Thursday, April 02, 2009

Public Trust Sold To AT&T?

The state of Tennessee has been handing lucrative contracts and taxpayer dollars to AT&T and now the company wants to eliminate state oversight from the Tennessee Regulatory Commission. They've been successful at lobbying the state for a stream of changes in state law, they already operate the eHealth program for the state and their efforts continue to grow.

Last week Public Knowledge published a critical look at Connected Nation, a federal program modeled from Kentucky and Tennessee, and their findings should cause our legislature to exercise great caution before handing off all broadband mapping and tax dollars to this organization.

As a result of the passage and signing of the new stimulus legislation, there is now up to $350 million available to map the deployment of broadband services across the country. The data collected as a result of this effort will be one of the important factors in the national broadband strategy plan the law directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to construct.

Across the country, states have already begun their own efforts to determine where broadband service is being offered and have already allocated millions of dollars to the effort. As a general matter, trying to figure out the lay of the land is a productive exercise. However, there is a great danger that the process of data collection and, as a result, the national broadband map and plan, will be harmed by an organization known as Connected Nation.

In order to be effective, a national broadband data-collection and mapping exercise should be conducted by a government agency, on behalf of the public, with as granular a degree of information as possible and be totally transparent so that underlying information can be evaluated.

Connected Nation is none of those and represents none of those characteristics."

"Let’s take a look at the Connect Board of Directors. There are 12 outside directors, eight of which are directly in the orbit of network operators. They are not small players.

James W. Cicconi – AT&T senior executive vice president-external and legislative affairs

Steve Largent – CTIA – The Wireless Association president and CEO

Joseph W. Waz – Comcast senior vice president, external affairs and public policy counsel

Larry Cohen – Communications Workers of America president. CWA is in frequent agreement with telecom companies on policy issues.

Thomas J. Tauke – Verizon executive vice president for public affairs, policy and communication

Walter B. McCormick – United States Telecom Association president

Kyle E. McSlarrow – National Cable and Telecommunications Association president

Grant Seiffert – Telecommunications Industry Association president. (The members are the equipment makers who sell their gear to the telecom industry.)"

"The maps compiled by Connect are inadequate and inaccurate. It is some times hard to discern which definition fits at any given moment. There is a distinct lack of useful information on the maps, such as what data speeds are being offered at what price at any given location.

Indeed, the basic information on the maps, that service of whatever type is available, is open to question because CN, rather than collect granular information by door-to-door canvass, assumes that every spot within a range of a cell tower or telephone company wire center is being served. That is not the case. And it can take dozens of steps and clicks through the cumbersome map interface to reach the inadequate or inaccurate information.

In sum, as a group of municipal utilities told FCC Commissioner Copps in July, 2008, “Broadband data must be collected and delivered in a transparent, verifiable manner. The CK/CN model doesn’t do that: Data is collected, interpreted and reported by a private non-profit entity and shielded from government and public input, oversight and verification.”

The full report is available here.

I'm also gathering more information about upcoming legislative hearings in Tennessee on broadband development and mapping and will post it ASAP.

What's at stake is critical to our economy and to transparency in government.

The whole point of a legitimate broadband mapping exercise is for the public and policymakers to see where the service is being offered, at what speeds and price and, as importantly, where it isn't. The "why" it isn't being offered is a separate question the map can't answer. The whole strategy of the telecom industry is to keep any mapping from revealing embarrassing information, like low speeds, high prices and spotty coverage and to keep anyone else from verifying the information it does put forward." (Huffington Post)

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