Tuesday, February 27, 2007

House Bill 72 would create Broadband Task Force

A bipartisan group of fifteen Ohio House members, led by Representative Clyde Evans (R- Rio Grande), has introduced House Bill 72 to create the "Ohio Broadband and Wireless Telecommunications Task Force".

The Task Force would "examine and make recommendations on the availability of broadband and wireless telecommunications in Ohio and any economic impact such availability creates, the present or future availability of broadband and wireless telecommunications in all Ohio counties, and any other issues the Task Force deems appropriate". It would have a year to complete its work and issue a report to the leaders of the Ohio Senate and House and the Governor.

Task Force members would include
  • two members each from the Senate and House (two Republicans, two Democrats);
  • representatives from the Departments of Development, Natural Resources, and Commerce, the PUCO, the Office of Consumers Counsel, the Ohio Municipal League, the Ohio Township Association and the County Commissioners' Association; and
  • seven other members appointed by the Governor, of whom four would represent provider industries.
Besides Evans, co-sponsors of HB 72 include Republicans Cliff Hite, Jimmy Stewart, Eric Combs, David Daniels, Jim McGregor, Gerald Stebelton, Diana Fessler, and Shawn Webster, and Democrats Jennifer Garrison, Dan Dodd, Kathleen Chandler, Allan Sayre, Michael Skindell, and Lorraine Fende.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Columbus to host forum with FCC Commissioners, Copps, Adelstein and McDowell

While this may not appear to be a broadband issue on the surface, I believe there is a connection to be made between our efforts for universal affordable broadband and the Columbus FCC fact-finding hearing on media ownership to take place March 7th.

You may recall the tremendous public backlash in 2003 against proposed rules to weaken ownership limits. Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein led the way by holding informal hearings around the country to get public input. Well, the FCC is at it again. On June 21, current FCC chairman Kevin Martin issued a draft proposal -- called a Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making, or FNPRM -- that kick-started the latest effort to permit further media consolidation.

The upcoming Columbus hearing will be significant because it will be the first hearing attended by a majority Commissioner, Robert McDowell. According to organizer Amanda Ballentyne
"having McDowell attend the hearing is a very big deal, as he is appears to be the possible swing vote on the issue of broadcast ownership at the FCC. There are 5 commissioners at the FCC, three republicans (the majority) and two democrats (Copps and Adelstein). Copps and Adelstein have been outspoken on these issues, pressing the FCC not to allow further consolidation. McDowell appears to be undecided. This forum will be an excellent opportunity to impress McDowell."
The broadband connection?

Some ask, "who needs public interest obligations for broadcasters when anyone can use the internet to get and publish information?" This audience knows very well that not "anyone" or everyone can do that.

An official FCC hearing was held in Harrisburg, PA yesterday. US Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) sent a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin for inclusion in the record. His comments should sound familiar, and underscore the importance of diversity and meaningful public interest requirements for broadcast media:
Some media companies and associations have asserted that the internet’s potential ... is sufficient justification for the Commission to relax its media ownership rules. [Former] Chairman Michael Powell made the mistake of acting as if the internet was an independent source of national and local news- a mistake repudiated by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals when they remanded the Commission’s rules on this very point.

An open and free internet could be considered the first truly accessible tool to make the spirit of First Amendment come alive for everyone in the country. But without an internet available to all that guarantees fast speeds to anyone’s content, that potential is just a promise.

The reality of the Internet today for most Americans is not really comparable to its potential. The reality is that the FCC considers 200 kbps as broadband-a speed so inadequate that even video optimized for slower connections like that provided by YouTube requires 500kbps — 150% faster — to run in real-time. The reality is that broadband isn’t available — even at those low speeds — to tens of millions of Americans.

The reality is that only small percentages — 11% of respondents in a recent survey — use the internet as a frequent source of local news and information. The reality is that the websites of local TV stations and local newspapers account for about half of the sites these Internet users visit most frequently.

Until [the web] is as pervasive as broadcast media and newspapers — and until new websites truly compete with those traditional media outlets (and the web sites they control) — the web’s existence should not be used to justify media consolidation.

While bloggers and some websites cover local news extremely well, many are centered on opinion, food and theater reviews — or they simply aggregate links to websites of broadcasters or newspapers. The fact that most of these websites generate significant content reacting or responding to content produced by local broadcasters or newspapers underscores the internet’s importance as a complement and a supplement — not a competitor — to traditional media outlets.
The particular hearing in Columbus is considered an "unofficial" hearing, meaning it six not among the six designated by Commission Chairman Kevin Martin to address the specific proposed rulemaking. That fact gives the public more latitude in bringing issues before the commissioners.

Think the rulemaking eliminating local franchising stinks? Let them know. Think our measure of broadband access stinks? Tell them that too.

In my mind the most important statement to be made is that our communications infrastructure is too important to our democracy, economy and culture to have its rules written by the companies entrusted to occupy it.

Here is a promotional flier you can circulate. For more information, visit StopBigMedia.com or contact Amanda Ballantyne, aballantyne@freepress.net, 612-849-0195.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Toledo gets two wifi bids

Yesterday was the deadline for companies to respond to the City of Toledo's request for proposals to build and operate a citywide wireless network.

From today's Blade:

The city of Toledo and Mayor Carty Finkbeiner asked for the world when they put together a proposal for citywide Wi-Fi.

What they got may be closer to an asteroid.

Although hoping for several bids to provide the city with free Wi-Fi service, Toledo received only two Wi-Fi proposals by its 2 p.m. deadline yesterday, one from Buckeye CableSystem of Toledo, and the other from MetroFi of Mountain View, Calif. - neither meeting the city's request for free wireless Internet service for city government operations.

What MetroFi dangles in front of the city is free Wi-Fi service for every city resident willing to look at advertisements while they browse the Internet. Residents who prefer ad-free viewing would pay $19.95 per month for the service.

In the MetroFi plan the city would pay at least $2.2 million over five years as the "anchor tenant" of the wireless network. But costs could reach $4.3 million if the city chooses to add a licensed frequency for city safety services, something that was done when Riverside, Calif., deployed its Wi-Fi network with MetroFi. Public safety is Toledo's No. 1 reason for seeking a Wi-Fi contract.

Brian Schwartz, the mayor's spokesman, said city officials would have no comment on the proposals until they were reviewed.

Earlier potential bidders who chose not to submit proposals were EarthLink, AT&T, 20/20 Communications, which is installing a Wi-Fi network in Wash-tenaw County, Michigan, and CISP, a Toledo Internet provider.

The Buckeye proposal approached the city's request for proposals as an invitation to begin an analysis of what the city needs. Buckeye is owned by Block Communications Inc., which also owns The Blade.

More here and here.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

House subcommittee to grill FCC on local franchising

[Note: As noted in the comments, the hearing was postponed. Still time to get your calls, letters and emails in.]

The House Commerce & Telecommunications Subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing today, Thursday, Feb. 15th, to review the FCC. Among the many issues of concern is the FCCs December 20th FCC Ruling on Video Franchising. The ruling:

(1) imposes a 90-day shot clock for new entrants with existing rights of
(2) requires the grant of a new entrant’s franchise after 90-days;
(3) limits the scope of a new entrant's build-out obligation;
(4) authorizes a new entrant to withhold payment of fees that its deems to be in excess of the 5 percent cap;
(5) undermines support for public, educational and government (PEG) access channels PEG and local, institutional networks (INET);
(6) authorizes a new entrant to refrain from obtaining a franchise when it is upgrading mixed use facilities that will be used for the delivery of video content.

FCC Commissioner Adelstein offered these dissenting comments:
“The policy goals of this Order, to promote competitive video offerings and broadband deployment, are laudable. But while I support these goals, today’s item goes out on a limb in asserting federal authority to preempt local governments, and then saws the limb off with a highly dubious legal and policy scheme that substitutes our judgment as to what is reasonable for that of local officials – all in violation of the franchising framework established in the Communications Act.”
Commissioner Copps dissented and wrote:
"My goal was to encourage an item that preserves a local authority’s statutory right to seek specific and far-reaching build-out requirements, protects each community’s ability to negotiate for PEG and I-NET facilities, and maintains truly meaningful local ability to deal with the huge companies that are coming into our cities and towns toPublish build important infrastructure."
Save Access.org has a online letter writing tool you can use to voice your opinion with the key house members of the subcommittee.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Chicago's Principles for Digital Inclusion

Chicago Digital Access Alliance Has developed a set of principles for "every city engaged in expanding digital inclusion." Check out the full text at global.freifunk.net.

Here is are the ten points (Sorry for the CAPS. I cut and pasted):

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

John Dingle on National Broadband Strategy

entitled affordable broadband for everyone. He writes:
there is significant concern that our ranking, by whatever measure, in the global information economy is less than it should be. While the overall number of United States households adopting broadband is growing, our relative position in the world is worsening. Consumers in other countries enjoy broadband connections that are faster, cheaper and offered by more providers.
Apropos to my previous post

we must examine whether the current measure of broadband speed in this country is adequate. In 1996, Congress directed the Federal Communications Commission to encourage the timely deployment to all Americans of capability enabling users “to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications.” Curiously, the FCC continues to rely on the high-speed definition it set in 1999 as just 200 kilobits per second (kbps) in only one direction.

There is universal agreement that this is insufficient for cutting edge applications such as streaming video (1 mbps), medical monitoring (2.5 mbps) or videoconferencing (6 mbps). One need only ask any child playing educational games online whether our current broadband standard is too slow.

Next, we must consider how effectively we measure the level of broadband penetration in this country. Frankly, the FCC’s current zip-code method of measuring broadband is neither useful nor accurate. A realistic assessment that maps actual deployment and adoption will better enable policymakers to identify gaps in availability, price, and speed.

His solutions:

Encourage infrastructure investment: Telephone and cable companies are actively upgrading their existing infrastructure, but even services like DSL have limits presented by old legacy networks.

Promote competition: We should promote deployment and demand at the local level by any entity using any technology, including municipalities.

Manage spectrum wisely: Greater spectrum demands require us to continue to find ways to increase access and efficiency while protecting existing licensees.

Modernize universal service: We must carefully probe the stewardship of the nation’s universal service policies and consider supporting broadband service, especially in rural areas.

Foster innovation: The power of the Internet as an entrepreneurial medium for individuals and businesses, however small, must be preserved. Consumers should continue to go where they want, when they want, over the high-speed connections of their choice.

Protect consumers: Above all, we must remember that communications networks run over public resources such as spectrum or a community’s local rights of way. Our policies should demand that service providers adhere to appropriate social responsibilities that serve the common good such as public safety, law enforcement, privacy, and universal access.

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Monday, February 5, 2007

New FCC report: Ohio 28th among states in home broadband lines

(Rich James referred to this in his last couple of posts...)

Last Thursday the Federal Communications Commission released its semi-annual report on High-Speed Services for Internet Access. This one surveyed the number of "high speed" connections by state, user type, provider type, etc. as of June 30 2006. (I'm putting quotation marks around "high speed" because the FCC threshold is a paltry 200 kbps in one direction. But trust me, most of what they're counting is regular DSL and cable modem service.)

Table 13 tells us the number of residential high-speed Internet lines by state, with the District of Columbia and a couple of territories thrown in. If you take these figures for the fifty states and D.C. and line them up against the Census Bureau's 2005 household counts, here's what you find:

  • Just 40% of Ohio's 4.5 million households had broadband Internet access in June 2006. This leaves three out of five Ohio homes -- 2.7 million -- without broadband Internet access, even by the FCC's ridiculously low standard.
  • This rate of household broadband penetration puts Ohio 28th among the fifty states -- 29th if you include D.C. in the ranking. Our state's rate is 5% below the national average.

I've posted the whole state-by-state spreadsheet here.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Got Broadband?

While the recent FCC broadband report -- ranking Ohio 28th out of 50 states for connectivity -- and the testimony shared at the One Ohio gathering may paint a discouraging picture, it is not the full story

Recently, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) filed a little reported lawsuit against the FCC to force it to release data from the Form 477 filings that telecom companies provide detailing where their service lines are deployed. The CPI requested the data under FOIA in late August. When the agency did not respond, the CPI filed suit.

The CPI wants to take a close look at how the FCC comes up with its broadband data. As I learned doing a local broadband survey with the Center for American Progress in 2005-6, a telco is given credit for serving a community even if there is only one connection within that zip code. So are there really 1.4 million households connected in Ohio?

According to CPI's statement:
Knowing the identities of the companies would also allow the public to better gauge the reliability of the FCC's own database. In a report released in May 2006, the Government Accountability Office discussed "information [received from the FCC] on the companies providing broadband service in ZIP codes throughout the United States." The GAO's analysis of Form 477 data allowed it to conclude that the median number of broadband providers within a ZIP code was two, rather than eight, as the FCC's analysis of the data found.
Additionally, the FCC sets a very low standard for broadband: 200kbps. With bandwidth ceiling this low it is near impossible to access many media files. And while you may have purchased a plan promising a fast connection you are unlikely ever to receive that top speed. Why? Because that bandwidth capacity was sold to you and 49 of your neighbors. If the majority of you are surfing YouTube your speed will drop precipitously.

Want to know your connection speed? Try this tool from Speakeasy:
Speakeasy Speed Test

Speakeasy measures both download and upload capacity. Upload capacity is vitally important if we are to use our computers as communications devices and not just as interactive televisions.

Other testing sites include Bandwidth Place and Windows User Group Network which has a nice graphical interface that measures upload and download speed.

Are you getting what you a paid for? Tell your story in the comments.

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Saturday, February 3, 2007

Higher Education and Universal Broadband

I am excited the energy and level of interest I saw at the February 2 One Ohio gathering. I have not seen that many people in one room discussing broadband since the National Media reform Conference.

I want to share my thoughts on why universal affordable broadband and CTC support should be important to higher education.

First, here is some of what I heard:

According to the FCC's most recent report on national broadband penetration, Ohio ranks a mediocre 28th out of 50 states. As the day went on we heard what this means in real terms for Ohio:
  • communities struggling to keep and attract businesses because they are unable to offer simple broadband connection;

  • farmers, a significant economic sector in Ohio, unable to monitor agricultural markets;

  • citizens, both urban and rural, unable to use a computer to do things connected citizens take for granted such take online classes, search and apply for jobs, access political, consumer and cultural information.
These simmering frustrations are now finding a voice thanks to political leadership provided by Governor Strickland. And it is clear that in the in area of training and education, the administration wants state higher educational institutions to take the lead.

What's at Stake for Higher Education

This is why I think universal broadband community-based education should be important to us.

  • Where I work at Columbus State Community College, our distance learning enrollment is growing at 20% clip. We, like other colleges and universities, need to recognize community broadband is part of our educational infrastructure.

  • For students, broadband is an opportunity cost for their education. Because of their life circumstance, online learning is the only option that meets the learning needs of many students. How many do not take advantage of this because they cannot afford a connection or they endure an economic hardship to do so?

  • Broadband may determine the quality of online education. Working in instructional design, I know that some methods of content delivery, instruction and interaction are simply not viable without a robust broadband connection. And some newer collaboration tools -- often dubbed "Web 2.0" technologies -- require a degree of comfort and experience to utilize. But what we see emerging is a cultural divide between those who have access and those who do not: the saavy and nonsaavy. So we end up making educational decisions that conform to a lower common denominator. We should be making decisions based on pedagogy not technology.

  • Ohio's competitiveness depends on this. Our world is changing at a rapid clip. Our students will have multiple careers. In fact, we are training students for jobs that don't yet exist, using technologies that haven't been invented. To keep up, we will all need to be able to rapidly learn and renew skills to stay viable. Much of that learning will have to be facilitated online.

  • Ohio's low college enrollment reflects a serious cultural divide that can only be bridged at the grassroots level. Community-based education, through community technology centers, is where we can begin to turn-around Ohio and bring life-long learners into our institutions
The momentum to use broadband to turn around Ohio appears to be on our side. With the leadership of our colleges and universities, we can make Ohio a prosperous and creative place to live and work.

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ONE Ohio statewide gathering

Rich has already posted about it, and Donica' has posted her pictures, but I guess I should report "officially" that the ONE Ohio Statewide Gathering yesterday was a smashing success. Eighty-plus people turned up from at least sixteen counties, including most of Ohio's big cities as well as lots of rural towns and townships. They included local public officials and development officers, legal services attorneys, library administrators, college and university representatives, private broadband developers, and dozens of community technology and community media activists. We also had folks from the PUCO, the Farm Bureau, USDA, Ohio State's Supercomputer Center, and other statewide groups and agencies including the Governor's office.

We covered a lot of ground in four hours. Dave Matusoff of Whiteboard Consulting brought everyone up to speed on Governor Strickland's "BroadbandOhio" strategy and the role of community-based training in the plan. We met Terra Goodnight, the Governor's Special Assistant for Economic Development, whose "portfolio" includes the BroadbandOhio plan. In a session called "What's your digital divide?", the whole gathering spent an hour making a list of the various digital gaps, goals and opportunities that need to be addressed in our varied communities across the state. Three energetic breakout discussions looked more closely at issues in rural broadband development, big-city network plans, and digital inclusion training collaborations among, CTCs, colleges and libraries around Ohio.

Most important, a whole lot of one-on-one networking happened.

We'll be posting the whole attendance list, along with notes from the plenary and breakout sessions, at the Ohio Community Computing Network website as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, thanks to everyone who came, to all the people who worked on this, and to the folks at the State Library of Ohio for their hospitality.