundation. It’s not necessarily a ton of new info but it includes a good (yet brief) survey of broadband policy history in the US and links to  resources. The author has a clear viewpoint – but I think he backs up his recommendations with the history and resources.

Here’s a super quick summary. The US had fallen down in terms of broadband. Policy has not helped – there’s been too much emphasis on de-regulation not enough on fostering competition. We’ve been left with a duopoly that has encouraged neither sufficient investment nor innovation from the private sector.

Broadband is great for business, education, the environment…

Here are the policies that would help turn around the broadband situation in the US:

  • Provide seed money for broadband investment – especially in rural, inner city and unprofitable areas
  • Promote investment by streamlining policies that encourage broadband – from improving access to right of way and allowing municipally owned networks
  • Think about broadband as infrastructure: create federal-state jurisdiction, preserve openness, promote interconnectedness, build for the future
  • Stimulate broadband use through consumer education

Here’s just a little bit on the Century Foundation from Wikipedia:

The Century Foundation was founded in 1919 by Edward A. Filene, an American businessman, social entrepreneur, and philanthropist, under the name of The Cooperative League. The organization’s mission was to act as an advisory committee for Filene in disbursing his funds in a way that could best benefit the world. Renamed the Twentieth Century Fund in 1922, and then The Century Foundation in 1999, the Foundation has sought liberal, progressive solutions to the nation’s problems.

The author, John Windhausen, Jr, is a communications attorney, a fan of Net Neutrality and the president of Telepoly.

Good News for Fed Funds & Broadband

First – the House passed an $819 billion stimulus plan that includes $6 billion for new wired and wireless broadband networks.

They also stipulated that companies receiving funds to build new broadband networks adhere to openness conditions. Some will see that as good new; some won’t. As I wrote yesterday, I think it will help spread the money to providers who will focus on rural areas. Also I think it will help providers who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get funding – and wasn’t that a huge goal of the bill – to stimulate the economy?

Second – Senator Amy Klobuchar announced that key investments in high speed internet that she pushed for were included by the Senate Appropriations Committee in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The legislation includes nearly $9 billion to strengthen the nation’s high speed internet infrastructure and will help deliver the technologies that can create new jobs and opportunities in rural America.

Let’s Go Local

If nothing else the economic stimulus package has stimulated conversation. Wistful if I won the lottery talk has turned into, if I could spend the stimulus money. The theme in my reading today seems to be if I had a check, I’d spend it locally.

The folks at the Daily Yonder featured an article that focuses on broadband money for local networks. It was written by Wally Bowen, the executive director of a local ISP in North Carolina – and he says, “No tax dollars for broadband infrastructure should go to absentee-owned networks, unless no local network is available for this taxpayer support.”

Bowen urges that the large providers aren’t good matches for the stimulus funds for the following reasons:

  1. In his experience the large companies are not interested in providing broadband in rural areas. Rural areas generally do not provide quick or high return on investment. They don’t make the best business cases.
  2. He’s afraid take money to expand access to new areas and use it to enhance services to existing areas.
  3. Big providers outsource overseas, which would not lead to local jobs.

Local providers are a better bet and, he points out, they probably have shovel-ready projects “on the drawing boards of local planning agencies and state broadband initiatives.”

Then I read a more local piece talking about the FTTH plans in North St Paul. The author, Samuel Greenholtz of Telecom Pragmatics – points out that one reason we’re lagging behind in fiber deployment in the Midwest is that the predominant provider isn’t interested in providing ubiquitous service. Greenhotz applauds the “90 independent telcos in Minnesota” for stepping up.

Karl Bode also alludes to large providers who are suddenly interested in providing access to States, when they have previously “spent millions to prevent cities and towns across the country from wiring themselves with broadband.”

NATOA Amicus Brief in Support of Broadband in Monticello

A quick update on the situation in Monticello… NATOA (National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors) recently filed a Amicus brief in the ongoing Monticello ordeal.

Here’s the blurb from their site with a link to the actual brief:

Consistent with its long-standing support of community broadband, and its current Broadband Principles and other initiatives, NATOA filed an Amicus Brief before the Minnesota Court of Appeals in the case of Bridgewater Telephone Company, Inc. v. City of Monticello. Bridgewater is suing the City of Monticello to prevent the City from using revenue bonds to finance its fiber to the home project. Earlier this year, a Minnesota trial court ruled in favor of the City that its fiber project should be considered a “public convenience” for which revenue bonds could be utilized to finance the project. NATOA’s brief argues that not only is the fiber project a “public convenience,” but broadband infrastructure should be considered a utility. In addition, NATOA’s brief highlights the importance of broadband infrastructure as an economic, educational, and social tool.

The Amicus Brief is amazingly readable for a legal document – although I prefer the quote from FDR to the mathematical equation that explains the grammar of the statute.  (I’m adding that as a teaser – though it is true.)

Broadband on Minnesota Public Radio

The upcoming broadband maps were featured on Minnesota Public Radio this week. I’ve talked about the maps before. The folks at Connected Nation are mapping broadband access across the state.

The map will be unveiled next week. The initial maps are creating with notes from the providers.

They are asking citizens to help keep the providers honest by visiting their site to test and record their speed. So if you have minute – please help out by visiting the site and testing your speed. (Ironically I can’t access the page yet – we might have to wait until next week.)

Public Radio also features a few notes from former Senator Steve Kelley and Blandin’s Bernadine Joselyn. Rural access in Minnesota is better than most states – but affordability is still an issue.

Minneapolis Number 7 Most Wired US City

Forbes just named their Top 30 Most Wired Cities. Minneapolis came in at number 7. Here’s what Forbes had to say:

The surprise of the list is Minneapolis, which improved its standing from No. 11 to No. 7, beating New York and Portland, Ore., among others. Minneapolis’ secret? A particularly broad range of service providers, including a number of neighborhoods with 20 different access options for high-speed Internet.