December 2008 Archives

New Twist to TWC-Viacom Brouhaha: Go Online Young Man!

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Holy crap, this is an interesting twist.

One thing I forgot to mention in my post this morning about the scuffle between Time Warner Cable (TWC) and Viacom was TWC's complaint about Viacom making so much of its content available online, which in their mind devalues the content available through TV.

I've heard these sentiments expressed before and they're actually pretty understandable: why should I pay to be able to deliver content that you're giving out for free elsewhere?

But then this story took an interesting twist. In preparation for the nearly two dozen Viacom channels that are about to get switched off in about 8 hours, TWC's taken an interesting tact: they're encouraging disgruntled customers to go online to watch their favorite Viacom shows.

In fact, they claim they're going to be actually helping them both find the shows and figure out how to watch this online video on their TVs.

On the one hand, I can see how they're doing this to make a point, that if Viacom's going to put all their content online and then try to get TWC to pay more for it, then screw 'em.

But on the other, they're not only acknowledging that cable TV's becoming increasingly irrelevant, they're even helping push their customers in that direction by helping them realize that they don't need to subscribe to cable to watch TV!!

As someone who watches most of his TV online I can attest that we're still a long ways away from online video being able to totally replace TV, but even still this is a fascinating development that may be a bellwether of things to come in 2009. And whatever the result, it certainly makes for good theater!

Exhibit A: Why We Need Ala Carte TV

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Just after the stroke of midnight tonight, Time Warner Cable customers will lose access to 19 Viacom channels (including MTV, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon) due to a dispute over carriage fees. This is the clearest evidence yet that we need ala carte TV.

Why? Because as shown by this mess, the current model of cable TV is broken.

Here's how it works today:

- Cable operators pay carriage fees to content owners to carry channels.
- Every year they negotiate over these fees.
- Every year content owners try to charge more and/or force cable operators to carry more of their channels.
- So every year cable operators must either squeeze their margins or pass through the added costs to customers.

Notice a problem here? The customer has no say in this process! Sure tangentially they do in that channels with higher ratings can demand higher carriage fees, but they (or rather we) don't have a seat at the table.

There's a lot of talk about how ala carte will allow us to only pay for the channels we watch, but there's another more profound impact of moving to an ala carte world: content owners will only be able to charge what customers are willing to pay.

A proper ala carte IPTV system (which admittedly doesn't necessarily exist yet) will establish a direct relationship between content owner and customer. And cable operators will no longer have to bear the burden of trying to keep prices down; the market will decide what's a fair price.

In essence this is already what's happening online with Internet video. Content owners are going over the top to establish that direct relationship with their viewers, and by all accounts they love being able to do that.

Of course there are a ton of challenges to be overcome in moving to this model, both technological and business-wise, but it's my estimation that the hassle saved by not having to renegotiate terms every year and the PR boost gained by not being seen as the reason rates keep going up will more than make this worth cable operators' while.

From this perspective, in an ala carte world everyone wins: content owners get to establish direct relationships with customers, customers get to only pay for what they watch, and cable operators can start being seen as the enabler rather than the price gouger.

All Signs Point To Rural Fiber Fund

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In creating the Rural Fiber Fund I've been reading a lot of articles about the economic stimulus package, in particular what the administration is looking for it to accomplish.

Like this: "Most economists agree that an anti-recession program should achieve three goals: Pump money into the economy. Save existing jobs and create new jobs. And help those in greatest need," from

Three goals and three checkmarks on the RFF's list as it loosens up private capital and spurs investment; helps communities retain, attract, and grow businesses while also creating jobs to deploy fiber; and it serves the rural areas that are most in need of this connectivity.

Some suggest a direct understanding of the economic value of laying fiber: "John Skowron, a federal and state consultant at Deloitte, said he sees Obama's broadband initiative as part of a larger infrastructure improvement project, a la President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Only this time, the government will hire as many people to lay fiber as concrete," from Government Technology Magazine.

But others still don't quite seem to get it, like this Washington Post article from Larry Summers, who will head the White House National Economic Council in the Obama administration.

In it he writes: "As difficult as these conditions are, however, the Obama administration also inherits an economy with great potential for the medium and long terms. Investments in an array of areas -- including energy, education, infrastructure and health care -- offer the potential of extraordinarily high social returns while allowing our country to address some long-standing national challenges and put our economy on a solid footing for years to come.
The Obama plan represents not new public works but, rather, investments that will work for the American public. Investments to build the classrooms, laboratories and libraries our children need to meet 21st-century educational challenges. Investments to help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil by spurring renewable energy initiatives (many of which are on hold because of the credit crunch). Investments to put millions of Americans back to work rebuilding our roads, bridges and public transit systems. Investments to modernize our health-care system, which is necessary to improve care in the short term and key to driving down costs across the board.
The president-elect has insisted that investments proposed in the recovery plan meet standards much higher than has been traditional. There will be no earmarks. Investments will be chosen strategically based on what yields the highest rate of return for the economy and monitored closely not just by officials but also by the public as government becomes more transparent. We expect to evaluate and to be evaluated rigorously to ensure that Washington is held accountable for how tax dollars are spent."

Notice that not once does he mention either broadband or fiber, yet I can't help but see it implied, either intentionally or not, as how else are we going to achieve the goals of modern healthcare and education systems and a green economy?

Full fiber deployment most definitely delivers "extraordinarily high social returns." It will without a doubt "put our economy on a solid footing for years to come." And I'm willing to argue with anyone that spurring the deployment of fiber will "yield the highest rate of return for the economy," certainly moreso then trying to maintain the status quo or building more roads will.

And this Wired article lays out a strong case primarily that we need more data but also asking the larger question of: "But how do we make sure that the billions aren't spent creating the 21st century equivalent of ditches to nowhere?"

Yet unfortunately it appears the author hasn't read our initial proposal for the RFF as they lament the situation more than recognize the opportunity that's possible through pragmatic broadband policy: "Billions for a better internet, sure -- but in absence of some real data, some real experiments, and some real verifiable science, that money is likely to be wasted or simply handed off to big telecom companies that have already proven they aren't in any hurry to wire us up to future."

What continues to amaze me is how aligned the goals of the Rural Fiber Fund are with those of the economic stimulus package. I can't tell you how many times I've read about Obama's interest in bringing broadband to rural America, but alongside that is almost always concern that no one yet has a plan for how to do this. And even those plans that have been proposed either don't provide enough detail or their potential efficacy is dubious at best.

That's why I'm more excited then ever that the time is ripe for the creation of the Rural Fiber Fund. Through this mechanism the economic stimulus package can have a profound immediate and long-term impact on the health of rural economies.

Bringing broadband to rural America is not an insurmountable problem. All we need are sound, commonsense policies that enable all those that are ready, willing, and able to deploy fiber into the country. And that's precisely what the Rural Fiber Fund is going to deliver.

My biggest complaint about the debate around net neutrality has been the general lack of definition regarding what that term actually means, which can be frustrating as it diffuses the intellectual underpinnings of arguments in support of the concept.

One of the leading minds in this discussion, with whom I've sparred with on this issue in the past, is David Isenberg. He's one of the few with a deep technological understanding of what net neutrality means.

And yet he just put up a post that in large part confirms the lack of a precise definition over what "net neutrality" encompasses.

Not only does he lay out a taxonomy of six different issues related to net neutrality debate, but he also acknowledges that there's been another recent attempt by Ed Fendel that broke this down into three primary parts, and yet he wasn't able to resolve these two lists:

"When I sat down to write this, I had hoped for a simple, straightforward mapping between Ed's taxonomy and mine. Unfortunately, no. All three of Ed's points--about engineering, economics and free speech--bear in different degrees on all six of my issues."

While I'm very encouraged by these attempts to flesh out what net neutrality actually means, I can't help but wonder about the efficacy of trying to legislate an issue we can't yet even fully define. This isn't to say we can't or shouldn't put in new net neutrality regulations over time, but instead that before doing so we at least need to have a common understanding of what the issues are, the words mean, and how legislation can address the problems. And considering that the leading technical minds on this issue are still struggling with this, I'd suggest patience rather than haste in formulating policy to resolve it.

But on the flip side, I can't ignore the clear and present need for further rules regarding the behavior of ISPs, as evidenced by this story about Fairpoint Communications, the company that bought up Verizon's landline business in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

They've announced that on February 6th their customers will no longer be able to access webmail from the third party sites of AOL, Yahoo, or MSN. While still be able to get content from these sites, in order to get into email you'll have to go through the portal.

To be honest, I'm a bit flabbergasted that Fairpoint thinks this is a fair thing to do. It's also shockingly tone deaf to this larger debate around net neutrality, much like Comcast's treatment of P2P traffic earlier this year. It makes you wonder if either they've not been paying attention or they don't fear legislation preventing this behavior, neither of which makes much sense.

Does Fairpoint really think they're going to get away with this? What's next? Will you no longer be able to buy goods at sites like but instead will have to make all purchases through a Fairpoint portal?

If so it seems like not far behind will be a push to have some sites pay for priority placement that excludes others, maybe even going so far as Fairpoint saying you can use one email provider but not another.

While we may still be struggling to define the overall concept of net neutrality, I can tell you one thing for certain: what Fairpoint's doing ain't right and we need to make sure that practices like this, that leverage the position of network operators to limit access to sites while not adding any additional value, must be stopped.

If Fairpoint wants to find a way to add value to the webmail experience I'm all for that. But preventing users from going to a legitimate site just so they can divert them through a portal that Fairpoint can monetize doesn't pass the smell test for me.

And worse yet, for anyone concerned about the ramifications of too hasty net neutrality legislation these actions provide clear ammunition for what a world without net neutrality could look like, and it's not a pretty picture.

Wireless Equals Extension Cord

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Not a lot of time for long posts this week as I'm on the road and devoting most of my free time to our Rural Fiber Fund Working Group discussions (which are going GREAT!), but wanted to pass along this interesting analogy.

In chatting with Donny Smith of Jaguar Communications, a fiber deployer in southwestern Minnesota, he shared the idea that we need to consider wireless like an extension cord.

You wouldn't want to power your house with an extension cord; you need something that's more reliable and has more capacity.

But at the same time extension cords are essentially to getting power wherever you need it, which is the same role wireless plays in getting connectivity everywhere.

I really think this is the perfect way to think about things, putting a more concrete sense of what mobility means relative to wireless connectivity and clearly contrasting the capacity of wireless vs. wireline.

There's also another level of imagery when you think about the problems of trying to connect too many extension cords to the same outlet: it can get easily overloaded and result in big problems.

So it begs the question of what do we want for our country? Too many extension cords plugged into not enough outlets providing the illusion of having power/connectivity everywhere but without the capacity to handle all of our needs. Or having enough outlets for all our needs and only using extension cords to fill in the gaps between those outlets.

Proposal for the Creation of a Rural Fiber Fund

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Over the last week I've been working with a first-rate team of experts in the field of rural fiber deployment on developing the concept of a Rural Fiber Fund that can be including as a part of the upcoming economic stimulus package.

This is the first fruit to be borne of our labors. We'll be working on crafting an in-depth policy paper over the holidays that will be released on January 5th.

But until then everyone should feel encouraged to comment on, add to, and punch holes in this proposal so that we can make the argument so strong so as to seem inevitable.

Without further adieu:

Proposed Addition of the Rural Fiber Fund to the Economic Stimulus Package

ï¾ Goal: Wire all of rural America with full fiber networks.
Why Fiber?
Because "broadband" in the 21st century means fiber. Only fiber has the capacity to support the next generations of big bandwidth applications.

ï¾ Because "broadband infrastructure" equals fiber. It requires the most jobs to deploy, delivers the biggest economic boost, and provides world-class, future-proof connectivity.

ï¾ Because rural communities can't compete in the 21st century with 20th century broadband.
How Will This Stimulate the Economy?
Deploying fiber creates high quality jobs in its construction and operation.
$1 billion spent deploying broadband infrastructure creates 19,500 jobs - Ken Peres, CWA
Having fiber promotes economic growth.
$1 billion of new broadband infrastructure adds $10 billion to the GDP - Michael Curri, SNG

ï¾ Using fiber aids rural communities in attracting, growing, and retaining local businesses; becoming energy efficient; improving healthcare and education systems; and more.
How Does The Rural Fiber Fund Work?
Partial loan guarantees to spur deployment and matching grants to aid in planning.
Partial Loan Guarantees
A number of shovel-ready projects can start deploying if the government steps in to share the risk with private capital serving as a credit enhancer that improves the quality of loans.
These guarantees will be based on population density. The lower the density the higher the guarantee so deployers will be incentivized to extend their networks into less populous areas.
All ownership models are eligible, private and public, in order to foster the most innovation.
Getting a guarantee requires an applicant to have:
* A management team with experience in deploying/operating fiber networks
* Tangible support from local partnerships committed to the project
* Verified capital sources adequate to construct and operate the network
Networks built with government-guaranteed loans must:
* Have universal buildout
* Provide unfettered Internet access
* Have plans to provide 100Mbps scalable to 1Gbps of capacity

Matching Grants
Many communities already want fiber but need help financing the planning, surveys, and feasibility studies to move forward. All eligible communities will have access to the matching grants. Particular emphasis will be on projects that take advantage of loan guarantees.

ï¾ Why Partial Loan Guarantees?
They maximize budgetary bang for the buck. Only a portion of each loan is guaranteed and only some of those loans will default and require the actual outlay of federal funds.

ï¾ They effectively leverage and unfreeze private capital markets through the carefully calibrated application of federal guarantees, which have worked successfully in other infrastructure improvement and economic development initiatives.

ï¾ They allow the imposition of important social goals on these networks while also requiring projects to make their business case to the financial markets thereby combining the strengths of government with those of the private sector in economically sustainable partnerships.

ï¾ How Fast Will It Work?
At least $1 billion worth of shovel-ready projects will start hiring in Q1 '09. The remaining billions from the first phase will be allocated as their availability becomes known and network developers adjust their models to take advantage of the Fund's guarantees.
Pent-up demand for fiber combined with the planning grants program will set in motion a second wave of projects that can come online within in the second half of '09.

ï¾ How Big Should It Be?
The first installment of $10 billion will spur the deployment of all shovel-ready projects, help interested communities begin planning, inspire existing fiber networks to expand, and spark the evolution of rural fiber deployment to no longer rely on government loans and grants.

ï¾ The second installment of $10 billion will be set aside until the first $10 billion is allocated. At that point the program's progress will be assessed as to if further funds are needed and whether or not loan guarantees continue to be the most appropriate, effective mechanism.
How Do We Make This A Reality?
A Rural Fiber Fund Working Group has been collaborating on the development of this initiative. Our group consists of deployers, consultants, public advocates, and policy experts.
A Rural Fiber Fund policy paper is being prepared for a Jan. 5th release that will flesh out the details of this proposal and include a list of shovel-ready projects from across the country.ï¾

If you want to learn more, collaboratively contribute, or share info on a shovel-ready rural fiber projects or interested community, please add a comment to this post and we will contact you.


If I Ran AT&T...; I'd Start Selling PCs Too

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As regular readers of know, I'm often more likely to criticize than praise AT&T;, who co-sponsors this blog. I'm not one to give false praise, nor one to go overboard in trumpeting minor happenings.

But I have to admit I'm excited by one of AT&T;'s latest initiatives: to start selling subsidized netbooks tied to wireless contracts.

First off, a netbook is a new class of small laptop that typically has less horsepower for running desktop apps but plenty of power to run Internet apps.

What AT&T;'s essentially doing is taking the cellphone model and applying it to offering netbooks. When you a buy a cellphone you're almost always paying less upfront than the phone costs as cellphone providers subsidizes that cost in order to get you to sign up for long-term contracts. Now the same thing's happening with these netbooks, which instead of costing hundreds of dollars will now be $100 and even less, assuming you sign up for a long-term wireless contract.

It's a brilliant move that makes a ton of sense, yet I can't help but think: why not expand it to include landlines and desktop computers?

Why not offer prospective DSL subscribers the ability to get a low-powered desktop computer for free if they sign up for a two-year contract? Or what about giving customers the option to pay $10 a month extra to rent a computer? What if you also offered a computer for free if the customer's willing to have ads scroll across the bottom of the screen?

I know these aren't all totally new ideas that have never been tried, but I've never seen them implemented in the context of a broadband provider subsidizing computers in order to get more customers equipped to use their service.

And to be honest, I like market-driven, innovative approaches like this much more than I do government attempting to buy or subsidize computers for the less well off.

While those measures may ultimately be needed, there seems to be opportunities for broadband providers to be more forward-thinking in how they approach the issue of the digital divide, and potentially turn a profit in doing so.

Net Neutrality Bad for Google, Good for AT&T;?

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The last 48 hours have born witness to the latest flareup over net neutrality, only this time things were a little different.

Instead of a multi-billion dollar ISP being accused of unduly interfering with Internet traffic, the brouhaha stemmed from the company that's often seen as net neutrality's biggest supporter: Google.

It started with this Wall Street Journal article that suggested yesterday that Google wants to establish its own fast lane on with network operators.

Before the article even hit print on Monday its implications sparked a maelstrom of criticism, with a wide range of bloggers condemning Google for seemingly going over to the dark side. And as a sign of just how much the speed of information dissemination has increased, by Sunday evening Google's top lobbyist Rick Whitt had already responded on their policy blog, strongly arguing that this article was the result of shoddy journalism and a lack of understanding of the issues, and that Google hadn't changed its position in any way.

Serendipitously, I had already scheduled my first sit-down meeting with Rick for yesterday. While my primary intent was simply having a chance to start getting to know each other and opening a collaborative dialog, it provided the perfect opportunity to get the real scoop on Google's perspectives on net neutrality. And I came away with three intriguing thoughts:

1. The net neutrality debate is bad for Google.
With many major corporations pulling back their public support of net neutrality, Google's one of the last ones left and they're the one most identified with this issue. The challenge with that is it makes it politically difficult for Google to make any concessions towards reconciliation with the carriers. This reality is exemplified in the reaction to the WSJ's story, where many pummeled Google for being spineless and nothing more than a profit-driven corporation. So it's not that net neutrality the concept is bad for Google, but it seems to me like net neutrality the debate has put them in the uncomfortable position of being tied to an ideology with a group of ardent supporters, some of whom don't have patience for nuance when it comes to crafting policies related to this matter.

2. The net neutrality debate is bad for AT&T.;
This was an especially interesting observation Rick made: ISPs would be better off having clear net neutrality regulations in place so they can know what the rules are rather than the current situation of regulatory muddiness. This gets back precisely to the issues brought up in my last VidChat with Michael Johnston of Jackson Energy Authority, where he lamented the FCC's Comcast/BitTorrent ruling as not giving enough details on the rules of what is and is not allowed, and as a result forcing JEA to not offer a new 50Mbps down service lest they fall afoul of these undefined rules. No regulation means no one knows what's right or wrong, but Rick argued and I generally agree with him that if we could just lay down some more specifics that network operators would be freed from worrying over uncertainty and could instead focus all of their attention at making the most out of their networks.

3. The net neutrality debate has a light at the end of the tunnel.
What I was most excited about is that Rick supported the distinction I've been trying to make for a while between the concepts of Internet and network neutrality, and that Google supports the rights of broadband providers to create next-gen services on the portion of their pipes not devoted to broadband so long as they agree not to interfere with the traffic going through the portion allocated to broadband. While his positions certainly had more nuance than that and he strongly suggested that there are a lot of specifics to work out, I can't help but feel optimistic that on the core underlying issue of net neutrality I've now had both Google and AT&T; generally agree. And like Rick said at the National Broadband Strategy Call to Action, now that we're starting to agree on the end we can begin to have a more robust, respectful discussion of the means by which we can achieve them.

A final thought to share on this matter for now is that I can't help but think that this WSJ/Google brouhaha stems directly from the general lack of definition over what net neutrality actually means. Ideology has in large part been driving the debate, and while many of the people on both sides of the issue here in DC are moving past that we've still got an energized base of supporters for whom net neutrality equals free speech and another front in the war between citizens and corporations.

What I'm hopeful though is that in talking with the major players in this debate I'm increasingly finding more and more sentiment that a solution can be found, that the two sides aren't as diametrically opposed as they used to be, and that because of this we have the opportunity to see a pragmatic solution based in reality come together in the near future that can move us past these unproductive ideological shouting matches (for which both sides are guilty).

I'm going to be putting together a list of my predictions for broadband in '09 to be posted later this week, but for now I'd like to add my first one: by the end of '09 the net neutrality debate will have produced a new regulatory solution that all sides can get behind in order to protect the openness of the Internet as well as the rights of network operators.

After too long of a break, I'm happy to share the latest VidChat.

This time I sat back down with Christopher Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance to discuss open networks: what they are, how they're different, and how they have the potential to drive competition.

It's a fascinating, wide-ranging discussion that touches on a lot of points. It's a bit of a longer one but I think it's well worth the time.

Attempting to summarize the points made herein would probably take at least a couple thousand words, but I think the gist is that when you start talking public investment and set the goal of full fiber networks, you have to include some level of openness in order to protect the public interest and preserve competition.

Ultimately, full fiber networks are naturally monopolies, but they can also be the greatest enablers of competition the telecommunications world has ever seen, where consumers can make decisions based on the merits of services rather than the limitations of last mile access technologies.

To be honest, I'm still not 100% sure how we can achieve this ideal in the real world given how much the establishment is against this new paradigm. But just because it's going to be hard doesn't mean we shouldn't try. And the deployment of new, publicly supported, full fiber networks provides the perfect opportunity to establish this new paradigm.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my experiences witnessing the next generation of app development on the campus of Louisiana Tech in the offices of NiftyTV, where students make up the majority of their employees and high-tech jobs are being created in Ruston, LA.

Over the last few days, it's begun to dawn on me just how big the opportunity is for leveraging the talents of our young people to help push us further into a broadband-enabled future.

Take this example, which tells the story of a new Minnesota company that webcasts local high school sports and, like NiftyTV, hires students to manage the live broadcasts, providing them good jobs and a unique opportunity to gain real world experience.

Then I found this Healthcare Innovation Challenge, which is a competition where teams of college students work to innovate and invent new ways to use technology to improve healthcare.

And perhaps the most inspiring was logging back in to the social network of LPB Next, the initiative at the Academy of Information Technology at Carencro High School in Lafayette, LA, where I found a number of students asking for advice on how they can use their impressive skillsets to further the goals of the LUSFiber network, whether it be by creating GIS images, websites, video, or other tools to help educate the people of Lafayette on what's possible.

Encountering this series of possibilities over the last few weeks has opened my eyes to new ways to leverage the involvement of our young people. Imagine what's going to be possible if we were able to engage not just a single class at a single high school but all the secondary schools in a community, or what happens when an entire college campus gets excited about helping bring about the next generation of the Internet? The start of something big.

And best of all, many of these students are as capable as their adult counterparts yet they'll work for cheap or even free plus they bring not just enthusiasm and energy but a dogma-free way of thinking that can lead to those out-of-the-box ideas that we need to drive innovation.

Needless to say, I'm eager to see what's going to be possible in communities like Lafayette where local educational leaders are empowering their students to not just passively learn but to actively engage with finding solutions to real-world problems.

Look forward to more coverage about this area in the coming months, and if you know of analogous programs that engage students with bringing about our broadband future then share your knowledge with us all and submit a comment with the details!


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So there's a lot of talk about FCC Chairman Martin's desire to auction off some wireless spectrum with strings attached, namely that whoever wins offers free nationwide Internet access and that they filter that access for porn, especially kiddie porn.

While I've argued before that I'm not sure how banning the killer app that porn is will help get more people online, but there's an even more immutable truth: you can't ever hope to stop the distribution of kiddie porn on the Internet.

For one, as I've also argued previously, how do you determine what is and isn't pornography? Does a photo of almost naked kids playing in someone's backyard swimming pool count? What if that photo was uploaded by the mom of a kid vs. a voyeuristic pervert? How do you distinguish? Where's the line going to be drawn and who's going to draw it between appropriate and inappropriate?

But there's an even more shocking angle to this: a new study shows that one out of five teenagers have put nude pics of themselves online.

The majority of these were sent between teen lovers, but regardless of why think how many naked pictures of underage boys and girls that means are floating around in the digital ether. And these aren't pics created by or intended for perverts, yet once they go online at least some are likely to end up where they shouldn't.

So what does this mean for the crusade against online kiddie porn? While I'm all for aggressive efforts to identify and prosecute its purveyors, creators, and consumers, I can't help but think it's ham-handed and foolish to think you can succeed by filtering all of the Internet. There are just too many gray areas, and too many inappropriate images being sent around for that to be feasible.

If you want to get serious about this issue then we should find some way to attach virtual homing devices to images and videos that can be used to track them to the computers of pedophiles.

I don't think we can ever get rid of kiddie porn entirely and its foolish to even set that as the goal. Instead we should stay focused on an aggressive campaign to tracking down and punishing those responsible, especially anyone trying to turn a profit on this despicable act.

Government can't allow ideology and good intentions to trump reality and commonsense.

Don't Fault Google for Driving Demand for Bandwidth

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Last week noted techcom analyst Scott Cleland released a report touting that "Google uses 21 times more bandwidth than it pays for."

It's an unfortunate, ill-timed, and arguably misinformed attempt to attack Google for being a bandwidth hog.

Let's break down a few of the statements made in this press release:

"The study estimated Google used 16.5% of all U.S. consumer Internet traffic in 2008, and that share is estimated to grow to 25% in 2009 and 37% in 2010."
I underlined "used" for emphasis as I don't think it's the right word, more accurate would be to say that Google generated 16.5% of all US consumer Internet traffic. Google didn't decide to use this much bandwidth, they created services people want to use, and this interest in turn generates demand for bandwidth.

"...Google's 16.5% share of all 2008 U.S. consumer bandwidth usage, is ~21 times greater than Google's 0.8% share of U.S. consumer bandwidth costs - or an implicit ~$6.9 billion subsidy of Google by U.S. consumers."
First off, I'm not sure US consumers would mind subsidizing Google; we essentially do so every time we use their search engine. Also, this argument implies that anyone creating bandwidth-intensive applications should help pay for consumers' broadband connections while ignoring that without these apps that need broadband consumers will be less likely to pay for it.

"This research study of Google's usage vs. cost is relevant to the current broadband policy debate, because Google is the driving force behind which is pushing 'to adopt a national plan to bring open, high-speed Internet connections into every home, at a price all of us can afford.' Internet connections could be more affordable for everyone, if Google paid its fair share of the Internet's cost."
Who should Google be paying more to? Should they be subsidizing our broadband bills? Isn't their money better spent innovating and creating new services that take advantage of these networks?

"The study's author, Precursor President Scott Cleland, said: 'While I expect the study to generate a healthy debate over the methodology, assumptions and estimates, any rigorous analysis of the data will lead to the same incontrovertible conclusion of this study -- that Google's U.S. consumer Internet bandwidth usage share vastly exceeds its payment share of the cost.'"
Anyone who claims that their conclusions on an issue as controversial as this are "incontrovertible" raises a red flag in my eyes. And what I still don't get is what Cleland's suggesting we actually do. Instead of an extra USF charge should there be a Google line item that subtracts money from our bills? To be fair, shouldn't that then include all other bandwidth-hungry sites or apps? What guarantees do we have that these subsidies will result in lower costs and increased speeds and availability for consumers? And how does doing this not totally dissuade everyone from building the next generation of big bandwidth apps if they know there's going to be an extra tax for doing so?

But more than the faulty logic and unclear purpose of this report (other than a ham-handed attempt to paint Google as the bad guy), what do the broadband providers that support Cleland's work think they're getting out of this effort?

I mean, to most people if you looked up "telco shill" in the dictionary you'd see a picture of Cleland (not that you necessarily are, Scott, just that's who people perceive you to be), and when you search around for the responses to this report at least half of them are so disdainful as to be mocking (the comments on Cleland's own site are especially harsh), so it's hard to see how this messaging will rise to the top in a way that strengthens broadband providers' legitimate case that the business model for broadband is going through some growing pains and that they need regulatory flexibility to be able to navigate through and evolve with these changing times.

This is especially true since Google's proven feisty and has fought back against this highlighting how Cleland's numbers were self-admittedly largely based on guesstimates and pointing out his penchant for "payola punditry."

The worst part about this in my eyes is the timing. Wasn't it just a couple of weeks ago I was at a National Broadband Strategy Call to Action that was all about a new age of respect and collaboration in broadband policymaking?

So what good does it do to keep pushing an argument that most people either don't understand or side with Google on? An argument that appears to be a clear escalation of the over-arching war over net neutrality?

I'm not saying there aren't issues to be resolved in this arena, I'm just not sure any attempts to essentially brand Google as a bandwidth thief for doing the one thing everyone agrees we need more of (demand for broadband) help to move the debate forward in a positive, productive way.

It's widely known that a sizable chunk of the upcoming economic stimulus package will be alloted to building out and bolstering America's sagging and lagging infrastructure. And everyone acknowledges that "broadband" should and almost certainly will be a part of this. But how big a part should it be?

Should it get higher priority than building new roads? Deploying fiber networks does create higher quality jobs than roads, both in building and using them. It really comes down to this: do you want to be building the interstate highway system of the 21st century or just laying more asphalt and promoting driving?

What about building up our green infrastructure? Until everyone's online we should devote as much attention to wiring America as we do greening it. No single technology has the potential to help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels more than fiber.

Aren't there lots of old infrastructure that needs to be replaced and upgraded? Absolutely and there always will be, but if we're trying to stimulate the economy I'm willing to bet any money you'll get more value out of fiber than you do plumbing. Though you can save a lot of money if you do both at the same time.

This is not to denigrate the value of investing in roads, establishing the green economy, or upgrading old infrastructure; those all need to be done as well. Instead it's an attempt to highlight the relative value of investing in fiber as a part of any large-scale infrastructure improvement project.

And I do think it has to be fiber specifically rather than broadband generally if we're talking about this investment in the context of infrastructure. It was a message I first heard while from Joanne Hovis, head of Columbia Telecommunications Corporation, while lunching a few weeks ago.

She said it quite plainly: only fiber equals infrastructure. And this is true both short-term in that fiber deployment creates more jobs than any other broadband installation and the long-term in how it has the capacity to last at least a hundred years whereas all other broadband technologies have known limitations. Also, once you have fiber, things like wireless are easy to do.

I point this out not to devalue other access options but to frame why government spending on infrastructure should be in fiber.

Now back to the question of how many of those infrastructure stimulus dollars should be spent on fiber.

Given how well the outcomes of deploying of fiber fit in with the stated goals of this upcoming economic stimulus package, I can't see how we could responsibly allocate less than 10% whatever's put into infrastructure to laying fiber.

One number I've seen tossed around is $150 billion of the $500 billion overall economic stimulus package will be going to infrastructure. If that proves true that'd mean $15 billion should turn into fiber.

As I've been arguing for and am working on establishing a working group to support the creation of, I strongly believe that $10 billion of this money should go towards the Rural Fiber Fund with the goal of wiring all of rural America with fiber.

As for the other $5 billion, I think what'd be most beneficial is to create a fiber czar that would have the job of identifying where all the regional and local public fiber networks are across the country and use this money to get them interconnected with each other, wherever possible extending them to schools, libraries, and other public buildings.

What do you all think? Is there a better way we could spend $15 billion on fiber?

More to come on my experiences speaking today at the Broadband Breakfast Club, but first let's address my learning that the new administration is setting aside $10 billion over five years solely for the purpose of spurring the use of EMRs.

I'd heard something about this before but hearing it from Neal Neuberger, executive director of the Institute for e-Health Policy, opened my eyes to its scope, which is equivalent to what I've been advocating we allocate to the Rural Fiber Fund.

In my mind, if we can devote $10 billion to equip all Americans with a single application, we can afford to spend at least the same on securing the future of rural America.

That's not to say we shouldn't be investing in EMRs, though. They bring incredible efficiencies to the delivery of healthcare, both in lowering administrative costs, improving patient access to medical data, and protecting patient health through things like automated drug interaction checkers.

Now that I've had a chance to more fully understand the scope of this initiative, which appears to be getting every American an EMR, I couldn't be more excited by the potential it suggests for this to be a truly transformational administration.

Yet I must sound a note of caution as well. While you'd think that something like this would've been created at the behest or at least with the input of e-health advocates like Neal and his colleagues, in fact it took them by surprising. That was stunning to me: how can you be creating policies that will redefine industries without engaging the leading minds in the discussion?

And Neal wasn't alone in lamenting the lack of accessibility into members of Obama's transition teams. Casey Lide, a principal with the Baller Herbst Law Group who helped Jim pull together last week's National Broadband Strategy Call to Action, said that they've had no direct contact either.

This is mind-blowing to me as not only have they arguably done more than anyone to bring everyone to the table so that broadband policy can be made together instead of fought over, it's also undeniable that they're no more than one step away from the administration through their network of contacts.

If this new administration is supposed to be ushering in a new age of openness and collaboration, then where the hell are they and why aren't they engaging with us? Hopefully it's just because they're working on something big and great and that will engage us all in the future.

But already I have my worries sparked in large part by those of others like Neal, who admitted that since learning about this initiative he's been kept up at nights concerned about how can this huge amount of money be spent effectively and efficiently? How do you go from go from the federal government spending tens of millions to $10 billion without inviting a ton of waste, fraud, and warping of the industry.

Yet while I'm purposefully trying to call out the new administration here we advocates should wake up and take notice as well. Already this administration is proving that it's ready to wield the power of the White House in big ways, so the onus is on us to work together, to think big, and craft policies that garner universal support and deliver on their promises. The opportunity is there, now it's time for us to seize it.

Does Venture Capital Equal Economic Stimulus?

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With the economy slumping I've been reading a steady string of articles lamenting the state of venture capital.

People who used to invest have less money to do so and are more nervous about risk making it harder for startups to get funded.

And those startups that have been funded seem less likely to get acquired and therefore VCs are less likely to realize their usual returns on investment.

Now not all of this is bad as some people have pointed out that adversity can drive companies to become more efficient and more focused on profitability and building sustainable businesses than trying to build as big as fast as possible in order to get someone to write a big check and buy it all up.

But there's no denying that the trends towards tightening VC funds is a net negative as it likely means fewer companies getting funded and even companies with funding not being able to get more, and this in turn means less expansion, less hiring, and therefore less job creation. So in other words, basically the opposite of what the economy needs right now.

While there's a lot of talk about using an economic stimulus package to invest in infrastructure and to help loosen up credit for existing companies, there hasn't been as much talk about what the feds can do to support startup companies.

Well hopefully that's all about to change as the UK just announced a stunning new program to create a $1 billion emergency venture capital fund to help spur the growth of startups in their country.

Interestingly, they think they'll be able to finance it by attracting private capital, so here's another example of how government can play a proactive role without that meaning necessarily writing big checks. That said, even if they were just writing a big check this seems like a really good idea.

Now let's put this in perspective for America. Our GDP is roughly 5 times bigger than the UK's. So if we wanted to follow their lead but at the scale needed for our larger country that'd mean creating a $5 billion venture fund.

That's actually not a lot of money. In fact, $7 billion in VC money was invested in the third quarter of '08. But even still it could help lay the groundwork for the creation of thousands, if not eventually millions, of jobs. And these would be new jobs. I'm definitely a big proponent of supporting new ideas as much if not more than trying to maintain the status quo.

That said, what I'd rather see is the VC industry wake up and realize that it has to change the way they do business. If some VCs are backing off, that means there are opportunities for other VCs to step in and fill the void. And while these may be uncertain times and we'll essentially need to be creating a new model for VC on the fly, just because it'll be hard doesn't mean it's impossible or that we should try to get it done.

I'd like VCs to start prioritizing sustainable long-term business models over those that try to get big quick and then sell out. I'd like to see new models for VC where they don't just offer money and expertise but also other resources like office space and customers (I'm talking to you on this last one, telcos!). And it'd be terrific to see other VCs follow the lead of Charles River Ventures QuickStart Seed Funding Program that lowers the barriers to new companies getting funding.

In lieu of this, though, we may have to consider government intervention. Luckily until that decision's made we'll be able to watch what's happening across the pond to see if a government-sponsored VC fund is a good way to get companies funded and the economy growing.

If you're based in DC, will be visiting, or can get here tomorrow morning, I strongly encourage you to join us for the latest edition of Drew Clark's Broadband Breakfast Club, a monthly get-together that gathers broadband advocates from across the political spectrum to discuss telecom policy in a casual, interactive, and collaborative environment.

This week in particular should prove interesting as we dive into the subject of: "How Applications and Broadband Mapping Harness Demand for High-Speed Internet."

Notice I say "we" as everyone's favorite telecom blogger will be on the panel alongside a tremendously accomplished and diverse array of opinions, including: the aforementioned Drew Clark of, Susan Fox of Disney, Neal Neuberger of the Institute for e-Health Policy, and Alan Shark of the Public Technology Institute.

What's going to be great is that we're not just going to do the norm of each taking turns preaching with only a little time at the end for Q&A.; Instead each panelist is bringing questions to ask the other panelists, and Drew's going to be facilitating a free-flowing and undoubtedly wide-ranging conversation about how the development and adoption of broadband apps is driving demand for bandwidth and how that relates to the need to continue improving capacity for users across all parts of society.

And with representatives from healthcare, government, and entertainment on the docket, we're going to be able to cover a lot of ground and also uncover a number of issues that cut across multiple arenas, helping to break down the thought silos that too often cause us to only think about our own interest groups and not take a more holistic approach to understanding the challenges and opportunities we face.

So if you're in or can be in DC tomorrow morning, go buy a ticket here and then get yourself over to Old Ebbitt Grill at 8am tomorrow. If you end up inspired to go because of this blog post but we haven't had a chance to meet, then please introduce yourself as I always look to get to know my readers.

HOW Should the Rural Fiber Fund work?

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With the "why we need it" and "what should it be" arguments laid out, let's delve a bit into the how of what the actual policies should look like in order to accomplish the goal of universal fiber buildout to rural areas.

Rather than attempting specific language, let's work through some of the questions we need to come to consensus on, with a bit of analysis of what I've heard and been discussing with folks so far.

How big does it need to be?
Certainly billions not millions. $30 billion could be enough to fully fund wiring all of rural America. $10 billion would be enough to get the wheels turning, but we should be prepared to put up what's needed to get the job done, though if we're lucky the model we're putting into place will do two things: spark enough entrepreneurial energy so that someone finds the business case for rural fiber deployment that doesn't have to rely on government intervention, and prove to private capital that this business case is sound enough to warrant their investment without needing government guarantees.

How should the government support be structured?
I've now heard the same thing from multiple, reliable sources: private capital's there, it's just really nervous right now and needs some guarantees to loosen up. So the government doesn't need to write a big check, it needs to step in and guarantee these risky, long-term infrastructure investments. That said, we may also need to consider some provisions for direct loans or even grants in order to guarantee deployment to as rural of communities as we can get. Also, can/should the government mandate additional requirements of how this money is distributed? Can they require grace periods for deployers to defer payments until after the networks are built and paying back? Can they help deliver more favorable rates to those deployers going to the least densely populated areas? And getting back to a point from yesterday's column, these guarantees should be flexible so that applicants can get them all at once or over time.

Should there be any limitations on what the money can be spent on?
I'm not sure if this is a worthwhile or feasible consideration to address, but I wanted to put it in here as a way of addressing the concern that government support is going as much as possible into the deployment of infrastructure. I'm not even against exploring the possibility of government guarantees going solely to fully financing the laying of the network and the capital of the applicant then goes to operating the network and offering services.

What communities should receive support?
The Bechtel study I've referenced but haven't yet found attached the $30 billion pricetag to the cost of wiring all cities under 20,000. That seems like a good size to me. There should also be some requirements about their engagement with the process. They need to be committed to lowering regulatory barriers during deployment and promoting understanding and use of these networks once they're built.

Which deployers should qualify for support?
I firmly believe we can't limit ourselves on this issue for now and should accept all legitimate applicants. The basic qualifications for government support in mind should be: some proof of ability to deploy/operate fiber networks; the support of one or more engaged, committed communities; and some form of proven private capital ready to move once the project receives government approval.

What requirements should there be on how the networks are built that are supported by this funding?
That breaks down into three categories for me: penetration, capacity, and openness. I know Tim Nulty has suggested the economics of laying fiber to every last shack aren't unfavorable, but I'm not sure if we can mandate that so we may have to set some threshold after which wireless is acceptable. Since these networks will be fiber, bandwidth shouldn't be an issue but the system should be designed to scale to at least 1Gbps. We should also be encouraging these networks to be enabled with free intranets that connect homes on the same fiber at super fast speeds. And these networks must welcome new apps and services that consume bandwidth and may compete with the services of the network operator not interfere with them.

How do we keep out the bad actors?
I'm one who's big on trust networks, so if someone really has a community and a reputable source of private financing behind behind them I'm going to assume that they've both vetted that person's ability to do the job, so this alone should help keep the crazies out. And through focusing government support on infrastructure and including robust accountability, the Rural Fiber Fund can be maximally effective.

How do we hold the program accountable?
The point of this government support is to get it translated into deployment and jobs as quickly as possible, so within 3-6 months there should be an initial review that gauges progress, then on the year anniversary from there on out. We may also want to consider only giving out the guarantees in segments instead of all at once so that deployers have to prove progress before they get more. Finally, there has to be consequences for bad behavior, namely taking away their networks, removing them from management, and/or assessing fines for negligent behavior.

How should communities be involved?
As previously suggested, their primary roles are to reduce regulatory hurdles and educate their citizens about these networks. If necessary or desired they should be eligible to build their own networks and gain federal support. Once the Rural Fiber Fund is approved the ones that are ready to go can start moving, and the ones that are interested can start putting their plans together.

What role should states play?
Where are we better off vetting applicants: at the state or federal level? How can states with progressive broadband strategies play an active role in further improving the economics of rural fiber deployment, either through funding, further guarantees, coordinating pooling communities together, tax breaks, and other ways to foster local and attract outside entrepreneurs to the challenge of wiring the rural areas of their states.

How do we administer this program?
It'd be great if there were a really simple way to do this but realistically doling out billions in guarantees is never simple. But instead of establishing a lot of new bureaucracy is there any way to house the Rural Fiber Fund in an existing system? The most obvious possibility would be the RUS program at the USDA. The USDA has offices all over the place and the machinery in place to vet applicants. Or is there somewhere else that might prove a good home to the RFF?


Now here's a quick attempt at sketching out one potential framework for the Rural Fiber Fund:

- $10 billion in loan guarantees with the option to go to $30 billion
- Mandate to fund all viable projects in communities less than 20,000
- Government support to go only to cost of deploying infrastructure
- Preferential rates given to builds in the smallest of communities
- Given in installments, proof of progress unlocks additional funds
- Try to have first batch of projects vetted and funded by end of January
- Requirements for applicants: proven ability, financing, and commitment from communities
- Requirement for networks: scalable to 1Gbps, free intranets for consumers, no interference for apps/services, near-universal access
- Requirements for communities: lower regulatory barriers, educate citizens, aggregate demand among businesses
- Applicants that show successful progress in first year have access to additional funds to start deployment in other communities.
- Rewards for anyone able to extend networks without further government involvement, like not having to pay taxes any more.


I know this is still painfully rough and lacking in specifics but that's what I'm counting on my team of experts and anyone else out there with the expertise and initiative to help contribute to this process of collaboration we're going to undertake next week.

Whether you agree or disagree with what I've laid out here we welcome your input. The idea is to establish as wide a consensus as possible in an attempt to craft pragmatic policies that will pass muster, pass Congress, and ultimately further the interests of America.

I look forward to working with all of you in the coming week to translate rough ideas into specific actions that can then be laid down into transformative policies!

WHAT Should the Rural Fiber Fund be?

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Now let's sketch out what some of the characteristics of the Rural Fiber Fund must be in order to give it the best chance to accomplish its goals effectively and efficiently.

The Rural Fiber Fund has to...

Be big.
It's a big challenge, lots of labor required and a lot of land to cover, so it demands a big solution. How big? $30 billion should get the whole job done (according to a Bechtel study I've been told about but still need to find). But $10 billion is enough to be a game-changer and set the wheels in motion.

Focus on fiber.
Fiber has the capacity to be future proof, good for the rest of the century. If we just subsidize the further deployment of 20th century broadband then rural areas will be stuck in the past until government has to step in again some day to subsidize the deployment of fiber. Let's do it right the first time and commit to full fiber networks everywhere.

Extend everywhere as is feasible.
We may not be able to get a fiber strand to every building, but if we have broadband to 90% of America then why not set the goal of reaching 90% of that last 10% with fiber, with robust wireless connecting the rest. Set a maximum threshold for city population to be considered rural (say 20,000), and encourage projects that deploy across multiple communities simultaneously.

Stay patient.
Even if the government wrote a check for $30 billion tomorrow there's no immediate way to wire all of rural America. Even if the model and machinery were in place it'd probably take 3-5 years, and since the model isn't set yet it'll likely take closer to a decade to accomplish the goal of wiring all of rural America with fiber.

Offer flexibility.
In order to empower entrepreneurs to innovate and establish self-sustaining business models they need as much leeway as possible in helping them make it all work. One way to be patient and flexible would be to give applicants time to build the networks and start generating revenue off of services before requiring payments on debt service, assuming the government assistances comes from some sort of loan.

Be held accountable.
There have to be qualifications and consequences for anyone receiving government support. Those with proven track records deploying fiber networks move to the front of the line, but also we shouldn't eliminate the possibility of new entrants bringing new ideas. We have to track progress and insure government money is going primarily if not entirely into the deployment of and investment in infrastructure. And there must be mechanisms in place to dissuade inaction and remove bad performers.

Move quickly.
Along with this legislation I believe we'll have at least 10-20 ready-to-go projects that as soon as the funding is made available are ready to start hiring workers and breaking ground. There will also be a second wave of entrepreneurs inspired by the creation of the Rural Fiber Fund ready to move within the next 6 months. All told these projects alone will likely total in the billions, and the sooner we get the moving the better.

Foster innovation.
Both innovation in the building and using of these networks. For building that means giving a lot of different models the opportunity to succeed and rewarding those that do with the resources to extend into other rural areas. For using that means putting in place assurances that the networks that are built are as open to competition between telecommunications services as possible.

Be open to anyone ready, willing, and able.
Now is not the time to allow ideological debates get in the way of moving forward and making progress, so the Rural Fiber Fund should be open to any viable model for deployment, be it private or publicly owned/operated by entities large or small, so long as they're ready to move (we want these dollars turned into investment ASAP), willing to commit to whatever requirements are attached to federal support (like universal buildout and openness), and able to do the job (with a proven track record and some amount of their own capital) then the Rural Fiber Fund will be there to facilitate the wiring of rural America with the most essential infrastructure of the 21st century.

Require local government involvement and encourage support at all levels.
Ultimately it should come down to each community which provider or model they decide to move forward with, and local governments should be prepared to play an active role in lowering regulatory barriers and helping ease the deployment of these networks. Also, those states that take more active roles in facilitating and funding these projects should be rewarded with more resources and greater say in how they're allocated.

Not forget about backhaul.
Special accommodations may have to be made to extend the large backhaul pipes needed to connect full fiber access networks onto the Internet further into rural areas. As much as possible existing networks should be used in a more coordinated fashion than they have to date to interconnect these rural communities.

Only be a piece of a much larger puzzle.
The Rural Fiber Fund shouldn't usurp other plans to spur the deployment of broadband but instead serve as a piece of the larger puzzle that makes up a national broadband strategy. It's an attempt to take a bold step forward in solving one of our biggest challenges while also providing the opportunity to prove that differing interest groups can come together around issues of universal agreement and importance to craft pragmatic policies that work for the American people.


What else am I missing here in terms of big picture characteristics for what this Rural Fiber Fund should be? What does the legislation we're crafting need to accomplish? Start thinking and either add them as a comment below or wait until this all goes up on the wiki.

I've been purposefully a little vague in these first two posts in attempt to provide the big picture vision for what we're shooting so as to frame the discussion we're leading into of how can we accomplish this task. Hopefully by doing so we can be laser focused on crafting a comprehensive policy.

The one other thing I forgot to mention in yesterday's post that you call can be doing to support the Rural Fiber Fund is sending these posts around to everyone you know with any interest in this topic, be they broadband advocates, economists, rural interest groups, and especially anyone on the Hill

Tomorrow the beginnings of how we can transform these good ideas and intentions into action and real policy.

WHY Do we need the Rural Fiber Fund?

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Now that I've tested the waters and found little initial resistance to the general concepts of the Rural Fiber Fund let's start getting into the specifics.

First off let's lay out the case for WHY the Rural Fiber Fund is so important, both in how aligned it is with the goals of the upcoming economic stimulus package and how it will empower our country by bringing the most critical infrastructure for the 21st century to all Americans.

Why should we create a Rural Fiber Fund? Five reasons:

1. It will create jobs.
By building the networks...
*** Half of what's spent goes directly into labor.
*** High quality jobs are created.

By having the networks...
*** It supports the creative class in producing content and reaching customers.
*** It promotes the insourcing of jobs to rural communities (like this one).
*** It lays the foundation for the creation of jobs in the digital economy.

2. It will bolster rural economies.
*** By attracting new businesses that rely on high speed connectivity (like these).
*** By retaining existing businesses and helping them grow.
*** By bringing about new efficiencies to existing processes across all facets of society.

3. It will secure rural America's future.
*** By not saddling rural communities' tomorrows with yesterday's technologies.
*** By equipping them with infrastructure good for the rest of the century.

4. It will reassert America's global leadership in telecommunications.
*** No other country has embarked on a comprehensive plan to wire all of their rural areas with fiber.
*** By setting that as a clear goal and pursuing pragmatic policies to achieve it, we will move our rural communities to the front of the line relative to their ability to compete in the digital economy versus their counterparts in other countries.

5. Existing mechanisms aren't sufficient to accomplish the task.
*** With deploying fiber risky even in non-rural areas and credit markets frozen for everyone, private capital won't and can't step up alone to finance wiring rural America with fiber.
*** Existing government programs don't have sufficient capital to tackle this challenge, and new efficiencies need to be found in transforming government money, guarantees, and tax breaks into rapid, widespread deployment.


Tomorrow I'll share an initial outline for WHAT Should a Rural Fiber Fund do? Then the the start of a discussion over HOW on Friday. Come Monday these will all be loaded up into a wiki that I'm gathering a crack team of experts to collaborate on with as much public involvement as we can possibly foster.

What I'll be asking all of them and all of you to do is add/expand/refine ideas and contribute links to any relevant research that supports the arguments we're trying to make in justifying the allocation of billions to the challenge of wiring rural America with fiber.

If we all work together by the end of next week I'm confident we can have a more fleshed out framework with some initial costs to be able to present to our hard-working Congressional counterparts so that we can translate these new ideas and good intentions into commonsense policies that can help this economic stimulus package have a huge impact in helping grow America our way out of this current morass.

Yes We Can! Broadband Advocates Got Along Today

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Well that was fun!

I had the great fortune to get a front row seat at today's National Broadband Strategy Call To Action up on Capitol Hill.

It was an event sponsored by the New America Foundation and spearheaded by Jim Baller that brought together an unprecedented menagerie of advocates from across the broadband spectrum. Just check out the list of signatories who've indicated their support for this initiative.

It's got telcos and cablecos and munibuilds; wireless and fiber; state, regional, and national public interest groups; and both public and private industry associations alike. The only demographic not well represented were Internet companies with Google being the only one (but that has as much to do with the overall lack of engagement by Silicon Valley on federal policy issues in DC than anything else).

Accompanying the presentations was a document that while less than 1000 words may in fact be the longest thing ever written related to broadband policy that this many entities have been able to come to agreement on and it provides a framework for future discussions between all parties in the great broadband debates.

Ben Scott from Free Press may have captured the atmosphere best when at the beginning of his remarks he noted that it felt strange being on a panel where he didn't have to be prepared to argue with the other panelists. And he wasn't the only person I heard remark upon how different the tenor of these discussions were from before.

In fact, I feel stronger now than ever that we broadband advocates have the opportunity to not only craft a comprehensive, transformational national broadband policy but also through this collaboration set an example for any policymaking that's contentious on how differing interest groups can find a way to work together through finding common principles and goals that everyone shares and working pragmatically towards the best possible policies for the country.

In terms of what was said that I found notable, here are a few observations:

- Ken Peres of the Alliance for Public Technology and Communication Workers of America (who also was credited by Jim as being instrumental to pulling this event off) laid out a commonly used analogy but in a way that made it seem so obvious it hurt, namely that throughout the years we've always had and needed national policies to help spur the deployment of whatever infrastructure was imperative to national interests at the time, whether we're talking rails and roads or the telegraph and telephone. Broadband should be no different.

- Last time Jim Cicconi of AT&T; suggested on a panel that a consensus was emerging around net neutrality he was lambasted in much of the coverage I read as AT&T; changing its tune and generally not believing his observation to be true, yet this time during the Q&A; when he made a similar remark that the differences in the sides were narrowing he was supported by both Ben Scott and Rick Whitt of Google, each representing organizations that have spearheaded the fight for new net neutrality legislation. Rick was even almost apologetic in admitting that the tone of that debate had fallen into too much one of means vs. ends and that now that both sides have come to more of an agreement over goals they can start focusing on the means to achieve them. So color me hopeful that we may be able to achieve a consensus on what has historically been the most contentious of issues in telecom policy!

- During the Q&A; I enjoyed Jim's comment on the dangers of allowing broadband providers to promise fast speeds but not guarantee a floor so that consumers aren't necessarily getting what they paid for. He then mentioned AT&T;'s plan to do just that. Later I learned from him that this doesn't mean a guaranteed minimum level of access, which I've argued for before, but instead a promise that their service will be available at a range of say 1-3Mbps and if for some reason it drops below that floor AT&T; won't charge for the service. I hadn't heard much about this before this event, but I'm loving where they're going with this and will share more extended thoughts in a follow-up post.

- Larry Cohen of Communication Workers of America made a profound statement when he said, "NGOs have to define the public interest for private companies." NGOs are non-governmental agencies, and each argues for the interests of their own groups of constituents, but I think what Larry was alluding to was the needed for more coordination between these public interest groups in order to develop concise, coherent principles surrounding what defines the public interest in the age of Internet and broadband. Divided everyone's fighting for their own things and little gets done; united we have a chance more effectively ensure that the public's interest is always foremost in any policies related to broadband.

- I also liked two other points Larry makes: broadband has as high a multiplier effect on local economies as any other investment, and we need to create digital ambassadors in urban areas (and presumably elsewhere) to educate people on how to use computers and the Internet.

- Ben Scott laid out the two fundamental measures of success for any national broadband policy: availability and adoption. What I love is how forcefully he argued for more attention being placed on the latter of these. As I've reported before we're finally reaching critical mass on getting some momentum behind a serious campaign to get more people using the Internet. And Ben framed our goals in perfect terms: how do we get the adoption of broadband, which can provide endless benefits, to the levels of TV and mobile phones, which have more limited utility?

- Rick Whitt said something I've been thinking about increasingly but hardly ever hear mentioned: broadband does not simply mean faster Internet access. There's also an element of networking people at faster speeds. He referred to it as a "broadband-enabled Internet," which alludes to how the availability of broadband is fundamentally expanding the possibilities of the Internet. He then laid out the three layers of broadband functionality that need to be addressed: availability and adoption, capacity, and openness. Makes sense to me!

And most exciting of all, I made contact with all of the aforementioned speakers and raise the flag for a Rural Fiber Fund to get their initial reactions and the only resistance I got was on how not if it should be done. Even better I was able to reconnect with thought leaders like Tim Nulty of rural Vermont fiber fame who expressed enthusiasm for lending brainpower to the cause of crafting a commonsense framework for the RFF. So the way I see it, the only thing standing in our way is inaction.

Look forward to more on the RFF tomorrow!

(Also, my apologies to the second panelists. In trying to grab all of the first panelists for brief kibitzing I was unable to pay close attention to all of the second set of presentations, which is why reactions to their remarks are not included in this post. I've been promised that video of the event will be made available on YouTube shortly, so when they do I'll post them to this site and have a chance to comment.)

Can't We Broadband Advocates All Just Get Along?

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Here's a not-so-secret truth about broadband policymaking in DC: everyone likes to caricaturize the other side in less than flattering terms.

For those in favor of open, community networks, the incumbents are big, evil, greedy, soulless corporations bent on improving their bottom line with no regard for what's best for the country or for communities in their footprint.

On the other side I've heard some of my telco friends mutter accusations of Communism when listening to people advocate for publicly owned networks, and that advocates of things like net neutrality don't understand the dynamics of the telecom business.

And yet on a personal level I've found most all of these people on both sides to be reasonable and well-meaning. Everyone's just trying to do the best job they can to represent their constituents and to argue for their particular ideology.

But dealing with conflicting ideologies is one of the central challenges we face when it comes to finding pragmatic policies we can all agree on. Put another way, when it comes to many fundamental issues we start running into the same issues faced when people with differing religions try coming to agreement on things that are central to their beliefs.

The underlying problem is that if I strongly believe something that negates something that you believe equally strongly in, it's hard to resolve this difference of opinion.

You can see this in religion when an Evangelical talks with an atheist. One believes Jesus is our lord and savior and that eternal happiness lies in following him; the other believes the whole thing is hooey. The challenge is if one person's beliefs are right then that negates the other's belief system entirely.

We've got a somewhat similar challenge in telecom. There are people who believe in public networks and those that believe in private networks. But if public networks are the right way, then what role is left for private networks? And if private networks are the right way, then there's no need for public networks.

Of course these issues aren't that entirely cut and dry but this does get to the heart of one of the biggest mountains we have to climb: how can we establish a working consensus on issues where the two sides are diametrically opposed in their beliefs?

Luckily, as in life there are things we can all agree upon. For example, whether you believe in a god or not hopefully we can all acknowledge that it's better to be good and lead a productive life than to be evil and unproductive. The same can be applied to telecom: regardless of who owns/operates the network, we all agree that more should be done to get people to use these networks to a greater degree and therefore create more demand for bandwidth.

The key to all of this is that we need to put aside the name-calling and attempts to turn real people with legitimate concerns into caricatures if we're to have any hope of having a robust dialog that leads to real solutions.

We need to remember that just because a corporation's big doesn't mean they're evil, and that just because someone believes in publicly owned infrastructure doesn't make them a Communist.

This kind of polarization in politics is what's holding us back as a country, so I'd like to suggest that all of us in the world of telecom try to put aside our biases and come together to show everyone else what can happen when we stop talking past and at each other and start talking to and with all parties involved.

That's why I'm so excited to attend an event tomorrow entitled "A National Broadband Strategy Call to Action" that's being put on by the New America Foundation and has been driven in large part by the yeoman-like efforts of Jim Baller to pull competing interest groups into the same room to open a dialog that can hopefully help lead to resolving contentious issues and establishing a consensus on those issues we agree upon.

This is a bold step in the right direction, and you can look forward to coverage of that event in the coming days.

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