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: ,
  • I’m not persuaded that, if adopted, such a proposal wouldn’t do more harm than good. I see a large number of problems with it. It is hard to know where to start so forgive me that this response will be rather scattered.

    What’s the real state of access?

    One starting point is to ask the question: where do we have broadband access today. You reference this by calling for the posting of maps: “Post regional maps showing the demographic features, geographical features, patterns of network use, and technological facilities relevant to the project”

    As you probably know, last month the Senate voted $350M to fund such a mapping project. Apparently the most likely beneficiary of these funds is Connected Nation, a private not-for-profit organization. As the Center for Public Integrity reports in Who Will Map US Broadband (Te-Ping Chen), a heavy telecom industry presence on the board of Connected Nation and their history of dubious reports based on non-disclosed data makes their maps suspect.

    With no widely agreed upon metrics and no public observable input data to mapping, those “fuzz factors” that you refer to become tools of legitimizing whatever conclusions are expedient for the map-makers whose structural conflicts of interest are apparent.

    Won’t Web 2.0 Pixie Dust Fix Any Mapping Problems?

    I can hear the web 2.0 booster society objecting to my criticisms already. After all, you also call for regional web services that “accept proposals, provide comment and rating systems, and run polls” and you make a call to “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”

    Where communities are mis-represented or under-represented in the data, won’t those web 2.0 features quickly highlight and help to correct the problems? For that matter, won’t these features lead not only to better data collection but better input into policy formation?

    I suppose the web 2.0 booster society’s answers to such questions is something between “very likely” and “emphatically yes”.

    Where is the scientific data to support that, however?

    As nearly as I can tell, Web 2.0 success stories are entirely anecdotal vis a vis both the assertions about what constitutes “success” and the representations that successes reported are in any way typical outside of narrow, specific domains.

    A hallmark of charlatan pseudo-science – e.g., claims of “proof” that ESP exists – is a tendency to embrace positive results without careful examination of what produced them and to reject negative results by asserting and then making up some supposed methodological error ex post facto. Negative results when they occur must have come from unfair or incorrect procedures – our remaining task is to make up what those were. Positive results automatically confirm the hypothesis. So, it seems to me, is the hype around web 2.0.

    The Proposal, Then, is for Policy Formation Using Dubious Data with a False Veneer of Scientific Legitimacy at Substantial Taxpayer Expense

    It seems to me that we can’t even quite get out of the gate on rationally planning this whole broadband expansion stimulus under these conditions. A priori, everyone outside the biggest carriers seems to agree, we don’t know what we’re talking about when we try to describe the problems. Ex post this “mapping” and “web 2.0” discovery period: we still won’t know what we’re talking about but, like ESP, we’ll have plenty of anecdotal suggestion to the contrary.

    I hardly see how good social policy formation is going to come from this.

    Perhaps a better idea is to simply repeal the broadband stimulus and attack the perceived problems by other means.

    Self Serving Aspects of the Proposal

    I’m irked that you call for “[Federal] Funding [of] 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.”

    Such modeling is one of the major points of competition among providers. It varies between providers based on factors like rights currently held, supplier contracts held or contingently projected, labor costs, opportunity costs, and so forth.

    The notion of a “standard model” for public policy planning seems absurd in that regard: there is no single cost model to endorse.

    Moreover, the notion of “the time period required to recoup the costs” is again a thorougly ill-defined concept. Such projections inevitably rely on things such as guesses about future migrations and development.

    In many other areas of governance we tend to have competition in such model building because of asymmetric knowledge and asymmetric assumptions. Yet here, to win some gold for the open source marketing campaign, you’d have the federal government not only endorse but pay to implement a specific model.

    You could have left out the call to fund software development and the same mistake remains present. You call for government mandated APIs, government mandatated data standards, and so forth. Well:

    The Hidden Self-Dealing of the Open Government Lobbyists

    Time and again the open government movement defines progress in terms of APIs and data formats that are convenient for mash-ups, especially when these features come at taxpayer expense. In some cases, the triumph is a matter of taking data formerly available for screen-scraping or for a fee and having tax-payers fund the re-presentation of that data.

    With each new API or release of data in a new format comes a small flurry of mash-up activity, usually from within a small group of Open Government players. Sometimes the flurry extends beyond the group but is quickly woven into the narrative of that group.

    What is lacking, in all of this, is any real and meaningful measures of how all of this “progress” is contributing to enlarged participation in policy formation, nevermind better policy formation.

    Surely the abstract notion of government transparency is critical and well worth a good fight. Indeed, that has surely been a constant struggle within the nation since its beginning. It is the strategy and tactics of todays Open Government Movement – and the peculiar distribution of the objective economic and political benefits it yields – that make the movement suspect.


    I could go on but you see the point. There is, in my view, nearly nothing right about your proposal. Perhaps the question then is why it “sounds plausible” in some regards.

    Broken Theories of Governance

    I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Andy, but a great deal of the supposed reason that we have a broadband crisis is that it hurts the bottom lines of big businesses. Chain stores have trouble locating in areas with limited access. Big-online retailers, search engines, and so forth sense an inaccessible “long tail” segment. Telcoms are stuck by legal mandate providing life-line service for modest subscrition fees to areas with high maintenance costs yet also high upgrade prices – for them, a subsidized upgrade to those regions might provide greater opportunities to monetize the lines.

    Wouldn’t a tax-payer subsidy to build out those areas be especially attractive to those large players?

    How interesting that out of the echo chamber of elites around the boards and upper management of those firms we get recruitment to indirect causes. Broadband will: advance educational standards in those regions, give citizens access to job opportunities, expand meaningful participation in government, etc. etc. Except that: none of those causes are supported by anything other than anecdotes and specuation and bad science. It’s more ESP stuff.

    And it’s also noteworthy that a careerist, highly placed in, say, telecom doesn’t even need to lobby for any meaningful or efficient development of universal broadband – they need only lobby for a source of revenue and spending that will come under their purview and fill in a long part of a career.

    The premise of the broadband stimulus (like many other parts of the stimulus) is that government is competent to form policy on that scale and then administer such policy efficiently enough to produce an offsetting taxpayer “return” and without setting up medium-term and decades-later disasters.

    Why in the world do you believe that premise?

  • Falafulu Fisi

    The industry & the market could just drive this alone without any government participation or interference.

  • Thomas Lord always brings knowledge and challenging questions to
    proposals. It’s good to show that the job is hard and will meet
    resistance, but that’s no reason to throw up our hands and do nothing.

    People interested in working together to bring networking to their
    regions need tools, data, and metrics that reflect their needs, not
    the short-term needs of a vendor. Some areas will never be reached if
    we stick to short-term needs and leave everything up to vendors, who
    consider only such things as how much people will pay for a service
    over a certain number of years. But I believe we can make different
    sorts of plans, and even persuade vendors to participate on our terms,
    if governments and the people behind them determine how they can
    benefit from new networks and commit to funding them.

    I know measurements are uncertain. In my own home, different wireless
    cards have different ranges when connecting to my hub. But to say we
    can’t trust measurements is like telling someone not to make prudent
    investments in stocks and bonds because the financial experts often
    get it wrong, or to tell someone in mental pain not to see a shrink
    because they sometimes give bad advice. I think we can set an overall
    direction and make adjustments as we go along.

  • “It’s good to show that the job is hard and will meet resistance, but that’s no reason to throw up our hands and do nothing.”

    We are not doing nothing.

    We’re spending $7.2B PLUS interest on broadband with $3.5B already earmarked to existing programs and $4.7B now up for grabs in a rapid effort to push the money out the door.

    That’s the problem.

    There is no consensus about how to define the problem.

    There is no consensus about how to measure the problem.

    There is no consensus as to the root causes of the problem, the regulation of carriers and ISPs, the quality of competition even in well served markets, the extent of demand even in well served markets.

    There is no consensus about the existence of or measurements of the potential benefits to taxpayers of this spending.

    There is inadequate examination of the technological alternatives both at present and in the foreseeable future.

    There is no consensus on the question of to what degree the stimulus spending will simply replace spending that large carriers would have done on their own, anyway, with their own money.

    So, tell me again: what was the problem we’re trying to solve because $4.7B or $7.2B is an awful lot of money to be spending on a problem that may or may not exist and might be one thing or might be another….

    How did this boondoggle wind up in the stimulus package and who will have the greatest control over how it is spent?

    Apparently the answer to both questions is the same: Julius Genachowski. As a leading Silicon Valley fund-raiser he essentially directed the platform development during the campaign (Aaron Swartz). And now, his FCC will have the job of telling Congress “what the problem is”.

    In other words: a clique of wealthy Obama supporters in the tech industry (a) asserted there was a problem; (b) told Congress the problem could be addressed with a lot of tech spending (that, btw, would surely create a lot of jobs); (c) got their man installed at the FCC; (d) that FCC will now tell Congress how that $7.2B should be spent.

    Nice work if you can get it, I guess.

    “[…] I believe we can make different
    sorts of plans, and even persuade vendors to participate on our terms, if governments and the people behind them determine how they can benefit from new networks and commit to funding them.”

    How is “here, have $7.2B” supposed to be “our terms”?

    That aside, let’s back up.

    In the early days of the Obama campaigns policy formation the emphasis was apparently on raising the Universal Service Tax and changing the rules of its administration. The tax was originally installed to ensure universal “lifeline” access to the phone system, including the subsidizing of rural phone lines.

    That form of redistribution – from wealthier to poorer and from densely populated to sparsely populated for the sake of an essential “commons” infrastructure seems sensible to me. If government were at this stage spending only the $350M to begin to gather data, and if they were spending it more carefully, and if that spending was in order to study the UST issue – then I think much in your original proposal would make some sense (even if I might still find nits to pick).

    That’s not the case, though. What we have here is just a mad scramble to get billions out the door and to shift political and commercial power to a new clique – all on the taxpayer dime.

    “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.” – Townsend. “You can’t get fooled again.” – Dubya.


  • Bob Frankston, a leading programmer, replies to my proposal here:


    I characterize Bob’s activism as an attempt to strip away decades of
    assumptions and return us to essential questions of what technology we
    need and what would help us communicate more effectively. This summary
    says nothing about what his ideas actually are. I wouldn’t dare
    summarize those for him; you can find that in his own writings.

    As the spread of cell phones (insanely expensive by local standards)
    in developing countries shows, people benefit a lot from low-bandwidth
    access on an extremely intermittent basis.

    Still, Americans have shown they want more. My proposal focused on
    “broadband” not just because it’s an obsession in many countries, even
    raising xenophobic rivalries, but because a lot of the applications
    praised by open government advocates require graphics and
    animation. The open government web sites love videos too.

  • Thanks — one problem with this format is that there is little ability to skim and dive.

    I may post a short response to your comment … (I’ll type it here so word can check for typos but will post on site)

    I agree what people want “more” but as in any business we need to be careful listeners and show leadership rather than pander to inarticulate requests. It is very important to recognize that “more broadband” is far from “more Internet”. It’s as if people are asking for more video rather than the ability to communicate.

    To put it another way, democracy requires an informed electorate not just one that wants more.

    OK, video is nice but the demand for high-speed misses the point because we already know how to do video at modest speeds and can do it very well. I don’t trust those who not only think that politics is only important insofar as it plays well on TV, but who don’t understand the technology enough to understand that video can work very well using existing connectivity. And simply presenting data requires local computation and very little capacity.

  • Well its clear the the Status Quo is completely broken. Broadband service in the US continues to fall behind many other parts of the world including ones that are “less developed” than the US.

    I live in Saratoga, CA, part of SIlicon Valley and my neighborhood has NO Broadband choices. No DSL, No Cable Modem (I don’t count Satellite or flakey $180/month 1Mbps wireless broadband)

    In Mountain View Ca, the heart of Silicon Valley at our company I can only get 3Mbps down/ 768kbps up DSL (and its flakey too, with periods of dramatic slowdowns and long latency), No cable Modem, no other choices unless I want to spend thousands of dollars per month.

    So its not just Rural areas where the Telco/CableCo oligopoly has failed but even in the heart of Silicon Valley. What is the rest of the US REALLY like ? Not the lies of the FCC where if broadband was possibly available in a zipcode they considered the whole area as covered. And where 144Kbps was considered broadband.

    Broadband speeds should be increasing at somewhat Moore’s law rates. But instead we are stuck in 1999.

    In Stockholm, people are building 1Gbps neighborhood networks. In Japan you can get 100Mbps for less than $50/month and so on. But not here in much of the US.

  • but that’s no reason to throw up our hands and do nothing.
    Andy, whenever the government talks about doing something, the alternative is not “doing nothing”. The alternative is: whatever would have been done with the tax dollars that fund the government action. In this particular case, since the government isn’t actually raising our taxes, but is instead borrowing money, the alternative is: what would have happened with that money had the US government not borrowed it?

    The simple answer is: it would have been available to other people to borrow. What might they have spent it on? Many things, but among them are privately, efficiently created broadband facilities for rural areas.

  • Brett Glass

    In case someone has not heard, municipal networking has been a dismal failure virtually everywhere it’s been attempted. Government should not compete with private business. If it does, it will drive many or most of the players OUT of business, eliminating competition and discouraging innovation. I bloody my knuckles every day installing equipment to build out the Internet to rural areas. Why not help me do that instead of fielding proposals to run me out of business?

  • jack

    there are lots of source avail to accelerate internet speed,just add this my own tips to accelerate internet speed little better.

    1. Go to Start-> Run-> and type gpedit.msc

    2. Expand the Administrative Templates branch

    3. Expand the Network tab

    4. Highlight QoS Packet Scheduler

    5. Click on Limit Reservable Bandwidth and check the enabled box

    6. Then Change the Bandwidth limit % to 0 %

    Once you have done this click apply and restart your PC. After rebooting you should see a noticeable improvement in your net speed(ref: google).just find your internet speed here

  • Team SP

    Sounds very interesting, i hope u can go ahead and do a great job, i have few doubts, legally looking won’t this proposal have any problems??