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September 15, 2009 11:55 PM

An Open Apology To Public Interest Broadband Advocates

Yesterday I called out America for its do-nothing attitude towards broadband policy, criticizing both those that'd rather see little done and may fight against progress, as well as those that aspire to achieve great progress but often don't have specific plans for reaching their goals.

My criticism of public interest broadband advocates was swiftly denounced and refuted by a series of comments, which forced me to reconsider what I'd wrote and thereby realize that I'd made a big mistake.

Namely, I forgot to acknowledge the tremendous amount of great things being done by community broadband activists across this country today on a whole range of issues, from protecting consumers, to spurring adoption and use, to getting the networks we need built. Not to mention the many good ideas that have fallen by the wayside over the years as America failed to realize the importance of having a national broadband strategy.

I cannot state strongly enough how much I appreciate, admire, and aspire to emulate the many public interest broadband advocates that have been working tirelessly for years on these issues that I'll admit to being a relative neophyte on.

I've been fortunate enough to meet, work with, and get to know many of these advocates, so I absolutely know how strong and productive the public interest community can be.

And yet because I do consider myself a member of the public interest community and am someone who believes in making strong considerations to protect the public interest in broadband policymaking, I feel obligated to speak out when something's askew.

The point I was trying to make in my last post is that even though great, actionable work has been done for years by advocates for the preservation of the public interest in broadband policies, there is a rampant perception that those wanting to set more aspirational goals for broadband policy rarely have the data to justify those goals nor the plans for how to achieve them.

I'm not just talking about incumbents, nor just politicians predisposed to favor corporate over community interests. I've heard this from government officials who intuitively think that what we're asking for is right, but now need help coming up with a specific plan for how to achieve them. Because a national broadband plan can't just be a bunch of aspirational goals; it needs to be a spur to get Congress and other government agencies to take specific action to get us moving forward faster into a better broadband tomorrow.

On the one hand, this is really screwy and scary. Even our friends think they can't work with us, and that we're too divorced from reality.

But on the other hand this is a really exciting and tantalizing state of affairs as the public interest community is finally in a position of strength after years of neglect.

The key now is that we don't get stuck espousing the need to do big things and overlook the need to lay out how we can achieve those big goals. Because if we can come together around a data-driven, well-thought-out plan and unite our voices behind it, I do believe that we can accomplish our common goals, namely that the public's interests be not just protected but celebrated in our national broadband plan.

So I hope now with this explanation of the intent of my post yesterday public interest broadband advocates can see that its purpose wasn't wasn't to call out but to call to action, wasn't to tear down but to constructively criticize.

And to anyone who read my last post and took offense as a member of or on behalf of the public interest community, please accept my sincerest apologies. I've learned from this experience and will never again discount the great work being done by public interest broadband advocates across this country.

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Comments (3)

Geoff- from one person, apology accepted. I wonder if part of the problem is that many of us have very clear plans that would be implemented in a world where telecom money did not sway so fiercely the realm of the likely.

However, the plans that many of us advance are politically unpalatable because those who must enact them will also have to raise lots of money for reelection, which makes them at least listen to the sky-is-falling protestations of telecom lobbyists.

I think this is the real problem, the difficulty of us breaking through the FUD of those currently profiting handsomely (and Charter too)... and that seems to be much harder than developing a concrete set of steps to move broadband in America forward.

Posted by christopher mitchell on September 16, 2009 5:06 PM

I believe that at the core of your argument the main issue is - we're hosed as a countrry.

I just got back from DC and met with people to discuss broadband...

A) the FCC's workshops have failded to discuss primary issues --for example, no one mentioned whether we should be reopening he networks to competition -- I don't mean 'open' like net neutrality, I mean actually having competition

No one discussed reversing the previous FCC decision to block line sharing, or wholesale rates or even more concrete actions such as a second divestiture or structural separation.

Forget implimentation. They're not even being discussed.

b) the entire discussion has lots of astroturf groups who are not being questioned about funding sources --for example, Scott Wallsten, the person who has been made “economics director of the broadband task force, which is charged with developing the U.S. national broadband plan.” has been working for groups that are all funded by the phone companies -- and that part doesn't seem to be mentioned in his resume --- According to an article from Open left, Wallsten has spent the last five years at three different “coin-operated think tanks”, http://www.openleft.com/diary/14837/fcc-hires-industry-shill-to-develop-us-national-broadband-plan

And then we have funding of broadband and accountability. We called for a new broadband workshop called "Follow the Broadband money" -- Why, because essentially the Bell companies have been able to charge customers to fund fiber by adding additional charges to phone bills. We've estimated that they've already collected $300 billion

and it continues today. The NY state commission in june 2009 said --

"We are always concerned about the impacts on ratepayers of any rate increase, especially in times of economic stress," said Commission Chairman Garry Brown. ‘Nevertheless, there are certain increases in Verizon's costs that have to be recognized. This is especially important given the magnitude of the company's capital investment program, including its massive deployment of fiber optics in New York. We encourage Verizon to make appropriate investments in New York, and these minor rate increases will allow those investments to continue’."

The money was supposed to be going to upgrade the utility, the PSTN, not a competitive product that is not open to competition nor going to everyone's home -- which is what was already committed to under state laws. -- everyone pays everyone gets wired.

We put this together as a summary --

So, regardless of which side you're on, America is essentially taking the path of -- let's not confront AT&T;, Verizon et al. Let's not stop astroturfing, let's not reopen the networks or even discuss it -- ie, business as usual so far.

and from my discussions in DC, this is not going to change...

Is blair levin talking out of both sides of his mouth? There's lots of evidence that its broken, there's lots of people giving the FCC info, but I have yet to hear about serious changes at the FCC.

And when I say broken -- Today, in hong kong, korea, france, etc. there's 100 mbps services being offered for the cost of broadband.

Today, AT&T; and Verizon combined have only 4 million upgraded TV homes out of 117 million homes... AT&T; controls 22 states and it's product is still based on copper and can't do seriously high speeds --- and that's 1/2 of the US --- and no one is discussing fixing that except throwing more money at the incumbents.

We don't need more money. We need someone to actually audit the books, there's plenty of money -- just no one who's willing to actually deal with the situation.

Bruce Kushnick, New Networks Institute.

Posted by Bruce Kushnick on September 16, 2009 7:14 PM

Chris Mitchell says it all. Public Interest Advocates have been working more than diligently to increase broadband access and subscriptions. The problem is the incumbents have extraordinary sums of money to devote not only to political campaigns but to every day politicking of our elected officials (it's their job versus many public interest advocates who have to work in other areas for a living.) We're totally outgunned. And BTW, Public interest Advocates aren't against companies making a profit, but when the marketplace is broken (wide-spread monopoly entrenchment, failure to respond to consumer need), it's time for government to step in, especially when it's for the deployment of an infrastructure that the world now accepts as an essential service -- REAL broadband. When those same government officials are dependent on private sector contributions for their jobs, well......you finish the sentence.

Posted by KatyB on September 17, 2009 10:19 AM

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