Local forums to implement high-speed networks (broadband): proposal open for votes

I’ve posted a proposal titled

Local forums to implement high-speed networks (broadband)

to a forum on open government put up by the White House.
I ask this blog’s readers to tell other people who might be
interested, and vote up the proposal if you like it.

Open Government Dialog site
where this proposal appears is part of the White House’s
implementation of the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government
that Obama signed on his first day in office. Hundreds of ideas have
already been posted. Many are very specific and some look quite
worthy, but I think mine stands out for the reasons listed in my

First, one of the Administration’s major goals is to bring high-speed
networking to every resident of the country.

Second, this goal is fundamental to the other goals in the Memorandum
on Transparency and Open Government. Members of the public need
continuous access to the Internet and the ability to handle video and
sophisticated graphical displays in order to make full use of the
resources provided in open government efforts.

The local community aspect is also crucial, for reasons I
list in my justification.

Many readers will note that the people who need my proposal the most
the ones who have the most trouble participating in the forums–people
who can’t afford computers, who have access only to intermittent
dial-up Internet access, etc. I deal with this ironic problem in the
proposal in several ways (public terminals, face-to-face meetings,
partnering with newspapers and television).

Because the formatting came out a mess, I’m reprinting the proposal

Local forums to implement high-speed networks (broadband)

Municipalities and regions undertaking projects in high-speed
networking be encouraged to create online forums that:

  • Post regional maps showing the demographic features, geographical
    features, patterns of network use, and technological facilities
    relevant to the project

  • Accept proposals, provide comment and rating systems, and run polls

  • Provide public terminals and low-bandwidth versions of data, so that
    people who are currently on the disadvantaged side of the digital
    divide can offer input to help cross that divide

  • Are supplemented by face-to-face gatherings

  • Collaborate with newspapers and with television and radio news
    programs to publicize proposals, meetings, and opportunities for
    public comment

  • Create visitor accounts, perhaps with validation procedures for
    determining local residence, and allow visitors to identify their
    expertise and credentials

  • Provide tools for mapping proposed facilities and for calculating the
    reach, bandwidth, and costs of proposed facilities

  • Provide data about ongoing deployments in standardized, open formats
    on maps and in downloadable form

The federal-level initiative can support these efforts by:

  • Mandating the types of information that participating municipalities
    and companies should provide, such as the capabilities of current
    facilities, statistics on current usage, demographic information such
    as income and connectivity on a neighborhood basis, and detailed
    implementation plans with measurable milestones

  • Funding the development of software tools, such as programs that can
    estimate the quality of wireless coverage for different terrains, or
    the time period required to recoup the costs of building out networks

  • Providing formats and quality standards for the data provided

  • Publicizing successful initiatives, the tools they used, and their
    best practices

Why Is This Idea Important

High-speed digital networking (also known as “broadband”) should
concern open government advocates in two ways.

First, one of the Administration’s major goals is to bring high-speed
networking to every resident of the country.

Second, this goal is fundamental to the other goals in the Memorandum
on Transparency and Open Government. Members of the public need
continuous access to the Internet and the ability to handle video and
sophisticated graphical displays in order to make full use of the
resources provided in open government efforts.

Why do I stress the local nature of these forums?

All networking is (on one level) local. Given the limited resources
available for any network deployment, and the trade-offs that must be
made during plans, decision-makers need to take into account local
demographics, geography, topology, social and economic priorities, and
existing facilities. Here are just a few examples the many local
issues typically considered:

  • Which neighborhoods are already relatively well-served or poorly

  • Where it’s cost-effective to string fiber, versus serving a
    neighborhood through a high-bandwidth wireless solution

  • Whether there are existing facilities and lines that could be
    repurposed or upgraded for high-speed networking

  • How many public funds to invest and which private firms to contract
    with to provide infrastructure or Internet service

  • Whether a non-essential service, such as wireless for spots where
    tourists or businesspeople congregate, could generate enough new jobs
    or revenue to be worth an investment

  • What public and private partners and sources of investment are

  • Whether people in potential new markets have the desire and education
    to use new network services, and how to create the conditions under
    which the populations would use the services

Innumerable issues like these require local knowledge and judgment.
That is why many innovative and successful initiatives to provide
digital networks have been launched by local governments or local
private service providers.

Local collaboration to promote network penetration can also build
bonds that support local communities in other ways. The global reach
of the Internet has long been stressed, but the role of digital
networks in connecting people within geographical communities and
improving their way of life may be even more important and is
beginning to be recognized.

Although complex, the issues are no more complex than many other
issues being considered for implementation of the open government
directive. With proper organization and support, community members
could make these decisions and monitor their implementation.

Local community forums also attract participants more easily than
geographically distributed “communities of interest.” People are
likely to respond to the invitations of friends and neighbors, and to
be more loyal to the forums when they know the participants
personally. So local forums are good ways to initiate the general
public to the notion of transparent and participatory governance.

A note on current federal broadband initiatives

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) includes a Broadband
Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), operated through the NTIA,
that creates a 4.7-billion-dollar program to promote broadband,
particularly for unserved areas and populations.

The implementation does not involve any of the innovative aspects of
the open government directive, such as collaborative online forums and
data exposed through open formats and APIs. Like other programs in
ARRA, the focus on providing a fast economic stimulus led to a
schedule that does not accommodate time to set up and accept comments
in this manner. A public comment period was held from March 12 to
April 13, 2009, and proposals must be submitted by September 2009.

The FCC adopted the goal of expanding broadband access many years ago,
and cites this goal in many opinions concerning competition. The FCC
also continues to offer funds for broadband under the Universal
Service Fund (USF), which was expanded by the 1996 Telecommunications Act to
include Internet access. The USF does not involve public online forums
or open data access.

The FCC also plans to publish a national broadband plan by February
2010. Because the funds from BTOP will probably be disbursed by then,
this plan could be a locus for the kinds of forums describes in this

Quick disclaimer: broadband adoption is hard to measure–it
depends on such fuzz factors as the minimum speed defined as
“broadband,” the difference between potential and usual speeds, and
uncertainties about actual availability versus official penetration
rates–but recent estimates suggest that half of the United States
population has always-on, high-speed network access. Although this
reflects a substantial increase in recent years, it still leaves the
US behind many other developed nations. Further improvements will
require more intensive planning and careful resource allocation, as we
try to extend adoption to populations with fewer resources or
geographical challenges.

Summary of benefits

  • When the public can evaluate the options available to their community
    and the trade-offs required, they can reach agreement on a digital
    networking policy that reflects the values of many constituents and

  • Tools for measuring the impacts of different proposals can help
    everyone in the community agree on what trade-offs exist, and provide
    a factual basis for decision-making.

  • Technically trained members of the community can use the measurement
    and visualization tools on the forum to educate those who are less
    technically sophisticated and ensure that everyone has the opportunity
    to make valid and appropriate input.

  • Progress in implementation can be followed by the public, who can
    demand accountability in spending and results.

  • Collaboration in building local networks can lead to continued
    collaboration in using those networks to improve economic,
    educational, and policy initiatives in the communities. They can also
    give visitors the skills and interests to join larger, national
    efforts in fulfillment of the Memorandum on Transparency and Open

  • Standardization and information sharing between communities can help
    later communities reach successful conclusions more quickly and with
    less wasted effort.

  • Finally, the public participation fostered by local forums can educate
    the public about telecommunications issues that have a national or
    even international scope, such as expanding major access points,
    fostering technological innovation, and changing national policies and

Update: FCC discusses broadband

May 27: About the time I submitted this proposal, the FCC released a
report titled

Bringing Broadband to Rural America: Report on a Rural Broadband Strategy
See my
on its relation to my proposal.

tags: ,