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Geoff Daily

App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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January 14, 2008 10:38 AM

Don't Let Criticism of ConnectKentucky Obscure the Truth

Connect Kentucky has generated tremendous buzz surrounding its efforts to spur the deployment of broadband as it builds momentum to try and establish a national model for how states can encourage growth in the supply of and demand for bandwidth.

But last week the program came under harsh criticism in a piece by Art Brodsky through the DC-based public interest group Public Knowledge.

Among Brodsky’s criticisms are that Connect Kentucky’s lauded maps aren’t inclusive to all providers, that their local community teams don’t engage as fully as they could and should with bringing about real change, and that the underlying driver behind the Connect Kentucky team isn’t an urge to do right by their state but instead an obligation to try and promote the services of their alleged backers, the big telcos.

While I haven’t seen it circling the news wire yet, I’ve had the good fortune to read the response by Brian Mefford to what he describes as a wholly inaccurate and misleading article that ignores facts in its quest to frame Connect Kentucky as a telco front group. (I’ll be following up with him personally to get further reaction and to determine if his letter is approved to print publicly.)

At this point, I don’t know enough to make a judgment call on who’s right and who’s wrong. Most often the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

From everything I’ve heard in talking to people, the Connect Kentucky folks, despite the penchant for getting good press, are upfront and forthright in talking about the challenges they’ve faced and the failures they’ve had.

And in talking with them directly I’ve never got the sense that what they’re trying to say is that their model is the best and only way to do what they’re doing.

But for now I wanted to make one simple but extremely important point regarding this matter.

No matter what amount of truth there might be in Brodsky’s piece, we must not lose sight of the fact that the two core elements of Connect Kentucky’s model--mapping broadband availability and creating teams of local leaders to encourage the adoption of broadband--are essential to our national broadband policy.

Simply put: we’ve got to have a better sense for where broadband is and isn’t available, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t start taking a more proactive approach towards encouraging adoption and use of the Internet, which is arguably best achieved at the local level.

Don’t get me wrong, we can and should have a civil discussion over the merits of one way to accomplish these goals over another, but we have to all agree that these two goals not only have merit but should be top priorities for anyone interested in America’s broadband future.

Because even if everything Brodsky said was true, and Connect Kentucky is an evil telco-run organization worried about nothing more than the interests of their corporate handlers, that doesn’t change the fact that the spirit of what they set out to accomplish is both admirable and necessary.

Whether or not they’ve gone about it in the right way is the only question at hand, and the only reasonable thing to do at this point is to continue working towards establishing national models for assessing the current state and supporting the future of broadband, whether we use Connect Kentucky as the be-all-end-all model, a source for inspiration, or a series of lessons learned on what not to do, what they’ve been trying to do has to be done one way or the other.

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Comments (1)

I appreciate your assessment of the situation and the level-minded recommendation to not lose sight of the need for action above rhetoric. I'm happy to discuss further and to answer any and all questions about our methodology and accountability. My response to the original Brodsky post follows. Thanks again. Brian Mefford

FROM: Brian R. Mefford, CEO, Connected Nation

DATE: January 11, 2008

SUBJECT: Rebutting Misrepresentations and Inaccuracies from Art Brodsky’s Recent Post Regarding ConnectKentucky and Connected Nation

Art Brodsky recently published a supposed “exposé” of ConnectKentucky and Connected Nation on his Public Knowledge policy blog. It is full of and predicated on inaccuracies and misrepresentations. The post is disappointing in terms of its lack of factual correctness and balance but not altogether surprising either. I recognize that, clearly, Brodsky has supporters who need this message conveyed, regardless of the accuracy. This sort of blogging posing as journalism contradicts the site’s stated goal of promoting full public knowledge.

Part of my disappointment is that Art failed to mention the fact that my staff and I provided him with full and open access – with a willingness to provide detail and clarity around process, history, etc. For instance, as much as he makes of our relationship with BellSouth/AT&T;, he fails to mention that we told him during his “research” that never has Bellsouth/AT&T;’s contributions accounted for more than one half of one percent of ConnectKentucky’s modest annual revenues. I realize this fact doesn’t support the case he attempted to make, but I would like to think that in his quest to inform public knowledge, he would include all uncovered facts provided. Perhaps his view of public knowledge is limited to the version of the truth that he can create to benefit those who pay his salary.

Our organization operates on the premise of full transparency and accountability – with no secrets, nothing to hide. We don't claim to be perfect – we seek to grow and improve as time passes. Likewise, we're proud that we can bring together disparate interests from various groups. We don't aim to take credit for their accomplishments. Our intent is to make those accomplishments easier to achieve so that citizens ultimately benefit – and then to celebrate the progress that results.

Nearly all of his “significant” points in his post are either inaccurate or altogether false. For instance, we have never mapped satellite for the reasons obvious to anyone with any industry familiarity. And we don't offer satellite as part of a community-wide solution but rather to individuals who need something better than dial-up immediately. In some cases, we have born the cost of this higher cost solution to assist those who desperately need the service in their homes. In some of those cases, access to satellite broadband has been life-altering.

ConnectKentucky has worked with every type of provider – especially fixed wireless carriers – in the hardest to reach areas. Take for example the ConnectGRADD project, where we have supported a seven county public-private wireless solution that will cover 95% of the previously unserved homes in that region. The broadband service providers in this case consist of a partnership of wireless entrepreneurs, electric utility companies, water districts, and local governments.

Further, our maps and local planning recommendations account for every single service provider willing to participate in the process. In Kentucky those providers number in the 80’s – a far stretch from the one or two providers Brodsky claims that we engage solely. Our local work has included nearly 4,000 volunteers – working to use technology to make their community a better place.

Among all those companies and volunteers, is it possible that there are a few individuals who aren't happy with the process? Sure it is. There are plenty of ways we can improve our work and in fact we account for the type of feedback Brodsky cited to make the process better, more inclusive.

At the same time, we rely on people to assume the courage of their convictions – to own their dissatisfaction so that we can work with them as a known entity to improve the process. We welcome honest feedback, even negative critique. With it, we have improved and found ways to be even more effective for communities.

His use of unidentified "sources" who claim to be afraid of retribution is interesting. It is a convenient method of avoiding ownership of the falsities conveyed. But again, it's an acknowledged reality from our view point that there remain individuals and entities that have a vested interest in disrupting the progress being made and to whom Brodsky reports. In Kentucky, those individuals who are reporting “sour grapes” decided in the beginning of the project (in his version 1.0) that they didn’t want to participate. Now that much progress has been made, they are apparently desperate to prove themselves correct.

His report references various national studies that would dispute our claims of progress. Art should have also disclosed the facts in the footnotes of the studies he cited. You will find (like I assume he did) that those reports use data that date to 2003, 2004 and 2005. The metrics that we report deal with the years 2005, 2006 and 2007. The data he has used is outdated and so therefore shouldn’t be expected to mirror more recent data that track to the time period in which our broadband-focused efforts have occurred in Kentucky.

It is curious that Brodsky chose to invoke the divisiveness of partisanship in his assessment. The challenge of providing technology to previously underserved people is not and should not be impeded by politics. His post accurately demonstrates that the ConnectKentucky concept evolved in Kentucky over two governorships of different parties. Both can claim equal credit because the hearts of both were correctly placed – in recognizing that technology growth is key to economic development.

Likewise, the current Congress has acted in a bi-partisan manner to identify similar efforts as a model for how results can be achieved nationally. Where others have failed to find broadband consensus, this Congress has chosen a bias for action to ensure that those who are in greatest need of access to technology will finally be afforded true solutions. His attempt to use the veil of “public knowledge” to insert the wedge of partisanship is unfortunate and transparent.

In terms of his accounting for my role in the organization, Brodsky failed to report that my involvement traces back to the previous Democratic administration. I was hired to direct ConnectKentucky’s research operations under Governor Patton (D). I was graciously invited to assist Governor Fletcher’s (R) administration in transition with the idea that I could help account for the needs around technology policy for the new administration. For a brief time, I had the pleasure of learning the art of management under a friend and mentor, Jim Host, the founder of the NCAA’s original sports marketing firm, Host Communications. When my ConnectKentucky predecessor retired due to a death in her family, I was offered the opportunity to direct the organization. Though the job requires an extraordinary amount of hours and travel as well as too much time away from my young family, it has been and continues to be a true blessing as I’m able to personally witness the life changing impact that technology can have on individuals and communities across the previously overlooked parts of our great nation.

In terms of his comments about Joe Mefford, I provide the following comments from one of the original visionaries who conceptualized ConnectKentucky: Doyle Friskney, Associate VP of Information Technology and CTO at the University of Kentucky.

“I have been with the early efforts and initial meetings of people who wanted to see broadband throughout Kentucky. About five of us (university and state) people worked to get the initial group organized, then worked with the state for the initial seed funding. I can assure you that AT&T; has never and will never be the policy maker or influencer for “ConnectKentucky” or “Connected Nation.” Joe and Brian came long after the group was established.

Early on I used to say Joe Mefford was an impediment to networking in Kentucky – only later to learn that he is the best resource for the average Kentuckian needing any form of communications and on many occasions has opposed issues AT&T; would like to have supported. I consider Joe the “heart” of communications change in Kentucky and I only hope people would view me as a similar change agent.

Bottom line is the chronological development of the organization (in the Brodsky article) is generally correct, the suggestion it favors AT&T; is totally incorrect. But, I fully expect this from groups that frown on others successes. There are far more individuals who would rather criticize than there are individuals who are willing to become change agents and risk failure.”

There are a multitude of accurate accounts that contradict the views Brodsky presented throughout his blog post. In fact, he interviewed some of them in developing this story – yet he failed to include those references. For instance, why did he not include the interviews he conducted with the local officials who provided positive assessments? I understand these views were presented to him during his “research.” Why not include that side of the story? Again, I recognize that it doesn't support the version of the truth his backers prefer, but if public knowledge is his goal, he should have included even the contradictory findings of his “research.”

And what about his inquiries with the variety of broadband providers with whom we partner? From some of those entities I understand his “research” uncovered positive reviews, yet he doesn’t include those exchanges. Ultimately, Art’s form of reporting is cowardice, choosing to sacrifice fact for a biased version of the truth. Plenty of other reporters with integrity have covered our story by actually visiting Kentucky’s rural communities (see The Economist article, “Wiring Rural America,” September 17, 2007). Perhaps he should consider venturing into the areas about which he writes, stepping out from the confines of his beltway office.

In closing, I plan to make this memo available to anyone who has read Brodsky’s post and is curious about the true set of facts that can be attributed and that represent the accurate version of the Connected Nation story. Since the full rebuttal to this post would be uninteresting to most reasonable people, I invite anyone who reads this to reach me directly to discuss further. My e-mail address is [email protected]

I am willing to personally meet with anyone interested in discussing these claims and criticisms in person, with the goal of engaging in a truthful and constructive exchange. Because truly, our goal is to participate in this space in a way that ultimately empowers people and communities. If we can find ways to better assist wireless entrepreneurs, municipal providers, traditional providers in a way that improves opportunities for America's communities to be more competitive and attractive then we are more than willing to learn.

I always welcome constructive dialogue but what Brodsky has published here only serves to tear down the efforts of so many throughout Kentucky and other states who have been hard at work to make their home a better place. But such is the luxury of his DC-based opining. If I can interest Brodsky and all detractors in engaging in the trenches in rural and inner city America I would welcome them to join us at any time.

Posted by Brian Mefford on January 14, 2008 2:59 PM

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