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I've read the bill and I still don't understand this: I don't quite understand why senators Snowe and Warner find it necessary to allot money ($15m) and force installation of Wi-Fi networks in federal buildings, starting with facilities run by the General Services Administration (GSA). The bill talks about offloading use from cell networks to Wi-Fi, but Warner's statement about the benefits is sort of insane:
"By starting with the nearly 9,000 federal buildings owned or operated by the General Services Administration, we will be able to provide appreciable improvement in wireless coverage for consumers while also reducing some of the pressure on existing wireless broadband networks."
The bill doesn't call for any free access, only neutral host systems typical for the cellular industry in which one firm operates a base station in an airport or other publicly accessible buildings, and charges a cost-recovery rate to other operators.
I wonder if carriers and providers have been unable to install Wi-Fi networks in federal buildings, and this is an override to GSA policies? There's clearly a constituency here that I'm missing.
Widespread rumors say that Apple's release of an iPhone in China will strip out Wi-Fi. Why? I've already received emails from colleagues and reporters on this, and was even cited in a Slashdot story that I had nothing to do with because of my previous comments about WAPI, a Chinese-controlled proprietary security standard.
Why would Apple strip out Wi-Fi, which is the heart of the ubiquitous-access iPhone, which seamlessly moves among 2G, 2.5G, 3G, and Wi-Fi? It can't be cost. The Wi-Fi components are a few bucks of the total, and the engineering is already done. Removing Wi-Fi could cost more initially than including it. (For all I know, Apple will include the chip and disable functionality in firmware.)
The overt explanation appears to be that the Chinese government, which has highly intertwined interests with major corporations, wants to protect call revenue from VoIP. An iPhone with Wi-Fi could be used with a VoIP app like Skype, or, if restricted, could be jailbroken and used with VoIP programs over both Wi-Fi and 2G/3G systems. (China is far behind on 3G deployment due to years of conflict over homegrown standards and those used internationally.)
What's likely another contributing factor is that there's no way in the lord's little green valley that Steve Jobs and Apple will incorporate the WAPI spec into an iPhone. China tried to get WAPI made into an ISO standard, but was rejected because of the fundamental problem that the China Broadband Wireless IP Standard Group (the representative at ISO at the time) won't actually publish the full standard, and none of the cryptographic part. (You can read more that I've written about WAPI over the years.)
As long-time readers of this site know, I don't buy into security through obscurity. Nor do any credible security researchers that I know or follow. There's a good reason for this. Working in isolation is a great way to leave vectors for exploitation that exposure to light finds. But that's not really what's at work with WAPI.
WAPI is controlled by a number of companies that are controlled by and/or have investments in them by the military and government. This is typical in China, in which private firms aren't quite private. The military have extensive, separate investments and ownership separate from the main government, too.
A closed spec tied to firms tied to the government and military means only one thing: WAPI has backdoors designed to allow authorities to tap into datastreams when they please. The 802.11i spec as labeled WPA and WPA2 have no known backdoors nor vulnerabilities that would allow this. (There's one TKIP vulnerability for inserting a small number of short packets in particular circumstances that doesn't allow key recovery.)
The reason Apple won't buy into this, is that any company outside China that wants to conform to WAPI in order to release products with Wi-Fi--I'm unclear whether it's a strict requirement now, as that's come and gone--must partner with a Chinese firm which maintains control. As all firms outside China know, if you reveal your intellectual property to a Chinese firm, a few months or a year later, that firm now makes your product or incorporates your IP, and IP rights in China are extremely poorly enforced. Especially when a government or military controlled firm has just lifted your property.
By removing Wi-Fi, Apple gets to avoid a whole army of mess. The Chinese government gets to snoop on its easily monitored cell networks and maintain additional control--and preserve profit margins, too.
Verizon is the big winner in the 700 MHz auction, gaining the 20-odd MHz C Block set of national licenses: The FCC has announced the provisionally winning bidders in the nearly $20b auction that ended a few days ago with over 1,000 licenses at stake. Verizon spent $9.6b overall ($4.7b of that for the C Block licenses) in the auctions, while AT&T spent $6.6b, Echostar $711m, and Qualcomm $1b. The variety of other licenses obtain gives Echostar nearly national coverage, while Qualcomm is likely filling out its needs for MediaFLO, a national media broadcast network aimed at cell phones and mobile devices.
FCC Chair Kevin Martin has asked the FCC's inspector general to investigate what wrong with the D Block auction, which failed to receive its reserve bid. This was a mixed public safety/commercial band that Harold Feld, among others, alleges had its auction sabotaged through a set of vague requirements that could have led a winning bidder to forfeit its bid receipts while acting in a manner that conformed to the auction requirements.
The FCC has received a "provisional" winning bid for the national "C Block" licenses in the 700 MHz auction underway: The C Block, a national set of about 20 MHz of prime frequency real estate, has received a bid crossing the minimum $4.6 reserve price: $4,713,823,000 to be precise. The overall auction now stands at $13.7b after 18 rounds. This pretty much ensures that the open access, open device rules so fought over and then acquiesced to by major carriers will be enforced, and it's likely to push more openness into existing U.S. cell markets.
News.com reports that a Senate bill moving forward won't allow states to prohibit municipal broadband: The Senate bill passed 15-7 in the commerce committee, and the influential Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), called the new language reasonable. Municipalities will have to provide 30 days notice before starting their own service and solicit private bids, but aren't required to accept those bids. The bill lacks net neutrality provisions, however, and might be held up for months or until next year.
A competing House bill states only that municipalities can't treat their own networks preferentially over other broadband providers. This might come in cases like Philadelphia in which a city has signed over its telecom business to a municipally authorized network. However, Philadelphia like others cities has moved to authorize rather than operate networks, which might exclude them from such provisions.
EarthLink and Google won the right to negotiate a contract to provide Wi-Fi service to San Francisco, but privacy advocates are out in force: Why is this an issue here and not in Philadelphia? Because EarthLink is solo in Philadelphia--so far--and hasn't discussed privacy implications much. Google, on the other hand, has talked very specifically about how they'll track and store data about individual behavior to feed them ads. They've even applied for patents for that kind of tracking and delivery.
Interestingly, these kinds of concerns have often been brushed aside or marginalized. This time, with a high-flyer like Google involved, mainstream media and privacy-oriented Web sites and organizations are covering it quite extensively.
The San Francisco Chronicle brings up how requiring a login identity to use the free Google service would allow extremely fine tracking of a person's whereabouts or path through a city even for those using pseudonyms. Google said in its bid, the Chronicle reports, that tracking data would be stored for up to 180 days. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) points out here that once this data exists, law enforcement would come looking to use it. The SF technology department's head Chris Vein, said privacy was an important factor in evaluating bids, but it's hard to see how that's the case yet--the city hasn't started its negotiations, and thus it's unclear whether they'll push for more protection than is in the bid. The SF Metro Connect proposal (Seakay, Cisco, and IBM) had strong privacy guarantees.
The AP notes that Google won't comment on the privacy concerns.
The Media Alliance evaluated the six bids that San Francisco considered, producing a chart that evaluates what's being offered for protecting privacy and what's on the table for digital inclusiveness. For instance, they note that the Philadelphia plan EarthLink has agreed to include advance payments and other methods of providing computers and access to lower-income residents. Their SF bid has no such provisions, although, again, this might happen during negotiations of the details.
EFF and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) assembled this comprehensive comparison of privacy and information gathering details among the six bids.
Jeff Chester raised a number of these issues in his The Nation article two weeks ago, by the way, which I covered at the time, and which received less attention as the EarthLink/Google bid was still one of six.
Meanwhile, Google and EarthLink might work together on another city notwithstanding Google's statement a few days ago that they plan no more Wi-Fi networks beyond Mountain View and San Francisco.
I've written disparagingly about the WAPI spec over the last two years: The WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure (WAPI) standard backed by the Chinese government has two key flaws. First, it's not international. Second, it's proprietary. Nonetheless, the government--despite earlier indications that the standard was stalled or wouldn't be enforcement--has decided to keep pressing on.
Companies that make Wi-Fi chips or devices designed for use within China were at one point going to be banned from selling in that country unless they partnered with a domestic firm, one of about a dozen, that had access to the license for the specification. The issue became heated enough that the US government in the form of Colin Powell and others became involved. The requirement was dropped, and the standard was introduced into the ISO process in the hopes of getting approval through that body.
According to IDG News Service, ISO is extremely unlikely to become part of any ISO WLAN security standard. The IEEE 802.11 Working Group pointed out the problems in a filing: There's no way to evaluate the actual security given an undisclosed mechanism; and there's no shipping devices with WAPI embedded, or even prototypes to test.
I'd add to that a concern I have beaten the drum about: There is zero chance that a government-backed security standard doesn't include back doors for monitoring. The complaints about 802.11i being "American" or "Western" or even "garbage" (as WAPI's developer stated) are a smokescreen for the ongoing desire by the Chinese to reject Western hegemony over its technology and reject security methods that allow for no penetration.
The response in China appears to be that companies will continue to develop WAPI which might find a market among government buyers. A Beijing-based analyst thinks it unlikely it will become mandatory for all Chinese users--which makes sense with likely tens of millions of existing Wi-Fi devices already in use in the country and no timetable for WAPI-based systems to become available.
Bush's Indian entourage of security is jamming, monitoring radio frequencies: To prevent untoward events, Hindustani Times reports, Secret Service agents jam all manner of radio frequencies and surveille others. The Hotel Maurya Sheraton is the base for operations, apparently, causing disruption to the hotel's network access and police radios. The expectation is that television remote controls and mobile phones may not work in a three-kilometer radius, the paper reports.
A pair of bills introduced in Congress last week want to leverage unused television channels: The two bills want to move forward on allowing wireless broadband over television channels in areas in which stations aren't broadcasting. The New America Foundation, which promotes multiple uses of existing frequencies and open spectrum policies, says 40 to 80 percent of TV spectrum is empty in rural areas. The bills differ in how much of this spectrum they'd allow to be used. When the digital television transition is complete, now mandated for Feb. 2009, the remaining analog frequencies will be auctioned off, and thus if a pre-existing "white space" use were in place, that might reduce the spectrum's nationwide value.
Sen. Hillary Clinton supported grants for a nonprofit to extend broadband into South Bronx: In a speech on site, the senator suggested that in areas that private firms find it unprofitable to install and operate broadband networks that communities could create their own networks. She backs a federal grant for one such network in the South Bronx that would bring in fiber and Wi-Fi.
While it might seem unlikely that the South Bronx would suddenly turn into a high-tech haven, stranger things have happened. An affordable local work force coupled with low real-estate prices and fiber optic lines has turned many rural and urban blighted communities into enclaves of good-paying jobs. I saw this in Maine, where service jobs started popping up along fiber routes.
The AP reports that Robert M. McDowell will occupy the third Republican seat on the FCC commission: While he may be pro-something, he's not coming in with a pro-ILEC (incumbent local exchange carrier) position given that he was until this moment the senior vice president and assistant general council at the Competitive Telecommunications Association, a CLEC or non-Bell trade organization.
This is fascinating from the perspective of municipal wireless and other services, because registered CLECs and similar organizations will be among the bidders and beneficiaries of municipally bid or franchised broadband and telecom networks. With two Democrats on the commission generally supporting broader ownership of media and local control, Mr. McDowell could wind up voting against pro-ILEC positions. That remains to be seen.
In this New York Times piece, I look at the transformation of community wireless networking advocates from hardware hackers to political operatives: The first wave of community wireless networking (CWN) groups appeared around 1999 and 2000, and this first wave inspired a larger wave that followed. While CWN initially focused in many cities on installing hotspots and helping to set up free locations, the larger themes have taken over as hardware as gotten cheaper to buy and easier to run.
When I started thinking about writing this article months ago, I thought I would be writing an elegy for community wireless. It seemed to me that membership had dropped, groups had disbanded, and leaders had left their positions. Instead, after talking to a few dozen people, many involved since the early days, I discovered that the focus has shifted away from the brute force stage and into subtlety.
In the early days, most groups were talking about how to create antennas, build node maps, modify firmware, buy gear for cheap, and get locations hooked up. Some were thinking all along about building their own citywide networks; others just wanted to convince all manner of venues to offer service for free.
Over time, it's become so easy to create a Wi-Fi hotspots or even a zone spanning a fair amount of area, that the challenges have shifted to issues like network neutrality, or making sure that everyone can use a network without prejudice for purpose or equipment. Many of the ideas of community networking have found their way into municipal proposals, and many of the wireless advocates I spoke to have tried to shape these proposals--often successfully.
Seattle Wireless probably represents one of the highest achievements in the area of neutrality, because they've built a network of what looks like now over a dozen nodes that use an open-source mesh routing protocol to create a neutral medium. Anyone can plug in multiple times into any point on the network to create tunneled services across the entire redundant, optimum route system. There are no rules on what the network is used for, which makes it unique. Their new Capitol Hill location gives them one of the highest points in Seattle from which their antennas can be "seen" and thus employed. (A bad bit of phrasing I wrote in the article makes it sound like the tower is their only location; it's just a centrally located, very high one.)
The FCC has moved closer to auctioning four megahertz in the 800 MHz band for air-to-ground telecommunications and data: This auction is being closely watched as it will pave the way for domestic U.S. data and cell calls in the air being a much cheaper method of relaying than via satellite. The order released today [PDF] doesn't set a date, although May 2006 is likely based on conversations I had recently with four interested parties, two or three of which will be bidders on the spectrum.
The executive summary of today's order: Realistically, it pushes back the practical deployment of cell-based voice and any pure data in domestic aircraft to terrestrial stations from mid-2007 to mid-2008, and almost certainly no earlier, unless Verizon Airfone wins all the licenses and is able to complete a transition much faster than it now says is possible. One month ago, the four operators I spoke with (AirCell, Connexion by Boeing, OnAir, and Verizon) were expecting a mid-2007 launch based on a mid-2006 auction. (Verizon Airfone said Monday in a press release that they would be able to launch data services in 2007 if they win a license, but this doesn't conform with the below details.)
The 4 MHz will be auctioned in an odd way, with three potential configurations: two sets of 3 MHz overlapping across 2 MHz in the middle; a set of 1 MHz and 3 MHz; and a set of 3 MHz and 1 MHz. The logic is that two pairs of 1.5 MHz bands are needed to provide reasonable speed. The remaining 1 MHz is left over, and there's no provision for a winning bidder of 1 MHz to build out service. Companies can bid on all kinds of pieces, and the optimum dollars for a single configuration will win out.
Verizon Airfone currently occupies all 4 MHz for its underused phone service and will have two years following the auctions to move its service down to 1 MHz which may overlap with a winning bidder. They may win the bidding, and this order today requires more monitoring if they do so. They received a five-year license renewal running until 2010 for their phone service.
AirCell, a potential bidder and existing operator of a U.S.-wide network of ground stations used for general (non-commercial) aviation, filed several requests for changes to Airfone's incumbent terms. Among them were a request to reduce the transition from 4 to 1 MHz to six months (or even one year, they suggested later) instead of a full two years. This was denied, and it's a shame, because it means that any winner of 3 MHz in any of the three configuration options will be unable to deploy for as long as two years following the auction's completion unless Verizon chooses and is capable of migrating faster. The order notes that Verizon has to touch and test every ground station and about 3,000 commercial and government planes--there's no possibly of remote upgrades.
AirCell also wanted Verizon's license to use 1 MHz dropped from five years down to two, asserting that this gives them an extra benefit in operating in the 1 MHz longer to detriment of whichever winner bidder (if not Airfone) has to share that 1 MHz of spectrum in a non-interferring manner. This was denied, too.
Space Data, a stratospheric tethered balloon broadband firm, won a decision that allows it to use the air-to-ground frequencies on its balloons, but lost the rights to use the frequencies for secondary purposes unrelated to air-to-ground transmissions.
And yet another decision went against AirCell's desire, too. The FCC commonly offers bidding credits to what they define as "small" and "very small" businesses, based on the average three years' preceding revenues. AirCell and Space Data had fought for 35 percent credit for very small and 25 percent credit for small businesses. Boeing--which operates its satellite-based Connexion service internationally--thought 25 and 15 were enough; Airfone wanted none. The order specifies 25 and 15 percent credits for very small and small businesses they define as averaging $15 million over the previous three years and $40 million, respectively. It's unclear where AirCell and Space Data fall as both are privately held and don't appear to report revenue.
Interesting, two of the three sitting FCC commissioners--the temporarily majority-wielding Democrats Copps and Adelstein--both used the opportunity to concur (which means disagree with in this context) in part with the order because they dislike the monopoly it continues to grant Verizon Airfone by implication. Adelstein wrote [PDF], "Ultimately, we could have taken a number of more specific actions to support competition in the event Airfone wins the exclusive three megahertz license. But we fail to do so today." Copps wrote [PDF], "I remain concerned that America's aviation industry and its passengers will not have the full range of choices in air-to-ground broadband that they might otherwise have enjoyed."
An SF resident wants the city to follow its rules for releasing documents: Kimo Crossman has been corresponding with me for several days about his efforts to get the City of San Francisco to release full documents about the request for proposal/information (RFP/I) to build a municipal wireless system. Crossman alleges that the city and state's sunshine laws, which require a fairly unfettered amount of access to public documents, regardless of origin, are being ignored.
Crossman's site documents the process of trying to track down an individual responsible and get them to respond. He maintains that the companies involved in the bidding don't have the right to self-redact documents, and that the amount of omission is far above what the law should require for openness.
We'll see how this plays out. I hope an SF-based reporter or publication takes up this issue. It's not about proprietary information; it's about requiring the same sort of exposure of information from this process as cable franchise boards and telecom regulators require from the incumbents and competitors operating in those spaces. There shouldn't be a lower bar for releasing information from municipal broadband bidders.
Update: Sasha points to an article in this week's Bay Guardian which covers the issue as deep as they can--without getting any substantive answers from the city government on the sunshine issues. It's slanted towards the socially progressive view, but they're wearing this slant on their sleeve.
The Bay Guardian also devoted its lead editorial to excoriating the secrecy.
Truck stops in Texas with free Wi-Fi may have to filter content: A Slashdot poster connects the dots in a Texas house bill that would require filtering on any state-provided wireless network on public property. This means the truck stops that have been equipped would need filtering. I don't need to make snickering references here, as you can read plenty on Slashdot.
This time, it's Verizon Wireless, a subsidiary of the phone giant, which says that Wi-Fi doesn't work over areas: The Austin Business Journal reports on Verizon Wireless's interesting timing in upgrading service in the Texas Capitol. It's interesting that they choose this moment for a massive improvement in voice and data service--including EVDO upgrades--when the legislature has a pro-incumbent, anti-municipal, anti-public/private partnership bill in front of it.
The article doesn't mention who paid for this upgrade; it sounds like Verizon Wireless did as part of their routine infrastructure improvements. But still--please. There are no coincidences in coordinated lobbying efforts.
A spokesperson for Verizon explains that the new "broadband" service will be everywhere.
"It's different than Wi-Fi. With Wi-Fi, you're limited to one spot. Broadband access allows you access anywhere the service is offered, which in this case, is throughout the entire building."
Uh, yeah, maybe you need to read an article or two about how SBC and Cingular are going to eat your lunch in the data game through integration of VoIP, DSL, 3G, and Wi-Fi? Or possibly visit La Defense in Paris where they have Wi-Fi, strangely, throughout the entire massive building. Or possibly you could visit Qualcomm's headquarters in which they freely admit that Wi-Fi available...throughout their entire campus.
How exciting to have "broadband" of a few hundred kilobits per second everywhere, shared among thousands of people. How interesting to note that you have to add special equipment in order to provide full-speed interior coverage with EVDO.
If this is Verizon Wireless's Wi-Fi plan, dissing it through inaccurate statements that misrepresent it, SBC and Cingular are going to mop the floor with them on the data side. They've just admitted that EVDO doesn't work well in interior spaces, haven't they?
We already knew that, but now they're stating that they have no idea how Wi-Fi deployments work, either. Worse, they even point out EVDO's big disadvantage: "users must be Verizon Wireless customers to access the service." That's right: instead of a network that the state of Texas owns and operates and provides "free" access to at megabits per second for its staff and legislators, each user must have a laptop and a PC card (hundreds of dollars) and a subscription.
Is anyone going to complain that taxpayer money is going to Verizon instead of an internal information technology department in the state that could offer higher bandwidth at enormously lower cost and deliver voice over IP (oops, competes with Verizon) as well as streaming video and audio? There's some free public Wi-Fi available (courtesy Austin Wireless City Project), but it's only in select rooms.
I'll stop being irate now.
Part of our ongoing coverage of municipal networks, wireless or otherwise, finds us in Texas: The legislature is considering a bill that would block any form of municipal networking, according to the reading of the blogger I've linked to. It's hard to disagree in reading the text of the bill, shown here with emendations to the existing law. This is a deregulation bill that also sneaks in some nasty language throughout.
As part of the deregulation the principle of universal access appears to have been cut:
It is the policy of this state to ensure that customers in all regions of this state, including low-income customers and customers in rural and high cost areas, have access to telecommunications and information services, including interexchange services, cable services, wireless services, and advanced telecommunications and information services, that are reasonably comparable to those services provided in urban areas and that are available at prices that are reasonably comparable to prices charged for similar services in urban areas.
So no more of that. But more importantly for our considerations, section 54.201 eliminates the phrase "for sale" from a list of prohibited municipal activities. These previously prohibited activities were strictly telecommunications limiting certain kinds of specific competition with competitive and incumbent voice providers. A few small changes, and it prohibits all municipal information and telecommunications services--including private/public partnerships that the FCC just paraded out in their broadband wireless report. The revised section would prohibit municipalities and utilities on their own or with other entities from offering services. [link via Muniwireless.com]
Russell Shaw at Corante interviews Chaska's IS Manager: Chaska spent about $800,000 in initial capital outlay, and used a privately sourced $1,000,000 loan to cover early expenses. They'll repay that loan within a year--they launched in Nov. 2004--and expect to have a return on their investment within 18 months of launch. The service has about 2,000 of 18,000 residents subscribing across the town's 250 square miles, all of which offer coverage. The town stayed under the radar, avoiding major incumbent complaints. The town expects to grow to 35,000 residents within five years.
The FCC's Wireless Broadband Task Force avoids any mention of the word municipal in their initial report. It's a good report, encouraging the growth of broadband wireless, but all of the projects they mention are private or public/private in which a city provides some resources or a contract to a private firm. There are no public-only efforts mentioned.
The Wall Street Journal connects the dots between wires and muni network opposition: Lee Gomes mildly opines that opposition to municipal networks, particularly wireless ones, are entrenched in incumbents desire to keep making their wire base pay. Philadelphia's position has been misrepresented, the city says, because it plans to make municipal utility poles and other access available, but contract out the building, operation, and risk to private enterprise.
Now you see it, now you don't: The New Millennium Research Council has removed the page listing its board of directors. On their About page, it used to have a link to the board and to internships. Now just look at it. The NMRC was behind the report that came out last week agitating against municipal broadband; they are owned by Issue Dynamics, a PR firm representing cable and telephone companies, including Verizon.
If we take the WayBack Machine from the Internet archive and set it to Feb. 2004, we can see that Karen Buller, Allen Hepner, Barbara O'Connor, and Jorge Schement are listed as board members. When I saw this page a few days ago, Allen--identified as affiliated with Issue Dynamics back then--was relegated to a contact page where he is listed as executive director.
Buller was listed as the chair of the board. I'm unclear who funds her organization as this information isn't provided on their site. The National Indian Telecommunications Institute seems to have great goals and is widely cited across the Net as a progressive force.
But Buller sits as a member of the board of directors of the Alliance for Public Technology (APT) alongside Barbara O'Connor, the founding chair. The APT states on its board of directors page that "Membership is open to all nonprofit organizations and individuals, not members of the affected industries." However, inexplicably, the sponsors and affiliates page lists BellSouth, SBC, and Verizon. The statement about this is that "These affiliates provide a portion of APT's financial support but do not vote or serve on its Board of Directors."
That's a great non-denial denial, just like the Heartland Institute's very specific note that no donor provides more than 10 percent of their budget.
If you view the HTML at APT's Web site, the first comment reads: "Designed and developed by Issue Dynamics, Inc. For more information see http://www.idi.net". Welcome to another arm of IDI. The Executive Director, Sylvia Rosenthal is "also Assistant Vice President of Issue Dynamics Inc. where she devotes her time exclusively to management of APT." The group is linked via SourceWatch.
Jorge Schement is a professor at Penn State and a co-director of the Institute for Information Policy, which lists Issue Dynamics and Verizon among their sponsors.
Am I going to wake up with a horse's head in my bed? I'm a fish-a-tarian. Could it be a full-sized Tofurkey, instead? [Thanks to Karl Bode of DSL and Broadband Reports; he can have half a horse's head.]
There's a lot more readily available details about the New Millennium Research Council than I realized: The NMRC is the co-publisher of a report that says municipal broadband is anti-competitive and a waste of taxpayer dollars. eWeek broke the news yesterday that they're a division of Issue Dynamics, Inc., a group that specializes in creating the appearance of grassroots and independent support for ideas on behalf of their clients. They don't hide this specialty.
The NMRC lists this relationship on their About page; I'm embarrassed that I missed noting this: "The NMRC is an independent project of Issue Dynamics, Inc. (IDI), a consumer and public affairs consulting firm that specializes in developing win-win solutions to complex policy issues." (IDI lists the US Internet Industry Association as a client; the head of the USIAA wrote part of the NMRC report.)
An email correspondent who prefers to remain anonymous but has had dealings with the NMRC and IDI wrote in to note, "If you need an 'independent' third party to provide support for your particular issue interest, IDI will find an independent expert who will write a supportive piece for you--the report will then be issued by the NMRC or another front org. There is no direct money passing from the corporation to the person writing the research, and as a technical matter, the funding for NMRC comes directly from IDI. However, people like Verizon pay IDI a pretty stiff retainer, and IDI essentially uses part of that to fund NMRC."
IDI says about NMRC: "A unique component of Issues Management & Research services is our relationship with the New Millennium Research Council. The New Millennium Research Council (NMRC) has an experienced staff that provides clients with topical briefs, targeted policy research, and in-depth issue analysis. The NMRC also provides clients with a network of policy experts who can provide content and services over a range of topics. NMRC research projects include, but are not limited to, telecommunications, Internet, and technology policy issues."
The executive director of NMRC, Allen Hepner, wrote in this article at IDI's site (which is linked from the NMRC About page), "Next Generation think-tanks are able to present their views to larger populations including national and influential decision makers and attain a new level of credibility at a much lower cost. When it comes to winning the war of ideas, bigger isn't always better in this case."