Below are statements presented to Portland City Council regarding the resolution to respond to Google’s Fiber for Communities RFI.
Russell Senior, President of Personal Telco Project:
I am Russell Senior, currently the President of the Personal Telco Project, a volunteer-based non-profit here in Portland. I am speaking in support of the resolution.
Personal Telco is best known today for its free wifi hotspots. Approximately 30,000 people used networks we managed last year, nearly 10,000 unique users every month. We have built many networks, including at Pioneer Courthouse Square, and a neighborhood-scale network along North Mississippi Avenue. There are about 100 Personal Telco wifi networks in Portland today, providing Internet access free-to-the-end-user. Early work by Personal Telco helped to create the expectation that wifi hotspot networks should be free, which is the norm in Portland today.
However, the Personal Telco Project really began 10 years ago, not because we were inherently wifi geeks, but in response to our perception of fundamental flaws in our telecommunications. We are acutely aware that today bandwidth is too costly and too limited in speed, availability, and freedom. In fact, our original goal was to build our own network, because the incumbents were failing to meet our needs.
Personal Telco Project supports an open-access fiber network in Portland. We support the City’s application to Google to help build it. Google understands innovation and what is required for innovation to flourish.
However, it is important for Portland citizens to have an open-access fiber-to-the-premises network even if Google ultimately chooses to build somewhere else.
I believe that public ownership of the last-mile infrastructure is the easiest, fairest and best way to get the freedom and price advantages that our citizens want and need. Most for-profit partners are going to want to exercise control over the way people are allowed to use the network in order to maximize their profit, charging extra for arbitrarily different services.
We don’t manage our streets like that, we should not be managing our communications infrastructure that way either. Imagine if Chrysler got to decide what cars you were allowed to drive on their streets, or where you could stop to shop.
In the hands of private for-profit carriers, we can expect increasingly intrusive “network management” as they seek to wring the last drops of money from the advantage their ownership and control of the infrastructure affords. Access to faster internet threatens incumbents’ existing businesses, so they have a incentive to be miserly.
For what most Portlanders pay Comcast for three years of Internet service, we could build fiber to their house, and then we’d own it and we wouldn’t need to worry that our freedom was preventing the carrier from making more profit. A hundred years ago, Portland made a wise investment in a public water system that we are rightfully proud of. In another hundred years, let’s hope that citizens then can say the same of us.
Michael Weinberg, Organizing Volunteer, Portland Community Fiber Initiative:
My name is Michael Weinberg. I am a past president of the Personal Telco Project and an organizing volunteer behind the Portland Community Fiber initiative. I am here to urge a yes vote on the resolution to respond to Google’s Fiber for Communities RFI.
Thanks to the excellent work of David Olson, Mary Beth Henry and the Office of Cable Franchise Management, along with your staffs, especially Brendan Finn, we know many of the benefits open-access fiber will create. However, like many innovations made possible by the Internet, there are countless ideas that won’t be imagined, let alone realized, until a high speed, open network is built and available to tomorrow’s innovators.
Today, you will vote on one opportunity to bring open-access fiber to our city. But regardless of Google’s decision, we need open-access fiber for the future of Portland’s technology, business and creative communities. If the time comes when we must decide to do for ourselves or do without, it is imperative that our leaders take the bold step to build one of the best communications networks in the world. I believe that the citizens of Portland are ready to be partners in creating open-access, community fiber.
The Internet is a rare experiment in government created infrastructure that fosters an unfettered, free market of ideas and information. Let us preserve and protect it from corporations who would control or restrict access to it, by building a network that ensures free access for us, and for generations to come. Thank you.