Thursday, April 27, 2006

Ted, maybe a yes vote was not the best idea...

On April 26, 2006 Bill Callahan posted ...
The entire "COPE Act", essentially unchanged from what the subcommittee marked up two weeks ago, was just approved by the full Energy and Commerce Committee 42 to 12. Eleven Democrats and one Republican voted against it.

Rep. Sherrod Brown and Rep. Ted Strickland voted for the final bill.

Yes,the bill that effectively wipes out community oversight of the cable industry. The bill that will allow nationally franchised video/Internet providers to redline neighborhoods and create "tiers" of Internet service. The bill that undermines net neutrality and threatens to "end the Internet as we know it." That bill. They voted "yes".
Both Brown and Strickland did vote for the amendment that would strengthen the net neutrality portion of the bill but it got voted down.

Am I surprised they both voted for the COPE Act (ie telecom bill)? Yes about Strickland. No about Brown. Getting face time with a congressman/gubernatorial candidate is not easy. It does not seem that Brown's staff gets the issues in the telecom bill so no, I am not surprised. But Strickland? We chat with his office staff. We chat with his campaign staff. They get the issues we bring to them. His broadband platform is good. Really smart people worked on it.. I know because I was there. So what happened? Most likely the telcos is what happened. Very unfortunate. I was recently told "ah the telcos aren't that powerful... politicians have constituants to worry about". Really? Hmmm, anybody tell Strickland?

When Bill Callahan asked Ted Strickland for a response to why he voted for the telecom bill this is what he got...
---------- Forwarded Message ----------
"On Wednesday, I voted for an amendment to the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Efficiency Act of 2006 (COPE) to ensure "net neutrality" which ultimately failed. I also voted for the final version of the COPE Act in committee.

"My vote for the COPE Act was an effort to facilitate competition in the video market so that consumers have more choices and can benefit from lower cable prices. This bill, despite the regrettable exclusion of net neutrality language, will provide consumers with choices and savings that were, to this point, very difficult to realize under current guidelines.

"I continue to strongly support efforts to ensure net neutrality, and would stand with any effort to ensure fair and comprehensive access to the internet. There is still time to fight and win this battle, and I will be a voice on the front lines fighting to preserve equal access to the internet for all consumers and content providers."

Jesse Taylor
Director of Online Communications
Strickland for Governor

What's missing? The explanation on how the telecom bill is actually going to support Strickland's ideas on broadband expansion in Ohio. Oh, wait that explanation doesn't exist. The bill does nothing of the sort. The bill is about competition, not expansion to underserved areas. Strickland responded to the net neutrality issue but not the build out issue.

There is a huge backlash from the bloggers in Ohio on this issue. Here are some...
The Plain Dealer's "Tech Link" blog

Callahan's Cleveland Diary

Defend Your Voice

Have Coffee Will Write

Ohio 2nd Blog

Brewed Fresh Daily

Buckeye State Blog

Word of Mouth

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The OH Senators Broadband Week

Last week turned into broadband week for Ohio Senators Mike DeWine and George Voinovich. Each held events highlighting federal broadband programs. DeWine's event on April 18 was billed as a broadband conference. I'd say it was more of a "how to apply for USDA Rural Development broadband loans and grants".

Two interesting things were said at the "Broadband Conference" (yes, only two). They came from Dave Matusoff from WhiteBoard Broadband Solutions and David Barber of the Ohio Board of Regents.

1.) Dave Matusoff thinks we’ll hear a sucking sound as all development of fiber takes place in first tier locations – which in his opinion are not rural areas. He expects this will likely create a new digital divide (hmmm, that sounds familar...). He suggests rural communities will need to advocate for themselves on the broadband front.

2) David Barber from the Third Frontier Network basically offered the Third Frontier Network as a launching point for municipal and community broadband projects. The Third Frontier Network is a fiber network that connects Ohio's universities and colleges. He was careful to note this is a “draft policy”. Presumably a formal policy requires a formal blessing from state leadership. I assume this will require an administration change. But its good that the Third Frontier staff realize the potential for the network. I'm told the network is currently being used at 3% capacity and that 3% is a high estimate. The Ohio Digital Divide Working Group supports the use of the Third Frontier Network to expand broadband access in Ohio. Hmm, use of a state owned resource to increase access to information? A more educated populace? Novel. Now we just need to talk the state's leadership into the idea.

Voinivich's event was a congressional field hearing for the Appalachian Regional Commission on April 20. The Marietta Times covered the story. Dave Matusoff was a busy guy this week. He spoke at both events. His ARC testimony is on his home page. Guess he's turned into the Ohio Broadband Guru. He also worked on the Strickland Broadband Platform. Maybe that title should be Bipartisan Ohio Broadband Guru.

I also testified at the ARC field hearing. My testimony talks about the importance of Community Technology Centers and broadband access in Appalachia. I made sure to throw in a statement about the digital divide not being closed. A few folks who have never visited a Community Technology Center seem to think the digital divide is a non-issue these days. I figured this was an opportunity to explain lack of technology access and training, what it means and provide suggestions for solving the problem. I also added a few statements about equitable build out in the context of national franchising and the importance of not stifling municipal networks. Hey, how many chances does a person get to provide congressional testimony?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

How Do We Get to Ubiquitous Broadband?

I attended a Municipal Wifi Forum today at the OSU College of Law. It was targeted toward students but thanks to Casey Lide tipping me off I was able to attend. There were 2 speakers, both past OSU Law grads... Casey Lide of the Baller Herbst Law Group and Andy Emerson of Porter Wright. Background is that Casey has represented municipalities in wifi and fiber to the home initiatives while Andy has represented AT&T. Important to note that at the beginning of his presentation, Casey suggested the discussion not be limited to wifi but also include fiber to the home.

OK, most important piece of the discussion to me... broadband roll out ... who gets it... who doesn't. Casey suggested one reason for municipalies to get involved in wifi/fiber deployment is since they are governments, they cannot cherry pick which neighborhoods will receive the service. Municipal broadband serves all, not just the wealthy areas. This is in contrast to telecoms who do redline in order to maximize profit. Casey refered to the now infamous SBC slide that states SBC's Project Lightspeed (think video capabilities) will cover nearly 90% of the high value customers, 70% of medium value customers and 5% of low value customers. During his presentation Casey said that AT&T/SBC has now backed off of this. I don't know if this means they have changed their plan or if they are just not talking about it. I'm familar with the slide as I referenced it in my testimony to the Public Utilities Commision of Ohio in the AT&T/SBC Merger Case. Ah, don't get me started on what a high value or medium value custumer is or isn't...

So, what was Andy's response? Investors. We must keep the investors happy. He did say that after the initial investment was covered by targeting the high profit areas first, AT&T would then expand the network. That they are committed to serving they entire community. But really, what would make them do this on their own? If there is no regulation would a company beholden to investors willingly give up profits in order to do the right thing, to expand the network to less profitable neighborhoods? When it recognized that the telephone was becoming a necessary part of modern life, government stepped in to ensure telephone lines were available everywhere. If left to the telephone companies to get around to all neighborhoods, do we really think folks in Appalachia would have phone lines today? We cannot rely on the goodwill of the ISPs. Broadband is too important.

The ISPs are part of the solution. But so also are municipal networks, community networks, state and federal investment, and utilization of state owned networks. If we truly want low cost broadband available everywhere we need to be welcoming all networks into the mix as additonal competition. We're a capitalist society. We love competition.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

ARC Regional Field Hearing

As noted in my previous blog, Senator Voinovich is holding a regional hearing on the Appalachian Regional Commission. Unlike the DeWine Broadband event, the ARC hearing seems to have no online posting regarding its existence. Well, it does now. The time of the event has changed a couple of times but I am told it is nailed down now.

I should note that I am a supporter of ARC. They understand the importance of community technology and broadband access. That alone makes them easier to work with than most government agencies. I did warn the Voinovich staffer that I would proclaim the wonders of ARC but follow it up with how much work is still to be done. Fortunately she did not have a problem with that :-)

Appalachian Regional Commission Reauthorization Field Hearing

Date: Thursday, April 20, 2006

From: 10:00 am – 12:00 pm

Location: Washington State Community College

Graham Auditorium

710 Colegate Drive

Marietta, Ohio 45750


Panel 1: Federal, state, and regional leadership perspectives

Anne Pope, Federal Co-Chair, Appalachian Regional Commission

T.J. Justice, Director, Governor’s Office of Appalachia

Don Myers, Director, Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association

Panel 2: Telecommunications Progress Panel

David Matusoff, Principal and Director of Technology Planning, Whiteboard Broadband Solutions

Gary Little, President and CEO, Information Technology Alliance of Appalachian Ohio

Dr. David Scholl, President and CEO, Diagnostic Hybrids, Inc.

Angela Stuber, Executive Director, Ohio Community Computing Network and President of the National Association of Community Technology Centers

Panel 3: Water Infrastructure Progress Panel

Jeff Hughes, Director, Environmental Finance Center, University of North Carolina at

Chapel Hill

Steve Grossman, Executive Director, Ohio Water Development Authority

Ken Reed, Director, Vinton County Community and Economic Development

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Broadband is the hot issue these days. Everyone seems to agree that broadband is important. Where they differ is on who needs broadband and how to pay for the rollout. When the Ohio Digital Divide Working Group met with a representative of Ken Blackwell's campaign, we found their stance is that broadband is important to businesses. We think it's important to businesses and residents. This is a common difference in philosophy - focus on the business aspect, focus on the citizens or spend the extra time and focus on both. I think Ted Strickland got it right. Hmm, wait, is that the one we were involved with? Important note - we'll provide input to anyone's broadband platform - just ask us.

We seem to be seeing the issue pop up more and more. Good evidence is the two federal events happening in Ohio in a few weeks.
1.) Sen. Mike DeWine and the USDA Rural Development are hosting a Broadband and Telecommunications Financing Conference.
2.) Sen. George Voinovich is holding a field hearing on the Appalachian Regional Commission, about half of which will focus on their telecommunications initiatives.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Public Policy... Who... Us?

Why public policy? Why not just continue doing the work OCCN has done in the past? Provide support to Community Technology Centers in Ohio via our annual conference, VISTA Program, advice to existing and start up CTCs, peer networking, etc. Why not? Two Reasons:

1.) Because our membership told us what they need most is funding. And how else to establish permanent funding for community technology than through the government?

2.) Because digital equity is not only about Community Technology Centers. In June the OCCN membership decided to broaden OCCN's mission to include all community technology issues. We are now working on "full participation in a digital world".

Access to technology includes affordable ubiquitous access to broadband. How would one realistically expect to achieve this goal if not through involvement in public policy?

So what is the story? How did we go from providing services to public policy activists? It was not an automatic process. We stumbled around. OCCN started with state legislators. We got nowhere fast. And then a few big telecoms decided to merge. AT&T with SBC and Verizon with MCI. I got a call asking if I wanted to get involved in the PUCO hearings regarding these two mergers because I was now an “expert”. Really??? Hmmm, so then the question was… if I provided testimony this would reflect upon OCCN and any hope we had of future support from the telecoms would be gone. Were they doing anything for Community Technology Centers currently? No. Was getting involved the right thing to do? Yes. If folks on the ground do not speak up then those with expense accounts and golf buddies will control public policy. I provided testimony and I recruited others to provide testimony. Did we end up with any funding for Community Technology Centers? No. But what we did end up with was recognition. Locally and nationally. Hmm, we appear to have entered the public policy realm.

Next step? Do something with the momentum we had built among the partners involved in providing testimony to the PUCO. We decided to form the Ohio Digital Divide Working Group. We recruited additional partners. We set goals and objectives – not a quick task with lots of partner organizations. Goals:

1) Increase state support for technology training and access services for disadvantaged households being provided by Community Technology Programs throughout Ohio.

2) Make broadband Internet services available and affordable for home and small business users in every part of Ohio.

And then we decided the gubernatorial election was our best shot at getting something done. Nobody was more astounded than us when we ended up helping with the Strickland Broadband Platform which includes $5 million for Community Technology Centers. Still working with the Republican candidates. I’ll keep you posted.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A Tiered Internet ... The New Digital Divide

During the National Community Wifi Summit this past weekend we discussed the Telecom Bill quite a bit. Bill Callahan has a good summary on his blog. Jeff Chester has a more in depth analysis on his Digital Destiny blog.

An important piece of the bill is Net Neutrality. For those of us in the community technology arena, an important question is... Why should we care about Net Neutrality? To get there one must start with what Net Neutrality is all about. In its simplest terms, Net Neutrality is about keeping content on the Internet equal; that is not having one site delivered faster than another site because they happened to have a business arrangement with an Internet provider (most likely by having transacted large sums of cash).

If this "pay to play" is legislated, our Internet service will be tiered like our cable and we will have created a new Digital Divide. I have enough work trying to bridge the current Digital Divide… a tiered Internet will keep even more folks from accessing portions of the "Information Superhighway". Oh wait, there’s more… it will not only create inequal access from the consumer side but also make new business entry to the Internet more difficult. ‘Cause we know most new small businesses will not have the funds to “pay to play”. E-commerce is providing folks from all arenas an equal business opportunity, including folks with disabilities. Withdrawing that level playing fields just to boost bottom line of the Internet providers seems anti-economic development and downright Un-American.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Broadband & Internet Public Policy

It seems I am continually talking about public policy these days. I am in St. Charles, IL at the National Summit for Community Wireless Networks and it happened again. I thought I would only be soaking up wireless info. I ended up talking about the broadband & digital literacy public policy work we are doing in OH and discussing how to connect our efforts to national efforts. Excellent.

When one is at a Community Wifi Summit, what public policy topics does one actually discuss? Network Neutrality (we’re for it), National Franchising (we’re not for it), Legal restrictions on municipal networks (we’re against the restrictions). Why these issues at a wifi conference? Because they effect broadband deployment. Wifi is one method of broadband deployment. And considering the “its not profitable” argument from the larger broadband providers (telecoms and cable), wifi cannot be ignored. Municipal and community wifi networks are created in rural areas because they do not have a multitude of broadband choices. An excellent example of a community wifi in Ohio is in Chesterhill. The three issues above are in the 2006 Telecom Bill which is currently in committee.

So, how did this national group of wifi techies and advocates decide to cohesively take action regarding telecom and Internet public policy?

  1. We asked the national coalition of media advocates to create a list of talking points and how they relate to the telecom bill. We asked for this list to help us when we reach out to speak to legislators.
  2. We contact our local legislators.
  3. Utilize the Social Text website to share info on broadband projects in each state.
  4. Create a network of bloggers concerned with telecom and media access issues. Coordinate biweekly online forums to provide the bloggers with an opportunity to get up to date information from telecom and media access experts.
  5. Create a council of Regional Organizers around the broad issue of Information Communication Technology which includes broadband, Internet use and digital literacy.