Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Telecom Bill Senate Vote... From IL?

I finally got to ask a Senator how he would vote on the telecom rewrite bill in the Senate (Communications, Consumers Choice & Broadband Deployment Act of 2006) and I got the answer I wanted. Here's the crazy part... He was not from Ohio. And he happens to be the one of the most popular senators in decades - Barack Obama. I'm telling you, it was like getting a few minutes with a rock star, people are crazy about this guy. Here is my story...

I was invited to sit at Barack Obama's Blogger's table at the Ohio Democratic Party 2006 State Dinner (yes, Obama actually sponsored a blogger's table at the dinner for which he was the keynote speaker). You can make whatever suppositions you would like to about what this means :-) but at face value it conveys the obvious --- that Obama is a blogger and understands the power of blogs. And what it told us, up close, is that all the hype is for a reason. He is charismatic, intelligent and down to earth. He actually has a tongue in cheek letter to Stephen Colbert on his website.

The ten of us at the bloggers table received 15 minutes of Obama's time. As soon as he sat down our table was immediately swarmed. Our questions and discussion was interrupted continually by "fans" wanting his autograph (I kid you not). And there was a rotation of people standing behind him getting their picture taken of them with/near Obama while he was speaking with us. It was a circus.

Most of our 15 minutes was spent dicussing the intersection of blogging and politics. The other bloggers detailed the conversation in their blogs Redhorse, Chris Baker, YellowDogSammy, Cindy Zawadski, Eric Vessels, Scott Piepho, Jill Miller Zimon and Buckeye State Blog . I wanted to discuss the multiple issues within the telecom bill but knew I could not because of the time constraint so I went with the question of "Are you familar with the telecom rewrite bill?" Obama responded with "I support Net Neutrality". I asked "How will you vote on the bill in the Senate?" He responded again with a statement about supporting net neutrality. I pressed again. He stated he would vote against the bill. Mission accomplished. Four hours at the dinner for 15 circus minutes and this one question. What a night.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Ohio Digital Divide Working Group Policy Positions

In the midst of the telecom bill's rewrite, what do we hear a lot? A lot on net neutrality. A little on PEG funds. And tiny clips on local control and build out (mostly from the National League of Cities) In Ohio, we believe we need to confront the telecom bill on all of these fronts while also proactively looking for solutions.

Below are the Ohio Digital Divide Working Group’s positions in response to the rewrite of the proposed federal telecom bill, the impending federal farm bill and the state owned fiber network in Ohio.

Rewrite of Federal Telecom Bill

  1. Require telecoms to build out video services equitably just as the cable companies did when they first established service.
  2. Include strong network neutrality language.
  3. Include a community’s right to network, with no mandates requiring pre-approval from the incumbent provider.
  4. Include a state’s right to open their state owned fiber network to private ISPs, municipalities and community organizations.
  5. Establish new source of community technology funding since local franchise negotiating is being removed.
    • Possible ideas -
      1. Provide Digital Inclusion funding via the Universal Service Fund (would most likely require additional moneys go to the fund)
      2. In addition to the set asides for the local governments and PEG, cable and telecom providers would also set aside 1% of revenue for local Digital Inclusion programs.

Expansion of Rural Broadband through Federal Legislation

1. Utilize the Universal Service Fund for increased rural broadband deployment (which may require increasing the funding USF receives);

2. Within the farm bill, improve the USDA Rural Telecom Program which is currently too cumbersome and reliant upon matching funds resulting in discouraging applicants from applying.

3. Within the farm bill, expand funding for the USDA Rural Telecom Program.

Within Ohio

1. Open up the Third Frontier Network (a state owned fiber network) to private ISPs, municipalities and community organizations to expand rural broadband to unserved areas.