Difference between revisions of "Internet Infrastructure and Regulation"
|Line 4:||Line 4:|
* [http://..///-.pdf ]
== Additional Resources==
== Additional Resources==
Revision as of 13:19, 22 March 2010
In this class, we will cover the politics, policy, economics and technology of deploying broadband infrastructure. We will look at the hot-off-the-presses US National Broadband Plan and the recent Berkman Center review of international experiences in broadband policy. Additionally, we will look at the substance and politics of the net neutrality debate.
- Executive Summary of the National Broadband Plan 
- National Broadband Plan Commission Meeting: National Purposes Update, February 18th 2010 
- Next Generation Connectivity: A review of broadband Internet transitions and policy from around the world, Berkman Center 
The Internet Industrial Revolution
In writing this class introduction, I stopped to give pause to the question of how many people understand how much today’s internet can be tied to the development of the railroads in the 1800’s and the government's attempt at regulating the wild and chaotic growth of our nations infrastructure.
The internet has become ingrained in our daily lives as much as television, radio, and a myriad of other electronically driven entertainment mediums. However, as much as we enjoy playing our online games, chatting with friends, sending emails, purchasing trinkets to real-estate, trading stocks, finding employment and collaborating with co-workers, we often don’t realize that all of this would not be possible without the infrastructure needed to interconnect the various networks around the world in a consistent and open fashion. Without regulation and standards, the internet would not be possible. But how much do we as consumers of the internet understand how it is regulated?
The internet is very much a wild-frontier resembling the land-grab era of the 1800’s. In this day and age mega corporations including Oracle, Intel, Microsoft and Google rival monopolistic predecessors of the 1800’s like Carnegie Steel and Standard Oil. As was the case in the 1800’s, the railroads held the key to building out the infrastructure of our nation through their ownership of the national right of ways allowing them to become the natural beneficiaries of a nationwide infrastructure build-out. Even today we see vestiges of this in companies such as Sprint - whose name stands for Southern Pacific Railway Intelligent Network of Telecommunications.
Today all communications infrastructure within the United States is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which has been in existence since 1934 when it took over the regulation of communications infrastructure from the now defunct Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC); the governing body which was established to regulate the railroads in order to provide equal access to all Americans who wished to use them. These same goals are present today when we hear the words of Julius Genachowski – the current chairman of the FCC – as he talks about the commission’s mission of maintaining a free and open internet as they prepare to submit their proposal of a National Broadband Plan to Congress; which will have occurred just a few days prior to this class.
So how does an organization such as the FCC, funded by the telecommunications surcharges we see on our phone and cable bills, plan to balance the need to extend broadband accessibility to the millions of US residents who still do not have internet access? And how do they do so while upholding their self stated mission of maintaining a free and open internet? Is this an honest attempt at maintaining a “laissez-faire” approach to central regulation allowing the invisible hand of commerce to guide the growth and expansion of the infrastructure? Or will it turn into a “de jure monopoly” ; the government granting exclusive access to those who pay the most, just as they do now awarding spectrum to the wireless carriers at auctions? After all, wasn’t it this same organization that – after the breakup of AT&T – instituted the regulations allowing Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs) access to the infrastructure then owned by the Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILECs) which to this day many consider to have been one of their worst mistakes granting favoritism to few and placing an inordinate burden on others?
Can a Federal Regulatory body enforce "free and open", when they themselves rely on the surcharges and sale of bandwidth to fund their organization while also having a history of censoring the content American's are able to consume on television and radio? Are they merely a wolf in sheep’s clothing lulling the consumers of the internet into a false sense of security? These questions are at the center of a tumultuous debate within the industry today. Many grass roots and politically funded organizations have emerged to argue these issues; fighting for our rights as internet users to have access to a truly free and neutral internet.
Does current and proposed regulations governing the internet truly allow for free markets, open dialog and the unfettered growth of an online society, or are they the groundwork toward building a net that dips into our pockets, restricts our voices through censorship, and controls the content we both share and consume? Do organizations such as ICANN and the IETF promote fair and unobstructed participation or are they merely elitist groups that favor a select and desirable crowd that they themselves deem worthy. --Lunatixcoder - David Jodoin 15:47, 27 February 2010 (UTC)
The Last Mile
The Last Mile is the term that is commonly used to refer to the cabling/wiring necessary to connect a household or subscriber to the physical infrastructure of the network. Whether it be the last mile of copper for your phones and modems, or the last mile of COAX cable connecting you to your broadband provider each person needs a digital "on-ramp" for connectivity. Many times we associate that last mile to be the same infrastructure that delivers our television signals into our home. Often we think of Cable TV as having its birth in the 1980s and 90s, but in fact the first community access cable television networks were developed in 1948 in Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Oregon in order to provide broadcast television to remote viewers that were unable to receive adequate signals from broadcast radio towers. The History of Cable Television The interesting note about this was that cable television networks continued to grow at a rapid pace until 1972 when the FCC expanded its regulations limiting Cable television companies to transmit local signals only in an attempt to protect local broadcasters from having to compete against the wider variety of programming cable companies could deliver.
This was not however the FCC's only attempt at control. When the ban on broadcasting distant signals was not enough, the FCC attempted further regulation by limiting the content which Cable companies could offer to that of Sports, Movies and Syndicated Content. Yet the regulation limiting the Cable companies programming was not in fact a deterrent. Consumers wanted this premium programming and were willing to pay for it. As such, the proliferation of Cable networks continued as companies sprang up to offer this premium content.
The FCC eventually realized that what they had created was a pseudo monopoly in that in order for a Cable operator to build out infrastructure in what they refer to as "local markets" they had to enter into a contract with the local community which in effect allowed them to be the only provider within that market making the Cable operator the exclusive distributor of premium content to the communities they served. This is why, even in today's market, if your town is a Comcast town, you can only get Comcast. The reason this occurred was that towns had to provide rights of way across the infrastructure (telephone poles and underground conduits) for the cable operators to run their cables. As such, a community wanted to ensure that if they allowed a Cable operator to build infrastructure that they had to do so to enough of the community to satisfy the public demand. Due to population density concerns, this led to heated negotiations as Cable companies did not want to have to run infrastructure to support remote neighborhoods where they felt the business they would get would not be enough to support the infrastructure build-out. This was further aggravated by the FCC's regulation on Cable pricing in an attempt to make the content more accessible to the public at large.
In response to this growing concern for monopolistic broadcasting, the FCC removed the restrictions that were present on who could broadcast particular content in order to introduce competition into the market by companies offering alternative broadcast mechanisms such as satellite and wireless technologies. --Lunatixcoder - David Jodoin - 13:17, 28 February 2010 (UTC)
Fighting for the Grid
The landmark legislation represented by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 opened the field to new competition by many players (see link below for full text of the act). While up until that time, what types of services could be offered were limited based on the transmission medium, the Act in effect allowed any transmission network to broadcast any content. The effects of this were that telecommunication companies now had the option of offering programming and that Cable Broadcasting companies could also offer phone services. As such the industries of broadcast video content, internet communications and telephone services now became a converged network of services allowing consumers a myriad of choices.
Over the last decade and a half, we have seen advancements in core cellular technologies with the introduction of 2g, 3g and now 4g networks. WiMAX and Femtocell technology offers bandwidth expansion in local loop networking that can allow wireless to effectively compete with physical infrastructure. Yet growth and adoption of WiMAX is still restricted based on the fact that it requires a provider to purchase wireless spectrum at auction.
Compared to developing countries from around the world, the US by far lags in the introduction of new technologies. For instance, in South Africa - due to the deregulation of the industry in 2005 - Africa has seen a huge explosion in unlicensed wireless broadband providers. Is this a sign that the FCC who regulates and legislates the wireless spectrum in the United States is in fact holding us back technologically? --Lunatixcoder - David Jodoin - 13:17, 28 February 2010 (UTC)
The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
The FCC throughout its history has attempted to regulate and control markets based on the political pressures of various lobbying agencies fighting to protect their individual markets. This legacy of government control over the infrastructure of the United States stretches back to 1934 when the organization was first established. The organizations fighting for bandwidth, spectrum and control extends beyond just the providers of infrastructure themselves. ICANN itself spent $480,000 to lobbyists in an attempt to influence government legislation and regulatory bodies. Neustar, a DNS registry service spent $140,000. According to the Huffington Post, John McCain received $765,000 in campaign funding from telecommunications lobbyists alone during his 2008 presidential bid McCains Ties to Lobbyists. And if you visit the site OpenSecrets.org lobbyist spending was in excess of $118mm in 2009 in the Computer/Internet category alone. OpenSecrets.org - Computers/Internet Spending 2009
So we as a community speak of Net Neutrality; fighting to keep our internet free and open. Yet the underlying infrastructure is controlled and regulated by a governing few. Even the organizations we have entrusted to manage the chaos of the internet in the form of registry services, name-space controls, and uniform standards all fight to prevent competing influences from diminishing the power they hold over how things are built and operated. With the excessive amounts of money being spent by these large entities are we in fact being represented properly? Or are those funds being used to preserve their self proclaimed ombudsman-ship? Will the FCC keep the internet free and open? Or are they merely lulling us into a sense of security such that they can then let the other shoe drop a few years from now when they decide what we do and say on the medium that today they are unable to control just as they do in managing what we see and hear on television and radio? FCC Rules and Rights on the Enforcement of Censorship Laws on TV and Radio Can the internet within our country truly prosper when you try to centrally regulate a decentralized commodity? After all... if they are successful in their Broadband plan and achieve 100% access to the internet by every American it would then mean we must then protect those same Americans from the raw and unfiltered content that is there today... Or does it? According to the FCC they not only have the authority to do so, they stand ready and waiting. Written Statement Of Diego Ruiz Deputy Chief, Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis
Maybe this video on the Net Neutrality debate will shed some light...
So as you can see... Net Neutrality is not about whether or not content should be restricted, it is about who is allowed to restrict it. An interesting twist in the debate isn't it? --Lunatixcoder - David Jodoin - 13:11, 28 February 2010 (UTC)
Links from Class
I don't know if anyone saw Yochai Benkler's op-ed piece in today's New York Times, but I thought I'd post a link because it references both of our assigned readings for this week:
(Kaurigem 23:57, 21 March 2010 (UTC))