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« Telesym Podcast: the Future of VoWLAN | Main | Radio Free Wayport »

March 8, 2005

Sock Puppet Talks, Unravels

Joseph Bast of The Heartland Institute equates municipal broadband with socialism: In any discussion in which two parties are ideologically opposed it is inevitable that the leftists call the rightists Nazis (or sometimes vice versa and the rightists call the leftists communists or socialists. Bast is the founder and head of The Heartland Institute, and he purveys the latest misrepresentation of the facts surrounding municipal networks. He calls municipal networks "an experiment with socialism" rather than, as I would expect a true conservative to do, call anti-municipal bills an experiment with state-controlled institution of de facto monopolies and duopolies reducing competition and innovation.

"Advocates of municipalization accuse anyone who disagrees with them of being in the pocket of big telecom companies." I am not an advocate of municipal networks. I am an advocate of competition in local markets which municipalities may have to be involved in fostering or wresting control over despite the obvious concerns and problems with government offering technology services. Many of the bills under consideration or passed into law effectively prevent competition with incumbents in the guise of restricting municipal networks by disallowing municipalities the ability to foster FCC-recommended public/private partnerships.

I am an advocate of public safety and homeland security improvements through better use of technology to replace, supplement, or add to the tools of fire, police, and rescue, which many municipalities would be banned from building even if they do not offer any services to the public under the most severe of the anti-municipal bills.

I am an advocate of libraries and other similar organizations offering Wi-Fi to their patrons, a position echoed in the New Millennium Research Council (NMRC) and Heartland Institute co-authored reporter on municipal networking--Wi-Fi that would be banned under the Texas bill currently under consideration.

I do not accuse The Heartland Institute of being in the pocket of big telecom. I can't because they don't reveal their funding. I created a chart, posted weeks ago, that shows the connections direct and barely indirect between Verizon and all of the board members of the NMRC and several individuals involved in the NRMC/Heartland municipal network report. The ones that don't have connections to Verizon are principally those that do not disclose their funding, so it's impossible to know.

Bast's non-denial denial doesn't say that Heartland nor any of the affiliated parties in this report haven't taken money from telecoms. Everything in the chart is built from publicly available information provided on the Web sites or in non-profit IRS filings from the organizations. I'm not imputing anything. Bast also says elsewhere that no one organization contributes more than about 10 percent of Heartland Institute's budget. Which is easy to read between the lines that some organization do contribute up to about 10 percent of their budget.

"Municipal governments can and do use coercion to drive competitors out of the market." This is absolutely true. Thomas Hazlett likes to point out the inconsistency between Philadelphia spending years fighting RCN entering the Philly cable TV market and now miraculously discovering the benefit of competition via public/private partnership. I've heard from others that municipalities cherry pick the customers they serve allowing them to bypass universal service provisions that incumbents are subject to.

"To see the future of municipal broadband, look at rural telephone exchange operators. They hold onto last century's technology, rely on massive public subsidies, tolerate no competition and offer no consumer choice." Strangely, this just reminds me of incumbent, monopoly and duopoly telecommunications and broadband services in most major cities and virtually all served smaller cities and towns. There's a myth that incumbents don't receive taxpayer dollars through the form of taxes and surcharges collected and used directly by the incumbents and taxes paid separately that are used to subsidize incumbent services.

"Early estimates of Philadelphia's proposed "free" Wi-Fi network, for example, were widely criticized as being far too low." Philadelphia never proposed a free network and they're not proposing it today. San Francisco has, and it's not yet even at the proposal stage, and I expect never will be. The people who said the price was too low didn't provide realistic alternative pricing; Philly councilman Frank Rizzo came up with a number out of thin air that doesn't correspond to the densities and capital/maintenance costs experienced in real private and public infrastructure of the same kind.

"The right choice is not municipalization but getting government out of the way and letting private companies compete for our business." I could not agree more with getting government out of the way. If any of these anti-municipal bills had any hope of allowing CLECs or other competitive broadband, telecom, and cable providers entry into a market, I would be cheering.

Instead, the anti-municipal bills are tools of retrenchment, refranchising, and renegotiation by the incumbent carriers.


Glenn fleischman says "I am an advocate of public safety and homeland security improvements through better use of technology to replace, supplement, or add to the tools of fire, police, and rescue, which many municipalities would be banned from building even if they do not offer any services to the public under the most severe of the anti-municipal bills."

802.11 is the ONLY way to do this? The BEST way? The MOST PRUDENT way to accomplish this worthy end? Yeah right. Dot 11 is the worst way to accomplish this end. It is a blatent misuse of the ISM band. It is insecure, from the physical layer up. It is easy to jam. Low cost jammers are readily available. It potentially deprives those for whom the ISM band is intended access to this spectrum.

Folks like you call the opposition "sock puppets". What are those who want free tax payer provided wireless, which many readily admit would make things much more convenient for them?

[Editor's note: I'm posting this comment even though it's full of inaccurate statements about the technology and my own opinions expressed on this site. We are technologically agnostic here: some form of wireless broadband--whether cellular EVDO, WiMax using licensed spectrum, or variants on mesh Wi-Fi, or all three and more--will be used for private and public purposes, regardless of who builds it. The technology has to perform to work. It doesn't have to be 802.11-anything, and we have never said that on this site nor supported the view that Wi-Fi technology will be the way in which much or all broadband wireless will be built by operators, private companies, or municipalities.

Second, neither I on this site nor most of the private and public entities involved in broadband wireless of all kinds, whether municipal or public/private, have proposed that all municipal wireless should be free. The New Millennium Research Council report even supports the notion of site-appropriate limited Wi-Fi, such as at libraries. But that's not what Philadelphia is proposing, nor the vast majority of municipalities involved in this. San Francisco is the exception, but that was political posturing; there's no proposal on the table.

I don't object to debating these issues, but you have to start at a point where you're not inventing strawmen in order to knock them down. I am not a proponent of municipal broadband. I am a proponent of the broadest range of market-based level-playing-field competition, and I believe that could but doesn't have to include municipally run networks. But it does need to include private/public partnered networks which benefit both sectors equally, as the FCC task force recently affirmed.

The folks I keep calling sock puppets aren't sock puppets because they disagree with me. They're sock puppets because they are directly or indirectly funded or supported by the companies which have the greatest financial interest. If those connections were openly disclosed and part of the debate, then we could talk about the basics. Instead, the sock puppets keep talking about the same artificial issues, using the same inaccurate facts.--gf]

Some of the language used in this debate, specifically the use of the term "Socialism" is hysterical fanaticism at best, historical revisionism at worst.

Shall we privatize sewer systems? Airports? How about Public Education? Is the US Postal Service socialism?

History teaches that mixed economies function best. Subsidies abound, from nanotech to space-tech. What the government does not directly facilitate, it regulates.

It can be effectively argued that municipalities have not only the right, but the responsibility to deliver low-cost broadband to their citizenry.

The mega-merged "private" interests need to chill out on this and stop soliciting paid hacks to warp public opinion.