What should be America's national broadband strategy?

by: Dick Durbin

Sun Jul 22, 2007 at 13:06

(This diary will remain at the top of the page for the next day. New content will continue to appear below. For example, check out Jenifer Fernandez Ancona's The Role of Candidates in Movement-Building, and Matt's Why Are Men Overrepresented in CNN/Youtube Debate Submissions? - promoted by Chris Bowers)

Today I'm writing to invite you to participate in an experiment -- an interactive approach to drafting legislation on one of the most significant public policy questions today: What should be America's national broadband strategy?

Starting this Tuesday, July 24 at 7pm EST on OpenLeft.com, I will be engaging in a series of four nightly broadband policy discussions with the online community.  During those four nights, I am looking for the best and brightest ideas on what Congress should do to promote and foster broadband.

I will begin each night's discussion with a conversation about some of the core principles I think are important, and then I'll ask for you to contribute your ideas that will help me craft legislation.

Dick Durbin :: What should be America's national broadband strategy?
There are two reasons I'm asking for your help and participation.  The first is because I think we need more public participation and transparency in the way Congress crafts significant legislation.  This is an approach to legislation that has never been tried before.  If it's successful -- as I believe it will be -- it may become the way lawmakers approach drafting bills on other issues like education, health care, and foreign policy.

The second reason I'm doing this is because broadband policy is one of the most important public policy issues today.  Frankly, America does not have a national broadband strategy, and we are falling behind.  That means our families don't have access to the best medical technologies, our students don't have access to the best educational opportunities, and our entrepreneurs are limited in the markets they can access.

As we work together to draft a bill to solve these problems, the three principles I want to begin with are:

  • Broadband access must be universal and affordable;

  • We need to preserve an online environment for innovation; and

  • We need to ensure that broadband technology enables more voices to be heard.

As I said at the outset -- this is not the traditional way legislation is written in Washington.  Some people think that by giving people other than policy experts and special interest groups a seat at the table, this process will never work.  I believe differently, and I have a feeling that this week, we'll prove them wrong.

I look forward to talking with you about America's national broadband strategy, starting this Tuesday night.

-- Dick Durbin

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Great Idea (0.00 / 0)
I'm more confident in substantive proposals coming from the netroots than the lobbyists. The most significant thing standing in the way of a viable national broadband strategy is the cable and telephone duopoly. If we can find a way past that, then we'll be able to craft policy that moves us from virtually last place in this arena to first.

I'm looking forward to the discussions.

Net and Wireless Neutrality (0.00 / 0)
Hello Senator Durbin,
Matt Stoller and others here at Open Left have written extensively and expertly on this subject.  Hopefully, you will be adopting their recommendations.  Thanks for taking our suggestions.

broadband today in the United States (4.00 / 2)
I'm looking forward to this discussion!  I would love to see a mix of incentives and requirements to allow every person in the United States to have broadband access.

I think a good use of time before Tuesday is to cover and discuss some of the terminology and technology.

First of all, "Broadband" is currently defined by the FCC as over 200kb/second (kilobit per second), which is relatively slow by today's standards, being less than 4 times faster than a modem.  I think everyone should have access to high-speed broadband, 2+Mb/second (Mb is megabit, 2000 kb/second), and ideally 6Mb or greater.

Here are the physical mediums by which people in the US get broadband access now, according to the OEDC in June 2006:

Cable: 28.8M, or 9.8%, of Americans get broadband via cable, which gives 2Mb to 50Mb service downstream, but sometimes as little as 256kb upstream (which hinders uses like sharing video or videoconferencing)

DSL:  23.5M, or 8.0%, of all Americans have DSL.  Data rates are 256kb to 24Mb, generally limited to 5 miles from a hub with degraded data rates over 1 mi.

4.1 million Americans, or 1.4%, get service through other ways, whether that be local broadband wireless (which is what I get), fiber to the home, or many other myriad ways.

I live in the heart of the SF Bay area, but could not get Internet access over 768kb/second from DSL or Cable, and was forced to get broadband wireless.  It works at 3MB/s, but it's a bad sign that I have to go wireless when I live just a block away from a multinational company's headquarters!  It's just insane how poor coverage is here in the US - no wonder we're #15 in the world for coverage.

I'd like to to see weighted carrier scores based not only on just "broadband" access, but the speed of that broadband access.  I don't know how to express this legislatively, but perhaps we can figure something out this week.

Thanks for starting the conversation!

end the occupation of Iraq

Some considerations (0.00 / 0)
One issue which will need to be addressed is the perception of competition.  The cable and DSL carriers, along with the FCC have defined competition in such a way that most consumers have only one or two affordable options.

I look forward to participating in this discussion.

Chicago Dan

Oops (0.00 / 0)
I should have called the reply 'A Consideration'.

[ Parent ]
free internet is a public service. (4.00 / 4)
1. It should be accessable to everyone with a pc, regardless of location. My father's town has wireless for everyone. I have to pay a cable company outrageous fees for the service. It should really be a public service.
2. Take it out of big money's hands. the telecom and cable industry will cry loud and long over this. They are holding it hostage, the same way big oil is holding gas prices hostage.  Its not based on typical market influence, but rather based on collusion.
3. Its influence is immeasurable on our society and should not be limited according to the 'private' sector.

Agreed on all accounts. (4.00 / 1)
This is a massively important issue and people who fail to see that are only looking at the tip of the iceberg of the problems that the internet could be in if net neutrality fails. It must fall into the hands of the people; anyone who uses this medium must be protected by law so that they can continue to use this medium with no strings attached by the telecom industry.

[ Parent ]
agreed (0.00 / 0)
1.  a public utility
2.  everywhere, esp. in very remote locations

The reason for this is rural sourcing, telecommute.

A.  Rural sourcing is defined as outsourcing but to rural areas within the US versus to a foreign country.  It's cost competitive, keeps all services under US domestic laws of privacy, consumer and I.P. and also allows for disadvantaged and increasingly discriminated groups of working Americans to earn a living.
They are:
  a.  disabled
  b.  mothers with children
  c.  the aged and infirm
  d.  part-timers looking to supplement
  their income

Providing Broadband like electricity and water (which is under threat of privatization), would enhance rural life, strengthen small communities and keep urban centers from becoming even more of a super highway hydra due to people being forced to work in a 20th Century paradigm.

B.  Telecommuting improves:
  a.  environment
  b.  quality of life
  c.  urban congestion
  d.  PRODUCTIVITY in many services.


The Economic Populist

[ Parent ]
yes -- access has 2 meanings! (4.00 / 1)
In addition to technological/geographic/economic, "accessible" means that people with disabilities can use it. Many of these folks are now excluded from broadband not by the bandwidth itself of course, but by the software applications broadband enables: no captions on YouTube videos, VoIP apps that cannot be used with a screenr eader, etc.  We need to make sure that these citizens are allowed in the door. 

[ Parent ]
not only is this ridiculously cool (4.00 / 1)
That Sen. Durbin would ask for policy formulation on line, but it brings me to software design...

Or maybe simply a wiki for policy formulation in order to manage the input from a large number of people.  Or...a wiki
with AJAX in order to hit recommend on key bullet points as modified?

How to manage something as complex as policy formulation as well as consensus more efficiently?

For I certainly am thrilled a Senator is directly asking for input.  I am thinking if through software we made this idea more manageable, we might have a method for more Congressional Representatives to take in substantive comments and ideas.


The Economic Populist

Preserve its inherently egalitarian nature (4.00 / 2)
Web pages are all treated equally.  openleft.com and aol.com are equally easy to access, and neither have a premium cost or discount attached to loading them.

Whatever else occurs, this must be preserved.  Gatekeepers (Comcast, Qwest, AOL, phone companies, etc.) must never be allowed to change this inherent egalitarianism.

Senator the Three Principles Matt has... (4.00 / 2)
....set forth in his post are the minimum we are looking for from the government.

I would say that the most overriding consideration is....

Opening up high speed Internet access to true competition. Currently I have only on provider available to me. Comcast. The city I live in gave them the monopoly on service here and then charges me $6.00 a month tax.

This is wrong. This is not good for the nation. Open up the wireless spectrum so that many can compete not just the big corporations.

The country will be better for it.

I commend you for reaching out to us, the citizenry, the old way of doing politics is coming under attack, for good reason I'm sure you would agree, and this sort of dialogue will be the future. Congratulations on having the vision to see that and thanks for your time.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

Thank you; Spectrum Policy 2.0 (4.00 / 1)
Thank you so much for inviting the Open Left community to contribute our ideas to the Congressional discussion of broadband policy.  In doing so, you've offered us the opportunity to join you in an important step forward in the evolution of American communication policy and the functioning of our democracy.

I'm a communication industry analyst who recently completed a 140-page report entitled Spectrum Policy 2.0: White Space, the Internet and the Public Interest.  While the report focuses specifically on the FCC's pending proceeding addressing the broadcast "white space" spectrum, its "Public Interest IP" (PIIP) network proposal is grounded in fundamental principles of communication policy that have much broader implications.

I'm going to send a copy of the report's Executive Summary to the e-mail address listed with your Open Left blog post.  I invite you and your staff to read it, and would be happy to send you a copy of the full report, and/or to discuss it with a member of your staff.

Thanks again for engaging with us on this vital policy issue, and doing so in a way that very practically illustrates its importance.

John Edwards leads again! (0.00 / 0)
Spectrum - 2 months ago.  http://www.tpmcafe.c...

[ Parent ]
Thanks for doing something brand new (0.00 / 0)
I want to thank Sen Durbin for working with all of us on this process, it's truly amazing. I have been working on legislation for more than 25 years in every conceivable way from marching on the Capitol to writing legislation at the White House, and this process is brand new, and exciting as hell. I hope this becomes a model for other legislators.

Awesome opportunity (0.00 / 0)
The fact that we have a United States Senator openly coming to solicit comments and suggestions--as opposed to posting press releases or speeches--is an incredible milestone and proof that the progressive blogosphere and the grassroots support for net neutrality/broadband development is making a difference.

Amazing stuff. I'll be posting a diary tomorrow containing my suggestions and comments for Sen. Durbin, and will crosspost it everywhere I can think of in preparation for Tuesday. :)

Kudos to Matt and OpenLeft for making this happen.

U. S. National Broadband Strategy (4.00 / 1)
Senator Durbin:

Thank you for this innovative approach at legislation.  Here are my inputs to our national broadband strategy, and beyond, to a national telecommunications policy:

A. Net Neutrality
B. Competition
C. The Free Flow of Information (Broadband and beyond)

A. Net Neutrality

The most important policy concerning broadband is net neutrality.  (You may be interested in knowing that the California Democratic Party has gone on record in favor of net neutrality.  The resolution passed by the party's executive board can be found here.  Much of the language in this comment on net neutrality comes from that resolution)

Broadband must:
(1) be affordable to all and priced at a flat rate
(2) be available to all homes and businesses regardless of location (urban/rural) and distance from key internet nodes
(3) be high speed -- 10 megabytes per second downstream and 1 megabyte per second upstream
(4) have high capacity
(5) be neutral; that is everyone must have open, equal, impartial, and interconnected Internet access with open, unfettered access to the content of their choice without interference by any entity, public or private
(6) have strong protections for consumers and the workers who build, maintain and service those networks
(7) be protected against any degradation or blocking of access to any websites for content on the Internet
(8) provide consumers free e-mail
(9) allow everyone to go where they want and upload or download what they want on the Internet
(10) be operated as a public utility
(11) be maintained by union workers

B. Competition

Each consumer must have access to multiple internet service providers to ensure everyone benefits from true competition.  Competition must be evaluated from the vantage point of a consumer, not a service provider.

C. The Free Flow of Information

This point covers broadband internet and goes beyond it to include traditional media as well.  The principles of anti-trust law need to be expanded to limit a person, company, or organization to either:

(1) own or operate a non-broadcast information distribution system, or
(2) own or operate a limited number of broadcast stations and not more than one network of broadcast stations, or
(3) provide content to information distribution systems and/or broadcast stations.  By providing content, I mean operating a web site and/or creating and producing broadcast programs.

Anti-trust restrictions are necessary to dismantle the vertical integration in the telecommunications industry and prevent its re-occurrence in the future.  Three anti-trust issues extend beyond broadband but are closely related to communications from both a business and a government viewpoint:

(1) the number of broadcast stations that may be owned by one entity must be limited to no more than one AM radio station, one FM radio station, and one television station in a given market -- with no ownership of newspapers within that same market
(2) no more than 5 AM radio stations, 5 FM radio stations, and 5 television stations in the United States may be owned and/or operated by a single licensee
(3) assignment of broadcast licenses may be granted only to United States citizens and/or companies.

Finally, as I'm sure you are aware, there are additional non-internet telecommunications issues such as:  the possible return of the Fairness Doctrine, the Equal Time Provision, and news and public affairs time requirements for broadcast stations.  I trust you will keep them in mind when working on other aspects of telecommunications legislation.

Thank you for your efforts on behalf of our Nation in this critical area.

My view as well (0.00 / 0)
The above post reflects the vast majority of my view.

Net neutrality is important and must be maintained for the internet to stay healthy. Please do not buy any nonsense about it not needing to be regulated.

Competition to provide high-speed access is healthy and under no circumstances should a monopoly be allowed to be legislated. In today's business environment, there's simply no justification for it.

In a similar vein, allowing (or explicitly not banning) municipalities to provide neutral broadband access is a good thing. It forces competitors to match price, features, or both.

Thank you for giving us this opportunity.

Karl in Drexel Hill, PA

[ Parent ]
What I don't want it to be (4.00 / 3)
is Telcos like Frontier Communications in the Midwest telling me in 2007 that it's still another ten years away before high-speed will be available in my area.  They can provide phone service but not high-speed internet access.  That means my options are dialup and satellite with HughesNet, which is incredibly expensive at $60/month ($150/month for 15 months with contract), is not high-speed, and has all kind of "fair-use" (their term for traffic limits) clauses which allows them to suspend your service for a period of time if limits are exceeded. 

In 2007.  Pitiful for a country that proclaims itself a technology leader.

And where are the Wi-Fi hotspots?

Great Idea! (0.00 / 0)
I've read the comments on this thread.  Two comments / ideas that bother me a bit are "Internet should be free" and "Internet should be open to competition"

The comment about "free" -
Given the cost of creating an internet infrastructure, it cannot be "free".  The endusers may not need to pay.  But, the money to create / maintain the system needs to come from some source.  I'd suggest that any suggest that Internet access be free to end users include a suggestion of who should pay for the service.  Personally, along this line, I would support a government sponsored basic bandwidth being made available and higher speeds be available at a cost to users.

The comment about competition -
The downside to competition is that several providers have to create redundant networks.  This may work in areas with large populations in small areas.  It would not work in rural areas.  The experiment with utility deregulation has shown that competition has not created the results that were expected. 

Internet / broadband access policy creating is extremely complex.  The cost does not stop at creating an infrastructure - this is an area where constant upgrades are required as technology advances.  A starting place for this entire discussion should be examples of what other countries are doing - the good, the bad, what works, what doesn't.  And, it involves looking at entire solutions.  For example, if a policy suggestion is agreed to have Internet access a government provided service, the policy should also include suggestions for the source of revenue to support the proposal.

Time to build 21st century Internet roads (0.00 / 0)
A strong argument can be made that universal broadband connectivity is the 21st century "Information Age" equivalent of the public road network that was built in the Industrial Age of the 20th century.  The latter provided and was funded as a "public good," and contributed enormously to the unprecedented mobility and economic growth characterized by the industrial age (though, ultimately, also to global warming).

A single fiber-optic network can deliver virtually unlimited bandwidth with relatively low-cost periodic upgrades of electronics.  As dannynyc notes, the high fixed costs of access networks--especially wired networks--suggests that the most efficient mode of competition is to deploy one state-of-the-art future-proof network, operate it on a cost-recovery basis (including revenue to support periodic upgrades) and allow service providers to compete freely on a fiber- and standards-based open-access IP network.

Trying to achieve competition via facilities-based competition cannot really lead to market efficiency nor the potentially vast social "externalities" that profit-focused network operators cannot readily monetize.  This is evident in today's markets, which are dominated by two networks in the wireline sector and four in the wireless sector.  Economics 101 tells us that duopolies are inherently inefficient--especially so if they are allowed to vertically integrate (which is where incumbents want to take the broadband market). This is evident today in the wireline sector.  And because our current wireless industry structure (as Tim Wu and others explain) has been allowed to vertically integrate to a high degree, it is also inefficient relative to its counterparts in other parts of the world, where there is not this level of vertical integration.

The Internet model is so much more efficient and innovative (and also hyper-competitive, for those who worship market competition) than either of these "control-based" models.  Laying it on top of a single publicly-financed fiber-wireless hybrid network is the ideal solution. 

Given this, the public policy question becomes: do we want to accept the cable/telco/wireless status quo as it is;  try to regulate its market distortions and inefficiencies (e.g., via net neutrality rules);  try to incrementally open it up (e.g., via open-access auction rules for part or all of the 700 MHz spectrum);  or mobilize as a nation to build 21st century "IP packet" roads open to all comers at cost and upgraded regularly to support maximum capacity and connectivity at the lowest per-bit and per-user cost? 

We could potentially do more than one of these but, if we step back and consider the power and social, political and economic benefits of broadband connectivity, the last option sure looks best and ultimately most cost-effective to me.

In a paper (unpublished still, I think) Cardozo law professor Susan Crawford applies the New Growth Theory developed by Stanford economist Paul Romer to Internet and communication policy.  I urge every member of Congress to read her paper (or one I wrote that cited her and Romer). 

Romer talks about the fundamental and crucial difference between "ideas" and "objects" in terms of economic theory, and Crawford explains how the combination of New Growth Theory and the Internet creates a whole new model for 21st century economic and communication policy.  She is spot on.  If we step back from the status quo and approach the policy question from this perspective, the goal becomes clear, as does the value of universal, high capacity connectivity.  The question then becomes how do we get there…That question is addressed in another work I'd recommend to communication policymakers: a book called "America at the Internet Crossroads: Choosing the Road to Innovation, Wealth and a Supercharged Economy" by Mike Bookey (http://www.amazon.co...).  Mike lays out a clear and compelling rationale for fiber and wireless "Internet roads," along with some very practical steps for getting them built and to mobilizing the necessary political will and resources.

Thanks again Senator Durbin for inviting our input and engaging in an expanded dialog. 

[ Parent ]
Internet should be open to competition (0.00 / 0)
The downside to competition is that several providers have to create redundant networks. 

Nowadays there's no excuse for closing the door to companies willing to build an infrastructure to provide high-speed data access.

Municipalities and companies should both have the ability to build out a network. Yes, this involves redundancy, but that is not a problem. It's actually a good thing to have more than one way to get bits from point A to point B. Among other things, it tends to keep  services levels up.

Karl in Drexel Hill, PA

[ Parent ]
The Honorable Senator Richard Durbin: (4.00 / 2)
Thank you for asking what we can think for our country.

Internet must be understood like mailboxes -- every resident gets one.  Everyone has an address.  Moreover, in metaphor, all roads lead to each destination, meaning:  the mental image is, that the internet connects every place to every other place, (and NOT the 'hub and spokes' mental image, of electricity, gas, water, broadcasting, and other 'utilities,' where a central 'hub' source, radiates its distribution out along 'spokes' to the end of the line).  There is no 'end of the line' on the internet.

So being egalitarian, internet access is best legislated equitably, and established and maintained in subsidy with appropriated public monies, taxpayer funded, like the US mail and postal service.

The internet also models the telephone system, (NOT cable TV or electric power distribution systems), in that every telephone can dial to every other telephone, and that goes both ways.  Indeed, the internet is only but the telephone system 'on steroids.'

By my understanding, every residence may have a telephone, even taxpayer funded in extreme poverty cases, and every telephone is enabled at all times to dial 9-1-1 and other 'public service' numbers, at no charge, or, publicly maintained.

Since it is worth legislating, the establishing internet legislation is worth doing right.  NO partial measures, half-a-loaf, split-the-baby compromises.  Just so, internet access should be a utility service in the traditional definition of 'utility;' where no-risk, low interest-bearing 'municipal' bond sales capitalize the internet access equipment, and where the facility maintaining the service is licensed in that captive market and granted, in effect, a monopoly on the public, and where the bookkeeping ledgers and accounts are open public records, with appointed oversight and review agencies which cap and legislatively limit the operating profits only to service the bond indebtedness.

Fundamental, 'basic,' constitutionally instituted internet access shall be prohibited any private interest profit.

Then, whoever offers to sell and buy bells-and-whistles attaching to, or separate from, rightful basic internet access, go ahead, have a good one.  The sky's the limit.  The floor is poured and engraved in legislative stone, a minimum civil right.

Reverting to the postal service analogy, just as elected representatives have publicly funded postal 'franking' privilege, in addressing communications freely to all constituents, so too, because information delivery goes both ways, all constituents should have publicly funded internet channels for communication to elected and public representatives.  Just like the US mail, in the civic admonition to 'write your congressperson;' meaning, with a stamp and an envelope and something to say, each citizen may address any elected official, local, state, or federal.  We all have mailboxes.

So is the internet.

Thank you very much for your attentive time, Senator Durbin, and for your legislative work informed on the behalf of all citizens.

Public Internet Roads & the Constitution (4.00 / 2)
To follow up on Meremark's comments, its worth citing the Constitution:

Section 8. The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises...to...provide for the...general welfare of the United States;...To establish post offices and post roads;

I'd like to see some Constitutional history analysis of what motivated the Founding Fathers to include the post office/post roads provision in the Constitution. I'd argue that, in today's world, the Internet is the 21st century equivalent of "the post office and post roads," i.e., the means by which citizens are enabled to communicate directly with each other at low, non-profit costs.

So, maybe there's a basis in the Constitution for public funding of Internet connectivity....

[ Parent ]
For more people to be heard there needs to be a way for the decision makers to listen. (0.00 / 0)
For more people to be heard there needs to be a way for the decision makers to listen. A decision maker only has so much time to listen. Many times those speaking are saying the same thing. A decision maker need not and cannot hear the same thing repeated over and over. What a decision maker must do if they are to be effective is find a way to collect and count the number of times the same thing is said. That's a software job.

The hardware job is to provide the channel for those speaking and the listener collecting. In a democracy those channels need to be easily available.

Voting is essentially free to the voter, as it's paid for by the government that collects the votes. Voting is a form of speech. In voting the speaker is offered a set of "canned" speeches and a system for aggregating the repeated things and counting them.

So now the Internet is offering the ultimate speaking and aggregation machine. Canned speeches for voting on can become enormous and the opportunities to vote on those speeches greatly increased.

My favorite software is Direct Democracy by Delegable Proxy. That's what we need the hardware to provide to everyone.

Jeff Wegerson

broadband (0.00 / 0)
Hello Senator Durbin,

I don't have any great insights to offer on the complexities of broadband legislation, but I'd just like to say how much I appreciate your effort to engage the citizenry this way.

I do think the Internet provides great opportunities for small-scale entrepeneurship, and that broadband policy ought to reflect that.

Thank You

Rural Accessibility, Inner-City Affordability (4.00 / 1)
Just as the Rural Utilities Service of the Department of Agriculture did in the early 20th century, our current government must do now.

In the early 20th century only 1 in 10 farms had access to electricity. Seeing a benefit to productivity of our farms, the Department of Agriculture subsidized the deployment of utility infrastructure to provide power to the rural communities of America.

Similar initiatives were taken up by the US government in regards to telephone service as well.

These are examples of the US government being a positive force to use it's resources and power for the greater good.

We need the FCC or other organization to take the same initiatives with broadband and wireless technologies. Access should not be based on the profit-potential of a community, but on the genuine benefits to us as a civilized, modern society.

The US government should buy up the unused "dark fiber" or lay new fiber, and should own and operate this backbone. The infrastructure should be owned by all of us, not just a select few companies with very deep pockets.

Internet access and poverty (4.00 / 2)
I want to echo something I already wrote about in a comment to an earlier post.  Please forgive my redundancy.

I work for a homeless advocacy group in Chicago, and am also part of an Illinois statewide campaign to end poverty called Poverty to Opportunity: Realizing Human Rights in Illinois.  (Part of my job is to run the blogs, which you can check out at www.chicagocoalitionforthehomeless.blogspot.com and www.povertytoopportunity.blogspot.com.) 

While there is no replacing the transformative power of face-to-face conversation, the internet provides perhaps the next best way to make connections with other people and to organize politically. However, I  have been struck by how underutilized the internet is not only by activists, organizers, and service providers, but also, more importantly, by people who suffer from poverty. This is unfortunate not only because of the missed organizational opportunities, but also because of the lost potential benefits that come with internet accessibility. Alongside its ability to empower people politically, broadly distributed internet access coupled with internet literacy could create entrepreneurial as well as general economic opportunities in communities that desperately them. Just as importantly, the internet could provide a way in which for people who are traditionally silenced by mainstream media to tell their own stories and advocate for their issues.

Federal policy can make these goals a reality by creating legislation that makes bringing internet access to people who suffer from poverty a priority.

Thank you Senator Durbin for being part of this effort, and thank you Open Left for this great new blog.

$100 laptops, Internet access and poverty (0.00 / 0)

I'm also repeating myself from another thread, and glad you raise the link between Internet access and poverty in this thread.

As you may know, MIT's Nicholas Negroponte has launched a project to develop $100 mesh-ready, ruggedized, low-power-consuming, open-source, learning-focused laptops to be used by kids in developing countries.  (for more details, see: http://laptop.org/la...)

According to this news article (http://newsvote.bbc....), the device is about to go into mass production. Since our country suffers a lack of PC penetration and educational opportunities among large segments of our low-income population, maybe we should also start buying these devices and developing programs to use them to help remedy these problems.

Among its many potential benefits would be that some of our children would be developing new modes of learning, communication and community as part of a wider global community of young people using the same basic device and interface.  Maybe they'll use the devices and their networking capabilities to co-develop solutions to global problems that us old farts would never have thought of (or are too busy fighting among ourselves to even pay attention to.)

And you can buy a lot more PCs for the same dollars when they cost just $100 and come pre-equipped with open-source learning-focused software and mesh network capabilities.

[ Parent ]
Thank you SO MUCH for opening up this important dialog! (0.00 / 0)
I pretty much said what I feel should be done here in this blogpost--

Bottom line is that France already has what we need. Healthy competition! So much so that the competing companies in France are BUILDING THEIR OWN NETWORKS with their own money, while US Telecomms have stolen billions of taxpayer dollars and we have barely anything to show for it, and certainly not the "fiber to every home" promised in 1996 to get those tax incentives.

Please do also realize that it isn't just broadband, it's the whole megillah-- broadband, cable, wifi, telephony, wireless, iptv, etc etc etc. You can no longer look at any one of these as a separate issue. We need our spectrum to be open access-- any two way communication and any device. Turn it back into the dumb pipe it was meant to be. Give the power back to the people who own the pipes, despite what Ed Whitacre and his ilk would have you believe.

Thanks again.

Software (0.00 / 0)
Another component:

Broadband is a wonderful tool that is not accessed by many who would benefit the most (the elderly, people with disabilities) due to the COMPLEXITY of the software.

A key toward pushing broadband innovation would be to make software EASIER to use for more people.  This is not something that responds to market based solutions because computer manufacturers and internet providers do not understand the learning curve (see:  programming VCRs). 

The technology exists to make e-mail something almost EVERYONE could have and use- if we got away from the desktop PC setup that provides 99 things a person will never use.

So... let's figure out a way to KEEP IT SIMPLE to expand access.

$100 laptop project and usability (0.00 / 0)
jgkojak..see my comment above about the MIT-sponsored $100 laptop project, which is aimed at children in developing countries and uses open-source software that appears to be focused on simplicity and usability.

[ Parent ]
software adsf (0.00 / 0)
There are multiple competing vendors so on this front it's really a separate issue.

Emerging stds:

Remember that cell phones are now becoming in essence, Net appliances, also with new wireless networks on the horizon (which should also be deployed, we're way way behind here as well!), 3GPP, 3GPP2, 4GPP, WiMax (basically IMT-2000 stds), and so forth.  This also should be made into either a partnership or a public sphere issue to promote.  Many of these patents and stds. are actually being generated within the US so it's in the national interest to promote US stds globally as well as nationally.

(Stds and who has a leg up give an advantage in business).

By saying "software", I think you really mean client, which "software" is a subset of.
A client is defined as the terminal point in a network.  For example, say your PC or your Mac or your Linux or your Blackberry or your iphone, these are all clients.


What one could do is grant a special subsidies, private VC extreme tax advantages,  Federal grants, small business loans to generate financial incentives for startups, small companies, large to create terminals that are aged friendly, disabled friendly and adhere to the 3 button rule.  (The 3 button rule is anything that requires more than 3 clicks is bad design).  Currently because the aged, disabled, infirm are a small percentage of the overall population, it is not profitable to spend a lot of R and D resources generating technology which benefits these small percentage of the overall market.  (Kind of the Viagra rule ;)).

Industry design practices UI
UI is the user interface and I like to call it all the "The 3 button rule".
Basically anything that requires more than 3 clicks of the mouse to use is worthless.  Apple is the corporation which most subscribes to this fundamental design principle, but this could be addressed via granting "start up"/grant/subsidy money to small businesses that understand how to design user interfaces and features sets by heuristics as well as incorporated existing user experience and adaptability models from places like RIC and so on.


The Economic Populist

[ Parent ]
usability + accessibility (0.00 / 0)
You make some great points!  As we create new laws and regulations we should focus on actual usage to determine our success.  That is, more and more people should be participating at greater and greater rates.  We shouldn't just be speeding up the superhighway for the Ferraris!  This means attention to usability and accessibility.

Visit a new organization that is working on drafting 21st century accessibility regulations: http://www.coatacces...

[ Parent ]
Thank Senator. (0.00 / 0)
There's no greater example as to why broadband needs to be free and open to all than this upcoming on-line discussion.  What a great way for our government to conduct its business and yet by the geographic and economic limitations imposed by our current system this discussion won't be open to all.  With the government moving forward with tapping into the internet's ability to be the partner we need in a Transparent Government, it must be provided as a free right to all citizens.  The Google for Government bill along with other ideas like Obama's 5 day on-line review period between a bill being passed and signed into law, on-line government agency meetings, etc., etc., require free internet access.  We don't let private business control which of our representatives gets access to the Capitol building, nor do we charge States an admission price for their Senators.  The internet is the people's Capitol Dome and it needs to be open to all.

Preempt states from banning muni-nets (4.00 / 1)
Today Sen. Lautenberg introduced legislation that would prohibit any state from preventing local communities from deploying muni-broadband networks.
From the release:
"Broadband access should be universal and affordable," said Sen. Lautenberg.  "Universal broadband access would promote economic development, enhance public safety and increase educational opportunities for millions of Americans across the country.  Towns and cities across the country are offering fast, affordable Internet, and states should be encouraging these initiatives, not hindering them."

Co-sponsors are Smith (R-OR), Kerry (D-MA), McCain (R-AZ), McCaskill (D-MO) and Snowe (R-ME).

Some states already prohibit muni-nets, so the thrust of this bill should be part of any national broadband policy.  Incumbent leverage in state legislatures should not lead to local communities being blocked from building muni-nets, if that's what their citizens want.

How about a Utility set up (0.00 / 0)
The comment about cost of competition is a valid issue.  Pulling 2 or 3 sets of wires and fibers from different groups would be enormous and the city where I live is likely to have none of it.  They are not kin to tear the streets up again and again.

I have been pushing my congress folks to look at setting up a Utility type set up.  Buy ALL the wires and cables and fibers and put them in the control of a SINGLE UTILITY whose job is only to maintain, upgrade, manage the system. 

Then allow the ATT and Verizon and mom and pops to buy as much as then need.

This utility would be SOLELY responsible for the managing, upgrading and maintaining the wires, cables, fibers.  They would NOT offer a service of any type. 

Each home would pay a monthly ACCESS fee solely to maintain the wires.  Then we could purchase ANY service or new thing they come up with as we see fit. 

Then they can all offer me a service of some type.  I can buy what ever I need.  It can be phone, TV, movies or any new thing that has not been invented yet.

The current system is as if FORD owned the road to my home...and if I want to drive a Honda I would need a new road to my home.  We only need ONE set of wires of cables.

Then any service can run on it. 

This Utility company would sell it at a cost plus X% to all comers. 

Separate the Pipe from the Applications (4.00 / 1)
The single most useful way to make the vision you are talking about really work is to separate the pipe from the applications that run on it.  Treat the pipe as a regulated utility, just like a gas pipe.  Regulate the pipe.  Allow a the pipe provider to get a guaranteed rate of return on investment.

Prohibit the pipe provider from providing applications on the pipe.  Require that any applications provider be able to provide his application on an equal basis with all other applications providers.  All providers can use whatever facilities the pipe provides.  App providers can be largely unregulated (they will be subject to things like legal intercept for example). This is like the gas that goes to the pipe, but it's fundamentally different.  The actual gas that goes to your house may not be provided by your supplier; all that happens if you use 1mcf, the gas supplier puts 1mcf in the pipeline network.  Here, the application provider actually provides the services you order over the pipe.

Applications include telephony services, video services, web sites, email, instant messages, etc, etc.  The pipe provider can't provide ANY of them; they are just in the bandwidth business.

This solves "net neutrality".  It's inherently neutral.  It fixes the investment problem; we have a long history that regulated utilities work.  Don't let anyone tell you that it's impossible to make money on a dumb bit pipe.  It's very possible to make money on it, and investments with a guaranteed low rate of return will be funded.

Allow municipalities to be pipe providers if they want to.  Same rules: no apps.

You can dance with unregulated subsidiaries of regulated pipe providers.  I'd prefer to not do that; make a clean differentiation between the pipe provider and an app provider

Horizontal Divestiture: Fully Separate Transport from Content (0.00 / 0)
Allowing the Bells to reconstitute as an unregulated oligopoly has turned back the clock of innovation and set the US from being the broadband leader to being closer to a broadband Third World Nation run by crony capitalists.

The 1983 Divestiture of AT&T was the right idea but it sliced AT&T the wrong way. We need to slice them again, but this time horizontally.

Separate the Physical Plant (Rights of Way, trenches, conduit, utility poles, copper, fiber and central offices) into a regulated entity or some other entity with direct citizen control/oversight. The Physical Plant entity would have to offer access to physical transport on an open access simple cost basis.

Just like other physical transports necessary for the common good like roads, sewers and water (power transport should be handled the same way as well)

The upper parts of the divested Bells (and Cable Companies as well) should then have to compete with all other commercial, and non-commercial entities to deliver services on top of the open access physical plant.

This would guarantee that the service providers can't dictate what content is available or leverage an artificial stranglehold on the last mile into artificial scarcity of information flow.

Anything short of this allows the CableBellCos to manipulate the process as we are seeing with "net neutrality" and the Spectrum Wars.

Note that Wireless can not count as a 3rd alternative. The amount of spectrum (and thus bandwidth) available for a whole city is minute compared to what can be carried in one optical fiber. Fiber is the way to deliver broadband. Its the  real roadway of broadband and it needs to be and open road, not a toll road.

broadband policy (0.00 / 0)
Let me suggest 3 general principles:

1. Define "broadband" as comparable to what is available in the office environment - i.e. 100mbit/second to 1gbit/second.  Note that this is a rapidly moving target.

2. Think of networking as fundamental infrastructure - which suggests that municipalities are the most likely provider, and that cost-recovery pricing is to be preferred (e.g., the way large organizations treat their infrastructure - put it everywhere, make it last, build the costs into overhead).  At the very least, eliminate all barriers to municipal networks (clarify the "any entity" language in the 1996 telecom. act).

3. Establish hard barriers between "content" and "carriage."  Private carriers should be treated as common carriers, and should not be in a position where there are economic incentives to favor some services/content (i.e., theirs) over other services/content.

Information Market Basket (0.00 / 0)
We're familiar with the inflation measuring tool that looks at typical purchases to see what they cost the typical consumer family: the market basket includes bread, chicken, paper towels, etc., and the items in this basket change as the typical consumption patterns change (Is flour in there any more?  I doubt it.)

We need a similar concept for ICT for a different purpose: what products and services constitute an essential package for full participation in creating and consuming value in information and communication?  Can you really be an effective, say, high school student, if you have no access to the Internet both at school and at home?

Such a basket would be both a goal and a current metric.  For the former, it would indicate what every American should be able to use; for the latter, it would indicate what the current usage is now, across economic and adoption curve boundaries.  The gap between the goal and the current measure would drive policy.

I think that this time has finally come... (0.00 / 0)
Being a disabled American who relies on the net for so many things, from buying items for myself and others to doing research to keeping in touch with family and friends.  This is a MUST *not* a LUXURY anymore.

I am on SSI and I am trying to find substantial and gainful employment that I can do at home, however, there is much that needs to be done in this arena as there are many scam artists and these *must* be weeded out and to finally take WAH as seriously as working out of the home.

agree! (0.00 / 0)
You are right -- things that were once a luxury are now a necessity in order to fully participate in economic and political life.

Are you aware of COAT, an organization which is seeking to re-write telecom laws to reflect the needs of 21st century citizens with disabilities?  Visit http://www.coatacces...

[ Parent ]
Broadband and General Infrastructure Policy (0.00 / 0)
I agree with much I have read here. Specifically, I would like to see a Universal Lifeline rate for Broadband similar to the one for phone service. In general, we should be treating all of our vital infrastructures as universal public domains: telecom, the electrical grid and power generation fed by renewable energy sources, transportation, and the "broadcast" media infrastructure. We need to protect these vital resources for all Americans and abandon the past practices of allowing the highest bidder to control these vital resources and policy.
Matthew Swyers


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