After a period of hiatus, and given the recent news about Google Fiber not actually riding to our rescue, it is time again to think about how to make our telecommunications landscape in Portland more favorable to to the user. If you want to help, please contact us.
The LUS Fiber system, a municipally-owned fiber project started taking customers in early 2009. Over the last three months, the books have tipped to cash-positive. That is, revenue exceeds bond payments and operating expenses. That means they can either lower prices, or accelerate bond payments. It is a validation of the model of public ownership of communications infrastructure that incumbent carriers, such as the cable and phone franchisees, would rather you never, ever heard about. It is well past time for Portlanders to seriously consider how we get there as well. Ask your candidates where they stand on the issue. Point them at the model we prefer.
At 2 p.m. on September 14, the Portland City Council will consider adoption of a Broadband Strategic Plan (Resolution 974). The plan has been prepared over the last year by the Office of Cable Communications and Franchise Management. Wednesday will be an opportunity for people to testify to City Council about the plan prior to the vote on adoption. If you care about the poor state of Broadband availability, capacity and pricing in Portland, if you hope someday to be rescued from the mire of mediocrity and monopoly abuse, please consider taking action, by attending this session and letting City Council know how vital it is to solve these problems. Testimony can be 3 minutes, there is a sign up sheet by the door to Council Chambers before the session (see the official rules).
This evening, the Personal Telco Project has posted its comments on the July draft of the City of Portland’s Broadband Strategic Plan. The comments are in the form of a 5 page memo, responding to material on the various pages of the draft plan. To understand the comments in context, you will need to read the draft and the comments side-by-side.
This video addresses what is at stake in our communications future here in Portland and around the world.
So far, Sandy residents seem solidly behind the project. In a survey the city conducted to gauge interest in building the network, one resident wrote, “I am so proud to be part of a city that is this forward thinking.”
The Oregonian is reporting that the City of Sandy, Oregon is moving ahead with a municipal fiber network, as other communities have in various ways around the country and around the world. You know, living here in Portland, I sorely wish I could be proud too.
From Mary Beth Henry, Deputy Director of the office of Cable Communications and Franchise Management with the City of Portland:
You are welcome to attend the upcoming City Council Work Session on Portland’s draft Broadband Strategic Plan: Connecting to our Future on July 26, 2011 at 9:30 am in Council Chambers, City Hall, 1221 SW 4th Avenue, Portland. The session will feature Anthony Townsend, co-author of The Future of Cities, Information and Inclusion http://member.iftf.org/user/20 and Amber Case, Cyborg Anthropologist http://caseorganic.com/about among other speakers. The agenda and speakers biographies can be found at http://www.portlandonline.com/cable/index.cfm?c=55322. The session will stream live on cable CityNet 30 http://www.portlandonline.com/index.cfm?c=28262&a=230361. Thanks!
The Mississippi Street Fair is tomorrow (July 9, 2011), and once again Personal Telco Project is going to have a booth. This year, we are planning to use the opportunity to talk to the 30 thousand visitors about what an open-access fiber network could look like in Portland. We could use some help! If you’ve been reading this blog or have seen me talk at Ignite Portland 5, or PDX11 or OpenSourceBridge, please consider taking this golden opportunity to volunteer a few hours to help spread this message to the general public where it can do some good.
Wm Leler forwarded a link to an Engadget article analysing why the Europeans have so much cheaper bandwidth than we do and blaming our Government. The reason? We allow operators to exclude competition. As I’ve said before, Competition is the key to shaking off the abusive fees we have now.
This morning, I sat through most of a presentation/discussion of the draft Portland Broadband Strategic Plan with a number of invited telco industry representatives at City Hall’s Council Chambers. The representatives were from CenturyLink (formerly Qwest), Comcast, EasyStreet, Integra, TW Telecom, LS Networks, and Don Westlight as a representative from NWAX, a local peering exchange. They all said predictable things. CenturyLink thought the public sector should stay out of the infrastructure business. They all touted their highest speed capabilities without mentioning any pricing or terms-of-service constraints. The competitive companies talked about their ability to bring metro ethernet to businesses. They all agreed that for business services, Portland was a competitive market. When asked directly about residential competition, they talked about how competitive the business market was.
Rich Bader of Easy Street made the obvious point that businesses care about their finances and making money, and that the public policy wants infinite capacity for free for its productivity benefits to society, and that everybody should recognize that tension. There was a discussion about access to open trenches for installing conduit. Someone suggested that when someone gets a permit for a trench, that notice should be given to other franchisees so that they have the chance to drop conduit into those trenches while they are still open. Don Westlight pointed out the free-rider effect might cause people to stand around waiting for someone else to dig the trench under those circumstances and that there should be a way of sharing the costs of digging the trench. There was a discussion about access to buildings, and how some property owners want fees from the carrier to serve tenants in their building. Someone said the way to get more development of infrastructure was to keep costs low, by avoiding redundant work, or by building in access when construction costs are relatively low.
I left with the feeling that these companies had touched on the problem, but had not generalized it broadly enough. They are all talking about figuring out how to serve a customer who lives in Beaverton and wants to get to the airport, and figuring out the cheapest way to build a highway in between for their customer to use. The obvious answer is, SHARE THE INFRASTRUCTURE! Build an infrastructure with massive capacity and share access to it. All of these companies are working around the broken model that they have inherited of dinosaur-like incumbents with a lock on the infrastructure. The smaller competitive companies are only filling the holes where the dinosaur can’t or won’t reach, where the need is so great that people with resources are willing to pay through the nose.
After listening to them talk, I think the case is even stronger for public ownership of the last mile infrastructure. It’s cheapest, because it means building one network of fiber, and not a dozen. And it means equitable access to the massive capacity that infrastructure provides.