Municipal Round-up: Piles of news about municipal networking keeps pouring in; for links to our complete coverage, follow our category pages to municipal and (about the hands that pull the strings) sock puppets.
The fight in Texas, reported yesterday, is heating up over municipal wireless: The bill under consideration in Texas--HB 789--would impose one of the most extreme bans on municipal involvement in any form of communications--free or otherwise--of any state bill I'm aware of. But the fight is joined. The EFF (that's EFF-Austin not the national organization) will help fight the bill, according to Esme Vos of Muniwireless.org. Esme also points to an anti-anti-municipal wireless Web site, Savemuniwireless.org set up by Chip Rosenthal. Esme notes and a commenter on Rosenthal site queries that this bill would ban free library access among other broad statements.
In Indiana, three bills under consideration would have affected municipal wireless: HB1148 would have banned municipalities from engaging in network building by imposing conditions that would have allowed any incumbent to state they were going to build a network within nine months, restrict funding in an unpleasant way, and allow endless appeals for delay and information. That bill is dead. Two other bills (SB0381 in the Senate and HB1793 in the House) would allow the resale of access to Indiana's statewide fiber optic network if there's excess capacity. (It's fiber: there's always excess capacity.) [Thanks to David Dellacca at Indiana University for the bill information and insight.]
The New York Times chimes in on municipal networks: This article has some great direct quotes from the incumbents involved in the municipal debate with very few indirectly funded third parties in the article. The lead says it all, describing the scope and intent of Philly's network more accurately than almost all over press accounts:
"City officials envision a seamless mesh of broadband signals that will enable the police to download mug shots as they race to crime scenes in their patrol cars, allow truck drivers to maintain Internet access to inventories as they roam the city, and perhaps most important, let students and low-income residents get on the net."
The Cato Institute tips it's hand at the fairness and balance of the report they'll be issuing by stating, "The last thing I'd want to see is broadband turned into a lazy public utility." Because, of course, if you survey the field and look at the municipalities all running networks of varying kinds today, they are all lazy. Thanks for that brilliant insight; can't wait for the feature-length movie.
Comcast's executive vice president asks, in the article, "Is it fair that the industry pay tax dollars to the city that are then used to launch a network that would compete with our own?" Once again, subsidies rear their ugly heads: I'd like Comcast to disclose every penny they're received in subsidies or allocated taxes. It's only fair. We already know how much money Verizon got for a fiber-optic network they never built in Pennsylvania.
Here's a great example of how the incumbents have shifted an aspect of the debate: "Philadelphia officials say a recent survey found that nearly 40 percent of residents did not have Internet service. But industry officials say that virtually every neighborhood in the city is wired for broadband and that many people are choosing not to buy it." This is like the Zip code argument cited by the sock puppets in this debate: every neighborhood may have access, but that doesn't mean that every home does.
This doozy from Verizon: " 'Government doesn't do service well,' said Eric Rabe, vice president for public relations for Verizon." Help me, I've fallen down laughing. A telephone company is lecturing public entities on providing service. He then goes on to note that with 3.5 million DSL subscribers, they're still trying to make money at $30 per month. That seems absurd. It's a low price, sure, but they already have the wire into the home. They already have massive data networks wired into central offices. Their real cost is quite low--and they get to keep making money on the voice line that's bundled with the DSL service. Even if they break even on $30 per month, they still make money on the voice wireline which might otherwise be switched to cell.
Comcast argues that the city's estimate of $10 million to set up and $1.5 million a year is too low. But how would Comcast know? They don't run broadband wireless networks for public safety or for wide access. It's more likely that other cities would understand the costs than Comcast.
Philly Councilman recites sock puppet numbers: Frank Rizzo recites the history of what he calls overbudget municipal networks without noting that a) they are all fiber optic networks, b) the numbers and conclusions are drawn from sock-puppet reports by institutes directly or indirectly funded by incumbents competing with municipal networks, and c) the reports of failure are pretty poorly researched and in my limited checks so far don't pan out. (I'll be working more on this subject in the future.)
Rizzo points to the Big Dig as an example of overspending, but it's really hard to compare a massive project that will positively affect the face of Boston for decades (or hundreds of years) to come that was ridiculously over budget with fiber optic networks that involve lots of digging with wireless networks that can be easily deployed and refreshed. It's not apples to apples nor apples to oranges: it's blue whales to field mice.
Rizzo cites tons of technically inaccurate information from reports or other sources. He writes, the network will be "enabling those with expensive laptops to get wireless broadband signals in a radius of 300 feet from a municipal router." That's not the network that's proposed nor are laptops that expensive any more. A $200 desktop with a cheap high-gain antenna will gain access as readily as a $3,000 laptop owner.
He notes, "Further, many engineers estimate that an astounding 60 percent of the equipment requires replacement or upgrading every three to five years." Sure, but the capital outlay costs are about building service; equipment is a fraction of that. This equipment becomes increasingly cheaper and more powerful over time meaning that replacing 60 percent of the equipment in 3 to 5 years could result in a tenfold speed advantage at 20 percent of the original cost.
Rizzo says, "It's highly conceivable that the protocols used for Philadelphia's wireless network today will be outdated tomorrow when new equipment is manufactured to accommodate more robust wireless technologies like WiMax." Mr. Rizzo, I know John Dvorak. John Dvorak is a colleague of mine. Mr Rizzo, you are no John Dvorak. By the time WiMax hits, hundreds of millions of Wi-Fi devices will be in use. 10Base-T Ethernet hasn't gone out of fashion just because Gigabit flavors are readily available.
The councilman doesn't address any of the homeland security and public safety issues that are part of what Philadelphia's mayor's office proposes, nor does he deal with the lack of incumbent build-out. This whole essay is full of specious logic, incorrect technical interpretations, and puppet shows of misleading facts.
Who wrote this for you--and why did they do such a bad job?
(Update: Rizzo claims his stance, at least, was his own, but still doesn't claim the words.)
Colorado is considering SB 05-152 to burden muni telecom, broadband, cable: For the down side of the bill, read the Colorado Municipal League's February 4 Statehouse Report. For the up side, contact Qwest and the Colorado Cable Television Association, which the CML says is backing this bill. The text of the bill explains that municipalities have many flaming hoops to jump through in their pursuit of rolling out any kind of service. These hoops don't constrain other municipal services or private enterprise. They're very specific.
These bills remind me of Kurt Vonnegut's superb short story Harrison Bergeron in which the field of humanity was leveled by the exceptional being hobbled to match the mediocre. Bergeron is so extraordinary that he carries the heaviest weights and most disruptive devices of anyone. But his inner strength is so great that he casts off these shackles and flies--only to be downed by the enforcer of mediocrity. I don't need to give you a key for that roman a clef.