Get Ready For ‘Super Wi-Fi’ To Be A Big Thing In 2013 (Business Insider)
Get Ready For ‘Super Wi-Fi’ To Be A Big Thing In 2013 (Business Insider)
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From Stop the Cap!:
And when I read something like that, my thought is, if they are willing to pull this shit in California today, what’s to say they won’t try it in other states in the near future? If it were me, until they come to their senses and stop doing this, I’d avoid Frontier like a village infested with bubonic plague on the side of a hill next to an active volcano with an active nuclear waste dump at the center. But, that’s just me and my personal opinion — what you do is up to you.
Today I just want to post a few quick thoughts on various topics, none of which are sufficient for a full article:
THE UPCOMING ELECTIONS: Before you vote, or if you are thinking of not voting, you should watch Keith Olbermann’s video (transcript here), which really exposes what the Tea Party candidates are all about. I realize that Mr. Olbermann does get a bit passionate at times and that he does not break up his talks with humor (like, say, Jon Stewart) but in this case what he has to say is really important. If you think that the Tea Party candidates are in any way standing up for America or espousing American ideals, you really need to watch the video. Suffice it to say that I firmly believe that if the Tea Party, every gets much of a foothold in American politics, they will destroy the Republican party and many of our cherished American principles. And people of my age and older should really be very afraid of these folks — again, watch the video if you want to know why.
HULU AND THE NETWORKS BLOCKING PLAYBACK ON BOXEE AND GOOGLE TV: This is doomed to fail. The same folks who have figured out how to “jailbreak” mobile phones will find it extremely easy to fool Hulu, et. al. into thinking it’s communicating with a plain old web browser on a standard PC. And the reason that Hulu and the networks should not be blocking their content on such devices is because when the “jailbreakers” do it, you can bet that they will also figure out a way to remove the commercials from the stream. Hulu in particular is very vulnerable here, because either they’re going to have to relent or they’re going to wind up blocking playback to users that really are using a standard browser on a desktop computer. If they don’t relent soon, then the hack that allows viewing Hulu on those devices without the commercials will begin to receive wide acceptance, and then they will be in the position of trying to put the genie back in the bottle — they will never be able to get people to accept watching the ads (which will, of course, mean that eventually they will go out of business).
THE MOST USELESS FEDERAL AGENCIES have to be the Federal Communications Commission and the federal Food and Drug Administration. I’ll leave the FDA alone for the moment, but the FCC is so obviously in the pocket of the huge corporations that you know something is definitely wrong there. Seems like about every other day we read story after story of how Internet users in countries like South Korea get broadband speeds about 100 times what most of us can get. The thing I don’t understand is why this seems to happen even in times when the Democrats have the majority in the legislature — it’s as if the Republicans still control the agenda even when the Democrats are in power — UNLESS the Democrats are also kowtowing to the huge corporations. If Democrats DO lose to the Tea Party loons, they have only themselves to blame, for not doing the right thing when they had every opportunity.
ZECHARIA SITCHIN PASSED AWAY ON THE MORNING OF OCTOBER 9, 2010: Many readers will not know who he was, but basically he was a researcher of ancient Sumerian texts, who offered some very interesting (and often controversial) insights into our ancient past. Even if he wasn’t 100% accurate — and who could be when you are talking about things that happened thousands of years ago, when you consider that our news media often can’t get details right on a story that happened two days ago — his biggest contribution to humanity was to expand the thinking of everyone who ever read his work. For example, you will never look at the evolution vs. creation debate in quite the same way after you find out what the ancient Sumerians had to say about our origins, as reported by Mr. Sitchen. I think he is one of those people whose genius has gone largely unrecognized by his own generation (even though most of his books sold very well), but who will be recognized and revered by future generations. Whether you agree with everything he wrote or not, he was one of the great thinkers of our time. By the way, the Wikipedia article about him is extremely biased, though that doesn’t surprise me considering that his writings were probably seen as a threat to both the existing religious institutions, and to conventional “scientific” thinking regarding our origins.
Crain’s Detroit Business reports today that Michigan is going to get $1.8 million from the feds “to launch an initiative to map and plan broadband service.” Now, you should be wondering about the timing of this announcement: December 23, just before most reporters take a long weekend. When news like this is released on a day like today, my first thought is, “Why do they want to bury this?”
The answer is in the last sentence of the article:
“Michigan is working on the project with Washington-based Connected Nation, a national non-profit organization that does broadband mapping.”
What’s wrong with that? I refer you to this article from DSLreports: One Last Warning Before America Screws Up Broadband Mapping.
EDIT: Also see “Privatizing the Public Trust: A Critical Look At Connected Nation“, a report issued by Public Knowledge, Common Cause, The Media and Democracy Coalition, and Reclaim the Media.
EDIT: Somehow I missed today’s post on DSLreports: “Connected Nation Wins Huge Chunk Of Taxpayer Money – And will likely use that money to fight against your interests…“
Do your research on Connected Nation, folks. Google is your friend.
Is Michigan going to get screwed on broadband mapping? In my humble opinion, the odds are very high. I HOPE that the Michigan Public Service Commission is smart enough to know who they’re dealing with, but even if they know, will they have any authority to alter any results that might be misleading?
Happy holidays. By the time the “watchdog media” (more like a sleeping chihuahua) gets back from the holidays, they’ll probably consider this old news, and totally ignore it. If you don’t have broadband now in your area and you want it, maybe you should think about moving to another state!
EDIT: I posted the above at around 2:30 PM. I then had to leave for a couple of hours, and by the time I got back, I found the following in my e-mail:
From: “Ditto, Jessica” [e-mail address redacted]
Date: Wed, 23 Dec 2009 13:10:40 -0800
Subject: Michigan Broadband Mapping Project
To Whom It May Concern:
In regards to your post about Michigan’s broadband mapping project I would caution you not to believe everything you read on the Internet. The timing of the announcement is nothing but the result of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration having just released the awards for 14 states and 1 U.S. territory late yesterday – Michigan being one of them. This is exciting news for Michigan as the state works to create jobs and opportunity in a technology-based economy. The Connect Michigan program has been developed over the past few months in close collaboration with the Michigan Public Service Commission. These funds will allow the state to collect critical broadband data needed to identify the unserved and underserved areas of the state. Connected Nation is proud to be lending our experience and expertise to that effort. What you may not realize is that Connected Nation has mapped eight states prior to this grant program. No other organization in the country has mapped broadband on such a comprehensive scale. We do this because our mission is to promote digital inclusion by addressing both the supply and demand for high-speed Internet.
Your blog can be a positive voice in this effort by spreading the word about the need for broadband in Michigan’s unreached areas. I hope that you will afford me the opportunity to let you know more about who we are so that we can work with you in a constructive way going forward.
877.846.7710 – Office
[Mobile telephone number redacted]
[e-mail address redacted]
My response: Ms. Ditto, I would guess that you are probably paid by your employer to attempt to counteract negative publicity that appears in blogs such as mine, and I understand you are probably just trying to earn a living. However, the problem as I understand it is twofold. First, and feel free to correct me if you think I am wrong, I have read that your organization was created by, and/or receives significant funding from AT&T. If that is true, then it gives the appearance of conflict of interest. Also, I have read editorials and articles that indicate that there is a belief that in states where your organization has previously done mapping, it has overstated the actual availability of broadband.
I freely admit that I did not do the original research on this (which is why I referred my readers to an article at DSLreports.com) but over the past year or so, I have read more than just one or two articles that question the circumstances under which your organization was started (was it a creation of AT&T, or any third-party organization hired by AT&T, or did AT&T have any hand in it?) and its source of funding (in other words, does AT&T contribute directly or indirectly to your organization’s operating expenses?).
There is a large area of Michigan that does need broadband, but let’s make sure we define broadband properly. My question to you would be, what is the minimum upload and download speeds that fit your organization’s definition of broadband? AT&T and Verizon seem to think that customers should be happy with minimal DSL speeds (particularly when they are not close to the telephone central office). For many customers that’s not true today, and in the future it won’t be true for anyone. If you are defining anything over dial-up modem speed as “broadband”, then that will not present a true picture of where broadband is available in Michigan. Today and in the future, customers will expect to be able to upload and download high-definition video without having to wait forever. Does your organization have the ability to change your definition of broadband to keep pace with the times and with customer expectations, or do you have to use a definition that has been imposed on you by someone else, and if so, who might that someone else be?
I’m sorry, but I just can’t help but think the timing of today’s announcement was a bit suspicious. Maybe there was a valid reason for it, maybe not, but I’m quite aware of the fact that companies tend to issue press releases on Friday afternoons and before holiday weekends, when the hope is that they will not get much exposure or commentary. Maybe that was not the intent here and it was just unfortunate timing, but if so, it was indeed unfortunate.
If you would care to comment on the above, I will publish your response. I want to be fair to everyone, but at the same time, I’ve had a bad experience in the past with a public relations firm hired by a major telephone company, so I’m not going to just let statements slide by without asking some questions, where I feel it is appropriate.
Thank you for your response, and happy holidays to you!
EDIT 2: I received another e-mail reply from Ms. Ditto. Basically, it seems that for some reason she wants to engage me further on this topic at some point next week, after she returns from the Christmas weekend. The meaningful part of her response was this:
“I will tell you one thing I am not with a public relations firm, nor was I hired to counteract negative publicity, although obviously my job is easier when I confront things head-on. I began working for Connected Nation because I wanted to work for a nonprofit that was doing something meaningful for others. I personally saw the impact they had in Kentucky and am excited about the work we are going to do in Michigan.”
But I didn’t say she was with a public relations firm, just that I’d had a bad experience with one. And I didn’t say that she was hired to counteract negative publicity, but I’ll bet her employer pays her while she’s attempting to do so.
I’m not even going to comment on her statement about the reason she began working for Connected Nation. I don’t want to turn this into something personal. This is not about Ms. Ditto — my whole point there was that she’s just doing her job and at this time of year, I’m not inclined to say anything negative against anyone if I can help it. But at the same time, if she’s going to try to sell me with an “Oh, shucks, we’re just a nonprofit from Kentucky” routine, there’s no way I’m buying into that. After doing just a very shallow Google search, I found the link to “Privatizing the Public Trust: A Critical Look At Connected Nation“, a report issued by Public Knowledge, Common Cause, The Media and Democracy Coalition, and Reclaim the Media. So if Ms. Ditto wants to set the record straight, it appears she has a lot more formidable opponents than I to deal with. Oh, and I found something interesting on Connected Nation’s own web site: Connected Nation Submits No Bid Response for Kentucky Broadband Mapping RFP.
Really, the only response I am interested in receiving from Connected Nation is an honest answer to the questions I asked above. To put it crudely, I want to know if, and to what extent, they’re in bed with AT&T and/or any other telephone company that has a presence in the state of Michigan. I’m certainly not going to be their sunshine pumper in the state (as if I had that kind of influence), nor do I intend at this point to carry out ongoing tirades against them (unless I’m provoked to do so). The point of this post was to alert you to this news item, and to express my personal opinion on the matter. I had frankly hoped that some other blog or news site with a lot more exposure would pick up on this, but to be honest I didn’t expect it, for the very reason I stated above — after the reporters (and the professional bloggers that blog for a living) return from the holidays, this will probably be considered old news.
And by the way, this is one of those occasions where I honestly hope I’m wrong… nothing would make me happier than to see Connected Nation produce a fair and accurate broadband map of Michigan, that accurately shows the actual upload and download speeds that people can receive at any given location in our state. One major problem with phone companies is that they advertise broadband speeds using the weasel words “up to”, so when they don’t deliver the advertised speed they can say they only promised to deliver “up to” that speed (often still charging the end user as if they were receiving the advertised speed!). A broadband map that shows only the advertised speeds available at any particular spot on the map will not only be useless, but disingenuous. Anyway, it concerns me when these other organizations — those that have actual funding, and probably a research staff — publish articles that are critical of Connected Nation. I don’t have funding and I don’t have a research staff, so I cannot fully investigate the claims made by those organizations, nor those made by Connected Nation. But I do form opinions based on what I read, and in this country I’m allowed to share my opinions with you. If my opinions are in error, well, it wouldn’t be the first time.
Please allow me to make a couple of further points: According to the original article, the federal government is spending $1.8 million dollars on this project (and that’s just in Michigan — DSLreports adds that the feds also awarded Connected Nation grants to the tune of $1.8 million for mapping and planning in Tennessee, $1.7 million in North Carolina, $1.4 million in Nevada, and $1.7 million in Minnesota) — dollars that probably came from you and I in one way or another. And what is the point? Wouldn’t it make more sense to use that money to enhance competition by actually giving zero-interest loans to small broadband providers that promise to serve an unserved or underserved area? You may say, well, we need to know where the unserved or underserved areas are located, but then I ask whether it’s really important to pinpoint those areas to the tune of $1.8 million dollars, especially considering that the existing facilities-based broadband providers ought to be able to provide maps showing where they are able to provide service. We require wireline phone companies to produce tariff maps showing exactly where their service is available — shouldn’t broadband providers be able to provide the same information, without it costing $1.8 million?
Also, there is a part of me that wonders if such a map might serve the purpose of inhibiting competition (whether as an intended or unintentional consequence). The reason is that once you know where broadband service is available, even if it’s lousy service in some areas, that information could be used to deny loans or grants to companies that want to overbuild in those areas. In other words, even if a provider’s service in unreliable, even if contacting their customer service department is like entering a level of hell, even if their own customer services representatives don’t seem to realize they have service in the area (a not uncommon problem!), or even if the provider wants to impose ridiculously small usage caps on their customers, on the map it would still show that broadband is available. Maybe customers would really like good quality broadband service with no usage caps and at a fair price, from a company that treats them as though customers really are important, but if this map says that Crappy Broadband, Inc. already offers service in your area, then perhaps nobody else is going to get a grant or loan to provide the type of service customers will want and expect in the 21st century.
My suggestion would be that if we must go through with this project, then a truly useful map would also include independently collected customer satisfaction data – how many area residents attempted to obtain service and were told they could not, and how many think the service is vastly overpriced, and how many are so frustrated with their provider’s service, or the provider’s customer service reps, to nearly want to “go postal” on that company? For that matter, will this map even take into account the prices charged? If it doesn’t then they could justifiably claim that broadband service is available, right now, to 99%+ of Michigan residents, because just about anyone can get a commercial data line from the telephone company (a DS1 or similar data circuit). You might have to sell your firstborn to get it (okay, I exaggerate slightly), but you can get it. Therefore, a map that only shows where broadband is available, without taking the issues of prices charged and customer satisfaction into account, won’t give a complete picture of broadband availability in Michigan.
Anyway, that’s all I have to say on the subject for the moment. Hope all of you will have the happiest of holidays!
I have a modest proposal for how to solve our broadband access and bandwidth problems. Okay, maybe not all of them, but at least two:
Okay, let’s suppose you have a fictitious company, we’ll call it Bingleulu (because no real company could call themselves that!). And lets suppose this company could do two things:
Now, this dozen-channel bandwidth would be used as one huge data pipe – let’s call it the Big Fat Pipe, or BFP for short. If your dial-up modem is like a slow faucet drip, and your cable modem connection is like a low-flow shower head, the BFP would be like an open fire hydrant. Data would be sent up to the satellite in one fat stream, then down to either individual users (mostly those in rural areas not near a terrestrial transmitter) and to the ground station towers that would retransmit the signal over the former TV airwaves. Why the dual coverage? Well, satellite is great for use in rural areas and other places where people might have issues receiving the terrestrial signals reliably, whereas the terrestrial stations would require less expensive receiving equipment and would be more suitable for mobile use, and use in locations where satellites aren’t visible due to heavy tree cover. Plus it gives you a bit of redundancy, since in time the terrestrial stations could be linked by a backup fiber optic link.
So now you have this giant firehose of data, as it were. Now, let’s say you decide to watch a video. You jump on your web browser, on your existing dial-up or broadband connection, or even your mobile phone (which would have a built in data receiver) and go to the Bingleulu site, and select your video. On the pages there’s also a small setting dropdown that says something to the effect of “Number of seconds I’m willing to wait”, and it defaults to 60 seconds, but you can set it to something shorter or longer – even much longer if you’re selecting a large file that you won’t be able to watch until later.
Now, here’s the magic part. The Bingleulu site looks at whether it has space available in the flood of data it’s sending out, and if possible it sends your file within your specified maximum wait time as part of the the big flood. It uses a smart algorithm to figure this out, taking into account things like your connection speed and type (dial-up and mobile users might get some preference), whether you’re on an ISP that caps your data usage, and a bunch of other things. One thing it takes into account is how likely it is that someone else will request the same file within your specified wait time, because one of the things this system attempts to do is send popular files (especially LARGE popular files) to many users at once.
So when you make the request, the video or file or whatever might come back to you the usual way, over your internet connection, and the smaller the file the more likely it is that it will come that way. But if there is space available – and assuming you give it long enough, there will be – the file will come back to you via the satellite or terrestrial transmitter system. In that case, your browser will be sent an ID tag of some kind (via your regular connection) and it will then know that it is to look for the data containing that tag on the satellite/terrestrial over-the-air system. If it misses any packets, it can request retransmission of just those packets, so that the entire file doesn’t have to be resent (and again, these could be sent either the normal way, or over the BFP of data sent through the airwaves, depending on which makes the most sense).
During times of congestion in the BFP, priority would be given to large files, files that have been requested by many people (you would try to fill as many requests as possible using the same data stream), and live streams (such as live audio or video programming, especially streams that many people are wanting to access simultaneously).
What do we accomplish with this scheme? Well, for one thing, we get a lot of the largest files off your ISP (so they have a lot more “breathing room” and don’t have to meter usage – and yes, I KNOW there’s no reason they have to do that anyway, but if they’re going to lie about it, this is one way to pull the rug out from under their lies). And if you have a dial-up connection or mobile broadband connection, where either slow speeds or congestion might be actual issues, this scheme at least gets you access to the large files you may want at something other than a snail’s pace (though at some times of day you may have to wait a while for the download to start, but once it does start you’ll have it quickly!).
Now, who would pay for this bandwidth? Well, in some countries they might choose to operate it as a public utility, but that likely wouldn’t fly given the political climate in the U.S. (by which I mean, those lousy obstructionist Republicans and “blue dog” Democrats that stand in the way of anything that might benefit the common person unless it gives one or more huge corporations a leg up… sorry, got carried away there). So that’s why I invented out mythical company, Bingleulu. Just saying, there are several companies that face the problem of potentially having a real difficult time getting their content out to you if the big ISP’s start metering service, and those companies (any one of them individually, or a consortium of two or more) could come up with a solution.
What would you need to make this work? Well, for starters, an extension to the HTML protocol, or some mechanism so that when you make a request, you will always get some response via your primary Internet connection, but if you have access to the BFP, the response might be, in effect, “get it off the BFP by looking for packets tagged with this ID”, followed by an ID string. In a well-designed system it would even send an estimated time to the start of the download, if there will be a significant delay.
Also, you’d need a receiver for the BFP – initially this could take the form of a card that would go into your computer, or (more likely) a USB-connected receiver, or possibly even a receiver that sits on your local network and can service several computers in your home or small business (something akin to a HDHomeRun® type device). The receiver should have connections for both a satellite dish LNB, and a regular TV antenna. Note that initially, a company that wants to do this could implement half of this system (the satellite half) just by designing the system and then leasing bandwidth on a Ku-band satellite (Ku usually requires dishes of about two feet up to one meter in diameter for reliable reception, but I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of unused space on Ku-band satellites these days), then wait and see if the FCC will allow them to obtain the bandwidth in the broadcast spectrum.
Some additional things to consider:
First, it’s very likely that sooner or later there would be more than one BFP. This might be because “spot beams” would be used to increase capacity, or simply because you’d need additional satellites to cover other parts of the world (such as Hawaii and Guam) if this catches on. So when the system is designed, it need to have some way to know which satellite feed or terrestrial transmitter the receiver is receiving, and if there is more than one BFP, to return the requested data on the correct one.
Second, there may be special considerations for certain types of broadband connections. For example, what if the requester is using another type of satellite provider (WildBlue, HughesNet, etc.)? Do you try to avoid sending the request back that way (because it might trip a usage cap) or do you treat it like a normal broadband connection (where smaller, less popular, and “immediate gratification wanted” files would sometimes be sent back through the normal connection)?
Third, once we get into the area of live streams, those can eat bandwidth quickly (particularly high-definition quality video streams!). Unless you have a LOT of bandwidth, you can only carry a certain number of those in real time, so how do you decide which ones? Do you compress them (and sacrifice quality) during times of congestion? One thing to note – unlike what happens with your cable company, if no one has requested a particular stream, it wouldn’t be sent. EVERYTHING sent on the BFP is sent in response to an actual request by at least one user.
Fourth, let’s suppose several broadcasters jump on this as a delivery mechanism and now, suddenly, you don’t have enough capacity, but then your satellite provider and/or the FCC manages to find you more bandwidth – but now nobody has receivers that will tune the new bandwidth. Should receivers be designed from the outset to be tunable over a much larger range than what’s actually used at the start of the service? Seems to me that any service like this should be designed from the get-go with the idea that more bandwidth will be needed, and possibly available, at some point in the future, and that receivers in particular should be electronically reconfigureable to tune any additional bandwidth that may become available. I might even suggest that it should be possible to connect a DiSEQc switch to the receiver, so that if the time ever comes that multiple satellites are used, it will be possible to switch between the satellites.
I’m just tossing this idea out there, to see if anyone else thinks it might be a good idea. With the economy as it is, there are several of the older-style Ku-band communications satellites that have a fair chunk of unused spectrum space available, and I can tell you from personal experience that in most places a two-foot dish will get you a very adequate signal, and a three-foot dish will get you excellent reception (at least for Free-To-Air television reception). As long as people don’t let idiot installers mount the dish on their roof (making it nearly impossible to use a broom to clean off the snow in the winter), a delivery system that uses now-vacant bandwidth on Ku-band satellites should be quite workable, and even affordable.
If you stop and think about it, the most efficient use of spectrum space would be if the entire broadcast radio and TV spectrum, and all of the satellites, transmitted nothing but the BFP data stream. Television networks and local stations would simply be data streams. The BFP could even be smart enough to send you the network TV stream when you are watching a network program (and that network stream would only need to be transmitted once, as a single data stream) but when it comes time to show local commercials, there would be other streams for those, and the beauty is that everything could be configured to use a minimum of bandwidth (hopefully NOT by reducing the quality of the received signal, though) – for example, if Burger King buys the first local commercial spot in “Heroes” in 20 local TV markets, that commercial would only need to be streamed once and your receiver would be smart enough to know that you are supposed to get that commercial, even though people in other markets would be getting different streams. The advantage to viewers would be that you’d be getting the original data stream in full high definition direct from the network – no sub-optimal signals because your local station has crappy transmitting equipment, or is trying to cram three or four stations into one digital television signal.
Who would hate this idea? The National Association of Buggywhip… er, I mean, the National Association of Broadcasters, who would be just fine with keeping the status quo (and in protecting local stations that in many cases don’t deserve it, particularly when they superimpose their damn useless weather radar graphics and similar useless crap over a network show!). But if one of the big players really turned their most talented and creative people loose with this idea, it could totally change the way we distribute data in this country – and, as I say, pull the rug out from under those greedy bastards that want to start metering your data usage and charging you extra if they think you’re a “bandwidth hog” (here’s a great funny rebuttal to those morons, but don’t click there if you’re uptight about profanity).
It appears some of Michigan’s smaller phone companies are upset about House Bill 4257, which has been passed by both the Michigan House and Senate, and is awaiting the Governor’s signature. From the Great Lakes IT Report:
A group of small Michigan-based telecom providers is complaining that a bill passed by the House and Senate would create a new telecom tax and favor large companies such as AT&T and Verizon over Michigan-based companies.
In the latter document, you can see the fatal flaw in this legislation:
Require the restructuring mechanism to be supported by a mandatory monthly contribution by all providers of retail intrastate telecommunications services and commercial mobile service.
It’s not surprising at all to me that AT&T again gets what it wants from the Michigan legislature. I certainly would not be opposed to seeing the terminating charge ripoff by some of the small independent phone companies (especially the ILECs) phased out, and at first glance it looks like that’s what the legislature is trying to accomplish. Except, as you read further, it looks like they are simply trying to eliminate a very visible ripoff and substitute a different kind of ripoff, one that would pick the pockets of more companies (and, ultimately, their customers) in the end.
The interesting twist is that due to federal law and court ruling, the state cannot force VoIP providers to become unwilling contributors to this scam. And I doubt the other companies are just going to quietly accept this, any more than AT&T or Verizon would quietly accept new legislation that picks their pockets. If the Governor signs this bill, it will wind up in the courts, and the state will be forced to spend tax money to attempt to defend this legislation — and my guess (I’m not a lawyer, so all I can do is guess) is that the state will probably lose, and the taxpayers will have to eat the legal bills.
The other possibility is that, as the CEO of ACD.net suggests, all the CLECs will suddenly become VoIP companies. That’s not a farfetched notion – all they have to do is figure out some way to get broadband service to their customers, then put them on a VoIP switch.
If this bill does pass, I have a suggestion for the independent CLECs: Pool your resources and form a cooperative to build your own statewide fiber-optic broadband network, initially to reach your existing customers, but feel free to branch it out to the rest of us so we have another alternative to DSL and cable broadband. Then provision your customers using VoIP only. Maybe you could even get some of the smaller cell providers to participate with you in building this network. Build it with plenty of capacity from the start, so you never have to ration (or meter) bandwidth, and don’t let an ILEC anywhere near it (unless they want to become a VoIP-only company, too).
Interesting side thought: I wonder how will this would impact a company like Allband Communications, which probably benefits greatly from rural subsidies and terminating charges (and is one of the few companies that might not be able to survive without them, given the sparse population of the area they serve), but delivers all their telephone service using what is essentially VoIP (if the cable companies can call their service VoIP, then so could Allband, since it’s totally delivered over fiber to the home!). Would they get the sweetest deal of all, being able to receive funds from the “restructured mechanism” but not having to pay into it? I don’t know the answer to that, but the thought crosses my mind that if this legislation passes, Michigan could potentially become the VoIP state, as every provider attempts (insofar as is possible) to avoid paying into this screwy scheme.
I wonder how many folks saw this article yesterday on the Stop the Cap! site:
I had sent this article to a friend and his response was, “if all these huge profit margins are true, then why is Charter in bankruptcy?” Well, a possible reason is that even what ought to be a hugely profitable company can be sunk by bad management and horrible customer service (and I have seen allegations of both with regard to Charter). But in a way, Charter is the reason for this article. As I mentioned in a previous article, Charter wants to move to what they call “consumption based billing.”
I just want to point out that while people may be slow to react, they are not stupid. America is littered with the remains of once-great corporations that in their day were at the top of the heap, but then got greedy. At one time, the American railroads controlled much of the country, especially the in the west. It took a while, but shippers finally figured out that trucks were less expensive and more practical. The thing is, the railroads at one time had all the advantages, including friends in government and economies of scale, but they just plain got greedy and priced themselves out of the market.
I’ve previously mentioned Western Union, which at one time owned electronic text-based communications within the U.S.A. But even as they became more automated, moving away from guys pounding brass keys and into the age of teletypewriters, fax machines, and microwaves, they kept raising the per-word prices for telegrams. At the same time, the price of a phone call kept falling. Had Western Uninion been a bit smarter, they might have been a major player in today’s world of electronic communications.
Then we have landline phone service. While this is a bit of a unique story, since in part it’s a story of the landline business being cannibalized by the wireline side of the business, it still is an example of many customers finally getting sick to death of being overcharged for service.
So what do we have today? We have cable companies and phone companies that overcharge for service, particularly with regard to broadband and cable television. The cable companies complain that they are being practically held up at gunpoint by the broadcasters and content providers, who demand higher fees, and therefore they need to pss those fees onto customers – however, they won’t even consider the one easy solution that would virtually eliminate that problem – allowing customers to pick and choose the channels they want, rather than being forced to subscribe to tiers of channels they don’t want in order to get channels they do want. If customers were allowed to vote with their wallets, a lot of the alleged extortion by content providers would quickly end. Yet the cable companies fight the very idea of à la carte programming tooth and nail.
As for metered billing for broadband – it’s totally unnecessary and it leaves customers open to possible fraud by the provider (this is sometimes even a problem with utilities where you can physically see the meter, so how much more of a problem will it be when the meter exists only in software, and customers have no possible way to check the accuracy of that meter).
But what I see here is a convergence of a “perfect storm” that’s going to totally reshape communications in the U.S.A. Here are a few, somewhat related points:
What do I mean by “the ‘x’ factor”? I mean the new technology that’s not been fully explored yet. Technology doesn’t stand still, and there may be a breakthrough soon that will cause all existing technologies to essentially become obsolete. Have you ever noticed that the SETI project, and other attempts to “tune in” to advanced civilizations “out there” haven’t met with any success? Maybe that’s because the aliens aren’t using old-fashioned radio waves. Our current forms of electromagnetic radiation are very inefficient and often, very power-hungry. I suspect that the world of quantum physics is going to provide us something much better, if our governments will allow it.
For example, Google “quantum entanglement” – now suppose there were a way to place two particles in a state of entanglement, such that when you change the state of one particle, the other changes instantaneously, withour regard even to the speed of light limitation on traditional electronic communications. Imagine that you had a box at your ISP, and a companion box at your location, and each box contained two (or more) matched pairs of entangled particles (probably in some kind of plug-in module) – at least one pair of particles for transmitting data, the other for receiving. These boxes wouldn’t use radio waves or the electromagnetic spectrum, so there would be no bandwidth limitations to worry about. Furthermore, communications would be totally secure, because only the entangled particles would communicate with each other. That last part is why some governments would hate it – no more intercepting data mid-stream. But if that principle were developed commercially, your ISP could be on the moon for all you’d care, running off solar power and providing communications for half the planet – and if they started gouging their customers, someone else could set up a competing system, anywhere in the world. Maybe you could set one up in your basement, if you wanted to.
Sure, it sounds farfetched now – but so did the whole idea of radio before it was developed. We’re not talking some nebulous idea here, “quantum entanglement” is now a known principle of quantum physics. It’s just so new that either it hasn’t been commercially developed yet (much like the laser in the middle of the 20th century), or it’s being used in secret for totally secure communications, and the governments that are using it would rather you (and their enemies) didn’t know, not that there’s much an enemy could do about it.
My point here is that if today’s communications companies want to be around for the next revolution in technology (which will surely bring about opportunities that haven’t even been considered yet – who could have envisioned the opportunities the World Wide Web would create?), they had better re-think their ideas about alienating their customers. Sadly, American companies are notorious for not thinking ahead – as long as the current C.E.O. gets his golden parachute when he retires, what does he care what happens to the company in the future? But the stockholders ought to care, and customers ought to care, and the government ought to care if they don’t want America to become a third-rate nation.
It will be interesting to see which companies survive the next few decades, and which ones kill the golden goose to get the immediate big windfall. But if I had to take service from one or the other, I’d rather get it from the one that plans on being around for the next century, and treats their customers accordingly.
If you care anything at all about the future of the Internet (and all the services provided via the Internet), drop everything and go read this article:
I get a sense of Déjà vu here – I was making these same arguments over a decade ago when telling people why you could not trust the phone company to accurately bill for local measured service. There was actually one verified case where every call made from a particular telephone exchange was being counted twice, effectively resulting in double billing for measured service customers – it took a city hall auditor to finally figure out what was happening. At least in that situation, someone could put a notepad next to a phone and make a check mark every time a local call was placed, to try and get some idea of whether the billing was accurate.
Let me make it perfectly clear – given the current trend for large corporations to shaft the consumer any way they possibly can, particularly when they think there is very little chance that the consumer will discover that they are being conned, there is no doubt in my mind that some broadband companies will deliberately overbill customers if given the opportunity. I don’t know which company will be the first, and I don’t know exactly how they’ll attempt it, but the very first time a customer gets a bill for excess usage you should at least be suspicious. Look at how the cell phone companies deliberately mislead their customers about things like international data charges and you may begin to understand why, if metered billing ever takes hold, customers will have a very real problem.
Seriously, metered billing is a VERY bad idea from the customer’s standpoint, especially if there are additional charges for “excessive” use (as opposed to bandwidth throttling when the customer passes a certain usage plateau, which while still objectionable, at least limits the damage by making sure the customer never pays more than the monthly rate he or she agreed to pay).
I think broadband providers had better be very careful. I’m old enough to remember a time when it seemed like almost everybody hated the phone company, with the type of hatred that today might be reserved for certain four-letter organizations that end in “AA.” Those of you old enough to remember Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh In” may remember Lily Tomlin’s famous line (while playing the part of Ernestine the Operator): “We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the telephone company!”
Well, substitute “cable company” for “telephone company”, and you’d have a phrase that one could easily imagine falling from the lips of a big cable representative. They don’t care that people don’t want usage caps, that this is not the Internet you signed up for. They figure they’ll just re-educate you so that, like a bunch of stupid sheep, you’ll accept the caps.
The trouble with this, however, is it only works until a significant number of people find an alternative. International telephone rates were totally outrageous until VoIP (and especially Skype) came along.
Now here is the problem I see for the cable companies (and the phone companies that offer cable TV type service) that want to impose usage caps. The thing they are trying to block – the whole reason they are trying to limit usage in the first place – is video over the Internet, especially the high quality variety. They want you to buy their expensive cable service and more expensive video on demand. They will, of course, lie through their teeth and give you any other plausible-sounding reason they can think of, but the thing they are scared to death of is the day you can download any TV show, any movie, or any other kind of video you might want to see via the Internet, and they’re not getting a cut. The day you say, “I don’t need cable TV, I don’t need traditional telephone service, I just want unlimited broadband, thank you very much.”
Just for a moment, think about how your life might change if you could go to a web site at any time on or after the day a new episode of a TV show was released, and click on a button and almost immediately have it start streaming to your computer monitor or nearby HDTV set. You’d never worry about missing an episode again. No presidential speech, no sports event, no local weather or news bulletin would interrupt your program. You wouldn’t be in the only television market in the country to not see some network show because the local affiliate decided you’d rather see a local special on the city hospital, or the West Bumfart High School football game. We are, for all practical purposes, almost at that point (some would say already there), at least for some shows.
Thing is, the cable companies probably don’t mind if you go to Hulu and catch a missed show every now and then. But what they really don’t want is you deciding you don’t need cable television, and can just watch everything you want to watch online.
But what they are forgetting is that even where they are the only game in town, computer storage is getting much smaller and cheaper. And look what’s coming down the road: Store 250 DVDs on One Coin-Sized Surface (via Discover Magazine)
I don’t know if anyone remembers, but it wasn’t so long ago when modems ran at paltry speeds like 300 or 1200 bps. There was no commercial Internet – if you were lucky you might connect to a local Bulletin Board Service, but to exchange data with anyone else online could be a very expensive long distance call. So how did large programs get transferred from one user to another? Via floppy disk, sent via U.S. mail. For the price of a couple postage stamps, you could send several hundred kilobytes anywhere it needed to be. Even if you figured in the cost of the floppy disk and the cardboard mailer, you still came out ahead over a long distance phone call in most cases.
So what happens when your local ISP starts charging a buck or two per gigabyte over their paltry cap, and you get fed up and decide that if you want to trade a significant chunk of data with anybody you’ll just put it in the mail? By the time it gets to that point, people will be really pissed off at the cable company. What I envision happening is they will use their cell phones (with unlimited texting and enough data to send and receive e-mail and maybe do some web browsing each day) but start swapping large chunks of data via mail, and some of those folks will then tell the cable company to take a flying leap. You can bet that sending data by mail happens already in areas where no broadband is available – people order a hard drive with several hundred gigabytes, or maybe even a terabyte in capacity, have it sent to a close relative that has a collection of videos, programs, games or whatever, and that relative fills up the hard drive and ships it out. Today that’s a pain in the posterior – but when you can put that same amount of storage or more on a coin-sized surface (and maybe several terabytes on a disk that would just fit into a standard sized envelope) all bets are off. Would you rather pay a couple bucks to receive two or three months’ worth of viewing material in the mail, or pay the cable company a few hundred dollars (or more) for the same amount of viewing?
I always like to point to the fact that Western Union gouged people on sending telegrams (charging an outrageous per-word rate, even after they had developed teletype machines to replace the old Morse code keys) and the minute long distance telephone service became halfway affordable, people pretty much discarded the telegram like an old smelly shoe. Then the phone companies continued to charge outrageous long distance rates even after technology brought their costs down, and now we see their landline business going the way of the dodo bird – I doubt there will be many landlines left by 2020. The cable companies should learn from these mistakes and not antagonize their customers. I know they probably think that they cannot be replaced in many areas – that customers have no other choice but to use their service – but that’s simply not true. I’m sure we will see advances in digital wireless technology, and we can’t rule out the possibility of electric utilities getting into the broadband business (forget broadband over power lines, start stringing fiber on those poles!).
And then there’s the possibility of some totally new technology being developed. Personally, I’d put my money on something having to do with quantum entanglement. If you can affect the state of a particle at any distance by altering the state of its twin, and you can do this in a totally secure fashion and with minimal power usage, then all you have to figure out is how to do the state changes quickly enough to send data, and how to decode the received data at the other end. If we ever put a colony on Mars or someplace even more distant, we are not going to want to wait minutes or hours for old-fashioned electromagnetic waves (limited by the speed of light). My understanding is that at the quantum level there is no speed-of-light limitation, and I’ll just bet that you don’t have to use several thousand watts of power to get the signal out. Maybe I’m wrong, and it will be some other technology we haven’t heard of yet, but if you have ever wondered why SETI hasn’t yet picked up an extraterrestrial equivalent of “I Love Lucy” on their gigantic dishes, I suspect it’s because any aliens that might be out there would no more think of using electromagnetic waves for communication than we would consider using smoke signals.
Point is, when the new technologies and alternative connection methods come along, the cable companies may just wish they’d treated their customers a whole lot better. Guys, you know bandwidth is cheap and getting cheaper – get it right out of your heads that you can overcharge customers for a decade or two and they will forgive you. No, really, they won’t, and their children won’t give you the time of day. The unintended consequence of bandwidth caps is that you become the next company that everyone loves to hate, and that’s definitely not a recipe for long-term survival.
At first I checked the calendar – nope, it’s not April Fools Day. Then I read the article to see if the title, “Editorial: Caps are welcome” was really a bit of headline sarcasm, and that the body of the article would complete the sentence in some way that would make sense (as in “Caps are welcome – in retirement homes”, though even that would make the unwarranted assumption that no senior citizen would actually want to use the bandwidth they are paying for).
I did discover that the author on this particular editorial actually lives in Australia, where apparently the broadband service is horrible, like it will be in the United States if the phone and cable companies get their way.
Anyway, without responding to the editorial point by point, I just want to mention what I think is the underlying fallacy behind the editorial, at least insofar as we in North America are concerned, and that is that the caps will only affect a small percentage of “broadband hogs” – these are supposedly the “heavy downloaders.”
Now, let me point out that the satellite broadband providers have actually come up with a method of dealing with broadband over-usage that makes some degree sense, even though users tend to hate it. The way it generally works is, you are allowed to download so much per day. If you come close to reaching the limit, your download speed is severely reduced, for example to somewhere around 256K. The next day, you again receive full bandwidth (at least until you use up that day’s allotment). The point is, this makes sense for a lot of reasons – it accomplishes the goal of keeping anyone from using far too much bandwidth (to the point that it degrades service for other customers) but it still lets the customer access basic services like e-mail and web pages (although pages that contain embedded video will load rather slowly). And no customer ever gets hit with an unexpected bill for overage charges.
But, that’s not what some cable and phone companies want to do. Instead of actually limiting the bandwidth of those whose usage they consider excessive, their plan is to let them keep using bandwidth to their heart’s delight, then send a huge bill at the end of the month. If anyone can’t see the problem with this plan, you’re probably either not a U.S.A. resident or you are still in Junior High school using your parents’ Internet service.
Let’s think about this for just a moment. Do we think that, in the future, new Internet-based applications are going to use MORE or LESS bandwidth? Looking at past trends, my guess is MORE.
Now, then, do we think that new technology will make it MORE or LESS expensive to provide that bandwidth? Again, if we go by past trends, the cost of providing bandwidth should continue to drop, particularly as new technologies are developed that squeeze more bandwidth out of existing fiber circuits (that’s the nice thing about fiber, when you want more bandwidth you don’t usually have to replace the fiber, you just replace the equipment at the endpoints with something that utilizes the existing fiber more effectively).
Okay, now I want you to think really hard about this one. Even if customer bandwidth consumption stayed at current levels, and the cost of moving those bits around the world kept going down, do you think that a phone or cable company would ever reduce their prices (absent serious competition that does not now exist in most areas?). Have your phone and cable bills increased or decreased over the last several years?
Okay, so if your bandwidth usage has a tendency to go up, AND the phone and cable companies have a tendency to raise prices, do you suppose that it’s at all possible that as the bandwidth usage goes up, the “caps” before metering starts will keep getting REDUCED? I’m sure the goal at the cable company, and the wet dream of the phone company executive, is to see the day when no one pays flat rate for their Internet service anymore. Just as in the days when you paid a “flat monthly rate” for your phone service as long as you didn’t go over a certain number of calls per month, so it will be with your Internet service. And just as there were senior citizens that never made phone calls and always paid the minimum rate, there will be people who do nothing but read and send the odd piece of e-mail who, in theory, will pay the basic rate.
Why do I say, “in theory”? Well, here are a couple other things to keep in mind. First, broadband service isn’t presently regulated by any public service or public utilities commission, and is barely regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. What that means is that if your phone or cable company decides that you aren’t paying enough – that you are a “deadbeat” (to use the term that some credit card companies use about customers who always pay they balances off in time, and never incur any interest charges) – they may simply decide to tack on a few extra GB of usage. How will you contest it? Who will you complain to? They will have you by the part of the anatomy where it hurts the most (speaking as a guy here). Even if you then decide you can live without the Internet and cancel your service, they will still sic the bill collectors on you.
(I am convinced that one reason the phone companies are losing wireline customers is because so many have in the past had billing disputes and, not knowing how to complain effectively, either paid money they did not rightfully owe or had their service disconnected and/or their credit rating harmed by their refusal to pay. That sort of thing leaves a REALLY bad taste in the mouth of a customer).
And then there’s the other possibility. Let’s say that someone doesn’t like you and is out to get you. Maybe your kid is being cyber-bullied. Whatever. All someone has to do is somehow get a “trojan horse” program onto your system that does whatever it takes to suck up loads of bandwidth. Today if that happened, your broadband provider would probably notice and notify you (and maybe suspend your service until the problem was fixed), but from your point of view it would be a denial-of-service attack, nothing more. But the minute bandwidth caps go into effect, suddenly your ISP has a financial incentive to let as much traffic flow into your system as possible, since YOU will get stuck with the bill. Note we are not talking here about traffic you instigated (say, by foolishly using a torrent-type program) but rather about traffic sent to you without your knowledge and prior approval – and without even trying too hard, I could probably think of a dozen or so ways that could happen (everything from a piece of software that too aggressively “phones home”, to misdirected packets that come to you because some teenage hacker was trying to instigate a denial-of-service attack against the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and fumbled-fingered the IP address, and is sending his zillion packets to you instead).
Now, if the past is any indication, I am urinating into the wind here. The big broadband providers, who (in case you hadn’t noticed) are quickly becoming duopolies or monopolies in their service areas, will crank up their PR machines and tell you that bandwidth caps are necessary and good and right, and that only an unpatriotic supporter of all that is evil would oppose them. AND (the Big Lie), they will only affect a very small percentage of customers. Yeah, right. That’s possibly true TODAY. And YOU, little lobster, have just been lowered into the pot of cool water, and never mind the hissing sound and that faint whiff of natural gas you smell.
Does anyone remember how people used to place calls to each other back in the days of the black-and-white movies? You picked up the phone and told Tillie the operator who you wanted to speak to, and she connected you, and (if local) it was a free call. Then along came rotary dialing, and people hated having to look up phone numbers and dial them, but they were placated by being told that they could call “Information” and get the number for free, if for some reason they could not look it up. THEN the phone company said some people were hogging the time of the Directory Assistance operators (by then it was called Directory Assistance) so they had to start charging the heaviest users, those who made more than 20 calls a month to Directory Assistance. Then the number of “free” calls went down to ten, then five, then three. THEN they started using computerized equipment so that the actual time a human operator was online with a customer dropped significantly. Did they then increase the “free” call allowance? HAH! When was the last time you got a free telephone number from a telephone company operator, or even one of their voice-recognition computers?
They say that those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it. But nowadays I sometimes feel like I’m surrounded by stupid people – the history of how phone and cable companies promise the moon and stars, then do nothing but raise rates, is so recent that it would be hard to overlook, yet people continue to believe the crap that the phone and cable company PR and advertising departments crank out. If, in this day and age, you really think that phone or cable companies have your best interest at heart by imposing bandwidth caps, then you have to be among the stupidest people on this planet. If you really are in that group, and what I just said offends you, don’t let the door hit you on the way out – you don’t deserve to be a reader of this blog.
David Lazarus of the The Los Angeles Times blasts Verizon today for withholding contract terms from customers until AFTER they have signed up for service – and some of the contract terms are ones that I sure wouldn’t agree to:
For years, credit card issuers have gotten away with withholding contracts from customers until they actually have the plastic in their hands — a practice that denies many people a fair chance to look under the hood for onerous terms and conditions.Now it looks like Verizon has adopted the same technique.
What really struck [Torrance, California resident Sandy Lough] was the discovery that to receive the promised discount for her bundled plan, she’d have to go online and agree to a 2,000-word “bundle service agreement” and a 7,000-word terms of service for Internet access.
This was the first time she was being presented with the full contract for her new FiOS setup, and the service had already been installed and activated.
The LA Times article goes on to mention some of the more notable terms of the contract. The interesting thing is that it would appear that this is not simply an oversight – that perhaps Verizon deliberately withholds contract terms from customers until they’ve already committed to the service:
As for why the full contract is withheld until after FiOS has been installed in a person’s home, [Verizon spokesman Cliff Lee] said only that “this is the way we’ve found that works.”
Now, I Am Not A Lawyer, but it seems to me that in the old days a court would never enforce a contract imposed “after the fact”, that is, after the deal had been consummated and the customer had signed on the dotted line. What has happened to make large corporations think they can simply change the deal at their whim, after a customer has already signed on the dotted line, without giving the customer the same right? Did someone slip a new amendment to the Constitution when I wasn’t looking, saying that corporations can do any sly legal maneuvering they want, and the courts are forced to go along with it, while individual consumers are put at a disadvantage?
This is one reason I’m not making too big a stink about Verizon not offering FiOS in Michigan. Sure, it would be nice to have those high speeds, delivered via fiber. But in the long run, I’d rather see a competitive market of many smaller broadband providers than one or two large mammoth corporations that seem to think they can do whatever they want to the consumer.
I know the amendment I’d like to see put into the constitution:
“Only an actual, physical human being shall be given the rights of a person under the law.”
Like I said, I’m not a lawyer, but that about sums it up. It would mean that no large corporation, with almost infinite legal resources and billions of dollars behind them, would be able to use their wealth to put real people at a disadvantage, because it would be presumed that only the real person had any rights. Think about that for a while, and how much it would change things from the way things are today!
Edit: Additional commentary at DSLreports
You’ve heard of a denial-of-service attack – read the following and see if it appears to you as though Comcast might have taken the same principle and applied it to citizen participation. Or, if you’re of my parents’ generation, see if this reminds you at all of the days when union organizers (or opponents) would fill a meeting with a bunch of paid shills:
The Save The Internet Coalition, a coalition of consumer advocates like the Consumers Union authors of Consumer Reports and the Free Press, is claiming that Comcast bussed in a large number of disinterested individuals to yesterday’s public FCC hearing at Harvard on network neutrality and traffic shaping. The group is claiming Comcast paid these individuals so those seats would not be filled with interested, question-asking participants. Many didn’t even know what the meeting was about …..
The real question is, are the FCC Commissioners so isolated from reality that they can’t figure out that this sort of thing might be happening right under their noses? I mean, if we assume that the critics have the right take on this, it would seem to me that once the Commission discovers that Comcast apparently believes their case is so weak that they dare not allow opponents to fairly participate in the process, that would work against them. I might be wrong, but to me this sort of seems like an admission that if the hearings are conducted in a fair and open manner, Comcast doesn’t believe their position will be the one with which the FCC sides. But then, that (and everything in this article other than the article excerpt and link) is just my personal take on what I’ve read in the linked article. As always, feel free to leave a comment if you disagree.
Computerworld correspondent Robert L. Mitchell has come out with a scathing critique of communications deregulation in the United States:
Will you get the bandwidth you need? If your business is in Europe or Asia, the answer is yes. The average advertised bandwidth in Japan is just under 1Gbit/sec. In Korea and France, it’s over 40Mbit/sec. That sort of capacity will drive innovations that U.S. businesses can’t even envision yet.
But in the U.S., except in a few metro areas, most people are lucky if they can get 6Mbit/sec. — and in rural areas, most users can’t even get that.
It’s a disgrace born of political failure. In 1996, the government agreed to free the Baby Bells to compete in the long-distance market if they met certain conditions. Among other things, the Bells promised to share their facilities with other providers and pledged to run fiber to every home. “Almost every one of them reneged on their promises,” says David Passmore, an analyst at Burton Group.
Full story here:
Opinion: Keeping a lid on broadband
I am in agreement with most of the article, but here is where I think Mr. Mitchell jumps the shark:
Furthermore, all ISPs should be required to contribute to the Universal Service Fund just as land-line carriers do. Unless those subsidies are replenished, high-speed Internet access will never be fully extended to the 20% of businesses and homes in rural areas left behind by the market.
Mr. Mitchell, you couldn’t be more wrong on that point. The USF is a government handout to telecommunications companies, many of which are large, multi-state, old-fashioned wireline companies. It is a form of reverse socialism that takes from all ratepayers to subsidize inefficiently operated telephone companies. Some of these companies would be quite profitable (and some already are), with or without subsidies, if they were operated in an efficient manner. There was a big flap a while back where USF funds were being used to buy thousands of dollars worth of outdated computer equipment for school systems, much of which was warehoused and never used by students. The USF is just wrong on so many levels, and almost everyone who understands anything about it would like to see it gone (except for those who receive the funds, and the organizations that shill on their behalf), but it stays because it has the backing of powerful congresscritters like Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who of course receives campaign contributions from telecom companies, and organizations representing the phone companies that feed at the USF trough.
Perhaps what Mr. Mitchell intended to say was that we need to subsidize deployment of broadband in the rural areas. I would not have as much of a problem with that if the people owned what the people are forced to pay for. You can make an analogy to a city street – we pay taxes to create it and for its upkeep, but it then belongs to the city, which in theory is representative of all residents of the city. The USF is a hidden “tax” of sorts, but instead of going to a unit of government to build telecommunications facilities that we can all use, it goes to private corporations. I do realize that there are some pointy-headed think-tank types that advocate the position that everything should be privatized, but I don’t buy it anymore.
Big corporations just take and take and take some more, then charge you extra for talking to a live customer service representative. If you have a gripe with the city – if the road in front of your home is full of potholes, for example – you can go to a city council meeting and complain, and if enough of your neighbors do the same, chances are that the city officials will feel obligated to do something. If your broadband service sucks, or if you can’t get it at all, you wind up complaining to a faceless corporation that would just as soon you just shut up and pay the bill (if you don’t currently have service, that bill might be several thousand dollars to extend service to your home, regardless of any subsidies they may have already received).
In any case, if we are going to have broadband subsidies, and our government is hell-bent on taking from the poor (the customers) and giving to the rich corporations, at least please find a new way to do it, and don’t rely on the broken and ridiculous USF model. Instead, tie funds to performance – before taking any money from the fund, you must make a commitment to serving new areas that don’t presently have service, and by that I mean you actually submit maps (or maybe a list of municipalities that you intend to serve in totality) showing the areas to be served, along with a firm completion date. Miss the date and you are fined for each day that customers are unable to obtain service beyond the deadline (and you must publish that deadline in a notice in local papers, so customers and local officials in the area know about the deadline). Miss the deadline by more than six months and criminal penalties kick in. This isn’t China, so we don’t take telecom executives out and shoot them, but when they take ratepayer money under false pretenses and then don’t deliver what they promised, there ought to be severe penalties, and I don’t just mean that they lose their Christmas bonus.
Other than that one paragraph, Mr. Mitchell couldn’t be more correct in his assessment of the situation. The reason we are having problems in the United States is because we have given large corporations free rein, allowing them to take money under false pretenses, lie to regulators and government officials, and then when they don’t deliver on their promises we do nothing at all about it. We have government officials listening to industry-funded experts who assure them that all will be well if the communications companies can just raise their rates and get more subsidies, and by the way, that municipalities and other public entities should never be allowed to compete with them. So these corporations just take and take and take some more, and are never called on the carpet to explain why they haven’t delivered on their previous broken promises.
It is sometimes said that to do what you’ve always done, and yet expect different results than what you’ve always achieved, is a sign of lunacy. If so, our government officials much be a bunch of lunatics, because they keep allowing the phone companies to do what they’ve always done, and yet somehow expect that the phone and cable companies are going to get this sudden urge to make our broadband offerings comparable with those in other parts of the world. I predict that the more money that companies receive from the Universal Service Fund, the less likely we are to be the world leader in broadband service ten years from now.
(By the way, I do recognize that there are a few, very small telephone companies that probably could not exist without the USF. The problem is that these few small deserving companies have to share the pot with large multi-state companies that make boatloads of money from they other operations, such as their cellular service. USF disbursement should only go to companies that genuinely need them to survive, even though they are doing all they can to tighten their belts and operate efficiently, and even then the customers of such companies might sometimes be better served if the company sold their operations to another, more efficiently-operated company. I’ve seen small companies that give their customers a lot even while charging very low rate, and then other companies that seem intent on gouging their customers for every penny they can get, and if it were up to me, those in the latter category wouldn’t get a dime from the USF).
They stopped the taping when the audience indicated they were not in favor of AT&T’s filtering plans! The story is here:
And here’s the YouTube-posted video:
I found this via a news item on BroadbandReports.com.
Those of us who live in places where there are two or more choices for broadband access may sometimes forget that there are large areas of Michigan where no broadband access is available. The people who live in those areas, however, are getting tired of waiting for the phone and cable companies to hook them up, and are exploring other options:
This week, many potential stakeholders met in Gaylord to consider a new regional approach to broadband expansion.
Internet providers, public officials and economic development and information technology professionals were among the 100 or so people gathering at the University Center Wednesday.
Three dozen or so volunteered to be part of an exploratory committee, which will consider possibilities for forming a regional broadband cooperative.
Counties tentatively proposed for the cooperative’s service area include Emmet, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Otsego, Antrim, Kalkaska, Crawford, Oscoda, Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency and Presque Isle.
“A cooperative is a business that’s owned and controlled by the people who use its services,” U.S. Department of Agriculture representative Traci Smith said. “This cooperative allows them to purchase their supplies at a lower rate than they would otherwise.”
I hope this works out – if the phone and cable companies are dragging their feet in bringing high speed connectivity to certain areas, then other options are needed. Actually, this is true even in areas where you wouldn’t think it should be a problem to get broadband. I’m aware of a situation in northern Muskegon County where some folks want broadband but can’t get it – they are too far from the Verizon central office, and they are on a side road that’s between two main roads, each of which is served by a different cable company, and neither of those companies has run cable down their road. A strange situation but frustrating for them, and I’ve heard other stories of people who are just beyond reach of the cable lines, and the cable companies refuse to extend their lines (or won’t do it unless the customer pays a fee roughly equal to the local branch manager’s annual salary).
There have been a few reports surfacing this week that Time-Warner intends to try a metered pricing scheme for broadband service down in Beaumont, Texas. I’m not sure why they picked that town but I’ll bet there’s not a lot of broadband competition there. Or perhaps Time Warner has friends on the Beaumont town council. Whatever…
In any case, The Consumerist points out that metered bandwidth to consumers might lead to unintended consequences. They point out that,
Although tiered pricing is often touted as a means to resolve fears of a “bandwith crunch” on the Internet, the model may also serve to constrain one of the Internet’s biggest sources of innovation — user-created content, particularly home videos and movies uploaded on sites such as YouTube and Joost.
Bandwith-heavy services such as video hosting and sharing may never have gotten off the ground if users were concerned about exceeding caps on their bandwith, and if tiered services are adopted by cable and telecom providers on a nationwide basis, it may lead to slower usage of file-sharing services and video-sharing sites.
While that might mean fewer videos of pets performing silly tricks, it could also severely restrict the many ways Internet users communicate and share information via the Web.
Full Consumerist article here:
Time Warner To Test Metered Pricing For Broadband
I want you to stop and think for a moment – how much of the content that you download, view, or listen to via the Internet is NOT produced by large corporations with deep pockets? How much of that content is available to you for free, just because someone had something to say or to share with the world? That is the content that is endangered by metered pricing.
Sure, maybe the world could get by with fewer funny pictures of cats, or videos of people making fountains by dropping mints into cola, or even user-generated articles like this blog. Maybe you can do without VoIP – after all, your cable company would be happy to sell you their version of phone service, and apparently quite a few of you see nothing wrong with getting phone service from your cable company, even if they do charge you twice the price of an independent VoIP provider. But mark my words, metered bandwidth will make us all poorer.
Let me tell you what I believe is the phone and cable company wet dream for Internet service: You pay them a monthly fee for the service – the “base rate” just for providing a wire or fiber to your home – and then you pay additional charges for the traffic you use. Chances are, the charging mechanism will be so obscure that you will not have any way to verify whether you are being charged accurately, or whether they are just pulling some usage number out of their … um, hat. But also, the people who provide the content you view or download will have to pay, or their packets will never reach you. so you will pay once to have the service, again to have the packets get to you, and the people you serve up the content will also pay. Oh, and maybe they slip in a few “unfees” while they are at it. Meanwhile phone and cable company executives will get multi-million dollar salaries and “golden parachutes” that will keep their great-great-grandchildren from ever having to work if they don’t want to.
Now I hear you cry, “but that’s not what Time-Warner is proposing at all!” Well, of course it isn’t. They aren’t that stupid, and maybe not even that greedy – yet. But the problem is, any type of enforced metered billing sets up the “slippery slope.” Large corporations, and even governments, have learned well how to play the game. You start out charging a small amount, and maybe to only the “top 5%” or so. Then every year or two, you increase the amount charged, while also increasing the percentage of people who have to pay it. The beauty of the system is that eventually it creates an “us against them” situation – by the time the top 30% or 40% are having to pay, they are looking down their noses at the “bums” who aren’t paying, and complaining that those folks are getting a “free ride.” If your great-grandfathers are still living, ask how many of them had to pay income tax during the early years, and what percentage of income was actually taxed, and compare it to what people are paying today.
As with taxes, once a usage charge is implemented, it NEVER goes away (unless, perhaps, it falls flat in the initial trials). And lest you think taxes and metered billing are unrelated, consider that for over a century the government had a usage-based tax on phone service. It certainly isn’t inconceivable that as people have to give up more of their income for broadband service, the government will see that as too good an opportunity to pass up, and will impose a “luxury tax” of sorts on broadband service – again, I don’t expect this will happen in the immediate future, but who knows how the politicians will be thinking about the Internet in ten or twenty years, especially if it turns into a medium that’s primarily commercial in nature (with much of the free content gone the way of the dodo bird).
Now, apparently some folks just don’t understand this. Even David S. Isenberg is talking as though this is a good thing, because in his mind it means that broadband providers will be open and transparent about managing congestion. He writes:
If you must manage congestion, then doing it explicitly is, at very least, honest. It is better than doing it (a) covertly or (b) indirectly, by injecting artificial interrupts and (c) denying you’re doing it — like Comcast currently does.
But that’s assuming that if they can meter bandwidth to end users, they won’t engage in any of the covert or indirect methods of limiting broadband. However, that would logically only be true if they are making significant sums by allowing such content to flow without interference. If only the top 5% of users are going to see extra amounts on their bills because of this scheme, that logically means that 95% will be free to continue doing what they’ve always done, without paying any more. Do you see the problem? If there really is a bandwidth shortage – which, by the way, there shouldn’t be if companies would properly engineer their networks – then there will be a strong temptation to apply the metered billing to a larger percentage of the customer base, or to use surreptitious methods to limit the bandwidth used by those customers not paying on a metered basis.
Furthermore, metering bandwidth is not something that you can apply the “lesser of evils” test to, because the problem is that it will grow like a cancer if not nipped in the bud – just because it may be the lesser of evils today doesn’t mean it won’t be a much greater evil a few years down the road. And beyond that, it opens a myraid of new opportunities for customers to be ripped off by providers. The moment you meter anything, you then have the expense of metering (which, of course, gets passed on to the customer) AND you have the problem of making sure that the metering is accurate. That implies that you either need a government bureaucracy to investigate claims of inaccurate metering, or you simply get into a “wild west” situation where companies can charge hapless consumers whatever they want, and if the customer suspects that the billing is inaccurate, tough luck – there’s no real recourse (particularly in areas where there’s little or no competition).
When I was a child, growing up in the 1950′s, kids didn’t just pick up the phone and call their grandparents (if there was any distance between the two), because a long distance call was a significant expense back then. In our family, about the only time long distance calls were ever made was on Christmas or someone’s birthday (and my parents would still try to end the call within three minutes, even after the phone companies dropped the three-minute minimum). I’m sure we will never go back to that, but do we want a situation where parents have to think twice about sending videos of their kids to the grandparents, or about letting the kids conduct long video calls over the Internet? That may seem ridiculous now, but maybe a new technology will be invented that will be too expensive to use over limited bandwidth (think some sort of 3-D presence – the technology exists now, but it’s too bandwidth-intensive for all but dedicated, very-high-speed connections). Do we want that technology to be metered, so that the new applications never see widespread usage, or in the alternative, shouldn’t we expect broadband providers to increase their available bandwidth, in order to keep up with the new technologies?
And as a final thought, why would bandwidth providers have any incentive to increase bandwidth to end users if that means that fewer people would have to pay for excess usage? Have you noticed that traditional wireline phone companies still only give you minimal bandwidth of 0-3000 Hz or thereabouts, even though audio circuits capable of reproducing sound to the limits of human hearing (and beyond) have been available for decades now? If phone service had been flat-rate across the country AND there had been multiple phone companies that customers could have chosen from, my bet is that we’d have telephones capable of at least FM radio quality speech by now. The phone companies had the monopoly, they charged based on usage, and they gave consumers as little as possible in the way of innovation, except when they thought they could make a few extra bucks a month. Is that the model you want to emulate for broadband service?
From DSLreports.com comes a heads-up on another organization that may not be what it seems:
You may have heard of “Connect Kentucky,” a plan developed to bring broadband services to rural areas of Kentucky that’s being revamped as a national broadband cure-all under the name Connected Nation. It has the support of a number of key politicians (including President Bush and Hillary Clinton) and major incumbents like Verizon, whose policy men insist that the plan revitalized Kentucky and would do the same nationally.
Art Brodsky over at Public Knowledge paints a very different picture of the plan, noting that the Connect model was cooked up by aides to former Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher and representatives from BellSouth. Why are the phone companies so excited about the Connect model? Brodsky claims, and we’ve seen this claim supported by local ISP employees in the region, that the plan is little more than a political ploy aimed at lining incumbent pockets, killing regulation, and preventing any real work in the mapping of the nation’s broadband penetration.
I’m getting to the point that I’m suspicious of just about any organization that claims to represent (or in some way benefit) consumers – even when such groups start out with good people and the best of intentions, that’s no guarantee that they won’t be highly influenced, or even taken over, by the very corporation(s) they originally organized to oppose (or that corporation’s PR firm, or their sock puppets, etc.). Nowadays, you not only have to look at who founded the group and for what purpose, but also who leads them now, and who supplies the bulk of their support – and sometimes it’s like peeling an onion, if you stop at the first layer you don’t see who’s really pulling the strings behind the scene. Sorry if this sounds like conspiracy theory, but there have been too many documented cases where organizations have taken a position favored by a major corporation, and then it’s been discovered that the same corporation is in some way funneling money into the organization (in a simpler context, there’s a five letter word starting with the letter “b” that might be used to describe such activity – can you guess what it is? – and since that might be illegal in certain circumstances, they money is often sent via one or more third parties, such as public relations firms).
There are days I think we need some sort of “truth in advertising” laws that require disclosure of all affiliations and funding sources for organizations, especially non-profits – and that such disclosures must be included in any printed or published documents advocating legislation, policy changes, or political action of any kind. Of course, if such a law were ever proposed, every lobbyist in Washington would doubtless oppose it. I wonder if we will ever again be able to elect honorable men and women as government officials, that will have the backbone to take on these lobbyists and gut their power, so that they can once again represent all their constituents fairly, without feeling the need to kowtow to the large corporations.
The Consumerist had not one, but two articles about Verizon today. The best one contained an embedded video, in which a guy phoned up Verizon Wireless fifty-six times to ask two basic questions about their rates. Take a guess as to what percentage of the time he received the correct answer, then see how close you came to guessing right.
And in the other article, they note that Verizon has changed their terms of service for DSL customers. Now, they claim, they have the right to disconnect your DSL and offer you FiOS in its place. While many users would be thrilled to death if they could even get FiOS (although, as The Consumerist notes, you might want to keep a working fire extinguisher handy during the install), there are folks that are happy with plain old DSL. That might be particularly true of customers who took advantage of Verizon’s recent promotion that offered a fixed price for life for a very basic tier of DSL service (more commentary on this issue at DSLreports.com).
Now, I’m not a lawyer, but I will say that I would not assume that just because a company sticks something in their Terms of Service document, they can automatically make it stick. If that were the case, some company would doubtless try to sneak in something to the effect that once you’ve been signed up for their service for a year, you must give them the contents of your bank account, your home, and your firstborn child. Even if only a few people didn’t bother to read the ToS, a shady company could make out pretty well doing that. But the reason nobody does that is because courts won’t enforce unconscionable contract terms. I don’t know if a “sleeper” provision in a ToS document that could effectively force a customer to upgrade to a more expensive service just because Verizon happens to choose to install the fiber on their street would be considered unconscionable or not, but it would not surprise me if some court somewhere had a real problem with the idea of forcing customers to take the more expensive service, even when there’s no technical reason why Verizon could not keep providing DSL.
Of course, it may be that Verizon has no intention of enforcing this right away, but the day may come when the copper in those old cables is more valuable when sold at the scrapyard than when used to provide phone and DSL service to the one old codger in town that still refuses to upgrade, despite the fact that all his neighbors moved to FiOS (or some other alternative) many years previous. In other words, this provision may simply be there so that when they are finally ready to stop using copper wires altogether, they won’t have few diehard DSL users holding them back. There might be a good reason to think that could be a problem – after all, when the phone companies finally stopped offering party lines, you’d be surprised how many older folks threw a fit because they’d have to pay a buck or two more a month for a private line!
Edit (November 14): DSLReports.com has communicated with a Verizon spokesperson about this issue.