open legislation

Thank you

by: Dick Durbin

Wed Aug 01, 2007 at 08:15

Hello, I'm Dick Durbin. I want to take this opportunity to say a final thanks to all of you who took part in the first stage of our interactive bill writing process last week. In particular, I'd like to thank Jim Baller, Paul Morris, John Windhausen, Andrew McNeill, and Waldo McMillan for their participation on Friday evening, as well as the numerous other experts who participated over the course of the week.

The last week has given me a great deal to think about. I figured at the outset that if I gave the broader public a chance to comment on these issues, a few good ideas would emerge. I was wrong.  What I found instead was a significant number of well-reasoned perspectives and ideas that I had not previously considered.  These ideas covered the gamut of policy areas, including net neutrality, incentive programs, spectrum policy, and community broadband. 

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Legislation 2.0 Moves to Redstate/Heritage

by: Matt Stoller

Tue Jul 31, 2007 at 19:11

My friend Rob Bluey at the Heritage Foundation demanded, and got, participation from Senator Durbin at Redstate on the issue of national broadband policy.  I was reluctant to see the discussion go to the Redstate, but I have to say, both Durbin's initial post and his live blogging sessions brought out really high quality arguments.

While there was skepticism about the government's involvement in broadband expansion, there was also a strong populist sense that rural electrification was a good model to follow, and that open access in spectrum was also necessary.  Hopefully more members will engage in online sessions like this.  I think on a lot of policy areas having to do with universal services, there's more agreement that we might believe. 

Governing is about coalitions, and we're starting to see the outlines of a post-partisan progressive America.

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Live Blog Here at 7pm ET

by: Matt Stoller

Fri Jul 27, 2007 at 19:00

Building out broadband access to everyone in America is not a simple topic, but as Jim Baller notes, the the need for a national broadband strategy in the context of global economic trends is clear.  Just what is broadband?  Is it current DSL speeds in the US, or 100MB connections like we see in Korea?  How can we close the rural divide, and bring full broadband access to those in public housing?

There are some interesting public-private partnerships at, and we have Paul Morris of the Utah-based fiber network UTOPIA on how government policy can support such work.  And then, of course, there's the issue of money.  The Universal Service Fund, the Department of Agriculture, and HUD are all possible places where money for universal access can be found.  John Windhausen writes on full deployment and the Universal Service Fund, and Waldo McMillan at One Economy Corporation disussed his organization's 'Broadband in Public Housing' initiative through HUD. And finally, Andrew McNeill of Connect Kentucky described his  telecom-backed private-public program, and how it should be expanded to the rest of the country.

The live-blog should be interesting.  To be honest, I'm quite skeptical of McNeill's broad claims.  John Windhausen pointed out that real deployment is going to cost $2000 per household, and the idea that there's a free lunch out there, where industry will pay for full deployment, seems like a stretch.  I'd like to see McNeill and Windhausen discuss where they agree, and where they don't.

Building out infrastructure in broadband is core to America's future.  How it happens, or doesn't, is something that should concern us all.

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Towards Universal High Speed Internet: Public-Private Partnerships and Universal Service Reform

by: Jeff Rechenbach

Fri Jul 27, 2007 at 17:42

Once again I want to thank Senator Durbin for developing and promoting this innovative exchange of ideas. The discussion has certainly been lively, informative, and full of passion.

On Tuesday, I presented a broad outline of CWA's Policy Proposal for Universal High Speed Internet. Tonight, I want to provide some thoughts on how we'll build and pay for a universal system. This is a very complex area, but an essential one. The hallmark of our communications policy since the Communications Act of 1934 has been a commitment to universal service. Until recently, that meant affordable voice service. In today's world, we must expand our definition of universal affordable service to high-speed broadband.

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Connect Kentucky's public/private pro-market approach

by: Andrew McNeill

Fri Jul 27, 2007 at 16:34

Mr. McNeill will be liveblogging on OpenLeft this evening at 7 PM EDT.

The challenge of ensuring high speed internet access to all Americans is a daunting one. Whereas a significant portion of the United States does have access to this technology and derives the benefits from having it, there is still a large segment of American households, primarily in our rural areas, that are lacking service.

This is the challenge that the state of Kentucky found itself facing in 2004. Confronted with the challenge, the state and private sector collaborated with ConnectKentucky - a public/private partnership - to launch the Prescription for Innovation. It is a comprehensive approach to addressing both the supply and demand side of the equation to enhanced broadband access and adoption.

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Broadband in Public Housing

by: Waldo McMillan

Fri Jul 27, 2007 at 15:50

Mr. McMillan will be liveblogging on OpenLeft this evening at 7 PM EDT.

Hello, my name is Waldo McMillan and I am Vice President and General Counsel of One Economy Corporation.  One Economy is a global nonprofit organization that uses innovative approaches to deliver the power of technology and information to low-income people, giving them valuable tools for building better lives.  We help bring broadband into the homes of low-income people, employ youth to train their community members to use technology effectively, and provide socially responsible media properties that offer a wealth of information on education, jobs, health care and other vital issues.  Our mission is to maximize the potential of technology to help low-income people improve their lives and enter the economic mainstream.  To learn more about our work, please visit us at www.one-economy.com.

Before offering a specific public policy proposal, I would first like to thank Senator Durbin for using the internet in an innovative and groundbreaking way to bring the real work of Congress to the American people.  Formulating a national broadband strategy that brings the benefits of high speed internet to all Americans regardless of income or place is the most important issue facing today's technology and telecommunications landscape.  At One Economy, we believe that providing everyone with affordable access to broadband is very possible, and we are confident that if the federal government takes some intentional and immediate steps towards this end, broadband can be made available to all by the end of 2009.


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Legislation 2.0, Part 4: Building a universal system

by: Dick Durbin

Fri Jul 27, 2007 at 15:21

( - promoted by Matt Stoller)

Tonight at 7 PM EDT, Paul Morris of UTOPIA, John Windhausen of Telepoly.com (having spent many years on the Hill), Jim Baller of the Baller Herbst Law Group, Waldo McMillan of One Economy, and Andrew McNeill of ConnectKentucky will be liveblogging. Please join us - and be sure to read their posts below.

Good evening again for our last night on OpenLeft.com.  I would like to once again reiterate my praise and appreciation for Matt Stoller and the various experts who have done a fantastic job framing issues and guiding our discussion.

Last evening, we discussed new ways to use the public airwaves to expand broadband access.  I thank Dr. Gerald Faulhaber, Harold Feld and Sascha Meinrath for joining us.

Tonight, I'd like to focus on other ways to provide incentives to build broadband networks.  Public/private initiatives like Connect Kentucky have achieved success where the market alone has failed.  Other projects like Lafayette, Louisiana's Fiber for the Future and Utah's UTOPIA project have also made significant steps. 

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UTOPIA, an introduction

by: Paul Morris

Fri Jul 27, 2007 at 15:12

( - promoted by Russ Newman)

Mr. Morris will be liveblogging this evening at 7 PM EDT.

I appreciate the invitation to participate in this important dialogue regarding public/private partnerships. My name is Paul Morris and I am the Executive Director of the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency or UTOPIA. UTOPIA is a consortium of 14 Utah municipalities, big and small, urban and rural, joined together to build and operate a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network on an open access wholesale basis. Our purpose in building the network is to promote economic development and enhance the quality of life for our residents. The initial offering is 100 Mbps up and down to each home and business. The network is designed to allow for continual increases in speed as the need arises. We see a day, in the not to distant future, where each home will have a Gbps or more of symmetrical speed.

We think the best way to achieve these goals is to create a true public/private partnership where the public side focuses on infrastructure, a traditional government role, and the private sector, which can react more nimbly to the market, offers current and next-generation services. Because it is an all fiber network, it allows for this abundant bandwidth, and because it is open access, multiple providers compete against one another for the consumers' dollars, thus creating an environment for robust competition and innovation.

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In support of a national broadband strategy

by: Jim Baller

Fri Jul 27, 2007 at 14:53

Mr. Baller will be liveblogging on OpenLeft this evening at 7 PM EDT.

Senator Durbin, thanks very much for inviting me to participate in your creative online forum.  As you know, I strongly believe that the United States must promptly develop an aggressive national broadband strategy if it is to remain competitive in the emerging global economy.  My partner Casey Lide and I have written two articles about this, the first discussing the need for such a strategy, and the second setting forth a specific 8-step action plan.  These two articles and a great deal of other pertinent material, including information about what the leading nations are doing, are collected on the National Broadband Strategy page of our website, www.baller.com/national_broadband.html. 

Over the last several months, a large and growing number of organizations and thought leaders have called for the United States to develop a national broadband strategy.  At the same time, a small but vocal opposition has also emerged. 

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A proposal to stimulate broadband deployment

by: John Windhausen

Fri Jul 27, 2007 at 14:48

Mr. Windhausen will be liveblogging on OpenLeft this evening at 7 PM EDT.

Many congratulations to Sen. Durbin for instigating this "outside-the-box" discussion of broadband policies and universal service.  Broadband services are more than simply an evolution of our existing telephone technology and services; broadband networks are and will fundamentally alter the way our economy functions, the way students learn, the way workers are trained, the way medical care is delivered, the way communities share information, and the way government governs.  So we need to think big about our broadband policies and not fall into the trap of only trying to "fix" existing programs.  I suggest that we start thinking of our overall objectives and develop a real broadband plan.

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Live Blog Tonight on Public Airwaves/Infrastructure

by: Matt Stoller

Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 19:00

Full archives of Legislation 2.0 on a national broadband strategy are available here.

Welcome back!  Last night's conversation was wild, with the AT&T-backed Hands off the Internet representative Chris Wolf and the Verizon and AT&T-backed Latino Coalition representative Robert Deposada unexpectedly showing up to debate.  Ben Scott of Free Press, Mark Rotenberg of EPIC, Adam Green of Moveon, and many others were in the comment area advocating their positions on net neutrality and open internet architecture.  This sprawling, transparent, and open conversation with multiple stakeholders is exactly what we are aiming for with Legislation 2.0 (the St. Louis Post-Dispatch picked up the project here)

Tonight is another conversation with a spirited group on internet access and the public airwaves.  This is perhaps the most timely of the discussions, since the FCC is about to set rules to auction off the '700' band of spectrum.  A core element of the next internet infrastructure will be wireless, as Senator Durbin notes in his introductory video.  Media Access Project Senior Vice President Harold Feld, Wharton Professor and former FCC Chief Economist Gerald Faulhauber, New America wireless program director Sascha Meinrath, and North Carolina-based Mountain Area Information Network operator Wally Bowen join us tonight (and possibly some exciting other guests).  They are going to mix it up with our own resident telecom expert commenter, mitchipd.  Senator Durbin may even show up depending on quorum calls (the Senate doesn't operate according to our schedule, apparently).

Two themes keep weaving among the various posts on the public airwaves.  The first is how wifi situates itself within the so called 'junk band' of spectrum, and was an unexpected innovation due to an unlicensed regulatory regime in that band.  The second theme is how a huge amount of spectrum is going unused.  Feld can be classified as a person who subscribes to the 'commons' notion of spectrum, and wants to do away with auctions all together.  Faulhaber wants spectrum treated as property, and dislikes the storehouse that is kept off the market by the government.  But both believe that we need to use our public airwaves much more efficiently than is currently the case.  The 700 band of spectrum is on all of our minds as we move forward in thinking about national broadband policy.  And Bowen adds a sense of urgency to the question with his personal experience running a Wireless ISP (or 'WISP').

Our WISP curently operates in the 900 MHz unlicensed bands.  Our service is managed, secure and can reach out to 20 miles.  Our tech suport is local.  The signal can punch through heavy leafcover, but it cannot penetrate buildings and it requires "near line-of-sight."

Despite high demand for our services, we can only reach a fraction of the market due to the limitations of 900 MHz.

We desperately need access to unlicensed spectrum in the lower frequencies.

Given the industry opposition to municipal wireless, our nonprofit business model appears to be the only viable alternative to the cable/telco duopoly.  If we are to rely on market forces to enforce "net neutrality" -- and bridge the Digital Divide -- broad access to lower-frequency unlicensed spectrum is absolutely essential.

I'm hoping tonight's discussion can be as lively as the other two have been.  Please allow about 15 minutes before you post a comment, so Feld, Faulhauber, and Meinrath can kick off tonight's conversation.


UPDATE: Markham Erickson of the Google-backed Open Internet Coalition will also join in the comments.  His position is outlined in this letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

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An Open Knowledge Base for the National Broadband Project

by: Conor Kenny

Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 17:28

( - promoted by Matt Stoller)

Any good piece of legislation is built on a solid understanding of the available research and data. Sen. Durbin has enlisted several knowledgeable experts to help him in this project and there's been some great discussion in the comments on OpenLeft. But comment threads can only go so long before the, well, threads get tangled.

So, to fully enable collaboration between all the Internet wonks, policy geeks and regular Joes and Janes out there who have some relevant information (or can find some), we've created an open knowledge base on the Congresspedia wiki for Sen. Durbin's project.

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A Third Way: Nonprofit Wireless Networks -- Asheville, N.C. Model

by: wallybowen

Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 15:10

( - promoted by Matt Stoller)

I run the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN)http://www.main.nc.us... in Asheville, N.C. Among other things, MAIN is a wireless ISP serving four mountain counties with broadband Internet.

Our sustainable business model is based on a simple principle:  give citizens and locally-owned businesses the option of spending their Internet dollars to support local news and information.

We currently have 400 wireless subscribers, and we're adding 8-10 new subs per month.  We began operation in 1996 as a dial-up ISP, serving the entire mountain region of western North Carolina (roughly the area of Vermont). 

Our ISP revenues (we also offer webhosting and nationwide dial-up under the IndyLink.org brand) support a low-power FM radio station, WPVM-LP http://www.wpvm.org at 103.5 FM and an online news and information portal that attracts more 16,000 unique visitors per day. We also led the effort to create public access TV in Asheville, which went on the air in August, 2006. http://video.google....

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Three Solutions for a Better National Telecommunications Infrastructure

by: Sascha Meinrath

Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 14:28

Mr. Meinrath will be live-blogging tonight here at 7pm EDT.

Thanks to everyone who has been participating these past few days -- your input, feedback, and commentary have been quite inspiring and have helped me to formulate the ideas I lay out below.  As an Illinois resident, I'm also quite proud to know that Senator Durbin is leading the charge to reform broadband service provision to maximize the public benefits of this vital communications resource.

I wear several different telecom and wireless hats and I have been involved in numerous grassroots media and technology initiatives.  I'm also the founder and Executive Director of the CUWiN Foundation, the country's foremost open source mesh wireless R&D group, and have coordinated the COMMONS Project as Director of Municipal and Community Networking for the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis.  Most recently, I joined the New America Foundation, a DC-based think tank, as the Director of Research for their Wireless Futures Program.  I also blog regularly on issues relating to telecom policy, broadband, digital inclusion, etc. at www.saschameinrath.com.

The history of telecommunications is rife with "free market" disasters -- eras when systemic corporate malfeasance went unaddressed and directly harmed customers and the general public.  The breakup of AT&T in 1984 may have been one of the more memorable corrections, but numerous other precedents where the public has been harmed exist: the anti-competitive practices of Western Union's telegraph company in the 1850-60s (which they also used to control newspaper media content through their exclusive licensing with the Associated Press); the telephone patent battles from the 1870s onward (where the Bell system stymied competition and innovation in an attempt to hold onto their technological lead, particularly following the expiration of their initial patents); the destruction of the home-rule movement around 1910 and the Kingsbury Commitment (most people don't know that over 40% of the national phone system was run by independent operators at one time); the elimination of diversity on the radio with the radical spectrum reallocations in 1927 and 1934... or jumping ahead, the privatization of NSFnet in 1995 (which eliminated much of the data collection opportunities for network researchers) or the Brand X Supreme Court decision of 2005 (which was a de facto elimination of common carriage and creates basically the same market conditions where AT&T first ran amok and led to the Kingsbury Commitment mentioned above).  What is clear is that without constant vigilance, telecommunications corporations have consistently placed profits before the public good for the past 150 years.

While some commentators may want to spin the Internet era as something entirely new and unprecedented, what's clear is that the history of telecommunications provides ample caution for those of working in the public interest.

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Comments on Municipal Broadband and Unlicensed Spectrum

by: Gerald Faulhaber

Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 14:11

Dr. Faulhaber will be liveblogging here this evening at 7pm EDT.

Gerald Faulhaber is a Professor of Business and Public Policy, and of Management, at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and Professor of Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School.  He has written widely on telecommunications and Internet issues, most recently on spectrum policy issues, public safety radio, and file sharing.  He was Chief Economist of the Federal Communications Commission in 2000-2001.

First, a note of thanks to Sen. Durbin for hosting this online real-time blog regarding these issues critical to our nation's infrastructure.

Municipal broadband, particularly in its WiFi incarnation, has seized the headlines over the past few years, with my hometown of Philadelphia in the forefront.  The ubiquity of WiFi-enabled computers and in-home WiFi receivers, all using unlicensed spectrum in the 2.4 GHz band, has spurred interest by cities and towns to provide broadband access to all their citizens using this popular technology.  Free (or cheap) broadband for all was the watchword.

Has it worked?  Yes and no.  Towns without broadband from commercial providers have been most successful, with WiFi being deployed by municipalities directly, by municipal power companies, or by community volunteer organizations.  While many have had problems, it seems that this market most amenable to successful municipal WiFi, and I certainly applaud it.  Cities and towns where commercial providers are already present is a rather different story.  The rationale for municipal deployment is usually to provide more complete coverage (digital divide issues) or cheaper coverage.  Unfortunately, many of these systems have had coverage problems and have had difficulty pricing the service to compete with existing vendors and still cover their costs (an interesting and balanced review of the studies of municipal WiFi is in Ars Technica, at http://arstechnica.c... ).

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