Policy and regulation

Is Iowa the telecom battleground?

Iowa may be the new battleground for broadband. Successful projects like the Cedar Falls fiber system and the statewide Opportunity Iowa project has shifted the battle from Louisiana, where the phone and cable companies lost a battle against the city of Lafayette.

The most interesting thing in the article is the arrogant attitude of the president of Quest:

Max Phillips, Iowa president of Qwest Communications International Inc., said the interests pushing the community fiber programs are misguided because people should focus on the speed and quality of service, not the medium that carries it.

Community news and projects:

Say good-bye to cable franchise fees

Communities that rely on cable franchise fees to finance local government initiatives like a public access TV channel may have to find other ways to pay for those services.

As the FCC continues to level the playing field for telecom services, cable franchise fee revenues will likely disappear.

Communities will have to reposition this as a right of way fee, instead of a tax on the cable franchise but not on other right of way users. It can't just be regarded as easy money from a single company.

Technology News:

Public roads, private roads

Imagine if there were no public roads. We would have to pay a private company to drive to and from work, probably in the form of tolls and/or a monthly fee. We might not be able to get certain kinds of goods and services delivered to our homes and businesses because the toll fees made uneconomical for a company to provide delivery services in some areas. In many rural areas, there would be no paved roads, only dirt lanes, as no private road company could make enough money to cover the cost of paving.

What's worse, some essential public services would be limited or unavailable. Residents in rural areas would be without public safety or fire protection whenever the dirt lanes were blocked by snow or muddy from spring rains--no private company could afford to plow the snow or put gravel down.

Technology News:

Intel champions community networks

Intel, the big chipmaker, has jumped on the muni broadband train and is helping communities take the issue to state legislatures.

In one sense, this is good news, because like it or not, legislators are more likely to listen to an Intel lobbyist (who can make campaign donations) than they are to the citizens that elected them (for the most part). Intel and other tech companies can provide a counterbalance to the enormous influence of the telephone and cable companies.

But has Intel just suddenly decided that they should do this for the good of communities everywhere. No. Instead, they are angry that the wireline broadband providers are busy arranging de facto service monopolies that are locking out wireless systems, which are the current darling of a lot of vendors out to make a quick buck by selling huge wireless systems to unsuspecting community leaders.

Technology News:

FTC fines X-rated spammers

The FTC is finally using the CAN-SPAM law to crack down on spammers sending out X-rated email without appropriate warnings. The large fines should make some of these outfits think twice--one penalty was $650,000.

Technology News:

Cisco aids Chinese "Public Security"

Cisco is beginning to draw attention on the 'net for its practice of selling network equipment to the Chinese Bureau of Public Security. This is the organization that beats up peaceful protesters, routinely engages in brutal physical torture, and is turning China's node of the Internet into a highly controlled state network, where typing a word like "freedom" on your personal Web site might get you a visit from the Bureau of Public Security.

Cisco is claiming they have not broken any laws, and that if they don't sell the equipment, someone else will.

Technology News:

Community news and projects:

VoIP providers don't know what to do

Voice over IP phone providers are trying to get their customers to acknowledge that they know their VoIP service may not work with 911. This is in response to an FCC ruling that requires all VoIP service providers to have 911 service working by July 29th or notify every customer that it does not.

The problem? It's darned hard to get some customers to acknowledge stuff like this. The FCC has not told VoIP companies what to do if a customer refuses to acknowledge they have received a notice, and some companies are being advised that they will have to cut off service.

Linesharing and the Brand X decision

The Supreme Court decision late last month (called Brand X) that cable companies do not have to share their lines continues to get debated across the Internet. I'm a contrarian here. While it's true that the cable companies enjoyed a monopoly position the marketplace for a long time, we changed the rules in 1996. They now have to compete, and I don't see the logic of expecting them to share their systems with their competitors.

Technology News:

National video franchises are wrongheaded

Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn) is talking about proposing a House bill that would allow for national video franchises. This is partly in response to the somewhat justified whining by the telcos that it is too much trouble for them to go to every town in America and ask permission to deliver TV programming over phone lines.

There are so many dumbheaded things here that it is hard to know where to start.

Technology News:

Are phone companies wrecking America?

Are the phone companies wrecking the U.S. economy by spending hundreds of millions of dollars to buy legislation that prevents America's businesses from competing in the global marketplace?

Technology News:

Community news and projects:

Michigan legislators wants to ban wireless

The Detroit News has a report on a Michigan legislator who has introduced a bill to ban local governments in the state from getting involved in wireless efforts. The article does not shed any light on what the motivation behind the bill is, but the wireless project in Oakland County which is described in the article is worth reviewing.

Technology News:

Community news and projects:

Wake up call for elected leaders

James Carlini, who writes in ePrairie, an Midwestern online business and technology magazine, has a terrific article taking Illinois leaders to task for shirking their responsibilities to the the public at large and to businesses and communities in the state.

It's hard to improve on Carlini's thoughts, so I'll include just one item from the article. You can read the entire piece here.

FCC Chairman will consider fewer rules for TV

Here is an article [link no longer available] (registration required, unfortunately) that shows just how far off base both the FCC and the telcos are in their thinking.

Kevin Martin, the new FCC Chairman, says he will consider "fewer rules" for television regulation. Basically, the telcos want to deliver TV but don't want to do what the cable companies are required to do, which is to negotiate a franchise agreement with every town in America.

Technology News:

Overview of anti-muni broadband legislation

Here is an excellent and relatively optimistic summary of what's happening at the state and Federal level with respect to anti-muni broadband, or as my old friend Gene Crick would say, "...the best laws money can buy."

FCC Chairman Martin says, "Broadband is top priority"

Kevin Martin, Michael Powell's replacement as the Chairman of the FCC, said in an interview that broadband is a top priority for the agency. This article [link no longer available] has some of Martin's comments, but it does not shed much light on where the FCC is likely to take the broadband issue in the future.

Technology News:

Are cities at war over broadband?

CNet has an article that provides a good summary of some of the current issues surrounding community-financed broadband. On one side, you have the cable companies and telcos, determined to prevent communities from controlling their own destiny. On the other side, you have communities getting limited or no access to broadband services, with those towns and cities at a serious disadvantage in the global economy as 15 other countries have better broadband than the United States.

Nebraska update

Anne Byers, of the Nebraska Information Technology Commission, and one of the most knowledgeable people in the country on rural technology issues, has written an excellent article that not only summarizes some of the anti-muni legislation pending in that state, but also provides some very useful analysis of other projects around the country.

Among Anne's cogent analysis is the point that whether a community broadband project has "failed" or "succeeded" depends on who you talk to, with some projects being ranked by different organizations as both a success and a failure.

Technology News:

Community news and projects:

The future of television

USA Today has an excellent article that summarizes the current debate moving through the courts about the future of cable television and the future of video programming generally. As usual, the FCC has muddied the waters here, with statements and policy decisions that seem to favor both sides of the argument.

Technology News:

Knowledge Democracy:

Loudoun County creates Manager of Broadband Services

Loudoun County, which is located in northern Virginia, has created what may be a first--the county now has a paid position called Manager of Broadband Services. Funded from telecom use fees paid to the county, the new employee, Scott Bashore, will have the responsibility to advise the county on broadband strategies, set a vision for the county on the future use of technology, and will work closely with businesses to ensure the county has the right broadband infrastructure in place to support economic development.

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Community news and projects:

FBI raises the cost of VoIP

The FBI wants to increase the cost of Voice over IP. The VoIP news article has a set of excellent questions that someone ought to be asking the FBI as they seek to extend existing wiretap requirements to VoIP companies. Not only will it increase the cost of commercial VoIP software by requiring those firms to install wiretap backdoors in their systems, the whole exercise is absurd. Here's why.

  • As VoIP News asks, why would criminals use a commercial VoIP offering that was known to have a wiretap backdoor when they could just as easily use their own secure VoIP software. Dozens of VoIP software products are completely free and can be downloaded and installed easily.
  • Some VoIP providers are located outside the U.S., beyond the jurisdiction of the FBI. Why would anyone use a higher-priced U.S. service if a less expensive offshore service with equivalent voice quality is available? Why would international drug rings ever use U.S. services if the FBI has their finger in them? One effect of FBI regulation will be to drive the entire VoIP business out of the United States.
  • Wiretapping only the VoIP data streams of suspected criminals is, well, just dumb. If I were trying to investigate criminal behavior, I'd want to capture their entire data stream. And the FBI can do this now, just by going to the criminal's ISP with a court order and getting the ISP to re-transmit to the FBI every data packet coming from the criminal. This is trivial to do, does not require expensive new software, and is much more likely to provide useful information, since you'd also see email, Web sites, chat, IRC, and any other communications, along with VoIP conversations.

So what's really going on? Occam's Razor may be useful here (the simplest explanation is probably the correct one). Recall that this is the same FBI that just spend $170 million of our tax dollars on a "Virtual Case File" system that does not work. In other words, the FBI has neither good in-house technology advice nor do they seem capable of buying it. Like many other Federal government agencies, when the FBI wants technology, they run to the beltway bandits--the big consulting firms that inhabit the D.C. area, who have a built in conflict of interest when asked by those same agencies to both design and build systems.

Knowledge Democracy:


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