UC2B Granted $22.5 Million, Champaign City Council Deciding Tuesday Whether to Accept Funds

The Champaign City Council is deciding at their meeting on Tuesday at 7pm whether to accept $22.5 million federal grant already awarded to the two cities and the University for creating jobs and building internet connectivity in our community. If you support the deployment of a municipal broadband network in Champaign-Urbana, please consider contacting your city council member to express your support of the plan. Attached is a .doc file containing contact information and a sample correspondence. Whether or not Champaign accepts the grant funds has a strong bearing on whether federal stimulus money under the Broadband Opportunities Program will be used to create jobs in both Champaign and Urbana or provide essential services to underserved parts of our community. Our acceptance of this money also has a strong bearing on the viability of our round 2 funding proposal for community centers, libraries, and schools. Additional, it may have a bearing on Champaign-Urbana's viability for Google's fiber to the home project and future federal stimulus grants.

Project description from the NTIA press release below:

The Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband project plans to construct 187 miles of fiber-optic broadband network to provide high-speed connectivity to area community anchor institutions and support fiber-to-the-home services in four low-income neighborhoods. Known as a leader in computer networking technology, the University of Illinois plans to bring its experience to bear as it works to close the digital divide in Urbana-Champaign. The project will directly connect 143 anchor institutions, including 40 K-12 schools, 17 social service agencies, 14 healthcare facilities, nine youth centers, four public library systems, and two higher education institutions. A majority of these institutions expect to receive their first high-speed Internet connection via this project. The project proposes to create a fiber-to-the-home pilot project for 2,500 low-income households to purchase an affordable high-speed Internet service plan from commercial providers. In addition, the project expects to spur affordable broadband Internet access for local consumers, including up to 50,000 households and 3,700 businesses, by enabling local Internet service providers to connect to the project's open network.

 

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Big Broadband passes Champaign city council

Vote was 7-1, with only Mayor Schweighart voting no.

Congrats jking and everybody else who has worked hard on this proposal.

BD

Google Gets in Bed with Verizon

by Josh Silver

Tuesday's Wall Street Journal features an Op-ed by the CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, and the CEO of Verizon, Ivan Seidenberg, about the importance of high-speed Internet access.

It is mostly boring; until it gets to the punchline and tells us that government should have as little role as possible in delivering broadband to America. Just like government should stay out of banking regulation, I take it?

The piece starts well, talking about how broadband is good for America. It is nice to see prominent business leaders elevating that message in the Journal. The second point is dumb and disingenuous for a number of reasons, some of which illuminate the Orwellian position of big corporations in Washington.

Pretty much everyone agrees with these two guys that broadband Internet access is an important driver for economic growth and social opportunity. And we all see that digital divides are still a problem in America: rural and urban, rich and poor. We are falling behind the industrialized world in broadband infrastructure, as they build super-fast, nationwide networks, and we struggle to deliver the same quality even to our biggest cities. And when we do have good super-fast broadband, it is super-expensive -- 2 to 10 times more costly than overseas.

That's why Congress ordered the Federal Communications Commission to produce a National Broadband Plan (just published this month) to chart a course towards world-class, affordable internet for all Americans: team Obama's plan to catch up with the globe's leading broadband nations, and kickstart our economic engines into overdrive. The CEO Op-ed applauds the FCC's Plan. They agree with the FCC that broadband should be everywhere and enhancing all aspects of our lives. And, they say it should be built to the world leading standards that (not incidentally) both of these companies have built into their business plans.

For the first 80%, this is the vanilla ice cream of broadband Op-eds. Then come these two punchline paragraphs:

"The Internet has thrived in an environment of minimal regulation. While our two companies don't agree on every issue, we do agree generally as a matter of policy that the framework of minimal government involvement should continue.

The FCC underscores the importance of creating the right climate for private investment and market-driven innovation to advance broadband. That's the right approach and why we are encouraged to see the FCC's plan."

Let me translate their rhetoric: The FCC's plan is great -- as long as they don't try to implement it. Or rather, as long as they don't do anything that doesn't fit within Verizon and Google's idea of "minimal government involvement." It's no accident that the CEOs don't try to explain what they mean. If they did, they would step directly into a big, steaming pile of hypocrisy.

Most agree that the market is the preferred mechanism for achieving the goals of the nation in digital technology and infrastructure. If the market is working, government plays cheerleader.

But, hello, the whole reason the Congress mandated a National Broadband Plan from the FCC is because the market isn't working; we're slipping perilously behind the rest of the world.

The objectives set out in the plan, all of which are applauded by these companies -- world-class fiber networks, the expansion of broadband for universal availability and adoption, and the extension of broadband into every aspect of our lives -- aren't being delivered without government action.

So to recap the CEOs' position: We need a Plan and government action, so long as it doesn't constitute government involvement in their business.

Let's unpack this a bit more. Both CEOs love the idea of getting world-class, super-fast fiber-optic broadband networks to Americans. They mention that Google has only a pilot project to do this. Verizon is top of the heap in the telecom world -- deploying fiber to metro areas in the Northeast. But meanwhile, Verizon has wound down investment in fiber after pushing it out in the most lucrative neighborhoods.

Verizon inconveniently skipped over low-income Baltimore altogether. A couple of years ago, they decided all of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine were not favorable markets for them. They sold their less profitable networks in these states to FairPoint -- a company now in bankruptcy delivering 3rd world quality broadband. Right now, Verizon is looking to dump its networks in 14 other states. So, what about those 17 states? What about everyone else in the country who doesn't live between (suburban) Boston and Washington D.C.? Do they not deserve to have a world-class infrastructure? How will we close that digital divide? Well, the market isn't doing it, and everywhere else in the world they have done it, it has taken proactive government involvement.

"Minimal Government Regulation" makes for a good CEO bumper sticker. But it is a complete disconnect as they praise heaped on the National Broadband Plan, with its hundreds of recommendations for productive intervention in various sectors of the broadband market. Government is bad, except when it's helping me

Like most big companies, Google and Verizon hate regulation and government involvement in business when it limits bad behavior and anti-competitive activity. But they absolutely love it when it helps them. In fact, both of these companies maintain small armies of lobbyists to ply the government for all the regulations that they want, even as they fight off all the regulations they don't want.

Classic corporate hypocrisy: hate government except when you love it. Anyone paying attention has seen these erstwhile government teetotalers swigging from the flask all the time. Also, let's remember that these companies are in aggressive opposition to one another on some big policy issues that matter enormously to American consumers.

Here's a short list of stuff Google wants from their "minimal government involvement."

  • Google would like government to mandate the installation of broadband conduit in every public construction project.
  • Google would like stronger regulations in the market for commercial broadband services sold to big companies and cell phone towers by...you guessed it...Verizon.
  • Google would like government to authorize and offer municipal broadband networks.
  • Google strongly supports Network Neutrality rules.
  • Google argued for open market conditions on spectrum licenses and got in a bidding war with Verizon to get them.
  • Google has also argued for rules that set aside spectrum for open use by innovators.
  • Google wants new rules for cable set-top boxes.
  • Google supports and opposes different aspects of copyright and patent law to support and protect their business.
  • Google, like most technology companies, argues for the expansion of a visa program for tech-savvy internationals. And the list goes on.

And Verizon's wish list for "minimal government involvement" is just as long.

Let me be clear: many of the things these companies argue for are good ideas (some of them are really bad ideas). And they are certainly not in kumbaya agreement. The point is that government is inherently and deeply involved in these markets in all kinds of ways; many of them actively desired by the very same companies that demonize government involvement. It's silly, and we ought to end the charade.

And finally, many in Washington may read this as a secret coded message that Google is abandoning its commitment to Network Neutrality and joining Verizon in opposition to rules guaranteeing an open Internet. I don't believe that is true -- and I hope never to see such rank hypocrisy.

But in the meantime, we should be glad Messers Schmidt and Seidenberg like broadband. And we should be honest that they actually like government too. Without government involvement, the goals they laud will not be reached, and more Americans will be left on the wrong side of the digital divide. And as much as they might like to deny it, both of these companies want and need government to help them succeed.

Josh Silver is the Executive Director of Free Press a national, nonpartisan organization that he co-founded with Robert McChesney and John Nichols in 2002 to engage citizens in media policy debates and create a more democratic and diverse media system.

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