March 2009 Archives

There's lots of talk about how there's not enough money in the stimulus to lay broadband everywhere, and that's generally true. $7 billion doesn't go all that far when spread across the entire country.

But unlike the $4.2 billion set aside for NTIA grants, the $2.5 billion allocated to RUS can be distributed as grants, loans, or loan guarantees.

This is an important point to note as depending upon how much RUS sets aside for loan and loan guarantees they may have a whole lot more money to work with.

The reason for this is that loans and loan guarantees don't count dollar-for-dollar against the budget. Instead because of the assumption that some portion of the loans will be paid back and/or some of the guarantees will never be cashed in you only have to count a fraction of the loan or guarantee value against the budget.

Now there are a lot of variables that can impact how a loan or guarantee scores against the budget, but as a ballpark you can generally distribute at least ten times as much in the way of loans or guarantees relative to the budget authority you have to work with.

So circling back to the title of this post, if RUS were to focus all of its $2.5 billion on loans and guarantees rather than grants they'd actually have the ability to hand out at least $25 billion in government support, and potentially even more than that depending on how risky the projects they're investing in are.

But there's a fly in this ointment.

I've been hearing rumblings that RUS may follow NTIA's lead and focus most of its attention on giving out grants.

Most troubling is a key reason why: they're worried about getting all of their dollars out the door quickly. So essentially there's a sense that if they focused more on loans and guarantees that they'd end up with too much money to spend in the timeframe they have to spend it.

While I can respect that this may present a conundrum, I can not accept that this is what's going to be best for America.

For example, what happens if RUS gets $30 billion worth of applications? There's certainly that much work to be done and more. The only questions are how many shovel-ready projects are there, and how long will it take for other communities to become shovel-ready.

So if there's plenty of work to be done, why are we artificially limiting the amount of funds available to spur deployment?

Don't get me wrong: I'm not against grants. In some of the most rural areas they may be necessary to bring broadband to every last building.

But now is not the time to worry more about what's easy than what's best for America.

And it seems clear to me that what's best for America is maximizing how we leverage this down payment for our broadband future so that we can spur as much deployment as we possibly can.

Earlier this week I attended the public NTIA/RUS meeting during which they had a panel on the broadband mapping portion of the stimulus.

While right at the very outset I found it odd that this panel was missing any representatives from Connected Nation,, and e-NC as these are three of the leaders in pushing for mapping broadband, even more upsetting was what was said on this panel, or rather what wasn't said.

Throughout the entire series of presentations and subsequent roundtable discussions and Q&A; there was not one word about mapping market demand for broadband or tracking the actual usage of broadband.

OK, that's not entirely true: I stood up and tried asking questions about these issues so it was brought up but no substantive answers were received.

And to be honest, I think that's totally insane. Let's consider the value of conducting both exercises.

First, mapping market demand. Rather than just finding out where broadband's available and where it isn't, it's essential that we also know where there are people who want it but can't get it. If I'm the government and I'm trying to define "underserved" then it makes a lot of sense to be able to compare the availability of broadband relative to the demand for it so that we can identify those areas where the market alone is not serving this demand. Without this market demand data we could end up subsidizing network buildouts to areas that don't currently want it, and that doesn't seem like the most prudent use of limited government dollars.

Second, tracking actual usage. What good will funding programs that spur demand be if we don't have a way of measuring whether or not they were successful at getting people to use broadband more? In fact, not only is tracking usage a good idea, but I'd argue that it should be mandatory for all broadband demand programs. We first need to establish a baseline for how people, businesses, and public entities are using broadband so we can have something to compare future results of these surveys against to gauge the growth in demand. Not doing this means risking government dollars on programs with no metrics to measure success, and that seems like a very irresponsible thing to be doing.

Now I should admit that it's not like no one's talking about mapping demand or tracking usage. There is some language to this affect in S. 1492, the broadband mapping bill. But it was startling to sit through a half dozen presentations without anyone talking about anything other than mapping the availability of broadband.

This omission suggests that we're still not thinking seriously about these separate but related issues, that we're still putting mapping the availability of broadband as a higher priority than demand or usage. And yet what good are availability-only maps?

So you know where broadband is and isn't: now what? Should we just start throwing dollars to build out to areas without it, or would it be better to focus first on those areas without it that have a proven pent-up demand for it?

And back to usage, what good is having broadband available if nobody's using it? It's been proven repeatedly that simply building it and expecting people to come doesn't necessarily work. We need sustainable programs to educate and inspire users, yet without hard data about what has worked and is working we won't be able to focus our energy and financial support on the most effective programs. It's not good enough to say we're trying to spur demand, we need to show that we're actually increasing usage.

So for these reasons I'm a little concerned that we're not putting demand mapping and usage tracking as a high enough priority relative to the broadband mapping and demand programs in the stimulus package.

I'd suggest that the NTIA should make their support of these efforts explicit and integral to any applications that want to be approved to map broadband or spur demand. Because without these two key pieces to the puzzle, we're likely going to end up with maps to nowhere and demand programs that fizzle out.

If we want to get serious about broadband, we have to get serious about collecting as much hard data as possible, and key to this is that data related to demand and usage.

My Wife's No Longer A Pirate!

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Great news: my wife's no longer an online content pirate.

In the fall of 2007 I wrote about how my wife had stumbled upon a website that hosted the latest episodes of her favorite Japanese anime show. This site showcased episodes shortly after they aired in Japan with subtitles, as opposed to the American versions with voiceovers that took many months to arrive on our airwaves.

It was a site that was easy to find, easy to use, of acceptable quality, and it quickly became a weekly ritual for us to watch the latest Japanese episode every Friday night. Yet little did my wife know that she was committing a criminal act.

In her mind she just wanted to watch her show and this was an easy way to do so. Until I brought this issue up, she had no idea that she was breaking any laws. And even after I told her she continued watching as above all else she wanted to see her show.

Well this week that all changed: my wife is no longer a pirate.

How? The latest episodes of her favorite anime are now available on Not only are they slightly higher quality video, but they're actually being released on Thursday nights instead of Friday like the pirated site. And of course the content can now be viewed legally.

Of course because the video's now available on a legitimate site's taking the opportunity to insert in-stream video ads. But you know what? My wife couldn't care less. She's more than happy to sit through some ads so she can watch her show.

This anecdote to me shows a clear path forward for how to deal with content piracy.

It's not about persecuting your audience for simply wanting to watch your content. Instead the focus should be on making the content available to them in a way that's easier and of a higher quality than can be obtained illegally. In this way we don't make criminals out of pirates, we reaffirm their value as loyal viewers.

NTIA/RUS Not Requiring A Minimum Speed Is Absurd

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More than anything else, what's gotten me most upset watching the NTIA/RUS public meetings has been the oft-repeated stance that somehow it'd be a bad thing for a minimum speed to be set in order to qualify for a government grant.

The argument goes something like this: "Well if you set the bar too high you'll dissuade investment and cut a number of providers out of the running to upgrade their networks."

First off, for anyone to claim that the government's going to have any trouble finding people to give money away to is absolutely ridiculous. I don't see how anyone can suggest this as a real problem with a straight face.

Secondly, if by setting a higher bar for minimum speeds we shut out lesser "broadband" projects, how is that a bad thing? If by demanding more on behalf of the public we force private interests to step outside of their comfort zone of incremental investments to bring real broadband to Americans, why is that a bad thing?

Now I do need to step back for a second and point out that anyone arguing against a minimum speed threshold does have a point that mandating what Internet speeds are made available to consumers may not be a good idea. The reason for this is that the cost of delivering that service varies across the country based on the cost of backhaul Internet access. So if we're not careful we can break the economics of broadband deployment to the point where we may be hindering the establishment of sustainable businesses.

But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The high cost of backhaul is really more relevant to higher speeds than lower. So saying that only projects that deliver at least 1Mbps symmetrical at an affordable price should not be such an onerous requirement as to make deployment uneconomical.

And there's another way to think about speed: that of in-network capacity. Rather than base everything on Internet access, which is a specific service with costs outside of those associated with building the network, let's set some minimum capacity requirements for the networks themselves in order to avoid subsidizing networks that'll have to be overbuilt every few years to keep up with demand.

Taking a step back for a moment again, I will say that if in order to get the large swathes of America that are currently unserved connected we have to lower this minimum, I'm not against that. We can't let the perfect get in the way of the good. But this principle should only narrowly apply to those without any service in areas where no project offering greater speeds has stepped up to the table.

Otherwise I think it's a mistake to not establish minimum speeds both because it does an injustice to the American people by not investing in infrastructure with the capacity to support future demands and for the simple fact that by cutting down on the number of eligible applications it will make life easier for NTIA and RUS.

And if setting this minimum leaves some companies out of the running, so be it! Quite frankly, we shouldn't care about everyone getting an equal shot at these grants. That'd be like a "feed the starving kids in Africa" program going out of its way to make sure that someone with a warehouse full of Twinkies can qualify for government grants. Sure it's food but can we responsibly say that it's what's best for those kids?

Again, we can't let private interests supersede the public good. We must be vigilant in insuring whatever projects get these government funds worry more about supporting what's best for the public than on protecting private interests. And the best way to do this is by setting a minimum speed threshold to establish eligibility for these broadband grants.

How Much Bandwidth Does America Really Need?

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Now here's a contentious question: how much bandwidth does America really need?

If you ask broadband providers, more often than not their answer will essentially amount to whatever speed their technology can deliver.

I don't necessarily blame them for doing this as how can you answer that question with a higher number that instantly marginalizes your technology or existing infrastructure? For example, if a satellite provider were to say 1Gbps is the optimal speed then they just cut themselves out of the game.

But as I've argued before we can't let private interests drive this discussion about what's needed for the public good.

So how much bandwidth does America really need?

Let's start by taking a look at a recent ITIF report entitled, "The Need for Speed: The Importance of Next-Generation Broadband Networks."

In it, ITIF makes a strong case for the need to support the deployment of "next-generation broadband networks."

They define "next-generation broadband" as at least 20Mbps and ideally 50Mbps or upwards downstream and at least 10Mbps or higher upstream.

While I definitely agree that getting us from 5Mbps to 50Mbps will enable the creation of a host of new applications, what's odd is that their own report suggests that 50Mbps is too low a goal to set for next-generation broadband, even in the near-term.

Take this section, for example:

"It is not a stretch to envision a household of the near-future having at least the following demands for high-speed broadband Internet access: Mom engaged in a videoconference for her home-based business; dad watching a live HDTV football game; daughter using the computer to access streaming video of a college course lecture; son playing a real-time interactive game; relatives, perhaps grandparents, in town with one downloading an episode of a high-definition movie and another connected to an uninterruptible medical video feed to a remote monitoring facility. In the background home appliances are being monitored and video home security devices are sending video feeds back to the home security company's emergency operations management center. This home would easily consume more than 90Mbps of aggregate bandwidth (both directions): 15Mbps per HDTV stream x 2 HDTV streams, 80Kbps for gaming, 18Mbps for high-definition two-way video conferencing (requiring 18Mbps both upstream and downstream), 15Mbps for a video course lecture, and 10Mbps for home security and home-based monitoring uses."

So by their own calculations the household of the near-future will require at least 90Mbps of symmetrical bandwidth.

This is especially interesting as it legitimizes the goal of achieving a 100Mbps Nation by 2015 as not being based in idealism but instead reflecting the very realistic demands for bandwidth of what a truly networked world will look like.

But given that broadband equals infrastructure, we can't only be thinking about things in terms of a few years into the future. We need to look ahead at least twenty so that we're not sinking money into investments that will be outdated before their lifespan is done.

Let's visit another section from ITIF's report:

"Within the next decade, 2160P 'QuadHDTV' will come onto the market, driving demand for bandwidth consumption up to 64Mbps for good-quality 2160P. On the technology frontier lies ultra high-definition video (UltraHD), which Japan is currently experimenting with. UltraHD video, operating at 7680x4320 resolution and requiring 256Mbps, will bring cinematic quality video to wall-sized video displays, and will eventually become as common and affordable as the 1080P HDTV sets of today. UltraHD television and video will require substantial amounts of and become a leading consumer of broadband going forward."

So within the next decade we'll be moving from HD video to QuadHD, which will at a minimum increase our demand for bandwidth four-fold as all video applications will have four times as much resolution. So now we've gone from 90Mbps symmetrical to 360Mbps.

Looking a bit further ahead, in the not too distant future we're going to be living in an UltraHD world, which has 16 times the resolution of HD, bringing our demand for bandwidth up from 90Mbps to almost 1.5Gbps.

And remember, ITIF's calculations of future household bandwidth demands admit that they're only taking into account the applications we know about today and that there will undoubtedly be a host of new applications that are created as a result of having this much capacity that we can't imagine today.

So really these numbers should be considered as the baseline goals not the end-game of what we'll need, and it's likely our demands will grow even larger.

Let's review:

- To fully support the technologies we have today to deliver HD video a household needs at least 90Mbps of symmetrical bandwidth.

- To fully support the technologies of ten years from now to deliver QuadHD video a household will need at least 360Mbps.

- To handle the technologies of twenty years from now to deliver UltraHD a household will need at least 1.5Gbps.

With all this in mind it would be irresponsible to set goals for next-generation broadband at anything less than 100Mbps, and really we should leave the 100Mbps Nation behind and start talking about a 1Gbps Nation and beyond.

And given these goals, we should be focusing government subsidies on networks capable of supporting these speeds moving forward.

Getting everyone today's broadband is not good enough. We need to set bold goals that reflect the growing demands of these clear technological trends. Otherwise we're going to set ourselves up to be on the lagging edge of broadband for decades to come.

Everyone Agrees: Fiber's The Gold Standard

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For most of my readers this is a no-brainer: full fiber networks are the gold standard of broadband.

But I wanted to point this out as even those who question whether or not a Full Fiber Nation should be our ultimate goal can't deny the simple fact that it doesn't get any better than fiber.

Just listen to wireless and copper providers. Despite their vested interests in non-fiber technologies, their arguments against pushing all in on fiber boil down to three points:

1. Our technology can compete with fiber.
2. No one needs the capacity of fiber.
3. Fiber's too expensive.

Without getting too far into the weeds, let's break down these three points a bit further.

1. The undeniable truth is that no technology has the same capacity as fiber. All wireless guys talk about is delivering tens of Mbps. All copper guys talk about is hundreds of Mbps or maybe a few Gbps. Fiber can handle hundreds of Gbps and beyond. There's essentially no limit to fiber's capacity, and only fiber can say that as both wireless and copper have definite physical limitations.

2. I'll go into more depth in the near future about why we need the capacity of fiber, but for now let's make it simple: we need fiber to support UltraHD video applications. UltraHD is a standard that has 16 times the resolution of HD. To deliver one highly compressed UltraHD video you'll need 120Mbps. What does UltraHD enable us to do? Check out this video from Microsoft of their vision for computing by 2019:

Notice at the beginning and about 50 seconds in it shows kids on either side of what appears to be a piece of glass. If you look closely you'll see that in actuality those are kids in two different classrooms in two different parts of the world. And yet the size and clarity of the screen's image is so great it appears as if they're standing right next to each other. That's what UltraHD video will enable within the next decade. And only fiber can truly support these kinds of extremely bandwidth-intensive applications.

3. Is fiber expensive to deploy? Yes, but let's consider this a little further. First off, if you're building a network from scratch, at this point it's cheaper to lay fiber than copper. Secondly, over time it's very easy to upgrade the capacity of fiber by simply swapping out the electronics, whereas it's much more expensive and complicated to upgrade copper. Thirdly, fiber's cheaper to operate than copper as it's more reliable. Finally, sure laying fiber everywhere will be expensive, but so was laying copper everywhere 100 years ago and no one regrets that decision. So while on the surface fiber's cost to deploy may seem high, in the long run it's more than worth it.

So there you have it: fiber is the gold standard of broadband, no other technology can compete with it, we will need fiber's capacity in the near future, and it's not too expensive to deploy.

I know to fiber advocates this isn't news, but these are the messages we need to be spreading far and wide to push back against the disinformation campaign of incumbent wireless and copper interests that's been trying to suggest that their technologies are good enough, that we don't need fiber, and that it's too expensive.

We can't afford to let these private interests get in the way of the truth about what's best for the public good, and that's striving to achieve the goal of a Full Fiber Nation as soon as possible.

We Can't Let Protectionism Drive Broadband Policy

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The most frustrating part of watching the public meetings on how NTIA and RUS should spend their broadband stimulus dollars is the relentless calls for protectionism from established service and technology providers.

Now of course it's not surprising that companies would be doing everything they can to shape how these dollars are distributed in their favor, but I'm getting somewhat worried that we're going to end up focusing too much on protecting private over promoting public interests.

For example, look at the discussion over how to define broadband. Each company/industry is trying to set the definition relative to their own technology, and a surprising number of them claim we shouldn't have any minimum speed threshold at all, as if bringing sub-1Mbps service will have any great impact on economic development (which it won't).

If we allow this to continue we're going to be permanently relegating un/underserved areas to being second-class citizens. We can't let private interests dictate what's best for the public good.

An even more direct example of private interests calling for protectionism is the suggestion that these dollars should only go where incumbent providers aren't lest we actually encourage competition in the broadband marketplace.

While I completely agree that we should avoid creating duplicative infrastructures, to suggest that anywhere that has any form of broadband is already well-served and in no need of a stimulus is pure protectionism that puts private interests over the public good.

And a final example is the suggestion that only those who are already offering service in an area are qualified to translate these stimulus dollars into deployment.

But how can this be in the public's best interest if the whole reason we need a stimulus is that the providers who are already there are doing an insufficient job? In no way am I speaking out against giving money to incumbent providers, just that attempting to give them priority to fix something that many of them either neglected or broke smacks again of protectionism.

Again, this is not a rant against private interests trying to position themselves at the front of the line to the government trough. It's perfectly understandable that they do that, and in many cases whoever's the incumbent provider may be the best recipient of government dollars.

But we can't let these private interests drive a debate that should be focused on the public good.

We can't limit ourselves to asking, "How much broadband can incumbent providers squeeze through their networks?" when we need to be asking, "How much bandwidth does the American public need to succeed in the 21st century?"

We can't worry so much about these dollars avoiding creating competition for incumbent providers that we rule out best-in-class applications that can push chronically underserved communities to the front of the digital pack.

We can't think that only those who have sunk investment in legacy networks can lead us into our broadband future when there may be far superior applications from new entrants ready to start moving.

If we want this broadband stimulus to have the biggest possible impact on moving our great nation forward, we can't let these important decisions about how to distribute funds be driven by protectionism over the public good.

These are our tax dollars at stake and we must be vigilant in insuring they're spent in our best interest.

So you want to know where we should be going as a country in terms of having sufficient broadband capacity? Here's a simple way of thinking about things:

We need at least enough broadband to simultaneously support at least one two-way HD video stream per person.

Now let's unpack that a bit.

First off, let's acknowledge that "HD video" is not necessarily a hard number. There are people streaming video as low as 1.5Mbps and calling it HD, a Blu-ray disc with 1080p video is delivering it at roughly 50Mbps, and an uncompressed HD video can require upwards of 500Mbps. So these numbers will be mutable based on how high we want to set the HD bar.

Secondly, it's important that this goal be symmetrical as we don't want a country that only uses broadband to watch video; we also want them to be able to send video so they can participate in videocalls and share their video with the world.

Thirdly, we need networks that can support simultaneous usage. We want everyone in a household, in a neighborhood, in a city to be able to turn on a camera at the same time, whether for different purposes, where one person's using telemedicine in one room and someone else distance learning in another, or the same purpose, like communicating during an emergency.

Fourthly, I'm starting with one two-way HD stream per person as that's all we can reasonably pay attention to at a time, but ultimately we will want enough capacity to support multiple simultaneous HD streams per person so that we can have security cameras, baby monitoring cameras, and personal videocalling cameras all running at the same time as we're watching TV and uploading videos to others. But for now everyone being able to turn on to watch and/or send one HD video stream is a good first practical goal.

So let's start by using 10Mbps as our definition of HD. With compression that'll allow for truly high quality video to be delivered that will look good on an HDTV.

Then let's take the average household size of 2.5 people. That shows us we need at least 25Mbps symmetrical per household.

And what about for the households of larger families? My family growing up had five people in it, so we'd have needed at least 50Mbps. And if grandma had moved in that would mean our needs would go up to 60Mbps.

Now let's take this a step further. What about a building with lots of people in it? Imagine an office building or a school or a hospital or a library. A workplace with 100 people in it will need 1Gbps; one with 1,000 people will require 10Gbps of symmetrical simultaneous bandwidth.

So here we have it a simple near-term goal: enough capacity to simultaneously deliver one two-way HD video for every person at their home or work.

Notice how I said "near-term goal."

The reason for this is that while the Internet we have today can't support true HD video delivery, HD isn't the endgame. As I've mentioned before, there's something called UltraHD video, which has sixteen times the resolution of HD, enabling near 3D-like experiences without any funny glasses. To deliver one of these UltraHD videos even with a ton of compression requires 120Mbps. So basically multiply all the numbers above by ten and you can see the kind of bandwidth we'll need five years from now.

These are the kind of clear, pragmatic goals we need to guide our broadband policy-making moving forward so that we can insure we're getting Americans the kind of broadband they need to take full advantage of living in a networked world.

One hot topic in discussions over how broadband stimulus dollars should be allocated is what private entities should qualify for a waiver on the restrictions that only public entities and public/private partnerships can get the money.

But to be honest, I'm not sure why this is a difficult question to answer.

First off, it's obvious that Congress wants us to prioritize public entities and public/private partnerships, otherwise they wouldn't have put the need for a waiver in. So to me that means that when applications come in those from public entities and public/private partnerships should go to the front of the line.

So now we've narrowed the scope to only discussing whatever money is left over after all the qualified and viable public and public/private projects are funded.

Assuming there are funds left over, then I think determining which private-only projects deserve funding could be done easily simply by saying that in order to qualify private-only projects must have the support of the communities in which they're going to build.

The only thing to determine now is how to quantify that local support. It could be that whatever local government votes in favor of it, or there could be a petition for the public to sign, or there could be some rules associated with making sure the major stakeholders in town are supportive of the project (like medical facilities, schools, businesses, etc.), or some mix of these different elements.

But rather than us try to make top-down rules about who should and shouldn't be eligible, let's leave the decision-making up to the communities that are going to be getting, using, and benefiting from these networks.

The only other variable in this is where the line between public/private partnerships and private-only projects with lots of committed public support should be drawn.

While "public/private partnerships" seems to suggest some direct government involvement in the project, I'm not sure that necessarily has to be the case. For example if all the medical facilities and practitioners, all the schools, and all the public safety personnel in a region are supportive of a private-only project and want to buy service once the network's built, that's starting to feel like a partnership to me. That's suggesting that the private entity has done the leg work to make sure that their networks are delivering what their prospective customers desire, that they're not imposing a network on a community but that they're delivering what the communities wants and needs.

Ultimately I think that this was the primary intent of these waivers: not to say that private companies can't play ball but that Congress wanted to insure local interests were protected in this process. In other words, no one wants to see money going to a private-only project where that private provider is imposing themselves on a community without local buy-in.

So what this all leads to is if you're a private-only project you should have to prove local buy-in to your project to qualify, but if you can prove that the communities you want to deploy to are satisfied with the network you're building and are on-board with your project then you should qualify outright as a public/private partnership. Otherwise go to the back of the line and wait your turn to see if there's any money left once all the viable projects that have local buy-in are funded and moving forward.

We Need A National Broadband Standard

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While there's lots of energy behind the development of a national broadband policy, how can we discuss strategies for making progress when we don't yet know where we're going and what goals we're setting out to achieve?

For this reason before setting policy we should first establish a national broadband standard.

What are the characteristics of broadband that every American deserves? What are the characteristics of those broadband networks that deserve government subsidies? How can we make sure that the broadband networks we support live up to their responsibilities to the public interest?

By first focusing on setting this standard we can then shape policies to achieve these goals. Without this standard and these goals, we won't be able to create policies that are effective in achieving any real progress.

So what should a national broadband standard look like?

The first principle we should all be able to easily agree on is the need for universality. Every last building in this country needs to be able to access broadband so that it can participate in the global digital economy.

With this in mind we can shape policies to focus on bringing broadband to the unserved and the best broadband to everyone.

As to other characteristics, this process of setting a standard becomes more challenging as we start running into some contentious issues, like net neutrality and whether some broadband technologies should be prioritized over others.

But just because these issues are contentious doesn't mean we can or should avoid trying to tackle them. I'm a believer that there is a greater truth to a lot of these issues that will provide clear answers to the question of what's going to be best for America.

Because that's really what this is about: what's best for the country. We can't allow what's best for private interests cloud our decisions about what's best for the country at large. Yet at the same time I'm very respectful of the fact that furthering private interests are a key part of making our country great.

Finding that middle ground that balances public and private interests is the perspective I always try to come from, and over the coming weeks I'm going to be continuing to explore this idea of crafting a national broadband standard that our national broadband strategy can then be built around.

If you have any thoughts for what should be added to the list of characteristics that should define America's national broadband standard then write up a comment below and we can get this conversation started!

The most important first part is universality, but what else should we include?

VidChat: LUSFiber is Live!

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Terry Huval, head of Lafayette Utility Systems, is back to bring everyone up to speed on the latest news on LUSFiber, namely that it's live!

This is a proud day for the city of Lafayette and really the entire country. Every time a home gets connected with fiber we get one step closer to being truly competitive in the global economy.

One of the most interesting things to come out of their efforts so far is the fact that now that they have fiber in place they're starting to run into bottlenecks other places, like in wireless routers, which may claim to deliver 100Mbps plus but LUS is finding this just isn't true.

This is a brave new world Lafayette is stepping into as they move from an era of bandwidth scarcity to bandwidth abundance. All of a sudden the paradigm has shifted from broadband slowing the Internet down to fiber broadband removing those limitations entirely. And I couldn't be more excited to see where this will all take us in the coming months and years as innovative communities like Lafayette, LA establish and prove the model for what the next generation of a fiber-powered Internet can look like.

The joint NTIA/RUS/FCC meeting yesterday was a historic moment for our country: it marks the moment when America started getting serious about broadband.

It set the stage for what will hopefully be the most open, collaborative rule-making process in the history of government. And it portends to a future where if we can spend this initial $7 billion down payment properly we'll have put in place a framework to spur the deployment of next-generation broadband to every last corner of our great nation.

As I expected, though, this first meeting was short on details, with very little new concrete information beyond what's laid out in the legislation.

But that said, there were a great many interesting and inspiring thoughts shared that help provide insight into these agencies' thinking. Most significant of all was that many of the questions for which they didn't have details they turned back to the audience and asked for their input, suggesting that we the people will have an unprecedented opportunity to directly influence and shape policy. Essentially they were saying, "Help us help you."

Yet there were also a few things that gave me pause, making me worry that too much of the old status quo may linger as we try to move into a new paradigm for broadband policy.

So for my take on what was (and wasn't) said during today's meeting, read on for my running diary I kept of interesting things that were said and the thoughts they sparked in my head while watching:

- The first speaker was Tom Vilsack, our new Secretary of Agriculture. While brief, his remarks framed perfectly the tone for the rest of the event's messaging regarding the priorities of these agencies: they want to enable a transparent, participatory process to figure out how to do this best; they want to put particular emphasis on bringing broadband to those that can't get it; they want to leverage existing assets as much as possible; and they're looking for creative ways to leverage government support.

- Next up was FCC Commissioner Michael Copps. He gave a heartfelt speech that really got me charged up, declaring that with our new president committed to broadband that change has come! That after years of asking, "Where's the broadband policy? Where's the beef?" we're now on our way to having it! That the years of broadband drift and the digital divide are coming to an end! That we've lost precious time, shortchanging our economy, our kids, and ourselves, but that today we say "Enough!" We mobilize and build! (Exclamation points reflect my editorial excitement at what he said rather than his speech consisting of constant yelling.)

He suggested that we'd forgotten the lessons of the 20th century when we built out roads and electricity and the telephone, but that this is exactly how we built our country, infrastructure by infrastructure. He mentioned that at the FCC's next meeting on April 8th that they'll be kicking off an open participating process for crafting a national broadband strategy, and that the FCC is charged with releasing a rural broadband strategy report by May (later dated as May 22nd) responding to last year's farm bill. And he also took the time to credit fellow FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein as a long-time advocate for rural broadband.

Needless to say I had a hard time not shouting, "Amen!" after everything Commissioner Copps said. I can't wait to see what he and his fellow commissioners are able to accomplish this year at the FCC as with this kind of passion and insight, anything is possible.

- The final speaker of the opening trio was Rick Wade, acting chief of staff for the Department of Commerce from NTIA. He began by properly setting expectations, that there's not enough money to bring broadband to everyone, but that we have the opportunity to learn a great deal about what works well, which is the exact same sentiment Blair Levin shared a few weeks ago. He then cited five goals the administration has for this money:

1. Close the broadband gap across America, extending high capacity pipes closer to users that are open to all companies to spur competition.
2. Stimulate investment by requiring companies to invest their own funds.
3. Create jobs.
4. Insure community anchor institutions like libraries and hospitals are properly connected.
5. Encourage demand for broadband

These are great goals, and even more exciting was Wade citing President Obama's campaign call that we can be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age. That high speed networks are fundamental to America's economic growth; that scientists need to be on the cutting edge; and that businesses need to be able to work online at 21st century speeds as they can't compete with a 20th century infrastructure.

I'm sorry, I have to say it: this all sounds like code words for fiber. I can't wait for the day when this administration is able to come out of the broadband closet and declare that fiber is our future.

Wade finished by calling on everyone to develop their best proposals for funding and to engage each other in the process, which fits perfectly in with the mission of the US Broadband Coalition to pull all parties together around the same table to try and establish a dialog around a set of common values. If Wade was speaking for the administration, then I'm more excited than ever about the vision of our new President.

- We then moved on to the roundtable, which was moderated by Mark Seifert, who with Bernadette McGuire-Rivera will be running NTIA's grant program. While I have not yet met him in person I'm now looking forward to doing so as he was extremely good natured and well informed in his leading of this event. His primary initial comment was to say that the President has specifically instructed NTIA, RUS, and the FCC to work together, which is reflected in their conducting joint public meetings. Demanding these agencies coordinate their efforts is as essential as it is revolutionary. When during the stimulus debates I suggested a strategy of giving different agencies specific functions that interrelated with and in large part relied on this coordination I was scoffed at as being overly idealistic. So to know that we've now got a leader in the White House who's not letting "the way things are" get in the way of working towards "the way things can be" has me beside myself with excitement.

- The first speaker on the roundtable was Bernadette McGuire-Rivera, who seemed like precisely the kind of no-nonsense clear thinker we need running programs like this. She began by declaring that everyone can and should start working on their grant applications as soon as they walk out the door, though by the end of the event it was clear to me that that was meant more in terms of pulling together general information rather than filling out a specific application as there's still a lot of details to be worked out in the coming weeks. Interestingly she shared her belief that the act itself is very prescriptive in how the money's supposed to be spent, but I found that sentiment surprising given that no one I know has any real clue how the money's going to be spent.

She went on to discuss that there will be a series of public meetings to discuss definitional issues, and she referenced the questions they just put out requesting public comment on, which you can find here. These are both terrific ideas that I'm planning on participating heavily in, and I'm excited to do so as everyone on the stage seemed truly committed to a process of accepting outside input.

As she went through the amount of money they have for various things she mentioned "$350 million for roadband mapping and planning" - that last word is what caught my eye as I hadn't seen "planning" in the legislation. What I'm hoping that suggests is that some of this money can be used to pay for preplanning costs for communities to prepare themselves to get wired.

She went through tentative timelines of the first notice of funds availability being put out sometime between April and June, with two more NOFAs to follow. One more intriguing thing she said was that it's OK to apply for both the NTIA and RUS program. While there are rules against unjust enrichment and you can't ask for the money for the same parts from both agencies, they are encouraging creative ways of leveraging money from both funds. The other primary characteristics they're looking for in projects are will they improve broadband affordability, increase subscribership, and deliver the greatest speeds.

- Next to speak was David Villano from RUS. He started off with the observation that RUS has four programs for broadband but that this money represents a fifth program, which I was hopeful meant the possibility for reforming the way RUS does business. But after his presentation I couldn't help but feel like they're more interested in working through the systems they already have rather than revisiting how to improve them, which is troubling as everyone I know who's applied for an RUS loan or grant has horror stories to tell about a myriad of issues. Also frustrating was that while he alluded to the fact that they're authorized to use their in $2 billion in budget authority for grants, loans, and loan guarantees when he listed how they're planning on distributing it he only mentioned grants, loans, and grant/loans combinations, not loan guarantees. But later on when someone from the audience specifically asked about guarantees Villano did say that they were open to all ideas about how to make the guarantee program actually work. One other small nit to pick is that I didn't hear much of anything from RUS regarding how they're going to incorporate the rural broadband strategy report that the FCC is compiling into their decision-making.

- The last panelist was Scott Deutschman from the FCC. He spoke briefly, referencing that report on rural broadband that's due May 22nd, which they released a public notice seeking comment on today. They're particularly interested in recommendations for improving interagency coordination. He then said that this report will be a building block for a national broadband strategy. There's a short window to get comments in, though, as they're due by March 25th.

- Seifert introduced the public comments portion of the event by reiterating that this is not a lot of money and it should be thought of as a down payment, but that that's not a problem, that's the challenge and opportunity, how do we make the most of it and best position ourselves to spend more in the future?


Once we entered the public comment section of the event I wasn't able to catch everyone's name so instead I'll just hit the main points that were made:now we're in the public comment, which i didn't catch everyone's name who was asking questions so i'll instead just hit the main points that were made:

- Debbie Goldman from CWA made a comment that this needs to be all about creating jobs, but in particular sustainable jobs.

- "Will collaboration between multiple applicants be encouraged/welcomed over individual proposals?" Their response was that collaboration is encouraged and that it makes sense to aggregate demand but that this is not required. My personal opinion is that there most definitely will be strength in numbers. They also reiterated their desires to have projects creatively leverage funds from both NTIA and RUS. And later on in the event they framed what they're looking for this way, "We want the best projects you have to offer, whether that's individual or joint."

- "Will mapping show towers/buildings that are broadband enabled?" What exactly will be on the maps is still to be determined, though their goal is to be as granular as possible.

- One comment was made that this stimulus should be about deploying the best technology not dusting off old equipment that was never used, and that this is the time for truthfulness. Couldn't agree more: shysters stay home!

- One interest point brought up was how the purview of RUS vs. NTIA will interrelate in that RUS is about rural and NTIA about un/underserved. Hopefully with their encouraging joint applications this will open up the possibility of larger builds that hook up both rural and more urban areas.

- A suggestion was made that they should have a guarantee program that leverages the capital in local banks. While they encouraged leveraging other money in the stimulus and didn't dissuade this line of thinking, i would've liked to have seen them more affirming in their support of the concept of guarantees.

- NTIA mentioned that they're going to be hiring additional staff but that they'll also likely need to outsource some of the work to consultants. They don't know how many grants they're going to give out and also don't know if there should be a floor or ceiling to the amount. That's part of what they're looking for public comment on.

- Someone asked if satellite should be allowed to participate. The answer was that they didn't see any prohibition in the statues and are looking for public comment on it, though then they said that particularly in some unserved areas that satellite may be a very attractive option. That worries me just like anyone trying to push BPL. These are not forward-looking technologies. Now I should give satellite some benefit of the doubt; perhaps there are some situations where it would work better than wireless because of interference, but satellite should at best be the exception and not the rule - it just doesn't have enough bandwidth.

- One very interesting thread was a question about whether the NTIA would have time to meet with every state as they didn't guarantee that they would. Apparently they've had 2000 requests for individual meetings, which is why they're doing these public meetings. But what's most interesting about this is that I'd been hearing rumblings that they were going to punt the money to the states, yet now it sounds like the states are going to only have an advisory role at best. Of course much could change during the public comment period as everything seems in flux, but this was surprising to me to hear they may not even be able to meet with every state.

- Also in this thread was a question about whether broadband maps would be used to determine un/underserved. Their response was that this is still to be determined. I for one hope they don't use these maps unless the maps get a lot better as many of the ones I've seen aren't just inaccurate, they're wrong, like the Connected Minnesota maps where one area shown with multiple providers has none and another shown as unserved as an open access full fiber network. We can't base these important decisions on inaccurate data.

- Seifert touched on technology priorities, suggesting that there aren't any in the statues other than giving preference to those that offer the fastest speeds possible. He also suggested that they're looking for best bang for the buck, but then he turned again and said, "If we're planning about the future it needs to be expandable... if we're going to spend public dollars it should be on something that can be an investment for the future," which is very exciting to me as the best investment for the future is fiber.

- One point someone asked was what the "at least" before broadband demand means. Answer: they may spend more on demand. I sure hope so!

- Multiple people mentioned technological neutrality, but i think that's coming mostly from the people with inferior technology.

- NTIA boasted that it'll be easier for them to streamline their grant approval process as they don't have any legacy forms/rules and they know they have to get this money out quickly.

- Right now sole proprietorships are not eligible but they welcome public comment on that.

- They reiterated that these projects need to prove they would not be funded without grants, that that's a hard and fast rule that they will pay attention to.

- A question about the middle mile and backhaul and whether stimulus dollars could be applied to these areas. They responded that there isn't anything in there now about this but they'd love to hear more during public comment.


And that was the overarching theme of this whole meeting: there are still a lot of details to be worked out in a short period of time and these agencies are counting on we the public to step up and help them out with new ideas and insight.

So I encourage everyone with an opinion on these issues to make your voice heard. If you want help getting your voice above the noise, contact me and we can schedule a VidChat.

These are exciting times and I look forward to working with everyone to make the most out of this unprecedented opportunity to get America back on track towards its broadband future.

Lost amidst all this talk about broadband stimulus dollars is the fact that there are a number of rural broadband projects that are ready to move today.

Take Tim Nulty's ECFiber project, which was written up in the Wall Street Journal last week.

He's got 22 towns in rural Vermont all lined up to deploy a full fiber network to every last shack. They'd already be deploying if it wasn't for the credit crunch. So if they were to get the necessary capital or government support today, they could be hiring workers and turning dirt tomorrow, stimulating local economies and setting these communities up to be able to compete in the global economy long-term.

This is truly a shovel-ready project.

But this is also an example of what's wrong with how the broadband stimulus may be handled.

First off, as I've argued previously, to get the most done this year in terms of deployment a northern state like Vermont needs capital ASAP. Their build season only lasts until September or October if they're lucky. So if these government grants and loans don't get distributed until August, which is the best-case scenario I've heard so far, a project like Tim's won't have a chance to get much done this year before winter sets in.

Secondly, despite this being a project that's truly shovel-ready, that the communities have voted in support of, and that brings not just broadband but fiber to every home, there's no guarantee it will get any of the grants or loans that are available.

Now that the government trough's been slopped full of money, every community's trying to figure out how they can get in on the act, even those that may have not been thinking about broadband at all and likely still need many months to pull together the pieces necessary to get to the point where they can start deploying. In order to get a grant, the ECFiber project's going to have to cut through all this noise of other communities that may be more politically well-connected as well as the various industry competitors trying to claim that the money should go to support their broadband technologies of choice despite the fact that everyone agrees fiber is the best.

With all these competing interests potentially submitting applications that must be reviewed, vetted, and compared against each other, I can't help but worry that while these dollars are supposed to be about stimulating the economy and spurring deployment that instead we're going to get caught up in policy discussions that will slow down action from being taken, especially debates like what "underserved" actually means.

Because the thing to remember is that there are viable, shovel-ready projects that could be deploying to rural America today if they had the capital. So the sooner we can get them support, the sooner we can be stimulating the economy and getting communities connected to the digital economy.

Yesterday I had the good fortune to attend ITIF's event marking the release of their new report entitled "The Need for Speed" in which they lay out the case for how big broadband pipes can be used and why the status quo for broadband deployment won't get us where we need to go.

I highly recommend reading the report and watching the video of the event, both of which can be found here.

Here's a running diary of some of the impressions I jotted down while watching the presentation:

- Rob Atkinson kicked things off by admitting that it was harder to do this report than they initially thought going in. The reason? There aren't yet a ton of apps that require big broadband connectivity. But he then flipped this to argue that over the history of technology as new capacity becomes available we always have found ways to utilize it. And he thinks the same thing will happen with new apps that use big broadband. He finished this thought with the interesting statement that it's depressing if we think today's broadband Internet is as good as it gets.

- He continued on to suggest that a market-driven approach alone won't get us the big broadband we need as quickly as we want it because private operators don't realize all of the network externalities that the public receives from having these big pipes available. Because of this some form of government incentives/subsidies are needed, and that achieving big broadband everywhere is the goal the government should be shooting for.

- And as a quick anecdote highlighting that there's a lot of work to be done, Rob admitted that they'd originally wanted to do an HD videoconference at the event but they found it too difficult because of the lack of sufficient connectivity, despite us being located in the heart of our nation's capitol.

- Then Stephen Ezell, the report's author, took the stage. He then made a series of terrific points: 1. This connectivity will be woven into the fabric of our lives, 2. Without action now we'll fall further and further behind other nations, 3. We don't have enough bandwidth today to handle single applications like HD video and we need networks that can support simultaneous usage.

- He then went into the four transformative functions of big broadband networks: faster file transfers, video streaming, real-time collaboration, and improving all facets of society. I'll explore these in greater detail in future posts.

- One fascinating comment he made regarding how broadband can help green our economy is that the use of IT can replace the consumption of fossil fuels. While of course we all now how videoconferencing can replace the need for driving, this was the first time I'd heard someone equate IT with fossil fuel use so directly, and it's great way to put things.

- Next up was Jeffrey Campbell from Cisco. He urged people to look at the data, especially from a historical perspective. The introduction of broadband changed the way we use the Internet, just as the introduction of big broadband will shift the paradigm in new ways.

- Then he suggested we look at businesses to gauge the growing demand for bandwidth. Used to be corporate LANs were 1Mbps, then 10Mbps, then 100Mbps. The way he put it is that businesses don't invest in infrastructure like this unless there's a payoff, so they're obviously seeing the value in having big broadband connectivity.

- He hit the nail on the head when he said this need for more bandwidth is all about video. And I had to resist standing up to cheer with a loud, "Amen!" when he pointed out that better broadband is key to all of President Obama's priorities: jobs, education, healthcare, and the green economy.

- One very interesting point he made was that the reason most all of the big Internet companies (Google, Amazon, Yahoo, etc.) were started in the US is because we got the first generation of broadband first. Yet just because we're broadband leaders today doesn't mean we'll stay in that position tomorrow. As other countries get big broadband, they're going to get out ahead of us in creating the third generation of Internet applications, and that's a critically important economic development issue. This message in particular is one all of our policymakers need to hear: the future of our digital economy depends on getting big broadband pipes out there as quickly as possible so we can enable/empower our innovators.

- Cisco then demonstrated their Healthcare Interpreter Network. It's essentially a videoconferencing unit that ties into a network of interpreters across seemingly the entire spectrum of international languages, I think 170 in total. They're installing these units in hospitals so if patients come in who don't speak English, healthcare providers can still interact with them. It's a brilliant, practical use of videoconferencing that I hope we start seeing all across the country soon.

- The next speaker was Chris Vein, CIO for the city of San Francisco. Unfortunately my notes aren't as detailed for his remarks as I was too enthralled listening to him speak. Needless to say they're doing a ton of interesting things regarding overcoming the digital divide, and I'm planning on following up with him to try and get him on a VidChat to share all the details.

- But one point I did want to pull out from his comments was his frustration over an experience where local content creators came to him begging for a level of connectivity that they weren't able to get from private providers so they could run their business. He had a municipal network nearby that they could've used, but because of restrictions that only that network could only be used for non-profit purposes his hands were tied and the city risked losing a local business. It's unacceptable that we're hamstringing communities to not be able to fully utilize the resources at their disposal. We have to find a way to move past these short-sighted attempts to protect private providers in situations like this when it may mean hurting the public good to do so.

- The final speaker was John Windhausen of Telepoly. He highlighted how much of the innovation going on with big broadband is happening in educational and research settings. He then turned to the topic of stimulus dollars and pointed out that the key to determining how best to spend them will be the definition of "underserved" which is the most salient point of debate still to be resolved.

Final couple of thoughts:

- I asked the question of given the fact that we're going to have single applications that require 100Mbps+ within the next ten years and that all broadband investments should be thought of as long-term infrastructure, whether or not stimulus dollars should prioritize projects that deliver next-generation broadband over current broadband. And there was general agreement, though Rob suggested that we need to maintain a stance of technological neutrality, which I take some issue with given that not all broadband technologies can deliver next-generation speeds. But at least it seemed like most of the people on the panel would agree that money would be better spent on something like fiber vs. something like BPL.

- Jim Baller, chairman of the US Broadband Coalition, asked where the 50Mbps number that's cited as next-generation broadband came from and whether it's the near-term or long-term goal we should be aiming for. Rob's response was that he kept the number at 50Mbps to try and be more pragmatic than going all the way to 100Mbps or beyond, but then he also admitted that the amount of bandwidth we need will continue to evolve and grow over time. So I took that to mean that 50Mbps is the floor, not the ceiling.

This morning I got a note from Craig Settles about legislation that was just introduced in Pennsylvania to outlaw basically all forms of municipal networks that compete with private providers. You can find the full text of the bill here.

Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of balancing public vs. private interests with regards to municipal networks, I find the timing of this attempt incredibly tone deaf in light of President Obama's economic stimulus package and potentially harmful to the state of Pennsylvania.

In that legislation, the NTIA is specifically encouraged to reward grants to everyone but private-only networks. While not shut out entirely, in order for a private-only network to get a grant they'll need a special waiver. What this all highlights is that our new administration and this Congress want these grants to go to some flavor of municipal networks.

Now, NTIA has the right to not follow those desires and instead make it easy for private companies to get waivers, but so long as there are enough viable municipal projects, I don't think that's likely to happen.

So where does this leave Pennsylvania?

On the one hand, in the legislative language is a mandate that every state get at least one grant, so even if this state ban on municipal networks were to pass Pennsylvania will likely get a grant of some kind.

But at the same time, I think there will likely be money left over after every state gets their one grant, and at that point the money won't necessarily be divvied up evenly among all of them. Instead it should go to whatever projects are ready to move and that deliver the most public good and adhere most closely to the NTIA's requirements.

Once NTIA reaches this point, I can't see the NTIA granting much in the way of waivers for private projects, again presuming there are enough good public projects to fund.

So what this all means is that by outlawing municipal networks Pennsylvania--and any other state that wants to do this--is basically saying that they don't want to get the most broadband stimulus dollars possible for their constituents. They're saying that it's more important to pursue protectionist policies that put private interests over public.

While I can respect the desire to not have government trying to put private enterprise out of business, I can't understand the value of hamstringing the ability of rural communities, where the private market isn't working to deliver them the connectivity they need, with new laws that will disadvantage them relative to rural communities in other states without these laws in going after these competitive grants.

This isn't an issue of whether or not municipal networks are good or bad. This is about whether or not the state of Pennsylvania wants its unserved and underserved communities to get the most federal support possible, or if they'd rather just maintain the status quo and pass on this opportunity to take a big step into their digital future.

One major unresolved issue regarding the NTIA broadband grants is what role states will play in determining who gets those government dollars.

According to the legislation, NTIA is supposed to seek out and consider states' advice about which projects should be prioritized, but there's no mandate that they have to follow those recommendations.

According to the latest scuttlebutt I've heard, because of the overwhelming wave of applications about to come crashing down on NTIA they're leaning towards shifting the responsibilities of making these decisions on who gets what to the states.

But before we go any further we need to answer the question: is it a good idea to have states making these decisions?

In theory, yes. It makes sense that states would have a better feel for where the greatest need is and who the best entities are to partner with to get the job done.

But in reality there's a lot more complexity to this question.

For one, some states are more advanced in their understanding of their current state of broadband and what their goals for the future should be. On the flipside, some states are behind the curve on this and may not be in a position to make the right decisions quickly.

Two, even those states that are more progressive in putting together a plan I have questions about their ability to come to a consensus among all the interest groups. The simple truth is that despite the best intentions of initiatives like the Minnesota Ultra High Speed Broadband Taskforce to bring all the stakeholders together around the same table, when push comes to shove they all want the money for their own communities or companies, so how can they ever come to agreement on who should get it and who shouldn't?

Three, the decisions states ultimately make will likely be most influenced by those communities that are the most politically connected at the state level and those companies that have the biggest lobbying presences. In other words, these limited funds won't necessarily go to the projects that are most shovel-ready and that provide the most public benefit in the short and long-term, which is supposed to be the point of the stimulus.

For these reasons I can't help but think that there needs to be a federal role in deciding which projects to fund so that this money goes to the best, most ready projects not those with the best PR and political connections.

But at the same time I completely understand why NTIA might pass these decisions off to states. Ohio alone is claiming it has 250 projects ready to start deploying within 6 months. Extrapolate that across the nation and that means there's going to be thousands, if not tens of thousands, of projects to vet and compare the relative merits of. That's going to require an ungodly amount of work, which NTIA doesn't currently have enough staff to handle, and a lot of hard decisions to be made, which NTIA doesn't yet have a leader officially in place to make yet.

So where does that leave us? At a bit of an impasse, with neither the states nor NTIA alone offering a clear path for success in getting this money into the right projects in a timely fashion.

So what should we do? Let me propose a potential middle ground.

Let's divvy up the money among the states based on population, area, number of unserved homes, or some combination thereof. Then cut that number in half.

With one half have the states submit their top project(s) for fast-track funding. As soon as they decide who should get it, just do a quick review of the project to make sure it qualifies and then write the check.

Then with the other half let's have the NTIA go through the process of accepting, reviewing, and rewarding applications, but do so with a bias towards larger projects that not only connect a lot of people but also lay the groundwork for future network expansions. And approve them as they come in and are vetted rather than waiting to compare all applicants.

In this way every state can get its grant and we can get a lot of projects moving as quickly as states are able to come to agreement on which to fund, plus we can make sure we're rewarding progressive states, communities, and projects rather than just those that are most well-connected politically at the state level. And in doing this we can create competition between projects not just in a state but between states to help insure these dollars are being spent in the best way possible.

Just as it may not be feasible for NTIA to do this all on their own, I'm also not a fan of them punting on these decisions and putting all the responsibility for decision-making on the states. We need to find a way to leverage all of the tools at our disposal to not just get this money out quickly but also correctly.

Is San Francisco Underserved?

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Last week I grabbed lunch at the fabulous Black Market Bistro in Kensington, MD with the even more fantabulous Joanne Hovis of Columbia Telecommunications Corporation. She and her team consults with cities wanting to take control of their own broadband future.

While our conversation was far-reaching and exhilarating throughout, towards the end we got onto a particularly interesting subject: does a city like San Francisco count as "underserved"?

My first reaction was to guffaw and say no, San Francisco is not going to be getting any broadband stimulus dollars. I just didn't think a big city like that was what our policymakers had in mind when they crafted this legislation.

But then Joanne shared something interesting: apparently the fastest upload speeds SF residents can get from their cable provider on a standalone Internet package is 384Kbps. They can get up to 768Kbps if they bundle Internet with other services, but if all you want is Internet 384Kbps upstream and 6Mbps downstream is all you can get.

Now I should say that I'm not gnashing my teeth over 6Mbps being the ceiling on the download side as while I'd like it to be higher it's not horrible. And we should also note that DSL service is available in the area, though only plain old vanilla DSL.

But even still, I have to admit I found this rather shocking. 384Kbps is pathetic. Barely enough to do one low quality videocall, and over a pipe that big it'd take hours to upload files of any meaningful size.

This hit home especially hard for me as I'm on a non-bundled, non-DOCSIS 3.0 cable connection because it's the fastest I can get in DC, and I've begun uploading bigger files more regularly like the VidChats, so I can't imagine my only option being 384Kbps upstream on cable or only getting 1-2Mbps on DSL.

Even more mind-boggling is that this is San Francisco. Isn't that area supposed to be the hotbed of development for broadband applications? How is it that a city that's not only a major metropolitan but a hub for application developers could have such crappy connectivity?

And then back to the original question: does this mean San Francisco should qualify as "underserved" and therefore be eligible to apply for stimulus dollars?

The more I think about it the more I have to say, "Yes!"

Just because a community has multiple providers of 768Kbps service doesn't mean that it's well-served. In fact, I'm pretty sure other countries would laugh at that idea as it's pretty absurd in this day and age of two-way high quality online video.

This also highlights how just because a speed is offered in a community doesn't mean everyone can utilize it as I have to admit as someone who's cut their cable TV cord it's hard to swallow the idea that I'm going to be relegated to a lesser broadband service.

And the fact that the city that's supposedly the hotbed of activity for developing next generation online experiences is stuck back in the 20th century in terms of broadband speeds is both depressing and disturbing, highlighting the reality that we do face a broadband crisis in this country.

Of course there are many communities where this isn't a problem, where both fiber and DOCSIS 3.0 cable are available offering speeds of 10Mbps symmetrical and beyond.

But as we move forward with determining where to spend the broadband stimulus dollars to support underserved areas, let's not assume that that only means the most rural areas and urban poor. Just as we can't afford to leave rural America behind, we can't ignore the plight of cities like San Francisco that while not unserved definitely count as underserved in my book.

Why I Love Broadband On Snowy Days

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Well the snow has stopped in DC leaving it a winter wonderland and reminding me of why I love broadband.

This morning my wife asked me to drive her to work and I tried to oblige only to be foiled by a short span of inclined and snow-slicked driveway that refused to let my car up it. It got me thinking about the mess that other roads and highways must be, especially in this part of the country where drivers seem to lose all sense when snow hits the ground.

After shivering at the thought of having to suffer through a white-knuckled experience like that I thanked my lucky stars for the luxury of working from home and made my way back up to my warm apartment.

Once back at my computer I began thinking about how fortunate I am to have broadband and therefore access to the rest of the world without having to brave this inclement weather. I tend to have these feelings every day given the shortness of my commute, but they become especially acute when it's ugly outside.

But then my thoughts turned to my wife trudging through the snow to work alongside the thousands of people stuck in traffic, and it made me wish we lived in a day where more people could have the option of working from home in situations like this.

Wouldn't it be great if staying home when the weather's bad were standard operating procedure?

Take my wife's job, for example. She's an office engineer working for a general contractor renovating the DC Court of Appeals. Her current responsibilities primarily consist of compiling and negotiating change orders. That means reviewing documents, contacting subcontractors, running numbers, and communicating with the owner's reps.

None of these things require face-to-face communication. But because her company doesn't have a VPN system setup that she can use to login to company databases remotely, she can't effectively work from home. Also, a lot of their drawings and plans are only available in paper copy, so again she's tied to having to go into the office.

Yet it doesn't have to be this way. In fact, I'd argue anyone who has an office job where the majority of their work is done with paper or on the computer or phone should have the freedom and flexibility to work from home, maybe not all the time but at least on days like today where everyone would be better off with fewer people on the road.

Snowy days make me appreciate how broadband enables me to work from home, but at the same time it frustrates me that more people aren't able to realize the benefits that this technology has to offer.

Hopefully some day soon we can change that, if for no other reason than my sweetie can stay home every once in a while without being sick or on vacation.

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